Local Author, Matthew Jacobson on lockdown life; the impact for the creative, venues and the audience and memories of his first stand out gig at the Liverpool Empire.
A stroll around the stunning streets of Liverpool led me carefully through the classy cultural quarter and through a plot of land that defines Liverpool with style and class. Within a few minutes of walking and wonder, you can see the globe crammed into the World Museum, culture circulated carefully within the Walker Art Gallery and the priceless archives central to the Central Library. And if the sun is on friendly terms, there is a chance to be a lazy sunbather in the suntrap of St Johns Gardens.
On this day, I sat on the steps of St Georges Hall and watched a stream of suitcase travellers, arriving at Lime Street, take in this plateau of promise and perfection as Liverpool’s lavish landmarks stand to attention with the gorgeous St Georges hall bowing its head to greet all with a warm welcoming hug filled with Liverpool love.
It is usually a warm and glowing area of beauty but, on this occasion, I felt the balance of the area just wasn’t aligned correctly. I then looked across at The Empire Theatre and realised the building didn’t look its vibrant and welcoming self. The theatre looked eerie, lost and saddened by the lockdown life of today, yesterday and tomorrow. With every minute that passed by, I could hear the groans of grandeur and I could feel the foundations shudder and bricks fall like the tears of the theatre. Crumbling and crying as a vibrant culture is now a thing of the past and this past is now all we have. The once audience roar from the stalls is now a deafening silence.
It is not just The Empire in this situation; venues around the country are watching bricks disintegrate and crash to the ground as the harsh and real life political Kerplunk begins. Venues have a future, but it’s a future unknown and too delicate to contemplate.
My heart goes out to all creatives. The artists – their microphone stand should not become a gravestone as they have so much more to give. And venue owners, engineers, roadies, tour managers and independent labels who are faced with a forceful roadblock that could ruin their financial and career aspirations.
I also feel for those like you and me, wanting to attend a gig, to enjoy the arts, to fulfill the heart. Furthermore, the youth of today may also be missing out by not having the chance to see their artist, their new love, their hero in the flesh and to feel that heavenly emotion when watching them on the stage for the first time. I recall, at 17, I saw my artist and hero, for the first time and felt an excitement many will miss out on until – well, who knows?
For me, it was Morrissey at Liverpool Empire, July 1991. The build up to a gig always brought much excitement, but this was different. Morrissey had for years put the world into words and placed words into my world. I studied, loved, adored and quoted his tender, humorous, northern lyrics. Lyrics of purpose, meaning, wit and substance and full of social justice and love all wrapped up with a beautiful voice, music and melodies that crammed my heart with love, so much love.
So, when the gig announcement was made the countdown to the gig began. And 10 days before and 5, 4, 3 and 2 days before, planning of the day stepped up and was in full flow. The night before the concert the pattern in my sleeping pattern was not required as sleeping was not an option whilst the bedroom clock on the wall made fun of me all night. It slowly ticked and tocked, smirked and teased through the night.
My early morning call to friends to confirm meeting times was probably too early, especially before breakfast, but the plans were now in place. It was a breakfast that somehow tasted much sweeter than normal. And then came the important construction of the quiff. Black jeans were then ironed to perfection with turn ups to semi cover the DM boots. I then selected the Morrissey T shirt for the day and the Levi jacket covered with a Smiths patch on the back. I was ready to go, but after another call to friends, I realised I was too early for many to leave. So, I constructed the quiff again and again and again until its grand design satisfied me as I couldn’t let Morrissey down with a wonky quiff!
The early afternoon bus to town was sluggish and it stopped at every opportunity. For six miles, it was slow, slow, quick, quick, slow, but my guess the setlist game was now in full flow.
In town with friends, we drank in the Beatles pubs and compared our Morrissey setlists, notes and quoted lyrics at every opportunity. We spotted and chatted to other fans all heading along to the gig.
And when daylight faded, we made our way to the Empire and the venue seemed as excited as the fans. It was the days when a ticket was a ticket, so when I entered the venue, I kept the ticket stub secure as a piece of the night and I still have it today. The auditorium was buzzing, and we took our place in the front row seats. But the seats were not used as the crowd wanted to stand and with full voices they chanted as the pre-gig music played.
Then, the pre-gig music stopped, the auditorium lights dimmed, and a green spotlight lit the stage. I could see the silhouette of the drum kit and the microphone stand. I scanned the stage and from my right a deafening blast of screams and shouting was heard. I could at last see in silhouette, Morrissey walking onto the stage, tambourine raised high, quiff raised even higher. As the first song played, the green spotlight was then replaced by a bright full beam and there he was, and life was at last…. Complete.
Do you recall your first gig?
Please keep your memories safe because, it’s all we have. I do not have answers to any of this. Nothing is certain, but I know gigs must come back, before we all crack. A creative needs a platform, just like a platform needs a creative – and we need them both more than ever.
A safer tomorrow? Well, it is surely nearer now…
Stay strong, stay safe, have faith.
Author / Music Writer / Curator