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MV Royal Iris Articles

Article from:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England) Article date:January 24, 2009

Band made it pig; Flash back Greg O'Keeffe speaks to a musician who has played his part in one of the city's best-known pub bands.(Features)
Byline: Greg O'Keeffe

IF YOU'VE been on a few Saturday nights out in Liverpool over the last 20 years the chances are you've heard of Groundpig.

You may not have heard them play, or even realised they were a band but somewhere, at some time, you've probably seen one of their posters or heard them mentioned.

It's a remarkable thing to have written your name so indelibly into the tapestry of a city's social scene.

Now John O'Connell, the down-to-earth former guitarist and singer of Groundpig, is reflecting on all the fun he had over the years, ahead of a special gig in memory of former band member Graham Evans.

Talented multi-instrumentalist Graham, who died of cancer three years ago aged 52, was a close friend and the life-blood of the band.

"I met him in 1979 and a couple of years later we started out as a duo called Ground Hog," says the softly-spoken father-of-two from Everton. "At the same time there was a big rock band called The Ground Hogs and at one gig all these bikers turned up expecting them. They all roared off in a cloud of smoke when they realised it was just two fellas playing folk music. We thought we better change it after that."

Despite hitches over the name, Groundpig quickly became popular and were soon playing to packed out venues like Daley's Dandelion on Dale Street, the Crooked Billet on Exchange Street East and the Bierkeller in Mount Pleasant.

They played a mixture of cover versions of Lindisfarne, Genesis, Jethro Tull and Dylan songs along with their own tracks.

"One Saturday night there was abut 600 people in the Bierkeller," says John. "On average there'd be 400. The great thing about our crowds was the age range. You'd get lads as young as 15 sometimes and then 80-year-old ladies all enjoying the music.

"We were hard working and it was all we wanted to do. Graham had spent seven years as a welder in Cammell Lairds before we started the band so he knew the rougher side of life and what a privilege it was to be a professional musician."

Despite their popularity, the band never fancied chasing fame.

"We had no ambition," shrugs John. "We were just a pub band.

We were offered a small recording deal once but we said no in case it meant moving to London.

"Maybe my biggest regret was that Graham was writing amazing songs which people loved but we never recorded any of them. We were always too busy practising.

"There are so many funny things that happen when you play in pubs. People come up to you and try and shake your hand mid-song.

Once there was this woman mouthing something to me when I was playing and then she came over and just said, 'Have you got a pen I can borrow?'.

"My favourite memory was from 1985 when we performed on the Royal Iris ferry on the Mersey. The Farm had arranged it.

"It was crowded with fans of both bands and I'd been talking to the DJ before starting to play The Hurricane by Bob Dylan.

"I remember looking back at the DJ, he seemed bewildered that a band with an acoustic guitar, a fiddle and very little charisma could provoke such a huge response. I'll never forget that night, the crowd, The Farm and the quiet DJ whose name was John Peel."

John has more than nostalgia on his mind now, though. He recently performed at the Philharmonic Hall with hit songwriter Stephen Bishop, who wrote Separate Lives for Phil Collins.

That led to a UK tour and an opening night in London when Eric Clapton came backstage to praise John's performance and song writing.

"I'm enjoying doing my own thing," says John. "Groundpig couldn't go on without Graham.

He was irreplaceable and taught me many things about hard work and how popularity is just a by product."

John O'Connell will perform in memory of Graham at the Gladstone Theatre, Port Sunlight, Wirral on Thursday, February 5.

Doors are 7pm and tickets are pounds 12 (pounds 10 concessions). Call 0151-643 8757 or go to or

Article from:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England) Article date:April 9, 2008

Letter: You say - Mersey travel.(Features)

I AM rather dismayed at Mersey travel putting the German U-boat on display at Wood side. This rusty vessel has nothing to do with Merseyside. They should have given more thought to vessels such as the lightship Planet, the old ferry boat Royal Iris or former Isle of Man steamer Manxman.

D. Webster, West Derby

Article from:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England) Article date:September 22, 2007

Feed Back: REGARDING the sad; Rewind.(News)

REGARDING the sad demise of the Royal Iris in Woolwich.

As Liverpool 08 is going to be the cultural capital, wouldn't it be a fitting gesture to bring back the Iris to Liverpool?

I spent a lot of my youth on board the "fish and chip boat" and when I saw it rotting in Woolwich this year is was really sad.

Jane Howick, via e-mail

Article from:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England) Article date:December 11, 2004
Byline: Interview by Jennifer Miller

Flashback: My Favourite Memory John O' Connell, 45, lead singer of Groundpig, from Huyton.(Features)(Interview)

``MY favourite memory is from August, 1985. It was a really great gig.

``I was on the Royal Iris, a boat which would sail up and down the Mersey. The whole evening was arranged by The Farm. I can remember doing a few gigs with The Farm but this was something I wouldn't forget.

``I was waiting to start the first song, The Hurricane by Bob Dylan. The boat was crowded with fans of both Groundpig and The Farm.

``I had been talking to the DJ who stood behind us on stage and remained there throughout the show.

``He was a quiet and polite man and somehow appeared nervous as the crowd began to respond to the guitar intro to The Hurricane.

``I remember looking back at the DJ, he seemed bewildered that a band with an acoustic guitar, a fiddle and very little charisma could provoke such a huge response.

``I'll never forget that night, the crowd, The Farm and the quiet DJ whose name was John Peel. ''

Echoes of the ECHO.(Comment) Article from:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England) Article date:May 12, 2004

1954: A man was jailed for three months after trying to commit suicide while a passenger on the Wallasey ferry steamer, the Royal Iris.

