Mapping musical density
© Brett Lashua, courtesy of the Institute of Popular Music
If the sites of live music performance venues were marked up on a city map then certain patterns might emerge. It might become apparent for example that such venues are or were clustered in particular areas of the city. Exploring this clustering with the help of the map might provoke us to consider why music appears to thrive in one part of a city rather than in another, and what it is about the social and musical mix that makes an area a good place for live music and for different and enduring music scenes.
Featured here is a map of an area lying just up the hill from Liverpool city centre. In 1967 the area was described in the 'Liverpool Daily Post' as a creative centre akin to the famous Left Bank district of Paris:
"The Left Bank of the Northwest... no other city in Britain has an area with such a high density of intellectual and artistic talent. Not even London, with its NW3."
At that time the area was at the heart of the bohemian 'Liverpool scene'. Hope Hall was a meeting point for those involved with this scene and it hosted regular performances by rhythm and blues groups such as the Roadrunners, and jazz musicians and beat poets such as Adrien Henri and Roger McGough. Music and poetry were also performed at coffee bars such as Streates and the Rumblin' Tum, in various music clubs, and in the area's numerous pubs which included the Flying Picket and the Philharmonic.
During the 1970s and 80s, a journey down Hardman Street might involve a stop at the Picket, a venue that helped to launch the careers of numerous local rock bands, such as the La's; Hardman House, a ballroom hosting regular music events; and several clubs and bars such as the Casa, Chauffeurs, Chaucer's, Plummers and Kirkland's. All these bars regularly featured live music by musicians such as Julian Cope, Deaf School, and Ian McCullough.
The area was also known for music activity back in the 19th century when it was situated close to the mansions of the Liverpool merchants and boasted grand concert music venues targeted at the city's elite. They included the Philharmonic concert hall, the Embassy ballrooms and Central and Hope Hall, which was converted into a dance club in 1961 and eventually became the Everyman Theatre.
Today, the area has its own street festival, the Hope Street Festival, launched in 1977 and now an annual event. Rock performances also take place in some of the area's more unlikely music venues, including two bombed out churches and various small restaurants. The area is also home to the grand Anglican and Catholic cathedrals that regularly host music performances of classical, popular and traditional musics.
Key to the way the area's musical life has thrived is the fact that it is near both to the art college and to Liverpool 8, a neighbourhood known for its 'underground' and multi-cultural clubs and Georgian terraces. These terraces have provided cheap accommodation for many students and musicians. In addition, Liverpool's two main universities, Community College and a Performing Arts Institute are all based in the area and attract large numbers of students who contribute to local music and nightlife activity.
The following comments by two contemporary local rock musicians show how the area continues to be associated with musical density:
"there's so many places in London but there aren't as many specific music venues I think. Like little nooks and crannies that you find out in this area in Liverpool - I think it's just flooded with them."
"I think it's more that Liverpool is so compact as well, you know? There's so many more in a concentrated area. I mean right here you're five minutes walk from five or six different venues where, if you wanted to, you could go and play."