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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Saturday, February 16, 2008
    Mr Tapscott
     


    Spend time with these words, for they tell a longer-sighted and less heralded story of Liverpool. A brief extract from Mr Tapscott by Bill Griffiths, a long poem from 1998 which trawls a wealth of Liverpool sources, written and spoken, contemporary and historical, and comes to rest on an incident in pre-riots 1981: the death of John Suffield, a Toxteth betting shop manager, which resulted in the (alleged) wrongful conviction of Ray Gilbert, still imprisoned today.

    I am very grateful to Jim Bennett, an accomplished Liverpool performance poet, for scanning me a rare copy of Griffiths' epic. It's a poem which threatens to give you a nasty bite if you start to grapple with it, and invites you to make the move, like all the best writing about this snarling mongrel city. It's a truthful alternative history in chopped-up verse, newspaper quotes and prison cell slang. Who is Tapscott? In Griffiths, he is two men: first a Liverpool packet ship broker who did very well out of the emigration trade, and at the end of the poem a plea-broker lawyer persuading Gilbert to change to 'guilty' so that at least 'your mate gets let off'.

    Jim tells me that he had been working with Bill on an update, prior to Griffiths' death last year, and that a new publication may still emerge. I hope it does, as on the ever-growing, groaning bookshop shelves of Liverpool writing in 2008, it will sit uneasily and very essentially.