Following news that Liverpool’s Parr Street Studios is set to make way for a new development of city centre apartments, Johnny Quinn, frontman of SPINN, comments on the untimely departure of one of the cornerstones of Liverpool’s music scene – a venue and studio that’s shaped his musical development since the age of 17.
For anyone unaware of the significance of Parr Street, this building is the location of three major cogs in Liverpool’s prolific creative scene.
Most gig goers in the city will be familiar with Studio2, the building’s onsite music venue. It’s one of the most beloved and bustling venues in the city. Almost every local act has played there at least once, and Studio2 serves as a rite of passage for musicians across Merseyside, including Hushtones, Seatbelts and local favourites Monks, who played Studio2 last year alongside future stadium rockers Inhaler. The venue has served as a platform for an unimaginable amount of acts who have went on to huge success, with the likes of Pale Waves, Blaenavon and Idles having graced it’s tiny carpeted stage in recent years.
My first memories of Studio2 are from when I was about 17 years old and playing my first couple of gigs around Liverpool city centre. The sound on stage was probably the best I had ever heard at that point in my life. It was also the first venue I ever played which had a backstage. The backstage was a stone clad room which had around 20 sweaty teenage boys in various bands mooching around inside; all were illegally drinking lukewarm Budweiser, while anxiously watching through the curtains to see if anybody had turned up. People did turn up, and they joined in the mosh pits too.
As a musician it’s places like Studio2 that give you the musical bug. Most of the aforementioned sweaty teenage boys are still musically active and are still making some amazing contributions to the Liverpool scene – along with countless other local bands that have graced its stage in their early development. There are probably a thousand similar stories about Studio2 which are ingrained within our collective local musical heritage.
Since those halcyon days of peering through the curtain and hoping people arrive, I have worked on my own music in Parr Street Studios. In the past four years I’ve worked in every studio. I even got in trouble for stealing the studio rum while on a night out with the studio interns. I’ve been starstruck by various members of whatever huge band was in that weekend, and I’ve met some of the most amazing and creative people I’ve ever encountered in my life, who I’m proud to call friends and colleagues. In that time I’ve grown up, as a person, and as a musician. Parr Street Studios has been central to that.
The other aspect of our local culture directly affected by the 33-55 Parr Street development is our drinking culture, which, like it or not, makes up a fair chunk of the Liverpool musical tapestry. The Attic was originally a members only bar, consisting mostly of musicians and those who worked within the music industry – unsurprising, given the bar is directly linked to Parr Street Studios by a convenient door just next to Studio B. Attic has served as a meeting place and haunt for countless musicians over the years, and despite the fact it is no longer a members club, reasonably priced beer and the constant soundtrack of funk and soul makes Attic a magnet for the musically minded. It’ll be another creative hub sorely missed. And another, along with the studio and venue, to add to the list of those essential spaces paved over by developers.
The effects that these buildings have had on our culture is not limited to local borders. Parr Street Studios has been central to the recording of numerous internationally acclaimed albums, including Parachutes by Coldplay, numerous Echo And The Bunnymen albums (when it was known as Amazon Studios), almost everything by The Coral, every single Blossoms album, Meat Is Murder by The Smiths, songs by Justin Bieber and Rhianna, and we should not forget, The Spice Girls.
I can’t deny that Parr Street becoming the latest on a long list of Liverpool’s iconic musical landmarks to be subject to development of apartments feels personal. Deeply personal, in fact. But it is no secret that the music industry is suffering. Musicians are struggling more than ever to make money, music venues are shutting down all the time. We find ourselves living under a government which clearly has very little respect or value for the arts and creative endeavours – aside from throwing cash at the grossly ironic festival of Britain (Brexit) in 2022.
The frustration and resentment felt by so many is profound. Whether intentional or not, it feels as though local governments are trying to purposefully choke independent businesses, largely ignoring and belittling any pleas for help or co-operation put forward from independent creative spaces and venues such as 24 Kitchen Street. With Liverpool’s Mayor Joe Anderson only confronting these issues when personal image is at stake, it appears more likely that development plans will result in the closure of yet another essential music venue.
Giving up would be the easy option. I know things seem to keep going from bad to worse; the Covid-19 outbreak is having a detrimental effect on artists of every variety and our livelihoods are all at risk. Equally, there’s only so many livestreams that fans can bare to tune into, or so many quarantine self-portraits you can post on Instagram. But now, more than ever, is the time where creatives need to be proactive in our efforts to protect the foundations of a scene which is always clinging on. The impact of Covid-19 has starkly shown just how precarious the music scene is. Now is a time to create unashamedly and build a community and a network that is strong enough to resist these attempts to supress our voices, one which strong enough to protect places like Parr Street, like Kitchen Street, like The Kazimier.
There is a tendency during these times to place the blame entirely on local councils. Sometimes it is misguided. But I will admit that I am often disenchanted by the actions of Liverpool City Council, who seem content to let the burgeoning creative culture that has been bubbling away happily for the last few years slip away, all in order to make a quick buck off developers. I find it particularly frustrating that these people represent a city known for the value it places on creativity and its independence – and as a so called UNESCO City Of Music. However, reports that the city is close to bankruptcy and continual decline in central government funding since 2010 spell out the reality that music and creativity will not be put first. As it comes to light that Parr Street Studio opted to sell up, it’s a painful truth that the income of a residential development will be favoured over another creative hub.
However, this problem is much more than something local. This is happening all around the UK and is reflective of a society which clearly lays its priorities elsewhere, a society which seriously needs to take a look at itself during this lockdown and come out the other side with a fresh outlook. Coronavirus has shed a new light on what we rely on across society, and we have had the reality forcefully highlighted in the space of six weeks. We should protect the things that matter in life, be it the NHS, the environment or our community and creative spaces.
I believe that we are in a position now to move forward with a new sense of respect and a strength to protect these things. After all, we’ve been locked inside for nearly two months now and I don’t think I could name one person who has done this without the relief of listening to music, watching TV or reading a book. It’s now, more than ever, that the country appreciates creativity and art, so it should be now more than ever, that the country should make the necessary steps to protect it. Parr Street Studios shutting down will be a devastating blow, and a terrifying precedent for the entire creative community of Liverpool and the UK. But we cannot allow this to continue on a national scale. Art is huge part of what makes us human and we should never lose sight of that.