This month, performers from across Europe descended on Merseyside for the Eurovision Song Contest. Held at Liverpool Arena, in the heart of the city’s famous South Docks, the seven-day musical extravaganza attracted more than 100,000 visitors to the city and was broadcast live to a global audience of millions. By welcoming visitors and viewers to the docks and canal link we care for, our charity helped to make Eurovision 2023 one of the most memorable yet.
The very first Eurovision Song Contest was held in Switzerland in 1956, with just seven competing nations. Somewhat of a televisual first, the inaugural contest was beamed live to a TV audience across the continent.
Today, nearly 70 years on, Eurovision has become a global phenomenon, a week-long celebration of music, culture and unity, with 37 countries battling for the top prize and more than 160 million viewers tuning in around the world.
This year, with Ukraine unable to host, the honour fell to Liverpool. A fitting venue for the world's largest live music event.
Since Beatlemania gripped the nation more than half a century ago, Liverpool has been synonymous with popular music. The Fab Four's signature sound provided the soundtrack to the swinging sixties, defining an era and thrilling music lovers on both sides of the Atlantic.
Since those heady days, the city has been a hotbed of musical talent, with the likes of Gerry and the Pacemakers, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, The La's, and, who could forget, 1993 Eurovision Song Contest runner-up, Sonia.
But Liverpool's diverse musical heritage didn't begin with The Beatles; it can be traced back hundreds of years, a legacy of the city's industrial past.
You'll find echoes of Liverpool's rich maritime history scattered throughout the city, from the imposing Tobacco Warehouse on Stanley Dock to the iconic Port of Liverpool Building where the harbour board were based.
Already a burgeoning port by the late 17th century, trading in tobacco, salt and sugar, Liverpool opened its very first dock in 1715. The Old Dock, as it became known, was the first commercial wet dock in the world; and the man who was the driving force behind its development, MP Sir Thomas Johnson, is often referred to as the ‘founder of modern Liverpool'.
George's Dock and Salthouse Dock were built in later years as goods continued to flow, with imports and exports more than trebling over the next 50 years.
The golden age of canals brought more commercial opportunities, with tributaries, like the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, connecting the city with its northern neighbours, opening up lucrative trade routes in Yorkshire, Lancashire and beyond.
By the dawn of the 19th century, Liverpool was a global hub, with hundreds of thousands of tonnes of cargo passing through the port every year and a forest of ship's masts on its docksides.
Of course, much of Liverpool's wealth was also built on the slave trade with as many as one in five African captives crossing the ocean in a Liverpool slave ship.* Mercifully, in the 19th century, slavery was finally abolished, and Liverpool's slave-trading empire crumbled.
Today, the city is a hive of multiculturalism, populated by the descendants of traders, seamen and emigres. Each one of these groups brought their own musical traditions with them, making the city a perfect cultural melting pot for this year's Eurovision, which lit up the city's famous waterways with songs of diversity, unity and inclusivity.
With more than 100,000 people descending on Liverpool's South Docks across the seven-day event, the Eurovision Song Contest posed a huge operational challenge for our charity. As the guardians of docks, and winners of a Blue Flag in 2021 for the quality of water and the environment, we redoubled our efforts to keep them safe, clean and accessible to all. As always, much of the credit goes to our amazing volunteers.
As James Long, our Engagement Manager for the North West, explains: “Our volunteers are like the friendly face of the Trust, local people who care about the city and are passionate about the work we do. Throughout the event, they kept the waters free from litter, ensured people stayed safe on the dockside, and were always on hand to point visitors in the right direction.”
Eurovision is one of the biggest live shows on Earth, and our moorings in the docks were fully booked with boaters eager to take part in the event. To build excitement, we organised a raft of activities in the run-up to the main event.
Beyond the regular paddleboarding and dock dipping events we put on, they included a pop-up musical and arts performance from students from Liverpool College, who took to the city's dock area on a floating stage. And during the Easter holidays in the run-up, we also put on several activities for families with a Ukrainian theme, painting yellow and blue eggs and creating traditional flowery headdresses.
Our waterways were also the backdrop to a number of other cultural celebrations across the city, including a dazzling installation of a 10-metre ‘Floating Earth' on the Royal Albert Dock, a Eurovision opera, the Blue and Yellow Submarine Parade, and best of all, a ‘Sonia' trail around the city, featuring cardboard cut-outs of Liverpool's favourite daughter.
All in all, Eurovision 2023 was a roaring success, bringing the world together in a festival of music on Liverpool's iconic waterways. Let's hope next year's contest is just as inspiring. Over to you Sweden.
Last Edited: 15 May 2023
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