Wednesday 31 October 2012

58: Buckets of the Mersey

We certainly love our public art in Liverpool, from the Lewis's statue exceedingly bare to the Superlambanana. Even so, I was surprised to find that this particular sculpture, the Piazza fountain on Drury Lane (which I've only ever heard called the "bucket fountain"), had its own song. I found it in Spin magazine (published by The Spinners) Vol. 8 No. 1, 1970. The words are by Stuart McTavish, and the music attributed to Jennie Williams.

The fountain was designed by Richard Huws and was completed in 1966. The website Seven Streets has an excellent article on its history in which they quote Huws at some length: "It is a waterfall of a strange new kind... Instead of streaming steadily, water hurtles down unexpectedly in detatched lumps in all directions... The sight and sound of waterfalls is so spellbinding that they have always been centres of attraction in the landscape, and in the places where we work we are prompted to create them artificially... To make it more exciting we contrive various means of providing additional animation, a very simple device which interrupts the regular flow, so as to create a round of action. The sound and movement of which is no longer that of the ever-monotonous bubbling river, but that of the restless, temperamental sea."

The only problem is, as the song says, the thing never seems to be working...

Wednesday 17 October 2012

57: The Battle of the Boiling Water

File under "sectarian doggerel"... let's just say if you started singing this at a Scottish football match you'd probably find yourself arrested. The title, of course, parodies the Battle of the Boyne.

The tune is basically 'Brighton Camp'/'The Girl I Left Behind Me'. Jim Caroll has recalled a set of words that his father learned on the Liverpool building sites, and notes that he himself heard the song on the docks during his apprenticeship in the 1960s. The Battle of the Boiling Water also appears in Frank Shaw's 1970 book You Know Me Anty Nelly? - he published a version of these words as part of a set of skipping rhymes he got from a girl called Susan Wheatley, aged 13 at the time. Those versions are both from the Catholic/Irish Nationalist point of view, although I've seen fragments from the Orange point of view too.

As I wrote earlier when explaining the background behind The Orange and the Green, Liverpool has had its fair share of Sectarian conflict (see Frank Neal's book Sectarian Violence - The Liverpool Experience for a thorough account). But when I wrote that post I thought, rather naively, that such things were largely in the past. Events in the last week, with clashes between rival groups at an Irish community march, following on from confrontations (photographed above) during a march celebrating the life of James Larkin in July, show that if you scratch the surface, the sectarian tensions have not necessarily gone away. Worse than that, Liverpool's Irish community risks becoming a battleground for wider right wing and left wing culture wars, with far-right and other groups committed to inflaming sectarianism for their own purposes. In such a context, putting up a song like this may well come across as mere shit stirring. Nevertheless, I think the worst thing we can do is forget Liverpool's history of sectarianism and brush it under the carpet, otherwise we're doomed to revisit it. This song (relatively innocuous as these things go) is just one little reminder of a time when such sectarianism was a fabric of everyday life. A time which I hope won't be returning any day soon.

An interesting aside is that Brian Jacques, the Liverpudlian author of the Redwall series of books, was clearly familiar with the song as he has one of the characters sing a song with the same title and the same rhythm - just with completely different non-sectarian words! - in the novel Taggerung.

The Battle of the Boiling Water is #19411 in the Roud folksong index.

Wednesday 10 October 2012

56: Ranzo

Shanty time again - an interesting version of a halyard shanty, as sung by sailors in Liverpool in the mid 19th century, noted down by Margaret Harley, and published in the Journal of the Folk-Song Society Vol. 5 No. 18 (1914).

This shanty was particularly popular with whalers, although as noted before, the whaling trade in Liverpool was never a particularly major industry; at its height in 1788 there were around 21 vessels. The image above is a painting by Francis Huswick of the Baffin, built in the city in 1819 at a time when whaling was already in decline in Liverpool.

This shanty sometimes goes by the name of Reuben Ranzo, and as one might expect, there has been a good amount of speculation as to who this "Ranzo" might be, although very little in the way of clear conclusions. Whoever he was, the shanty which bears his name is #3282 in the Roud folksong index.