Commissions at festivals are funny things. Sure, for the artists and producers involved, these events can be exciting and worthwhile distractions from the day job. Audiences, however, are often left wondering exactly what it is they are being asked to part with their hard-earned cash for.
Case in point: ‘Routes Jukebox’, at the Liverpool International Music Festival (LIMF) in 2015. The PR informed us that the gig would “tell the story of the ever-evolving Liverpool music scene and its influences… from the influx of Gaelic sounds and rhythms that came to the city with the mass Irish migration, to the importing of rock ‘n’ roll records from the United States via the historic Cunard line, to the rise of Merseybeat, punk and house music”. Sounds good, doesn’t it? It was… but, just a week or so away from the curtain going up, the paying punters still didn’t really know what to expect. Yes, there would be a house band and special guests… but that was about it. You had to be constantly attached to social media (or ‘in the know’) to find out more about what was in store on the night.
In the end, ‘Routes Jukebox’ was a triumph and remains one of LIMF’s overall highlights. Indeed, a film further exploring the concept is imminent and LIMF curator, Yaw Owusu, recently told us that “… ‘Routes Jukebox’ was one of my favourite LIMF moments and the documentary will be screened in Liverpool soon”. We digress, though. Commissions can be funny things, so, sticking with LIMF, what about this year’s special events?
‘Yes Indeed!’ was one and a particular favourite of ours. The concept was simpler, perhaps, than its predecessors, as it attempted to reinterpret and update works by the oft-forgotten black pioneers of Merseybeat. A unique gig was at its centre, performed on the ‘It’s Liverpool’ stage in Sefton Park on the Saturday, and featuring Xam Volo, Mersey Wylie, Edgar Jones and Levi Tafari, amongst others.
“The likes of Derry Wilkie, Steve Aldo and Colin Areety were not afforded the recognition due at the time,” says poet, Tafari. “It was an honour to reinterpret those American blues songs the black Liverpool artists covered.” The youngsters agree: “I loved being involved in, and being able to highlight, some of the forgotten artists of our Merseybeat history,” says Mersey Wylie, who sang at the event and whose own new music is no stranger to the blue notes. “I got sent a load of song choices,” she reveals. “The first one on the list was Colin Areety’s ‘One Night Affair’ and it just hit me like a ton of bricks and I knew I had to do it… I knew if we could do it even half as well as Colin, people would be so excited and that’s what this project was all about.”
She’s nailed it… and so did ‘Yes Indeed!’. Projects like this often sound great in the meeting room, but rarely do they hit the heights on stage. LIMF commissions have been hit and miss, it’s fair to say, over the last few years, but 2016 saw the commissioned special events cut the mustard. ‘From Liverpool With Love’ really captured Scouse hearts and pulled a big crowd to Sefton Park and, alongside ‘Yes Indeed!’, placed the spotlight on a shining star in LIMF’s future: collaborations and one-off, unique, well thought out and presented events. “We’re just a toddler,” says head boy Owusu. “Imagine how interesting it will all get if we can get LIMF to its teens.”
Moving forward, while looking back, has to be the way LIMF forges ahead, then, in this city so often obsessed with its past. Projects like ‘Yes Indeed!’ and ‘From Liverpool With Love’ do exactly that, by focusing on the popular (and less popular) past to place an audience in front of the present. “It was a great experience looking back and reinterpreting tracks by lesser known Liverpool artists,” says Phil Dyer, Xam Volo’s guitarist and ‘Yes Indeed!’ band member. “They often get overlooked, but it’s important to realise the impact and influence they had on the Merseybeat sound which went on to shape a generation.”
Yeah, yeah, yeah…
Pic by Robin Clewley