Unless you've walked across Liverpool in the cold light of dawn with the sun rising over the Liver building after a night out on the town, they say you just haven't lived at all. Liverpool is a northern English city that inspires a deep-rooted love in the many who live there and even among the occasional visitors who can't help but sing Gerry and the Pacemaker's famous song (see below) to themselves as they step on to the ferry across the river Mersey. The legend of the Beatles is everywhere, and the city dwellers are so proud of their most famous sons - but only on the quiet. It's a great place, Liverpool, and here are just some of the reasons why.
The Language of Liverpool
The first thing to be aware of is that Liverpool people speak very fast. If you can get them to slow down, you might be able to understand what they're saying. Here are a few Liverpool slang expressions that might help you break the ice.
Tilly Mint: This is an endearing admonishment used for a female Scouser who has ideas above her station. The male equivalent is 'Dicky Mint'.
Over the water: This term is used to describe people who don't actually live in Liverpool but 'over the Mersey' on the Wirral, Birkenhead or Ellesmere Port.
Doin' me 'ead in: This charming little expression means that something is annoying.
Jigger: This is the Liverpool noun for an alleyway or passageway, usually located to the side or back of a house.
La: This word means 'mate' or 'friend' and was immortalised in the Beatles song 'Ob-la-di Ob-la-da'. It also gave the name to another great band from Liverpool called 'The La's'.
Skint: This word drops into conversation quite a lot in Liverpool, as it means to have no money.
Ta: The local word for 'thank you'.
Queen: A term of endearment for a female who you love very much and know very well, usually from father to daughter or husband to wife. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the similar expression used on the gay scene.
Made-up: Contrary to what you might think, this term has nothing to do with cosmetics. When a Scouser is 'made-up' they're very pleased about something or other.
See ya later: This does not mean 'I'll see you later today' but 'I'll see you sometime later in our lives', which could be anything from six hours to six years.
So, a typical Liverpool conversation would go:
Hey Tilly Mint, pass me those new kex. Your sister from over the water is comin' up the path, and she does me 'ead in, so I'll slope off round the back jigger, and join me las down the pub. Lend's a fiver, coz I'm skint. Ta, queen. I'm made-up now. See ya later.
Football in Liverpool
Across Stanley Park are the two closest football grounds in England belonging to two of England's most successful football clubs. The older venue is Anfield, home to Liverpool Football Club. Everton's ground, Goodison Park, is on the other side. Across the Mersey in Birkenhead are Tranmere Rovers who are currently trying to join the big two Merseyside rivals in the English Premiership League.
Despite Manchester United's recent success, it can still be argued that Liverpool are England's most successful football team. With 18 league titles, five FA Cups, five League Cups - including an unprecedented four on the trot in the early 1980s, and 13 Charity Shields. They represented English football in Europe for 20 consecutive years - another record - and won the European Champion's cup four times and the UEFA cup twice.
Everton have won nine league titles, five FA Cups, nine Charity Shield successes as well as having European success in winning the Cup Winners Cup. These two clubs dominated English football in the 1980s with Liverpool dominating in the 1960s as well. Today it's still very much a football-mad city.
The main local dish is Scouse which is sometimes erroneously described as the Liverpool version of Irish Stew. Ingredients for Scouse include lamb, potatoes, carrots, onions, water and love. Perhaps it has something to do with the water in Liverpool, but there's nothing quite as heart-warming as a fresh pan of Scouse and some crusty cobs2.
An interesting variant on Scouse3 is Blind Scouse. This is usually made the day before pay day, and therefore contains no meat, constituting leftovers from the previous day's meal. It's delicious.
Another famous Liverpool food is the Butty. This is another word for sandwich although it has to be said that a butty made by a Liverpool mum takes some beating. Typical Liverpool butties include: the Sugar Butty and the Conny Onny Butty - this is a condensed milk sandwich which apparently is lovely. Mmmmm...
Yet another Liverpool delicacy is the Everton Mint: a sweet, black-and-white striped oblong piece of candy with a hard outer shell and soft chewy mint centre. The name Everton Mints comes from the fact that a large woman, known as the Toffee Lady, used to throw handfuls of these mints to the crowd at Everton football club's home matches during half-time. Chewy and delicious, Everton Mints are no good for your dental fillings.
Liverpool in Song
Liverpool is one of the few places in England that has had songs written about it. Lots of American towns and cities feature in songs, but not English ones, possibly because nobody can think of a word that rhymes with Bishop's Stortford.
