Monday 27 June 2011

12: Poor Scouser Tommy

Apologies to all bluenoses, but having put up a song with a close Everton association last week, it's time to even things out with a Liverpool F.C. song this week. Although the Rodgers and Hammerstein penned "You'll Never Walk Alone" is the song most indelibly associated with LFC, this home-grown tale of war, death, and the love of football is just as precious to fans. I'm singing it much as I learned it from attending matches and singing in The Albert pub in Anfield's shadow, but there's bound to be some debate about whether some of the words I'm using are correct (e.g. there are disputes surrounding whether the sun should be "Arabian", "Libyan", or even "Radiant"). I'm happy enough if people want to argue over what's right and what's wrong - there was massive debate and a lot of historical discussion after John Power from Liverpool band "Cast" recorded a version. Of course the main arguments today are about whether the song is being sung too fast, and some may accuse me of doing that here - although it's nothing like the light speed version some people rattle through on the Kop.

The song was put together in different stages; the earliest part of the song is the middle section, "I am a Liverpudlian, I come from the Spion Kop..." This was written and sung from the 60s onwards to the tune of 'The Sash My Father Wore' (although the crowd has definitely changed the rhythm of that tune somewhat). In the 70s the first few verses, starting with "Let me tell you the story of a poor boy...", were added to the tune of 'Red River Valley', thus creating the wartime tale we sing today. The final sections (to the tunes 'Scousers here, Scousers there, Scousers everyfuckingwhere' and 'All you need is love') commemorate a 1982 five-nil victory over Everton in which Ian Rush scored four goals.

(After a couple of punctual weeks, I'm once again very late with this week's song - sorry about that!)

Friday 17 June 2011

11: Johnny Todd

This song was collected in the 19th century by Frank Kidson, who published it in his 1891 Traditional Tunes. His notes accompanying the song say: "Johnny Todd is a child's rhyme and game, heard and seen played by Liverpool children. The air is somewhat pleasing, and the words appear old, though some blanks caused by the reciter's memory have had to be filled up." It was apparently still known in Liverpool when Frank Shaw collected children's songs and rhymes for his 1970 book You know me Anty Nelly?

The tune is still engrained in the consciousness of the city. It was used as the theme for the 1960s police show "Z-Cars", which was filmed in the new town of Kirkby on the outskirts of Liverpool. The "Theme from Z-Cars" is now beloved to fans of Everton F.C., who adopted it for themselves, and it is played over the loudspeakers in Goodison Park when the teams run out onto the pitch.

The picture I've used above, which very fittingly depicts a lady standing on the Liverpool sands and looking out to sea, is a painting by the Liverpool-born Japan-based artist Brian Zichi Lorentz.

Johnny Todd is #1102 in the Roud Folksong index

Friday 10 June 2011

10: McCaffery

A ballad about Private Patrick McCaffery, who was executed in front of Kirkdale Gaol on 11 January 1862. For the most part I have used the version given in Peggy Seeger and Ewan MacColl's Singing Island, which was collected by MacColl from Patrick Dodds of Birkenhead. It's pretty much compulsory if talking about this song to mention the rumour (probably no more than a myth) that it was/is a punishable offence to sing it in the British army. MacColl tells us, "I first heard this song sung by a group of Liverpool dockers who had been drafted into the army, and I noticed that a couple of them were standing guard very obviously outside a tent, and I bribed my way in with a half bottle of whisky and sure enough they were singing this song McCaffery." The tune used is essentially 'The Croppy Boy', although the version collected by MacColl is unusual in having a different tune for the first verse.

Roy Palmer, in The Rambling Soldier gives a pretty complete account of the historic events surrounding the song: McCaffery "was born in Ireland, near Mullingar. His family later moved to Carlow, where his father was the governor of a lunatic asylum. His mother died, and his father left for America, where he seems to have disappeared without a trace, after a minor scandal. Young Patrick soon moved to Mossley, near Stalybridge, in Lancashire, to join the household of a Mrs Murphy, who had wet-nursed him as a baby. He worked for a time in cotton mills at Mossley and Stalybridge, and then, inflating his age by at least a year to reach the statutory eighteen, enlisted in October 1860 into the 32nd Regiment... This was the Cornwall Light Infantry, which had its depot at Fulwood Barracks, Preston. On Friday 13 September 1861, M'Caffrey was acting as picket-sentry near the officers' quarters. The adjutant, Captain Hanham, came out to complain to M'Caffrey about the noise of some children playing, and asked him, first, to remove them, and second, to find out their parents' names. Hanham felt that M'Caffrey's complied with his orders in a half-hearted way, and sent him to the guardroom... M'Caffery appeared before his C.O., Colonel Crofton, the following morning, and was sentenced to fourteen days' C.B. [confined to barracks]. He seems to have gone quietly afterwards to his barrack room, taken his rifle, knelt outside, and coolly shot at Captain Hanham as he was crossing the barrack square with Colonel Crofton. Both officers were in fact hit, with the same shot, and mortally wounded."

