The Hope Street Festival in Liverpool, delayed from Midsummer, was on Sunday 17 September. This exciting milestone in Hope Street’s history, introducing of a start-of-season early Autumn ‘Feast’ to go in future alongside the Summer Festival, is however neither the beginning nor the end of the journey.
The first Hope Street Festival was in 1977, to mark the Silver Jubilee of HM The Queen. The next event, marking the Centenary of the Incorporation of the City of Liverpool, was in 1980. There followed a period of great concern for the cultural fortunes of Hope Street.
During the 19803 and into the ’90s Hope Street’s cultural institutions were in great peril. From this time of peril however, in the early 1990s, emerged a community-led campaign -The Campaign to Promote the Arts on Merseyside (CAMPAM) – to ensure that Liverpool kept its flagship organisations; and from CAMPAM in turn emerged HOPES: The Hope Street Association, the registered charity which was to seek renewal of the Quarter and which was later to resurrect the Hope Street Festivals.
The original Hope Street Festivals were organised in 1977 and 1980 by a group of people who included Stephen Gray OBE and Andrew Burn, then managers at the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society, as well as the late Adrian Henri, one of the founding Liverpool Poets, and other local artists and restaurateurs such as Berni Start of Kirklands Wine Bar, and Paddy Byrne of the Everyman Bistro.
Talking to people in Liverpool today, many of them recall the 1977 event as tremendously exciting, taking part as school children in one of the most massive pageants imaginable – 17,000 participants enacting eight scenes depicting the four seasons along the length of Hope Street, from one cathedral to the other. (As those then involved will tell you, some children even had to run from one point to another, to enact different parts of the pageant!)
In both 1977 and 1980 there was much support from the business community. The list of sponsors contains names which sometimes take one down memory lane: Leighton Advertising of 62 Hope Street, Modern Kitchen Equipment of Myrtle Street, Ford Dealers J. Blake and Company of Hope Street, , WH Brady of Smithdown Road, Girobank, Littlewoods, Radio City, and Higsons Brewery amongst them, alongside further flung organisations like the Chester Summer Music Festival, Welsh National Opera, Theatr Clwyd and even Decca, who recorded much Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (RLPO) music during that time… Strange to say, the first three businesses are now lost to Hope Street; but most of the others of course remain as current concerns in Liverpool. As we shall see, it was in part an enthusiasm once more to energise the business community in Hope Street Quarter which led to the resurrection of the Hope Street Festival in 1996.
1977 – The Queen’s Silver Jubilee
The 1977 Festival was centred on celebration of the visit to Liverpool of Her Majesty the Queen, during her Silver Jubilee tour of the United Kingdom. Malcolm Williamson, Master of the Queen’s Music, wrote a pageant entitled The Valley and the Hill, to be performed in Hope Street on 21st June. (I know; I made thirty children’s ‘sheep’ costumes for the performance, whilst on a teaching practice!) This was recorded in 1983 with a choir of 2,000 local school children and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (my violinist spouse was there…).
The 1980 Hope Street Summer Festival
Then there was another Hope Street Festival in 1980, directed once more by Stephen Gray as General Manager of the RLPS, with his colleague Andrew Burn – again an impressive programme of concerts, talks and other events by leading performers and commentators, including the Allegri Quartet, Christian Blackshaw, John Cage, <a href%3