Weather report

Weather report

Kenmare Road sunset

Sunset over Kenmare Road on 30 November

We’ve had some contrasting weather this week. After several days of calm, a storm swept in today, bringing an unusual storm surge to the coasts of Merseyside.

During the calm weather earlier this week, there were some beautiful sunsets.  Terence Chan’s photo at the top of this post captures the sky over Kenmare Road on the afternoon of 30 November when the clouds looked like a pink patchwork quilt.

Two days later, the storm swept in, hitting Scotland and the east coast (where the storm surge was actually higher than the one in 1953) hardest.  Even on the relatively sheltered Merseyside coasts, there were dramatic seas, as these photos reveal:

Crosby 5 Dec 2013

Crosby: no sign of Gormley’s iron men

Formby 5 Dec 2013

Formby Point: the recently-constructed walkway took a hit

Liverpool 5 Dec 2013

Liverpool: the Albert Dock gets a pounding

New Brighton 5 Dec 2013 2

New Brighton saw the largest surge

New Brighton 5 Dec 2013 3

New Brighton: Morrison’s car park

New Brighton 5 Dec 2013 4

New Brighton

New Brighton 5 Dec 2013 5

New Brighton

New Brighton 5 Dec 2013

New Brighton

New Brighton Morissons Wave

New Brighton: Morrison’s car park


These were the waves on the Mersey at Liverpool today:

And this was West Kirkby:

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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.

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Thea Gilmore: on tour in New Brighton

Thea Gilmore: on tour in New Brighton

In the Blue Room of New Brighton’s Floral Pavilion Thea Gilmore was explaining how she and partner Nigel Stonier had, for the last five years, organised a literature and music festival in their home town of Nantwich in Cheshire.  ‘Anyone know the material for a fifth anniversary?’ she asked.  One guy suggested bacon.  ‘Er, no…but you can stay at my house anytime’, she responded.  The answer is wood, and wood became the theme for the concert that Thea and her band gave at this year’s festival: every song had to be wood-related, and it fell to Thea to sing an old German folk song made famous by Elvis Presley.

‘Wooden Heart’, sung solo by Thea midway through Sunday night’s show in New Brighton, was just one of the spine-tingling highlights of a superb concert; to hear it was worth the price of admission alone.  She took the song at a slower pace than Elvis and scoured it clean of the jaunty, tripping rhythm of the original, paring it down to the intimate love song that lies at its core:

Can’t you see
I love you
Please don’t break my heart in two
That’s not hard to do
Cause I don’t have a wooden heart

Gilmore is an accomplished vocalist who can belt out a mean rocker or, as here, infuse a romantic ballad with a sensuous intensity.  She did a creditable job of retaining the original German words sung by Elvis a year after he had completed his military service in Germany:

Muß i’ denn, muß i’ denn
Zum Städtele hinaus,
Städtele hinaus
Und du mein Schatz bleibst hier

(Got to go, got to go,
Got to leave this town,
Leave this town
And you, my dear, stay here.)

Earlier, Thea Gilmore had arrived on stage with her band, comprising guitarist, producer and partner Nigel Stonier, Che Beresford on drums, Alan Knowles on acoustic bass and accordion and Tracy Bell on keyboards.  On two numbers the band was augmented, and its average age considerably reduced, when joined onstage by six year-old Egan – Nigel and Thea’s eldest child – who wielded a child-size violin.

Gilmore had kicked off with ‘Contessa’ from 2008’s Harpo’s Ghost, and there were to be a fair few numbers from the extensive Gilmore back catalogue in the course of the evening – for as she informed us, after tours promoting albums of songs by Dylan and Sandy Denny, she was thrilled to be doing what she likes doing best, singing the songs that she writes herself.  She’d thought long and hard about the songs she really wanted to sing, and had dusted off a fair few which have not been performed for years. She’s halfway through recording a new album, due out in the spring, and at the gigs there is very limited edition EP available, called Beginners – because it’s a sort of taster for the main course to follow. She did two numbers off the EP, and one completely new song which may, or may not, be on the next album.

There were no Dylan covers in this show, but there were two of the previously unpublished Sandy Denny songs that Gilmore was commissioned to set to music, which comprised the album Don’t Stop Singing and were featured in the tribute show that toured the country this summer, The Lady: A Homage to Sandy Denny.  Here she featured ‘Don’t Stop Singing’ and the Olympic summer single ‘London’.

