Sunday, 31 October 2010

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea - Cab Calloway

Last track up from Bryan Bigg's playlist from his DJ set at last Friday's inaugural Lowry Lounge.

Jorge Negrete - Yo Soy Mexicano

A further Mexican track played at last Friday's Lowry Lounge by Bryan Biggs.

Tom Lehrer – In Old Mexico

Here we have a tongue in cheek track from Tom Lehrer combined with an article above tempting US tourists south of the border in 1937. - read whole article here

Yet another track from the Lowry Lounge evening!

You can sing-a-long:

When it's fiesta time in Guadalajara,
Then I long to be back once again
In Old Mexico.
Where we lived for today,
Never giving a thought to tomara.
To the strumming of guitars,
In a hundred grubby bars
I would whisper "Te amo."

The mariachis would serenade,
And they would not shut up till they were paid.
We ate, we drank, and we were merry,
And we got typhoid and dysentery.

But best of all, we went to the Plaza de Toros.
Now whenever I start feeling morose,
I revive by recalling that scene.
And names like Belmonte, Dominguin, and Manolete,
If I live to a hundred and eighty,
I shall never forget what they mean.

(For there is surely nothing more beautiful in this
world than the sight of a lone man facing singlehandedly
a half a ton of angry pot roast!)

Out came the matador,
Who must have been potted or
Slightly insane, but who looked rather bored.
Then the picadors of course,
Each one on his horse,
I shouted "Ole!" ev'ry time one was gored.

I cheered at the bandilleros' display,
As they stuck the bull in their own clever way,
For I hadn't had so much fun since the day
My brother's dog Rover
Got run over.

(Rover was killed by a Pontiac. And it was done with
such grace and artistry that the witnesses awarded the
driver both ears and the tail - but I digress.)

The moment had come,
I swallowed my gum,
We knew there'd be blood on the sand pretty soon.
The crowd held its breath,
Hoping that death
Would brighten an otherwise dull afternoon.

At last, the matador did what we wanted him to.
He raised his sword and his aim was true.
In that moment of truth I suddenly knew
That someone had stolen my wallet.

Now it's fiesta time in Akron, Ohio,
But it's back to old Guadalajara I'm longing to go.
Far away from the strikes of the A.F. of L. and C.I.O.
How I wish I could get back
To the land of the wetback,
And forget the Alamo,

In Old Mexico. Ole!

Laurel Aitken – Bartender

Another drinking themed song played at the Lowry Lounge last Friday.

Anton Karas – The Harry Lime Theme

One of those sides which has meaning mined by the Firminists - could it be the fun fair wheel in the Vienna park or something else?

The track was played to make the audience at last Friday's Lowry Lounge wonder what the connection could be?

PRINCE BUSTER, South of the border

Moving down the playlist from last Friday's Lowry Lounge night. The above magazine is from 1930s illustrating the dangers of borders which Lowry was paranoid of crossing especially between the Mexico and the USA.

WYNONIE HARRIS Drinkin` Wine Spo - Dee - O - Dee

More from the Lowry Lounge playlist - with a good old drinking song!

Django Reinhardt & Stephane Grappelli with The Quintet of the Hot Club of France – Lambeth Walk

Another track from Bryan Bigg's Lowry Lounge 29/10/10 Playlist

Manx Fishermen's Hymn

The "Fishermen's Hymn" held some importance to Lowry as it provided the source of the title of his posthumously published collection of short stories - Hear us O Lord from heaven thy dwelling place. A facsimile of the hymn is included in front of the short story "The Bravest Boat". Why this hymn had significance for Lowry remains a mystery. He may have heard or sung it as youth though the hymn is from the Methodist tradition not Wesleyan which was Lowry's religious upbringing. He may have heard it whilst on holiday on the Isle of Man as the song is known as "Manx Fishermen's Hymn" or he may have heard the song and its tradition from his Dollarton neighbour and friend Jimmy Craige himself a Manxman.

The picture below is taken from Agnes Herbert's Isle of Man c1909 called Off Douglas Head painted by Donald Maxwell.

