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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Lost Castle of Liverpool

A rather belated posting from the weekend of 9 to 12 August when I visited the ‘Lost Castles’ in Liverpool city centre, one of the installations from the first community cultural art project to involve all six boroughs of the Liverpool City Region.  This saw hundreds of volunteers work with renowned French artist Olivier Grossetȇte to create monumental structures based on medieval forts or historic structures which were in the region at one time.  All the structures were made of cardboard, tape and community spirit!  The art installations were another part of Liverpool 2018 celebrating ten years since being European Capital of Culture.

The hundreds of volunteers worked with thousands of cardboard boxes to build monumental castle-inspired structures.  Anyone who signed up to help create these magical structures was able to join in the fun of toppling them at the end of the weekend.

The cardboard buildings were over 20 metres high, with each borough using their own heritage as inspiration.  Creative director Olivier Grossetȇte, researched the history of the six boroughs and came up with designs which he hoped would do the heritage of each area justice.  In interviews he has said that it is rewarding to work on a project which brings together a community in producing a unique piece of art which reflects where they live and then to have the fun of the demolition at the end so that within hours it is like the castles never existed and it was just a ‘wonderful dream’.

In Wirral in Ashton Park West Kirby, a Viking stave church was built to celebrate Wirral’s unique Viking history and Norse connections. The area is thought to have been almost a Viking state with its own borders, customs, trading point and language.  I had hoped to get along here but couldn’t make it and during heavy rains late on Saturday the structure collapsed.  The whole event here was featured on BBC1’s ‘The One Show’ on national television.

In Knowsley Safari Park a structure taking its inspiration from Elsinore Castle which features in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and celebrating the Elizabethan and Jacobean heritage of Knowsley was built.

In Halton at Norton Priory a construction inspired by Halton Castle, a medieval ruin a mile and a half away in Halton village was built.

In Victoria Square, St Helens saw a partial recreation of Stuttgart Old Castle built to commemorate the 70th twinning anniversary between St Helens and the German city of Stuttgart – which was the first post-war twinning to take place between a British and German town.

In the Borough of Sefton Bootle Castle, also known as Miller’s Castle, was recreated in North Park, along with two nearby Bootle landmarks – the obelisks which in the 1800s acted as a navigation point for ships entering the Mersey.

In Liverpool where I went, a castle was built inspired by Liverpool Castle which stood at the top of modern day Lord Street.  It is thought to have been built early in the 13th Century – around the 1230s.  The re-creation was built in nearby Williamson Square near the centre of the city centre.

During Saturday there was a fairy-tale themed programme with knights in shining armour, juggling and stilt walking jesters, princes, princesses, kings, queens and a dragon to entertain the crowds. There was story-telling throughout the day along with live music supplying a medieval soundtrack to the activities.

On Sunday 12 August communities were encouraged to come together once again to topple the structure.  As an exciting finale, each castle was laid siege, destroyed and then the environmentally-friendly ‘Lost Castle’s’ will be responsibly recycled.

It was interesting to watch shoppers and visitors exploring the cardboard castle in Williamson Square and going about their business on a busy Saturday afternoon.

The Terracotta Warriors

The World Museum in Liverpool have pulled off a major coup.  They have successfully arranged with Shaanxi Provincial Cultural Relics Bureau and the Shaanxi History Museum and a range of other Chinese institutions to bring a small selection of the World-famous terracotta warriors from China to Liverpool.

Liverpool was selected as host due to its standing as the home of the oldest Chinese communities in Europe.  This exhibition is a major part of Liverpool’s 2018 celebrations marking ten years since the City of Culture and Liverpool will be embracing its Far East links during the exhibition’s run.

The Exhibition ‘China’s First Emperor and the Terracotta Warriors’ is on from 9 February to 28 October 2018.  I managed to get along this month and take a few photographs.

It’s a very intriguing story; for over 2,000 years, an underground army of life-sized terracotta warriors secretly guarded the tomb of China’s First Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, until a chance finding in 1974 made one of the world’s greatest archaeological discoveries.

The exhibition spans almost 1,000 years of Chinese history; from the conflicts of the Warring States period to the achievements and legacy of the Qin and Han dynasties.

