In Part 2 of my interview with the authentic piece of Mancunia that is Señor.Boyle, I focus more on Pete’s role as Old Trafford songsmith, his rise to prominence, his opinions on the state of football chanting generally, and his views on MUFC songs past and present.
JS: I regularly see you discussing MUFC songs on Twitter, and it’s evident that you pride yourself on originality, with which I concur. Seems like you’ve had some grievances recently with some of the song selection. Can you elaborate?
PB: Well, first of all, there have always been generic songs. We all know the argument about Liverpool’s “You’ll never walk alone,” that it was a song sung by lower league teams. And there’s an argument that United sung it first after the war. In the “Dog and Partridge,” the pub before the Bishops Blaize, 150 of us used to regularly sing in the late 90s/early 00s a song to the tune of “The Fields of Athenry” before Liverpool started singing it.
A lot of people felt that it sounded like an IRA song, because Ireland fans sing it. Although there is a lyric about the potato famine, they aren’t political lyrics that support any organisation. So a lot of United fans didn’t want to sing it when we tried it at the ground, and then Liverpool started singing it, so that’s seen as a Liverpool anthem by most people now even though we sang it first.
So, there have always been generic songs, like “Here We Go” or “When the Saints go marching in,” but for me, a song is not a song by your club unless it’s original. It doesn’t matter who texts it around, or posts it on a forum, Twitter, Facebook. To me, a chant is when it takes off, at least in a pub, or at an away end, and there’s footage of plenty of people joining in. I used to be embarrassed for other fans who lacked originality. You’d have Villa fans, then Brentford would sing the same tune, and a whole host of other teams copying and adapting the same chant. The Sheffield Wednesday-type band tunes, for example, “The Great Escape.” The list goes on. But I was proud how we had such a vast array of original songs, including songs long before I started writing.
There’s a Robbie Williams song going around for Chico. Now, I don’t particularly like it, but I don’t have the power to tell people not to sing it because I don’t like Robbie Williams. I responded to one of the lads that slagged it off, that whilst I don’t like it, at least it’s original, and that’s probably why I’d sing it. I don’t only sing songs that are my songs. Where I draw the line is; in 2008 when someone in Moscow started singing “Oh, Owen Hargreaves,” it really took off, but that song was word for word taken from West Ham’s song about Christian Dailly, a club with hardly any original songs at all. So United had nicked a song from a club with about 3 fuckin’ songs. And then, after that, Arsenal, who copy songs left, right and centre, copied the song off West Ham for Freddie Ljungberg, so we were like third or fourth hand on that particular song.
That’s not the United way; we used to laugh when other clubs copied stuff. Sometimes other clubs are going to copy you if you have a decent song. Stoke have copied so many of our songs, it’s embarrassing. They hate Man United, yet they’ve even copied the bloody Anderson song for Robert Hugh. QPR started doing ‘The pride of all London.” That sort of copying has always happened, and I know that not all of my United songs are going to be completely original, but a lot of the time we’ve got a proud record of having original songs.
If someone’s going to nick a song off an Argentinian or a Brazilian club, it’s still sort of stealing, but at least it’s a bit more original. But don’t sing songs like the RVP White Stripes one. And then another one that got me was the “Super Danny Welbeck” song. That was such a Championship song for about 15 years. Sunderland used to sing it for Kevin Phillips in around ‘97.
JS: Yes, I remember. And Bolton used to sing it for John McGinlay back in the Burnden Park days.
PB: Exactly. I just think that you’ve got to draw the line somewhere. I don’t go for this idea that it’s ok as long as the ground is singing. To me, it isn’t. What’s the point in having 60,000 singing really naff songs that don’t distinguish us from anyone?! We should just sing some of our original classics, nice and slow, and the ground would be rocking. If we sang songs such as “Pride of all Europe” nice and slow, it’d sound really eerie, and quite frightening for opposing fans. I think it’d be brilliant. One of the songs about Kagawa is a bit poor. I’ll support any song by anyone as long as it’s original, positive, and/or funny, but not offensive.