Liverpool songs include: 'Ferry Cross the Mersey', 'Penny Lane', 'Strawberry Fields Forever', 'Maggie Mae', 'The Leaving of Liverpool', 'Liverpool Lullaby' and 'In My Liverpool Home'. Here are some of the words to 'In My Liverpool Home':
I was born in Liverpool, down by the Docks
My religion was Catholic, occupation hard knocks
At stealing from lorries, I was adept
While under old overcoats, each night we slept
In my Liverpool home, in my Liverpool home
We speak with an accent exceedingly r-a-r-e
Meet under a statue exceedingly b-a-r-e4
If you want a cathedral, we've got one to s-p-a-r-e
In my Liverpool home. (la-di-da)
Now when I grew up, I met Bridget McCann
She said, 'You're not much, but I'm needing a man
Coz I want 15 kids and a house out in Speke'
The spirit was willing, but the flesh it was weak
Way back in the Forties, the world it went mad
Mr Hitler threw at us everything that he had
When the smoke and the dust had all cleared from the air
'Thank God', said an old man, 'the Pier Head's still there'
(Repeat chorus – until you're all too drunk to remember the words)
No, it's not a typing error, there are two cathedrals in Liverpool, one at each end of Hope Street.
The Catholic Cathedral is the most recent5 and was built in the 1960s. It is circular, very modern and affectionately known as 'Paddy's Wigwam'.
The Anglican Cathedral is a large Gothic structure, and it used to be possible to walk through passageways in the walls at high levels, which was a great day out for kids, but they have since stopped that. There is a legend in Liverpool that if the Anglican Cathedral is ever finished, a great disaster will befall the city. It is rumoured that they left the final stone out for this very reason.
Although the original Cavern is long gone from Mathew Street, the Merseybeat spirit lives on. It is still the liveliest place to be on any night in Liverpool. Just walking down Mathew Street at night you will feel happy, or drunk, or both. There are several places worthy of mention:
Rubber Soul: This is a lively bar, bang in the middle of the street. They have bouncers on the door, but when you get past them you could find yourself dancing with anyone, and long before you reach the official dance floor.
The Grapes: This is a great old pub, which dates back to the Cavern days, and before. This is a 'must' to visit, but you'll be lucky to get a drink at the bar - better order doubles or trebles, it could be a while before you get to order another one.
Flanagan's: This is on three floors. It's Irish-themed, of course, but probably the original Irish Bar in Liverpool. There are live bands playing downstairs and sometimes upstairs.
The Wall: This can be seen better during daylight - er... during hangover hours. It's outside the new Cavern Club, and each brick is etched with the names of bands from the Merseybeat era. It starts with the Beatles at the centre and the names of the bands get progressively more obscure as it gets further away. It's probably someone's attempt to apologise for tearing down the original Cavern but it's definitely worth a look.
Hardman Street and Hope Street Area
This is an interesting neighbourhood which leads away from the main shopping areas of Church Street and Bold Street, and up towards the Art College, parts of the University and the Philharmonic Hall.
In Hardman Street itself there are several watering holes worth a look, especially one which used to be the old 1960s club called The Sink, which was, according to legend, where the Stones did their first Liverpool gig. Not only has The Sink survived the dreaded destruction meted out to the original Cavern Club, but you can still see one of the actual wall paintings that adorned the old club walls – by the toilets downstairs. It's now being run by two great lads – one from Liverpool and one from Birmingham – as a bar and restaurant on the ground floor, and a club in the basement – called The Magnet. It's well worth a visit because it's a great example of 1960s club art.
At the top of Hardman Street, turn left and you will be confronted by the old Philharmonic pub (turn right if you'd prefer the Philharmonic Hall). This pub, which is now a wine bar, has the most amazing green marble urinals – which have been featured in several international architectural books.
Even further right along Hope Street, towards the Catholic Cathedral (you can't miss it: imagine a cathedral designed by aliens and you've got it) you'll find the Everyman Theatre which was home to that wonderful playwright, Willy Russell.
Other Liverpool Landmarks
The Mersey: No trip to Liverpool is complete without a view of the river Mersey. Much less busy now than it used to be, it is still the lifeblood of the city, and is the age-old reason for the feud between the residents of Liverpool, Liverpudlians, and those of Manchester, Manks. Basically, Liverpudlians never liked the fact that the Manks stole part of their Mersey and called it the Manchester Ship Canal. That's their version of the story, anyway.
The Pier Head: There's no better place to view the Mersey than from the famous Pier Head, one of the first floating landing stages. Older Liverpudlians often just catch the bus to town and sit at the Pier Head looking at the Mersey. This is where you'd take a 'Ferry Cross the Mersey' – if they ran them often enough. These days ferries across the Mersey are few and far between. However, if you're lucky enough to catch one, the view of Liverpool from the middle of the Mersey is spectacular, and is often used for sitcoms and soaps based in Liverpool, such as The Liver Birds and Brookside.
