Archive for the ‘Music & football’ Category

Football, Football

Posted: October 22, 2011 in Music & football

Edmundo Ros died yesterday, at the age of one hundred. Not far off a hundred and one, in fact.

Who was he? Well, he was a Trinidadian musician who became massive star in the UK in the late forties and fifties, popularising many styles of Latin music in the UK. His records sold in their millions. My mum used to play us his Brazilian cha-cha-cha-style records when we were kids.  But Ros also jumped on the calypso bandwagon, and in 1953 he released one of the great football records of all time – which should be better known.

In a recent article I wondered what my top ten football-themed tracks of all time would be. I don’t know, but this one would be somewhere in my top five of all time on the right day. Press this button, then press ‘play’ again – but don’t bother with the rest of the tracks by other artistes on the compilation – mostly a pile of ****! Football, Football (Calypso)

Just a pity that Liverpool were doing too badly during that era to get included in these so-bad-they’re-almost-brilliant lyrics!

Incidentally, Ros’ record unleashed a craze for football calypso releases in the fifties, but his was the best.  If you’re interested, do a Youtube search and have a listen too  to a real curio from 1950s calypso giant Lord Kitchener – a record uniquely celebrating both Manchester clubs at once, from 1956 when United won the league and City the cup. ‘Manchester calypso 1956’ should find it, but I won’t put a link here ‘cos it might be offensive to some of my Liverpudlian readers.


I keep meaning to do a “my top ten songs about football” article.  No crowd chants set to house beat, no cup final singles, just quality releases by proper musicians. Something lengthy and considered, with all my choices available in audio/video links,  like this fella has done on his blog here, with some high quality choices. He’s only chosen two over-played ‘world cup themes’ there, and a couple of his other picks, notably his number one, a song called’Strachan’ by the Hitchers, might well make it into my own chart. Check out the number two in his chart as well, by the way, if only for classic rhymes like “Four grand a week plus bonuses / I guess the onus is / On you…” And if you’ve never heard the Hitcher’s song, well it’s the kind of obsession-affirming song that you’ll probably only fail to love if you’re allergic to Leeds United.

Trouble is, most of my other choices could be a bit boring for you if you weren’t a fellow fan of the greatest band that ever lived, ‘cos I reckon at least seven or eight of my top ten would be tracks by the mighty Half Man Half Biscuit (HMHB).

HMHB - the Prenton Pups, a quarter of a century ago

Anyway, what is utterly indisputable is that Half Man Half Biscuit have now released, on their brand new album which came out today, what is undoubtedly the best song ever written about the cluelessness of (some) celebrity rock ‘n’ roll football fans. Please listen and enjoy

Buy this brilliant new album here, and read a half-decent article  here, detailing how HMHB’s Nigel Blackwell is the most prolific dropper ever, ever, ever, of football references into his lyrics.  And if you don’t know what a ‘bad wool’ is in Merseyside football parlance, then you might want to read my (very long) explanation, below  (if you do already know, then you certainly won’t want to read it).

I suppose the reason I’ve never actually compiled my own top ten  is that I couldn’t decide on the order of all those other HMHB classics, but possibly, before this release, it would have been something like:

1.    1966 and all that.

2.   Dead Men Don’t Need Season Tickets

3.   Friday Night and the Gates are Low

4.   All I want for Xmas is a Dukla Prague away Kit

5.   Bob Wilson, Anchorman

6.   I was a Teenage Armchair Honved Fan

7.   Even Men with Steel Hearts (love to see a dog on the pitch)

8.   Mathematically Safe

9.   The Referee’s Alphabet

10.  On the ‘roids

….. oh I don’t know, it’s too hard. And the order would probably change every week anyway. But I do know what a ‘bad wool’ is.

Go on, then -what is a ‘bad wool’, Nige?
(NB –  this spiel is far too long – only read it if you really want to know)
Well, since you ask, first a bit about the Scouse term itself, and then the way (I am reliably informed) it is applied in this new song.

The internet and even some published books are full of crap about the origins of the Scouse term “woollyback” to refer to clueless outsiders. The term is not exclusive to Liverpool, incidentally, and has also been used in a very similar way in the North East. It is likely to originate from some or a combination or even all of the following: people from wool-producing areas; people bringing wool into the ports; people who wore sheepskin jackets; people with unkempt hair; people seen as “sheepshaggers”, hairy half-sheep, wide-eyed incomers there to be ‘fleeced’ as they passed through the port seeking work , or often on their way to a new life in the colonies or new world. Indeed, the term like a lot of Scouse-isms, like the word “Scouse” itself in fact, may well have originated at sea. Its first use may have been to refer to clueless, unkempt yokels amongst the crew and/or passengers.

