Hessle Road, Subway Street, Boyes, Bankside…

Jim on the Amy HowsonJim Orwin’s songs about Hull – Hessle Road, Subway Street, Boyes, Bankside, Gypsyville and Willerby Road – tell the most evocative stories. We were mesmerised from the very first time he came to play at Loudhailer Acoustic. Half Ballad for Bobby Pearce really did make the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. Jim told a little more of the background in his introduction each time, and here, especially for HullSongs we are delighted to have the full story. Jim launched his three track EP, Gypsyville Girls – a fine recording, beautifully designed and packaged –  at our Loudhailer Seaside Special. Listen to Jim’s recording of Half Balled for Bobby Pearce and read his story below.

When I was about 6 years old, my family moved from Rosyth to Hull; to Daltry Street, Hessle Road, where I first met Bobby Pearce. The house we moved into, a corner-terrace house (Alfred’s Terrace) that used to be a corner shop, had previously belonged to my Gran. My older brother and sister and I attended Daltry Street Primary School, where I was put in the same class as Bobby Pearce. Bobby was one of the tough kids, along with the Beaumont brothers, Chrissie and Ricky. (Ricky, who was a year older and in the year above us, went on to box for Hull Fish Trades ABC and won the ABA Featherweight Championship at the National Championship at Wembley Arena in 1975; eventually he became a professional boxer). As kids, the Beaumonts kept pigeons in a loft in their back yard.

I was the new, shy ‘wee Scottish boy’, and an easy target for general teasing and tormenting in both the classroom and the school yard. I remember Bobby Pearce taught me how to whistle using just one finger; but he could, like all kids, have a bit of a mean streak, especially in retaliation to being teased or insulted. But we all got through primary school without any serious incidents.

At about the time Ricky Beaumont was becoming something of a local hero, as a seventeen-year-old I got myself arrested on a night out with some older friends. I was prosecuted, found guilty of ‘causing an affray’, and fined. During one of my visits to the courts in Alfred Gelder Street, to pay my monthly instalment, I bumped in to Bobby Pearce in a corridor. He recognized me and asked me how I had ended up in the courts. I explained what had happened, and he laughed; then someone called out his name, which echoed loudly down the corridor, and we went our separate ways.

Jim Orwin Subway Street
Jim Orwin Subway Street

Over twenty-five years later, I heard he’d died; it must have been around 2000. He can only have been 43 years old (I was the same age, of course), which for me was quite shocking and made me think, probably for the first time, about my own mortality.

The lyric: ‘recognition in his smile at the terror on my face’, is my way of expressing his familiarity (because of the bullying) with how I looked when I was terrified. Bobby never ‘gave me someone’s name’; and he didn’t say ‘Don’t give up hoping …’ etc. Those bits are invented; poetic licence.

In fairness to Bobby, we were all cruel kids at times: Bobby had siblings with a different surname, which I and others occasionally teased him about. I’m not sure if the father was Bobby’s step-dad or  simply step-dad to his siblings. Either way, it shows how we could all be just as cruel as each other.

In the song, there’s a passing reference to another incident: the first time any of my contemporaries had greeted me with a hand-shake. One day in the city centre, another former Daltry Street Primary School classmate walked towards me holding out his hand, which took me by surprise. Rather than representing a greeting, I suppose assigning this to Bobby, it becomes a metaphor for a final parting. The hand-shake incident must have occurred between my seeing Bobby in the courts and him dying.

The phrase ‘still would be allowed’ is lifted directly from Philip Larkin’s poem ‘No Road’.

Anyone from Hull will recognise the reference to Boyes; and Hessle-roaders will get the Bankside and Subway Street references.

I first performed an early version of the song in the upstairs room at the Haworth Arms in 2004. At the end of the evening, someone asked me how I would feel if, in fact, Bobby Pearce hadn’t died, and he turned up at one of my performances and heard me singing about him. My response was that I wished that could be true and would actually happen. I’d be delighted to see him again and talk about our different takes on our shared childhood experiences.

One definition of a ballad is: ‘a kind of poem or song that tells a story (such as a story about a famous person from history)’. So my designating the song a ‘Half-ballad’ seems appropriate. I’d like to think, in some way, this song will help to keep an ordinary, non-famous person’s name alive for a few more years.”

Half-ballad for Bobby Pearce

I’ve been thinking of Bobby Pearce (because today I heard he’d died),
and the last time that I saw him, in a courthouse;
and I won’t forget the look of recognition in his smile
at the terror on my face from that terrifying place.

He asked me how I got there, so I told him what I knew,
and I couldn’t stop him laughing then, so I started laughing too;
and I said: “I gave up trying ’cause everything’s the same,
and I need someone to talk to”, so Bobby gave me someone’s name.

And he said: “Don’t give up hoping, things will change you wait and see;
though it may not be for you, Jim, and it will not be for me;
but someone who we knew at school, or someone who we love –
and we’ll read it in the papers, and that will be enough.”

Then someone called his name out loud, and he shook me by the hand,
which took me by surprise back then, but now I understand;
and I never knew his destiny, or saw his face again:
the last time that I saw him was in that courthouse.

But I remember when we first met, he’d beat me up at school,
we were only kids back then, and kids are fucking cruel;
and if I had the chance to talk it over with him now I’d say:
“Bobby, it really doesn’t matter; we got through it all somehow.”
(Going back there still would be allowed.)

He’d chase me through the school-yards, but I’d be quicker on my feet;
and he’d chase me all along Bankside, right up Subway Street;
he’d ambush me in Boyes’s (that was Bobby’s game!);
but I’d teased about his step-dad and I’d teased about his name:
so me and Bobby Pearce were just the same.

He said: “Don ‘t give up hoping, things will change you wait and see;
though it may not be for you, Jim, and it will not be for me;
but someone who we recognise, or someone down our street;
or someone at a party who we never thought we’d meet;
or someone who we knew at school, or someone who we love –
and we’ll read it in the papers, and that will be enough.”
Me and Bobby Pearce – all that ‘stuff’!

I’ve been thinking of Bobby Pearce (because today I heard he’d died);
and though I never will forget him, I can’t pretend I cried.

© 2015 Jim Orwin

Jim Orwin Boyes

Visit Jim’s Website for stories, music and more OrwinUK.com

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