Liverpool is the 3rd best city for live music… So what?

As a new survey tries to determine what the best cities in the world are for live music, we cast our own personal reflection upon the topic and simply ask the question ‘why?’.

“Doing much the weekend?”

The standard, single most quintessential question you hear every Friday afternoon in the workplace without doubt.

In fact, I believe it’s borderline illegal not to ask. You’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who hasn’t heard those four words at least 15,738 times before, as it is often used solely for the sake of small talk as opposed to genuine curiousity. Though, every so often, an actual conversation can arise from such a mundane query.

The proof of such conversations?

When asked the classic line, my response of heading to Sound on Duke Street clearly piqued an interest. A poor attempt at socialising was enough to open an onslaught of further questions, and with a few twists and turns I found myself in a battle of Liverpool vs Manchester music venues. The rivalry flared once more – when two tribes go to war and all that jazz.

I argued on behalf of the Baltic TriangleKazimier GardenBuyer’s Club and Liverpool’s new Ten Streets project. My opponent flew the flag for Manchester’s Soup KitchenNorthern Quarter and poked fun at how the bigger artists of the world seem to choose Manchester over Liverpool for their tours. A petty jab.

We all know it’s because the Manchester Arena is bigger, right…

All in good jest, of course. In reality, the two cities have more in common than perhaps the citizens of either may think – or even wish to believe.

In a Guardian article entitled quite aptly, Liverpool and Manchester are closer than they like to admit, writer Kevin Sampson delved into just how much and how significantly both cities contributed to the musical scene. Old news, sure. This not unknown by any stretch of the imagination.

Yet, it’s the finer details outlined which offer a greater insight – the Irish ties and influences, the post-World War II music explosion, each city birthing its own synonymous sound through Merseybeat to Madchester, the fact that the two cities were virtually unknown to one another until the 1830s, and less than two centuries later, now both respected powerhouses for live music culture.

With a near hour long commute giving more than enough time to dwell on the exchange, the question emerged – just what are the best cities for live music?

Thanks to the power of the Internet for having all the world’s information at our fingertips, simply searching “best cities for live music” reveals pages upon pages of results. About 28,100,00 of them.

As expected, the results offer a catalog of clickbait listacles. Most are opinions from writers who simply enjoyed a certain city over another. Others, a collection of cities that have become associated with a certain brand of music. One site even believes it has found the definitive calculation to resolve just what are the best live music cities.

We quote:

We found music venues within 10 miles of each city listed and divided this by the square mile urban area of the city to give a comparable figure. We also divided the number of gigs by the number of venues in order to provide a comparable figure there as well. Each of the resulting metrics, as well as the average cost of a gig, were given a score out of 10.”

Elaborate, but definitive?

The argument seems to be quantity rather than quality. Cities in the USA make up half of the Top 10, probably down to their huge area, as the list contains the likes of Miami, Philadelphia, Seattle, Atlanta and Chicago. In this list it’s Liverpool who take the prize of third place. Quite a feat to rise above our nations golden boy that is the City of London which was ranked at ninth.

However, it is the city of love (and live music, apparently) that takes the number one spot – Paris.

The French capital and its mix of an abundant electronic scene and general desire for live music generates over 2000 gigs a year, with the average gig ticket setting you back around £40. Looks like you’d need to be bezzies with French billionaire Bernard Arnault to see even just a fraction of those yearly gigs.  Never mind the 9 euros for a pint, either.

Though, is any of this information even relevant to what really makes a city the best for live music? A city’s live music scene shouldn’t be based solely on ticket prices, its area size or venue capacity. What good are 100 different music venues each full of the same, monotonous, skinny-jeaned, generic guitar bands?

What it should be based on is the community’s acceptance and willingness to support local, upcoming, promising talents from all genres, backgrounds, genders and ethnicities. Fortunately, that is woven into Liverpool’s very own being.

Starting positive with the launch of the Ten Streets project, Sound City returning to its roots of having the city streets as its backdrop, Liverpool Music Week, BOSS nights at District, Africa Oyé, we are often free to indulge in a wide variety of music of, quite frankly, colossal proportions. Liverpool is by no means short of musical culture, but is it made to last?

With Joe Anderson claiming that Liverpool’s unique selling point lies within the city’s social events, what should become of the USP should the city council continue their attitude towards venues such as 24 Kitchen Street and Parr Street Studios. Maybe we are giving Joe too much credit in believing he is referring to events outside of the corporate enterprise, or remind him that a selling point doesn’t actually require the selling of land.


Liverpool’s ‘selling point’ is arguably housed within its streets. The artists, the independents, the venues, the creatives. These components don’t just happen to be in Liverpool, they were manufactured by Liverpool. To lose any part of that damages the threshold as a whole.

There are currently 6 city centre venues listed on the SaveOurVenues crowdfunder. Having already been witness to the departure of The Magnet, MelloMello, The Well and The View Two Gallery, can the remains bare the weight of a UNESCO City of Music status? Perhaps to those outside of the city, the status will remain for as long as The Beatles/Liverpool connection is continued.

It feels unjust when a city’s musical existence can be put down to one band. You’re extremely unlikely to find any external comment on the Liverpool music scene without a mention of the Cavern/Mathew Street/John Lennon… I’ve fallen into the trap. Though, who can really complain when it is estimated that The Beatles add £82 million to the city’s economy.

Perhaps the council isn’t doing enough to gain on this monopoly. We need a Beatles theme park on a flattened Seel Street, John Lennon’s head atop the Liver Building and an actual yellow submarine in every dock. Thank you, Beatles! Soon enough you will be all this city has left.

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