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Friends in high places

Angie Sammons at Liverpool – The Musical, at the Kings Dock arena

Written by . Published on January 14th 2008.

Friends in high places

And in the end...Liverpool got there, with a little help from its friends.

An ashamedly obvious line for the media to trot out today, but it was one less obvious friend, in a particularly high place on Saturday night, who clinched it. Not the abseilers, or any former moptop atop a roof, but a Russian who now, surely, must be recognised as the city's most valuable treasure.

The city is extremely lucky to have a world class orchestra at
its disposal, and
this opener was stunning in
its acoustics, in
its spectacle and
in its ambition

But more of Vasily Petrenko later.

The official opening of Liverpool – European Capital of Culture got under way explosively at the weekend, after a damp squib of a start for the hoi polloi on Friday night (see Vinny's review).

Liverpool – The Musical, was a one off, but it was built on solid foundations from the word go.

“Construction workers” in those high viz jackets once so beloved of the KLF (co-artistic director Jayne Casey's mates) were everywhere, going at it, hammer and tongs, as the crowd piled into the Kings Dock arena, itself a building site like the rest of the city until thirty seconds ago. Could we be sure they weren't real?

Over the stage, Frankie's Relax played, tinny radio style, as the builders did Frank Spencer, falling-off-things stunts to warm up the audience in the new cavern.

A huge screen showed Liverpool as the centre of the creative universe. Carl Jung's quote from his book, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, the one that Peter O'Halligan lifted for his Parlour (now the site of Flanagan's Apple) in the late 70s, was elevated anew by animation to tell anyone who didn't know, a generation later, that “Liverpool is the Pool of Life”.

The mood turned modern, the stage red, as No Fakin' DJs mixed it with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, marine and brass bands, soprano Kathryn Rudge and more.

The thinking girl's crumpet, Vasily Petrenko, was whizzed into the sky aboard a steel platform to conduct the RLPO, and the whole shebang were roused into a medley of Rule Brittania, Jerusalem and Land of Hope and Glory.

The city is extremely lucky to have a world class orchestra at its disposal, and this opener was stunning in its acoustics, in its spectacle and in its ambition.

Amazing Grace was performed by the Liverpool Welsh Choir as the screen showed the city's amazing Three Graces. The animation went from Pythonesque one minute to shots of the the glory days when Liverpool really did live off the fat of the land.

Echo and the Bunnymen played to a backdrop of bombed Liverpool, scenes of sepia devastation, the orchestration turning Ian McCulloch's forlorn performance of Nothing Ever Lasts Forever into a master work.

All the time there was archive footage of the high rises, people in Everton talking about their houses riddled with cockroaches. But the feeling tone was warm, affectionate, identifiable.

I can't think why, but The Wombats, token “up-and-coming Liverpool group” from LIPA, made their second appearance of the weekend. The first was at the People's Opening. Their reprisal of Movin' to New York was fast paced, thrashy and the visuals contained all the epilepsy inducing footage of Times Square on acid.

But the best and most stunning fodder of the whole night was Vasily and the RLPO, with pieces like the New York City Ballet's Ecstatic Orange. It was a sensational idea from somebody (Nigel Jamieson? Who knows?) to have each orchestra member contained and silhouetted within a colossal seven storey scaffolded rig. Think Hitchcock or the poster of the movie West Side Story. The result was jaw dropping. Petrenko and crew deserve the freedom of the city, or at least £50 in Primark vouchers.

Connie Lush, the UK's best blues singer and a scouser, chilled and thrilled with Put A Spell On You, and, to its credit, we were a good hour in before the show went into the inevitable fallback position of The Beatles.

The show flowed as powerfully as the Mersey tide. If they couldn't get the La's to reform, it wasn't going to stop them playing There She Goes or – or getting the ghost of John Lennon up there to do Mind Games.

Hillsborough, Yosser Hughes, Toxteth riots: There was plenty of shade among the light.

The Farm and Wylie were All Together Now with A Heart as Big as Liverpool. Anthem after anthem, home grown in the city that has walked alone for so long, politically and in its identity; a city facing out to sea.

