Another Liverpool great passes through. Gerry bloody Marsden, yet another stricken Liverpudlian only in his 70s.
This time – after the recent tragic deaths of Ray Clemence and Gerard Houllier – not a man who wore Red, but who bled the same colour and gave us our truly iconic anthem. You’ll Never Walk Alone. Words that just ooze Liverpool FC and The Kop and by definition, Bill Shankly and the modern Liverpool.
It’s impossible to overstate the resonance of Gerry and YNWA.
It’s the most famous song in football; it’s dramatic rollings strains tugging at the heartstrings, whether happy or sad. In many ways, despite its beauty, it is brutal, bringing a tear to the eye whether sung in victory or defeat, at weddings or funerals, to mark life or death, hope or despair.
I’ve sung it publicly and privately, way back when, and much more recently, to externalize the most conflicting emotions. Externalising to cleanse instead of keeping it all in and celebrating that yes, there’s still hope and a potential golden sky; somewhere.
I love it and hate it in equal measure. For me, since April 1989, I cannot shake its association with Hillsborough. Still, the haunting pitch of that lone choir boy in the Cathedral in the immediate wake of The Disaster reduces me to…….actually, I’m not sure what the word is; he just reduces me.
I still sing YNWA with gusto at the match, though. Before the game only, ritualistically, as a mark of respect to The 96, to the song, and to Gerry, the man whose appreciation but more so his interpretation of a hymn that wasn’t his, and made it what still stands for today. I’ll also sing it as a victory song after we beat the greats – Messi, Suarez, et al. but never when we merely dismiss the English.
Our song. It belongs to us. A gift to be interpreted the way we want as individuals as well as within our collective. But those who know me best know it won’t be going near my funeral. Instead, I’ll have his classic, “Don’t let the sun catch you crying” – followed by the Bunnymen’s Lips like Sugar as they lower me.
Gerry (Marsden) and his Pacemakers had already had two number 1’s before the song that you and I all know.
The jaunty ditties “How do you do it?” and “I like it” preceded YNWA to the top of the charts before the epic, euphoric melody, with its roots in the American musical Carousel.
YNWA later dwarfed his own brilliant work and was once sung by Sinatra, twenty years before it bestrode Anfield.
There you go, Gerry. Sinatra sang it. You smashed it. As obituaries go, that’s top of the pops. And what a way to bag a hat-trick. Thank you, Gerry, and well done, son.
Before I go any further, it’s always cute to add something you don’t already know. YNWA has its true birth in a play called Liliom, the story of a Hungarian thief who dies in a botched robbery.
It was bound to fail amid a thriving 1909 Budapest community that didn’t take kindly to Molnár’s gritty tale about a working-class felon who tries to steal in order to provide for his newborn little girl.
As ever in life, as in our lives now, fate took a hand. When you walk…….through that storm, a hand often does take yours.
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein were looking for a new piece to adapt into a musical when they stumbled upon the lame stage-show, Liliom. But, it’s a melancholy story of struggle, of theft in desperation to provide for a loved one, appealed to them, and they bought the rights from Molnár.
Rodgers and Hammerstein changed the name of the play to Carousel. Rodgers composed an instrumental piece for the play, while Hammerstein wrote the lyrics.
And, as they say, the rest is history. Thanks, Gerry. Thank you, Ferenc Molna, for your Liliom.
Therefore, Gerry Marsden is a Liverpool icon through what evolved into a football song when it was never meant to be. The song is not really the right word; it’s just a beautiful yet tragic ode to love, passion, and sometimes, given that football doesn’t really matter, misplaced loyalty. A poem that scales musical notes high and digs them down low, unsurpassed in the way he delivers it.
Sung in guttural, nasally original Scouse, it becomes a Liverpudlian masterpiece.
As we all know, age but mainly life withers us. When Gerry mounted a white Wembley podium in May 1989 – when, with hindsight, none of us should have been near a football ground, his voice quivered but was helped along by almost everyone inside the Empire Stadium on that rawest of days. I personally couldn’t give two hoots that his octaves – or his dress sense – weren’t as sharp that day as they were back in the ’60s when coupled with the same Epstein and Martin as The Beatles.
He did the City proud.
Six years on, and Shankly’s Kop is waiting for the bulldovers. They’re about to demolish our ken and our youth – bound by a wild desire for apparent safety but actual greed and a whole new world.
Gerry, there again in 1994, this time at Anfield meandering down to the Kop penalty area. In the spring sunshine, his hair glistens an almost scarlet in a vain attempt to conceal years that ultimately kills us all. His voice fails, relentlessly and the Kop helps him out.
He thanked them. He fucking thanked us. No mate, thank you.
Another 26 and a half years on, he’s gone.
Gerry Marsden, Rest in Peace and enjoy that golden sky. See you there one day soon.