Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Slim Whitman years

Just been listening to Scouser John Bishop on Desert Island Discs and it took me back to the early seventies when I lived in Skelmersdale (Skem as it's commonly known) a Liverpool overspill estate where about two thirds of the population were unemployed single mothers. Scousers have a wicked sense of humour but an inferiority complex when it comes to London and Londoners. Fortunately I was accepted, more or less, because I was a reporter on the local paper. I even stood on the Kop with a bunch of Liverpool fans when my team Crystal Palace surprisingly won one nil. I managed to hold my enthusiasm in! On another occasion I went on a pub crawl along Scottie Road - in those days there was a pub on every corner and I can't remember how the evening ended.
The early seventies were the time of the three day week, factory closures (especially in Skem) and industrial unrest. The Workers Revolutionary Party had quite a following locally and even seemed to make a certain amount of sense. People in Skem were poor, but, being Scousers, resourceful. Everyone knew how to bypass the electricity meters and word got round quickly when the 'leccy' man came around to allow people to quickly replace the connections.
It has often been said that Liverpool people are over sentimental and musically that was certainly the case, despite the Beatles era. John Bishop exemplified this by choosing Jim Reeves' Bimbo and Elvis's Wonder of You among his discs. I think of this period as the Slim Whitman years, as he was one of the most popular singers in Merseyside at the time. I remember seeing him at the Floral Hall in Southport and the place was packed. At the local working mens clubs the audience would stand up in unison when Jim Reeves' You're The Only Good Thing got to the line 'We've had our ups and downs, as all lovers do.' Other favourites were Tammy Wynette's Stand By Your Man, Marty Robbins' El Paso, Billie Jo Spears' Blanket On The Ground and anything by Charley Pride.
I have never been back to Skem and probably never will. It holds no particularly pleasant memories. It was a run down place then and, I would think, even more run down now. I don't believe that it was typical of the north west, or even of Liverpool, but a victim of being artificially created in the West Lancashire countryside, close to Wigan but definitely not part of it, and cut off from its Liverpool roots. There are other examples elsewhere in the country - New Addington comes to mind: places that don't quite belong to the town or city that spawned it.
As for music in the early seventies, I am well aware that there was a lot more to Liverpool and the north west than country and western, Northern soul being just one example. But in Skelmersdale it was the music of choice for most of the inhabitants.


At 8:05 pm , Blogger Nick said...

John Marriott felt that I sounded like a right wing bigot and on reflection he was right, so I have amended the final section of this post. Incidentally, I lived in the north west for 14 years, including periods in Wigan and Bolton, and worked in Manchester, Wigan and Ormskirk. I still have connections there, so I am definitely not anti-Northerner. Here's what John said:

"I read your blogs usually in big chunks of a couple of months worth with reasonable interest. Music wise you're OK but I couldn’t believe your piece about Skem (very patronisingly referred to by you). What a load of right wing bullshit there – are you sure it was the Croydon Advertiser you worked for and not the Mail or Express. That’s where those clichés belong. As for snootily referring finally to the “rest of us”, are you really the guy I see at Poretta or are you some sort of elegant toff for the rest of the time and just look like that for that event.

I was going to write a few weeks ago when you wrote of the periods of your life in Bolton and Liverpool and say it’s a pity you didn't know the bunch of people up in the North west that's the equivalent of the Woodies and who generally met up at live shows, record fairs and regular record spinning events in peoples houses etc. Joe Quaterman tonight at the Band on the Wall by the way. We have always had most of the acts that come over on the blues, soul, R &R side. However now I’m not sure your opinions would hold sway with them though.

Incidentally when you wrote then about Liverpool being mainly a country loving scene you were way off the mark. OK like Manchester there has always been that interest mainly due to the Irish element but there’s a big reggae scene there with fanatical collectors to boot and a R&R scene that really thrived at the period you were there with frequent US visitors plus all the UK ‘50’s/’60’s acts you see know at the Woodies events. Also on the soul side there was your Jackie Wilson, Al Green etc etc in small clubs. Record fairs were held in that area way before they became the industry they become."

I know they refer to the place as Skem but how you wrote it did seem patronising I'm afraid. I'm very defensive about the North particularly to people who have no reason to be snobbish. I could write similar pieces about the "chavs" (horrible word) down sarth in place like Essex (Basildon is my particular nadir) and god help us the centre of Croydon but I hate that sort of categorisation.

I do know the NW area very well indeed and worked in Manchester (moving from Sheffield) from the early '70s myself, travelling and covering all the NW including for a time 1 day a week in Liverpool. Ideal job for picking up records and my days revolved around fitting in my day job into towns market days etc. Still live in Rossendale and still travel to a degree in the area but has since widened to the rest of UK and beyond.

Sorry to be so strong but as I say that's how the piece came across to me - might be too sensitive I don't know.

At 8:33 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said... lived in the North West for 14 years? Consider yourself banned from all Surrey society events in the future.

John S


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