Chuck Berry 1926-2017: ‘Tell the folks back home this is the promised land callin’ and the poor boy’s on the line.’

Chuck Berry 1926-2017: ‘Tell the folks back home this is the promised land callin’ and the poor boy’s on the line.’

Sometimes one person’s death brings memories flooding back of a whole era. If you came of age musically in the fifties or sixties, it was if Chuck Berry’s songs held up a mirror in which you saw your generation reflected and given mythic stature. Particularly if you were British, the insouciant swagger of his lyrics, the guitar just like a ringing bell, cruisin’ in your car and playin’ the radio, the lure of the juke joint after the school bell has rung, the cats who want to dance with sweet little sixteen – all of it sounded highly desirable and pretty mythic.

Same thing every day – gettin’ up, goin’ to school.
No need for me to complain – my objection’s overruled, ahh!

John Lennon got it right: ‘If you were going to give rock & roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry’.’ Continue reading “Chuck Berry 1926-2017: ‘Tell the folks back home this is the promised land callin’ and the poor boy’s on the line.’”

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Beatles ’66: The Revolutionary Year Steve Turner’s book about a pivotal year in the life

<em>Beatles ’66: The Revolutionary Year</em> Steve Turner’s book about a pivotal year in the life

I had already read Jon Savage’s book 1966: The Years the Decade Exploded and seen the V&A exhibition, You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966 – 1970 when, just before Christmas, Steve Turner’s book, Beatles ’66: The Revolutionary Year, fell into my hands. Would I be up for a return trip to the year now regarded as a turning point, not only in music but more widely in culture and politics? Could Turner turn a chronicle of the Beatles’ day-to-day activities that year into a readable and engrossing narrative? The answer was resoundingly affirmative. Continue reading Beatles ’66: The Revolutionary Year Steve Turner’s book about a pivotal year in the life”

Something happened on the day he died

Something happened on the day he died

Something happened on the day he died
– David Bowie, ‘Blackstar’

Three things we learned this past week connect in my mind. First came the news that Bowie had died, followed by a huge national outpouring of sorrow and loss. A day later it was revealed that the number of people attending Church of England services each week has dropped below 1 million – less than 2% of the population – for the first time, with Sunday attendances even lower at 760,000. Finally, amidst widespread condemnation, leaders of the Anglican communion meeting in Canterbury agree – in the words of Giles Fraser – ‘to punish its American franchise for the temerity of marrying gay people, sending out the message to the LGBT community: you are a problem, and we will establish our unity on the basis of your exclusion’.

The meaning of these stories, it seems to me, is that they reveal how British society has changed in the decades since Bowie first stunned viewers tuning in to watch Top of the Pops on 6 July 1972 to see him in the persona of Ziggy Stardust performing ‘Starman’, arm draped around Mick Ronson’s shoulders, pointing a finger at us all and singing, ‘I had to phone someone so I picked on you-hoo-oo’. Continue reading “Something happened on the day he died”

The Beatles Tune In: Mark Lewisohn’s definitive account of the Liverpool years

<em>The Beatles Tune In</em>: Mark Lewisohn’s definitive account of the Liverpool years

For days after Christmas I didn’t leave the sofa, enthralled by The Beatles Tune In, the first of three volumes in which Mark Lewisohn intends to tell the definitive story of the Beatles. It’s a grand book in every sense of the word: this volume clocks in at close on a thousand pages, ending as the group travel to London to record their first single ‘Love Me Do’; it’s also meticulously-researched and written with passion, authority and elegance. This is not your average pop hagiography, but is also an informed and insightful social history of Liverpool and the emergent youth culture of the 1950s. After this, all future accounts of the lives of the Beatles will be redundant. Continue reading The Beatles Tune In: Mark Lewisohn’s definitive account of the Liverpool years”

New Year’s Eve, Liverpool, at the close of the 1950s

New Year’s Eve, Liverpool, at the close of the 1950s

Since Christmas Day I’ve been reading Tune In, the first of three volumes in which Mark Lewisohn intends to tell the definitive story of the Beatles. It’s a grand book in every sense of the word: this volume clocks in at close on a thousand pages and ends just as the group travel to London to record their first single ‘Love Me Do’; it’s also meticulously-researched and written with passion, authority and elegance. This is not your average pop hagiography, but an informed and insightful social history of Liverpool and the emergent youth culture of the 1950s.

As the year turned, I found myself coincidentally reading Lewisohn’s evocative descriptions of two New Year’s Eves in Liverpool at the close of the 1950s. I thought I’d share them. Continue reading “New Year’s Eve, Liverpool, at the close of the 1950s”

‘In My Life’: the song from Rubber Soul I grew to love the most

‘In My Life’: the song from <em>Rubber Soul</em> I grew to love the most

35 years after John Lennon’s death, and 50 years since the release of Rubber Soul, here’s one of his best songs: ‘In My Life’. Half a century has passed since The Beatles’ Rubber Soul was released on 3 December 1965, and as the years have passed the song that I have come to love most off that album is Lennon’s ‘In My Life’. Continue reading “‘In My Life’: the song from Rubber Soul I grew to love the most”

Along the Cast Iron Shore

Along the Cast Iron Shore
Mother and Child, Moreton Shore by Ken Grant from series ‘No Pain Whatsoever’

Is there more than one Cast Iron Shore?  The question arises after reading a feature in today’s Guardian – Ken Grant’s best photograph: a child on the Merseyside coast – in which the Grant talks about photographs taken as he walked between his home in New Brighton to ‘a place known as the Cast Iron Shore, because there was an iron foundry there’.

