Excitingly, I’m up to the second most popular of my songs according to Spotify. Number 2 is: From Speke to Waterloo.
I was expecting this to be comfortably Number One, as day to day, it’s the one that always shows up. It’s very comfortably number 2 and there’s quite a distance between this and the number 3 song, but, still.
I know some of you have heard the basic background to this song, but I’ll enlarge it, make it more… epic.
I’d been at a practice in Speke, in a room at Ad Lib Audio in the late 90’s for a one off reunion gig with The Tambourines. I think it was at the Magnet on Hardman Street in Liverpool, but I have zero memory of the show at all. Did it happen? I wasn’t driving at the time and as it was a late rehearsal, I got a taxi back to Waterloo where we lived. It’s a half hour or so journey, and basically goes from one end of Liverpool to the other, mostly parallel with the Mersey.
It was just as new build offices and hotels began to block the views of the river and every now and then it would come in sight and I could see the water and over to the Wirral.
I was born in Birkenhead and when I lived in New Brighton, I used to watch, rather than look at, Liverpool and wonder why my dad’s family had moved over here when they could have been in Liverpool! I was kind of obsessed with it. At 17 when I worked at Camel Lairds shipbuilders, I’d go for a pint at the Woodside Ferry hotel and gaze over.
At Speke, I got into the taxi, having put my guitar on the backseat, and the driver nodded his head towards the guitar saying that he too liked music but all his records were in the attic. Some cheesy radio station hinted at his collection and as he droned on, the words, ‘I go from Speke to Waterloo, down the boulevard and through. As the Vale comes into view, take a left a bit too soon, then the river is in view and I’m coming home to you’. Wow! They came pretty much all at once and I had to keep repeating them in my head as he continued to go on about whatever he was going on about.
Returning home, I ran in and wrote them down. I’m not sure if I got the whole song written that night, but I’d recorded it within a day or two.
The riff that runs through it is reminiscent of Big Star’s ‘Thirteen’ but I don’t think I consciously robbed it, it was just what I played once I had the words finished. That’s not how I usually write, I tend to find the chords and melody first, but the opening idea was strong enough to do the lot, almost like a poem.
At the time I had a great Roland 8 track recorder, that had these big discs you recorded onto (can’t remember what type, but they were bigger than mini discs) so I recorded my 12 string Ibanez, 6 string Martin, improvised mouth organ, sang two vocals, and it was done. At some point I intended to record it ‘properly’ but I think Martyn told me later to ‘behave’, so what you hear is what it is and was. Probably took 30 minutes to do. I wish I could do more like this.
Over the years, I moved the key to G from D as singing in the places I was singing in, you couldn’t hear yourself if you sang quietly and in D, I sang low and quiet, another thing I wish I’d do more of. Why don’t I? I don’t know, this song just happened and I still love it.
I’m still obsessed with Liverpool, although I understand better now why my grandparents might have moved, and I still regard it as home.
If you’d like to listen to a travel down a road song not written by Chuck Berry, the streaming service of your choice is linked to below.