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Friday, 16 October 2015

Razzle Dazzle Ferry

Everybody Razzle Dazzle, Ferry Cross the Mersey, MV Snowdrop, Sir Peter Blake

Surely, every adult in Britain, and possibly many from other lands, has heard of the ferry across the Mersey?  Many, not least those of a certain age, will also know the song, Ferry Cross the Mersey by Gerry and the Pacemakers, written by band leader Gerry Marsden and released in 1964.  It made No 8 in the UK charts and No 6 on the Billboard Hot 100.  Some might even remember the movie of the same name, which came out in 1965 – I’m sure my great-grandfather told me he saw it at Saturday Cinema when he was a wee boy.  It starred Gerry (with his Pacemakers), Cilla Black and was produced by Brian Epstein.  Heart-stopping stuff.

Ferry across the Mersey, MV Royal Iris, MV Mountwood, Pier Head, Liverpool, Birkenhead

The River Mersey has been described as the City of Liverpool’s life blood.  Wealth and people have flowed through Liverpool Bay and the Irish Sea for centuries.  The name, ‘Mersey’ derives from the old English (Anglo-Saxon) for ‘boundary river’, marking the division between the early medieval kingdoms of Mercia and Northumbria.  The great Port of Liverpool grew from the 17th century, particularly via trade with America and the West Indies.  In the second half of the 18th century, Liverpool dominated the Atlantic slave trade – the infamous ‘slave triangle’: British exports to West Africa (eg textiles, copper, firearms); humans across the Atlantic (the hideous ‘middle passage’); imports from the Americas, such as sugar, coffee, tobacco and cotton – much of it produced by slave labour.

Leaving of Liverpool, Liverpool skyline, Mersey

By the 19th century, Liverpool was one of Empire’s premier trading ports and the Mersey an artery of Britain’s power, surrounded by industry – including ship building.  The Mersey was also the channel of entry for thousands of immigrants, especially from Ireland, as well as the main exit route for thousands leaving Britain to start a new life – mostly in North America, Australia or New Zealand.  For many, their final view of the country of their birth would be from a ship on the Mersey.  During the Second World War, ships transporting goods and armies across the world set out from Merseyside; and the remains of brave trans-Atlantic convoys carrying essential supplies and troops to beleaguered and blitzed Britain docked there.

Shipbuilding, Merseyside, Fort Rosalie, Cammell Laird, Birkenhead, Falklands, Yugoslav, Afghanistan

A ferry across the Mersey was apparently mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, but it is said that the first regular service was started in 1150 by Benedictine monks from Birkenhead Priory on market days.  Ferry services increased with commercial expansion, as well as the growth of fashionable residential areas on the Wirral and the resort of New Brighton, on the Mersey’s west bank.  Two Mersey ferries were used as troopships on the Royal Navy’s raid on Zeebrugge in 1918.  By the 1950s, Mersey ferries were carrying almost 30 million passengers a year and in the 1960s special ‘party cruises’ used to feature bands like The Beatles, The Searchers – and, of course, Gerry and the Pacemakers.

Royal Iris, Pier Head, Liverpool

So, all-in-all, catching the ferry across the Mersey can make you think a bit.  The Liverpool ferry terminal at Pier Head is where Prince’s Landing Stage once floated: all together now - farewell to Prince’s Landing Stage, River Mersey, fare thee well…it’s not the leaving of Liverpool that grieves me…

The Three Graces, Royal Liver Building, Cunard Building, Port of Liverpool Building

You’d need to have an emotional lobotomy to feel no sense of awe and history as the iconic ferry scuds across this famous river.  The views are pretty good, too; it makes you realise what a fabulous skyline Liverpool has – equal to any other, I’d say.  On a clear day, the “three graces”, Liverpool’s tongue-in-cheek nickname for the trio of the Royal Liver, Cunard and P&O buildings, look particularly impressive.  Nowadays, most of the passengers are tourists – though if you live on the Wirral and work in Liverpool (or vice versa), it has to be a better commute than sitting in traffic - except when it’s foggy.

Razzle Dazzle, Snowdrop, Mersey ferry, Woodside, Birkenhead

But why the razzle dazzle?  Dazzle camouflage, or ‘razzle dazzle’, was used in the First World War and, to some extent, in the Second.  The aim was to disguise ships by means of geometric patterns and shapes, breaking up a vessel’s shape, making it hard to identify as well as difficult to judge its range, speed and course.  The inspiration is usually attributed to artist Norman Wilkinson whilst he was serving as a naval officer, though some sources say that biologist Sir John Graham Kerr suggested it to Churchill years before.  You can get an idea how it works by trying to take a bead on something in stripes, such as an empty pair of pyjamas, in the wild.

