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> > > DaDaFest International 2014: The City Speaks

19 November 2014

The City Speaks is a guided tour to Liverpool's political and cultural history of the city and its people. Created by sound artist Chas de Swiet, the audio work provides an aural tapestry made up of snippets and snapshots of Liverpool past and present, stories told in song, poetry, interviews and observations, all set against natural background sounds. Review by Deborah Caulfield

photo of performer Julie McNamara wearing headphones and dark glasses

The City Speaks is narrated by performer Julie McNamara

Julie MacNamara, respected and successful disability artist, is our guide. With deep roots and connections to the city and to disability arts, she ’is perfect for the task. 

As well as contributing personal reflections and anecdotes, along the way, Julie introduces us to some of the city's historians and artists, such as Steve Binns, Dorcas Sebuyange, and Levi Fatari. Each has a story to tell about Liverpool's rich cultural and political heritage. Entertaining as well as educational, The City Speaks reminded me a little of the old BBC Radio programme 'Down Your Way', minus the musical requests.

The tour starts at the Bluecoat, Liverpool's oldest building. Originally a school for the city's poor children, built by a rich plantation owner, Liverpool's past connection with the slave trade creates dilemmas and conflicts, even today. It also informs and enriches the city's cultural output.

Underlining this, the first stop on the tour, having left the Bluecoat, is the International Slavery museum, a visit to which Julie strongly recommends.

Class as well as and racial issues run through Liverpool's veins. Track 6, Pier Head, my favourite track, is packed with insight and historical interest. It begins with Julie singing one of her own satirical ditties, 'I was born in a Mersey Town' about work and unemployment. 

Looking out at the waterfront, reflecting on her life, Julie describes the scene, sounds and sights around her, including the Liver Buildings, Morpeth Dock, and the Beatles Museum. 

On this track we hear from playwright Mike Morris, who talks about the race riots of 1919, and George Garrett's amazing anti-racism speech of 1921.

Track 6 ends with Julie reciting a poem of great poignancy, written by her father four years before he died, and sent to her with the instruction for it to be read out at his funeral.

The tour as a whole is designed as a wheelchair accessible walk. Certain hazards and barriers, such as non-audible pedestrian crossings and cobbled streets, are helpfully highlighted.

Unfortunately, distance is hardly mentioned, which makes planning a little tricky when fatigue and pain have to be factored in before venturing out. However, I’m not unduly worried; the guide suggests enquiring at the festival desk if there are any particular access needs. When attending festivals and conferences I rarely go further than the venue and car park.

I would thoroughly recommend listening to The City Speaks available as a podcast from the festival website.

My visit to DaDaFest International 2014 will be very different with the appreciation for the context of the festival this audio provides.

I haven't left home yet, but I can't wait to experience for myself the Daughter of Merseyside.

I loved The Beatles but really, there's so much more to this great City.

Liverpool, here I come!

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DaDaFest International 2014 is an ambitious event running from November 8th to January 11th 2015. It brings together artists from around the world to Liverpool, to showcase and celebrate the best in Disability and Deaf Arts. The festival aims to challenge thinking, ignite debate and celebrate disability culture through comedy, music, dance, and visual arts.

The City Speaks created by Chas de Swiet is available on MP3 players for hire from The Bluecoat, together with a printed handout with detailed directions, and a map. The tour visits seven sites of significance and interest, including Liverpool’'s oldest building, Bluecoat, The International Slavery Museum, and Lime Street Station.

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