(Everton in the) Community Singing

If you were watching BBC Look North West on September 26th 2019 you may have caught a report about BBC Music Day which included a snippet about a mass singsong at the National Football Museum. The singers were drawn from football clubs across the North West and the newly formed Everton in the Community Friday lunchtime singing group represented the Blues.

Pete Jones 02/11/2019 6comments  |  Jump to last

If you were watching BBC Look North West on September 26th 2019 you may have caught a report about BBC Music Day which included a snippet about a mass singsong at the National Football Museum. There was about five seconds of a rendition of New Order’s World In Motion but the coverage didn’t do it justice, the full song was brilliant. To quote the Welsh comedian Max Boyce, “I know ‘cos I was there”.

The singers were drawn from football clubs across the North West and the newly formed Everton in the Community Friday lunchtime singing group represented the Blues. This is a relatively new initiative set up by EitC for the Stand Together and Pass on the Memories groups which aims to utilise the therapeutic power of singing. And it sure is working; in a matter of weeks the gang are sounding really impressive and it is a really uplifting experience. We are very fortunate to have the coaching and encouragement of Lynne Harrison, an alumna of the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts whose enthusiasm for singing is infectious.

Despite having to get up in what felt like the middle of the night for an early start from the Blue Base on County Road, and taking nearly two hours to get to Manchester along the rush hour car park masquerading as the M62 we were able to belt out the theme to England’s 1990 World Cup adventure. We were coached by Daniel O’Dwyer, who works with the Bee Vocal choir who showed us photos of their appearance at Wembley for the 2019 Cup Final (I’m not jealous, honest). The show was stolen by local schoolchildren representing the Manchester City Foundation who sang brilliant harmonies; and the icing on the cake was that John Barnes, performer of the crappest rap in the history of popular music on the original recording, was not in the building to spoil the effect.

The massed choirs at the NFM; Daniel O’Dwyer on keyboards and Rowetta formerly of the Happy Mondays on stage (burnleyfccommunity.org)

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On our arrival we were given a cuppa and shown some fascinating memorabilia by Louise Rutherford, who runs the football memories project at the museum; these duly brought memories flooding back. A replica of the 1953 Blackpool FA Cup winning team shirt sparked a discussion of how it is always referred to as the Matthews final; Sir Stanley finally won a winner’s medal but Stan Mortensen’s hat trick is overlooked. A pair of boots from the 50’s and an old leather football had the lads swapping stories of trying to head a long punt up field when the ball was soaked, and the sad story of Jeff Astle came up. A discussion on the innards of the ball then ensued, pigs’ bladders and what used to be used as the casings for sausages is all I’m going to say just in case you are squeamish.

However I was most fascinated by a reproduction of the song sheet from the 1960 Cup Final between Blackburn Rovers and Wolves, played on Saturday May 7th. The cover described the game as the “Football Association Cup Final” and featured an aerial photograph of what was still described as the “Empire Stadium, Wembley” with two open ends.

The Empire Stadium Wembley in the early 60s

The Empire Stadium Wembley in the early 60's (oldstratforduponavon.com)

This nostalgic feel was magnified by the choice of songs, twelve in all together with the National Anthem and Abide with Me. The songs were:

  1. Soldiers of the Queen – a tune composed in 1894 for the opening of the Manchester Ship Canal, with lyrics from the following year (thinking about it we’d probably have got to Manchester quicker if we’d gone by canal).
  2. Don’t Dilly Dally (My Old Man Said Follow The Van) – a 1918 or 1919 song made popular by the music hall star Marie Lloyd. We’d followed plenty of vans too, mostly at about 2 miles an hour.
  3. Heart of Oak – the official march of the Royal Navy, dating from 1760.
  4. Fall In And Follow Me – a music hall song from 1910, which was new to me.
  5. The End of the Road – a wartime song written by Sir Harry Lauder from early 1917. This is Birmingham City’s signature tune, and having watched a lot of football at St Andrews I still hear the words sung in a brummie accent in my head.
  6. Cockles and Mussels – also known as Molly Malone and In Dublin’s Fair City, first transcribed in 1876, but much older.
  7. Keep the Home Fires Burning – a patriotic song from 1914 written by Ivor Novello with lyrics by an American, Lena Ford.
  8. Early One Morning – a traditional folk song first written down in 1787.
  9. She’ll Be Coming Round The Mountain – an American folk song of the 1890’s with a much older tune from the days of slavery.
  10. Daisy Bell (Daisy, Daisy Give Me Your Answer Do) – a popular song of 1892, thought to refer to one of Edward VII’s mistresses.
  11. The Happy Wanderer – a German song of the 19th century, the tune used was written just after the 2nd World War and became a hit in 1954 in the original German. I always associate it with serious ramblers and hill walkers.
  12. She’s A Lassie From Lancashire – a 1907 music hall hit, presumably in deference to Blackburn.

