Liverpool and Wirral Giants 2018

Over the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th of October Liverpool and Wirral welcomed the Giants for the third time and what is said to be their final visit.

Royal de Luxe, the street theatre company from Nantes, France who specialise in using giant mechanical marionettes returned to what many feel is their second home for a spectacular and unmissable event.  And this time the event included a day on Wirral as well as Liverpool city centre.  The theme for their final visit was ‘Liverpool’s Dream’ as part of Liverpool, celebrating ten years since its designation of European Capital of Culture.

Liverpool’s Dream is commissioned by Liverpool City Council and funded by Liverpool City Region and Arts Council England with Liverpool and Wirral hosting the largest street theatre event to take place in the UK this year.

The first Giants event in Liverpool, ‘Sea Odyssey’, was held in April 2012 to commemorate the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic.  The event had an estimated attendance of around 800,000 spectators.  In July 2014 the Giants returned to Liverpool for ‘Memories of August 1914’ Liverpool’s World War I centenary commemorations which attracted an estimated one million visitors.  This year’s event ‘Liverpool’s Dream’ celebrating the ten-year anniversary of Liverpool’s European Capital of Culture seemed to have an even larger attendance, it was difficult to get a space anywhere along the route and official sources suggest a total of 1.3 million spectators watched the event.

Royal Deluxe started their Giants spectaculars way back in 1993 and they have preformed in France, Belgium, England, Germany, Iceland, Chile, Australia, Mexico, Canada, Switzerland, Netherlands and Ireland.  They have performed to over 3 million spectators at shows in both Santiago in Chile and Guadalajara in Mexico but the Artistic Director and founder of Royal de Luxe, Jean-Luc Courcoult, has announced that this event in Liverpool will be their last as the current family of puppets will retire after the event.  It has been said that they are now working on a new show featuring a silverback gorilla.

For this year’s event there were three street marionettes.  The Giants are controlled by dozens of Lilliputians.  The Little Boy Giant was new to the City this year.  He was inspired after working in African villages, Royal de Luxe created the Little Boy Giant in 1997 which was premiered in Cameroon. He is 20-foot high, weighs 600kg and needs 27 Lilliputians (23 from Royal de Luxe and 4 local) to manipulate him.

Returning to the City for the third time was the man Giant who is a massive 33-foot high and weighs 2.5 tonnes. Able to move at 2km an hour, he needs 44 Lilliputians (30 from Royal de Luxe and 14 local) to move his body which is made of steel, lime and poplar wood.  His hair is made of horsehair, eyelashes made of broom hair and his eyes are streetlamp lights moved by small motors.

And also returning for the third time was Xolo (pronounced cho-low).  A very playful dog scampering up and down the city streets is a firm favourite with many spectators.  He is 9ft tall and weighs 200kg.  The fastest of all the giants, he can travel at 4km an hour and needs 23 Lilliputians to operate him (19 from Royal de Luxe and 4 local). He is made of steel and papier mâché.

I managed to get to see the Giants on each the three main days of activity.  The action kicked off on Friday morning in Liverpool on St George’s Hall Plateau with the Little Boy Giant and Xolo waking up and then setting out across the city.  At the same time the man Giant was on the other side of the Mersey in New Brighton in Wirral waking up at Fort Perch Rock and then exploring the promenade and sea front. I managed to get here to watch him explore the town.  The crowds were out in force and I could not get to see him lying on the beach where he had been ‘washed up overnight’.  There was a brass band on the beach and a lone violinist played the ‘Leaving of Liverpool’ sat in a dump truck full of violins.

From laying on the beach overnight near to Fort Perch lighthouse the Giant was hoisted up from and fitted into his mobile framework and then he walked from Fort Perch along the main promenade, along the way he was given a drink by passing Firemen.

On his return to the Floral Pavilion in the afternoon the Giant was transferred onto a lorry and he would be taken over to Liverpool where he was discovered on a raft floating in Canning Dock on Saturday morning.

On Saturday all the Giants came together in in Liverpool and they spent the rest of their time in the city together.

