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Behind the Eurovision glitz and glitter
Welcome to the first edition of Stored Honey - celebrating the Northern arts scene
Saw a tweet this morning that sums up what it’s like to be in Liverpool this week: “Eurovision is life now”. The city knows how to throw a party. Even the flower beds are blue and yellow. Sequins are the look of the fortnight - bedazzling clothes, banners, people’s faces. Shop windows are decorated with Ukrainian flags and the bars are serving luminous cocktails with names like Boom Bang a Bang and Douze Points. But beneath the pizzazz, behind the glitter, the reason that Liverpool is hosting the world’s most fabulously ostentatious song contest has not been forgotten. Ukrainian people and their culture are at the centre of EuroFestival - the two-week arts event taking place in Liverpool this month. Sometimes it’s in-your-face, like in the transportive audio tour With Fire and Rage. Other times it’s more subtle, unexpectedly hitting you in the gut.
On Friday, I joined my daughter’s class on a school trip to New Brighton, Wirral, where they were among 450 children from across Merseyside taking part in Land & Sky, Home & Dreams - a session of simultaneous kite-flying with 450 children in Ukraine. What I had imagined as a Scouse version of the tranquil penultimate scene in Mary Poppins descended into organised chaos as a man with a loudspeaker yelled ‘Run!’ and 900 little legs scarpered across a field, kites whirled up in their tailwinds. It was hilarious and joyous, even when the heavens burst open and we all dripped back to shelter.
It was fun with a serious message though. The kites were decorated with the children’s hopes for the future. My daughter’s read: “There is no reason for war.” And while the pupils here were able to all congregate, in Ukraine they had to be in four separate locations in case they too needed to run for shelter - not from rain but from shelling.
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At the other end of the EuroFestival spectrum is With Fire and Rage, an audio tour of Liverpool City Centre that uses Ukrainian artists’ stories to invite you to imagine your own city at war. I sit outside the Philharmonic Hall on a quiet, sunny morning with my earphones plugged into my phone, and listen to guitarist Stas Kononov recall being woken by a friend saying: “Wake up or you will sleep through the war.” He and his fellow musicians laid down their instruments to hand out food and water to those in need: “It felt like making music hasn’t mattered for a long time […] To play you must be in the moment, be present, connect to your emotions […] We don’t have the space to be emotional.”
In the Everyman theatre’s street cafe, I point my phone camera at a group of friends drinking coffee together and the live view is replaced by a photograph of the Lesya Ukrainka Theatre, which was transformed into a bomb shelter by staff who made Molotov cocktails to defend the venue.
It is always more powerful to hear people’s experiences told in their own voices, to pick up on the clues in the tone and pace of their speech that are lost when words are written down. With Fire and Rage immerses you in a painful, terrifying world while you are surrounded by the comforting landmarks of home - and then rips away your security blanket by showing you what could happen.
With Fire and Rage runs until May 14. If you are unable to join the tour in person, you can listen online.
Full listings for EuroFestival are available here.
This week we’re also buzzing about…
The Ocean at the End of the Lane: Joel Horwood’s staging of Neil Gaiman’s novella is as haunting and as imaginative as the original. I saw it at the Liverpool Empire last week and it’s still creeping into my dreams. It’s currently on at Sheffield Lyceum and will be touring to The Lowry in Salford later this year. Read independent arts website Arts City Liverpool’s 4.5-star review here.
Who Robs a Banksy?: What made Yorkshire-born artist Andy Link start a feud with Banksy? And how did he come to steal one of Banksy’s works in broad daylight? Find out in this illuminating podcast that is currently fighting for my attention with Shrink the Box (neither Northern nor artsy unless you count telly, but well worth a listen).
New Things: Blackpool’s Grundy Art Gallery’s spring exhibition showcases acquisitions the venue has made over the past five years. The 40-plus pieces include work by Turner Prize-winner Lubaina Himid and several of Rachel Goodyear’s delicate pencil drawings.
Thank you so much for reading. I’d love to hear what you would like to see featured in this newsletter. Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, find Stored Honey on Twitter or use the comment option below.
Have a great week,