Following the pen-portrait of an unwelcome reminder of a dissolute past in ‘Contessa’, we were treated to Thea’s angry and bitter portrayal of political arrogance  in ‘God’s Got Nothing On You’ before she presented a song off the new EP, ‘Beautiful Hopeful’, all about the tribulations that await young musicians entering today’s music business. A little later Thea talked at some length about the process of making an album: always having too many songs, finding that after a while a dozen or so songs seem to chime together, leaving many more to be sadly cast aside. This was by way of an introduction to one of those songs – ‘The Amazing Floating Man’ – that appears on the new EP.  Thea half-apologetically presented the song as being about the banking crisis; it was a solo a capella performance that lifted the hairs on back of your neck:

Roll up, roll up
For the best show in town
See him balance the books
As the markets crash down
And he never does much
But he does what he can
The Amazing Floating Man

By way of complete contrast (and you do get that with Thea – her songbook displays a tremendous variety of mood and material) we were treated us to a lively performance of the raunchy ‘Teach Me To Be Bad’: as she said, a song that ‘celebrates sex and the little devil in all of us’:

If I were coming off the rails
Dropped my eyes and dropped my dress
Would your moral stand prevail
Or would you fold like all the rest
Ooh ain’t we got fun
Ooh let’s come undone
I said one two well hand me a light
Oh three four I don’t wanna be right

By way of contrast, another new song from the EP, ‘Me By Numbers’ carried the refrain:

I can be a good girl
I can be a queen
I can be a soldier
I can be the thinking man’s dream
I can be a warrior
I can be the eye of the world
But  most of all
I can be a good, good girl

Thea Gilmore grew up in Oxfordshire, her interest in music developing from listening to her father’s record collection, which included Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and The Beatles. She began writing poetry at the age of 15 as a way of coping with the divorce of her parents, and got an early start in the music industry, working in a recording studio and recording her first album Burning Dorothy as a teenager in 1998.  In the following four years she released three more albums that earned her a growing critical reputation, but no chart success. It was around this time that I first discovered her songs: I remember listening repeatedly to Rules for Jokers, her third album that had standout tracks such as ‘This Girl Is Taking Bets’ and ‘Things We Never Said’, on the drive to and from work in 2001.

That album also included a song called ‘Inverigo’ that I could never really figure out: it had a lovely melody, but the meaning of some of the lines, and particularly the title, always puzzled me. On Sunday night, introducing the song to the audience in the Blue Lounge, Thea solved the mystery.  She wrote ‘Inverigo’ in Italy, in the town of the same name; she was there with her partner,  Nigel Stonier, who was recording an album.  Though the trip, for her was ‘little more than a jolly’, at the time she needed to convince a record company that she had songs worth backing.  ‘Inverigo’ was written in the company offices, they liked it, and she got a contract.  After the concert, as Thea signed my copy of her new EP, I explained how that title had mystified me for a decade or more. ‘Well, there you go’, she replied, ‘puzzle solved’.

We are running from storms of our youth into more of the same …
We are free as the wind through the trees or so we are told …

In the last 15 years, Thea Gilmore has produced another ten albums, and has established a reputation as one of Britain’s leading songwriters.  Though they can be a little uneven, each of her albums contains at least one gem that ranks alongside the work of the best lyricists.  Joan Baez recognised her worth, picking up on ‘The Lower Road’ from Liejacker, and recording her version of the song on The Day After Tomorrow, and inviting Thea to join her tour.

After she recorded ‘I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine’ for a Dylan covers CD for Uncut Magazine in 2002, the accolades poured in, including one from Bruce Springsteen who, on encountering Gilmore backstage at a 2008 concert, showed his appreciation for the track, calling it ‘one of the great Dylan covers’. For, alongside her own songwriting credentials, Thea Gilmore is also a gifted interpreter of songs written by others.  Some of these are to be found on Loft Music, an album of cover versions she put out in 2004; it includes wonderful interpretations of songs as varied as Pete Shelley’s ‘Ever Fallen in Love’, John Fogerty’s ‘Bad Moon Rising’, the great Phil Ochs song ‘When I’m Gone’, and ‘Buddy Can You Spare a Dime’.  Other favourites include great versions of Pete Burns’ ‘You Spin Me Round’, Yoko Ono’s ‘Listen The Snow Is Falling’ and Springsteen’s ‘Cover Me’.  And then of course there is her album of songs by Sandy Denny, and her recreation of Bob Dylan’s album John Wesley Harding.

I have my own strong favourites from her own compositions; one that I always hope she will sing live is ‘Old Soul’, and she did not disappoint on this occasion.  When we hear a song it may have a personal meaning that can differ from the writer’s original intent.  I listened to ‘Old Soul’ a long time before I became aware that old souls are those that have experienced several previous incarnations from which they have gained greater wisdom.  On this video clip, Thea introduces the song, talking about how it was written while she was pregnant, and how the lyric’s meaning for her was related to the imminent birth of her child:

To complete an evening of great music, Thea returned for the obligatory encore: a rousing rendition of the apocalyptic call to arms, ‘Are You Ready’, with its chorus ‘We will ride, are you ready? reinforced by blistering accordion, before things quietened down with another new song, a hushed ballad ‘Goodbye My Friend’.


