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Sep 10

THE CHRISTIANS, HOLLY JOHNSON, PAUL MCCARTNEY, GERRY MARSDEN, STOCK AITKEN AND WATERMAN – “Ferry Cross The Mersey”

Popular66 comments • 5,332 views

#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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Comments

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  1. 31
    MichaelH on 17 Sep 2010 #

    I’ve waited a long time to write it!

  2. 32
    LondonLee on 17 Sep 2010 #

    Best Popular story ever.

  3. 33
    Jimmy the Swede on 18 Sep 2010 #

    That is indeed pure gold from MichaelH. It puts me in mind of Lord Home(Prime Minister 1963-64) who was good enough to play first class cricket when he was at Oxford. He also, I believe, boxed for the university. The thought of the slight, uber-bony and delightfully mannered Home throwing jabs, uppercuts and hooks at Lord Longford before the referee moves in to save his battered foe is something to treasure.

    I’m also pleased that Michael didn’t pass to that fruit-loop Galloway!!

  4. 34
    Erithian on 19 Sep 2010 #

    But when you scored, did Galloway come over and salute your indefatigability?

    Returning to the matter in hand: what did people make of the Christians as a band? As I think Marcello noted before, they’d been on Opportunity Knocks under the name “Natural High” as far back as 1974.

  5. 35
    Mark G on 19 Sep 2010 #

    They got a lot of respect at the time, but since they split and the Lighthouse Family occupied similar buying demographic, their rep has possibly been tarnished as a result.

  6. 36
    rosie on 19 Sep 2010 #

    I’m assuming that when Galloway called for the pass, he wasn’t in a position to score but posing on the by-line in front of the cameras.

  7. 37

    I interviewed the Christians for NME!!

    I was flown to an Austrian ski lodge! Except they’d originally planned for the interview to happen in Spain, and I had packed for the sun :(

    I discovered
    (a) I suffer quite badly from mountain sickness (bad asthma, vile headaches and nausea), so I didn’t actually go up onto the glacier with them for the video shoot, but hung around at the ski station bored watching Austrian ski youth lark about
    (b) Henry Priestman was a lovely, interesting guy, who I got a great interview from
    (c) Garry C was moody and diva-ish and wouldn’t do the interview in the hotel; I ended up talking to him on the plane home and the taperecorder only picked up the noise of the jet engines and nothing he said…

    I loved “Ideal World” — I think I got the assignment bcz I was in the NME office at the right time, but also possibly bcz Danny Kelly liked sending me on slightly strange assignments, to see what I came up with.

    I have still never been to Spain :( :(

  8. 38
    23 Daves on 19 Sep 2010 #

    @34 – during the twilight of their career in the mid-nineties (although I notice they’ve since reformed) I was sent to review a Christians gig. It wasn’t a prospect I greatly looked forward to, and I couldn’t find anyone who would be willing to accompany me to the concert, even though it wouldn’t have cost my friends anything to become my “plus one” for the night.

    When I got there, the venue must only have been a fifth full. However, as unbelievable as it sounds, The Christians were absolutely amazing live. I just remember this powerful Northern Soul rawness, a big rush of energy and some astounding vocal harmonies which really hit you in the gut – it was almost as if they saw hardly anybody was in the audience, and thought “screw it, we’ll be as spontaneous as possible”. Or perhaps they always were like that live. I genuinely wouldn’t know.

    Whenever anyone asks me who the most surprising live band I’ve seen are, they get mentioned straight away. I was forced to completely re-evaluate them, and whilst some of their recordings are a bit too slick and studied to really excel, there’s the odd diamond in the pile. “Ideal World” is a beautiful piece of work, for example. Comparing them to the Lighthouse Family is a bit unfair. Mind you, perhaps they’re a strong live act too… who knows?

  9. 39
    Jimmy the Swede on 19 Sep 2010 #

    Galloway, of course, got turfed out of his seat at the Election and will now, I fear, become even more of a “national treasure”. The wonderful Derek and Clive (why didn’t Benny the Pope wave his wand over these two instead of Thunderclap Newman?) were thirty years ahead of the reality tv game when they alluded to a show called “Celebrity Suicide”. George would be a welcome contestant for this, as would the moderately tasty but totally ridiculous Sally Bercow.

    # 37 – “(b) Henry Priestman was a lovely, interesting guy, who I got a great interview from” Shouldn’t that be “from whom I got a great interview?”…

    Coat? Okay.

  10. 40
    anto on 19 Sep 2010 #

    Flicking through Kenny Dalglishs autobiography alerted me to something I never knew. Besides being present at Heysell and Hillsborough Kenny was playing for Celtic at the time of the Ibrox disaster (1971).
    You think of Kenny Dalglish as having had this chequered career but carrying around even one of those dark memories must be hard.

    There’s been some fascinating responses on this thread. It’s a sobering subject to even think about.

