You'll Never Walk Alone
By Paul Coslett
You’ll Never Walk Alone has become indelibly associated with Liverpool, but what is the story behind the famous song?
Starting life as a song from a musical, You’ll Never Walk Alone, has made the transition from a terrace chant to an anthem for a city.
As part of BBC Radio 2’s Liverpool season, actress Sue Johnston has traced the story of You’ll Never Walk Alone.
She asks why a Broadway show tune should have such a connection with Liverpool.
Sue Johnston, was nine years old, and living in Whiston when she fell in love with You’ll Never Walk Alone.
Since then she says the song has worn itself in to many of her happiest days as well as some of the most terrible.
The definitive Liverpool version was a number one hit for Gerry and the Pacemakers in 1963.
Magic of the musicals
Written by Rodgers and Hammerstein, for the musical Carousel, You’ll Never Walk Alone has been recorded in all styles of music over six decades by artists including Patti La Belle, Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Placido Domingo and Tammy Wynette.
It was through musicals that Sue Johnston first heard the song, “My mum adored the music of Rodgers and Hammerstein, and she’d make me play it on the piano.
“Musicals were a big part of both my parent’s lives and a feature of their record collection.”
It wasn’t just Sue’s family in Whiston who loved the song, music journalist Paul Du Noyer says You’ll Never Walk Alone was popular in Liverpool long before Gerry and the Pacemakers committed it to vinyl.
“The LP of Carousel was an extremely popular one locally.
“I can certainly remember my grandparents having a copy and my parents playing it as well.
“The big splashy Broadway tunes were always enormously popular within the city, and they were the staples of the pub sing-alongs and neighbourhood get togethers.”
However it took the explosion of Merseybeat, and a band managed by Beatles boss Brian Epstein, for You’ll Never Walk Alone to really catch fire.
The third of Gerry and the Pacemakers singles, the band had been playing the song live for several years before it was released.
“I went to see the film Carousel one afternoon,” says Gerry Marsden.
“We’d played the Cavern and it was raining, a horrible day, this would have been about 1959.”
The Kop in full voice
Marsden was particularly impressed by one song from Carousel and seeking out the sheet music he embarked on persuading his fellow band members to play the tune, “We’d also heard that people like Frank Sinatra had done it, so we listened and thought we’ll do that and put it in the act.
“So we played it for years and then we got the chance to record it.”
Managed by Brian Epstein, Gerry and the Pacemaker also shared a producer, George Martin, with The Beatles.
Gerry and the Pacemakers were the first performers to have their first three singles all reach number one; it was an achievement that wouldn’t be matched until another Liverpool group Frankie Goes to Hollywood did the same in the 1980’s.
You’ll Never Walk Alone was the third of the singles after How Do You Do It and I Like It.
Both Epstein and George Martin thought the song was too slow to be a hit, but Marsden persuaded them, “We put it out and within a month it was number one,” says Gerry.
At around the same time a public address system had been newly installed at Anfield and before the game kicked off the current top ten would be played culminating with the number one record.
After You’ll Never Walk Alone fell down the charts it was picked up by the Kop choir, and continued to be sung as the players took to the pitch slowly working its way in to Liverpool society.
“People who don’t even know Liverpool hear it and they think of Liverpool,” says Gerry Marsden.
“They don’t think of America.
“They think of Liverpool and Gerry and the Pacemakers, its crazy.”
last updated: 12/06/2008 at 10:38
Have Your Say
What does You'll Never Walk Alone mean to you? Add your comments here.