Our “River’s Pride” show is on July 6th, 2018 at Discover Museum, Newcastle.
All the songs tell the story of a river or it’s reliant community or industry. Here is part 1 of ‘Meet the Songs’…
Elvis Costello – Shipbuilding.
The irony of revitalising an industry through the profit of war.
Written during the Falklands War of 1982, Costello’s lyrics discuss the contradiction of the war bringing back prosperity to the traditional shipbuilding areas of Clydeside, Merseyside, Tyneside, and Belfast to build new ships to replace those being sunk in the war, whilst also sending off the sons of these areas to fight and, potentially, lose their lives in those same ships.
Perhaps the best-known recording is by Robert Wyatt, released shortly after the Falklands War, and having its biggest success on the first anniversary of the end of the conflict. There is also an excellent version by English indie band Suede on the War Child album, released during the Bosnian crisis of the mid 1990s.
Jimmy Cliff – Many Rivers to Cross.
A song of struggle and perseverance.
Originally from Jamaica, Jimmy Cliff moved to the UK at the age of 14 in the early 1960s. Whilst the only song in the show to not reference a specific river or region, the famous lyrics do reference the “White Cliffs of Dover”. Cliff explains that this was because of the number of times he crossed the channel as a frustrated young musician touring to France and Germany trying to “make it”.
A last-minute addition to his second album, aged just 21, it nearly wasn’t included. However, its strong imagery and symbolism has meant it has become a firm favourite for many, allowing the listener to interpret it as representing their personal crossing to face their own challenges. It has since been recorded by many big names including UB40, John Lennon and Cher.
REM – Cuyahoga.
The Cuyahoga River in Ohio was so polluted in 1969, it caught fire.
The Cuyahoga river in Ohio was traditionally land that was occupied by Native American Indians, and its name stems from ‘cuyahoga’, or ‘crooked river’. Unfortunately, it became famous as one of the most polluted rivers in the country, with a history of fires on the river said to stem back to the 1860s. Following the famous fire of 1969, Timemagazine called it the river that “oozes rather than flows”.
The fire was one of the events that led to a late 1960s increase in interest in America for solving the water pollution issue and was part of a wider environmental movement. R.E.M.’s Peter Buck has called the song a “metaphor for America and its lost promises. This is where Indians were and now lok at it, it’s one of the ugliest rivers in the world”.