There’s a cult Scouse classic film playing in The Cunard Building – but we’re talking about the support act. An opener for a film is a cracking idea and Roisin Burns – an exiled Scouser brought up in Birkenhead but now living in Paris – has made the perfect short to capture the imaginations of Merseyside music lovers. It stars Bill Ryder-Jones, but the geography steals the show. By Alan O’Hare.
Antony Gormley’s ‘Another Place’ has a lot to answer for. It’s such an intrinsic part of our identity that any photographer or film-maker using the sculptures’ sentinel atmosphere immediately cops a touch of gravitas from their presence. ‘Passing Tides’, a new film made by Liverpool-born-Birkenhead-raised-Paris-dwelling auteur Roisin Burns, doesn’t need any such help. But the sounds and sights conjured up by the short’s opening shot are striking in their simplicity… and it’s the ‘iron man’ seemingly submerged and drowning on the left of the screen that draws you in during an eighteen second intro.
“The ideas for shots came quite naturally,” says Burns. “Filming itself doesn’t deal with abstract thought, so the sea symbolises many things. It evokes lots of different kinds of people coming and going for me.” The up-and-coming director knows a bit about that and so will those at the Cunard Building tonight for the twenty fifth anniversary screening of infamous Liverpool music film, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ – Burns’ brand new ‘Passing Tides’ will be screened prior to the cult classic. Starring the brilliant Bill Ryder-Jones, the short-form film follows the ex-Coral man and current producer of the zeitgeist around the memories and reflections of his emotional geography. “The film is definitely about that,” she says. “Most of the ideas came from my childhood memories, too, and from spending a bit of time with Bill in his daily routine. It also helps that Wirral looks so great on camera!”
She’s not wrong. Ryder-Jones is a captivating presence throughout, all floppy hair and family-focused, but locations are the stars of the show. “The film is a mini-portrait of Bill, Birkenhead and a bit of my past,” says Burns. It’s something else, as well: fantastic. Tonight’s screening is nearly sold-out, so, do us a favour; forego the usual Scouse scrum at the bar, grab an early bevvy’ and bite and be prompt to be among the first to see ‘Passing Tides’. You won’t regret it.
I love the film, Roisin. You haven’t just come out of nowhere though, have you?
I’ve been studying film-making in Paris at The Sorbonne for the last four years and and I’m currently interning at Arte, the TV channel.
But you’re from here, right?
I was born in Liverpool, grew up in the north end of Birkenhead and moved to France for good after doing French at university in Sheffield. I’ve been studying film-making ever since.
How did ‘Passing Tides’ come to be?
It was made to form part of my Master’s Degree at The Sorbonne and is one of a group of films focusing on performing artists in Europe. I had to write a ten minute film proposal about a creative person or group and was one of five students picked to be awarded €10,000 to make the film. I wrote about wanting to make a film about where I’m from and music is a big part of my life, so I saw this is a great opportunity to make a mini-portrait of Bill.
Why Bill Ryder-Jones?
I’m a huge fan of Bill’s music and ‘West Kirby Country Primary’ is precious to me – especially as a Birkenhead girl who no longer lives there.
How did you get him on-board?
It’s funny, I had to write the film proposal for the producer before I knew if Bill was willing to participate or not… so there was a while when I was very tense waiting for Bill’s response! A friend of mine is close to him and has played in his band and I also contacted his management with another little film I’d made so he could see where I was coming from artistically.
That worked, then. Simpatico?
I find listening to ‘West Kirby Country Primary’ really comforting. The longer I live in Paris, the more Parisian I feel – but there’s loads of things I miss about Merseyside. So, listening to that album evokes powerful memories: when I listen and close my eyes I imagine I’m either walking around Birkenhead Park, on the 437 bus or by the sea at New Brighton.
It’s a beautiful record…
It is and I also think it’s really honest and generous in the sense that Bill really invites us into his world in all its intimacy and he’s not hiding behind anything. He knows how to tell a story with a song… the nostalgic and bittersweet emotions he manages to convey are really powerful.
I’ve watched your film a couple of times and can draw a straight line between the two of you.
Coming from Wirral, a peninsula, I know the sea and also knew that the Mersey and Dee were going to be important in the film. The Dee is less associated with Merseyside music because everyone tends to focus on Liverpool – but when Bill walks to the end of his mum’s street and looks across the water, it’s not Liverpool he sees: it’s the River Dee and Wales.
Something else you have in common?
Bill and I both love Welsh bands, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and Super Furry Animals etc.
There must be something in that water…
It’s one of the things I miss the most about being away. Most of my favourite childhood memories are linked to the water: taking the ferry over to Albert Dock, going down New Brighton promenade or days out in West Kirby. The water around here symbolises so many things – you look out to sea and see ships passing along the horizon. Like I said, that evokes people coming and going for me… which can be reassuring and also threatening. I think about our history and Liverpool during slavery. I think about the connections with Ireland and immigration. I think about Cammell Laird and the collapse of shipbuilding. I know anyone can imagine anything when looking out to sea and it helps us to daydream and think. But, it’s undeniable that this region’s destiny has always been linked to the water, its ports and the docks.
Very true. How did you feel coming back home to film the piece?
I’m always struck by how stressed people look when I come back… especially in Birkenhead town centre. It can be depressing and I think people are struggling more and more to get by and have some sort of quality of life. That makes me angry. They’re the problems that the area has always known very well – unemployment, poverty and a cut-throat Tory government – and they make me pessimistic about that state of things.
Is it all doom and gloom?
No, there’s always been two sides to Birkenhead and Liverpool. We deal with a lot of shitty things, but people are determined to still laugh and celebrate – the region has lots to offer culturally and Liverpool itself is still one of the best places in the world for a night out! Birkenhead needs some love and attention, I think.
“Desperate times call for desperate pleasures,” Bill sings in ‘Two To Birkenhead’…
People can take whatever they want from my film!
Would it be fair to say that the piece centres on the oppression of people and places, love and loss?
Yes, but you can’t film nostalgia or grief; you have to find or create images that convey those ideas. I lost my mum when I was fourteen and it completely turned my world upside down. She was a really strong and cool single mum and I still miss her every day – she was a punk when she was younger, loved Glastonbury and my best memories are of driving around in her car listening to Ramones or Gorky’s. I wanted the film to create a ‘home-movie’ feel, show images that could be family photos and create a dream-like feeling.
There are obvious themes: leaving home, the loss of a loved one, the role music can play in people’s lives… but the film retains a bit of mystery. I’m hoping to make a feature-length documentary based on it, with much more of the town and city present, and some local young people involved. And Bill again.
‘Passing Tides’ – a film by Roisin Burns
Showing before ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’
Wednesday, November 22nd 2017, 7pm
The Cunard Building, Pier Head, Liverpool
Still courtesy Collection Artistes! 2018