John Telford's Methodist Hymn-Book Illustrated 1909 Edition gives the following information about the hymn:

Hymn 947. Hear us, O Lord, from heaven, Thy

William Henry Gill.

Mr. Gill was born on October 24, 1839, f Manx parents, at Marsala, Sicily, and educated at King William's College. He served for forty years in the Civil Service, and is a composer, painter, and writer. He rescued the Manx music from oblivion, and published Manx National Songs, 1896. One of these long-lost melodies suggested the harmonies and inspired the words of his hymn, ' The harvest of the sea.' The rhyme between the first and fourth lines and the second and third is a feature of Manx music, and Mr. Gill was thus led to put his verses into this form. The old custom of the Manx fishermen to ask God's blessing before they cast their nets gave Mr. Gill his idea. It suits well the character of the Manx fishermen, who are a devout race, and keen lovers of music. The hymn has established its place as a favourite in all the Manx Churches.

The petition in the Litany of the Manx Church, in its Book of Common Prayer, was especially in his mind : ' That it may please Thee to give and preserve to our use the kindly fruits of the earth, and to restore and continue to us the blessings of the sea, so as in due time we may enjoy them.'

"Before shooting the nets, at a sign from the master of the
boat, every man, upon his knees and with uncovered head,
implores for a minute the blessing and protection of the
Almighty." Manx Society's Publications, vol. xvi.

Last year, the Firminists conducted a day long psychogeographical event entitled "The Voyage That Never Ends" in which we sang the hymn at a New Brighton Church. You can read about the event in the first issue of The Firminist magazine.

Bryan Biggs also included the song on his playlist, for the accompanying music to the first night of the Lowry Lounge, by The Lon Dhoo & Lon Vane Choirs. Lon Dhoo Male Voice Choir was formed in 1937 with a membership of 30 men drawn from all over the Island. They perform in venues large and small around the Island, supporting community groups, charities and the tourist industry and have undertaken numerous tours in UK and Ireland and as far away as Canada. Lon Vane Ladies Choir was founded in 1946 by Douglas (Dougie) Buxton, affectionately known as DB, and continued under his direction as Musical Director until 1980. The hymn was issued on Parlophone R4467 in 1958 as MANY FISHERMENS EVENING HYMN/OUR LAND OF OUR BIRTH.

Here is a version sung by Broughton Church Choir:

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Bryan Biggs: Playlist for Lowry Lounge 29/10/10

The first report back on the Lowry Lounge evening held at the Bluecoat focuses on the music played by the Firminists resident DJ - Bryan Biggs who as the Artistic Director of the The Bluecoat was hosting our inaugural gathering.

The musical choices are based on references to Lowry's likes and lifestyle with a smattering of South American references and some references which have obscure meanings only known to Firminist acolytes.


Esquivel – Exploring New Sounds in Hi-Fi LP tracks (to create a lounge atmosphere as guests arrived, including the ex-US Poet Laureate Billy Collins)
George Formby – I’m the Ukulele Man
Fred Waring & the Pennsylvanians – Dry Bones
Bix Beiderbecke – Singing the Blues
Django Reinhardt & Stephane Grappelly with The Quintet of the Hot Club of France – Lambeth Walk
Wynonie Harris – Drinkin’ Wine, Spo-Dee-O-Dee
Prince Buster & the All Stars – South of the Border
Anton Karas – The Harry Lime Theme
The Lon Dhoo & Lon Vane Choirs – Manx Fishermen’s Hymn
Laurel Aitken – Bartender
Tom Lehrer – In Old Mexico
Jack Bruce – Under the Volcano
Carmen Miranda – South American Way
Claude Hopkins & his orch – Shake Your Ashes
Jorge Negrette – Yo Soy Mexicano
Tommy Mercer & the McBrides – Volcano Rock
Cab Calloway – Between the Devil & the Deep Blue Sea

I will sample some of the above delights in further posts in the next few days - but we kick off with Carmen Miranda:

Dreaming of Mexico: Daniel Lezama

The above painting is by Daniel Lezama called Cita bajo el volcan, 2009 and is influenced by Malc' masterpiece.

