The first ever Toxteth Day of the Dead has been duly celebrated. What exactly was it? Here’s Vicky Pea with her report from the front line, the longest one yet. 

This one’s been a little tricky. It shouldn’t be because if there’s one thing I know how to do it’s to write up it’s a JAMs/K2 Plant Hire/Drummond/Cauty/Callender/Callender/Campbell event thingy that happens in Liverpool but also one time in London. It’s a niche admittedly but everyone’s got to have one.

I reckon I can chalk it up to the fact that previously I’ve been writing about events that not everyone could attend. Ticketed, limited capacity events and so these articles had the illusion of providing some kind of service. However this past Friday 23rd November 2018 was not and so motivation had space to wane in me. If you wanted to be there, you could have been there. You should have been there.

So although it’s your own fault for missing it (circumstances permitting, please don’t send me what I presume to be entirely acceptable excuses) I shall once again take you through a personal account of my day, as well as the days leading up to Toxteth Day of The Dead so that you can avoid making the same mistake next year.

Some 10 Days Prior To Toxteth Day Of The Dead

A purple light glows under a domed glass cloche, an alarm sounds, gently, across the room – a sound somewhere between a slide-whistle and air-raid siren. Footsteps approach a peeling wooden side table, a hand lifts the cloche as another grasps a phone receiver, raising it to an ear, terminating the alarm. “Arts Lab and Milk Bottle Recycling Plant, you drink ’em we pimp ’em, how can we help?”.

I wish, could you just imagine. But in all seriousness the communication the Liverpool Arts Lab received a mere week and spare change ahead of Friday 23rd November was no less epic, I promise you. For the Arts Lab have been called upon by Tom Calderbank and by proxy The JAMs to take part in the inaugural Toxteth Day Of The Dead.

Meeting #1 Means Maps

The mission was to create a beating of the bounds inspired event that would host the Procession of the Foundation Stone, led by Tommy, to explore where the People’s Pyramid could possibly one day end up. All the while forging Toxteth Day Of The Dead traditions that will withstand the next thousand years, the full details of which I will go into as the day itself progresses. In all honesty I don’t want to delve too deeply into the behind the scenes goings on. That would be an article or series in itself but not one that would benefit from promotion or publication. If you want to know what goes on back there get yourself to an Arts Lab and you’ll soon discover what it’s all about. If you want to know more about the history of beating of the bounds, google it. You’ll probably come across a few familiar customs, or you should if you’re paying attention.

What I will say is that everything you experienced outside of the Town Hall, from leaving the Florrie up until the point at which we met Rupert, Claire, Daisy, Gimpo and Jimmy for the laying of the first Brick of Mu onto the Foundation Stone, was the product of 3 Arts Lab meetings, a host of late nights, priority shipping, lunch break dashes, generous donations of time and resources, practice runs, negotiations, passionate discussions, ricocheting of ideas, imagination the likes of which is rarely seen first hand and most vitally a deep love and knowledge of Liverpool and its people, specifically Toxteth, as that is where the heart of this day in question truly lies. Remember that.

Meeting #2 Means Milk Ghosts & More

So yes I’m talking logos, maps, drawings, costumes, props, sound systems, t-shirts, signs, lights, routes, performers, tunes, stories, rituals. None of it existed before day T-minus 10 and you wouldn’t believe how much was left on the cutting room floor. To say the real deal included 50% of the original pool of ideas is likely an overstatement. It really was a privilege to play even the smallest part.

One of the things I’ve learned over the last year is I’m not really a creator. I can document well enough, swear at people to get out of the road with the best of them, but when it comes to proper arts and crafts or performance I lack the chops (and the hand eye coordination if my milk ghost and dodgy job cards are anything to go by). Between that, not being from round here and having this strange Khronical-er reputation hanging over me it was difficult not to feel somewhat of a fraud at times, or that I was just gegging in for some gossip, except everyone’s far too nice to let such negative thoughts linger. I thank them none the less for having me along for the ride as always.