The Liverpool Mercury gave this account of the execution outside Kirkdale Gaol:
"Immediately after the clock had struck twelve, the wretched culprit, followed by Calcraft [the hangman], walked, apparently firmly, upon the scaffold, whithe he was accompanied by Father Lanns, reciting prayers suitable to the occasion. A smile seemed to play upon his youthful countenance as he took a farewell look at this world. He was dressed in the prison garb, consisting of a grey jacket and trowsers. His mild countenance and boyish appearance elicited the sympathy on the part of the immense crowd. As soon as Calcraft, who was dressed in a suit of good black, had produced the white cap, the priest took from his breast a small crucifix, which the wretched culprit kissed with much fervour. His lips were observed to move in prayer until the rope was adjusted round his neck. The priest then shook him by the hand, Calcraft also bade him farewell in a similar manner, and everything being arranged, the bolt was withdrawn, and the unfortunate young man was launched into eternity, having been kept standing at the trap a much longer time than usual. He seemed to suffer a good deal, his struggles being great. The last words he uttered were - 'Blessed Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, I give you my heart and soul. Jesus and Mary, have mercy on me!' When the bolt was drawn, shrieks burst from many of the spectators, and several of the females left the ground weeping and wringing their hands, apparently suffering intense agony at the spectacle they had witnessed. Thus ended the mortal career of one of the youngest criminals that ever expiated his guilt upon the public scaffold. After hanging an hour on the scaffold the body was cut down, and in the course of the afternoon was interred within the precincts of the gaol. Calcraft completed his disgusting task amid yells, hisses, and fearful imprecations from the mob... It is supposed that there were between 30,000 and 40,000 persons on the ground."

The groundswell of popular support for McCaffery, with much public opinion in the north west of England firmly behind his cause, gave rise to this song, a eulogy of sorts. It is #1148 in the Roud folksong index.

Saturday 4 June 2011

9: The Bonny Grey

A song about a cock-fight. The words were carried on broadsides printed around 1850; see for example the version by Harkness of Preston. John Harland also gives a text in Ballads and Songs of Lancashire, Ancient and Modern, first published 1865 (see the 1875 second edition here). He writes: "This song celebrated a famous cock-fight in the days of 'the old Lord Derby' — Edward, the 12th earl — who was very fond of the sport, and who died in 1834... The song appears to indicate that the cock-pit in which the battle was fought was in Liverpool [at Jim Ward's, the inn kept by a pugilist in Liverpool]; and it is clear that the Earl and the Prescot lads backed the cock named 'Charcoal Black,' while the Liverpool folks supported the 'Bonny Gray,' which proved the victor." Of course, other versions of this song place the action elsewhere (one well-known version from further along the Leeds-Liverpool Canal is "The Holbeck Moor Cock-Fight"); however, given that Lord Derby's family seat was in Knowsley Hall, near Liverpool, and Prescot was on the edge of his estate, there is a certain geographical logic to this version of the song.

The tune I'm using is based on the one given in Frank Kidson's Traditional Tunes for "The Holbeck Moor Cock-Fight", though I have to admit to some deviation (as a result of personal repetition and subsequent drift in recall). Kidson notes the similarity with the air often used for 'The Bailiff’s Daughter', which seems to have been applied to these cock-fighting songs. Kidson also wrote back in 1891 that "the brutal sport of cock-fighting is happily now at an end. The following song is a relic of the past"; but of course, cock-fighting does still go on in northern cities, and no doubt elsewhere in the UK. (For the picture above I've chosen a painting from the National Gallery of Scotland by the Lancashire painter Robin Philipson because I think it really drags us into the middle of the fight.)

The Bonny Grey and its cock-fighting relations are #211 in the Roud Folksong Index.