Press launch for LIPA opening

Tuesday, January 30, 1996
Timeline More from year 1996
Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, Liverpool, UK

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The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA) in Liverpool, co-founded by Paul McCartney, opened on January 8, 1996. On this day, January 30, was organized the official inauguration and press launch, before yet another opening ceremony on June 7 with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

I haven’t got a speech, you’re probably glad to know! But I’ve got a lot of memories of this place. When I first came here, I sat up there somewhere. I was aged about 11 in 1953, and I was filled with awe. There were a thousand boys going to this school and I realised that I was going to get quite a special education. And that’s really what happened, the school gave me the kind of chance that a boy of my background was not really likely to get.

Paul McCartney

So I’ve got memories, as I say. Just out here was the Headmaster’s office… One or two painful memories there! …

I’m glad to see one or two mates of mine who went to the school, old boys, back here today. On the whole, it was fantastic, and looking back at it at this great, venerable age that I am now, it was very, very special. It gave me the idea that I could succeed, and that I could go from a place like Speke, where I was brought up, and go and conquer the world, if you had enough love, enough passion, in what you were going to do, and you were prepared to put in enough hard work.

Obviously, one of my great feelings now is how proud my Mum and Dad would have been if they could have been here. But I won’t get into that, or I’ll start crying. So let’s just look to the future, let’s say to all of these kids and all of the people who come through these doors, from me, from everybody who’s supported us, all these wonderful people here – the very best of luck. You will need it, but keep at it. Even though it was a hard day’s night, as someone said earlier on, we can work it out.

Paul McCartney, quoted in The Beatles Monthly N°239, March 1996

From Club Sandwich N°77, Spring 1996:

In The Paul McCartney Auditorium the music was loud, clear and joyous. Quite rightly too. The long-awaited launch of LIPA, 30 January 1996, was not only the manifestation of a truly remarkable achievement but also a great outpouring of hope – to continue the song theme, indeed, a hope of deliverance. Surely it won’t be long until we see interviews with new stars of the stage or screen, or new major film producers, or new top choreographers, or – every bit as important – new talented lighting directors, all attributing their skills and conveying their thanks to LIPA.

Although the real story for LIPA is the one that began on 31 January, the day after the guest speakers, journalists and TV cameras had left, 30 January is a date which will long be remembered. It represented nothing less than the fulfilment of a dream, a fairy tale of an idea miraculously made real. While one has no control over what might or might not be highlighted in years to come, 30 January 1996 has to be one of the landmarks in an already landmark-pocked life for Paul McCartney, an entry to be picked out in bold.

The Liverpool Institute has been transformed. Indeed, whatever else LIPA might represent or become, the reclamation of this magnificent pre-Victorian edifice, where Charles Dickens once lectured and Beatles went to school, is a great success in itself. Just five years ago the building was derelict, dark, decaying. Now it is gloriously alive, bright and airy, restored with great taste and at great cost. Even in an age of hype it is no exaggeration to state, with absolute safety, that this is a building fit for the new millennium.

The 30th of January 1996 was a day which even Mark Featherstone-Witty, LIPA’s chief executive, must have wondered would ever happen. You could see the wonderment in his face and hear it in his voice: from the germ of an idea, through literally thousands of business meetings, the virtually impossible had been accomplished. Quite rightly, Mark hosted the official presentation, delivering a heartfelt speech so moving that one wanted to jump up and shake his hand, and Mark it was who introduced in turn eleven other speakers, each of whom stepped forward to acknowledge the import of the moment.

There was George Martin, speaking as eloquently as ever, priming those “carrying the torch”. There was Professor Anthony Field, the LIPA chairman whose commitment to the project, according to Mark Featherstone-Witty, has been “little short of psychotic”. There was Commissioner Padraig Flynn of the European Union, who spoke of the’ contribution LIPA will make to the lives of young people. There was a representative of Grundig, whose investment in LIPA has been so important. And there was the last speaker of all, LIPA’s lead patron, guiding light, inspiration, major financial contributor, Paul McCartney.

Back on the stage, he trod as a schoolboy, the Liverpool Institute’s most famous former pupil received a rapturous ovation from the Auditorium audience, from the industry executives to the “chain gang” of clustered mayors and mayoresses. It was, Paul pointed out, great to be back in the place he first entered in 1953, age 11 and awestruck. It was a wonderful day, an emotional day. Only just holding back the tears, he ended with the words that, since his song 30 years ago, have become a synonym for optimism, “we can work it out”.

The speeches over, attention shifted to a group of young men and women, 13 in number, who rose to sing, a capella, some words of wisdom gleaned from The Prophet that sum up LIPA’s aspirations and, almost palpably, pricked the conscience of many watching.

This is LIPA, in a nutshell. Its hopes are many, and its students – its lucky, lucky students, who find the world’s best equipment and facilities freely at the disposal – have been handed the opportunity of a lifetime. They are the future, the power is theirs to seize and the tools are being handed them on a plate.