The word has been around for a long, long time and does _not_ originate in any of the 20th century dock strikes, as some websites have it. Just because that’s the first time it came to wider attention, because it was “woollyback” labour from South Lancashire that was used to try to break the strikes, doesn’t mean that was its origin. Nor does it refer to wool left on dockers’ backs after carrying bales of wool. That would make the dockers themselves the woollybacks, which they weren’t.
In Liverpool it can refer geographically to people from Lancashire, people from the Wirral, Cheshire, Wales, etc. In Liverpool & Everton football circles it naturally came to refer to all non-Scouse supporters, even those like me who were born within a few miles of the ground.

“Woollyback” was abbreviated to “Woolly” and then just “Wool”.   These abbreviations became especially common in the aforementioned football circles. Wools were always objects of scorn for their fashion sense, which became symbolic of their general cluelessness about football. As the late 70s terrace song, still being sung today on the coaches to away matches, puts it:

“There’s a woolly over there (over there)
And he’s wearing brown Airwear (brown Airwear)
With a 3-star jumper halfway up his back,
He’s a f*ckin’ woollyback (woollyback)”

It was in the late 70s and early 80s that huge numbers of “Wools” from outside really started to jump on the LFC and EFC bandwagons, engendering hostility in some circles. But of course the reasonable view was that it was about “attitude not accent”, a phrase coined by one of the fanzine writers in one of the classic fanzines like The End or Everton’s When Skies Are Grey (WSAG) I think. Thus we gradually acquired the coinages “good wools” (people from outside town who get the culture of the club they claim to support) and “bad wools” (people who don’t, and who are an embarrassment).

These terms are more often that not still used geographically, but “bad wool behaviour” is something that is independent of geography. A surprising number of Scousers still have crap trainers, despite all the advantages of the local education system and some fine retail outlets offering reasonable prices; some Scousers can sometimes wear the latest horrible shiny football shirts over jumpers; a few Scousers have even been heard to get carried away and chant the dismal, generic Soccer AM “Who are Ya?” chant; one or two have perhaps got carried away and let their kids wear face-paint at cup finals; some of them get very excited about international football tournaments and do embarrassing things with national paraphenalia. There are even a few Scousers who adopt Woolly habits and refer to certain opposition teams as “The Scum”. Equally there many out-of-town supporters who would not do any such embarrassing things and are a credit to the fanbase. The famous “Norwegian Wools” flag you see at all Liverpool’s European away matches is welcomed because of its self-deprecating humour, whereas if a flag went up with let’s say “Chesterfield Reds on Tour”, it would soon meet a sticky end. Bad wool behaviour to make an embarrassing flag like that. Incidentally Liverpool supporters consider it _very_ bad wool behaviour to write your club’s name on a national flag.

Clearly Nigel Blackwell of Half Man half Biscuit is not using the term geographically in his song. For a start, in a geographical sense, he is to many Scousers a “wool” himself, and his beloved Tranmere Rovers would be seen by many Scousers as a “woollyback” club (though I have also heard some of Tranmere’s finest and hardest use it ironically against Wrexham or Chester supporters). And if that wasn’t clear, well Nigel told me last week that “as you know, our generation’s idea of a ‘wool’ is not a geographical notion in any way” and that “the biggest baddest wool I know is from [he specified a well-known area of central] Liverpool”. He also referred to “bad Wools who’ve just discovered Johnny Cash”, spreading the theme to another track off the new album.

So in his new song it refers to people like up-and-coming rock and pop stars who jump on the football bandwagon without a clue. They appear, for example, on the Soccer A.M. sofa and spout shite about `footy’ to show how cool they are. In one live version of `A Country Practice’ a couple of years back, Nigel summed up his feelings on the matter as he screwed up his eyes and ranted as follows:

“Pop groups on the Saturday morning couch, yawning. Bad wools in the Luther Blissett Stand*. Bands on Soccer AM being asked “Well, you come from Southend do you ever get down to Roots Hall much ?” and they just look to the side to the TV chef, and they look at Razor Ruddock, but Razor Ruddock ain’t gonna help you now boys.

BAND (whispering frantically amongst themselves): What’s Roots Hall? What’s Roots Hall?

PRESENTER: I thought you came from Southend?

BAND: Yeah well there’s four of us in the band and one doesn’t like football. They support Manchester and Liverpool, and I errm, support Arsenal and Chelsea. Here’s our latest single.


