The Leftbank Soundtrack is an audio adventure, a voyage of sonic discovery through the back alleys and boulevards of BirkenheadMap & Locations
The animated music walk, using newly-commissioned compositions from Birkenhead’s musical talent, threads together stories of music, movements, history and change. It takes you through Birkenhead, the old music venues and sounds, cultural heritage and hopes for the future.
Birkenhead. A small shipbuilding town on the banks of the River Mersey, nestled on a peninsula of land called the Wirral, tucked between Liverpool and North Wales. We populated the world’s oceans with great liners. We also populated the world’s radio waves and stages with some of the most fabulous and gloriously eccentric music you’ve heard: Bill Ryder-Jones, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Half Man Half Biscuit, Elvis Costello, Forest Swords, Queen Zee, Hooton Tennis Club.
Music has the power to change, to transform ideas, minds, places and talent.
On the Leftbank Soundtrack walk along the bank of the River Mersey, from the towering art deco Ventilation Tower, to the historic Priory and the green shoots of Future Yard. Listen to six musical compositions and allow your mind to reflect on the past and the present.
Beneath a town scarred by decades of economic decay, something is stirring in Birkenhead. It is a desire to tell our own story, not in the shadow of anyone else’s. Reinvention means having one foot in the past and another in the future, understanding what has gone before while preparing for what is still to come.
A town of famous musical acts, interweaving storytelling with sonic sounds, gives Birkenhead its cultural character. Its music venues welcomed genre defining names through its doors over the decades, making a Mersey beat echo on either side of the river.
By combining new and established artists from Birkenhead, the Leftbank Soundtrack is a phonic journey through the town’s musical landscape.
The choice of each location is a place of reflection and a moment to stop. Each spot is a chapter in Birkenhead’s history and an opportunity for change.
MAP & Locations
At each location on The Leftbank Soundtrack route, you will be invited to scan a QR code which will take you to a piece of commissioned music, telling the story of the spot you are standing in. Listen, walk, think and reflect.
The historic, Georgian Grade I listed Hamilton Square is the civic heart of Birkenhead. The gardens at its centre hold a statue of John Laird and a series of memorials, including the Borough’s war memorial. From the edge of the gardens you can look across the river and see Liverpool along the shore. Behind you is the town’s retail core and the road to the shipyard. Hamilton Square is a place of hope, designed to showcase the grandeur and growth of Birkenhead. It is also a place of reflection, the way in and the way out of Birkenhead.
The striking art deco Ventilation Tower dominates the skyline of the Leftbank. It ties together Birkenhead’s built environment and transport infrastructure. As well as having a technical function it is a significant landmark and echoes a period of town planning and design filled with ambition. The 1920s is an important chapter in Birkenhead’s identity, when even the most functional space is infused with design credentials.
Woodside Ferry Terminal
Attracting commuters, tourists and visitors alike, the famous ferry is always a reminder that music and the landscape are closely entwined on Merseyside. On the banks of the River Mersey, the ferry terminal is being transformed into a destination, a place to eat and visit instead of merely a stop on a journey. The river is tied to the history and heritage of Birkenhead, just as it is to Liverpool's, and the shift towards a visitor economy - bringing visitors along the waves of the river instead of cargo and business - is another step in the town’s story.
Few places illustrate the history of Birkenhead more comprehensively than this spot opposite Birkenhead Priory. From here you look at one of the oldest buildings on Merseyside and its social and ecclesiastical heritage, while to the right you see Cammell Laird, a site so vital in the region’s industry over the past two centuries. In tying these two locations together in one spot, it does much to articulate the history and heritage of Birkenhead, its medieval role and history alongside its industrial socio economic role and character. Birkenhead is not just one thing, one identity, one place; its different roles coexist and this location emphasises that.
Birkenhead’s musical culture and heritage is richly felt along Argyle Street. New music and cultural venues like Future Yard operate in the shadow of long gone music venues, like Stairways. The next chapter in the walking tour emphasises this history of Birkenhead and its cultural contribution to Merseyside. It is often thought that bands just travelled to Liverpool, and that the musical heritage of the city region is dominated by the Beatles. Birkenhead has hosted a range of bands from Carcass to Faith No More, Little Richard and the Buzzcocks. This space, opposite one of Wirral’s newest venues, allows the visitor to place it into the context of music venues in Birkenhead. The space on this wall, above the loopline, allows the Leftbank Soundtrack to tie itself into the past, present and future of Birkenhead. It can reflect on musical heritage, new venues but also plans for the loopline and cultural infrastructure.
At Birkenhead Central, there is an opportunity to reflect on the importance of investing in cultural heritage. Mr Digby’s and Central Hotel are two venues which are either demolished or in a state of disrepair. The importance of cultural heritage, of regeneration and rebuilding can be emphasised here. How do we preserve the two together? The Pyramids, across the road, is the site of investment, while behind the station, at the old gasworks, new houses are to be built. Birkenhead is about to embark on another period of change, and reflecting on the balance between the past, the present and the future is a vital one in towns. How do we keep what has gone and preserve the past, while making space for growth and the future?
Acerbic post-punk outfit Half Man Half Biscuit formed in Birkenhead in 1984, and revolve around the partnership of singer/guitarist Nigel Blackwell and bassist Neil Crossley. The group have accrued a cult following over the span of 14 albums, as much for their irreverent takes on small-town England as for their wry social commentary. When you're described as "the greatest English folk band since The Clash," you know you're doing something right. When John Peel describes you as "a national treasure", your cult status is confirmed.
The langurous songs of Bill Ryder-Jones are located at the point where introspection and redemption meet, although his lyrical themes suggest resolution is not always guaranteed. Ryder-Jones has mastered a distinct and personal mood music, executed with a studio deftness and an intimacy in his vocal delivery - the sound of someone sharing their experiences while offering the listener a space to be themselves. Singer, songwriter, composer, producer, his work is both critically acclaimed and adored by fans.
Andrew PM Hunt is an acclaimed musician and producer, one of the strongest currents flowing through this region’s music scene. Whether it is as his solo project, Dialect, or through a collaboration, his textured and experimental work draws on a number of influences. Electronic, acoustic, orchestral, is it not the style that defies the artist but the desire for creativity.
Forest Swords is electronic producer and artist Matthew Barnes, born in Birkenhead. Barnes is known for rewiring sounds into innovative electronic worlds, most recently on the acclaimed 'Compassion' album. He recently expanded into film scoring, composing the music for the Sundance winning Netflix documentary 'Ghosts Of Sugar Land'. Forest Swords also collaborated on an audio installation at Future Yard festival in 2019, which is sampled throughout this piece. Working alongside artists from The Kazimier, Barnes hosted PYLON, a structure of cymbals and lights that was performed using programmed electronics and responded to the environment.
Hailing from Wirral and synonymous with Liverpool’s music scene, Louisa Roach’s band She Drew The Gun is ambitious, melodic, psych pop with a political edge and has captured the ear of many and saw the band being crowned the winner of Glastonbury’s coveted emerging talent competition in 2016. Being compared to contemporary poets such as Kate Tempest, her new music sees her take the vocal range of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O, to the punk angst of Jehnny Beth.