And so, without further ado – for of that there has been plenty over the years – the long awaited Museum of Liverpool finally opened to the public today. Liver birds were on hand to meet, greet and gab with the crowd, Phil Redmond was mumbling a typically Phil Redmond-type speech, Mike McCartney’s pictures were on show, and school kids were running about looking for the ancient history on display (“’Ere y’are! ‘Ere’s Cream!”). There was a bit of a party atmosphere as the first ‘golden ticket’ holders came through the doors, and it was great to see the opening – the largest new-build museum in the country for almost a century – attract national attention. That is, I saw Radio 4’s Mark Lawson in the crowd. We can only hope the Daily Mail didn’t see fit to send Brian Sewell up, or we’ll all be in trouble.
And the building, which I have always liked, is great, just the sort of space that would impress if you were exploring it in a city abroad (a moment please, to remember what could have been). It is a nice place to be in and look around. It feels welcoming, modern and proudly fit for purpose. The museum is opening in phases, which means the whole of the first floor – the one which will contain the Overhead Railway carriage – was out of bounds. In phases, I suppose, sounds a lot better than ‘unfinished’.
My heart sank as I saw purple wheelie bins elevated skywards in the centre of one exhibition room, and sank further with the realisation that not being charmed by the silliness of it meant I’d probably lose Scouse Sense of Humour points on the way out. There were rooms bursting with colour, history and song, including clips of John Bishop’s stand up, videos of girls in rollers, primary school uniforms, Yosser Hughes on a loop, all juxtaposed with war memorabilia and panels about the sacrifice of Mersey soldiers, unions and poverty. High and low culture all huddled together in one place. Some of it incredibly silly, some of it poignant. But did it work?
The ground floor Global City exhibition sets the scene in a more informative, historic and grandiose way and is exactly what you want to see from a place like this. Heading upstairs, regular visitors to the NML venues will have seen many of this museum’s crowning glories (thus far) before – the huge model of Lutyen’s proposed cathedral, Ben Johnson’s wonderful Cityscape, bits and bobs first seen in the And the Beat Goes On… exhibition of 2008, those picture postcard-style life-sized sculptures from the now departed Museum of Liverpool Life, Beatles’ suits with quotes we’ve heard a million times.
So one has to distance oneself from that and remember the aim of this collection isn’t to wow us with new loot, it is to appeal to, educate and entertain those who aren’t in the know – national and international visitors, or people who don’t think museums are for them. People who stand to learn something, perhaps like all those wags on the Guardian comment boards who saw fit to quip a museum of Liverpool would contain nothing but stolen hubcaps and curly perm wigs. They’ll have something to say about the wheelie bins alright. It’s a museum of the people the bigwigs repeat, and the people genuinely seem excited and honoured by the privilege. That can only be a good thing.
I guess it’s down to your frame of mind when you walk through the door of the Museum of Liverpool as to what you take away from it. Today, I must admit to not being thoroughly convinced by the love-in that was going on all around. Any other day, a waft of You’ll Never Walk Alone and an old front page of the Wirral News might have me snivelling into my cardie sleeve. But I’ll be back – alongside the 750,000 projected visitors it hopes to draw in a year. This isn’t the end of the road – or of the ado – so here’s wishing the Museum of Liverpool every success.