Peter John McGovern, singer and songwriter: born Liverpool 28 October 1927; married 1950 Audrey McCann (one son, one daughter); died Trawsfynydd, Gwynedd 1 April 2006.
With its Capital of Culture year imminent, Liverpool has become a mammoth building site, but the tourists will want to celebrate the old Liverpool and the heritage reflected in Pete McGovern's perceptive and humorous song "In My Liverpool Home". The lyrics about overcrowding, sectarian violence and stealing from lorries may not be the image that Liverpool Council would want to promote, but the song is regarded as the city's anthem and it plays a significant part in its culture. "I wrote it in 1961," said McGovern, "but a lot of people have said to me, 'You didn't write that. It was written in 1848.' "
As in the song, Pete McGovern was "born in Liverpool down by the docks", into a Liverpool Irish family, in 1927. He was the youngest of 14 children and he obtained his love of story-telling and folk-singing from his father. He told me,
My dad was the slowest singer I've ever heard. He used to sing very slowly to make sure that everyone got the message, especially with the rebel songs.
However, Pete differed from his father in that he wanted to write his own material. From his teenage years, he became adept with words:
If I read that there was no rhyme for "virgin", that was a challenge and I rhymed it with "metallurging". I loved writing songs and I realised that I wanted to write about Liverpool people and their attitudes.
He met his wife Audrey McGann (the prototype of "Bridget McGann" in his famous song) in Liverpool and when she took a secretarial job for the National Union of Railwaymen, he followed her to London and became a railwayman himself. He started as a wheel-tapper in 1950 and retired as a safety manager in 1992.
Returning to Liverpool a few years later, Pete and Audrey McGovern would attend the folk club run by the Spinners at Sampson and Barlow's restaurant. They liked the club, but wanted one that would encourage floor singers, so with their friend, Bill Moore, they started the Wash House folk club in the same building, but on a different night. The restaurant was opposite the Odeon Cinema and when Bob Dylan appeared there with a rock band in 1966, dissatisfied customers marched out of the building and into the Wash House.
The Spinners performed many local songs including "Liverpool Lou", "Maggie May" and "In My Liverpool Home". McGovern had loved Marty Robbins's country record "Strawberry Roan" and, in the best folk music tradition, he purloined the melody for "In My Liverpool Home". It was written in 1961 at a time when Liverpool's second cathedral was being built and it referred to Jacob Epstein's larger-than-life statue of a nude man outside Lewis's:
In my Liverpool home,
In my Liverpool home,
We speak with an accent exceedingly rare
Meet under a statue exceedingly bare,
If you want a cathedral, we've got one to spare,
In my Liverpool home.
When Everton and Liverpool were playing in the Milk Cup at Wembley in 1984, Tony Davis of the Spinners recalls,
the Liverpool Echo sponsored a special marching band, the Red and the Blues, and asked them and us to play at half-time. We asked Pete to lead the community singing on "In My Liverpool Home" which he changed to "In My Merseyside Home". Pete put his arm round me at the end of the match and said, "Even though Everton won, this has been the best day of my life."
In 1991 a host of Liverpool performers gathered at BBC Radio Merseyside to record 60 different verses of the song for a cassette release. Every verse was witty, poignant and without malice. McGovern kept on writing and every local event would spark his creativity: he added verses on the Garden Festival, Paul McCartney's knighthood and the Superlambbanana sculpture. He wrote many other songs, notably "Rent Collecting in Speke" and "I'm Gettin' Brassed Off with Me Dad". A book of his songs, In My Liverpool Head, was published in 1995.
McGovern was a keen union official and in retirement was the secretary of the Merseyside Pensioners Club, campaigning for pensions linked to the cost of living. He wrote a song for the group, "Dignity in Retirement".
Last Saturday, McGovern had had a perfect day at his holiday home in North Wales. He had seen Liverpool win and he was delighted that Robbie Fowler had scored, as he had written a song for Fowler's wedding. He drank a couple of glasses of Guinness, completed the crossword and went to bed. He died in his sleep.
Spencer LeighReuse content