Daniel Lezama showed some extraordinary new works at Zona Maco 2010. This series shows highly stylised encounters between colonial/literary and Mexican archetypal/mythological figures, combining beautiful facture with potent symbolism. Characters such as Malcolm Lowry’s fictional Geoffrey Firmin (from Under the Volcano), explorer/artist J.M Rugendas and other ‘nomads’ are depicted in complex allegorical tableaux. Lezama is highly articulate about his work, and his website is worth a visit

The first impression upon encountering Daniel Lezama's large canvases -some of which are veritable "salon machines" where the human figure is close to life size- is a clear-cut formal reference to pictorial tradition, from Great Masters to Mexican Nationalist Nineteenth Century painters. The second impression immediately snaps the audience back to its own time and place: the events portrayed are current, the dramatic fiction is narrated in everyday scenarios. The third impression is far more complex: we are confronted by a polisemic staging that opens the way to multiple levels of interpretation and social and artistic reference.

A unique combination of virtuoso painterly technique, disregard for formalism, and the decisive appropiation of subversive theme and discourse casts Daniel Lezama into something of an exception in Mexico's vibrant visual art scene, where on one hand the late-modern painterly tradition frowns upon direct reference to local subject matter, and on the other, the cutting-edge �lite revels in globalized aesthetics. His recent success has invited many critics and curators to reassess standing clich�s on the international positioning of Mexican painting, and has challenged the severe self-imposed limitations of the local painters' fraternity. From the start of his professional career in 1995, while still a student at the National Visual Arts School, Lezama has traveled off the beaten path, developing a painterly discourse that directly assumes its contemporary standing and places itself squarely in the sights of the international art distribution mainstream.

The exhilarated response of audiences is partly the result of the indisputable emotional impact of his work; Lezama has undertaken the task of unmasking a form of reality that has been mediated and prettified by the sophisticated devices of social representation, and puts a passionate visual memory to work by inventing images: the realism that defines his paintings has no frame of direct or mediated reference whatsoever.
Read more

Lennon Sisters Dry Bones

Continuing with the Day of The Dead references- here's a pretty bizarre performance from the Lennon Sisters! I think it would have had Malc reaching for another drink! From a 1965 performance on the Lawrence Welk Show:

Here are the girls later in their careers:

Ozomatli Extended Remix: Cumbia de los Muertos

El Rebel X remix with Dia de los Muertos Paintings

Audio Track:

Ozomatli's Cumbia de los Muertos live mixed and mashed with their studio version and with "Carta de Che" read by Fidel Castro


Art by Victor M. Montañez
Oils and acrylics on canvas.


Dir: Ritxi Ostáriz / Spain / 2008

Animation based on the Mexican Day of the Dead. Original music by the American Goth artist Voltaire (

Director Ritxi Ostáriz is a freelance Art Director and Designer currently living and working in Sopelana, Bizkaia.

Que viva México! - Eisenstein

One of the greatest filmed sequences depicting the Mexican Day of The Dead was made by Eisenstein.

You can read the influence that Eisenstein may have had on Lowry at my good friend Chris Ackerley's Companion to Under The Volcano

Qué viva México! (Russian: Да здравствует Мексика!) is a film project begun by the Russian avant-garde director Sergei Eisenstein. It would have been an episodic portrayal of Mexican culture and politics from pre-Conquest civilization to the Mexican revolution. Production was beset by difficulties and was eventually abandoned. Jay Leyda and Zina Voynow call it his "greatest film plan and his greatest personal tragedy".