JS: When you say the Kagawa song, I take it you don’t mean the “Radio Gaga” one, as that’s original and amusing?
PB: No, that’s ok. There’s a Kagawa one going around to the same tune as the Crystal Palace song. It’s shocking; it ends with something about his granddad bombing Pearl Harbour. What’s all that about? So what if someone starts singing about the Holocaust or about Munich? People lost their lives at Pearl Harbour. I’m not an anal. I sung songs in the 80s that I shouldn’t have sung, in retaliation to the scousers. We shouldn’t have sung that Russian submarine song. I didn’t make it up, but I did join in with it at the time, until I realized how wrong it was.
We can’t be singing things that are so unoriginal. It’s just embarrassing. A few years ago, if someone had attempted that chant, plenty of United fans, including me, would have questioned it, and affirmed that it’s not United quality. We are better than that.
JS: I agree. Personally, I’m not a fan of the RVP “White Stripes” song, which we copied from Arsenal, and much prefer the Haddaway RVP song. Short, sweet, and very catchy.
PB: You can often hear in the Bishops Blaize people singing my RVP song to the tune of “Dirty Old Town.” And the “What is love” song was originally posted by a lad on the Red Issue forum, a bit tongue-in-cheek. I think he did it as a bit of a piss-take, not realizing how much people liked it. I saw some people singing it at Villa away in a pub, and they got it all wrong, clapping at 100 miles per hour. But that has lots of potential.
That’s one of the things with social media. It isn’t all positive for songs. People ask me to tweet things around, potential new United songs that don’t stand a chance of being sung at a game. I try not to tweet songs as much as I can until I’ve tried them in the pub, or on the coach first. That’s my sort of thing. Because loads of times, what people do is, they’ll tell me it’ll sound better if I change certain lines and do certain things, and try to amend it before it’s even took off. Then people end up singing different lines. So many people make great song suggestions, but in truth so few take off.
JS: Whilst on the topic of MUFC songs, which was the first ever one you conjured up that took off on the terraces?
PB: Well, to be honest, it took place in a short space of time. When I was about 13 or 14, up until I was about 19, I used to start songs of the day off in the United Road. Some of the older lot wouldn’t sing songs if a kid tried to start one up, but I looked a bit older. It was probably in the early 90s that I decided to take it more seriously.
When I was 8, I had a poem about United published in the Manchester Evening News, and then again when I was 15. It was all about the ’85 Cup Final, and I’ve read it out to Norman Whiteside a few times when we’ve been having a few beers together. It’s a pretty decent poem to be fair. There was a photo in the paper of me wearing an 84-85 Robbo white away shirt, holding a United flag in Old Trafford, where I lived. So, I started doing poems from quite an early age, and then got confident to do the songs. I realized that, whilst some old school boys had been writing United songs for years, during the early 90s, when we began to witness success under Fergie, that we were still singing songs of days gone by from the 60s and 70s, because there weren’t really loads of decent songs to chant about players of the newer era. That was always my thing.
It was a lot harder even then, back in 92-93, to record songs because it wasn’t quite like the age we are at now, where people will just record something in their bedroom. We still had to book a recording studio.
All bands are synonymous with certain songs. Like Radiohead and “Creep.” But they have a lot more material. In the 60s, United sang “We’ll drink to Denis the King.” And other teams of the era used the song; Wolves for Derek Dougan, City for Colin Bell. But as far as I’m aware, none of those clubs ever sung the song with loads of verses; it was purely the chorus. I’d done a couple of short chants in the pub, and spontaneous chants in the United Road when I was 15/16, that are viewed as classics, like “all this way for nothing.” I firmly believe I started that; other people might claim otherwise. It was usually when we were playing a team with a shit following, a Southampton or Norwich. Only about 50 people ever sung it. But that’s the first chant I started that became a regular.
