Liverpool isn’t very far from Manchester, yet I have dear and long-standing friends there whom I rarely see. One of them recently opened an exhibition of his photographic work at a new gallery in the centre of Liverpool, so I made the effort of walking 2 minutes to the station for the 40 minute train journey, and the 5 minute walk at the other end, just to see my old friends and to keep up with cultural events. You see, there’s nothing I won’t do for them. I was joined in this adventure by another friend of the same vintage who was equally keen to reconnect.
It was during a very cold spell of weather and we were soon to discover that the gallery, which was established on a shoe-string budget, by a charity, had no funds for heating, let alone a glass of bubbly to welcome our arrival. But the art’s the thing and, of course, support for the charity’s good cause, so we kept our coats tightly buttoned up, and huddled into the crowd to share the communal body heat.
One does not really attend an opening in order to view the art, but rather to see and be seen, so we were soon busy trying to recognise acquaintances and celebrities from the world of the visual arts. My companion, whose life’s work is the visual arts, fared rather better than I in this respect, my choices being a) to approach complete strangers or, b) strike up conversation with people I thought I had previously met but perhaps hadn’t. The latter is more likely to have an embarrassing outcome, while the former puts one in danger of being landed with a bore, a crazy person or a sworn political enemy masquerading as a decent human being. I was contemplating approaching the young man wearing sandals (without socks) to ask whether he had exceptionally good blood circulation, when I was saved by the announcement of a round of speeches from the artist, the organiser of the event and then the spokesperson for the charity.
The artist’s established reputation and years of experience made for a relaxed and urbane performance, but the other speakers started from the assumption that everyone in the audience knew them, the work of the charity and all those who had worked long and hard to put the venue and the event together. This parochial approach left at least two of the audience none the wiser as to what it was all about, and feeling somewhat like gatecrashers at a party, excluded from the insider information, the in-jokes and personal references.
Before long, however, the core of the assembly removed itself to a warm and welcoming pub nearby, where I was able to make this point, in person, to the organisers. The response was almost as frosty as the prevailing weather, which had the effect of making me feel even more reckless. And so it was that I ended up in close conversation with the man in sandals. He turned out to be a sculptor, with a deep love of wood and woodworking, subjects close to my own oevre. He also turned out to be a very nice chap, open minded and open hearted. We talked about the realities of being an artist in a place where there may be an amenable environment - cheap studio space, plenty of peer support et cetera, but there is a distinct lack of patronage, the one thing that artists need in order to thrive.
Several pints of ale later, as I walked up the steps of Lime Street station, its impressive facade beautifully illuminated, and comparing favourably with the glory of St George’s Hall across the road, I wondered what it is that keeps Liverpool so far from Manchester. It could have something to do with the ridiculously early shutdown of the rail link, among other things.