In article <1992Nov1.email@example.com> canderso@nyx.UUCP (Chuck Anderson) writes:
>I have to disagree (what an important issue :-). "Ferry Cross the Mersey"
>had *nothing* to do with the Beatles. That was Gerry Marsden's song of love
>and praise for his hometown - and his promise to never leave ("and her I'll
>stay"). Is the word Liverpool even in the song?
>Liverpool was quite an important city long before the Beatles made more
>people aware of its existence.
No question that Liverpool was important enough, in 1586, to receive a mention in Camden's "Britannia", a history of various boroughs: "...the Mersey grows broader...near Litherpoole, in Saxon Lirpoole....It is the most convenient and frequented place for setting sail into Ireland, but not so eminent for its being ancient, as for being neat and populous".
It is still ancient---it was incorporated in 1207---and still populous, though perhaps not so burgeoning as a city might be during the best of economic times. Neat...well, that's not a word I'd use to describe Liverpool.
The city came into its own during the Industrial Revolution. Hunter Davies recounts for us the fact that the world's first passenger railway (and first railway accident) began in Liverpool; the Cunard Steamship Company started its days there; so did the RSPCA (important enough in a country like England where pets are most honored). But until the sixties---and maybe during that time as well---the city's economy was in steep decline, especially the Lancashire cotton industry, which, you'll recall, was Jim McCartney's chosen field. Liverpool had pretty much ceased to be on the map, except for its resilient, proud citizens, who knew its inner treasure.
You can take the boy out of Liddypool but not Liddypool out of the boy. And speaking of boys, the Fabs were as interesting a cross-section of Liverpool stock as one gets in a beat group. John was most well off, being from Woolton, and living with his socially-conscious aunt Mimi who knew the difference between proper and common---a distinction John did his best to ignore. Paul was from Allerton, a little more working class, but proudly on the edge of respectable. George was from Speke, in the south, and his family's best hope was to drive a bus or work for an electrician. Ringo's mum was a barmaid, a single working woman (till she met Harry Graves) in Dingle, a very rough area of town.
None of this left them. Yet there were areas of Liverpool that touched them less often, mostly through friends and acquaintances who might happen to have come from there: West Derby (where Pete Best lived comfortably), Bootle, Crosby, Aintree in the north; St Helens, Huyton, Prescott to the east; Runcorn and Widnes in the south; and "over the water", across the Mersey, Birkenhead, Wallasey, and Hoylake---very posh compared to the boys' own neighborhoods.
Gerry Marsden was from one of the rougher neighborhoods in Merseyside, and like all Liverpudlians, he knew the river (which is much more of a big bay attached to the city, rather than a romantic, twining, undulating waterway like the Nile or the Amazon). Who could avoid it? One of the "central" points, in all senses but logistically, was Pier Head, a large town square from whence boats embarked for local (Wales, Ireland) or distant (America) lands. The major bus terminal in town also originates in Pier Head; and on one side of the square was the nearly-open Mersey, at this point an expanse of water that stretched across to the Wirral, where Mr. Marsden now lives in some splendor.
Whether one spent one's time at Pier Head, or diligently in art college doing one's lettering assignments, or in a plethora of excellent local pubs, or in small music dens that sprang up throughout the city, something had knit together the patchwork character of Merseyside, then as now. Maybe it was just the name. Liverpool was the town from which the Beatles came forth, but their sound was Mersey Beat. Their journalistic spokesman, Bill Harry, edited The Mersey Beat. One could be from any part of the city and still feel the tremor of its sound---being from Merseyside gave you a right to lay claim to it yourself. And in the sixties, before the Beatles, there was a growing artistic groundswell that was eclipsed by the predominance of pop. Not that the citizens seemed to mind. Roger McGough, poet and member of the music group The Scaffold in the sixties, said that it was considered more de rigueur to be "a docker or a footballer or a film star or a guitar player" than a progenitor of High Art.
So pop was all right. But it was pop music that never lost its sense of its city. It wasn't just a sound, but also an attitude, an inner light that illumined the words of its lyricists. McGough said, "You're far more involved in the setting, you're far more involved in the city in Liverpool than you would be in London, for instance. Every day you walk out of your flat and you walk round Liverpool, and you know everywhere you're going, and you know every skyline and every gutter, every person and every street, every crook and nannie" (Roger McGough in "The Liverpool Scene", Edward Lucie-Smith, ed., 1968).
In that sense, Gerry Marsden's self-penned paean to his hometown, "Ferry Cross the Mersey", did not need to refer to Liverpool. It was so obvious that it scarcely requires mention. It's definitely Marsden's vision---a statement of personal affection for his home town---yet notice that the direction of his "ferry 'cross the Mersey" is toward the city from another place...from the posh side of the world (the Birkenhead penninsula) and by extension its outer reaches, "back to the egg", as one might put it. The singer lives elsewhere but comes home and---equally as important---is never turned away, no matter how many times---and from where---he returns.
But it does not require a ferryboat ride to effect a homecoming. Marsden's image is very concrete, yet the Beatles wrote of their own ferry-rides homeward, though theirs were of a more metaphorical journey, back through time and into the past of their separately-precious childhood memories ("Penny Lane", "Strawberry Fields Forever"). But there's something of Liverpool in every scrap of music the Beatles ever wrote. It's not something to be left behind even if it's present in only a trace.
All three of these songwriters had the ability to build vivid imagery of their home setting, and to draw the listener into it, almost as though we, through hearing these songs, become Liverpudlians by extension. What marvelous magic. As a result, appreciators of the Merseybeat movement can visit Liverpool and feel something of this tremendous nostalgia for a city they've never met.
But of course we've met it, musically, thousands of times. And those who have visited that town know the inhabitants of Merseyside, in their own way, make us feel as welcome as if *we* were born there.
Through the music, we can claim honorary citizenship. That's the gift---the literal gift---from the songwriters to us. Mr. Marsden and his cohorts bring us home with them, and our harvest, through this shared vision, is as rich as that of a native son.
"They play mostly their own compositions and one of the boys has written a song which I really believe to be the hottest material since 'Living Doll'."
-----------------------------------saki (firstname.lastname@example.org) Click here to return to the rmb home page.
Click here to return to saki's index.