Mystery Music March

Bold Street – Eugene McGuiness

Being the churlish one, I’ve always been slightly disappointed that the city I live in tends to be defined from the outside by essentially two things, the football and The Beatles. I really shouldn’t, especially since most cities can’t even boast anything as impressive, especially in terms of influence on recent pop culture. But I do look enviously at the likes of New York, London, Paris and erm, Munich which can be so many things to so many people and become a bit jaded. It happened again during The Culture Show on BBC Two last week when the presenter, flying over in a helicopter to look at our architecture mentioned both of them, adding on Cilla Black for good measure.

It doesn’t help that the songs of The Beatles, particularly the likes of Penny Lane don’t seem to have much in common with the actual places. Having been on the Magical Mystery Tour, I’ve seen the slightly disappointed look on a tourist face when the realise that the real place is nothing like the song at least on the junction with Greenbank Drive where we stopped. In fact, I’ve always had a suspicion that the song is about the junction of Church Road and Smithdown Road, at the opposite end of Penny Lane, where there is indeed a barber and a bank (HSBC) on the corner the irony being that Lennon and McCartney got the geography of their own city wrong.

The trouble with these pilgrimage destinations is that the reality is never as interesting as the legend. The Crowded House song, Weather Be With You features the lyric: 'Walking around the room singing stormy weather /
At 57 Mount Pleasant Street'. That address, just up from Renshaw Street is reputed to be address of the Registry Office where John Lennon and Cynthia were married. Except that when I went, in an idle moment a couple of years ago, I found a car park, something which it has always been apparently. There was some buzz about ten years ago that in The Levellers song, Hope Street was in Liverpool too, even though as usual the lyrics simply don’t match up to the reality which sounds like somewhere with a welfare office rather than a theatre, concert hall and cathedral.

Luckily, there really is a song which not only mentions the name of a street in Liverpool but also describes the place is actually like. Eugene McGuiness moved from London to Liverpool seeking his musical fortune and in his autobiographical album “The Early Learnings Of …” we find this tribute to Bold Street. It’s a wonderfully elegiac lullaby to the place, very vividly evoking the sights, sounds and smells experienced by someone walking from the top to the bottom. As well as descriptions of the people in the area, we find ‘Coffee aromas swimming past the fruit stand’ that must be Soul Café and the grocers almost next door and ‘A fake American diner’ will be the ‘recently’ opened Eddie Rockets.

Bold Street is one of my favourite places and actually I’ve spent most of my life there either eating or shopping. The pleasure of this song is that unlike Penny Lane it isn’t the figment of someone’s imagination, bending memories to fit a melody (although there is some of that) but also the reality. The street can indeed be caked in vomit on a Friday night and if you’re not careful you might well be worried that you won’t get home that night. But it's also one of the most lively streets in Liverpool, full of character and dreams and the song finds room for that, even straying off into a rewrite of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. But what was most shocking to me, at least the first time I heard it, is that Eugene has the same realisation during the lyrics as I’ve had: ‘I’ll always find myself on this road’. I’ll be down there again tomorrow.

Elsewhere: Thank You Bold Street by Me.


Anonymous said...

Strange coincidence, I took this photo 20 minutes before reading this this morning.

[Three 'this's in one sentence, excellent!]

Stuart Ian Burns said...

How funny. I've added a link to it in the main text. I'm sure that just as there's someone trying to visit every Starbucks in the world, there's be someone else attempting to get to all of these concrete masterpieces.