Thursday 22nd November 2018

After a late night of printing and wonkily cutting up job cards plus a full shift in work it’s straight to the Hobo Kiosk, our makeshift HQ for the week, where fellow TDotD attendees are also welcome for last minute preparations. Attendees get stuck into producing signs, milk ghosts, hi-vis decorations and plaques whilst the most eager select their job cards for the day ahead. Members of the Arts Lab gather outside as the rickshaw arrives and crack on with building a PA system from scratch, powered by car battery and set to be pedalled along our course.

Meeting #3 Means running the plans past The JAMS & building a PA in a rickshaw

At some point The JAMs arrive, as do a host of other familiar faces. We all get comfy, raise a toast and Tommy proceeds to take us all through the plan one last time. It begins with a list of rituals including but not limited to;

  • The Choosing of the Ghosts
  • The Beckoning of the Gimpo
  • The Touching of the Stone
  • The Round the Roundabout
  • The Transit of Venus
  • The Kicking of the Brodie Ball
  • The Pinning the Tales on Judy The Donkey
  • The Performance of the Z Cars theme tune
  • The Hailing of the People of Granby
  • The Revival of the Fountain
  • The Beating of the 8
  • The 5-aside Brodie Memorial Match
  • The Sowing of the Seeds

We mentally trace the route, conjuring images along the way, evoking our chosen Great Spirits of L8, trading tales and synchronicities. Everyone seems in high spirits and in the absence of any objections we have our Beating of the Bounds (ish).

Friday 23rd November 2018

As I approach the high street I see fellow Arts Labbers hauling ass with a trolley, “here we go!”.

There is already a queue outside Toxteth Town Hall made up of bodies and trolleys when I arrive. Greetings are made, reunions are in full flow, hip flasks and other such containers are being passed around as we fuel ourselves for the day ahead. Rumour has spread that flyer or no flyer, if you’re not on the list (for MuMufication) or you’re without trolley, you’re not getting in so the Tesco across the road is being regularly ransacked.

Admirably some had arrived with said item in tow, torrid tales of procurement and transportation are swapped, all of which produce laughter and an odd sort of satisfaction. Some time after noon the queue begins to slowly move forward as Tony Thorpe inspects the attendees offerings. Those with a trolley are handed a new edition of THE MANUAL and directed round the back of the Town Hall where Gimpo awaits, stamp in hand, to receive them, the stamp being your mark of entry.

Those of us already signed up for MuMufication are checked off a list and welcomed with a GOT MUMUFICATION lanyard. Upon entering the Town Hall I’m offered a cup of tea in a GET MUMUFICATION mug (which I and everyone else lifted without hesitation) as Bill Drummond sits rolling out pastry for his next batch of mince pies. I couldn’t help but find the whole thing adorable. Bill, totally focused on the pies, tiny little oven next to him, oblivious to everything else going on around him.

Behind him towers the Unexpected Item In Toxteth Town Hall that was… well totally fucking expected to be brutally honest. A 23ft by 23ft by 23ft (I think) pyramid of shopping trolleys shackled together.

Is it a tongue in cheek commentary on Black Friday that was also being “celebrated” on this day? Maybe. Is it a way to effectively visualise the proposed completed size of the People’s Pyramid? Probably a bit. Was it astonishing to look at? So so. Was it an inventive centre piece with the aim of getting punters into the Town Hall and stood in front of Callender, Callendar, Cauty & Drummond Undertakers who were selling the prospect of a thousand years of preservation and Bricks of Mu for low low prices? Could be onto something there.

Rupert and Claire shift bricks and stamp certificates. Architect Paul Sullivan is sporadically quizzed about his creation. Behind them sits one solitary Brick of Mu on a pillow. Fired. It’s previously empty borehole filled with ashes.

As the hall fills up we decide to head outside, tea in hand, to see what the deal is with all these surplus trolleys. We nip around the back and Jimmy beckons us over where he stands at the back of a truck, he points inside. There she blows. The Foundation Stone. Somewhat thicker than originally planned. Twice as thick maybe. Twice as heavy.

It’s a sandstone behemoth. Arrived just this very morning and we are now lucky enough to watch Gimpo try and get it out of the truck. He mutters about steel capped boots. At one point he uses a Brick of Mu as a wheel wedge to stop its own trolley from rolling off the bed of the van. As he’s made a life out of doing, he does of course succeed in extracting the stone. Daisy comes to inspect it and a conversation regarding levelling and the practicalities of brick laying starts up. Before we leave for the Florrie, Gimpo treats us to some chugs of an apparently quite divisive cherry brandy. I happened to be quite the fan.