Many objects have never been on show in the UK before.  The material from museums and institutes from across Shaanxi Province have been excavated over the last 40 years from the Imperial Mausoleum and other tombs.  The artefacts show how the Emperor pursued immortality and how he prepared for the afterlife.  The 10 Warriors making up the centrepiece of the display are the highlight of the 180 artefacts that are on the show.

The team at the World Museum have completely transformed the existing gallery into a dark, dramatic space with the Chinese artefacts displayed in light and temperature-controlled conditions.

A life-size terracotta horse welcomes you as you enter the exhibition together with a middle ranking officer from the Terracotta Army.  It is part of the collection first discovered by chance in the burial complex of Qin Shi Huang, China’s first emperor, in 1974 with further pieces still being unearthed to this day.  The burial mound had been deliberately hidden unlike other mausoleums which were built as a statement such as the Taj Mahal and the Pyramids.  Once all the artefacts had been placed into the tomb which would enable the Emperor to continue into eternity the artisans and craftsmen were locked inside with him and the site was planted over and remained hidden for centuries.  The discovery was made in 1974 by local farmers digging a well who broke into a pit containing 6000 life-size terracotta figures. Further excavation in 1976 revealed two further pits both filled with terracotta warriors.

The terracotta army was guarding the tomb of the First Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang who lived over 2200 years ago. He became famous for unifying the warring states into what is now China, and for becoming the country’s first emperor. He is remembered for instigating the building of the Great Wall of China, as well as for his fanatical fear of death and an obsessive quest for the secret of immortality. This craze for life and the fear of death ultimately has given us the legacy of the terracotta warriors.

Each terracotta warrior is unique they are life size standing up to 2 metres tall and weigh up to 300 kilograms.  They are individually modelled in clay and the detail of the figures is astounding.  We can observe the construction of body armour and clothing and their hair and facial features.  The hands and the heads of the terracotta warriors were made separately, and each head is reputed to be different and individual.  Originally, they were painted with bright pigments in line with their uniforms and general attire  They were then placed in the pit in military formation and equipped with bronze weapons.  Each one bears the stamp or the carved name of their maker.

Although all the warriors were in the pits they had been buried in, many of them were in pieces and have had to be restored. The technicians and craftsmen who undertook this work often had to remodel parts to restore areas of the figures that were too badly damaged to be reconstructed.

The Terracotta Warriors discovered number almost 8,000 figures which include both warriors and horses. The warriors comprise of various types including crossbowmen, charioteers, officers, stable lads and generals.

The Terracotta Warriors form an army whose purpose was to protect the Emperor and his 300 wives and concubines who followed him to his tomb. The army was made to accompany the Emperor in his last journey and to help him rule the new empire in the afterlife.

The construction of Emperor’s tomb and Terracotta Warriors began around 247 BC, that is – when the Emperor came to power aged 12 years old and finished shortly before his death in 210 BC aged 49 years.  It took 37 years and 700,000 workers and craftsmen to accomplish this work.

After the death of Qin Shi Huang a peasant uprising and civil war ensued which were finally quelled in 206 BC and a new emperor was proclaimed in the Han dynasty which lasted for a further 400 years.  The second half of the Han dynasty is considered a golden age in Chinese history.

Whilst quite a small display it is purported to have cost the World Museum in Liverpool over £5m to stage the exhibition.  It has been sold out on most days attracting visitors from far and wide and is predicted to cover its costs and make a surplus.  It is certainly well worth a visit!

Liverpool Tall Ships 2018

During the Late Spring Bank Holiday from 25th to 28th May an in international fleet of tall ships were berthed in Liverpool for the Liverpool Tall Ships 2018 event. This forms the start of the Three Festivals Tall Ships Regatta 2018.

This is so called as the ships visit three ports in three different countries as part of their planned race route. From Liverpool the tall ships race across to Dublin, Ireland before heading south via the Bay of Biscay for the finale of the Three Festivals Regatta in Bordeaux, France.

The event in Liverpool was taking place to celebrate the Liverpool Capital of Culture tenth anniversary. The tall ships event was one of the highlights from the 2008 celebrations.

The sailing ships were berthed at the Liverpool Cruise Terminal, Canning Dock, Canning Half Tide Dock and Albert Dock during the festival weekend.

The highlight took place on a sunny and hot Bank Holiday Monday with the parade of sail when the seventeen strong ships escorted by a couple of Mersey tugs and the Royal Navy’s HMS Somerset a Type 23 frigate (F82) sailed down the Mersey and out to sea. There was a flotilla of other smaller craft accompanying the tall ships.

