In 1927, Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung had a vision of Liverpool in a dream that would go on to forever reshape the psyche of a city he’d never actually visited. Recounted in Memories, Dreams and Reflections, Jung describes “a broad square dimly illuminated by street lights, into which many streets converged.” His attention was drawn to a magnolia tree on an island in the centre of a pool, which “stood in the sunlight and was at the same time the source of light”. Jung’s companions – seemingly oblivious to the magnolia – were scratching their heads as to why one of their Swiss friends had settled in Liverpool, given the abominable weather. Taken by the beauty of the flowering tree, Jung noted, “I know very well why he has settled here.” Then he awoke.
That’s the thing with synchronicity: some people are more amenable to it than others, and it was no coincidence that Jung dreamed of Liverpool. When the book ended up in the hands of local entrepreneur Peter O’Halligan, it quickly became apparent that the city was more than willing to buy into the idea of synchronicity, the collective unconscious and the Liverpool dream. It was a bleak time for the area: the recession gripping the rest of the country particularly resonated in a Liverpool yet to recover from the blitz and the “Four Lads Who Shook the World” had left little behind; the shortsighted council had even filled in the Cavern.
The Bootle dream merchant wasn’t going to need any help from the council, however, far from it. Taking to where Mathew Street, Rainford Square and Temple Court meet – the place he interpreted Jung’s dream to be – Peter leased an old fruit warehouse in 1974 and moved in with his cousin Sean. The modern incarnation of Jung’s Liverpool dream was born and, long before the Sex Pistols declared there to be “No Future”, the first signs of punk started to emerge – not the trouser-obsessed punk of London but a very scouse, DIY ethos in the face of an obtuse and oppressive council.
Lack of opportunity no longer became a limitation as the city’s youth began making their own and O’Halligan’s warehouse soon became a hub for free thinkers. With a thick stench of patchouli in the air, Aunt Twacky’s offered up a response to Kensington Market and, upstairs, O’Halligan’s parlour-cum-café became a meeting place where unemployed dreamers and schemers could mill around over one pot of tea all day. “It was a space where you could talk, dream and think the impossible,” recalls Larry Sidorczuk, who moved into the parlour soon after Peter. “Just having a cup of tea and a sandwich became an event,” explains Deaf School manager and co-founder of Eric’s Ken Testi. “It was served in a nautical fashion because the O’Halligan boys and Charlie Alexander were all wearing Swiss navy uniform.”
When faced with opposition, the response was often surreal. Called into court for refusing to pay business rates on the warehouse, Peter O’Halligan appeared at the stand dressed in his finest prison garb, complete with ball and chain. Unfortunately the judge didn’t have a sense of humour – not even cracking as much as a smirk when Peter pleaded not guilty… So O’Halligan faced six weeks in Walton prison. When he returned, however, the debt was wiped. And as his warehouse parlour became THE place to go for cutting edge poetry, music, art and comedy, it became known as the Liverpool School of Language, Music, Dream and Pun.
“We pretty much moved in on Peter’s invitation,” recalls Enrico Cadillac, frontman of the seminal Deaf School. “It became our new rehearsal place and general hangout.” These rehearsals became gigs in their own right and it was there that the band struck their lucrative deal with Warner Bros. “Derek Taylor sat on a wooden chair in front of us with tears in his eyes,” Enrico explains. “I guess [it was] because he fell in love with Deaf School right there but also because of the street we were in, maybe [it was] his first time back there since his Beatles days.”
There definitely was a sense that something had been reawakened on that street, particularly on 6th June 1976. On a blisteringly hot morning, Peter and Sean married Jeannie and Lynn before a plaque was unveiled which read, “Liverpool is the pool of life C.G. JUNG. 1927.” A bust of the man himself was atop, naturally. The Mathew Street Woodwind Ensemble, the Mathew Street Brass Band, Deaf School and Yachts then took to an outdoor stage set up on the street. This was the first of three annual Jung Festivals that brought the idiosyncratic shenanigans of the Liverpool School out onto Mathew Street. At the final festival in 1978, the Bridewell Studio’s Charlie Alexander jumped from a fifth-floor loading bay into a giant can (painted skip) of Bird’s custard.
“It was all so postmodern it was untrue; it was Monty Python, it was the League of Gentlemen,” remarks Chris Bernard. “Peter O’Halligan is the funniest fuck that’s ever walked the streets of Liverpool when it comes to surreal, avant-garde comedy.” It was towards the end of the summer of ‘76 that Ken Campbell arrived in Liverpool and set up the Science Fiction Theatre, making Chris stage manager. They would go on to create “the most remarkable play staged on Planet Earth”, but that’s another story for another day.
Even though there was an incredible will to push art to its limits, there still needed to be some money coming in and a certain bank manager – now on the board at the Everyman – proved key. “Everybody who was sensible enough banked at the same NatWest at the time. You’d never on the whole planet find a bank manager like Mike Carney, he’d back virtually anything,” explains David Knopov, recollecting the time he paid off his overdraft with a piece of artwork.
Even more profound however, was the influence the Liverpool School had on the city. “There’s always a spin-off. Each one spawns the next,” Urban Strawberry Lunch’s Ambrose Reynolds explains. “I would have never dared to do the Bombed Out Church thing, but when I saw O’Halligan saying ‘We wanna do this – if the council don’t like it they can fuck off’, it sparked something in my mind.”
Taken over by Martin Cooper (now head chef at Delifonseca), O’Halligan’s parlour became the Armadillo Tea Rooms and took on a new life. “The Armadillo, Probe and Eric’s were like the Golden Triangle of Liverpool punk,” notes Bernie Connor, whose early years were shaped by his time in Aunt Twacky’s. “At an age of discovery it was just incredible; I learned more there in a fucking afternoon than I did in five years at secondary school.”
Move forward to the early eighties and Kif Higgin’s Urban Stress and Earthbeat carried the baton for the Liverpool School but in a much more politicised way; healing many of the scars of the Toxteth riots with music, community work and fervent activism. Comparisons between the Liverpool School and MelloMello would be more than superficial, too. When Ken Campbell’s carpenter, Greg Scott Gurner, dreamed up the idea of a multi-hub café, he was instructed to come to Liverpool by the late great playwright. When MelloMello closed in 2014, it was only a matter of months before a new creative space in Water Street was revealed. And that’s the thing: no matter how hard it gets squeezed, the Liverpool dream never relents. The city continues to attract those with an insatiable desire to create something, and the punk, DIY ethos born in O’Halligan’s warehouse still permeates almost every corner of the city’s creative underbelly today.
Words: Josh Ray / @josh5446ray