NY: How did you initially come to work with Roger McGough and Adrian Henri?
BP: I met them when I was 15 and I’d just left school at Sefton Park Secondary Modern. I’d found a basement coffee bar called Streats in which poetry readings were held occasionally. Roger and Adrian were there and I was introduced to them by some girl who said ‘this 15-year-old is a poet as well’. That’s how I got to know them first, and then I did a few articles promoting the poetry readings at the club.
I’d got a job on local newspaper the Bootle Times – God knows how I got it, I was a lousy speller and I’d passed no exams at all but the editor was obviously like-minded when it came to education. Some people are good at exams and some people are good at other things, and I liked writing instead.
NY: Were you just aiming to write in any way at that point, or was poetry always your real focus?
BP: I started writing poetry when I was 13 and it was very angst-ridden. Also nobody in the house in which I grew up really spoke to each other and it was a way of putting one’s own thoughts down.
Then when I was 15 I started a magazine called ‘Underdog’ and a year or two before ‘The Mersey Sound’ was released I published some of the iconic poems that were later in the book. I published that magazine from when I was 15 years old until 17 and then I gave up.
NY: What was Liverpool like at the time as a platform for creativity?
BP: Well there was the Streats club and then I began organising weekly poetry readings with a few mates in venues like Sampson and Barlow and the Green Moose. They were popular, and people were coming to them who weren’t really university type people because there was a lot of humour in it. Roger would come along with The Scaffold to try out things there occasionally, Adrian was doing his poetry, there were various folk singers and there was a nice little scene.
We didn’t look towards London as it were, and the music that happened with the poetry. In London they were doing it with jazz and it was all intellectual and posh but we didn’t feel like that. We felt it was really important to be the best we could and to make it accessible.
NY: When ‘The Mersey Sound’ came out did it feel like it was going to be the success that it is now?
BP: No, it caught us all by surprise because there was another book at the time that had four or five other poets in it called ‘The Liverpool Scene’ and that was full of photographs, but they were all poets who were doing readings at Streats.
There was a guy called Pete Brown who was a friend and a good poet and he went on to become a songwriter. He wrote ‘I Feel Free’ for Cream, for example, and I remember him writing it on a napkin.
We were really lucky with the success of our book but I think, at first, the label ‘Liverpool Poets’ was one we were a bit dubious about because it was a way for a lot of the critics at the time to say ‘this is Liverpool poetry, it’s not real poetry’. But then I got used to it because labels have their uses, you at least know what’s on the can.
NY: What do you think has been the key to ‘The Mersey Sound’s’ long-term success?
BP: I think all of us and our sweetheart Adrian, who died so long ago now, carried on doing poetry readings together - we were visible and the book kept on selling. I don’t think it’s been out of print for 50 years, which is ridiculous really.
NY: Has the milestone anniversary been something you’ve thought about a lot?
BP: I think it’s amazing. There’s no two ways about it, that little book has really helped one’s career and paid a lot of bills along the way. It’s not like having a vastly successful record - it doesn’t sell that much and make that kind of money as such, but poetry never did. I’m really chuffed about it though.
Also, I’m remembering back to some of the people who were friends around that time, there’s a lot of nostalgia there. It’s opened the door for the later performance poets too. It did have a lot of influence and I think it gave poetry back to the people who wanted to write it rather than it being controlled by those who wanted to write about it, those who fed off it.
NY: One of Liverpool’s anniversary celebrations is the stage adaptation of your family book ‘The Story Giant’ at the everyman. How have you been involved in the adaptation?
BP: I’ve had meetings with the director, Matt Rutter, and the writer, Lindsay Rodden, and given ideas which they’ve taken on board. I’m very much looking forward to seeing it and having more influence on it as well, as it’s very much in the process of coming together.
NY: Is writing more family orientated work and poetry for younger audiences something that’s important to you?
BP: It has been. The children’s poetry is nearly all comic, nearly all humour. In fact I’d say that’s 90% with the children’s stuff because it’s really about getting them on side. I always think that if you can get kids into reading humorous poems you can smuggle a few serious ones in and they may stick.
Also, kids are caught up in this thou shall not do this or that world of adults and to have any book that they can read is a world they can escape into.
NY: Where do your influences and inspirations come from these days?
BP: It’s such a hard thing to say. It’s whatever’s around me and, of course, as one gets older I find the poems getting darker. One’s dealing with mortality and the death of friends.
I think I’ve written more eulogies now than I have love poems recently. I’ve always thought of my work, in a way, as a kind of heightened diary - an emotional diary that’s accessible.
NY: Are you working on any other projects beyond ‘The Mersey Sound’ anniversary?
BP: I’ve written a memoir which I thought I’d finished but was never quite pleased enough with so I’m toying with that a bit more, and I’ve just put together a collection of eulogies but I haven’t got a publisher for it yet. It’s mostly a book of eulogies for gone friends.
PS: from Brian re above article:
Maybe I wasn’t being clear enough in the above short interview about The Mersey Sound’s success. To be clearer:
The Mersey Sound’s success caught us all by surprise because there was another book at the time that had four or five other poets who were friends of ours in it, as well as us. It was published a few months earlier. It was called ‘The Liverpool Scene’ and was full of photographs. The other poets were also doing readings at Streats. That book, if it had gone into paperback early, could easily have been the one that took off. The late Donald Carroll, the editor behind it, was American and something of a showman. He held a publication party for the book’s launch at the Cavern in March 1967, and invited a huge number of journalists to what was a pretty alcoholic freebie. He also invited about every female art student in Liverpool. Shortly afterwards the name “The Liverpool Scene” was adopted by Adrian, Andy Roberts, and their mates as the name for a band they’d formed.
YourMoveMagazine - Natasha Young (January 2017)