The first proper big song was obviously “Eric the King.” That took off big time, with all the different verses. I never tried to claim it was my original song, because we sung it about Denis Law, but I’ve got all those extra verses, which make it much more of a unique song in that category. Around that time, when I realized I was on a bit of a roll, I produced “Songs From The Bathtub,” my first proper cassette album containing 40 songs, of which half were mine. On that release, I had songs about Lee Sharpe, Paul Parker, Clayton Blackmore, and plenty of players of that era. My thing always was, looking back on it now 20 years later, even if they’re not all terrace classics, people often recite them to me on coaches to away games, or on the internet. It’s good that we have songs about all the players, not just the star players; loads of people have sung the Paul Parker song (breaks out into the chant.)
I remember in the mid-90s, before I knew Paul Parker, I was stood outside Kendals chatting, as I often did, to the flower-sellers, who are City fans, and Paul was driving down Deansgate, but got caught at the lights. His window was slightly down. I just launched into the song, and he looked absolutely fuckin’ stunned, mouth open. He must’ve been thinking to himself; “I’m not even playing there anymore, and they’re singing some song about me.”
So that was quite a productive period in terms of song-writing. I probably contributed around 30 songs on that cassette, and a lot took off. But over the years, I’d done a lot of short, spontaneous chants. Once I was going to do a book, and ask people to write in with any suggestions. I got some good ones, mainly old songs. I received a dozen or so songs which I remember starting, but other people might have had a similar idea, if it was a short, obvious chant to a popular tune. “Down by the Riverside” was the classic example of that, when we won the league in ’96. I started singing that at the back of the stand, and by the end of the game everyone was singing it. A couple of other people claimed to start that song. Obviously, “Down by the Riverside” is an old-school pop song, and we were playing at Boro’s new ground back then, which was called The Riverside, so you don’t have to be Morrissey to think you might get a song to that tune. But, as far as I’m aware, I started it first that day.
JS: And of all the ones you’ve contributed over the years, which is your personal favourite?
PB: Well, Cantona songs aside, “Johnny Goes Marching” was quite a proud one for me, from the 2002-03 season. People presume it’s from the “The animals go marching 2 by 2” tune, but I actually based it on “English Civil War,” originally by The Clash, and later covered by The Levellers. When I used to be a DJ, I made a compilation from a cassette player; a 90-minute tape of Indie bands’ B-side songs. A lot of them weren’t hits that people had heard. But The Levellers had covered The Clash (Pete breaks out into “When Johnny comes marching home again.”) I was driving through Marple to work in Stockport, bored in the rain, and that was on the cassette, and it just sort of came to me. So I went in the Bishops around September 2002 and started it up. Most people just started laughing, thinking “Boyley’s a nutter, that’ll never take off.” But I persisted and persisted, and by February/March of 2003, it really started to take off at the aways. We played Charlton at home the penultimate game of the season, when we’d nearly won the league, and literally all four sides of the ground were singing “When Johnny goes marching” for 15 minutes. During a break in play, Nicky Butt went over to John O’Shea as if to say, “Look, this is for you this. Look around, this is your song.” It was a real proud moment, because it started off with literally just me in the Bishops trying to get a few people going, and it gradually took off till it became the song of the moment.
I remember, I went out that night into town, and all over Manchester there were people pissed up everywhere, who must’ve been to the game, they were pissing in doorways, and singing “When Johnny goes marching.” I went to about 3 different pubs, and could hear people outside wandering down the street looking for taxis, who were singing it. Some bloke, who looked 10 years older than me, came up to me in Peveril Of The Peak and said; “It’s got to be yours, Boyley?! What an anthem!” It’s just a shame that John never bettered that first season. But he’s such a great lad, and a loyal servant to the club. I met him a few times, and did a tour around Ireland called “The John O’Shea Tour,” a little documentary on MUTV. I played about 5 gigs in a week. We were going to release it as a single, but some chancer pulled out. He was just trying to get a free company going on the back of us. But you live and learn. John O’Shea was really proud of the song; he loved it. I eventually recorded it into a real punk version, and it’s quite good. It’s probably the best quality that I’ve ever released, in terms of my singing and the music on it. It’s on the latest compilation; the first time it’s been on one of my original albums. It’s been played during half-time at Old Trafford on several occasions, which are proud moments.