The two Mersey Ferry boats also had special trips up and down the river packed with sight seers.

The event started at 12 noon as the HMS Somerset announced the event by four firings of its canons.

The seventeen ships taking part were: Adventure Wales, Arawak, Atyla, Belem, Belle Poule, Brian Ború, Hosanna, Juan de Langara, La Malouine, Lord Nelson, Maybe, Morgenster, Pelican of London, Royal Helena, Sir Stelios, City of London and TS Royalist.

There were massive crowds along the Pierhead and waterfront in Liverpool and at New Brighton on the Wirral side at the mouth to the River Mersey. I decided to go down to Woodside Ferry on the Birkenhead waterfront which was still accessible. I managed to get a few shots of most of the ships heading down the river with the various landmark buildings of Liverpool in the background.

After an hour or so the tall ships had passed by and the crowds dissipated going home after seeing a spectacular display of ships under full sail. Till next time…

The Museum of Liverpool

We went to have a look around the museum where you can explore how the port, its people and their creative and sporting history have shaped the city.

The museum opened on 19 July 2011 in a purpose-built landmark building on Liverpool’s famous waterfront. The design concept for the building was developed by Danish architect 3XN and Manchester-based architect AEW were later commissioned to deliver the detailed design. It has won many awards, including the Council of Europe Museum Prize for 2013.

The Museum of Liverpool replaced the older Museum of Liverpool Life which closed in 2006. The original museum was housed in the old Pilotage and Salvage Association buildings on Liverpool’s waterfront, in between the Albert Dock and Pier Head. The new modern designed building now houses most of the original museum’s exhibits on a site close by.

National Museums Liverpool (who run seven facilities across Merseyside including the Museum of Liverpool) say that is the largest newly-built national museum in the UK for more than 100 years. The Museum quote a range of interesting facts about the building.

It occupies an area 110 metres long by 60 metres wide and at its tallest point it is 26 metres high and that makes it longer than the pitches at either Anfield or Goodison Park, more than twice as wide as the Titanic, and as tall as five Liver Building Liver birds placed end to end.

The museum’s frame is constructed with 2,100 tonnes of steel – equivalent to 270 double decker buses. The 1,500 square metres of glazing offer striking views of the city, especially from the 8 metres high by 28 metres wide picture windows at each end of the building. The museum is clad in 5,700 square metres of natural Jura stone, which if laid out flat would cover a football pitch. 7,500 cubic metres of concrete and 20 tonnes of bolts have been used in the construction. And 20,000 cubic metres of soil – equivalent to eight Olympic swimming pools – have been excavated from the site.

It is certainly a strikingly modern building.

The Museum displays are divided into four main themes:

  • The Great Port,
  • Global City,
  • People’s Republic, and
  • Wondrous Place

These are located in four large gallery spaces over three floors. On the ground floor, displays look at the city’s urban and technological evolution which includes the Industrial Revolution and the changes in the British Empire, and how these changes have impacted the city’s economic development.

The second floor looks at Liverpool’s strong identity through examining the social history of the city, from settlement in the area from Neolithic times to the present day, migration, and the various communities and cultures which contribute to the city’s diversity.

There are many highlights. I’ve noted some of these below.

Ben Johnson was commissioned to create The Liverpool Cityscape for the Capital of Culture year in 2008. He started the painting in 2005 and completed it during a public residency at the Walker Art Gallery in early 2008. It was originally displayed at the Walker as part of the exhibition ‘Ben Johnson’s Liverpool Cityscape 2008’ before moving to its permanent home in the Museum of Liverpool’s Skylight gallery.

The Liverpool Overhead Railway gallery tells the remarkable story of the first electric elevated railway in the world. The Overhead Railway was built in 1893 to ease congestion along seven miles of Liverpool’s docks. It was known as the ‘dockers’ umbrella’ as it also provided shelter from the rain. In the gallery you can climb into a carriage, which is fixed at the exact height of the original railway at 4.8m (16 feet) above the ground. The railway was eventually pulled down in the late 1950s.

The Liverpool and Manchester Railway ‘Lion’ is an early steam locomotive which is on display in the Great Port exhibition on the ground floor of the Museum. In 2007 Lion, was moved by road from Manchester to Liverpool after being on loan to Manchester while the new museum was under construction. Some conservation work took place prior to it taking pride of place in the new museum. It starred three films the most notable being the 1953 film ‘The Titfield Thunderbolt’.