I managed to negotiate the long queues at the local railway stations to get in and back out of Liverpool City Centre to see the giants in the afternoon sunlight along the Strand where the usual heavy traffic was absent.

On the Strand the Boy Giant and Xolo had a street race along the dual carriageway between Liverpool One and the Albert Dock.

The crowd joined in the excitement as the two sets of puppets controlled by the Lilliputians sped down the Strand and back performing a half dozen circuits, the boy giant with his special googles and steering wheel and Xolo in his running vest.

The show culminated on Sunday with a focus on the waterfront and a parade finale.  I managed to get along in the morning to watch proceedings again from the Strand next to Salthouse dock.  At the end of the morning procession the Little Boy Giant who was inside a giant sandal was dropped into Salthouse Dock and in tow to a small boat he was taken off in a cloud of smoke.

The Giant and Xolo continued their journey up to Brunswick Dock where they had a siesta before returning back to Canning Dock where they too were to leave the City once again.

We were told that as this is Royal de Luxe’s final ever time in the city, we could expect some surprises.  Well I missed the main one which happened in the final part of the spectacular which took place on Sunday afternoon with a surprise appearance of the Little Girl Giant.  She was dressed in a new red and blue patterned dress.  Her old green one had been spotted hanging on washing line along with her yellow sou’wester coat suspended between Viva Brazil and Castle Street Townhouse on Castle Street which the Giant was lifted over on Saturday.  Many people had expressed their disappointment that she wouldn’t be returning on social media, when this year’s Giants line-up was announced.

There were many other elements of street theatre during the course of the Giants weekend.  Elements that I saw included the lone violinist in a dumper truck full of violins playing the leaving of Liverpool and a car with a fork sticking through it was spotted on Leece Street and I’m told a single decker bus was cut down the middle by a large knife near to St Georges Hall.

And after three full days the event was over and the streets of Liverpool returned back to normal once more. But I’m sure many people would like to see the Giants return again…

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Memories of August 1914

With ‘Memories of August 1914’ Liverpool saw the return of the giant marionettes created by French company Royal de Luxe.  They visited the city back in April 2012 (see my posting of the event on 22/4/12) to commemorate the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic which was part of the Liverpool based White Star Line fleet.  This year the giants’ spectacular was being held to commemorate 100 years since the outbreak of the First World War.

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The event started on 23 July when Grandma Giant was discovered sleeping inside St George’s Hall.  Around 42,000 people flocked to see her there during her two day of slumbers which included snoring and her breaking wind!

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On Friday she woke up, and was joined by the Little Girl Giant and her pet dog Xolo and the three took to the city’s streets with the intention of telling the story about Liverpool and World War I.

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The giants covered some 30 miles in total on Liverpool’s streets over the weekend covering much of the city centre.

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During Friday’s route the Grandmother Giant was delayed by about an hour after her head came lose when she broke wind.  Once her head was secured she was moved in her wheelchair to meet the little girl and Xolo in Newsham Park for the night’s stopover.

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The very colourful director of Royal de Luxe Jean-Luc Courcoult had set out the story for the three day event.  As he outlined it: the Grandmother comes to Liverpool with one of her children to tell us the story of the happy people who went away in August 1914 with the King’s Regiment to save Britain and Europe.  In August 1914 it was well before the horrors of the war began to unfold.  Europe at this point in time was gripped by the war frenzy and the excitement of what lay ahead.

 

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Whilst on Friday and Saturday the three giants ‘walked’ across the city with their Lilliputian helpers; on Sunday walking along the Strand on the Liverpool waterfront for the grand finale they were joined by some of the ‘Liverpool Pals’.  I only saw them from a distance as I was the other side of Canning Dock.

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The ‘Pals’ are a key part of the story.  The Earl of Derby was Liverpool’s Lord Mayor in 1911, was a Conservative MP for the city, president of the city’s chamber of commerce and chancellor of the university.  When Lord Kitchener made an appeal for “the first 100,000” volunteers to fight in the war in August 1914, Lord Derby wanted to ensure that the city was at the forefront of the World War One recruitment drive.

