Thursday, 17 September 2009

Malcolm Lowry Festival Liverpool 25/9/09 to 22/11/09

Bluecoat to celebrate ‘lost’ literary hero
Malcolm Lowry Centenary Festival
25/9/09 to 22/11/09
Bluecoat, School Lane, Liverpool, L1 3BX

His classic novel Under the Volcano has been hailed as a modern masterpiece by Time magazine, Modern Library and most notably Nobel literature prize winner Gabriel Garcia Márquez.

Add to that an intriguing personal life including battles with alcoholism, worldwide travels and a mysterious death in 1957 and in Malcolm Lowry you have one of Merseyside’s most fascinating and significant writers.

Over the next eight weeks from 25 September the Bluecoat celebrates the New Brighton born author’s centenary with an ambitious programme that includes an exhibition, book, live music, dance, talks and special participatory events such as a Mexican Day of the Dead altar dedicated to Lowry.

The influence of Lowry’s work, especially Under the Volcano, which is set in Mexico on the Day of the Dead on the eve of the Second World War, has extended beyond writers to visual artists, and this free exhibition brings together twelve from Merseyside, the UK, Mexico and Chile, who respond to Lowry in different ways.

Paintings by Julian Cooper (from his Under the Volcano series), Pete Flowers and Adrian Henri (taking a Day of the Dead in Liverpool theme), are shown alongside watercolours, loaned from the Tate Gallery, by Edward Burra who visited Lowry in the 1930s in Cuernavaca. This town in Mexico, where Under the Volcano is set, is home to Cisco Jiménez, represented here with sculptures.

Another Latin American artist, Jorge Martínez García, exhibits a series of prints, and there are cartoons by Ray Lowry (NME, the Clash) and Brian O’Toole. Cian Quayle’s film and photographs interrogate Lowry’s fascination with the Isle of Man. Liverpool artist and Northern Art Prizewinner Paul Rooney has made a new film, commissioned by the Bluecoat with Film & Video Umbrella, drawing on Lowry’s time in New York, and Ross Birrell & David Harding’s film installation follows Lowry’s footsteps to the Mexican volcanoes that inspired his great novel. The exhibition also includes films and rare and previously unseen material relating to Lowry’s Merseyside upbringing, collated by Wirral resident Colin Dilnot.

Portraying the Wirral in his 1947 masterpiece Under the Volcano, Malcolm Lowry recalled: ‘The smoke of freighters outward bound from Liverpool hung low on the horizon’. Outward bound: at the age of seventeen Lowry was already eager to explore the world. Yet at the same time he retained always in his mind, and in his writing, his early years by the Mersey.

In 1927 Lowry forsook the comforts of his home at Inglewood, Caldy, overlooking the River Dee, for a rigorous sea journey, shipping as a deckhand at £2.10s a month on the steamer SS Pyrrhus sailing from Birkenhead, bound for the Far East. This marked the beginning of thirty years of voyaging that would take in two marriages, three continents, several jails, a couple of psychiatric hospitals, and a squatter’s shack; and would leave in its wake both thousands of empty bottles and hundreds of thousands of words, including arguably one of the greatest twentieth-century novels in English.

Artistic director at the Bluecoat, Bryan Biggs said: ‘This exhibition, book and events programme at the Bluecoat aims to re-claim Malcolm Lowry for Merseyside, and to position him as a writer very much for today. His masterpiece, Under the Volcano, has been claimed one of the top 20 books of the last century, yet he remains relatively unknown in his home town. Like Lowry, our programme has an international outlook, whilst being rooted in Merseyside. We hope that it will help to restore the writer to his rightful position as one of our truly great creative and cultural exports.’

Exhibition: Under the Volcano: An Exhibition for Malcolm Lowry (1909 – 1957) Open daily 10.00am – 6.00pm. Free
Other programme highlights include:


Donald Brittain’s Canadian TV documentary Volcano: An Inquiry into the Life and Death of Malcolm Lowry (1976). Daily during the exhibition, Fri 25 September to Sun 22 November.


Two films shown at FACT, John Huston’s Under the Volcano (starring Albert Finney), and one of Lowry’s favourite films, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari.


A music strand in response to Lowry’s passion for jazz and his own skills on the taropatch (ukulele), includes a contemporary song cycle written by poet Ian McMillan and musician Luke Carver Goss, performed by acclaimed Liverpool choir Sense of Sound. Sat 21 November.


A performance choreographed by Angus Balbernie and inspired by the Lowry legend. Sat 10 October.


Lowry specialists and writers respond to Lowry’s life and work, including his biographer Gordon Bowker (Wed 14 October), whose Pursued by Furies: A Life of Malcolm Lowry is re-published by Faber and Colin Dilnot, who gives an illustrated talk about Lowry’s childhood on the Wirral and references to Merseyside throughout his writing. Tues 10 November

Lowry Day Sat 31 October

The Voyage That Never Ends is a 12 hour psychogeographical day, journeying by ferry, coach and foot to resonant sites on Merseyside, with hymn singing, hot jazz, films and much more.

Lowry Day of the Dead Altar Sun 1 November

Join Mexican artist Javier Calderon and local people in creating an altar dedicated to Lowry.

Illustrated Book

Malcolm Lowry: From the Mersey to the World, published by Liverpool University Press and the Bluecoat featuring 12 new texts by Lowry experts and many new images.

For full programme visit

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