Lime green, acid pink, beckoning blue and a chic, subtle coral… I was warned Liverpool’s a trip, but this really is A Ticket To Ride. (Sorry).
Before me stand the dazzling suits worn by John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison on the cover of their 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I’m thoroughly engrossed at Liverpool’s The Beatles Story museum: the crown jewel of photogenic Royal Albert Dock.
Shameful to admit, but I’m not a terribly big fan of The Beatles – and yet this attraction is one of the best museums I’ve ever visited. The recreation of the Cavern Club in the 50s is transportive (you can visit the real thing in the Cavern Quarter in the town centre, comically located between a Pizza Express and a Slug and Lettuce…). Meanwhile this hair product aficionado’s top artefact was a Beatles-branded hair pomade.
But those Sgt. Pepper suits are works of inexplicable pop art – and they’re just the start of Liverpool’s treasure trove arts and culture scene, from the majestic murals of the Baltic Triangle to the art-infused lobby of my stopover, the Pullman Liverpool Hotel (more on which later).
Three hours from London by train, Liverpool (population: 902,000) is best known for two things: The Fab Four and football, or rather, Liverpool Football Club. But since being named European Capital of Culture in 2008, the city’s story has evolved into artier territory. The headline draw? Undoubtedly the Tate Liverpool, the little brother to London’s Tate Britain and Tate Modern (but big sister to Tate St Ives?). It attracted a whopping 707,207 visitors in 2018.
Last year, it gave the first UK show dedicated to Keith Haring’s life-giving, movement-filled oeuvre, and this year’s blockbuster temporary exhibition will spotlight the stirring black and white images of British photographer and photojournalist Don McCullin, from 5 June-27 September.
The Tate seemingly pulls a solar system of other galleries into its orbit – in fact, Liverpool has more museums and galleries than any other UK city outside the capital. Things move up a gear during the Liverpool Biennial, the largest festival of contemporary visual art in the UK, returning 11 July-25 October 2020.
Two galleries worth an afternoon include FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology), which boasts three gallery spaces, four cinema screens and a bar, plus Bluecoat, a huge space housed within central Liverpool’s oldest building: a charming, Grade One listed former school dating back to 1716. Today it’s a buzzing arts centre: a rabbits’ warren of exhibition spaces, performance halls and cool cafes. An exhibit from multimedia artist Shezad Dawood, kicking off 6 July, spearheads a 2020 season exploring themes of society and migration.
There’s also a smattering of much smaller galleries and studios. For example at Dorothy in the buzzy Baltic Triangle (think East London meets Brooklyn with a sprinkling of Silicon Valley), I stumbled on a glass cabinet of imagined horror characters’ business cards (‘Norman Bates Taxidermy’; ‘Damien Thorn, CEO’), designed by the studio’s Oli Rogers, which blew my mind.
However, the Triangle’s best art is outdoors, in its endless ugly-pretty graffiti. A gigantic pair of wings called ‘For All the Liver Birds’ by Liverpudlian Paul Curtis is the most famous.
Discover it all on the excellent Baltic Triangle Tour, while also exploring hip bakeries (the Baltic Bakehouse), rubber factories-turned-microbreweries (Love Land Brewery), all sorts of vintage wizardry (Red Brick Market) and a borderline unnecessary abundance of coffee shops.
Art also permeates the lobby, or ‘Artist Playground’ creative hub, of the four star Hotel Pullman Liverpool. Following an intriguing partnership with London-based interdisciplinary digital artist Lucy Hardcastle, you’ll find an otherworldly digital animation named Luminesce playing on giant screens (also on show at the Pullman London St Pancras Hotel).
It takes the viewer on a gentle, relaxing ride across a dreamy cityscape saturated in pinks and purples. Along with the friendly, relaxed staff with iPads who greet you on arrival at the hotel, it makes for quite the chill check in.
Our comfortable room boasted a view of the Wheel of Liverpool and the River Mersey, and the hotel was the perfect base for all of the aforementioned arty adventures. It’s also a stone’s throw from the ACC Liverpool, the Merseyside Maritime Museum and only four minutes’ walk to The Beatles Story.