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On 24 August, he met with Kitchener to ask if he could raise a battalion from the city’s commercial class. Three days later, he called for men to serve in “a battalion of comrades” in the Liverpool newspapers.  He felt that there were many men, such as clerks and others engaged in commercial business, who would be willing to enlist in a battalion of Lord Kitchener’s new army if they felt assured they would be able to serve with their friends and not be put in a battalion with men that they did not know.

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By the end of September 1914 there were more than fifty towns across the country where men enlisted together in local recruiting drives.  The Earl of Derby was the first to call such local battalions ‘Pals’ battalions.  Some of the larger towns and cities like Liverpool were able to form several battalions each.  As he put it, those signing up should form “a battalion of pals, a battalion in which friends from the same office fight shoulder to shoulder for the honour of Britain and the credit of Liverpool”.  The huge casualties from the war meant whole communities and workplaces were to change forever.  By the end of the war, some 2,800 Liverpool Pals had been killed.  Despite the huge death toll, Lord Derby’s popularity remained and he went on to become Secretary of State for War and later the Ambassador to France.

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I joined the crowds on Saturday evening to photograph the giants on the city centre streets before they stayed overnight at Clarence Dock.  On Sunday morning 27th July I joined the throngs of people around Canning Dock next to the Albert Dock complex to watch the Grandmother and Little Girl Giant depart Liverpool on a barge into the River Mersey.

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The Giants did a circuit around the Three Graces on the Pierhead.  It gave the opportunity for passengers on the Ruby Princess cruise ship who were berthed at the cruise liner terminal a chance to see some of the action.

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The procession along The Strand next to the Liverpool waterfront was accompanied by music and percussion blasting out from musicians in vehicles accompanying the procession.  The percussion section were stood on cars stacked on top of each other, quite a sight.

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Last time the Giants were in the city, they were estimated to have pulled in £32m for the economy with around 800,000 spectators and visitors staying in hotels, eating out at restaurants and spending money in shops. Every part of town there were spectators eager to see the parade.

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The Grandmother and Little Girl Giant were lifted onto two beds on a river going barge and they departed Canning Dock amid clouds of dry ice which the Lilliputians were furiously emptying over the sides of the barge being hauled by a small tugboat.

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It is estimated that one million people have attended the event this time and the Giants certainly made a big impression with the people of Merseyside and beyond.  The transport system particularly the Merseyrail service has never been under so much pressure with the number of travellers getting into and back out of the city centre with Lime Street station forced to close on Friday evening due to the sheer weight of travellers.  Authorities from Perth in Australia and Chicago in the USA were in the city to see how the giants’ spectacular was hosted as they hope to put on similar events in the next year.  But many many people are hoping the giants will return sometime soon back to Liverpool.

The Giants come to Birkenhead

The Parade of Giants took place on Sunday 8th September in Hamilton Square, Birkenhead.  This was the first year the event had been staged.  The parade started at the corner of Hamilton Square and crossed the gardens before gathering in front of the old Town Hall under the watchful gaze of royalty.

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The Wirral Samba band led over 20 Giants including four representing Wirral’s own local ‘Giants’. The 16 other giants were provided by ‘Chester City of Giants’.  All the giants then went on show in the town’s Pyramids shopping centre.

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All the Giants were ‘walked’ by local organisations, community groups and businesses. These included Magenta Living, Cammel Laird, Forum Housing, YMCA, Beechwood Trust, the Shaftsbury Centre, Wirral Met College and Wirral Churches Ark Project to name the ones I could identify.

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The parade was organised by local volunteers with the help and expertise of the Chester City of Giants who are a community interest company, encouraging ‘social enterprise through creativity’.  They offer training and experience and encourage inclusivity and teamwork whilst having fun.  Throughout August the Giants ran workshops in the local shopping precinct allowing volunteers to work with professional artists to make the giants for the parade.  The Chester Giants (‘Chester: the Giant City’ www.thegiants.org.uk) were formed a few years ago and they have re-enacted the spectacular parades that took place in Chester for hundreds of years, which were originally based around the famous Mystery Plays which were organised by the old local ‘City Guilds’.  These parades featured fabulous creatures and giants and the modern event celebrates this heritage by putting on show with a cast of giants, fantastic beasts, musicians and dancers in a colourful display around Chester’s city streets.

