Tag Archives: The Sound Agents

Writing Liverpool

Coming home for Christmas can contain a mixture of emotions, perhaps depending on where you are returning to and from which departure point. Along with the tins of Quality Street to attack and relatives to catch up with, returning to Liverpool always super-charges my creativity, as if the old brain had been plugged into the mains. Partly that is because I know so many talented individuals here and that can’t help but inspire, but also it is the fabric of the city itself.

Pushing my infant son along the street in his buggy, my thoughts took a sudden detour into Helen Forrester’s Depression-era wanderings with her baby brother in Twopence to Cross the Mersey. (Since copied by a thousand similar ‘misery memoirs’, a recent re-read confirmed that this tale of everyday poverty in the Thirties still shocks and informs the reader. Very much recommend picking it up!) Thankfully my legs weren’t as bare as hers, as we walked into the teeth of the gale that never seems far away in a Liverpool winter.

The weather, the streets, the mix of people, the often brutal living and working conditions: there is something about this city that commands your attention and demands you put pen to paper. Over the years many have tried to analyse why that should be, but I think few come as close as this quote seen hanging on the wall at the Museum of Liverpool:

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Take a taxi, sit in a bar, wander around – even while paying for your shopping or in the dentist’s waiting room – the stories leap out at you. There are no boring people, my mother once said, every person has their story. Mothers tend to be right on these things, as on many others, galling as it is sometimes to acknowledge.

And Scouse families – Carla Lane’s Boswells among them – seem to drive this verbal narrative on. From your earliest years they will be telling you stories of people you are only possibly supposed to remember, old friends, distant relatives, many long dead, and they want to hear yours in return. As a shy teenager, the demand to ‘perform’ when it was my turn had me tongue-tied and stammering – but I still can’t finish a piece of writing until I have read it aloud. If it doesn’t work to my ear, I know it won’t work on the page.

So as well as stuffing myself with Christmas treats, this holiday will see me gorging on all the city has to offer, from theatre to opera, as well as the continuous play that goes on around the dinner tables and in the streets of my home town.

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‘Opera for Chinatown’ by The Sound Agents

The Sound Agents are artists specialising in oral history, funded by Heritage Lottery (HLF) to record the oral history of Liverpool Chinatown.

TheSoundAgents

Liverpool Chinatown is home to the oldest Chinese community in Europe. It has the largest arch outside of China and is probably the smallest Chinatown in the world. The streets are steeped in history. People from all over the world stayed in boarding houses in Nelson Street on their way to America. Some stayed thinking they had arrived in America when they docked in Liverpool, making Chinatown a unique cosmopolitan area.

The Agents – John Campbell and Moira Kenny – have written a play based on the stories they have been recording about the Blue Funnel Sailors, the forced Chinese repatriation and the Liverpool Chinese children who featured in the film The Inn of the Sixth Happiness.

The piece of theatre is called ‘The Curious Disappearance of Mr Foo’ and will be at the Unity Theatre Liverpool on 21 June. (Starring Tina Malone and Simon Wan. Directed by The Sound Agents.)

Currently the creative collective are exhibiting photographs, audio and artefacts from the oral history in the Open Eye Gallery alongside Bert Hardy, Martin Parr and UK-based photographer Jamie Lau. The exhibition Ebb and Flow is a visual chronicle of Liverpool Chinatown, an audio-visual survey of the history and changes, from 17 May – 22 June.

Sound Agents Sans Cafe

Working with Iliad and Liverpool City council they are also creating a photographic installation on three Georgian Terraces in Duke Street for the end of May.

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The terrace’s artwork is called ‘Opera for Chinatown.’ The Sound Agents’ overall aim is to set up a site-specific Chinatown Museum in Liverpool. They have a particular mantra,

We do not believe in failure.

When working in Chinatown the artists employ local people and are keen to provide opportunities and experience to showcase women in roles traditionally reserved for men – thereby promoting the proverb, ‘women hold up half the sky.’

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Pictured are Blue Funnel Shanghai sailors, Mr Yue, Mr Lau and Mr Woo.

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Their pictures appear on the building.

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I asked the Agents, what is the most interesting Chinese phrase that you have picked up? To which they coyly replied,

Better not repeat it. We hang around with retired Chinese sailors.

All pictures by kind permission of the Sound Agents

This post was updated on 6 June as the director of the Unity Theatre play changed

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