This scenario is remarkably similar to the one described in this new song. Bad wools in this context = clueless fools, largely but not exclusively from the places like the home counties, largely middle class, with no idea of how to disguise their ignorance of real, traditional football culture at all gracefully.

* I hasten to add that I myself have only ever caught a couple of editions of the execrable excuse for a TV show ‘Soccer AM’, but for those unaware: ‘The Luther Blissett Stand’ is a particularly attention-seeking section of the audience of that particular Saturday morning show, called on to represent ‘their’ club, all clad in their horrible shiny overpriced replica shirts of course. They have to take part in certain embarrassing challenges – especially embarrassing to other supporters of their own club. I am told that Nigel’s new song is not necessarily to be seen as an attack on Soccer AM itself, so much as the clueless fools who go on it, and especially those kinds of rock groups. The song then goes on to broaden the scope of its satire about clueless behaviour in rock circles.

What is really sad is that the Sky generation of kids are taking their example from these people and generally following the creeping shiny Americanisation of our game. And that they aren’t supporting their local teams.

Gig organiser Peter Hooton alongside Clash legend Mick Jones

I’m pasting a  review by the great John Robb (of the band Goldblade), writing about last night’s magnificent DBTS gig in Liverpool. It’s not often you get such a brilliant review from the man who compered a gig! Check out the original review site here if you want the embedded clips of songs performed (and you really do want them, believe me). Take it away, John:

“Every gig should have a reason.

In the past couple of decades, music has become detached from the community. Detached from real life. Corporate branded venues flogging you overpriced booze whilst the band plays in the background. Everyone trying to squeeze some money out of you before the whole damn ship goes down. Tonight is so far away from this that its emotional power knocks you flat.

Let’s just look at the facts. The history of the event.

Clash legend and the perfect elder statesman of rock n roll Mick Jones played a set of Clash songs for the first time since he was kicked out of the band in 1982.

It sounds amazing.

The gig is being promoted by the ‘Don’t Buy The Sun’ campaign. Still justifiably shocked and appalled by the way The Sun reported the Hillsborough tragedy, the campaign rolls on. The Sun has its lowest sales in the city and the fact that the Murdochs are no longer imperious started here. Tom Watson MP, the man who brought the Murdochs to their knees does an inspiring speech tonight, it’s a pure rock ‘n’ roll moment. A one-man political punk rock machine, Watson took on the media barons who have tabloided our culture and made fools of us, and he’s winning.

The night has a political air, with trade union leader and the head of Unite Union Len Muclukley also delivering an emotive speech, but this is not the sort of well-meaning political droning you sometimes get at gigs, just a three-minute slice of passion and humanity, making a noise just when is needed – like I said, pure rock ‘n’ roll.

The gig is also about getting Justice for the Hillsborough 96. Its unbelievable that, after all this time, the truth has not been told and the cover-up continues. People want justice for what happened that day and they want the owning up about the rot coming from the top. The very top. People were justifiably angry about the way that football fans were treated worse than animals and died in the most appalling and heart breaking of conditions and no-one took the rap. The government at the time were as guilty of this as anyone. Check their comments about football fans at the time. The fact that it was 96 Liverpool fans is irrelevant. It could have been anyone in those death trap grounds at the time. It could have been you.

Tied into this is all proceeds of the gig are to be donated to the Fazakerley 9 Charity in memory of James McVey, a young Liverpool fan who was murdered and whose father is campaigning to buy some local land to make into facilities for bored teenagers. The father ends the night with a powerful speech of raw emotion, a perfect epitaph to an important event.

Everyone is playing for free and I was totally honoured to be the compere. There’s nothing in it for the band, no money- just the total honour of being involved in a powerfully emotive campaign for justice.

The night kicks off with The Sums, Diggsy of Oasis song fame, a proper scouse legend, one of those charismatic characters that the city produces, a waif like man who’s still out the believing with his crystal clear voice and songs that are tinged with beat, a touch of Britpop and a psychedelic twist that is part of the water supply in the North west. Give the man a guitar and he becomes a poet with a 15-minute mini-set of melodic quicksilver.

He is followed by the Tea Street Band who deal out a mesmerising, hypnotic set of keyboard-driven songs that end with a long piece called ‘Fiesta’ that is the sort of song you could get lost in before giving up the stage to Amsterdam whose raucous punky folk is dripping with the same sort of charismatic bonhomie as the Pogues and whose heart on the sleeve shenanigans are perfect for this event. With tunes flowing like the Mersey this is perfect port music, a myriad of influences and styles washing through their sound.

