The full title of this 2014 book,
published by Amberley Books , is Liverpool, the rise, fall and renaissance of a
Author Ken Pye Ken Pye describes himself
Liverpudlian: I am deeply proud of this fact, and of my wonderful home and
its very diverse people. I have a very happy home, shared with my family and
friends, and life is always full and fun. Professionally too, my life is
rewarding and joyful:
This is because Liverpool has an outstanding history, and is a dynamic,
creative, world-class City that is currently undergoing a major
renaissance. I am fortunate in that I am in a position
to continually contribute to this wonderful evolution.”
This positive attitude is
the overriding characteristic of his book: there is no doubt that we are
reading the work of an absolute fan of the city.
This book is useful on many
levels: as a general history of England it traces the foundation of Liverpool
in 1207 in King John´s reign and even goes further back to the French, Viking
and Roman invaders who all contributed to make the city what it is today. It
serves as a reminder of the terrible suffering inflicted on Britain during the
second world war: you can see fragments of this episode in British history in
the new film The Imitation Game. As a social history of the last quarter of the
20th century it is especially valuable as Mr Pye not only lived in
Liverpool but was a social worker directly involved in trying to maintain peace
in a society driven apart by political dogma on many sides.
Mr Pye and I were both born
in Liverpool: he is just a few years
older than me so many of his memories are also mine. Many of his personal
experiences ring true with my own. On the other hand, he stayed in the city
whereas I left aged 18 and have returned only sporadically for family visits.
Like Mr Pye, I think of
Liverpool people as being hardworking and generous: I remember being told how
my great grandmother and her neighbours cleaned not just their own home but
also scrubbed the pavement in the street in front of their terraced home: I
remember that my grandfather opened his newsagents shop at 5.30 in the morning
then went to do a day´s work in a factory in Speke and joined my grandmother to
lock up the shop at 8 in the evening.
So, like Mr Pye, I wondered
why the perception of the city around Britain was so poisoned. I remember going
to a job interview in the south of England in the 80’s where the regional
manager of a certain retail company was surprised that I turned up on time and
dressed in a suit. He said he thought all Liverpool people were just layabouts
and trouble makers and what a nice change it was to see someone like me. I remember one of the few occasions in my life
when I felt in danger of physical attack was in the early 80´s when I was with
some friends in the south of England and they were infuriated that the “mad and
crooked” leaders of the Liverpool city council were sending redundancy notices
to council workers by taxi: as if I was responsible for this evil madness.
Those were very dark days
Mr Pye describes the dark
days and is much better qualified than me to attribute blame and identify those
responsible. Read his account and weep.
On a lighter note, I almost
laughed aloud when I got to page 86 and the quote that Queen Victoria visited
Liverpool in 1851 and declared that she had “never before seen together so
large a number of well dressed gentlemen”. I am constantly astonished at how seriously
the younger Liverpool people today take their appearance and this quote made me
realize it is not a new phenomenon.
Mr Pye lists many
innovations which were unique to the city of Liverpool. It is impossible to
list them here: you should read the book to make the most of them. I can only
mention as examples the world´s first
ever commercial wet dock and the introduction of the steam railway engines,
tried out in Liverpool in the great age of inventors and entrepreneurs.
Mr Pye is quite right to highlight the
renaissance of Liverpool in the first decade of this century. He traces this
back to the impact of the International Garden Festival in 1984, the nomination
of Liverpool as European City of Culture in 2008, and the fact that Liverpool
was the only English city to be represented at the World Expo in Shanghai in
In 1984 I was living in
south London and I met a retired couple from California who had come to London
on their way to Liverpool. Imagine my surprise that anyone would come all the
way from the USA to visit Liverpool. Yet it was true: in the end I arranged for
them to stay with my parents and they became long lasting friends who went back
to California telling everyone what a beautiful city Liverpool was, thanks in
large part to the Garden Festival.
In February 2010 I was
working in Madrid in Spain and I attended a conference on social inclusion in
music education. The presentation by Peter Garden, representing the Royal
Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, was outstanding both in the sheer quantity of
actions initiated by his team and by the quality of their results. His
presentation stood head and shoulders above every other speaker that day and
made it clear to all those present that Liverpool was a city to be listened to.
One phrase of his that struck a chord was that the RLPO orchestra “played the
soundtrack to the 2008 European Cultural
In 2010 I was in China in the summer to speak at an education conference in Beijing and was able to visit the World Expo in Shanghai. When I visited the Liverpool pavilion I was overwhelmed by the upbeat, positive image shown in the video and in the photo presentations. The funny thing was that when I talked to the university students who were manning the stand they said that it was only the old Liverpool people like me who were surprised: to everyone else this vibrant, forward-looking image was just what they expected from modern Liverpool.
So, thank you, Mr Pye, for this really interesting book. If you asked me what could be added I would ask for more about the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra , a jewel in the city´s crown.
Finally, here is a question: in the story of
Liverpool´s renaissance Mr Pye details how the figure of Michael (Lord)
Heseltine plays a crucial role. If Liverpool´s story were to be played out in
2015 who would play the role of Minister for Liverpool? Who among the current cabinet would be
interested enough in a failing city in the north-west of England to spend time,
energy and political capital on finding a solution? It´s a chilling thought.
Here is the site for Liverpool tourist information