Photograph of a dock wall without water

The Albert Dock before redevelopment.
Courtesy of Liverpool Record Office

Cities often experience economic or political crises, but how do those crises affect popular music sounds and activities?

In the 18th and 19th centuries Liverpool was a central player within the global economy, partly as a result of its role in the slave trade. Over the course of the 20th century, however, the city experienced a series of economic slumps and depressions due to broad shifts in world trade and the changing fortunes of its port.

During the 1970s and 1980s, following a crisis in the global capitalist economy, Liverpool's problems became more severe than those experienced by any other British city. Unemployment levels rose, the numbers of local residents and businesses decreased, and the British media commonly used Liverpool as a prime example of urban decline. Here are just three of the many ways in which this crisis affected the musical life of Liverpool and other cities in northern industrial England:

Economic recession

Economic recession led to the closure of many music businesses and performance venues. One issue of the local music fanzine 'Merseysound' was thus devoted to 'promoting any new beginnings in the city's music':

"Autumn, and the streets are full of leaves and students and everybody's back at school and work and the dole-queues grow longer by the day. Where do you go to hear bands live? What bands are coming to town? What else is going on in Liverpool? Despite the cold, people are looking around for things to do and there are a few hopeful signs amidst the very sparse local music scene" (Issue 19, 1981).

Empty warehouses

Former maritime warehouses and industrial buildings were left empty following the decline of port activity and the closure or departure of local industries. Many of them became occupied by musicians and artists attracted by the relatively low rental costs. Often this enabled music-makers to cluster together in close proximity, which encouraged the development of particular music scenes and sounds. They include the post-punk scene of the late 1970s, which was closely associated with the club Eric's and other music venues in and around Liverpool's Mathew Street.

A 'way out' of the city

Economic recession influenced ways in which music was talked about and valued. During the mid-1980s many Liverpool rock musicians emphasised the significance of music as a 'way out' of the city, as illustrated by the following quotes:

"In such a run down area people look around, see how depressed it is and decide they have to get out... It's the only way for young kids. Everyone you meet is in a rock band these days."

"Liverpool was much worse off than Manchester, and even back then [the 1960s] they had a large pool of unemployed youngsters. For many of them rock 'n' roll was the only way out."

Musicians also suggested that because of the severity of Liverpool's economic problems there were more rock bands in Liverpool than in other British cities and their quest for commercial success was more intense. There was little hard evidence to support these beliefs, however, and the notion of rock as a conventional 'way out' for local working class lads is a familiar cliché.