Next up is John Power, the Cast and former Las man who plays a solo set of singalong hits that sound powerfully emotive when stripped of all artifice and bombast, Power has a great voice and a loveable charisma and is one of those great wavering Liverpool singers whose songs are natural anthems and get the audience singing along.

The amazing venue is now packed, it’s one of the great halls in the UK, a former circus which has showers for elephants in the basement it has that kind of unique atmosphere that old venues had before the corporate, concrete boxes took over. Could there be any better place to see some real electric history?

And when the headline ensemble takes the stage, the venue’s grandeur matches what’s on the stage. A rolling rock ‘n’ roll review of local legends who take the stage in full support of eachother starting with the Farm who bring the house down with their classic ‘All Together Now’ which has transcended critics and become a people’s song, the sort of tune sung at Labour Party conferences or people events like this, the whole room sings along and the band have never sounded better, veteran status really suits them giving them a chance to relax into their natural intelligence and street smart charm with frontman Peter Hooton a great spokes person with his innate knowledge of norther street culture giving him a gravitas.

Like a fine wine, the Farm improve with age and have become part of the fabric of the city and their mini set is rapturously received before their set segued into Pete Wylie’s which is something else.

Wylie, where the fuck have you been? Plaintive, powerful, emotional, political, human songs are just what we need right now. Where are ya?

Wylie owns the stage like a natural, his voice is as pure as it ever was and the emotion pouring out of him along with the sweat is palpable. Wylie is as charismatic as ever and his songs are as part of this city’s folklore as Springsteen’s are for New York- blue collar anthems of spectral beauty and haunting raucous power and he doesn’t even play ‘Story Of The Blues’! The run though of ‘Heart As Big As Liverpool’ says everything you need to say about the evening and there is a notable surge of emotion as Wylie sings and does his imploring mini-speeches between the songs demanding Justice “not just for the 96, but for EVERYONE!”.

How can you top that?   With Mick Jones.

The Clash are now, of course, legends. As every day goes past their songs mean more and more and as the world veers into these meltdown times we need them more than ever. Without Joe it’s almost impossible to take them back out on the road but somehow Mick has found a way of doing this. He has not reformed the Clash, he has reformed the Spirit Of The Clash!

You can see Strummer grinning as he looks down on this. Because surely this is what the whole thing was about. The band’s music being used to underline a powerful cause, a meeting of pop, politics, football and community…can you get any more Clash than that? This is what the band’s music was for and as Jones walks on the stage looking super sharp in a perfect cut shiny grey suit the room goes mad.

They rattle through a set of Clash classics ‘Stay Free’, ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go’, a thrilling ‘White Man In Hammersmith Palais’ (wow!) BADs underated brilliant ‘Rush’, a powerful Armageddon Times- the backing band is the Farm, who do the songs the sort of justice that only Clash fanatics can. Farm bass player Carl Hunter is in meltdown as he plays the bass on the songs that shaped his life, growing up on the council estates of Bootle.

The power and the reach of the music has come full circle. Jones does his Chuck Berry shuffle across the stage and can’t stop grinning. A QPR fan and football fanatic, he knows why this gig is happening, far away from the out-of- touch rock star he is, bang smack in the middle of a crucial campaign. He looks to the left and it’s Wylie giving it everything for one song before Jones himself takes the vocals on ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go’ before Pete Hooton sings ‘White Man’, of course the room is going bonkers crazy, this is a historic moment, the Clash are back, Joe Strummer’s ghost is on the stage, his right leg twitching, you can feel it in the room, the Spirit Of The Clash are back and doing what they did best, making great rock n roll for the community, making a powerful point, being the focal point and that surely is what it was all about.

There is talk of somehow taking a version of this out on the road under the banner of ‘Justice for the 96’. They should do it. This is far away from a cash-in, this is what the Clash were built for. This is what rock ‘n’ roll is all about.”

That’s a fine review indeed, John, and one which makes pretty much everything I could add redundant. But I will just say that as MP Tom Watson finished his rousing speech with the words “Now let’s drive Murdoch out of Liverpool”, surely he could have called on his audience to consider stopping their Sky packages too? I bet there were many in that audience who pay Murdoch’s most profitable enterprise (and let’s not forget he’s still the major shareholder) around £40 of their hard-earned cash every single month. In these times of being able to stream matches etc for free off the internet, does anyone really need to be paying him for any of the crap he peddles through any of his dodgy right-wing outlets?

Peter Hooton (left) and Pete Wylie (right) sing for justice alongside comrade Mick Jones from The Clash