Sunday, 30 September 2012

55: In My Liverpool Home

This is surely one of the best known Liverpool songs. Pete McGovern wrote the first few vaguely autobiographical verses in 1961, using the tune of the cowboy song 'Strawberry Roan'. Subsequently, the song has accumulated more and more verses, until it had hundreds of the things. In fact, in 1991 BBC Radio Merseyside released a casette tape with a 60 verse version of the song. Some of the verses floating around are from Pete McGovern himself, but many of them are not - people just kept adding to it. I haven't kept the song going for TOO many verses - just 9 of them!- but I've included a few of my favourites from different sources (some of these verses I know like the back of my hand from hearing so many people people singing the song; others I've picked up from online sources, in particular Gerry Jones' excellent Liverpool Lyrics website).

Of all of the songs that came out of the Liverpool folk revival, this is probably the one with the biggest claim to have become 'traditional', given the way that it's been passed on and added to (not to mention parodied). As was noted in McGovern's obituary in The Independent following his death in 2006: "The lyrics about overcrowding, sectarian violence and stealing from lorries may not be the image that Liverpool Council would want to promote, but the song is regarded as the city's anthem and it plays a significant part in its culture. 'I wrote it in 1961,' said McGovern, 'but a lot of people have said to me, "You didn't write that. It was written in 1848".'"

The chorus refers to the "exceedingly bare" statue outside the Lewis's department store (or at least the building that was the Lewis's deparment store until it closed in 2010). The sculpture (image above) is by Jacob Epstein and has as its official title "Liverpool Resurgent", although it is more colloquially known as "Dickie Lewis".

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

54: Blow the Candle Out

This tune for Blow the Candle Out was noted down by Frank Kidson, who collected it from W.H. Lunt in Liverpool sometime in 1882-83. It appears to be unpublished, and I found it while going through the Lucy Broadwood manuscript collection in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Does anybody know whether it's similar to versions sung elsewhere? I've just bought my dad a copy of Roud and Bishop's New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, and I noticed that the tune given for "The Knight and the Shepherd's Daughter", collected in Herefordshire in 1952, is rather similar: the notes there say the tune is "frequently found with come-all-ye ballads" and that Norman Cazden, in his Folk Songs of the Catskills, suspects it is Irish in origin, which would fit with it being found in late 19th century Liverpool.

Kidson's manuscript has the tune only, with no words, but it's not much of a problem to find a set of words from that period, as this was a very popular song among the broadside printers, and there are loads of copies from all over the country. I've based the words I'm singing here on the broadside by Harkness of Preston, who we know were active in printing for the Liverpool market.

This tale of unscrupulous apprentices knocking up young women and then legging it has a long history, with the earliest known set of words in print back in 1714. With the Merseyside councils currently investing to increase the number of apprenticeships, young women should be on their guard.

Blow the Candle Out is #368 in the Roud folksong index.

Monday, 17 September 2012

53: Does This Train Stop on Merseyside?

I may be stretching a point here on what constitutes a folk song, but this really is one of the great Liverpool songs, written by Ian Prowse and recorded by his band Amsterdam, released in 2005. Since it was recently covered by Christy Moore on his album "Listen" it's been making various appearances around the folk clubs.

This has been the week that the Hillsborough Independent Panel gave their report, releasing documents that proved that the 96 Liverpool fans crushed to death while watching a football match in April 1989 were victims of police and emergency service negligence and mismanagement - and that the memories of the 96 were then smeared by police and politicians as part of the biggest cover up operation in British history.

For years, our failure to "get over" tragedies like Hillsborough has led to uncaring people sticking the tag "self-pity city" on us. Now that the families of those who've died have shown why it's important to keep the memory of the dead alive and to fight for truth and justice, I chose this song because it's one of the most powerful reflections I know of Liverpool as a city of memories and tragedies and hopes. They are the fabric that the city was built out of.

What Ian Prowse wrote in this song is really a psychogeography of Liverpool. We start at the pyramid in St Andrew's churchyard (shown above) - famous for the local folklore that says that that William Mackenzie, a notorious gambler, made a pact with the devil that if he was dealt a winning hand, the devil could have his soul when he was dead and buried. He was eventually laid to rest above the ground in the pyramid tomb (some say with the winning cards in his hands), figuring that if he was sitting upright and never buried, the devil couldn't come to take him. We're then taken on a tour of memory - the slave trade, Mathew Street and the birth of Merseybeat (including the story of Allan Williams, the man who gave the Beatles an early break in his venue the Jacaranda but, then in his own words "gave them away" before they got famous - a real tale of 'what ifs?'). We're then taken through the tragedies of the famine ships and emigration from Ireland, the Jamie Bulger murder, and the crush at Hillsborough, with fans left to die while "Yorkshire policemen chat with folded arms".

If we try and forget the pains of the past, then we forget the very things that have shaped the city. We forget our memory and history. Truth and justice rely on the power to remember.

I know this song sounds a little strange a cappella, but if there was ever a week for it, here it is.