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50 years of Mersey Sound

13 April 2017 by Victoria

book cover 'The Mersey Sound'

‘The Mersey Sound’ is a collection of poems by Liverpudlian poets Roger McGough, Brian Patten and Adrian Henri.

It was hugely successful when first published 50 years ago in 1967. Fueled by the craze for The Beatles and ‘Mersey Beat’, the ‘Liverpool Poets’ flourished.

Through their books and live recordings they cemented poetry within popular culture reaching a wider and younger audience than their predecessors and more traditional contemporaries. The book sold over 500,000 copies and it became one of the bestselling poetry anthologies of all time.

The poems are accessible and unpretentious. They touch on the ordinary and the extraordinary with all the flavour of a John Lennon lyric and open up a world of poetry which uses familiar words to tell illuminating stories. It was, and still remains, poetry for all people.

At the Museum of Liverpool we have a cherished selection of objects on display about the great Liverpool poets in the writers section of our Wondrous Place gallery including an original copy of ‘The Mersey Sound’. 

Adrian Henri was born in Birkenhead in 1932. He attended art school in Durham before moving back to live in Liverpool. He became interested in poetry when he met Roger McGough and Brian Patten in 1961. From 1967 to 1970 he led the influential poetry rock group ‘Liverpool scene’. They had some success and even opened for a Led Zeppelin concert in 1969. Adrian became a successful poet, painter, singer, song writer and lecturer; he was certainly a man of many talents. His handwritten poem ‘Tonight at Noon’ was written in 1968 and is on display in our Wondrous Place gallery.

people looking at poetry display in museum

Discover the Liverpool poets in our Wondrous Place gallery. Image © Dave Jones

Roger McGough was born in Liverpool in 1937. After attending University in Hull and teaching for several years, he became a member of Liverpool band ‘The Scaffold’. Mike McCartney (brother of Paul McCartney) was a fellow band member. They were quite successful and even scored a number 1 hit with their song ‘Lily the Pink’ in 1968. Since then Roger has written for stage and screen and has produced an extensive and successful collection of books and poetry, reaching worldwide critical acclaim. On display in Wondrous Place we have a poetry/art piece called ‘Macca’s Trousers’, which includes a pair of Paul McCartney’s trousers and a handwritten poem by Roger McGough.

Brian Pattern was born in Liverpool in 1946. Aged 15, he published a magazine called ‘Underdog’ which featured then underground poets Roger McGough and Adrian Henri. Brian has written several children’s books which have been published around the world. His children’s novel ‘Mr Moon’s Last Case’ won a special award from the Mystery Writers of America Guild. Together with Roger McGough and the late Adrian Henri he was honored with the Freedom of the City of Liverpool, 19 December 2000. On display in our Wondrous Place gallery we have a sculpture of Brian Patten’s head with his trademark curly hair made from poetry and strips of black card by artist Jilly Sutton.

framed poem and trousers

Macca’s trousers, lent by Roger McGough

I really enjoyed reading ‘The Mersey Sound’, however some of the poems in the anthology are very much a reflection of Liverpool in the 60s. The cultural references, particularly the attitudes toward women, are dated and some remarks make for uncomfortable reading! However, ‘The Mersey Sound’ is a vibrant collection of poems that reflect the passionate minds of their creators and many of the poems still feel relevant today. One of my personal favourites is ‘Motorway’ by Roger McGough:

The politicians,

(who are buying huge cars with hobnailed wheels

The size of merry-go-rounds)

have a new plan.

They are going to

put cobbles

in our eye sockets

and pebbles

in our navels

and fill us up

with asphalt

and lay us

side by side

so that we can take a more active part

in the road

to destruction

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