It would take more time and patience than I currently possess to count the references to a musical community in the last 49 editions of Bido Lito! That’s not to say it’s a term we invented. It’s a phrase that appears wherever people are writing about music: in print or online, globally or locally. You can find it every time a band achieves national recognition, especially if they decide to mention a few other local artists who they know or have worked with. This clarion call to the rest of the country, imploring them to pay attention to what’s happening here, is admirable, but is it accurate?
NIK GLOVER has become well versed in the dynamics of Liverpool music over the course of 11 years with the all-too-briefly-successful Seal Cub Clubbing Club and current band LOVED ONES, who are preparing to release their second album later this year. He’s in a good position to confirm Merseyside as a musical hotbed: “There are always bands coming out [here], always bands getting signed. It’s not an accident – a big part of that is because of the history of those that have gone before. It becomes self-fulfilling – music industry people are always coming to Liverpool to check out bands because it’s got a great track record. A lot of the successful bands based here aren’t made up of locals, but people that have moved into the area because good music gets noticed here, which in turn feeds into the melting pot.”
It’s not just memories of the Beatles and the Bunnymen that lead people to our streets to seek their musical fortune; Glover also believes Liverpool has an attractive infrastructure at present. “Liverpool right now is a great place to make music,” he confirms. “People always want to compare it to Manchester or London instead of just focusing on the incredible amount of good music that comes out of Liverpool. There are a lot of venues here, considering the size of the city. They do come and go – some seem to go in and then out of fashion in only a few years – but there are also cultural centres such as LIPA and the SAE Institute that draw in musical talent. Plenty of band members work in publishing or are sound engineers in their spare time.”
Glover’s description of Liverpool as a “village city” rings true, as it will to anyone who has been to more than a handful of shows here, and is used to seeing the same faces. “Most of the musicians here know each other in some way. There’s always a link. It’s very rare for a band to come out without one of them being a sound engineer for someone else, or dropping in to play bass with another band. In our band there’s Jay [Freeman] who plays with Forest Swords, and Rich [Hurst] is in The Laze as well as sitting in with Zombina And The Skeletones every now and then. A lot of them work bar jobs that offer a bit of free time, so it becomes easy to contribute to each other’s projects. If they’re also living in big communal houses like The Lodge [a former mansion turned artistic hub that has been home to members of Mother Earth, Ex-Easter Island Head, Outfit and Loved Ones], you can end up with people being in four or five bands at the same time. If one of them suddenly takes off, then all the other bands will get more coverage as well.” Thus a scene is born.
However, there could be a potential downside to this musical incest. One band’s success may mean exposure for the rest, but it could also deprive them of a key creative force for long periods. “It can take time from people,” Glover admits. “It all depends on what your priorities are. In situations where there’s a conflict of interest, in my experience people are drawn to the music they enjoy making, which isn’t necessarily the most successful.” Tight-knit cliques can be notoriously hard to break into, but even that can be spun positively, as Glover recalls from his youth: “When I was a teenager getting into bands and playing gigs for the first time, it was quite daunting. We were nervous kids looking for clubs or promoters, just trying to meet people. I was lucky in that I had a lot of friends who were doing the same thing, and we kinda started our own scene, centred around The Zanzibar. Lots of venues means lots of promoters, and a lot of opportunities to start playing music in Liverpool.”
Despite a glowing review for Liverpool in 2014, Glover isn’t quite so optimistic for the future. The legacy of a 50% cut in discretionary services – including arts funding – by Liverpool City Council over the next three years, in order to compensate for a £158m budget deficit, will be keenly felt: “I think people underestimate the effect that local government cuts are going to have, on venues in particular. We’ve seen what’s happened to MelloMello already. As business rates rise and council tax rises, funding for cultural events and the arts will plummet. It doesn’t even matter which political party wins the next election, as they’ve all signed up to the same budget regarding council spending.”
A bleak prediction of the future, and one in which it’s perfectly reasonable to expect that those involved in the arts will be less likely to take risks on new events and artists that may not be financially watertight. Thankfully, Glover is confident we will still have bands to cover in the next 50 editions, no matter how grim it gets: “Musicians can be incredibly resourceful. There are people willing to spend their lives trying to find new and interesting venues. We may be at a loss for a couple of years, but we’re never going to get to a point where everyone loses faith. We’ve seen in the past that if there are no places to play then people start playing outside. The whole rock ‘n’ roll attitude is very romantic, and there will always be those that buy into it. There’s too much history and culture in Liverpool for there to be no-one left who wants to pick up a guitar, or a keyboard, or a sampler or a drum machine.”