We asked long-standing Liverpool Irish Festival friend Gerry Ffrench to give us some information on her roots and current work, ahead of a performance of self-penned music and songs over at the Albert Docks for the Three Festivals Tall Ships Regatta (the late May bank holiday weekend 2018).
Gerry has sung in festival sessions and in 2017 played Master of Ceremonies for our Visible Women evening, over at the Philharmonic Music Room, introducing Emma Lusby, Mamatung, Sue Rynhart and Ailbhe Reddy. We regularly talk about the books that Gerry has planned, stories from her father’s life and the incredible influence of Irish history of Liverpool life.
Gerry is the winner of Folk Northwest’s talent showcase, which took place at Costa del Folk Portugal in 2017. A singer songwriter from Liverpool, Gerry has strong family links in Wexford and Mayo. She is a popular performer in folk clubs in and around Merseyside – and the North of England – as well as appearing at various folk and shanty festivals here and abroad. Currently working on her third full studio album of original songs in Angel Valve Studios Oxton (Birkenhead), Gerry uses the stories of ordinary people of the city – past and present – as an endless source of inspiration for her songs.
Gerry’s new album, Rivercity Echoes, runs as a succession of stories, intertwining Irish and Liverpool life. Rivercity Echoes will have eleven original tracks, all composed, sung and played by Gerry with almost every track telling a story. Through these stories, Gerry speaks of times gone, of love and loss and of today. Below is a breakdown of those stories, as described by the artist.
When Paddy Came Marching Home is about a whacky Irishman who in 1939 joined the Royal Navy, didn’t like it, so enlisted in the army while on leave, eventually fighting his way from North Africa all the way to Germany.
Do Your Washing for a Penny was inspired by the great Liverpool Irish philanthropist Kitty Wilkinson*, originally from Derry, who was instrumental in setting up wash houses in the slums of the city, after saving many lives during the cholera epidemic of the 1830’s.
* #LIF2018 features a play on this subject, by Carol Maginn called Kitty. To keep up to date with our programme (announced from summer), sign up to our mailing list. We usually send no more than one mail per month, rising nearer to the festival with event news. We never sell any data.
The Admiralty Regrets is the half-forgotten story of the Thetis Submarine disaster in Liverpool Bay. It was triggered by seeing 99 men’s names on the steps of the bell tower in Birkenhead Priory, right next to Camel Laird’s where the sub was built in 1939.
I wrote My Brother’s Shoes after seeing a pair of combat boots, left by a veteran, at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC seven years ago.
Dorothy Drew retells the story a popular traditional folk song The Callico Printer’s Clerk – from the point of view of the female protagonist.
Bound For Glory was written after a fan suggested I check out the history of the Isle of Mann Packet ship The Ben Ma Chroidhe, which sank off the coast of Turkey during the first wold war.
And so it goes, although not all of my songs are about the past, I – like Santayana – believe that “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”
The Liverpool Irish Festival would like to thank Gerry for giving this exclusive insight in to her new album! What a treat for us! To find out more and to keep up with Gerry’s album release make sure to follow her on Facebook, search for “Gerry ffrench, Folk Singer” or visit her site: http://gerry.helloplaza.uk/
The Liverpool Irish Festival has commissioned a song – from artist Rory Moore of Strength N.I.A – as a gift to our Three Festivals Tall Ships Regatta city partners; Dublin and Bordeaux. Listen to the Three Festivals Theme Radio Edit and Extended Feature below using the playlist below.
Back in 2016, Strength N.I.A contacted the Liverpool Irish Festival to see if they could play as part of the LIF2016 line-up. As the Director of the festival, I began 13 weeks before the festival and can claim that things were hectic. The lead singer – Rory – was funny, tenacious and eager, but between us we couldn’t get the plans in place to find the fees for travel, venues, tech and the like.
We stayed in touch.
In 2017 we spoke again in the hope of making something work. Using the thinnest of budgets and the fattest desires we did it, but Storm Brian also swept the city and despite two excellent performances Strength N.I.A’s (seen by many online, too) we knew we wanted to achive more.
How then – and why – should we have persisted? Because that’s what art does. That’s what friendship does. It persists in the face of adversity and all experiences count! We all know – once you’ve met and established there is a spark to do more, you have to find the fuel and breathe the oxygen in to the thing to make the fire burn.
Knowing creative brilliance was not lacking – but translating great gigs in Ireland to other countries is hard – we started thinking about different ways to work collaboratively across the Irish Sea. So when the City Council approached the Liverpool Irish Festival to commission work for the Three Festivals Tall Ships Regatta a creative outlet arose…
LIF: “Do you fancy writing a song that Liverpool can gift to Dublin and to Bordeaux? It needs to come from a slightly outside perspective so Liverpool can appear in it, too, without being ego driven or self-deprecating. It needs to draw these three locations together and has to be radio friendly!”
Rory: “I’ll have a think”.
That ‘think’ has led to Strength N.I.A’s front man, Rory Moore, creating the attached song – a gift to our friends in Dublin and Bordeaux with love from Liverpool. It looks at some shared histories, cultural metaphors and country identities. It uses language and voices from each location and shares some of our social ideals around equality, brotherhood (tolerance) and liberty. In it we find electronic cadences that have played in each location; phrases that can be interchanged from our national characters and references to individuals that can be from no other place but their home.