Marie Lloyd in her heyday (public domain)

At the time I was struck by how old fashioned the songs were, and this feeling was magnified when I looked them up later. Even more surprising at the time was that I could sing at least the chorus of all but one. I was just before my 3rd birthday on Cup Final Day 1960 so the songs must have been part of my childhood, one of my earliest memories as a baby is of my parents singing some of them to me in a desperate attempt to get me to sleep. I wonder if my grandparents in turn would have sung the songs to them.

I was also intrigued by the number of military tunes; but the day following the final was the 15th anniversary of victory in Europe, and many of the spectators would either have served during the war or done two years National Service after it. To put those fifteen years into context think back to 2004; David Moyes’ second full season ended with a 17th place finish and the sale of Wayne Rooney. Rooney had finished joint top scorer with Duncan Ferguson on 9 goals, with Tomasz Radzinski one behind them. Lie Tie (remember him?) made five appearances.

Li Tie playing for Everton

Li Tie playing for Everton 15 years ago with two less famous footballers in the background (talksport.com)

But the songs on the sheet were from an era far older than 1945, dating back to the great days of Empire. The final was being played in the Empire Stadium yet in May 1960 Britain was in the middle of an often painful retreat from the empire on which the sun never set. The late 50’s had seen classic war films create a warm afterglow of the Second World War for a public which was just about to forsake the cinema for TV. From The Dam Busters in 1955, through 1958’s Ice Cold in Alex to Sink The Bismarck! (which had its premiere less than three months before the final), it was the heyday of black and white depictions of the heroism which was still recent history. WW2 food rationing had ended less than six years before, and the post war boom had led to the Prime Minister Harold MacMillan to declare that “You’ve never had it so good” in July 1957.

There was no warm afterglow for Everton who struggled through the post war era. Managed by Johnny Carey the Blues had fallen at the first hurdle in the 1960 FA Cup, losing 3-0 at third division Bradford City and finished in 16th place in the table. Carey was famously sacked in the back of a taxi less than a year on. Yet Everton would be champions just less than three years later under Harry Catterick and six years on would lift the FA Cup in the unforgettable 3-2 win over Sheffield Wednesday. One of the gang at the NFM remembered that not all Everton fans had welcomed the community singing that day; when the band struck up She’ll Be Coming Round The Mountain they substituted new lyrics suggesting that the conductor insert the songsheet in a rear facing bodily orifice. I don’t remember Kenneth Wolstenholme mentioning it on the BBC Commentary.

For further illustration of just how old fashioned the songs were I looked at what was happening in popular music at the same time; this was five months into what would become the Swinging Sixties after all. The semi-finals had been played in late March with one hit wonder Johnny Preston’s Running Bear at No. 1 in the Hit Parade; it was replaced a few days later by skiffle star Lonnie Donegan’s comedy hit My Old Man’s a Dustman. Cup Final week saw the Everly Brothers at on top of the charts with Cathy’s Clown; it stayed there for seven weeks before being replaced by Three Steps To Heaven by Eddie Cochran. Cochran had died in a car accident on his British tour a couple of weeks before the Cup Final.

Back on Merseyside on the Tuesday after the final London impresario Larry Parnes held auditions at the Wyvern Club on Seel Street for a local band to back local hero Ronnie Wycherley, or Billy Fury as Parnes had renamed him. A five piece calling themselves The Silver Beetles performed but Parnes was unimpressed with the bassist. His name was Stuart Sutcliffe and to be fair he couldn’t really play, being a gifted artist rather than a musician. Parnes suggested the band play without him, but the other members, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Tommy Moore refused and consequently didn’t get the gig. However they were offered the chance to back another local singer called Johnny Gentle on a tour of Scotland, which they took. Gentle wanted them to back him later in the year, but the band, now called the Beatles had left for Hamburg. I often wonder what became of them…..

I’m starting to wander off into my interest in the history of Merseyside pop music, but the contrast between the songs on the Cup Final song sheet and what was happening in music as well as the rest of the real world is stark. But something else struck me about three of the songs on the sheet which relates to my other interest, which is Everton and WW1. When we were at the NFM I mentioned that Marie Lloyd, singer of Don’t Dilly Dally was the girlfriend of the legendary Welsh goalkeeper Leigh Roose who played a season for Everton. Roose was killed near Gueudecourt on the Somme in October 1916 and has no known grave; he is remembered on the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme at Thiepval, although his name is misspelled as Rouse.

Also named on the memorial is Malcolm Fraser, one of the founders of CD Everton in Chile. He was killed near Ovillers on the afternoon of the terrible 1st July 1916 and, like Roose his body was not identified when the battlefields were searched. We know a lot of detail about Fraser’s loss including the rough area where he was killed; it is very close to what is now Ovillers Military Cemetery and there is a chance he is buried there in an unknown grave.

