Breathing life into the cold hard clay
Passion fills the sculptor as he considers his next job – the meeting of Ken Dodd and Bessie Braddock in Lime Street station. David Charters reports
OUTSIDE the tall sculptor’s house, a thin young mother shakes her head and curses lightly as the first raindrop spreads on the pavement. She stops her long, urgent strides for a few moments to lift the hood on her baby’s pram.
“We’ll soon be home, luv,” she says, pulling up a blanket, allowing the baby to squeeze her little finger.
All human life is precious, though few will be famous and most will be forgotten.
The Bible says that God formed man from the dust of the ground and then breathed life into his nostrils. Well, some people believe that. Others don’t.
But the tall man in the elegant Georgian house says he can sense the souls of men in the clay that he is kneading in his strong hands, because those people embodied the spirit of this city.
In that great lump are the memories of the football men, Bill Shankly and Dixie Dean; Johnnie Walker, hero of the Battle of the Atlantic; Billy Fury, rock and roller; Noel Chavasse, double VC and MC and field surgeon of World War One; the business brothers, John and Cecil Moores, and many others.
Soon, from this same clay, will arise two of the noblest Liverpudlians of them all – Bessie Braddock, indomitable Socialist, woman of kindness and passion, who, even now, you can see in moments of romantic fancy, full-jowled, organising the angels into a picket line. Then comes Ken Dodd.
It is extraordinary that we have had to wait so long for a permanent monument to the man, who is, at the least, Britain’s greatest living entertainer.
What more can be said about “Doddy”, sausage-stringer, Squire of Knotty Ash, last of the music-hall comedians, whose wit, cast of characters and surrealistic flights, as well as the sentimental songs, epitomise the enduring spirit of Liverpool.
Tom Murphy makes statues of the fine people who have lived in this city, the city he loves. Of course, it is not the same as giving them real life, but you have to accept that leaving a lasting memorial of their being on Earth is a daunting responsibility.
He is now working on a statue of Ken and Bessie greeting each other at Liverpool’s Lime Street station. The commission came from Merseytravel.
“I have probably been through about two tons of clay,” he says, “but basically they are all made out of the same clay. I lose a bit and then add to it. Everyone I have ever done is in the same clay.
“So, when these sculptures are finished, they will go back into the vats to reappear in another form. The only one that didn’t come out of it was John Lennon at Liverpool Airport. He was made in a different way, out of newspapers.
“Why are we fascinated by capturing the human form, even going back to the Egyptian mummies? Because they are still in your eyes. If you love someone, or admire someone, like the people I have done, then you don’t want them to go. The space they left behind becomes a void. People always say, ‘you should make a statue of them’. They want that person wrapped in some form.
“Look at the statues around the city, some of which I have done, like Dixie Dean, Bill Shankly and John Lennon. Dixie Dean has become a community sculpture. When someone dies around there (near Everton’s Goodison Park), the flowers are recycled back to the statue. It is like they are passing through a gate – there is something in life that they enjoyed. His statue has become a symbol of that. It fulfils a lot of different functions.
“So when you get commissions, you are carrying the dreams and aspirations that people had about the particular person – not just a likeness, but the spirit.