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The famous Wirral giants included Old Mother Redcap.  She was ‘Poll’ Jones an infamous innkeeper in the 1770s of an inn between New Brighton and Egrement in Wallasey.  Poll Jones always wore a red hood or cap and this gave the inn its nickname ‘Mother Redcap’s’.  The inn was on the coast which was cut off from the rest of Wirral by Bidston Moss and it became a notorious haunt of smugglers and their contraband. Underground passages were reputed to link it with different parts of New Brighton. It was well known for its strong, home-brewed ale and the sailors trusted Old Mother Redcap to look after their wages while they were at sea. They also used to hide here to escape the Press Gang. It was rebuilt in 1888 and demolished in 1974 as it had become badly vandalised.

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Another Giant was Lottie Dod was born in Bebington into a wealthy family who made a fortune in the cotton trade.  She was an outstanding sportswoman. She won the Wimbledon Ladies’ Singles Championship five times, the first one when she was only fifteen in the summer of 1887.  She remains the youngest ladies’ singles champion.  She also won the British Ladies Amateur Golf Championship, played twice for the England women’s national field hockey team (which she helped to found), and won a silver medal at the 1908 Summer Olympics in archery. The Guinness Book of Records named her as one of the most versatile female athletes of all time.

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John Laird whilst being born in Scotland was a true local giant.  He moved to Birkenhead in 1824 where his father William Laird established the Birkenhead Iron Works which manufactured boilers.  John Laird joined his father to found William Laird & Son a shipbuilding company.  John Laird realised that the techniques of making boilers by bending iron plates and riveting them together could be used to build ships and he was one of the first to use iron in the construction of ships.  The business was taken over by his sons and it merged with Charles Cammell & Co to form Cammell Laird in 1903 as it is still known today.  He was the first mayor of Birkenhead and was chairman of the Birkenhead Improvement Commission which was appointed to erect a market, to light and clean the streets and to maintain a police force in the town.  When Birkenhead became a Parliamentary Borough in 1861, he retired from shipbuilding to become its first Member of Parliament. He served from 1861 to 1874 as a Conservative. He contributed a great deal to the continuous improvement of the town as a generous benefactor.  He made donations for the erection of Saint James Church, the Borough Hospital and the Laird School of Art.  He died at his home at 63 Hamilton Square following a riding accident and he is buried in the grounds of Birkenhead Priory, next to his yard and his statue now stands in Hamilton Square.

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The final local giant represented a priory monk.  The monks formed one of the earliest communities in the Wirral.  Birkenhead Priory is the oldest standing building on Merseyside.  It was founded in about 1150 by Hamon de Masci, 3rd Baron of Dunham Massey for the Benedictine Order.  The Priory was visited twice by Edward I due to its strategic importance being close to the borders of Wales and the Irish Sea.  In 1318 the monks from the Priory were granted ferry rights by Edward II. The monks of the monastery looked after travellers for nearly 400 years and supervised the first regulated ferry across the Mersey.  They would provide travellers shelter if the weather was too bad for the ferry to cross the River Mersey.

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The Deputy Mayor of Wirral Councillor Steve Foulkes visited the volunteers and their Giants.

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The rain managed to keep away whilst I was there but I’m told by the afternoon the heavens opened.  I’m not sure if this event is happening again next year but it did bring the crowds into the historic Hamilton Square in the heart of Birkenhead and I lost count of the number of Queen Elizabeth IIs who were on the parade.

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City of Giants

Over the weekend of Friday 20th to Sunday 22nd April Liverpool was treated to the ‘Sea Oddysey Giant Spectacular’.  Sea Odyssey is a street theatre production where giant marionettes enact a tale of love, loss and reunion played out across the streets and open spaces of North Liverpool, the city centre and the waterfront.

