The people of Liverpool with Peter Hooton
Ahead of the adidas Originals 'Liverpool', we spoke to four people who span generations of the city's modern era, telling the story of Liverpool through those who have been dedicated to its defining themes: football & music. First up, it's iconic Liverpudlian Peter Hooton.
Born in Everton and raised in Knowsley’s Cantril Farm estate, Peter Hooton enjoyed chart success as a member of The Farm and, as a follower of Liverpool FC, he’s enjoyed his fair share of football success, too.
We headed to The Lion Tavern for a pint and to pick the brain of one of the foremost experts on the city’s modern history and culture.
There’s a certain attitude to this place. Why do you think the city of Liverpool is the way it is?
I think Liverpool’s whole DNA has been shaped by the fact that it’s a port. Employment came from the port; migration came from the port. Over 1.5 million came from Ireland because of the port. It’s the whole character of Liverpool.
What are the defining traits of a Liverpudlian?
I’d say it’s the fact that in times of crisis there’s an element of solidarity there. I think that’s based upon the historical perspective, the class-consciousness of Liverpudlians: it was like a trade union graveyard for a lot of organisers in the union movement.
You could go to Manchester and people worked in the mills, and they knew they were working a set time. But everything in Liverpool was based on the tides; it was casualisation.
How much do you think the Irish migration, in particular, has played a part in the city?
It changed Liverpool massively. Liverpudlians’ would have had a more Lancashire accent before that. There was an influx of the Irish, Scottish, and Welsh. I think if you listen to people from Dublin, it’s a very similar accent in many ways to a Liverpool accent.
When you go out of Liverpool’s city centre by a couple of miles, it becomes a Lancashire accent, so that migration of people changed the very identity of the place and its people.
And, with that, came the passing of folk songs and a very particular kind of personality that you find here.
I think that's because it was a port, the passing on of entertainment was vital. There are numerous examples of people describing buskers and street-corner performers.
There was a tradition, even in my family when I was growing up: it went around the room, and you had to stand up and sing a song. Most of the kids wouldn’t sing, but I always did. I was obsessed with West Side Story and would sing something from that.
You mentioned an obsession with West Side Story, what else were you passionate about?
I used to watch a lot of films, dad was a big film buff, and he used to take us to the pictures and that, but I just always remember West Side Story: it’s Romeo and Juliet in sixties New York, really.
I also remember seeing Spartacus, a slave taking on the Roman Empire. I liked that. I was always for the underdog, always for the Native Americans, never for the U.S. Cavalry. I don’t know if that’s shaped my attitude in life, but it must have. Even though there was a glorification of the 7th Cavalry or whatever, I always wanted the Native Americans to win.
It certainly feels like that’s a trait shared with a lot of people in the city, that idea of standing up for what you believe in even if it means fighting or standing alone. But alongside that, there’s this sense of humour…
I think it was John Lennon who said that Liverpool humour was vicious. It was a survival instinct, and everyone would look for weaknesses in people. I think that’s come from the docks, because of that casual attitude and everyone had nicknames – I know it’s a stereotype, but I think it did shape Liverpool’s humour.
You briefly mentioned your early interests in New York. It seems like alongside Dublin that New York has always had an influence on Liverpool.
There’s certainly an attitude of Liverpool looking to the Americans because we were trading with them. It isn’t an insular way of looking at things we have here. It’s a way for us to look beyond the horizon, what’s beyond the Irish Sea. It’s that feeling you get from the big ships, looking at the Liver Building, or any beautiful waterfront. It’s a feeling of adventure.
Why do you think sport has remained such a large part of the identity of people from this city?
I think sport is seen as a way out of Liverpool, whether it’s boxing or football. If you look at the statistics on football, the city of Liverpool produces the most top-class players per head of population in the country.
I’m sure you’ll find the same with boxing. I think this is also down to the fact that Liverpool has suffered from mass unemployment and things like that over the decades, so people have viewed sport as a way out of the economic predicament they were in.
Where does the city’s unique fan culture stem from?
There’s no doubt it came from Merseybeat. Football crowds never used to sing. Brazilian crowds used to chant the name of their team, but it wasn’t until the early sixties that crowds adopted pop songs. I don’t think there’s much doubt that it was the Kop that started that. Not least because there was a PA system at Anfield that would play the Top Ten before the teams came out.
In 1963, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ was top of the chart, which is when the Kop adopted it. In 1964, you have that great footage of the Kop singing Beatles songs, Cilla Black songs. It was pop culture, and the economy was more optimistic at that time, too.
And then there are the trainers. Liverpool has always been a massive part of Terrace culture. How do you think that started?
There was a sense of one-upmanship, definitely. It was very much like if you study what happened in the mod periods in the sixties: the working class expressing themselves through their clothes. So people searched for the holy grail, which was a trainer that nobody else has got.
A big part of that culture was going away following the club. Going away and coming back, what influence did that bring?
Nobody was flying in those days; there weren't cheap flights. You had to get trains. But for many fans, the excitement was knowing a lot of people at home were intrigued to see what was being brought back from abroad.
I’ll always remember a lad who came into a bar with a pair of adidas strap-overs on, which nobody had ever seen before. It was the talk of the pub. They were from Switzerland he said, all blasé.
He was an Evertonian; he knew nobody else had them. It was probably a few hundred people in the city who took to the Casual scene, but they all knew each other and had this spirit of going to countries and bringing things back.
Say you were going up to Everton Brow, seeing the vista of the city you know so well. What do you feel when you look out over town?
My mum was from there, so I used to go up the Brow and look down on the city all the time as a child. I always remember a feeling of pride. Because if you look at the city of Liverpool, it’s a city of rebellion in many ways, of resistance. But it’s also a city of solidarity and sticking together, you know?
It’s come out of the ashes, out of mass unemployment, of hard times. There are still problems in the city, of course, but there’s a feeling of emotion there. There’s joy. You look across the docks, and they’re not there anymore – they’re all containerised at the Seaforth deep water dock; things have changed.
But there’s still a spirit in the city that’s very easy to find: a spirit of adventure, of pride, of the underdog. There’s also a city of rebelliousness, and a sense of if I wanted someone to stand up for me, to stand next to me, well, I’d like it to be a Scouser.
Stay tuned for more exclusive content in the lead up to the launch of the 2020 adidas Originals ‘Liverpool’.