The thing about LIPA is, it is tangible. People may choose to dislike a Paul McCartney song, or criticise his career for goodness knows what reason, but LIPA is bricks and mortar. It is a genuinely intentioned, real monument for the benefit of all that is surely beyond criticism. Paul did not have to bother to do this. What other major celebrity has done it? (No fingers are necessary to aid the count.) The fact is, this is a significant tribute to Paul’s character and endeavour, and if all he has done in his life has to led to this, then it has been worth every moment.

Of course, down-to-earth Liverpudlians have the ability to cut through such misty-eyed sentimentality. “Lukkarall those people waiting for ‘im,” one teenage girl jeered to another, pointing out the crowd of McCartney fans braving the bitter cold temperatures to wait for their hero’s arrival. “It’s not as if he’s written any decent songs or nuttin’.” A few yards further on, a Scouser asked whether I’d allow him to make a colour photocopy of my invitation to the launch. “Go on, pal, the copies are so good these days no one’ll ever notice…”

This cocktail of bravado, personality and entrepreneurship has long been the backbone of Liverpool and the source of its rich talent – some of its exponents going on, beyond Merseyside, to change the world. LIPA will tap directly into its main artery, and bring in other skills and ideas from around the globe.

LIPA is a fantastic achievement.

Mark Lewisohn
From Club Sandwich N°77, Spring 1996

I’m absolutely delighted to be here today at the inauguration of the Liverpool Institute for the Performing Arts. I think
that it is a marvellous project, and I know that it will do a great deal for Liverpool – and not only Liverpool, but the whole country.

You know, there has always been a popular misconception about our business, the entertainment business, that it’s an easy place to be. I suppose the feeling is, well, a bit of talent, we’ve all got that, haven’t we? A little bit of luck and anybody could be Sean Connery or even Paul McCartney. It’s easy stuff.

But it’s not like that at all, it really isn’t. It’s a lot of hard work. Of course, there’s fame and there’s glamour and money at the end of it. But it doesn’t happen to everybody, and the difficult thing is that it does need a lot of talent, a lot of hard work and a lot of dedication, plus the resilience to take knocks when they come – and plenty come!

Above all, though, it takes education and experience, and I can’t think of a finer place for getting that than this place, LIPA. I think that it is going to do a great deal for the young people of this country, and eventually for the country as a whole, because these young people are going to carry the torch in the future.

I should add that this business of talent that we should be nurturing is something that I’ve lucky enough to have been involved with my whole life. A few years after he was a student at this school, an extraordinary man whose talent turned into genius became a friend of mine and we worked together for many years.

And it was his inspiration and his generosity that led to LIPA. Of course, I’m talking about Paul McCartney. Together with his mates, he altered the perception of the British performing arts around the world. And he made a breakthrough in the United States that remains today. I should add that as a result of that breakthrough, many billions of pounds of
foreign exchange was earned for this country, and our music business continues to be a vital part of British industry.

So all of the students who are going to pass through these doors, I’d like to say good luck to you all, in continuing that work, and may you all do well and prosper.

George Martin, quoted in The Beatles Monthly N°239, March 1996

From the official program of the event:

The word that comes to mind when I try to sum up my feelings about LIPA is – PROUD. Jim and Mary, my parents who are unfortunately no longer with us, would have been extremely proud to see this day arrive. Being born in Liverpool, I, myself, was very proud to go to the Liverpool Institute High School for Boys, the original school on this site. And I’m also very proud of the team, led by Mark Featherstone-Witt, who have put it so much hard work to help make this dream come true.

The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts sounds a bit lofty, perhaps, but the idea is that it won’t be. As I see it, LIPA is going to help those with talent, in various fields, realise and develop it. LIPA is here to help realise the dreams of many people working in many different areas of study.

There’s more to creativity than being young and having success. I come across so many people who simply love being involved in arts and entertainment and don’t realise the breadth of employment and tasks that exist. They also don’t realise that there are many forms of success.

I like the idea of being involved with a place which opens people’s eyes and ears and where skills and experiences can be passed on – lessons which have been learned the hard way. I see LIPA as being that place.

I’m proud that my old school is now back in use helping the next generations. It’s exciting that once again my home town will be the world’s target for tomorrow’s talent.

To those who get a place at LIPA, I want to say: good luck, trust your instincts and follow your passion and enjoy yourselves. I feel sure that the students attending this wonderful new school will make us all proud by their efforts and the eventual success I hope many of them will have.

Paul McCartney, quoted in The Beatles Monthly N°239, March 1996
From Club Sandwich N°77, Spring 1996 – Prime Minister John Major and Leader of the Opposition Tony Blair were among those who sent letters of congratulation for the opening of LIPA. Government support has been an important aspect of the fund-raising.

Last updated on June 3, 2022

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