The Florrie is abuzz with pre-flight checks, tea and toast until we are officially welcomed by Tommy who conducts us into a didgeridoo chorus and recites Dreamtime in his trademark irrepressible and passionate style. Before we set off we must take a moment to pay tribute to one we’ve lost. Irving Rappaport. Another beautiful performance including a sing along to You Are My Sunshine has people welling up before a heartwarming photo montage is played showing Irving throughout his life. Our Mourner in Chief and Tear Collector Kate Alderton has early work to do as grief shows its effects. I only met Irving very briefly during Welcome To The Dark Ages but seeing what an obvious gap he’s left with so many of those packed inside the Florrie gym makes sadness inescapable.

Tears collected, tributes paid, it’s time to do our thing. Route maps (just ridiculously impressive work from the Arts Lab) are handed out and a line of sorts is formed outside. Banner upfront with Tommy atop the rickshaw behind it, I’ve opted for the responsibility of bringing up the rear alongside another of our merry gang, milk ghost goading poll in hand.

The time is now 14:37. We’re off. We proceed up the hill towards the high street, the Power Of Love (FGTH version) plays from the PA and a sweet gentle sing song caresses the streets. This quiet, understated but properly stunning moment turns out to be one of my highlights not only of today, but of the last 18 months.

Our mini pre-procession ends once we arrive across the road from Toxteth Town Hall where we wait for 3pm. Tommy introduces us to the first of our Great Spirits, Maggie Calderbank. He asks us to close our eyes and the words of And You’re There are read. At the end we choose our ghosts. We whisper the name of someone to join us on our procession today. Once we have our name we write it on a piece of material and bind it to our wrists.

The beckoning of the Gimpo starts softly, as to not startle him and builds to a crescendo that sees the Foundation Stone pulled across the road to take its place in the procession. Attendees are invited to beat the stone with their Withys, or at the very least touch the stone. Today is likely to be the only chance to treat it with such abandon and so we shall make the most of it!

As we come upon our first roundabout Gimpo and the stone are plonked right in the middle. The Round the Roundabout ritual begins to the sounds of, you guessed it, You Spin Me Right Round. The procession spins, wrong direction, around the roundabout. Traffic is confused and halted.

At each of the sites we stop at, for each Great Spirit we leave behind us, a red L8 skull sign and portrait of said spirit is left. The image of Pete Burns is placed atop the mounded circle in the road and we’re off again.

We come to the Belve where Kim Laycock introduces the Great Spirit of Olive Laycock-Rogers with A Poem For My Passing. The Belve crew furnish us with cake. The Belve is hailed.

We maintain a brisk pace as we make our way to the The Ancient Chapel of Toxteth where poet and Arts Lab member Ali Harwood awaits. He can hear us before he can see us and so signals his whereabouts with the blowing of horns.

Inside the gardens of the Ancient Chapel (who were also celebrating their own significant anniversaries this weekend) Ali performs a work of his own authorship, a poem of 23 rhyming couplets inspired by the Great Spirit of Jeremiah Horrocks.

I expect many of the Great Spirits will be new to you, as they were to me. I encourage you to discover more about them, for they are all worthy of their Great Spirit status. Their stories will sustain you for days, weeks or more and have caused ripples that continue to spread far and wide, something we hope to have enhanced with our efforts. Also it would be folly of me to attempt to educate you in them all thoroughly, so they will appear as name only here, the context is for you to work out. Or get in touch and we’ll have a chat if any really catch your imagination.

Into Princes Park we proceed where many rituals await. The first at Woodhenge where Dave Bucha introduces us to the Great Spirit of Kif Higgins. Following that Jah Jussa (Arts Labber) enthrals us with the story of Great Spirit John Brodie and releases the Brodie Ball into the crowd to cheers and hollers.

