Folk rock, home and leaving the city

Photograph of Ringo Starr on a stage with arms outstretched

© Liverpool Culture Company

Themes such as travelling, escape, leaving, and returning have often been a feature of pop and rock music.  Good examples are US highway songs such as ‘Route 66’ (first recorded by Nat King Cole in 1946 and said to have inspired Jack Kerouac to write his book 'On the Road') and classic rock songs such as ‘Road Trippin’’ by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Homeward Bound’.

Themes like these are also evident in the lyrics of many Liverpool rock musicians. The album 'All Change' by the rock band Cast, for example, includes lyrical references to leaving and escape, such as ‘find a way out’ (‘Magic Hour’), ‘will I ever get out of here?’ (‘Four Walls’), ‘breaking out’ (‘Dance of the Stars’) and ‘leaving it all behind’ (‘She Falls’).

Liverpool’s best-known Irish folk song, ‘The Leaving of Liverpool’, which has often been used as an anthem for the city, is a plaintive song of separation. The song tells of a local sailor saying farewell to his girlfriend as he is about to embark on a voyage round Cape Horn to California. The song springs from Liverpool’s role as a seafaring port and also as a place of migration, particularly Irish migration. Migrants leave one place to travel to and live in another and have often expressed their experiences of migration through song. In fact the music scholar Martin Stokes (1994: 114) suggests that for many migrant communities, place is emphasised in music "with an intensity not found elsewhere in their social lives". Irish folk songs, for example, have referred to the journeys taken by Irish migrants, the homeland they have left behind, their experiences of leaving and arriving, and their yearning to return back home.

Folk and rock songs about leaving and home may have influenced Ringo Starr’s song ‘Liverpool 8’, which also refers to the leaving of Liverpool. The song was released in 2008 and performed live at the launch of Liverpool’s year as European Capital of Culture 2008. The lyrics describe the Liverpool neighbourhood that Ringo grew up in. In the chorus, however, he explains that because destiny called him he couldn’t stay in Liverpool and had to leave, although he insists that in doing so he never let the city down (‘I never let you down’).

These lyrics also remind us of the arguments that have often occurred about famous rock musicians and other ‘stars’ and their relationship with their home city. In the radio programme ‘Dancing in the Rubble’, for example, the Beatles were described by a couple of Liverpool councillors as having not just left but ‘deserted’ their home city and abandoned their local roots. Local Beatles fans, however, have opposed such views by pointing to ways in which the band have ‘paid their dues’ to the city, and visits to Liverpool by Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr have been celebrated by local newspaper headlines welcoming them ‘back home’.