You say: Short points.(Letters) Article from:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England) Article date:October 28, 2003

THE old Royal Iris ferry is in London on the River Thames near Greenwich and is lying in a bad state and rottingaway. Why can't the ship return to Merseyside and get a revamp and put her on the Mersey like old times instead of in London.

I do hope the Capital of Culture team and the people of Merseyside decide to bring her home and make good use of her. People of Merseyside used to go on and have a right ball with the dances and socialise with people.

Let's not forget about her. She's part of our heritage. We should make sure that she comes back to the Mersey where she belongs and get her back for the Capital of Culture 2008.

J Edwards,Liverpool

Letter: Sinking feeling.(Letters) Article from:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England) Article date:November 7, 2002

AS much as many people would like to purchase and return the exHMS Whimbrel to her rightful place on Merseyside, I fear that the tradition of preserving historic vessels in this country has been woefully lacking.

HMS Cavalier, the last standard shaped war-time destroyer, has been kicked about many ports since her purchase but is not well enough supported to be properly sited.

Our own historic warships at Birkenhead are tucked away in the shadow of a forbidding warehouse hidden from locals never mind tourists and have recently been joined by HMS Bronington, herself a cast-off from Salford docks.

The model of `Resurgam' created by former Cammell Laird apprentices and permanently displayed at Woodside is constantly covered in mindless graffiti and the ship thatis arguably the most revered of all, the Royal Iris, languishes on a mudflat on the Thames rusting away like a discarded tin can.

Surely the best course of action would be to remember these ships for what they achieved and sadly consign them to the scrapyard.

Derek Arnold Bebington

Letter: Ferry bad.(Letters) Article from:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England) Article date:August 15, 2002

THOSE in charge of the city should not hesitate in getting the former Manxman back here where she belongs.

And why has the Royal Iris had to stay and rot in London for lack of money? She should have been brought back here, her home. David E Langton, Wavertree

Echoes of the ECHO.(Features) Article from:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England) Article date:June 19, 2002

1977: Ships ranging from humble sewage boats to international cargo vessels were getting ready for the Queen's review of shipping in the Mersey. She was due to leave Gladstone dock entrance aboard the spruced-up Royal Iris taking in ships of all shapes and sizes.


Article from:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England) Article date:November 20, 2001


A FAMOUS ferry boat given a new lease of life is to sail again after being saved from the scrapyard.

A project to refurbish MV Mountwood was almost halted after the demise of Cammell Laird in March. But former Laird workers took the task on themselves and have just completed the refurbishment nine months later.

Next month the ferry will undergo sea trials and will be renamed the Royal Iris of the Mersey. If all goes according to plan it will return to scheduled services across the Mersey, for cruising along the Manchester Ship Canal and for hire for private functions.

The eight Cammell Laird sub-contractors employed 45 workers and six apprentice shipwrights, electricians and engineers. Chief engineer Dave Parr said: "I must admit I get a bit nostalgic about the old ship but the refurbishment was badly needed and has given it a new lease of life."

Mersey Ferries project manager Alan Bray said: "We refurbished it and gave an old Mersey ferry an extra 25 years of life. That's something we can all be proud of."

The original Royal Iris was sold by Mersey Ferries in 1991 and languishes in disrepair at Woolwich, near London docklands.

Echoes of the ECHO.(News) Article from:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England) Article date:September 8, 2001

1951: About 50 passengers suffered minor injuries when the Royal Iris cruise boat collided with the 35,000-tons battleship HMS Duke of York on the River Mersey.

Beatles with chips; ANSWER TO CORRESPONDENTS.(News)
Article from: Daily Mail (London) Article date:April 28, 2009
Byline: Compiled by Charles Legge

QUESTION In the Fifties, my auntie said she was going to take me on the fish and chip boat across the Mersey. Can anyone tell me anything about this boat?

THE boat in question was the MV Royal Iris, a cruise ship that sailed regularly on the Mersey calling at Seacome Ferry (Wallasey), Woodside Ferry (Birkenhead) and Liverpool.

It had three decks, including a grand dance floor, and was popular, not just with the local population, but with visitors, especially from Manchester and Birmingham.

I worked as a part-time barman for three years in the early Sixties and have wonderful memories of serving beer while listening to live music from The Beatles, Lulu and the popular groups of that time.

One of the Royal Iris's cafes came complete with a working friery. If there was any swell, passengers, many of whom had had a few drinks, often 'enjoyed' their fish and chips twice, once on the way down and again on the way back up.

By chance I was in The Hard Days Night Hotel, Liverpool, recently and one of the replica posters on display was advertising: 'The Cavern Presents A Riverboat Shuffle, Friday, August 25, 1961, on The MV Royal Iris with Mr Acker Bilk's Paramount Jazz Band & The Beatles. Boat sails from L'Pool landing stage @ 8.30pm. Tickets 8/6p.' Fred Charters, Liverpool.

MV Royal Iris III, William Denny's classic diesel electric ship, entered service on May 5, 1951, with a passenger certificate of 2,296 for ferry services and 1,000 for cruising.

The twin screw Royal Iris III is surprisingly large -- 1,234 tons gross, 159ft long with a beam of 50ft and a top speed of 13 knots.

The other Mersey ferries were about half the tonnage and had a less streamlined look than the Iris.

By the mid-1970s, Royal Iris was not in regular ferry use but reserved for dining and cruising, as well as for broadcasting the Saturday morning kids' TV programme, Mersey Pirate, live from the top deck of the ferry.

I have many happy memories of my nan taking my brother and myself on afternoon cruises on the Royal Iris. She was eventually sold in 1993 for use as a floating nightclub in Cardiff and now sits on the Thames near Woolwich, gently -- and sadly -- rusting away.

What an asset she would have been for the Capital of Culture celebrations in 2008, for it was on board the vessel that many famous performers appeared during river cruises, including The Beatles

Ref: HighBeam Research