T h o m G o r s t
Billy Blake is Fab
Acrylic on canvas. 600mm x 900mm
This canvas and Between the Stars are loosely set around the myth of the Cunard Yanks - the seamen who used to work on the regular passenger and cargo ships between New York and Liverpool. The myth has it that in the late 1950s and early 1960s these seamen used to make a few extra bob out of importing rare records and selling them on to musicians on the Liverpool scene, thereby creating the 'Mersey Sound'. Attractive though the idea is (and you can see a brief reference to the trade in the film Nowhere Boy about Lennon), it has also been authoritatively downplayed by Bill Harry, who was central to the action.
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But these paintings are not trying to be historically accurate.
This canvas is placed on Mathew Street, where the Cavern Club stood. It is based loosely on an unpublished photo taken from the door of the Cavern. What I took to be a bronze cladding strip by the original club's doorway was never in fact there: it is just a photographic flaw (recalling Tom Phillip's piece based on the Mappin Gallery). Accurate or not, it is represented here on both paintings to bring both scenes together: the viewer is invited to lean against the doorway - in the first scene waiting to buy songs; in the second scene, waiting to play them. When seen together, the paintings are about the distance between the two scenes: purchase and playing, or the walk from the docks to the city centre.
The titles are taken from Adrian Henri's seminal poem Mrs Albion You've Got a Lovely Daughter, which explicitly references William Blake. In one section he writes of -
The daughters of Albion
. Arriving by underground at Central Station
. Eating hot ecclescakes at the Pierhead
. Writing 'Billy Blake is fab' on a wall in Mathew Street
My old photo does indeed have reference to someone called Denis being fab, but of course for Adrian Henri, Billy Blake was the Romantic poet himself.
Now, fifty years after William Blake returned to Mathew Street, it's all one great tourist dive. There is no longer any tension in the journey between the exchange of money in the docks and the cultural exchange in the club.