The Albert Dock: This is a younger Liverpudlian's view of the Mersey. The old Albert Dock has been transformed into a very tourist-orientated venue. It's full of bars and restaurants – they're mostly good, but can be expensive. The Albert Dock is also the location of an exhibition called The Beatles Story, which is miles from Mathew Street and the Cavern, but well worth a visit. There are also lots of shops selling Liverpool souvenirs – one of the best sells framed watercolours by an artist called Frank Green who paints old sights of Liverpool and its people.
The Tate: A major new modern art gallery which is located in the Albert Dock, the Tate has fast-changing exhibitions, and is fresh, bright, casual and well worth a look. Most people think that it is named after the Tate in London, when in actual fact the reverse is almost true: both Tates are named after Tate & Lyle's which is the Liverpool company that used to be at the top of Burlington Street, but which was sadly pulled down some years ago.
The Tate Gallery is a great place to visit. Even if art isn't everybody's cup of tea, some of the stuff in this place is fantastic - and it's free to get in!
Lime Street: This is usually the first view most people see of Liverpool, as it houses the main railway station. Lime Street is also supposedly the hangout for prostitutes, as immortalised by John Lennon's voice in 'Dirty Maggie Mae' who'll 'never walk down Lime Street anymore'. But it has been noted that although all major railway stations are notorious for prostitutes, rarely, if ever are they to be found in Lime Street. Maybe they've all been moved on.
St George's Hall: This is also on Lime Street, and directly opposite the railway station. St George's Hall is one of the finest examples of Neo-Greco-Roman architecture in the city. It remained empty and unused for a long time, but is now the venue for various things, most recently the qualifying rounds for an Olympic Boxing Event. Its exterior is a sight to behold, with lions that rival Landseer's in Trafalger Square.
The Walker Art Gallery: Slightly to the right of St George's Hall is the Walker Art Gallery. It is a very old gallery, which has the occasional modern exhibition. One of its claims to fame is that there used to be a painting of one of our Researchers on display there... which was eventually sold for £1000.
The Liver6 Building: Facing the Pier Head is the magnificent Liver Building, which is still the offices of Royal Liver Insurance. The most amazing thing about this building is that there, on top, are the 'Liver Birds', which are the symbol of Liverpool (as depicted on Liverpool Football Club's badge). There's an old story about how Liverpool started as a pool with a few Liver Birds drinking around it, but it's doubtful whether anybody believes it. The Liver Birds are sacred. A more recent and nastier story is how, during WW2, Lord Haw Haw7 threatened to 'make those Liver Birds fly'. Needless to say, he never managed it, but he knew hitting the Liver Birds would hurt the most.
St John's Beacon: St John's Beacon dominates the Liverpool skyline. It used to be a rotating restaurant, but fell empty a long time ago. It will shortly be home to the Liverpool radio stations, Radio City and Magic 1548. There'll also be a digital radio transmitter on the top of it, and it'll be open over the weekend for people to go up and gaze at the view, and peer into Radio City's new digital studios. Oh, and the rotating bit doesn't rotate any more.
The Ferry: Don't forget the Ferry - it is now world famous because of Gerry and the Pacemaker's song 'Ferry across the Mersey'. This is now a tourist attraction, and since the opening of the tunnel under the Mersey, it no longer goes straight across the river from Wallasey to Liverpool and vice versa, but tours along the river as well.
The Life Bar: In terms of food one of the best places to go is called 'The Life Bar'. It's a restaurant by day and a club by night. They serve the biggest mountains of food on masive plates (which all tastes great) and the prices are fantastic too! Anybody who visits the centre of Liverpool is advised to pop in and try this cracking little place. It's smack in the middle of the town centre, just round the corner from The Howel Of The Moon club.
The Mersey Tunnel: The Mersey Tunnel is not only an amazing feat of engineering, but it's also a wonderful example of Art Deco. It was constructed the year of the Great Crash, 1929. These days , it costs £1.20 (at the time of writing) to travel through it, payable at a toll booth on the other side by slinging a coin into a plastic basket.
Dicky Lewis: This is the name given to the naked statue of a very well-endowed young man who stands above the main entrance of the department store, Lewis's. It has always been a popular meeting place. It is also the place where many now-married Liverpool couples first met, having been 'stood up' by their original dates.
Some say that Liverpool is a little quieter today than it was in the rocking 1950s and 1960s. The replica of the world famous gigging home of The Beatles, the Cavern, is quite interesting but nothing like the orignal. The original was literally a basement in a warehouse, nothing special. There they used to have lunch time specials and loads of young people would rock their socks off to a bunch of kids doing the 'stomp', or what was then known as 'the cavern stomp'. Many groups, ie the Clayton Squares, the Masterminds, the Undertakers, the Big 3, Billy J Kraymer and the Dekotas, the Merseybeats, Gerry Marsden and of course The Beatles, all played at the Cavern. So did Long John Baldry, Elton John's pal. They were reckoned to be brilliant days, and Paddy the bouncer on the door was apparently amazing at keeping order in the place. On the corner of Whitechaple was the Kardomah, a real hangout place for all the groups and their fans. There was also one on Church Street, which was open more in the evening. There was the record store, Nems, owned by Brian Epstein who listened to the Beatles' fans and who got The Beatles a recording session.