Eisenstein left for Mexico in December 1930—after various projects proposed by Charles Chaplin and Paramount Pictures fell through, and Paramount released him from his contract. The Mexican film was produced by Upton Sinclair and a small group of financiers recruited by his wife Mary Craig Kimbrough Sinclair, under a legal corporation these investors formed, the Mexican Film Trust. Their contract with Eisenstein called for a short, apolitical feature film about or involving Mexico, in a scenario to be designed and filmed by Eisenstein and his two compatriots, Grigori Alexandrov and Eduard Tisse. Other provisos of the contract, which Eisenstein signed on 24 November 1930, included that the film would be completed (including all post-production work) by April, 1931, and would show or imply nothing that could be construed as insulting to or critical of post-Revolution Mexico (a condition imposed by the Mexican government before it would allow the three Soviets entry into their country). Filmed material was also to be subject to censorship by the Mexican government, at first after it was filmed and printed, later in 1931 during shooting via an on-site censor.

Eisenstein shot somewhere between 175,000 and 250,000 lineal feet of film (30 to 50 hours) before, for a variety of reasons, the Mexican Film Trust stopped production, and still was not completed as planned by Eisenstein. Again for several reasons, Eisenstein was not allowed to return to the United States to construct a finished film, nor could the footage be sent to the USSR for completion by him there. The Mexican Film Trust had two short features and a short subject culled from the footage and in release during 1934. (Thunder Over Mexico, Eisenstein in Mexico, Death Day) and others, with the Trust's permission, have attempted different versions (e.g. Marie Seton's Time in the Sun). The title ¡Qué viva México!, originally was proposed by Eisenstein in correspondence with Upton Sinclair during the last months of shooting, but was first used for a version made by Grigori Alexandrov., released in 1979, about a decade after the footage was sent to the USSR by the Museum of Modern Art in exchange for several Soviet films from the Gosfilmofond archive. At least one other version followed Alexandrov's, and another has been proposed during the first years of the 21st century. Read more on Wikipedia

The BBC also used the Day Of The Dead sequences out Que viva México! for their little seen documentary on Lowry called Rough Passage made in the late 60's. The documentary was shown at the Lowry Lounge last night and a report on the evening will be posted in the near future.

Jose Guadalupe Posada: Famed Artist Gets a New Museum

Swinging open the museum doors, the visitor was in for a shock. Inside the spacious building, gutted walls, protruding wires and a dug-up floor were seemingly all that remained of the Posada Museum in Aguascalientes, Mexico.

Springing from the back, a friendly Guillermo Saucedo Ruiz, the museum's director, quickly set the record straight: the "home" of iconic Mexican artist Jose Guadalupe Posada was getting a makeover.

Guiding the reporter through rooms of hammering workmen and rising dust, Saucedo outlined the renovation that is planned to be ready for the opening of Aguascalientes' annual San Marcos Fair later this month.

Carrying an estimated price tag of $1.2 million, the new Posada museum will feature a research center, library, cafe, Internet connections and graphics classes once it is completed.

Supported by state and federal funds, the 1,000 square meter facility will exhibit 200 original Posada works including La Catrina and El Quijote, Saucedo said, adding that Posada's new home will open as part of the national celebrations for the twin anniversaries of the 1810 War of Independence and 1910 Mexican Revolution.

"Posada is known as the father of popular graphics, not only in Mexico but at the Latin American level," he said. Dubbing Posada the "graphic chronicler" of his times, Saucedo described how the prolific artist depicted the legendary political leaders of the strife-torn years of the early 20th century—Madero, Zapata, Villa, and others.

The Posada collection on hand in Aguascalientes will also include surrealistic pictures, crime scene drawings and comical works like the old cartoon character Chepito Marihuano.
Read more at Banderas News

Calaveras: Mexican Prints for the Day of the Dead (Postcards)

Buy at Amazon

Semana de Muertos

While searching for material for posts on the Mexican Day of The Dead, I came across the above Second Life page.

I am particularly interested in working with Second Life as an artist. I am currently collaborating with a group of artists creating a virtual arcadia called Shang-Pool Arcadia.

The blogger Our Virtual Trilogy says:
A friend of mine, knowing that I have an interest in art, suggested that I visit the Instituto Espanol sim which had been decorated for the Semana de Muertos. The Instituto Espanol is a sim where avatars can take Spanish language classes. It has been constructed so that visitors can also learn about the culture of Mexico and includes a pyramid, a church, school rooms and market place. Some of the buildings can be used to display art, so during the Semana de Muertos artworks that are related to the Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) were being exhibited. As well, information on the Day of the Dead was provided.

