Monday 29 August 2011

21: Seth Davy

A song written in the 1960s by Glyn Hughes about a real life street performer who sang, with his dancing dolls, at Bevington Bush just off Scotland Road toward the end of the nineteenth century. It's sometimes known as 'Whiskey on a Sunday'. As Gerry Jones writes on his Liverpool Lyrics website, "Seth Davy was a real person, he really existed, and he died a couple of years into the 20th century... I know the truth for a fact because, when I was a brand-new teacher in the Dingle in 1963, our old lollypop man told me that he had actually seen Seth Davy doing his stuff. So I have spoken to a first-hand witness."

Above is a picture of him at work - another great find by Matthew Edwards, this comes from a latern slide belonging to Ingrid Spiegl, widow of Fritz Spiegl (who arranged Johnny Todd for orchestra to create the "Theme from Z-Cars"). The picture (produced from the latern slide by Liverpool Museum) was used to illustrate an article about Seth Davy (sometimes spelled Seth Davey) in The Puppet Master, Vol. 16 No. 8, in which Peter Charlton writes the following:

"Seth Davey was a West Indian jig doller who really did sit astride an old packing case, outside the Begington Inn (known locally as The Bevvy), near 'Paddy's Market' off Scotland Road, hitting a plank with his fist whilst crooning unaccompanied as his dolls danced... Popular belief is that Seth Davey was West Indian, possibly Jamaican, though Ray Costello in his Black History, a history of Liverpool's black population, says that he was West African... We only know of two songs that he sang regularly and both of these were Minstrel songs... One of these was 'Who likes gravy on their taters?'... His other pick of the pops was 'Massa is a stingy man', from the repertoire of Dan Emmett, one of the stars of American minstrelsy. It is this song that Glyn Hughes based his song on:
'Oh Massa is a stingy man,
And all his neighbours knows it,
He keeps good whiskey in the house
An' neber says 'here goes it',
Sing come day, go day
God send Sunday
We'll drink whiskey all de week
And buttermilk on Sunday'"

This year's "Liverpool Discovers" art exhibition included a painting of Seth Davy by Gill Smith.

Sunday 21 August 2011

20: St Mary of the Angels

A song by Tony Flanagan about a Catholic church which shut its doors, and the campaign to reopen it.

St Mary of the Angels Catholic Church was built in 1907 in the baroque style - a slice of Rome off Scotland Road, richly decorated with Italian marble carved by local Italian craftsmen. Much of the lavish interior was paid for by Amy Elizabeth Imrie (later known as Mother Clare Imrie of the Poor Clares after she became a nun), heiress to the White Star Shipping Line fortune.

In 2001 the Archdiocese of Liverpool shut the church as part of a programme of 'pastoral regeneration', and subsequently announced that it would never be reopened. In 2002 the Archdiocese had to be prevented from ripping out the interior decoration of the church by Liverpool City Council, and many locals campaigned long and hard for its reopening. Perhaps the most active and celebrated campaigner was parishoner Kay Kelly, who tied flowers to the gates of the church (as shown in the picture above) season after season as a sign of her hopes and prayers for the future of the church. She died last year. Tony Flanagan writes, "I wanted to leave a footprint in my songs of all the wonderful people that gave this city its character", and this song certainly shows the footprint of Kay Kelly, which is why I have included her photo above (from the Scottie Press website). Since 2009 the church has been used as a rehearsal space and education centre by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.

Monday 15 August 2011

19: The False Knight

This tale of stranger danger was collected from Mrs Stanley of New Ferry (who also provided the version of Marco and Pedro that I used a few weeks back) and published in Dorothy Dearnley's Seven Cheshire Folk-songs in 1967. Pete and Chris Coe sang a similar version of the song on their album "Open the Door and Let Us In" (possibly derived from the same source, although there do appear to be some differences).

This is a local version of the traditional old ballad "The False Knight on the Road", most often associated with Scotland; in all versions, a child is met by a "false knight", that is, the devil in disguise; the child refuses to give ground to the devil or accomodate him in any way (generally being quite cheeky to him), and in the end wishes him back to hell. Francis James Child included "The Fause Knight on the Road" as ballad #3 in his multi-volume Popular English and Scottish Ballads, published between 1882 and 1898 - he provides 3 different versions of the same tale from a variety of sources. The Wirral version is slightly unusual in that the child is a girl rather than a boy (as in most other versions).

The False Knight is #20 in the Roud folksong index.

Monday 8 August 2011

18: Rent Collecting In Speke

This is a song by Pete McGovern, who's perhaps most famous for writing the song "In My Liverpool Home". I don't know whether he wrote the music as well, or just the words - if anybody can place the tune as taken from another song, or knows that it's a composition of McGovern, I'd be interested to know. Like Back Buchanan Street, it is another tale from the period of slum clearance out of the heart of Liverpool and into the brave new world of planned towns. As city-dwellers were relocated there, Speke's population boomed from 400 to more than 25,000 by the end of the 1950s. It quickly got a reputation for being rough, run-down, and smashed up, and this song plays on that reputation. There's a recording of Pete McGovern singing this in the BBC documentary The Singing City, which tells the tale of how urban regeneration changed the face of Liverpool and its music making. Before McGovern sings the song, Ken Dodd remarks of these estates: "If you pay your rent two weeks on the run, a policeman comes and finds out where you got the money from."

The picture that I'm using above of the sadly underused South Parade in Speke comes from Geograph, and was taken by Sue Adair.