Another one of my favourites, one which not many people will know, that I wrote in ’94, is to the tune of “Dirty Old Town,” obviously a great Salford song, and I called it “Whenever I see Man United Play.” It starts; “When I first saw the Reds, in days long gone by.” It’s about me growing up watching United in the 70s with my dad. It goes up to about ’94, and I did it on my second release called “Bathtub Revisited.” I just did it Acapella with no music. I always thought it was a real hidden gem of a song, so in about 2003 I recorded it again with a band from Wales that I know, in a proper studio. That’s been played at Old Trafford a few times. When I used to play abroad at my concerts in Norway or Ireland, that used to be my first song, with a keyboard player strumming along, and quite a few people know it, because at the end of every verse it goes into “Whenever I see Man United Play.” So that’s probably one of my best overall lyrical songs. A lot of the songs we do, I’ve always maintained, I don’t expect the vast majority to take off. I’m not sure on the exact number, but I’ve probably done 500 United songs. With my CDs, I just want to record something that covers an era of the team and the club that I love, so that me and other people can listen and have something to look back on in 20 or 30 years, and maybe remember a song from a coach journey to a game.
JS: Definitely. Music invariably evokes contemporaneous memories. I remember in early 2004, a few of my Mancunian mates and I headed back from Birmingham, where we were studying at the time, for the Porto Champions League. The one when Costinha scored an injury-time goal to knock us out, and Mourinho got giddy down the touchline. We were pretty dejected en route back to the Midlands that night, but a pal of mine put on one of your CDs in the car, and the sing-song definitely served to lighten the mood and helped muster a few smiles. Moving on, any chants you’ve conceived for any of the current players that you’re hoping take off?
PB: Well, the one I’ve really got a lot of hope for is one for Cleverley. I tried it in the Bishops Blaize last season, but haven’t tried it an away game yet. When I go on our mate’s coach, the Betty Bus, everyone encourages me to get up and sing it. In my absence, on the way to a recent away game, everyone was singing it apparently. And at The White Lion pub up in town. It’s pretty original and Tom Cleverley himself has seen it because he follows me on Twitter. Also, his agent/mate usually goes on the same coach, and he’s always asking me to sing it. He’s sometimes rung Tom up when I’m on the mic singing it. Tom really loves it. Someone recorded it in the Bishops and put it on Youtube, so that’s where Tom’s seen it. It’s to the tune of “Stop the Cavalry” by Jona Lewie. It’s a Christmassy song; “Hey Mr. Ferguson, look over here, the boy is doing splendidly, he’s not very old, but watch him go, fighting against the enemy, he’s not very tough, but he can play rough, and you’ll never stop the Cleverley.” And then the whole pub breaks out into der, der, der, der, der.
That’s one I’d love to take off, hopefully like a European thing, where it’s dead slow at the start, and then everyone’s bouncing up and down like for “Johnny goes marching.” That’s one of the aims for the Singing Section; to do all the old songs, and introduce the better new songs as well. It’s not mine, but I like the Januzaj song to “Starman.” I’d happily start a song off that isn’t mine if it’s original, decent and gets everyone going. I obviously love the tune, because I recorded a whole song about Edwin van der Sar to the same tune about 6 years ago on one of the CDs. I was once lucky enough to be in the Players’ Lounge after a game, and I gave Edwin a copy of “Van Der Sar Man.” He was really grateful. He was a bit scared of me really, even though he’s taller.
I usually send some copies of the CDs to the players who feature on it. One of my mates, who’s a mobile mechanic, was fixing a car, and it happened to be Evra’s car, and he found two of my CDs in his multi-CD changer. That was a bit of a buzz.
I’ve got another song for Fellaini, a bit more original. Both had done really well in the Bishops Blaize, but because Fellaini’s not really set the world alight so far at United, and we paid a lot of money for him, it’s a bit hard to motivate everyone to start singing the song. I really want to get it going. Phil Neville did a do at the Bishops Blaize at the start of the season. He’d already seen the song, and I sung it on the mic that night whilst Phil was there. I then sent the clip to Phil. He’s already shown it to Moyes and Fellaini, and they were apparently laughing their heads off. He loves it Phil Neville.