We snake down past the lake and another highlight reveals itself when, as dusk sets in and we enter the forest, the lights of the milk ghosts become glowing beacons, full of colour and wonder. It’s a beautiful sight from the back of the procession that had my hairs standing upright.

Our next spot is a special one indeed. The one and only gravestone in Princes Park. It belongs to the Great Spirit of Judy The Donkey. Janet (Arts Labber) informs us we’re to have a game of Pin The Tale On The Donkey. Three spectacular mythical Judy tales for three players.

One of the players, Sophie, tells us she’s “nearly nine” and “brought a Brick”. We don’t realise it at the time but that opens a whole new world to us in the following days. We forgot about the kids! Why wouldn’t they want to be in the pyramid too? It’s obvious now. Just imagine that Monday morning back in school;

“What did you do at the weekend Johnny?” 

“I went to see the Grinch.”

“What about you Sophie?”

“I bought a brick so I can be in a pyramid one day and carried a milk ghost and said hello to Judy the Donkey.”

Is right Sophie, is right. My own new Great Spirit.

Before we leave dear Judy we sow the surroundings with Bluebell seeds sourced straight from Toad Hall. Throughout the day Polly and Rich have been on hand to advise on the best places and methods to sow in hopes that future years will see today’s route flourish with new life.

Sophie pinning her Tale on Judy

Before we reach the Sunburst Gates that exit us from Princes Park we stop at the Needle. Tom introduces us to the Great Spirit of Fritz Spiegl, the Princes Park Polymath and instructs the issuing of sweetie bags to all in attendance. Except there’s no sweeties in there, only a comb. Put them together and we’re kinda, almost, nearly performing the theme from Z Cars. Those who are unable to produce any significant tune from the comb and paper combo help themselves to a kazoo instead. Those who have selected Z Car Conscientious Objector cards are permitted to remain silent.

After that Ducie Street awaits as does the Great Spirit of Austin Smith, followed quickly by a trio of Granby Street icons; Margaret Simey, Lilian Bader and Eddie Amoo, the last of which propels us into a Real Thing singalong to You To Me Are Everything as the sowers continue to keep up the good work in the gardens.

The Great Spirits just keep coming as the night has fully rolled in. Milk ghost goaders stand at each corner of the crowd to illuminate the way towards the Methodist Church where the statue of Black Jesus becomes our focus. Here two Great Spirits collaborate, those of Arthur Dooley and Lord Woodbine as we entertain the idea what the latter was the model for the face of Black Jesus that hangs from the wall next to us.

Onwards! Across the road. Believe it or not we’d not pre-planned any kind of traffic control or crowd shepherding, but somehow, as if we were actual adults who didn’t want an accident on our hands, those of us with illuminated poles seemed to psychically link ourselves throughout the day to great success, so says I.

Up next, the Derelict Fountain where Tommy calls forth the water carriers. Water from the the source of the Mersey, water from the heart of the Mersey and water from the mouth of the Mersey (all sourced in the days leading up to this by Arts Labbers) are combined with the tears collected by Kate Alderton and lashed over the Derelict Fountain as we chant “Water is the pool of life!“.

Behind the fountain stretches the 8 memorial garden, we follow a path of 8, we beat the 8, we remember the 8 and return to the new enlivened fountain before darting into Louden Grove for a quick match of 5-aside aka the Brodie Memorial game. It’s a scruffy first goal wins affair, a few torches shine a light on patches of the pitch, the once golden ball bounces of shins and knees until the goalkeepers are removed for the sake of our schedule.

Yosser Hughes

Number 13 Kelvin Grove was once, or still is, the home of our next Great Spirit. Come forth Yosser Hughes – and take a bow. Full commitment to the cause was shown, costume was sourced and heroics were achieved as attendee and job card holder Ade excelled with his overnight plaque making skills. The, probably confused, occupiers of the home were kind enough to let us leave said plaque (adorned with plasters, note to self, next time bring some sort of adhesive) as Nina Edge spoke about why this area, and Yosser, were worthy of inclusion.