In any event, artist and designer Sir Peter Blake, probably best known for designing the album cover for the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, was commissioned to dazzle a Mersey ferry.  He certainly did.  MV Snowdrop (previously MV Woodchurch, launched in Devon in 1959) was duly decorated for a period of 18 months, from April 2015 to December 2016.  Sir Peter called his design, Everybody Razzle Dazzle.

Sir Peter Blake, Everybody Razzle Dazzle, Mersey ferry

I’m delighted, and proud, to have experienced Snowdrop in her razzle dazzle décor – an enormous piece of moving artwork - and to have travelled on a ferry cross the Mersey.  It’s just a boat, of course - until you turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream.


Contrary to popular belief, Gerry and the Pacemakers singing ‘Ferry Cross the Mersey’ is not continually piped throughout the trip – although we did have a few distorted bursts of it as the boat pulled away from Pier Head, and again as it docked.  Just in case you need a reminder, here they are, from 1965…Gerry and the Pacemakers…they may look older than you in the film clip, but the chances are that they were much younger at the time, just in their 20s…groovy.  Does the hook sound similar to ‘Venus in Blue Jeans’ - a hit for Jimmy Clanton in the US and Mark Wynter in the UK?  I think so – but who cares – ‘Ferry Cross the Mersey’ is better, and the one we remember.


Everybody Razzle Dazzle was commissioned by Liverpool Biennial, 14-18 Now WW1 Centenary Art Commissions and Tate Liverpool, in partnership with Mersey Travel (who operate Mersey Ferries) and Merseyside Maritime Museum.  More information from their websites – links below:




Mersey Ferries – for ticket and timetable information


There have been other renditions of ‘Ferry Cross the Mersey’, including a charity version in 1989 in aid of those affected by the Hillsborough disaster, in which 96 Liverpool football fans were fatally injured.  The recording was made by Liverpudlian artists Gerry Marsden, Paul McCartney, Holly Johnson and The Christians, and Stock Aitken and Waterman.  It was No 1 for 3 weeks.

Wallasey Town Hall, Seacombe, hospital for troops, back to front, Mersey views


39 comments:

  1. Well I know the song of course, my Grannie told me about it. My Great, Great Grandfather Michael Finn immigrated to the States from Ireland to Liverpool and then Charleston, SC.

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  2. I used to know someone who worked in one of the buildings down by the pier head. She hated the song in the end because they do play it every time a ferry docks or leaves. In four years living in the city I never once went on the ferry. I know that's awful to admit, but I always intended to go on it, just never actually made the trip.

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  3. Hooray for all the Razzle Dazzle! :-)

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  4. Dare I say it, I only remember the 1989 version of Ferry Across the Mersey. That dazzle paint is fabulous. Top idea, big pat on the back to the person whose idea that was. Thanks for your comments on my blog, they often make me laugh.

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  5. I remember the song very well and couldn't resist bursting into song when I visited Liverpool a few months ago. Luckily it was very windy so no-one could hear me. I didn't go on the ferry but maybe next time. Did you see the dazzle boat on the Thames? Not as colourful as it was black and white but made your eyes go funny if you looked at it long enough.

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  6. Visiting Liverpool has always been on my bucket list and I loved it when I finally got there. I never took the ferry but did do a mini version when down by the river. Great post, Mike!

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  7. I meant that I did a mini version of the song!

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  8. My eyes always searches out bright color. Your shots made them happy. :O)

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  9. I remember the song when I was at school and my wellhave seen the film. Thats a bit tall about your great grandad it would put him round my age and make you a bit of a kid ;-))

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  10. I just love the razzle dazzle décor.
    I also like Gerry and The Pacemakers and I do remember very well the Mark Wynter song 'Venus in Blue Jeans' to this day I still sing it sometimes ....memories, memories.

    Lovely post again Mike. Thank you.

    I hope you have a good weekend (perhaps you may have a glass of cider? - thanks for your comment on the low carb diabetic blog)

    All the best Jan

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  12. I love learning the origin of words and razzle dazzle is a good one. And that paint job certainly has razzle dazzle and brightens up the river. My love for England started about the time of the song and it was fun to hear it again. Fun post.

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  13. Sir Peter Blake's razzle dazzle design is fab as they say in Liverpool - I hope they don't cover it up again after 18 months, it would be a shame.
    Liverpool is a great city with wonderful people who have such a zest and fun of life, you can always feel it when you are there.

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  14. An amazingly colourful ferry, and that skyline is something else.