“From the get go I wanted this piece to be fun, informative and playful. I knew I was going to be tackling some subjects that were politically charged and could lead me into sensitive and dark parts of history, so I didn’t want to come across as self-righteous! Music – after all – is a celebration and that was key to the foundation of this piece. My friend said I should write a Eurotrash anthem when I was in France earlier in the year; [then Liverpool Irish Festival called me] in the airport on my way back from France! I knew the time was right to indulge this fancy! The brief was interesting: somehow I had to tie Bordeaux, Dublin and Liverpool together in a 3 min song that could involve ships, wine, immigration, the ice age and the Moon. Brilliant I thought!”.
There’s so much that the guys have put in to this. There are poems and voices, historical facts and samples, shanties and individual voices. There are reference points throughout it which make it unique, flavourful and funny.
References to Olympe de Gouges – a French Revolutionary who scribed the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen in response the its male counterpart, adopted by the National Assembly two years previous! Executed for her ‘crime’, her legacy is an ongoing contribution to social issues still playing out today
The Scouser in the piece is a true Scouser, ‘Tommy’, who lives in Derry. The word ‘Scouse’ comes from the Northern European dish ‘Lobscouse’. As Rory reports: “it was a stew commonly eaten by sailors, which became popular in seaports and docks such as Liverpool; God only knows what was in it! There were riots in England around the 18th century, because labourers demanded to be fed bread and cheese (seen as inherently English) by the land owners [and they] refused to eat potatoes and porridge [seeing} them as inferior foods (unlike the Irish and Scottish)!”
Commissioned shanty singing and violin playing
Electronic dance music has specific reference points in each of the cities, but in Liverpool it is an obvious reference to Cream
Ireland, Great Britain and continental Europe we all joined up until the Ice Age passed and the Middle Stone Age. Depending on varying research It is estimated that we parted by the waves between 6,500 and 6,100BC.
So how did Rory do it? The story is almost as interesting as the song! Rory says:
“I began listening to old sea shanties and sailors songs to get a feel for the high seas. I then began reading about the origins of Liverpool as a sea port. I knew this would be interesting, but I was horrified at what I discovered. Liverpool had a major contribution to the enslavement of 11 million people from the Africas. The poem part in the song – by Letitia Elizabeth Landon – is strangely ironic. As beautiful as the poem is, most of the great ships were on their way to entrap and destroy people’s lives in Africa. Another ironic factor is that most of the Liverpool council members of that time where involved in slavery and owned slaves in the West Indies, America and South America.
“When I began reading about Bordeaux I was astonished to discover that there had been a Celtic settlement around 300 BC called the Liturgies Vivisci who traded in wine which they produced themselves, but more interesting still, I thought was a chapter in French history about a lady called Olympe De Goude, whom was sacrificed for her feminist stance during the French Revolution, which – ironically – was supposed to put the people in control of their own lives! There are historic struggles from the dawn of civilisation, but – one thing is for sure – they have mostly been concerned with male status and not women, so I re[dressed] a bit of history in the song and added her into the mix!
“I used a working-class, Dublin man’s voice in reference to immigration and tied the whole thing together through my research of the last Ice Age, when Ireland, England and continental Europe were one. Because there were so many parts to the brief I merged [them] like a collage, always bringing it back to unity and solidarity; I hope it comes across that way anyway.
“I then recruited a bunch of fellow Irish men (who more or less live as pirates in Derry!) and asked them to attend a studio session where we all had a good laugh and sing along to the track.
“I sampled some violins to give it the Irish feel and built the club sounds around the violin samples.
“I hope I have fulfilled my commission brief and look forward to hearing it on the radio and to attending the Three ships festival in Liverpool or Dublin. Look out for us at future festivals and in the words of [Robespierre’s famous motto] “LIBERTE, EGALITE, FRATERNITE!”.
As outlined above, the song – now called The Three Festivals Theme has been through different iterations, reminding the Liverpool Irish Festival of the various straplines Liverpool have used over the last decade to describe ourselves. These remnants cling to the internet, like barnacles on a ship’s hull, and give layers of meaning to this year’s ‘Liverpool2018’ platform; ‘European Capital of Culture’, ‘The World in One City’ , ‘One Magnificent City’… each moniker striving to show our inclusion, diversity and pride. Perhaps ‘Liverpool2018’ does just that. Simply. This year we don’t need to qualify Liverpool – we’re understood now. It’s where we are and the time we’re in.
A parting wave – slán; adieu!
The Three Festivals Tall Ships Regatta – a unifying race between three countries – is a key event because it ties us to our neighbours – through time and tide. It helps to place-make each location by showing the world where we are on its map. Rory’s Theme helps provide a fun gateway to this position for non-sailing landlubbers as well as masters of the sea. We hope you all enjoy it, from within or from outside, this is a fun nod to our mutual and differing histories, with lots to explore.
The Three Festivals Theme has benefitted from funding from the Liverpool Irish Festival via its support from
Liverpool City Council
Arts Council England
The Irish Government’s Department for Foreign Affairs
Rory Moore is songwriter with Strength N.I.A. Described as ‘werewolf pop’, the band describe their sound as “woolly and deliberate”. They write tracks using bass, organ, words and beats. From Derry, the band have recently released celebrated album Northern Ireland Yes and featured on Steve Lamacq’s and Gideon Coe’s BBC Radio 6 shows and Frank Skinner’s Absolute Radio music show.
The Three Festivals Tall Ships Regatta too place in Liverpool 25-28 May 2018. The Liverpool Irish Festival featured heavily, with two days of programming on the La Malouine and in the National Museum of Liverpool‘s Martin Luther King Jnr Building in Albert Dock.