We’re nearing the final stretch now, a stop off on Madryn Street to see Ringo’s house and the Tangerine Nightmare and a concluding poem from Judy Masonovic signals the final leg of the Procession of the Foundation Stone. Along our route the residents of Toxteth have taken great interest in our activities. “What’s this all about?” becomes almost a catchphrase for the area and each time the explanation is greeted with generally positive reaction. None more so than here, where we met a birthday boy of 70 years if I recall. “You’ve all come out for me birthday! Thank you thank you, but I’ve got to go, I’ve left a pan on!”.

Nearing 3 hours of beautiful moment after beautiful moment had left us inspired but spent and so it was in silence that our final stint took place. Led by Tommy, followed by illuminated milk ghost goaders, the entire crowd paraded without a word. It was an eerie sight as we made our way up the road where we finally reached our destination.

On a small patch of land that had a previous  life as a bonfire site for some kids we were met by Rupert, Claire, Gimpo (lobbing smoke bombs to his hearts content), Daisy and Jimmy who was holding the first Brick of Mu on its pillow. After our solemn arrival we were welcomed by Daisy and then with a click and a hum Rupert and Claire were slowly raised via the hydraulic ramp at the rear of the truck in a moment of comedic timing that I just couldn’t help but have a chuckle at and pretty sure I spied Jimmy having a go with himself earlier in the day.

After words from Rupert and Claire, including confirmation that there is as of this moment no land secured for the People’s Pyramid – hence the procession of the stone and beating of the bounds – the gut punch came in the revelation that the first Brick of Mu to be laid in the construction of the People’s Pyramid was in fact Simon Cauty.

Suddenly I was very aware of everything that could have gone so sorely wrong with the past few hours. We could have capered about and had everything be jolly and whimsical. We could have walked that final leg singing, chanting and messing about. The seriousness of what we’d been entrusted with hit me.

It was then over to Daisy to lay the first Brick of Mu. A small amount of cement (probably not technically correct) was mixed by hand and placed in a rectangle at the centre of the foundation stone before she retrieved the Brick of Mu and placed it calmly in its spot before making a number of measurements to ensure its placement.

Readers. We have the People’s Pyramid! It’s just one brick, but every structure starts with just one brick and throughout time will eventually return to just one brick. The People’s Pyramid is now in a more tangible state than some great ruins that have been and continue to be discovered, giving us glimpses into our ancient history. What we’ve got now is a glimpse into our future. Don’t tell me the People’s Pyramid doesn’t exist because as mentioned last time, I can stylishly point at it now. And I will, given the chance.

We may not yet know where it will stand in 239 bricks time, but until that time we’ll drag it around Toxteth again and again and again until we figure it out.

Same time next year…

Now some housekeeping to end on.

Keep an eye on the Liverpool Arts Lab socials – things will become available! Pretty things, plus more events coming soon.

Thank you to Tommy who put his heart and soul on the line, thanks to the Arts Lab for being the best in the world, thanks to CCC&D and Co for trusting us, thanks to all the performers on the day, thanks to the attendees for your enthusiasm and participation, thank you to the great people of Toxteth, thank you to our Great Spirits and thank you to our ghosts. Thank you to everyone I’ve forgotten to thank. Hello and nice to see you’s to everyone I met and got to catch up with over the course of those days.

Jane MacNeil gets a special shout out for taking such incredible photos of the day including the featured image at the top of this page and others throughout. You can see her full spectacular gallery here.

Congratulations to The Florrie for winning the Historical England award for Best Rescue of an historic building! Get in.

Dates for the Diary:

December 14th 2018 – Keep It Cryptic: Arts Lab Skiffle Factory Meets Busk With Us, Secret Location, Liverpool

January 17th 2019 – Something yet to be announced PLUS David Bramwell’s The Cult Of Water @ Gibberish Brewpub, Liverpool, from 7pm. Pay what you like, reserve tickets here

March/April-ish 2019 – Something yet to be announced, Liverpool

March 29th-30th 2019 – Threshold Festival, Baltic Triangle, Liverpool

November 23rd 2019 – Toxteth Day Of The Dead – The no excuses edition, Liverpool

You can keep up to date with Vicky’s updates on Twitter @vxpeax

Catch up on Vicky’s past KLF Khronicals here. If you have enjoyed them and are able to do so please consider donating to Planet Slop so that Vicky can pay to resole her shoes before the next procession.