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
– 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”
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”
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”
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”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
- Mersey beat: Ken Grant captured the spirit of Liverpool as it coped with two decades of distress (Independent)
- Mersey Beat: gallery of Grant’s images (Independent)
- Ken Grant: photographer’s website
- Leasowe embankment: light fading, rain coming on
- Leasowe to Meols: space and emptiness
- The Dingle: digging into the past
According to Robert McCrum, writing in The Observer last week, ‘the 60s arrived with the sound of a bluesy ‘dockside harmonica’: the launch of ‘Love Me Do’ on Friday 5 October. The Beatles’ raw working-class candour, mixed with Lennon’s riff, went into the nation’s teenage bloodstream like a drug. Well, we do love our anniversaries, and journalists love a neat turning point.
But it didn’t seem like that at the time – and anyway ‘Love Me Do’ didn’t enter the charts until 15 December, rose only to number 17 and remained in the Top 20 for only two weeks. I had turned 14 that year, addicted to Radio Luxembourg and the pop charts. My memory – for what it’s worth – is that ‘Love Me Do’, while interesting and catchy, didn’t stand out that much from a lot of the other stuff in the charts at the time. It was to be another five years before I came to Liverpool as an undergraduate, but for older teenagers already familiar with the Beatles’ shows at the Cavern, ‘Love Me Do’ was a pale shadow of what they sounded like live.
In fact, the week that ‘Love Me Do’ was released the nation’s teenagers were getting high on the space-age sound of ‘Telstar’ by The Tornados, the record named after the Telstar, the first communications satellite, which had been launched into orbit on 10 July that year. Written and produced by Joe Meek, the effects were created in Meek’s recording studio in a small flat above a shop in Holloway Road, North London. Coincidentally, Our World, the first live, international television broadcast to be relayed by satellite, which was broadcast on 25 June 1967 to what was the largest worldwide TVaudience ever at the time, featured The Beatles performing ‘All You Need Is Love’.
Back in December 1962 when ‘Love Me Do’ entered the charts, the big hits were ‘Lovesick Blues’ by Frank Ifield, ‘Swiss Maid’ by Del Shannon and Elvis’s ‘Return To Sender’ – The Beatles first single sounded fresher than that lot. John Lennon’s wailing harmonica, the first sound we heard on ‘Love Me Do’, was unusual but not unprecedented – it sounded a lot like the one on Bruce Channel’s ‘Hey Baby’ that had risen to number 2 back in April. The harmonica on that record had been played by Delbert McClinton; the Beatles shared a bill with Channel and McClinton at the Tower Ballroom in Wallasey on 21 June 1962.
What I’m getting at here is that, unless you had seen The Beatles live, at the end of 1962 they sounded good – but not that good. All that changed in March 1963 when ‘Please Please Me’ roared up the charts. What I really remember, in the months of Beatlemania that followed, is the truly shocking, raw sound of ‘She Loves You’ and ‘Twist and Shout’ blasting from the radiogram as we listened to Two-Way Family Favourites on the Light Programme. That’s when the sixties began.
According to Ian Macdonald’s brilliant and vital Revolution In The Head, ‘Love Me Do’ was made up by McCartney while sagging off from the Liverpool Institute four years earlier. He wasn’t sure how to finish it and showed it to Lennon, who may have contributed the ‘rudimentary middle eight’. The song was recorded – along with awful Mitch Murray song, ‘How Do You Do It’ (eventually palmed off on Gerry Marsden’s outfit) – in EMI’s Abbey Road studios on 4 September 1962.
George Martin was producing, and liked the sound – apart from Ringo’s drumming, the problem being that his drumming was actually looser than was considered acceptable at the time. So it was re-recorded a week later with an EMI session musician on drums.
Despite what I’ve said about my memory of hearing ‘Love Me Do’ at the time, Ian Macdonald averred that it sounded ‘the first faint chime of a revolutionary bell. A new spirit was abroad: artless yet unabashed – and awed by nothing’. I’ve come across no better description of the spirit of the sixties.