Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Left behind - the view from the bar

This is a brief essay in response to Sarah O'Connor's article in The Financial Times Weekend Magazine published on Saturday 16 November 2017 (O’Connor & Burn-Murdoch, 2017), the conversation it triggered locally and nationally. It is also a response to the meeting held by LeftCoast, ‘Left Behind – Blackpool a Drop Out Town?’  on 18 January 2018 and the mini-manifesto produced by LeftCoast, which will form the foundation for, Left Behind... #2 - Creative Conversation on the 8 February 2018.

The article prompted a renewed personal interest in the decline and fall of Blackpool. I arrived on the Fylde Coast in 1971. Blackpool was in full swing but the chains were well rusted through and it was clear from the public debate and the newspaper headlines that the infrastructure and superstructure was starting to crumble. Family holidays were in decline but weekends, particularly during the “Lights”, were more popular than ever, if the number of cars queuing to get into Blackpool on a Friday evening was anything to go by, and this was pre M55.

Sarah O'Connor's article laid bare the problems of economic decline, low wage economy, social deprivation and the evidence of conflicting government legislation, re benefits, and muddled thinking by local and regional politics. Digging in the archives revealed a library of dust covered reports of one sort or other going back to 2003 and probably further if I could have raised the enthusiasm to look. These were reports that identified all the problems and offered a range of miracle solutions to halt Blackpool’s economic decline and cure the resultant social deprivation. Then there were the government reports offering analysis, solutions and in some cases olive branches and the occasional wad of money to reinvent, save and invigorate coastal or seaside towns and liberate them of their post-industrial ills. Inevitably to add cream to the mouldering pile there are the academic papers and reports that say all the same things but in a language that no one understands.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Cilla the Biopic - A Rouetmaster Moment

October 2014 the BBC screened the biopic, Cilla. In one of the scenes, they showed Cilla meeting up with Ringo Starr in the el Cabala. They portrayed the El Kabala [sic - their incorrect spelling] coffee bar, as a greasy spoon cafe on the "Dock Road". To put the record straight I sent an email to the Sunday Times  "You Say" column in the Culture Magazine which was published on the 13th October 2014. The comment prompted a number of responses over the next few weeks.
Enjoying Cilla but irritated by a "Routemaster moment". The el Cabala coffee bar, spelled with a "C" not a "K", was not a greasy spoon as depicted but Liverpool's first high-class coffee bar at 96 Bold Street, the poshest shopping street in town. Next door was la Cabala and both were owned and run by 2 Hungarian brothers, the Kushners. The splendid Palladian frontage is still in situ. The place to linger over a Cafe Borgia and a Sobranie Black Russian cigarette in the late 50's early 60's.
I submitted the comment with supporting evidence a paper by Helen Taylor, "Liverpool 8 and 'Liverpool 8': The creation of social space in the Merseybeat movement" (link). She quotes from Rodger McGough's book Said and Done.
McGough’s ‘first cappuccino’, in ‘El Cabala, a glass fronted, airy cafĂ© on Bold Street’, is considered a significant moment, both because of its novelty and for what it represents of this lifestyle (McGough, Said and Done: the autobiography   (London: Random House, 2005, p. 142)
This reminder of an icon of my formative years got me going particularly as it appeared from initial investigations that many of the recollections from the collective memory were as bad as the BBC's research, confusion seemed to reign. Confusion with locations with similar names and recall of the geography were commonplace, a bit of research was called for.

The first thing you notice is how many different (incorrect) spellings of the name there are on the internet, some by those who should know better - the BBC. The correct spelling is el Cabala, with a small e and a capital C, not a K. The site of the el Cabala the was 96 Bold Street, now the home of "Next to Nowhere" a bookshop. The frontage is quite distinctive with two grand Palladian granite pillars and decor. Interestingly, to confuse memories further, there was also an el Cabala in Southport owned by the same family. The Bold Street place had a mezzanine floor. It was the first place to serve Espresso coffee and Cappuccino dusted with chocolate and cinnamon. My favourite drink was a Cafe Borgia, we would probably call it a Mocha today Milky chocolate, an expresso plus cinnamon and nutmeg sprinkle. Russian tea was also a favourite with many, black tea with lemon. Whatever you drank it was usually accompanied by an exotic fag, Sobranie Black Russian or Passing Cloud were my favourites but Gauloise, Lucky Strike, Camel and even Capstan Full Strength and if you were of a certain persuasion Sobranie Cocktail cigarettes were amongst the pollutants we puffed on our decadent visits to this establishment. I even graduated to a pipe at one point. As with all good academic research, I have corroborated my sources with a paper published by Helen Taylor, "Liverpool 8 and 'Liverpool 8': The creation of social space in the Merseybeat movement." Source: Exegesis (2013) 2, pp. 34-44

96 Bold Street