The ‘Sea Oddysey Giant Spectacular’ sees a 30ft giant girl and a 50ft giant man who ‘walk’ around the city on Friday and Saturday before finding each other and meeting up at the Kings Dock in the city’s waterfront on Saturday evening.  On Sunday the two giants and the dog walk from the Kings Dock along the water front before getting aboard a boat in Canning Dock to leave the city of Liverpool and go on with their journey.

The little girl giant is accompanied by a papier mache puppet dog called Xolo.

The event’s story has been created by Nantes-based French company Royal de Luxe as part of Liverpool’s commemorations for the recent 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.  Royal De Luxe is a company made up of actors, aerialists, engineers, inventors, technicians, metal-workers and poets, led by Artistic Director Jean-Luc Courcoult. They are recognised across the world for pioneering new forms of street theatre.

The story being re-enanacyed is about a stowaway on the Titanic. A thirty foot tall giant capable of travelling through time, on his way to another continent to meet his daughter, the little giant girl.  When the ship hit the iceberg the Giant plummeted 12,000 feet to the ocean floor. When the little giant girl heard the news, she sought out her uncle, the great giant’s brother.  The uncle made a decision that was to take him a century to carry out. He made himself a diving suit and he scoured the ocean floor for the shipwreck. When he found the wreck he buried his brother in the deep-sea bed and he found the letter the great giant had written to the little giant girl.  He vowed he would return to the little girl giant and he walked across the sea floor pulling the Titanic’s mail trunk to bring back the post to Liverpool.

The Sea Odyssey story was based on a real life letter written by a 10-year-old  girl living in Kensington in Liverpool to her father on board the Titanic. May McMurray was just 10 years-old when she wrote her letter to her dad William McMurray who was a first class bedroom steward on the Titanic. He perished without ever seeing the letter when the ship sank on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York after hitting an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean on 15 April 1912.  Whilst RMS Titanic was built in Belfast by Harland and Wolfe it was operated by the Liverpool based White Star line and many of the staff and crew came from Liverpool.

For years the family hoped and prayed that one day William would walk through  the door like he’d always done before and that by some miracle he’d somehow  survived. But his body was never found.  The family later donated the moving letter to Merseyside Maritime Museum, where  it caught the eye of Jean-Luc Courcoult, founder of France’s Royal de Luxe  marionette street theatre company, and became the inspiration for ‘Sea Odyssey’.

The giant puppets  were being moved by a team of 110 puppeteers and crane operators, who refer to themselves as Lilliputians, after the race of tiny people in Jonathan Swift’s 18th Century novel Gulliver’s Travels.  The giants have previously appeared in Nantes, Berlin, Santiago in Chile and Guadalajara in Mexico before coming to Liverpool.

It was facinating watching lines of the puppeteers jumping off the supporting platform several feet up pulling on the ropes to raise the giants’ feet off the ground in order for them to walk.

The event was estimated to have attracted over 600,000 people over the three days.  Many roads in the city were closed along the giant puppets’ route.  At every vantage point there were thousands of people standing dozens deep on the route across the city.  There were so many people it was hard to get a clear view of the puppets particulalry Xolo the dog who was not as tall as the little girl giant and her uncle.

The giants had lots of surprises.  During one part of their walk through the Strand giant cymbals shot confetti and letters from children into the air which fell all around the crowd.

The giant man leapt over Liverpool’s 44ft (13.5m) Chinese arch, the largest outside mainland China.

After walking 23 miles across the city on the final day Sunday 22 April the giant puppets boarded the James Jackson Grundy a Mersey Weaver Steam Packet Coaster which was originally used by ICI on the Mersey and Manchester Ship Canal to transport soda to their works.  The boat sailed out from the Canning Dock along to Kings Dock for their final farewell before turning around and heading out towards the sea passing in front of the Albert Dock, Mann Island and the Pierhead.

The working River Mersey tug the Ashgarth gave the giants a watery send off.

The James Jackson Grundy was accompanied by two sailing ships the three masted TS Pelican of London and the sailing brig the Stavros S Niarchos and a flotilla of ships including the river pilot and tug boats.

The Mersey Ferries were running full today with the passengers getting a birds eye view of the giants sailing up the river.

The crowd waved to the giants as they sailed off down the river and out to sea.