Tuesday, 3 July 2012

As I keep saying to Roger McGough.........

It’s 1969. Boswell Street, Liverpool 8. I live there in a house share with six other girls. What a place to be and at what a time. A cultural revolution is happening and I’m in the thick of it. The music, the literature, the art – all that makes life worthwhile is changing and growing and shouting from the top of the Liver Building and I’m in amongst it.

Naturally, I have a copy of The Mersey Sound, the landmark anthology of the poems of Adrian Henri, Roger McGough and Brian Patten in the Penguin Modern Poets series, hasn’t everybody at that time? These are the blokes you see strolling around the Liverpool streets and holding court in the pubs nearby. This is the book that made poetry accessible, relevant, democratic and bloody good fun for everybody, in amongst the profundities and serious messages it contained. This was in the days when a paperback cost three shillings and sixpence, so to buy three or four books a week was possible.

I’m not in the habit of defacing books nowadays, but was obviously less scrupulous then, as my copy contains numerous girlish jottings and underlinings on the text and, amongst other things, something of a shopping list or account of expenditure that reads, rather poignantly I think now:
 ‘ring               25 shillings
            sandals          £1
            cigs                 1/9
            book               3/6
           stockings       2/11
            busfare          9d
            total                 £2. 13s 11d’
Well, we knew how to live in those days. It must have been some ring at that price!

We had a party at the house one night (we had lots of parties, lots of nights!); open house for all-comers and one guest who came strolling through the house was Roger McGough. I dashed upstairs to get my copy of The Mersey Sound for him to sign, which he duly did, thus            

‘4 Sheilagh

Roger McGough
July 69’

The book has stayed with me ever since, through thick and thin. I’ve dipped into it periodically, to enjoy the poetry, wallow in nostalgia, cheer myself up, as the mood takes me. It’s been in a plastic cover for years now, it is yellowing, disintegrating and absolutely precious to me.

The years went by, then three years ago I heard that there was to be an exhibition at the Victoria Gallery in Liverpool to mark the fortieth anniversary of the publication of The Mersey Sound. Naturally, I made the pilgrimage to the exhibition and was amazed by the collection that had been gathered together. The manuscript notes and jottings that grew into the poems, art produced by the writers at the time, flyers and posters for poetry readings and ’happenings’ that they were involved in, all manner of ephemera of that heady and magical era. And I still had my book, personalised for me by Roger McGough. It by now needed the last rites, but I took it along, just in case….. Unfortunately neither of the two surviving writers was there that day.

Fast forward to 2012…….Dave said he would like to see ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – the Radio Show’ at the Grand. Inwardly grimacing, I enthusiastically agreed – after all, I’ve dragged him along to no end of performances he didn’t particularly fancy, so a quid pro quo was the least I could do. I bought the tickets and forgot about it. Then a couple of weeks before the show I saw in the Gazette that the Narrator would be…….one Roger McGough. Now I really wanted to go!

My copy of The Mersey Sound by now needed embalming fluid, but out it came with me to the Grand Theatre. I’m not a ‘Hitchhiker’s’ fan (sorry, sorry, sorry if that offends anyone) but I enjoyed the performance well enough, especially the laconic tones of the Narrator! From the bar afterwards, I saw that a long queue of autograph hunters was forming outside the theatre. I wondered how to play this and, as I wondered, into the bar from the inside of the theatre strolled….Roger McGough (and others). Casting aside my inhibitions and horror of behaving like a starstruck teenager, I whipped out my book and burbled to the great man ‘You kindly signed this for me in 1969. I wonder if you could possibly…..’ He seemed pleased and laughed, was affable, charming and good humoured and signed it:

‘For Sheilagh
Roger McGough
June 2012’

Bet I’ve got the only copy in the world signed in 1969 and 2012!

I’ll finish with a poem from the anthology. It’s by the late, great Adrian Henri and is possibly the first poem ever to include fish and chips and Top of the Pops. It's a sweet poem of young love........aah, 1969!

Love Is...
Love is feeling cold in the back of vans

Love is a fanclub with only two fans

Love is walking holding paintstained hands

Love is

Love is fish and chips on winter nights

Love is blankets full of strange delights

Love is when you don't put out the light

Love is

Love is the presents in Christmas shops

Love is when you're feeling Top of the Pops

Love is what happens when the music stops

Love is

Love is white panties lying all forlorn

Love is pink nightdresses still slightly warm

Love is when you have to leave at dawn

Love is

Love is you and love is me

Love is prison and love is free

Love's what's there when you are away from me

Love is...

Adrian Henri



Adele Robinson said...

I can still hear the accent in your writing Shelagh and the wonderful scouse humour that makes listening a joy. Thanks for such an interesting flash from the past. How splendid to have met him again.

Ashley R Lister said...

I'm jealous and in awe. Roger McGough was already high on my list of heroes. He's now just gone higher.

Wonderful post.


Christo said...

Super post, Shelagh - The Mersey Sound anthology was so important for so many of us.
I spent 1970/71 in the wonderful city of Liverpool, and it was one of the most inspiring years of my life:great rock at the Uni and St. George's Hall, and too much time spent in The Philharmonic and The Crack.
Thanks for reminding me, Shelagh.

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