  11. 41

    Fowler’s Modern English Usage , characteristically trenchant first sentence of PREPOSITION AT END: “It was once a cherished superstition that prepositions must be kept true to their name and placed before the word they govern in spite of the incurably English instinct for putting them late.” And he closes his two-page rant with a handsome column-long list of six centuries of literary greats who didn’t observe the alleged rule, from Chaucer to Kipling (his guide was published in 1926).

  12. 42
    wichita lineman on 19 Sep 2010 #

    The Christians, ok. They looked awful (bald front man in shades puts them one image rung below Classix Nouveaux) and had a terrible name. Their first single was reggae-lite with a flat, jazz-funky vocal (possibly pitching for Heatwave, ending up closer to Hue & Cry). Their biggest hit – excluding this – was a note-for-note copy of Harvest For The World (which puts them one creativity rung below UB40). I couldn’t have had less of my chads dimpled.

    But Henry Priestman is indeed a lovely man, met him at a pop quiz once. And quite possibly I’d love some Christians records if I heard them. I just don’t think it’ll happen unless I live to be ever so old.

  13. 43
    Jimmy the Swede on 19 Sep 2010 #

    # 41 – “And he closes his two-page rant with a handsome column-long list of six centuries of literary greats who didn’t observe the alleged rule, from Chaucer to Kipling (his guide was published in 1926).”

    Thanks for the clarification, Mark. But by whom was this guide published?

  14. 44

    OUP

  15. 45
    MichaelH on 19 Sep 2010 #

    Galloway called it “the best goal I’ve ever stood next to”. He used to share an office with Mildred Gordon. Oh, the George and Mildred gags. The other great thing about that game was that Peter Bottomley was playing right back, and he was hopeless at holding the line for offsides. It was a great feeling being able to shout abuse at a Tory MP for his positional failings and getting a wave of acknowledgement. Best player in that team was Graham Allen (Lab, Nottm N), who was a terrific centre back. Though the best player in the Commons was by all accounts the later-disgraced Henry McLeish (who was unavailable that day). He had played for, I think, Hearts, and had been signed as a teenager by Don Revie for Leeds, but left without playing a game because he was homesick for Edinburgh.

  16. 46
    MikeMCSG on 20 Sep 2010 #

    # 42 a bit unfair to have a dig at them for “Harvest For The World” since that was a charity record they were asked to do at short notice (and a terrific vocal from Garry too).

    #39 Interesting Jimmy that all the MPs who’d dabbled with reality TV – Galloway, Julia Goldsworthy, Lembit Opik – went down in the last election. I’d be surprised if we see any more try it.

  17. 47
    MichaelH on 20 Sep 2010 #

    The Christians were one of those bands who were foisted on the nation’s indie kids by the NME by dint of their politics, weren’t they? They’d never have got anywhere near the NME coverage they did had their politics not been publicly impeccable. And I suppose getting the likes of Forgotten Town and Hooverville into the charts was an achievement, but our hearts always sank when there was a Christians piece in NME – Public Enemy or the Beasties or someone exciting was fine as some roughage in our diet of the Weather Prophets, but the Christians … I am reminded of their love of Britsoul singer Paul Johnson in the mid-80s. Whatever happened to him?

  18. 48
    wichita lineman on 20 Sep 2010 #

    Re 46: Fair point, but ‘charity record’ + ‘short notice’ was also an excuse for the Jagger/Bowie record – treacherous waters.

    Re 47: I think you’re right. Politics aside, it made no sense, and I imagine the Lighthouse Family would have got similar coverage if they had been so publicly of the left.

    Speaking of whom… has anyone got copies of Let There Be Lighthouse? It was a Lighthouse Family fanzine from the late nineties which was a beautifully subtle pisstake. I can only find one reference to it online (so I know I didn’t dream it). Included features like an interview with the drummer in a motorway service station, noting everything he ate, how he ate it etc. Wish I’d kept it! I think it was from Liverpool.

  19. 49
    Erithian on 20 Sep 2010 #

    MichaelH #45 – I was once in a lift with Peter Bottomley, who was carrying a suit he’d just got back from Sketchley’s. His politics aside, I thought it was quite endearing he hadn’t got a flunkey to pick it up for him. Once while he was a transport minister he had to answer a written parliamentary question about the Hindhead bypass from the fragrant Virginia Bottomley. I remember thinking how much taxpayers’ money it would have saved if she’d just asked him over breakfast.

  20. 50
    Tom on 20 Sep 2010 #

    My last encounter w/the Lighthouse Family was in 2000 at a company team-building conference at the Millennium Dome: not playing live of course, nothing so big-ticket, but “Lifted” was played on loop during every gap between speakers, some of which were uncomfortably long. Setting, subject and music combined perfectly as I’m sure you can imagine.

  21. 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.”

  22. 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.”

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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…

  30. 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…

  31. 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!

  32. 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.

  33. 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.

  34. 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.

  35. 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?

  36. 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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