There is an enormous model of Sir Edwin Lutyens’ 1930’s design for Liverpool’s Catholic Cathedral in the museum. It is one of the most elaborate architectural models ever built in Britain. It represents the ambitious plan to build the world’s second largest cathedral, and it would have had the world’s largest dome, with a diameter of 168 feet (51 m). It was however far too costly and was abandoned with only the crypt complete. Eventually the present more modern Cathedral was designed by Sir Frederick Gibberd with construction starting in 1962 with completion in less than five years in1967.

There are a range of exhibits displaying Liverpool Life over the ages. The social and community history collections include objects of local, national and international importance reflecting the changing history of the city and the diverse stories and experiences of Liverpool people. They include popular culture and entertainment, working life, labour history, politics and public health. The museum also has a large collection of oral history interviews and filmed video histories from local people with stories to tell.

Football is an important aspect of life in Liverpool. Liverpool Football Club Museum and The Everton Collection have both lent the museum an array of memorabilia. And there are exhibits from Merseyside’s other team Tranmere Rovers.

Whilst ‘The Beatles Story’ museum elsewhere in the Albert Dock has a large display to experience, the Beatles show at the Museum of Liverpool tells part of the story of the Fab Four in Liverpool which was the birthplace of a musical and cultural revolution that swept the globe.

At the time of our visit there was a special exhibition showing local music legends Gerry and the Pacemakers.

I took a number of images from the day, but there is much to see and experience and it will be worth re-visiting the museum to take it all in.

No hands o’clock

The hands have been taken off one of the clock faces on the Royal Liver Building for the first time since they were installed. The hands of the south-facing clock were taken off in October last year with the clock having been stopped earlier because it was losing time. I was recently visiting the Museum of Liverpool and took some photos of the strange sight of the clock without hands.

Workmen had abseiled down the famous clock to take off the minute hand and then they returned to take away the hour hand the following day. The mechanism behind has also been stripped back as there appears to be some issues with the bearings and the owners of the building didn’t want it to get worse.

These particular hands have never been taken off since they were put up 100 years ago. The hands and the clock mechanism have been taken to a specialist clock repair firm in the Cumbria.

The Royal Liver Building was bought for £48m in February 2017 by international property group Corestate which includes Farhad Moshiri majority shareholder of Everton FC. The company have ambitious plans to upgrade the building which provides prime office space in the city.

The Cumbria Clock Company says it is quite a challenge to repair Liverpool’s iconic Royal Liver Building clock. The clock faces are the largest in the UK and the minute hand alone is 14ft (4m) long. Both hands weigh 5 hundred weights (0.25 of a metric tonne) The clock is being repaired at their base in Dacre near Penrith.

The two clock towers form the high point of the Liver building, taking it to over 300 feet in height. The four clocks have a diameter of seven and a half metres and this made them the largest clock faces in the country, being larger than those on Big Ben in London, which are only 6.9 metres. Their size enabled sailors on the River Mersey to see what time it was as they entered port.

The original clocks were made by Gent & Co of Leicester, the faces of which are made up of separate 27 sections. The clocks were started on 22nd June 1911 at 1.40pm, the precise time George V was crowned. The clocks are electrically powered and are controlled electronically from the Greenwich Observatory. The building was opened officially on 19th July 1911 by Lord Sheffield. Electric chimes were added to the clocks in 1953 in memory of Royal Liver staff who had been killed in the two world wars.

Fog on the Mersey

I took a few pictures of the River Mersey from Birkenhead just before the Christmas break. An early morning fog was burned off by the sun on both the Liverpool and Wirral riverbanks, but it refused to fade away over the river itself and by lunchtime it made for an eerie sight. The blanket of fog made the famous skyline of the city appear to be built on a low-level cloud.

The City’s two cathedrals, St John’s Tower and the both the old and new old Royal Liverpool hospital buildings can be seen clearly. However, the Albert Dock and Pierhead are under the mist, with only the top of the Echo Arena and BT Convention Centre to be seen. The rest of the City is in bright sunshine.

Just another day on the river and with apologies to the Geordie band Lindisfarne who sang about the Fog on the Tyne… the fog on the Mersey is all mine, all mine, the fog on the Mersey is all mine.