Sep 10


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#628, 20th May 1989

I wrote before that The Crowd’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone” became “a tiny part of a disaster’s wider story, and left no mark on pop’s”. The same holds for “Ferry Cross The Mersey”, but a thousand times more so. Most tragedies drop out of public memory even if the pain of those directly affected never quite scabs over. In this case the bereaved families have tirelessly and publically campaigned for further inquiries into the disaster, but even without that the story of Hillsborough has grown and spread, the tragedy and its aftermath changing other stories. Liverpool FC; recent British football history; The Sun newspaper; Scouse self-identity and the rest of Britain’s attitude to Merseyside – if you wanted to think about any of these you would end up having to think about Hillsborough. And not just as a distant event, bundled up safely inside a word: to tell those stories you’d need to dig into what happened and how it was reported.

But this lies well outside the stated scope of this blog, particularly as this record is so irrelevant to that wider story, a footnote to a footnote. When Anfield remembers Hillsborough each year the fans sing – of course – “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. The supporters’ sites chronicling the aftermath of the disaster don’t mention this single, and why should they? It’s an accidental and inevitable release: Hillsborough happened to happen at a time when a charity single was part of the reflex response to anything big and bad, so of course Gerry Marsden got out his rolodex again and put a group of Liverpool all-stars together in a hurry.

“Ferry Cross The Mersey” is one of his best songs – sentimental but heartfelt, and it captures the dreamy ache of homesickness very well. Lines like “hearts torn in every way”, built to carry more general loads, sound clumsy and inadequate in this specific context, but what wouldn’t? The song survives what the singers throw at it, and they throw a lot; the producers’ virtues run to speed not gravitas; but like most charity records the aesthetics aren’t the point and context is everything.

And in those terms “Ferry” has two positive points. The song was released a few weeks after Hillsborough, and after Sun editor Kelvin McKenzie had forced through his rancid “THE TRUTH” headline, printing unsubstantiated claims about Liverpool fans attacking policemen, robbing bodies, and so on. As is well known, the paper’s circulation on Merseyside collapsed overnight. So in this context the choice of song and singers seems appropriate: a record of local solidarity as well as sympathy. The Sun had taken a lead in allying itself with charity records (see especially Ferry Aid, where its logo was on the sleeve) – I would be interested to see how it reacted to this one’s success.

And “Ferry Cross The Mersey” avoids the fate of most charity hits – sounding (particularly with hindsight) like they’re closing the book on the incident and giving tragedy an uplifting ending. Admittedly it’s a close thing, but for me “life goes on day after day” bridges a gap between a platitude and something that moves closer to catching the remorselessness of grief and the will needed to live with it. Twenty years on, if you learned for the first time that there had been a number one in the wake of Hillsborough, you’d expect a different song and a weightier record. What you get is a flatpack charity production applied to probably the best old song a disaster single ever used.



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  1. 51
    Tom on 20 Sep 2010 #

    From P Bottomley’s Wikipedia entry, a fine use of square brackets:

    “In 1967 he married the well-connected Virginia Garnett, who later became an MP, a Cabinet Minister, a head-hunter[clarification needed] and then a life peer.”

  2. 52
    MichaelH on 20 Sep 2010 #

    In the late 80s a distant acquaintance, then of the extreme left, once picketed a meeting at which Peter Bottomley was speaking, with vile and abusive language. Afterwards, Bottomley approached him to tell him angrily what he thought of his disruption.
    “Don’t be like that Peter. We’ve got so much in common,” said my acquaintance.
    “We have noting in common,” replied a furious Bottomley.
    “But we have. We both fancy your wife.”

  3. 53
    vinylscot on 20 Sep 2010 #

    I could take or leave the Christians, but it’s good to read that Henry Priestman is a good guy. His album of a couple of years ago “The Chronicles of Modern Life” is a lovely collection of songs reflecting on the changes which middle age brings, including the brilliant line on one of the songs “I’m the same age as my father was, when I first thought he was old.”

    It also sounds very un-Christians-like – you would never have connected the two. It’s on Spotify, give it a listen, especially if you’re a male aged around 45-55.

  4. 54
    23 Daves on 20 Sep 2010 #

    #50 – and me! Mine was a conference in Glasgow, though, and “Lifted” formed the soundtrack of a healthcare video filled with lots of happy, smiling, newly well people. It was on a loop in the entrance area, where I was for prolonged periods of time.

    I actually complained about it.

  5. 55
    Jimmy the Swede on 20 Sep 2010 #

    MichaelH + Erithian – Throughout the entire 1980s (it was literally Jan ’80 – Jan ’90) I worked in a modest capacity in a Government department in Westminster. Once, when I was loitering around the Central Lobby of the House, I was almost run over by a scrum of Conservative members, almost all of them male, who were surrounding and ushering forward a quite beautiful woman in her early/mid thirties. I was ten years younger with a well established (but alas practically unfilled) appetite for the older lady. The excited posse headed for the entrance to the Commons and suddenly the penny dropped. It was, of course, the “fragrant” new Hon Member for Surrey South West taking her seat after a by-election with a record number of “sponsors” eagerly in attendance. I have to say she looked a dish.

