BLOG: The Stones are rolling into Liverpool

Music fans have rejoiced at the news that the Rolling Stones will be heading to Liverpool in June as part of their European tour dates. But does the gig warrant the hype and why has it taken so long for the legendary rockers to play a stadium show in Liverpool? The city’s Head of UNESCO City of Music, Kevin McManus, shares his thoughts.

As a UNESCO City of Music it’s only fitting that the biggest names in music should play in our wonderful city. That’s why the announcement that the Rolling Stones  will be playing a gig at Anfield stadium  this summer is great news for the city and its music lovers.  It becomes even more significant when you realise that it’s the first time these rock n roll giants have played a gig in Liverpool since 1971.

That 50-year gap between Stones’ performances in the city is incredibly surprising and even more bizarre when you think that during this time period  other rock n roll giants like Bob Dylan, The Who and  Neil Young,  not to mention our very own Paul McCartney, have all managed to perform in the city at least once during that period. That other music legend, Elton John, will be gracing the same stage that week as well, probably playing Liverpool for the last time on what is being billed as his final tour ever. That’s a massive coup for the city, having two of the biggest names in popular music from the last half a century  playing here within days of each other. (The Eagles are also playing at Anfield.  I’m sure they will be enjoyed by a sell out audience but personally I wished they had kept to their promise  of only playing together again when hell froze over). 

As an aside I’ve always had a  massive soft spot for Elton ever since I saw him at the Liverpool Empire when I was around 12 years old. I even ‘met’ him briefly after chasing his car to the steps of the Adelphi hotel -very grand in those days – where he very graciously gave me his autograph. I was also lucky enough to see the legend that is Bob Dylan in the relatively small surroundings of that same theatre in 1996.

So why haven’t the Stones played in the city for so long? Have we offended them in some way? Are they scared that Beatles fans will gang up and batter them, or do they just not like Scousers? The reality is probably much more mundane in that we haven’t had somewhere suitable (i.e big enough) for them to play.

Bands like the Stones and their huge stage shows don’t come cheap. So the promoters of these shows need a venue large enough to give them a chance of making back their huge outlay and hopefully make a profit themselves. In the UK for the very biggest artists this usually means a football or cricket stadium. Until LFC dipped their toe in the live music water a few years ago we didn’t really have anywhere suitable.

So the fact that LFC now appear to be serious about staging gigs during the close season is great news for the gig going public of Liverpool and surrounding areas. Far too often in the past local music lovers have had to travel to Manchester, Leeds or even London.

Without doubt the arrival of the Arena in 2008 filled a big gap in the venue eco-system in the city, attracting artists that needed a venue that could hold anything from 4,000-1,200. I’ve had some great nights there  and my favourite music memories from the Arena include their inaugural event which was the brilliant 2008 opening ceremony, the magical night when Nile Rogers got even the most staid person in the house dancing, and local legends Echo and the Bunnymen in all their grandeur on their Ocean Rain tour. Another real standout for me was the opportunity to see the legend that is Neil Young in my own city. I’d seen him before, but in the vast surrounds of Finsbury Park, so seeing him relatively close up in my home city was amazing for an old fan like myself. 

Luckily most of the big names of the last thirty years or so have found time to drop in on Liverpool although many haven’t returned since their early days  (probably due to our lack of a regular large stadium gig). Coldplay loved Liverpool in their early years after recording their first two albums with local producer Ken Nelson at Parr Street Studios. I remember them playing at the Royal Court and frankly not being that good. It was the biggest venue they had played to date and at that point these now incredibly slick stadium rockers just weren’t up to the task. This merely proves the point that everyone has to start somewhere. A young Ed Sheehan played an early Sound City (at Bumper I think) and the mighty Adele chose to play at the legendary Cavern club not long before she became one of the world’s biggest artists. 

I’m sure that as well as providing an opportunity for local fans to see the Stones, Elton and The Eagles, the Anfield gigs will attract visitors who will take the opportunity to enjoy a break in the city as well as seeing the stadium shows. That’s great news for visitor spend in the economy but I think is just a  small taster of what can be achieved.  Liverpool is a real music city and  every weekend there is a great music happening in the incredible array of venues and festivals and visitors should really be attracted by that. Just look at what is put on every week by grassroots venues like Kitchen Street, or by the Philharmonic, or Meraki to name just a few, or the huge night promoted by  Circus.  That’s before you even start to look at our staggering range of music tourism attractions including the likes of The Cavern, Beatles Story, and British Music Experience.

From experience I know that once we get people in the city to  experience a musical night out  they will want to come back again and again with friends and with family. And why wouldn’t they?

And, as an after thought, The Rolling Stones aren’t the only band who have neglected our city for far too long.  U2 who played the city regularly in their early days haven’t  bothered to come back here since their last Royal Court gig in 1993.  C’mon Bono you really should be ashamed of yourself.  Get it sorted.

Kevin McManus

Liverpool Waterfront