21st May 2010
The Everyman theatre is opening its doors for an evening of readings
and acoustic performances as part of Liverpool’s Sound City this
year. Almanac Folk - organised by singer-songwriter Lizzie Nunnery and
playwright Lindsay Rodden - create nights that explore folk music and
storytelling. Although politics are never far away from many folk songs,
the theme of tonight’s performances are inspired by Liverpool’s
history of radical culture and politics.
The bulk of the music in regular folk almanac collaborator Andy Hickie
is mostly self –composed, and also included in his set is an excellent
rendition of Bob Dylan’s 1962 composition ‘Song for Woody’,
taken from the bard’s debut album. A poem entitled ‘The Blarney
Stone’, about a bar in Dublin followed by a piece entitled ‘Repertoire’,
about New York, highlights the links between the three cities and its
Irish heritage. The choice is also apt considering Bob Dylan’s formative
musical performances in the bars and coffee shops of New York in the early
1960s. Hickie rounds off his set with a track entitled ‘One Minute
Silence’, an evocative piece about the Hillsborough memorial.
Next on to the stage is poet Paul Farley, who delivers an impassioned
contribution about William James Roscoe. An abolitionist who was instrumental
in the dismantling of the slave trade, his name is commemorated in the
University’s Halls of Residence and a street in the city centre.
His highly controversial belief in the nineteenth century that slavery
should be abolished saw him vilified by the political classes and wealthy
slave traders alike. A piece written when Roscoe was only sixteen years
old about injustice, the key line of ‘Luxury trampled o’er
the rights of man’ rings true to this day, in view of third world
sweat shops and workers struggling in squalid conditions.
The second half of the evening begins with Dave O’Dowda of Manchester
band Table. Backed by band mate Kieran Flynn, the first of his two song
set opens with a taped interview of a Liverpool docker who was involved
in the mid-1990s strike. Accompanying him for the second track is co-curator
of the evening Lizzie Nunnery. Beginning her own set with a self-composed
tune entitled ‘La Passionata’, played on a ukulele, the track
pays tribute to those who fought in the Spanish Civil War, a conflict
many Liverpudlians fought in to defeat fascism.
Also included is John Lennon’s ‘Gimme Some Truth’,
his stinging riposte to the Nixon administration, recorded in 1971. Inspired
by Lennon’s struggle to try and live in the United States, a request
he was consistently denied by the Republican administration, the lyric
takes on a more universal theme in the present day of governments and
their continual neglect of the truth. Following on from this is a performance
of ‘Old Man Trouble’, introduced as an "anti-Empire song".
Underpinned by a slow military drumbeat and a descending guitar figure,
the song’s prescient lyric is followed by ‘Wasn’t it
a Time’ by Pete Seegar, a songwriter whose work is never far away
from any acoustic performance.
Playwright Frank Cottrell Boyce’s contribution to the evening begins
with a talk on the life of Edmund Dene Morel, a Parisian emigre who settled
in the city. The first public figure to expose the horrors of the Belgian
Congo to the world, Morel was a highly respected figure in the 1910s,
his book 'The Black Man’s Burden' still being in print. His memory
neglected in death, he was the inspiration behind Joseph Conrad’s
novel 'Heart of Darkness', which details a harrowing voyage up river to
the Belgium Congo.
The following reading - accompanied by Vidar Norheim on vibraphone -
celebrated the life of Jeremiah Horrocks, born 1618 in Toxteth. Now acclaimed
as ‘The Godfather of British Astronomy’, Horrocks was the
first to posit heliocentric theory that the planets moved around the sun,
not the Earth, as had long been believed. Having predicted a solar eclipse
that would take place, the Transit of Venus, Horrocks set about trying
to prove this theory. By hanging a cloth over a tree branch, Horrocks
was able to prove the existence of a solar eclipse, yet as a clergyman,
he was torn between working on a Sunday and having to observe the strict
traditions of the sabbath.
By recording the event he became the first to prove the Earth was not
the centre of the universe, long before Isaac Newton. As the reading reveals,
Horrocks died tragically young at the age of twenty-two at his family
home in Toxteth. Despite being venerated with a memorial in Westminster
Abbey, he is little remembered in his home city, as Boyce suggests, "It’s
a pity they never named the airport after him".
An inspiring, informative evening, the songs and stories of Liverpool’s
history of radicalism, encompassing politics, science, and of course music,
it further proves that unheralded heroes such as Morel, Roscoe and those
who fought in the Spanish Civil War are long overdue further recognition.