So, the Cleverley and Fellaini songs are the two we are aiming for really. I did do a quite good Van Persie one, and there are a few knocking about. This is the trouble with the internet; loads of people think they can write songs, and amend songs. Go back to players like Veron; there were loads of great suggestions for songs, and we ended up bloody singing Gary Glitter, “Veron, Veron.” That’s the only one that took off. And it’s a similar situation with Van Persie; loads are going round. Yet we’re singing the White Stripes. I mean, come on. Every team sings the same song for a player. Reading, Arsenal. Villa. I just cringe when I hear it, because we weren’t even the first to use that tune. Liverpool used it about 5 years ago, having copied it off all the European teams. So, I used “Dirty Old Town” again for Van Persie, and most people sing it in the Bishops Blaize when I lead. I do it really slow so it’s not too happy-clappy. And some lads on the coach often request for me to do it on the mic. There’s a 62-year old regular on our away coach called Ernie from Urmston. Most other people on our coach, aside from a few 40-somethings, are between 17 and 25. Ernie loves the Van Persie song. So, I get on the mic at the front on the way home, sober, doing a rendition.
I probably did about 7 songs for Evra. It’s just really hard to get ‘em going. The one I really hoped would get going was The Rolling Stones song “I’m Free,” covered by The Soup Dragons. Again, it’s on one of the CDs, and I’ve had the Bishops singing it but it’s just hard to get the tempo right; “He’s 3 to do what he wants any old time.” I’m hoping if the “Starman” one takes off, people might start looking more at these retro-type sounding songs. They’re a bit slower.
JS: Yes, I remember tweeting you a song for RVP which you RT’d. I also wrote into UWS postulating; “Isn’t it time we paid homage to one of the great musical genres by conjuring up an MUFC chant that covers a classic Hip-Hop song? Don’t get me wrong, ‘Boom, Boom, Boom, let me hear you say Keano,’ an adaptation of The Outhere Brothers (out where exactly?), could loosely be categorized as Hip-Hop, but it’s highly unlikely to feature in the pantheon of Rap. I hereby propose, to the tune of ‘OPP’, Naughty by Nature, ‘Who’s down with RVP, M U F C.’ It possesses all the requisite ingredients of a successful terrace melody; simple, memorable, catchy, upbeat, aggressive, and ultimately, tribalistic.”
PB: I agree Jonny, I liked it.
JS: So do songs, popularized in the pubs, not necessarily translate to terrace successes?
PB: No. Sometimes I try too hard to do songs. I’ve given song sheets out when I’ve wanted to try songs over the years. It doesn’t always really work. Irrespective of whether the whole pub sings it, it might not take off in the ground. Domestic and European aways are normally the best place to start a song, but I can’t always get to Euro aways like I used to. Often you get more lads that are up for singing at Euro aways than domestic aways, and it could be going around Old Trafford by the next game. What you tend to get when there’s a new, original song that people like, is that people get so giddy, they sing it bloody every game, and it becomes the song of the moment. It’s always been like that.
Sometimes I just get up there and start a chant, like “Gary Neville is a Red.” Every club in the country has copied that since. City has done it for every player they got that previously played for us. Terry Cooke is a Blue, he hates Munichs.” They used to sing it for Carlos Tevez too. I just stood up at the 1-1 Leeds away, the game after we’d beat Juventus away in the ’99 semi-final, and without any thought, started singing the song. I don’t know where it came from. Then I did it again, I looked around and everyone was joining in. So it became a United song that day, without any pre-planning. It just literally came to me, and went on to become a massive cult song at United. But then, every team obviously starts copying it, for example, Villa about a Birmingham player and vice-versa. But at least I know I started it. If you get copied, you can live with that sometimes. But I just don’t like us copying fuckin’ naff songs off other teams all the time.
JS: Agreed Pete. Cheers for your time again today, and I look forward to our forthcoming chat regarding the latest with the Singing Section.