By the time Ringo (the money shot at £50 a head) appeared at the end with Dave Stewart, did anyone really care about the three chord “Liverpool 8”, with its lyrics about getting the hell out of it as soon as he could but not meaning to really? Or “Liverpool 08” as the Culture Co should have insisted it be called?

Liverpool – The Musical proved to any doubters that the city just might be, after all, a safe pair of hands to take delivery of a top end show, every bit as safely as it once took delivery of bales of cotton.

The city displayed its strengths and played to its strengths and on Saturday night. Hopefully that will set the tone of 2008 in stone.

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13 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

ImadeusJanuary 14th 2008.

You may be right. Is it possible that at the end of one Era the spotlight was on the people and things important to that Era. There is all of 2008 to spotlight and introduce the people and things going forward into a new Era.

Fat GitJanuary 14th 2008.

I have been on incapacity benefit for 15 years and I was lucky in that lottery for tickets which I read about on here. I put Mum in for it too and she was lucky as well so I had four tickets which I sold for double. I couldn't walk to the arena because I get breathless, so I went out on the taxis all night and did alright. I didn't get anyone famous like that Sinbad in though or that Cathy Tyson.I'd have liked her in. I'm sorry I didn't go now. It would have cheered me up.

Lovely RitaJanuary 14th 2008.

Ah yes, if it had been in Manchester...But hang on, didn't Nigel Jamieson design Friday night, and the Manchester Commonwealth Games display too. Probably the media finds Manchester easier anyway. They can only stand and watch in envy this year.

tonyJanuary 14th 2008.

agreed. i had forgotten about mcculloch too. the rapper kids brought some edge also. but the arena needed a giant TV screen because us plebs at the back could hardly see who was doing what. but we couldn't miss the Phil - Vasily, not the oaf Redmond. Utterly professional. They, at least, were absolutely world class.

AndyJanuary 14th 2008.

Anyone who failed to be moved and grooved by the guitarists on the roof on Friday night must be brain dead. And leave off slagging Ringo, it's cheap.

AnonymousJanuary 14th 2008.

The Phil orchestra looked absolutely amazing, perched up in their 'celebrity squares' and as for Vasily..has anyone started his fan club yet? they made the event, as for "This is how we do it in the LIV", well...I said nothin but have you heard the kid speak, surely a pupil of the Bluecoat or Merchant Taylors...bit of a throw back to Brookie maybe?

ImadeusJanuary 14th 2008.

There are many scousers living in the City that far whatever reason can not get to see everything on offer- there are probably as many living outside the City that would love to attend events but are logistically unable to.If it had been Manchester, the City of Culture,there would have been more cover on TV than Coronation street gets. Pity the Culture Company couldn't have set a TV station up!!Born a scouse - Allways a scouse!!!

Mr KiteJanuary 14th 2008.

Andy...Moved by the guitarists on Friday night? How could anyone be moved by a load of blokes in hard hats and high visability jackets. I was waiting for the rest of the village people to arrive.

I DunnoJanuary 14th 2008.

This event was everything that Friday wasn't, but I suppose it was never going to be easy with only two rehearsals because of the bad weather. I'm not sure I agree about the screen, Tony. Where would you have put it when there was already that giant screen on the stage. I assume that for future events, that will serve as the magnifying screen. Mind you, you can spot the Teletubbies miles away anyway. Is Bruce Springsteen booked in yet?

Objective OneJanuary 14th 2008.

Spot on. The orchestra's involvement at the heart of this event was a critical component of Saturday's success and Vasily Petrenko, especially that film they showed of him as he was conducting, was the icing on the cake. But can't you take him anywhere but Primark?

AndyJanuary 14th 2008.

Anyone who failed to be moved and grooved by the guitarists on the roof on Friday night must be brain dead. And leave off slagging Ringo, it's cheap.

AnonymousJanuary 14th 2008.

I have differing feelings of the whole performance, I thought the openening was excellent but then it seemed to lose its way somewhat and far too many references to the Beatles, I am a bit dissapointed that more up to date bands were not involved as surely they are the 08 and beyond future plus whoever designed the speakers obviuosly hadnt sat at the back of the arena as you couldnt see half of the screen!

angieJanuary 14th 2008.

Who told Ringo he could sing..........

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