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.


  1. Beautifully put. We are our experiences. We share our pains and our joys, and we come through our struggles ever stronger, ever-resurgent through a living tradition. There is a little bit of each of us in all of us, past, present and future. And this is a magnificent addition to the Liverpool songbook. The story goes on ... Truth and Justice!

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