The place that Grant remembers as the Cast Iron Shore is the stretch of the Mersey shore between Leasowe and Meols (which I have described here).  But I think he must have mis-remembered: I can find no reference in Wirral histories to the term being used for this location, or of there being an iron foundry.  If the place deserves any name, it would be the Concrete Shore since the shoreline is firmly encased in a concrete embankment, first constructed by the Corporation of Liverpool in 1829.  It was needed as much of the ground on the landward side is below sea level and would be submerged by high spring tides.  The original embankment has been extended and strengthened several times since 1829.

Despite the concrete, this can be an exhilarating place to walk, with fantastic estuary views and dazzling displays of aerobatics by flocks of seabirds rising from the sandbanks offshore.  I photographed it in pretty dismal conditions last December.

Leasowe embankment
Leasowe embankment on a wet December day

Ken Grant’s photos were taken in the 1980s and 1990s and document, as Brian Viner expresses it in an appreciation in the Independent, ‘the humdrum realities of everyday working-class – or more accurately, unemployed – existence’. Grant was born in Liverpool and raised on the Wirral. Viner explains:

He worked as a labourer after leaving school, and knew intimately the world he was capturing, which perhaps explains why he did it so brilliantly, with such empathy. As he says now, there were plenty of pictures of vessels being grandly launched from the Cammell Laird shipyard, but his instinct was to chronicle the workers on their tea breaks, or clocking off. ‘I like photographing people’s circumstances,’ he says. ‘Not the celebratory stuff, but the quieter times.’ It is the instinct of the social documentarian, and Grant deserves to rank alongside the better-known Martin Parr as one of the best.

Ken Grant: Family on the Merseyside coast

This is the picture featured in The Guardian, taken in the summer of 1996.  It’s one from a brilliant series, ‘No pain whatsoever’ which can be seen here on Ken Grant’s website.  Grant explains:

I’ve photographed in and around Liverpool since I was a teenager, rarely moving more than a few miles from the Mersey. I tend to go back over familiar ground and photograph the same places repeatedly. Sometimes, I walk all day and find very little; other days, everything falls at your feet. It’s rarely straightforward, but then good photographs don’t come easily.

The family in this picture are out for the day, using a breakwater to shelter from the wind: even in the summer, it can blow in from the Irish Sea with some force. Away from the city, the winds keep the coast a little cooler, and I’d go there to photograph those people – like me – who were drawn to the sea for a few hours’ respite.

Grant, who now teaches in South Wales, has published a collection of his Merseyside photos in The Close Season, which features text by writer James Kelman.

Dingle Point c1890
Dingle Point photographed c1890

In Liverpool, the Cast Iron Shore (more commonly ‘The Cazzy’) is known as the stretch of the Mersey shore from the Dingle to Otterspool in south Liverpool.  It gained its name from an iron foundry – the Mersey Foundry – that operated throughout the 19th century on a vast site near Grafton Street in the Dingle. The shoreline was stained red from the ferric oxide left in the sand.  There’s a church at St. Michael’s constructed from iron forged at the Mersey Foundry.

St Michaels
St Michaels church

The Cast-Iron Shore is referenced in John Lennon’s lyric for the Beatles’ Glass Onion and recalled in ‘Norra Lorra Otters’, by local poet Justine Tennant:

I’ve never seen a otter
Down at Otterspool
I’ve rode me bike
An flown me kite
An even bunked off school
Burrive never seen a otter
On the banks of Liverpool
I’ve never seen a otter
Down on the Cast Iron Shore
Me ma’s seen one around der
but long before the war
No, I’ve never seen a otter
Cos, ders none der any more!

Cast Iron shore
The Cast Iron shore today

Pre-war when I was a kid, The cazzy was a great day out.There were steps going down to the shore, at the end of the steps was sewer outlet (not very nice). To the left of the steps was a high sandstone wall about 100 metres long. At the centre of the wall there were two old large gates set into the wall; my theory is they would be a place to store fish during the 18th and 19th century as there were no freezers back then in the old days. The wall ran on towards Otterspool; at the end of the wall the beach widened to Jericho Lane, where there were the old fisherman’s cottages. Before the war, at the back of the cazzy, was a nine-hole golf course, in which they sunk large holes to allow large oil tanks to be place at ground level. This was to camouflage the tanks during hostilities. “O happy days they were”.
– Jack Stamper on Liverpool History Society forum

A local group has uploaded this video, inspired, they say, by a song about another Cast Iron Shore in Vancouver.  The video is shot a bit further up-river, at Cressington Park.

See also