  • Contessa
  • Don’t Stop Singing
  • God’s Got Nothing on You
  • Beautiful Hopeful
  • Red White and Black
  • Teach Me To Be Bad
  • The Amazing Floating Man
  • Me By Numbers
  • Old Soul
  • Roll On
  • You’re the Radio
  • Inverigo


  • Are You Ready?
  • Goodbye My Friend

See also

Indian Summer

These are the days when birds come back,
A very few, a bird or two,
To take a backward look.
These are the days when skies put on
The old, old sophistries of June, —
A blue and gold mistake.
Oh, fraud that cannot cheat the bee,
Almost thy plausibility
Induces my belief,
Till ranks of seeds their witness bear,
And softly through the altered air
Hurries a timid leaf!
Oh, sacrament of summer days,
Oh, last communion in the haze,
Permit a child to join,
Thy sacred emblems to partake,
Thy consecrated bread to break,
Taste thine immortal wine!

– Indian Summer, Emily Dickinson

We’ve had wonderful Indian summer weather this weekend, with clear blue skies, warm sun and autumn colours just beginning to show on the trees. We went for two walks on the Wirral – one at Thurstaston, down the little valley known as The Dungeon and out along the Dee shore; and another at New Brighton, around Perch Rock fort and lighthouse.

The Dee shore at Thurstaston is a major feeding area for wading birds such as Dunlin and Oystercatchers.

Up to the 19th century the area along the coast at New Brighton had a reputation for smuggling and wrecking, and secret underground cellars and tunnels are still rumoured to exist. It also had a strategic position at the entrance to the Mersey estuary. The Perch Rock fort was completed in 1829. It was built to protect the Port of Liverpool and as a fortified lighthouse to replace the old Perch Rock Light. New Brighton Lighthouse was originally known as Perch Rock Lighthouse, and construction began in 1827. Since 1973 it has not been in use as a lighthouse, having been superseded by modern navigational technology. These days the lighthouse is maintained by the Kingham family.

The term Indian summer reached England in the 19th century, during the heyday of the British Raj in India. This led to the mistaken belief that the term referred to the Indian subcontinent. In fact, the Indians in question were the Native Americans, and the term originated there in the late 18th century.

‘Indian summer’ is first recorded in Letters From an American Farmer, a 1778 work by a French-American soldier turned farmer J. H. St. John de Crèvecoeur:

Then a severe frost succeeds which prepares it to receive the voluminous coat of snow which is soon to follow; though it is often preceded by a short interval of smoke and mildness, called the Indian Summer.

There are many references to the term in American literature in the following hundred years or so. In the 1830s Indian summer began to be used figuratively, to refer to any late flowering following a period of decline. More recent examples of this might be:

In youth, it was a way I had
To do my best to please,
And change, with every passing lad,
To suit his theories.

But now I know the things I know,
And do the things I do;
And if you do not like me so,
To hell, my love, with you!

– Dorothy Parker, Indian Summer

Or this:

Like a deep blue wave
of passion
you shore into the room
where I sit waiting quietly,

We have moved through days,
loss, pain
to hold this moment,
this picture postcard seascape
of gentle harbouring.

You say
‘I knew you were here
I could smell you’
and effortlessly I sway
to seal my fate.

You taste of ocean,
avenues of grassy dunes,
like a magician
you pluck a tiny pebble
from my hair-

Ancient survivor, sun-kissed
on this summer afternoon,
I step out of my dress
into your dream.

– Eileen Carney Hulme, Indian Summer

The English already had a name for the phenomenon – St. Martin’s Summer, but this has now  disappeared and, like the rest of the world, the term Indian summer has been used in the UK for at least a century. Saint Martin’s Summer referred to St. Martin’s day, November 11, when it was supposed to end. In British English “St. Martin’s Summer” was the most widely used term until the American phrase Indian Summer became better known in the 20th century. In Italy, St Martin’s summer (Estate di San Martino) was expected and celebrated as a rural tradition with ancient origins, and is marked by a festival on November 11. In Spain, it is called Veranillo de San Martín.

The photo above is of The Dungeon; below is the painting, St Martin’s Summer, by John Everett Millais (1829-1896), one of his Scottish landscapes. They were the focus of an exhibition at Tate Britain last year:

Millais’s affection for the Highlands of Perthshire was most brilliantly expressed in a series of twenty-one large-scale landscapes that he painted outdoors from 1870 to 1892. Twelve are displayed here, the largest ever gathering. He would spend autumns in leased accommodation near Dunkeld and Birnam.

The landscapes he painted there represent a kind of respite from the demands of art and society in London, the same kind of escape that hunting and fishing throughout Scotland would also provide. The results are works that access the picturesque traditions of landscape and the English examples of Constable and Turner, only to reject them through level tones, broad expanses, rushing perspective, a bleak beauty usually absent of history and, in many cases, of human presence. For Millais, autumn was a distinctive time, particularly vivid and teeming with life. These paintings represent new approaches to landscape: through poetic references, novel compositions, celebrations of autumnal scenery and light, and unresolved narratives.