Of all the charity chart-toppers we’ve met in recent years – and we’ve met a fair few since Band Aid kicked it all off at Xmas 1984 – I’m most uncomfortable approaching this next one with anything like my usual light-hearted tone…
Ferry ‘Cross the Mersey, by The Christians (their only #1), Holly Johnson (his only solo #1), Paul McCartney (his 3rd and final solo #1), Gerry Marsden (his only solo #1) & Stock Aitken Waterman
3 weeks, from 14th May – 4th June 1989
We’ve had records raising money for famine in Africa, children’s charities, and a ferry disaster. We’ve already had one charity single for a disaster in a football stadium, when I was able to comment blithely on the fact that the Nolans and Lemmy from Motorhead were singing along together happily. But this one somehow hits deeper.
Three weeks before this record was released, Liverpool and Nottingham Forest were due to contest an FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough stadium, in Sheffield. One of the stadium concourses, next to a stand housing the Liverpool supporters, had become dangerously overcrowded. To alleviate crowds outside the ground, with kick-off fast approaching, an exit gate was opened, which meant that people could enter the stand more quickly. This created an even bigger crush inside the stadium, from which there was no escape. The match was abandoned after five minutes, but by the end of the day ninety-four Liverpool supporters had been crushed to death. That number would rise in the coming months and years to ninety-seven. A further three hundred were hospitalised.
So far, so tragic. Of course what makes it worse, and what makes Hillsborough resonate to this day, was that South Yorkshire Police blamed the disaster on drunken hooligans rather than police mismanagement and incompetence, aided by sensationalism from various newspapers. Subsequent reports and inquests over the years uncovered that the crush wasn’t down to hooliganism, and that the police, the ambulance services and the stadium design were the main factors. It took almost thirty years for criminal charges to be brought against those responsible.
I’m not sure why this tragedy hits deeper, and I’m not sure if this is the place to ponder that question. Perhaps it’s because I’m a football fan, have been to many football stadiums, though usually in a seat (following the Hillsborough disaster, football stadiums used in the upper tiers of British football were required to transition from standing to seating). Then there’s the fact that it took so long for justice to be served. And the fact that crushes like this still happen at football matches (see last year’s Champions League final) and elsewhere (in Seoul, last Halloween). They tend to happen at what should be fun occasions – sporting events, concerts, nights out – and the people who die what must be excruciating deaths are never the ones to blame.
Musically this song is as you’d expect of a hastily-assembled charity single in 1989. It’s an interesting chart moment: a group of the biggest Liverpudlian pop stars claiming their only ‘solo’ #1s (Holly Johnson of Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Gerry & The Pacemakers’ Gerry Marsden) as well as the biggest songwriting team of the day (Stock Aitken Waterman) getting a rare credit. Oh, and an ex-Beatle scoring his last (officially credited) #1. Unlike previous charity singles the video doesn’t feature the stars – instead it features old footage of Liverpool, of the football team, of Hillsborough flooded with flowers in the aftermath of the disaster, with the name of each victim running by at the bottom of the screen.
‘Ferry Cross the Mersey’ had originally been a #8 hit for The Pacemakers in early 1965, their final Top 10 record after a burst of success at the start of the Merseybeat boom. It’s a nice enough song, though you’d assume that had ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ not been used by The Crowd then it would have been the chosen song, given its association with Liverpool FC. Anyway, here ends this sombre interlude, both in terms of the charts and this blog. Jason Donovan will be keeping things light and fluffy next, so until then…