Here are screenshots from the virtual exhibition:

The Semana de Muertos has ended now and all the decorations have been taken down. However,this is a lovely , colourful sim and an excellent place to be introduced to Mexican culture and the Spanish language. More information at Our Virtual Trilogy.

Mexican Day of the Dead: An Anthology by Chloë Sayer

On November 2nd, All Souls' Day, the dead are granted celestial permission to visit friends and relatives on Earth, and the entire country of Mexico is given over to fiesta. This charming anthology celebrates this unique Mexican holiday with poems and prose, photographs and art, including 16 pages in full color.

Chloë Sayer includes Lowry's poem:

For the love of dying

The tortures of hell are stern, their fires burn fiercely.
Yet vultures turn against the air more beautifully
Than seagulls float downwind in cool sunlight,
Or fans in asylums spin a loom of fate
For hope which never ventured up so high
As life's deception, astride the vulture's flight.

Fiesta: Days of the Dead & other Mexican Festivals by Chloë Sayer

Mexico has a vast range of festivals, several commemorating national events but mostly religious or spiritual in inspiration. After the Spanish Conquest of 1521, Roman Catholic teachings fused with the beliefs of native civilizations, and even today the popular arts and crafts draw upon the Church as a rich source of imagery. Fiestas are often lavish and extremely costly. With extensive preparations, they commemorate local saints days and religious holidays such as Christmas, Carnival and Holy Week. Many festivals are dominated by masked dances, and the Devil, Death, angels and the Deadly Sins still do battle at fiesta time in countless village squares. During the Days of the Dead (All Saints and All Souls days, 1st and 2nd November), the deceased are thought to visit friends and relatives on earth. Families welcome the returning souls with flowers, incense, candles and feasting. On 12th December, Mexicans everywhere honour Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico and an important symbol of national identity. Drawing on her extensive travels in Mexico and the collections she has helped create in the British Museum, Chloe Sayer provides a living context to show what makes these festivities so attractive and also uniquely Mexican. Amazon

José Guadalupe Posada

Jose Guadalupe Posada: (1852–1913) was a Mexican cartoonist illustrator and artist whose work has influenced many Latin American artists and cartoonists because of its satirical acuteness and political engagement.

Posada was born in Aguascalientes, on February 2, 1852. His education in his early years was drawn from his older brother Cirilo, a country schoolteacher, who taught him reading, writing, as well as drawing. As a young teenager he went to work in the workshop of Trinidad Pedroso, who taught him lithography and engraving. In 1871, before he was out of his teens, his career began with a job as the political cartoonist for a local newspaper in Aguascalientes, El Jicote ("The Bumblebee"). After 11 issues the newspaper closed, reputedly because one of Posada's cartoons had offended a powerful local politician.[1] He then moved to the nearby city of León, Guanajuato. There he was married to Maria de Jesús Vela on September 20, 1875. In Leon, a former associate of his from Aguascalientes assisted him in starting a printing and commercial illustration shop. They focused on commercial and advertising work, book illustrations, and the printing of posters and other representations of historical and religious figures. Included among these figures were the Virgin of Guadalupe, the Virgin, the Holy Child of Atocha and Saint Sebastian. In 1883, following his success, he was hired as a teacher of lithography at the local Preparatory School. The shop flourished until 1888 when a disastrous flood hit the city . He subsequently moved to Mexico City. His first regular employment in the capital was with La Patria Ilustrada, whose editor was Ireneo Paz, the grandfather of the later famed writer Octavio Paz. He later joined the staff of a publishing firm owned by Antonio Vanegas Arroyo and while at this firm he created a prolific number of book covers and illustrations. Much of his work was also published in sensationalistic broadsides depicting various current events.