There was so much talent around, and recording agents were in Liverpool most of the time. Bold Street was the cool place to hang out, the Jacaranda was a cool coffee shop, and further up was the Blue Angel, where London rockers, The Who would visit whenever in town. There was also a club called the Rumblin Tum, where the Masterminds would play. The Cavern was demolished, much to the disgust of the locals, and the replica was erected right next door.
Liverpool's Famous Sons and Daughters
The list is endless, so to name but a few:
- The La's: They're a great band - if you haven't heard their music, buy some.
- The Lightning Seeds: Great band with a very distinctive poppy sound.
- Gerry and the Pacemakers: Superheroes of the 1960s, famous for their version of 'You'll Never Walk Alone'.
- The Christians: Another good band; not the religious sort.
- Frankie Goes to Hollywood: Seminal '80s band who made brilliant big-selling records.
- Cilla Black: Lady icon of Liverpool, an enduring TV personality, whether you love her or loathe her.
- Billy Fury: Singer; almost forgotten, but what a great voice.
- Ken Dodd: Madcap comedian and professional Scouser.
- Stan Boardman: Brilliant comedian always going on about how 'they bombed our chippies'.
- Sporty Spice: Of Spice Girls fame - her mother lived on the same road as one of h2g2's Researchers.
- Alan Bleasdale: Great TV writer - only a Scouser could rewrite Dickens they way he did.
- Willy Russell: Playwright responsible for such classics as Blood Brothers and Shirley Valentine - God bless him.
- Michael Owen: (technically a 'plastic' Scouser, ie somebody who may claim to be a scouser but actually really doesn't fulfil all the necessary criteria to make them genuinely scouse.) it is doubtful whether or not he was actually born in Liverpool, but who can ever forget that brilliant goal in the 1998 World Cup Finals?
- Edwina Currie: An outspoken MP and 'plastic' Scouser.
- Jimmy Tarbuck: Comedian who went to school with John Lennon and whose daughter is a popular and charismatic TV presenter.
- Derek Hatton: Infamous local politician who loved the sound of his own voice.
- Mr Tate: He of Tate and Lyle sugar empire fame.
- John Moore: Famous entrepreneur, now with a University named after him.
- Roger McGough & Brian Patten: Both these excellent fellows are Merseybeat poets.
- John Peel: Another absent Scouser, but legendary DJ of the highest calibre nonetheless.
- Kenny Everett: Now deceased and a sad loss indeed, Kenny Everett was a ground-breaking DJ and very funny TV star.
- Billy Butler: A DJ who is still broadcasting in Liverpool.
- John, George, Paul and Ringo: Enough said.
Liverpool on TV
Carla Lane is a genius comic writer who writes about her home city. Her credits include The Liver Birds which was about two Liverpool girls experiencing the freedom of the 1960s revolution and who were living away from home in their own wee flat. Bread, also written by Lane, was another comedy classic about '80s Britain and a Liverpool family taking all they can from the 'brew'8.
At the inception of UK's Channel 4, it was decided that a new soap was needed especially for this latest channel. The answer was Brookside - the creation of Phil Redmond, who had previously brought us the cutting edge school drama Grange Hill. Set in Liverpool, the programme has featured some classic scenes that have had the nation gripping the edge of its collective seat. Scenes have included a siege, the first lesbian kiss pre-watershed, a bomb and the stabbing of a main cast member, Damon Grant - all issuing from this otherwise seemingly innocent looking cul-de-sac.
And then there's Good Morning with Richard and Judy which started out in Liverpool's redeveloped dockyards with Fred the weather man presenting his daily report from a big map of the United Kingdom floating about in the dock outside. The studio was at ground level and the programme always had people staring in through windows while it was broadcasting live to the nation. Famously, a streaker once jumped onto the map, completely naked, during one particular weather report, much to the general amusement to the viewing public of Britain. The programme has since moved to London but still links daily to Liverpool for its outdoor weather report.
It is often said that Liverpool humour is second to none... being fast, dry and so often containing a black, sad undertone that strikes a chord of understanding, but without arousing pity. Writers like Alan Bleasdale and Willy Russell bring back fond memories of eccentric Scouse friends, all with their own particular, magical spin on life. A brilliant sense of humour is compulsory in Liverpool and the city's famous wit can be a scary thing to confront if you're not used to it. And never try to imitate a Scouse accent in the presence of a true Scouser - they won't hold back when it comes to showing you their scorn and contempt.