    I wonder what it was like on Margaret Beckett’s first day.

  6. 56
    Erithian on 20 Sep 2010 #

    Kate Hoey commented that she’d had quite a few offers to “pair”, as they say in Parliamentary circles, when she first entered the Commons.

  7. 57
    Jimmy the Swede on 20 Sep 2010 #

    # 56 – I suspect Alan “Sniffer” Clark was one of them. I remember Caroline Flint got a warm welcome too in 1997. And Louise Bagshawe, a new entrant in May, would have given Sniffer a fatal heart attack if the old bugger hadn’t been dead already; “Have some madeira, m’dear…”

    Kate Hoey is certainly one of the most pleasant politicians I have ever come across. She was briefly my MP in Vauxhall before I moved to the Samaritans’ hut on top of Beachy Head. She too came in on a by-election, and my first contact with her was nearly being hit by her white mini car as I was jogging back to my office from the other side of Lambeth Bridge (her constituency!). It was entirely my fault but instead of hooting or snarling abuse at me, she broke into a delightful smile as she shook her head at my stupidity. When I later eventually spoke to her, I reminded her of this and she told me that she had nearly mowed down about a dozen civil servant roadrunners and that I was in good company.

  8. 58
    Ed on 21 Sep 2010 #

    #45 – Peter Bottomley is obviously a bit of an all-rounder. My wife spent some time at the wicket when he was bowling, and he was not very good at that, either, but again very good-natured. It is possible he was going easy on her ‘cos she was a girl, of course.

  9. 59
    Dominic on 21 Sep 2010 #

    I once endured “High” by the Lighthouse Family played over and over again, with only “High (Remix)”, the other side of the cassette single, also played over and over again, for intermission, while hitchhiking, en route from further north to France, from the South Gyle shopping centre in Edinburgh to Ferrybridge services in Yorkshire. By the time we got there I knew every word…

  10. 60
    wichita lineman on 21 Sep 2010 #

    Virginia Bottomley anagram: “I’m an evil Tory bigot”. Caroline Flint loves herself so much it’s wildly off-putting, and that’s before you hear her voice, cutting Paxo’s questions short by repeating “Jere-maaay… Jere-maaay” like a pissed off Pauline Quirk. ‘Flinty’ is a frequently used adjective in our house.

    Spanish defence minister Carme Chacon on the other hand…

  11. 61
    Jimmy the Swede on 21 Sep 2010 #

    # 60 – Tell you what, Lino, you’re spot-on about Caroline Flint. Lovely though she is to look at (and alarming though she is to hear), she is indeed firmly imbedded up her own botty, for what possible reason I can’t imagine. Nevertheless, it certainly gives credence to her anagram: “Rectal info nil”.

    God, I love Popular!

  12. 62
    Erithian on 12 Sep 2012 #

    Poignant looking back at this thread today. So much of what’s being proved was already pretty clear from the Taylor report, but the extent of the cover-up was staggering.

  13. 63
    Jimmy the Swede on 12 Sep 2012 #

    #62 – Staggering cover-up indeed. The widespread police tampering of witness statements is something which cannot be ignored. The Attorney General knows what he must do.

  14. 64
    Cumbrian on 12 Sep 2012 #

    Like Erithian, I read through this earlier today. Incredible stuff today – the cover up involved was huge but also so inept inasmuch as it was pretty obvious that there was a cover up. As Erithian points out, Taylor provided enough pointers for this in his report and pretty much everyone on this thread was able to point at what today has finally confirmed. Hopefully, justice will now be allowed to prevail.

    I went to my first football match (a ticket to Carlisle v Leyton Orient for my 8th birthday present) in May 1989 and we had a minute’s silence for the victims of Hillsborough before the game. Earlier in the year, Liverpool had played at Brunton Park – beating Carlisle 3-0 in the 3rd Round of the cup. I can well imagine that a good number of those who died might well have been at that game. I remember being really pleased that Liverpool won the Cup that year (imagining in my innocence that it would help make up for it – obviously utterly misguided) and upset that they lost the league to Arsenal with virtually the last kick of the game at Anfield, given everything that had happened.

    I don’t know where I was when it actually happened. Probably at home. It’s one of my earliest cogent memories of the news/of happenings outside my own cosy childhood bubble though. I can’t imagine what it must have been (and still is) like for those who lost family and friends or who experienced it and mercifully survived. I do know that I once had to explain why Hillsborough was such a big deal to an old (foreign) girlfriend and was surprised to find myself on the verge of tears describing it.

  15. 65
    Erithian on 24 Dec 2012 #

    So we have a few more members of the Returned To Number One Since Featuring In Popular club. Already enrolled: T Jones, R Gibb, G Barlow and R Williams. Now joining: Paul McCartney, Gerry Marsden, Holly Johnson (pity the Christians aren’t on the new record), Mick Jones and Paul Heaton. Any others I’ve missed?

  16. 66
    CriticSez on 26 Apr 2016 #

    The 96 finally got their justice after 27 years. Oh, and I was surprised to find TWO Hillsborough tribute #1s: this, and a 2012 bunny.

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