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  15. Wow that's certainly eye catching! I'd heard of 'the ferry across the Mersey' but had no idea anything so colourful crossed it!

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  16. Now that is a stunning ferry. It would cheer up the gloomiest of foggy mornings!! I have never been to Liverpool but would love to go on the ferry and see all the architecture. Thanks for the tour, always a pleasure to see your tours through your eyes and humour.

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  17. I've been to Liverpool for literally 20 minutes (following a day trip to Port Sunlight) and so want to visit properly. Your photos are very jealous making and the ferry is amazing. I really must look into a weekend trip or something. And a ferry ride. And of course I know the song! Seem to have known it my whole life.

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  18. A fascinating post as always! You write so well about the different things that you share with us. That ferry is quite something isn't it!

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  19. Yeah, my great grandma said she remembers the title, but couldn't understand a word they were saying. ;-) I loved reading about the history of razzle dazzle. What a fun excursion.

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  20. I remember the song. Your great post now gives me a picture of it. I love that ferry and hope to go on it one day.

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  21. Of course I've heard the song, but didn't know anything about the ferry or the Mercey---until now. Thanks for enlightening me.

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  22. Well, I certainly do remember the song and the group! Talk about taking me back to my early teen years. :) I didn't know the history of the Mersey or the ferries though. The skyline is quite impressive. The Razzle Dazzle ferry is so fun. Thanks for the memories. :)

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  23. All that history in one place! And I do remember the song!

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  24. such an interesting history lesson! and what fun! nice pictures too!

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  25. When I first saw the ferry, I thought it was way too colourful for my taste... But then I read the story behind it and I think it was a very good idea to re-paint it!

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  26. Oh my gosh, too funny, I did remember that song (that version too) and before I finished reading your post I put it on youtube to listen along with my reading! So surprise you included it at the end. What a lovely jaunt this has been with you. Lovely captures, that is one special ferry.

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  27. A great UK city and one I've always wanted to visit. Maybe someday.

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  28. A great song and band. I remember them well. Just love how clean and well dressed they are compared to todays rockers....showing my age. The Razzle Dazzle ferry is a fun idea and interesting info as always on your blog. I migrated from Liverpool to Sydney in 1949 on the Georgic, sister ship to the Titanic. See pic on this post: http://diane-adventurebeforedementia.blogspot.com.au/2009/04/fascinating-find.html

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  29. I love this! Yes, I remember Gerry singing that song very well, maybe a little too well? Ah...remembrance of youth....The Razzle Dazzle ferry is fabulous - why don't we have those in Australia!! Alas, I have never been to Liverpool but of course, I would like to. I do have kin who live in the Wirral. The 'three graces' look very majestic and photogenic.

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  30. I know the song well, but I had no idea about the ferry looking like that.

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  31. Snowdrop looks psychedelic, quite fitting with the Beatles ;-)

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  32. Wow, what a bloody great looking boat,

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  33. A brilliant piece Mike. Remember this song well and fun to read, especially as in doing our genealogy I have found that we came from Liverpool a few ancestors back.

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  34. Great post Mike! Although I was born in middle sixties, I know Gerry and the Pacemakers song very well. Love the name and looks of that ferry and the story behind it. Lucky you to have travelled on it. Hope to do it myself one day. When I look at your photo's Liverpool is definitely worth a visit. And I was so close by this summer...... I knew it was a mistake not to go!

    Have a good week! Thank you for your kind comment on my blog too.

    Madelief

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  35. Funny, when I saw that I did not register where it was or anything - I just thought "Beatles" What a fantastic idea it is. I'd love to travel on it.

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  36. Love this post! Yet again, you wrote it just for me!
    I must do a post about "camo" as it is called here!
    John from Rambles From My Chair is from Liverpool, I love seeing his photos from there just as I enjoyed these!

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  37. Haha! An 'emotional lobotomy' you say Mike :) Tres informative post with glorious images, the light is sublime!

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  38. Haha! An 'emotional lobotomy' you say Mike :) Tres informative post with glorious images, the light is sublime!

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  39. A well written piece about a thing that seems to recycle itself through time. I was wondering why I missed this as I travelled on this ferry too in recent times. Thankfully you've dated the paint job for me with my trip to Liverpool in November 2014 being a little too early.
    Great opening shot by the way as I found it difficult to capture a decent photo of the boat for many reasons.

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Hi - thanks for dropping into A Bit About Britain. New material is now being posted to www.bitaboutbritain.com and most of the material here will gradually be updated and moved over to that new site. Please drop in there, click on the blog page, and take a look round. TTFN - Mike.