Into the future

Large building on top of a multi storey carpark in a city centre

Top Rank Suite at St John's Market, 1971,
courtesy of Liverpool Daily Post and Echo

Can music scenes help to shape the future development of the places in which we live?

Over recent years there has been much debate about the role and significance of music scenes in the regeneration and future development of British cities. This has raised several key questions. For example, should scenes be left to emerge spontaneously or can they be planned or enabled and if so then how? Is there a right or wrong environment for the making of scenes?

Studying the development of music scenes and looking at the kinds of environment that are conducive to their emergence and growth may help us to address these questions, but it is impossible to predict the future. Scenes emerge and develop in surprising and unpredictable ways. A decade ago for example, the impact of the internet on the emergence and development of scenes would have been impossible to predict.

In 2008, as Liverpool celebrated its status as European Capital of Culture, there were fierce debates about the role and significance of culture in the regeneration of the city, and about the impact of regeneration on local culture. Regeneration initiatives may be welcomed for the opportunities, publicity or support they offer for local music scenes, but they may also be opposed and raise concerns.

On local websites and in local newsletters and public forums some local residents expressed their concerns that contemporary regeneration initiatives will have a detrimental influence on local music scenes, particularly those involving 'alternative' music (Jones and Wilks-Heeg, 2004). There are fears that commercial regeneration initiatives are making British cities look and feel more and more the same through the construction of new 'sanitized' shopping centres, heritage quarters and residential developments. The Liverpool One shopping development, for example, generated controversy by threatening the existence of small businesses associated with alternative music and culture, such as Quiggins flea market which was eventually relocated to another part of the city centre.

Back in the early 1970s however, a similar regeneration initiative, the St John's shopping precinct, gave rise to a vibrant, youthful music scene. Plans for the precinct were announced in 1962. The Precinct was to be the flagship of a large, ambitious scheme to re-design and rebuild Liverpool city centre. The scheme involved tackling extensive damage from enemy bombing raids during World War II, knocking down city centre slums, and initiatives designed to encourage economic growth and investment given the decline in port activity and high levels of local unemployment.

The precinct replaced the old St John's market and pubs and clubs nearby were demolished to make way for it. The precinct finally opened in 1971. According to the Liverpool Daily Post the precinct was envisaged as "a unified civic, social and shopping centre" and "a new miniature town in the centre of the city". Before long, however, it was being described in the Daily Post and Liverpool Echo as a planning disaster, whilst one historian has referred to it as a "dead urban heartland" (cited in Carls and Schmiechen, 1999: 213).

Yet throughout the 1970s the precinct was, for many local rock and pop musicians, very much alive. Its basement housed three pub rock venues that offered an opportunity for public performance at a time when such opportunities were disappearing from the city centre. During the early 1970s, for example, the precinct's Moonstone pub featured performances by progressive and folk rock bands such as Wildlife, Skyfall, Superstride and Colonel Bagshot, whilst the Sportsman pub featured weekly performances by the local rhythm and blues band Supercharge. Consequently the basement of St John's precinct provided a central meeting point for local musicians and enabled the development of a new music scene based around live performance and strong notions of musicianship.