Inspired by Newcastle's Great Exhibition of the North, we take you to another great city in the North of England – Liverpool.
When Liverpool was crowned European Capital of Culture in 2008, those who lost out may have consoled themselves with the notion that the city had won because it 'needed it'. That might have been true in terms of the economic place that Liverpool occupied at the time (not a good one) and the opportunities for regeneration and rebirth that would be realised down the line.
Liverpool, however, has been culturally rich since the River Dee silted up and maritime matters moved to the Mersey. And the city continues to be so. Liverpool is one of the best cheap city breaks in the UK. Angie Sammons leads you through the cultural hubs of Liverpool where the locals meet to share big ideas, tell stories and socialise.
For culture to flourish, a cross-fertilisation of ideas, vision and passion has to exist. And that works best when minds connect with minds from different worlds. Liverpool's unique geographic position led to its rise as the second city of the British Empire, the gateway to the New World with millions of immigrants and emigrants beginning new lives on the Mersey tide.
All of this has been crucial to Liverpool's cultural destiny. It could be argued that The Beatles themselves might have remained in the Cavern had their manager Brian Epstein not possessed the London swagger, gained from his time at RADA, to secure their Parlophone record deal.
Ah yes, The Beatles, the love of whom brought scores of young idealists to the city in the early 1970s, many gravitating to Liverpool Art college. Mingling with the locals, a great second wave of music was created based around the live venue Eric's, spawning Deaf School, Zoo Records, Echo and The Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes.
And in 2008, it was a newspaper article about Capital of Culture which brought some curious young Oxford and Cambridge graduates to the city to form the groundbreaking Kazimier Collective. Now lost to regeneration.
Romantic, poetic, loud, confident, opinionated, funny, stylish and sharp. These are the characteristics that make for a cultural powerhouse. And Liverpool has them in ever-evolving spadefuls.
The Florence Institute started life in 1889 as 'an acceptable place of recreation and instruction for the poor and working boys of this district of the city'. The institute was built by Victorian philanthropist Bernard Hall and named in memory of his daughter.
It became a sporting and music hub – alumni include a young John Conteh and Gerry Marsden – before closing in the late 1980s and falling into a state of disrepair. Restored and reopened in 2012, the Florrie has become the go-to for national and international artists such as Michael Head, Jamie Reid, Jimmy Cauty of the KLF, and the KLF themselves.
Is it an art gallery or is it a pub? It's a bit different that's for sure. A tiny emerging local social hub in the Baltic Triangle where you can expect to be surrounded by voodoo dolls in the bric-a-brac created and curated by Tristan and Delia Brady Jacobs. The friendly couple talk all things art and culture. All that's left for you to do is enjoy local beers, gins and a bellyful of stories about the area.
Set up by the Kazimier Collective (see above) after their legendary art and music space in Wolstenholme Square was demolished, the easy thing would have been to get a space in the Baltic Triangle. But instead the group went to the wilds of the north docks where they continue to design and innovate in a 1,200-capacity events space which is most definitely where it's at. This year it has hosted everything from Asian Dub Foundation to UK soul sensation Jorja Smith in its packed roster of gigs, with yoga brunches and Brazilian percussion courses in-between. They even have their own radio station.
Toxteth is the most racially and ethnically diverse area of Liverpool, is home to the oldest black community in Britain and has been one of the most deprived communities in the country for decades.
Yet when faced with rows and rows of 'tinned-up' terraces following the collapse of the New Heartlands project, the community took matters into its own hands and embarked on a regeneration project so successful that in 2015 it won the Turner Prize.
The Granby Four Streets area is made up of Beaconsfield Street, Cairns Street, Jermyn Street and Ducie Street and is a testament to the power of imagination and cohesion. Meet the locals in action at one of the monthly street markets where arts, craft and food retailers ply their wares.
A century ago it was known as the Bond Street of the North, a place of high end furriers, tailors and theatres. By 2000 all of that had gone and Bold Street was a place without much purpose. Then something happened after 2008 and now this is a promenade with every purpose – especially if you are hungry. Every cuisine imaginable is available on Bold Street 2018, a destination teeming with restaurants – Moroccan Maray, Indian Mowgli, Leaf and Crust are among the standouts.
Cooking your own dinner? Check out the wonderful Matta's International Foods or the LIV Organic Supermarket and stock up on the weird and wonderful. The street is also home to News From Nowhere, a radical bookshop which last year hosted the worldwide book launch of 2023, a novel by the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, making international headlines.
What started out as a Liverpool Biennial art project in a derelict bakery which was set to be flattened has now become a thriving community interest company in the shadow of Liverpool Football Club's stadium. Homebaked Anfield makes pies – excellent pies dedicated to the heroes over the road: Shankly pies, Mo Salah pies and, of course, Klopp pies, all hitting the back of the net at the 2015 British Pie Awards, bringing home several gold medals. Any profits from the business are reinvested into new jobs, building and other community projects.
No cultural trek around Liverpool would be complete without a visit to the Baltic Triangle on the south docks side of the city centre. Originally a collection of mercantile warehouses and, later, light industrial units, it cut its cultural teeth twelve years ago with the alternative arts organisation A Foundation.
Like much else in Liverpool it has since boomed as a destination du jour, with music festivals (Liverpool Psychedelic Festival, Threshold, Positive Vibration), food and drink (Baltic Market, H1780) and antique dealers (Red Brick Vintage). Check out Constellations for a more arty offering and District for late-night grooves.
Top image: Albert Dock at Liverpool Waterfront © Shahid Khan / Shutterstock