Ovillers Military Cemetery

Ovillers Military Cemetery, Ovillers village and the faint ghost of the 1st July 1916 German front line in between. Used with many thanks to Steve Kerr, whose intrepid microlight photography of the Somme is brilliant (skphotoscom.com)

With the digitisation of the original cemetery records it is just possible that one of the graves may identify an unknown 2nd Lieutenant of the Cameronians; if it does I might be able to persuade the Commonwealth War Graves Commission that it is Malcolm Fraser. It’s a long shot but it is worth a try, it will keep me out of mischief. I could of course go back there and search, but Ovillers now contains over 3,500 graves, with over 2,500 of them unidentified. It would be a long job and my gaze would keep turning to the valley below where many of the men were killed.

The song link is to Keep Right On To The End Of The Road; for among the 959 identified men is Captain John Lauder of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, killed on December 28th 1916. He was the only son of the great Scottish entertainer Sir Harry Lauder who wrote the song after his son’s death. Knowing that makes the words so much more poignant, even when sung as a football chant, and reminds me of Malcolm Fraser too.

Sir Harry and Captain John Lauder

Sir Harry and Captain John Lauder (edinburghs-war.ed.ac.uk); 2nd Lt. Malcolm Fraser (John Sheron)

The third link is Keep the Home Fires Burning which I was never a fan of until I heard it sung properly. The occasion was the unveiling of a plaque at Prescot railway station to mark the centenary of the departure of the Liverpool Pals battalions for France in 1915. The event was organised by the Liverpool Pals Memorial Fund and the singer was Hannah Wainwright, whose dad Tony just happens to be the secretary of the fund. Tony’s tireless efforts have played a huge part in the proper remembrance of the Pals and he also finds time to be part of the EFC Heritage Society. Hannah is a superb singer and ran through a selection of WW1 songs at the ceremony, including Keep The Home Fires Burning and she brought it alive. But don’t take my word for it; if you are free on 11th November around 11 am get down to Goodison where Hannah will be singing Abide With Me at the Heritage Society’s open air remembrance service. I’m not a fan of the Cup Final hymn either, but I make an exception if Hannah is singing it.

Am I reading too much into all of this? Probably, but since I’ve been singing with the Blue Base Crooners Collective I’ve found a new perspective on music, it is uplifting for everyone involved. You never know we might be coming to a venue near you soon, and I can channel my inner Ethel Merman if I can find the lyrics to There’s No Business Like Showbusiness….

Pete Jones. Copyright 2019.

This is dedicated to the EitC staff and volunteers at the Blue Base who do such a fantastic job making lives better. It’s a privilege to be a small part of what they do (and to be able to sing their praises).

I’d also like to mention one of the stalwarts of the Pass On The Memories group, George Baker, who recently passed away. Despite his surname George was a butcher by trade and was one of those happy, smiling people who was a pleasure to be around. At his funeral I discovered that he was a talented singer and it is such a pity that he wasn’t able to join in with the new choir; I’m sure George would have loved it.


Steve Johnson’s brilliant Everton site, Evertonresults.com is a mine of information when writing things like this. It tells you what you want to know and contains so much more besides, including lots that you wouldn’t ever have thought of, all done with a nice line in humour. Thanks, Steve.

Louise Rutherford and the staff at the National Football Museum for their excellent hospitality and making our visit such fun.

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Reader Comments (6)

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David Pearl
1 Posted 02/11/2019 at 19:24:29
Really great that Pete. And so nice of John Barnes to contribute so much... by staying away, of course.
John Keating
2 Posted 02/11/2019 at 19:36:11
Pete, brilliant contribution!

Well done to you and everyone!!!

Brent Stephens
3 Posted 02/11/2019 at 19:42:01
Great piece. Perhaps we should make Number 2 in that list of 12 our team song.
Paul Birmingham
5 Posted 02/11/2019 at 22:01:27
Tonic for the troops, better by far👍
Derek Thomas
6 Posted 03/11/2019 at 07:57:36
Pete, stuff like this never ceases to amaze me.

Keep the home fires burning... There was a competition for a new patriotic song... probably by a newspaper, the Daily Mail did a lot of that sort of stuff back then... nothing changes, does it?

Anyway it was big. Ivor Novello's mother kept on at him to enter, but a newspaper competition was all a bit beneath a 'proper composer'.

So one night she sat at his piano and butchered the instrument for an hour or so, before he got fed up.

"Well you write one then... I will if it will get me some peace and quiet." So he did, knocked it out in 45 mins and duly won it or so the tale goes.

Jamie Yates
7 Posted 03/11/2019 at 21:56:18
Fantastic piece, Peter. The power of singing is off the scale, it's a wonderful thing to be involved with something like the choir. Uplifting, empowering, community at its best.

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