Posada's best known works are his calaveras, which often assume various costumes, such as the Calavera de la Catrina, the "Calavera of the Female Dandy", which was meant to satirize the life of the upper classes during the reign of Porfirio Díaz. Most of his imagery was meant to make a religious or satirical point. Since his death, however, his images have become associated with the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos, the "Day of the Dead". Read more on Wikipedia

Here are two parts of a documentary in Spanish about José Guadalupe Posada:

Day of Dead Altars October 20 – November 5, 2010 Sonoma County Museum@

Over the next couple of days , I will be posting several items relating to the Day Of The Dead - the famous day that Malc's Under The Volcano is set on.

Every year, the Sonoma County Museum collaborates with local artists and community leaders to install Day of the Dead altars in the galleries. El Dia de los Muertos is a Mexican festival celebrating the lives of family and friends who have passed away. During these days, it is said, the dead joyously return to visit their living relatives. This year’s altars will reflect the theme of Mexican Independence Day, acknowledging the celebration’s 200th anniversary. In addition, Bay Area artist Ruben Guzman will be displaying some of his vibrant cartoneria (papier mache) sculptures.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Just A Dirty Old Tramp

I was recently up in the English Lake District, when I came across the above sheet music in a book sale in the John Ruskin Museum in Coniston.

I was taken by the picture of the "tramp steamer" above being similar to the Pyrrhus which Lowry sailed on to the Far East in 1927. Lowry always referred to the Pyrrhus as a tramp steamer when actual fact she was a fairly new well kept vessel owned by a responsible shipping company who prided itself on their crews and ships - the Blue Funnel Line.

I have tried to track down the song but to no avail. Instead here are the lyrics:

Down by the river I wandered one day,
Watching the steamers go by,
I saw an old sailor and I heard him say,
With a twinkle in his eye,

Just a dirty old tramp,
Sailing o'er the blue,
Bringing home the bacon,
For me and for you,
Just a dirty old tramp,
Sailing o'er the foam.

Watch her rock and roll in',
As she's head in' for home,
Plowing the mighty ocean,
Brave skipper and your crew,
You've won our deep devotion,
And our hearts go out to you.

Just a dirty old tramp,
Making for the shore,
Up the Thames she's sailing,
With her cargo once more.

Just a dirty old more.

The words sort of fit Lowry's voyage - he did return to London instead of Birkenhead where the voyage originated.

The song was written by Box, Cox, Noel and Pelosi and published in 1940 by Lasalle Ltd, 47 Compton Street, London.

Yet more books in Malc's Library

I have placed more books on the shelf of Malc's Library:

Alphonse Daudet The Nabob
Alphonse Constant Transcendental Magic, its Doctrine and Ritual
Eleanor Clark Rome and A Villa
Frederick Buechner A Long Day’s Dying & A Season's Difference

Monday, 25 October 2010

More Books in Malc's Library!

Last year, I set up a blog dedicated to Malc's library to sit alongside my main Malcolm Lowry blog in order to allow readers a chance to take a dip the library.

Malcolm Lowry's Library is based on the list of books held in boxes 53-56 of the Malcolm Lowry Collection at the University Of British Columbia (UBC).

I have started to add to the shelves with the following posts:

Emile Bronte Wuthering Heights
Henri Bergson Creative Evolution
Djuna Barnes Nightwood
W. N. P. Barbellion The Journal of a Disappointed Man
Margaret Armstrong Field Book Of Western Wild Flowers

More books on their way!

Playful Polar Bears 1938

In a letter to his wife Margerie written in September 1939, Lowry mentions 3 films that he saw while in Vancouver during the Fall of 1939. One was Wyler's Wuthering Heights, the second was The Hound Of The Baskevilles with Basil Rathbone and the third was the cartoon Playful Polar Bears.

I have seen a number of bad films, the worst of which was a cartoon called Playful Polar Bears which keeps turning up in every movie I go to. This is positively ghoulish. The Collected Letters of Malcolm Lowry Volume 1.

Playful Polar Bears is a animated short subject produced by Fleischer Studios for Paramount Pictures in a series called Color Classics.

The first Color Classic was photographed in the two-color Cinecolor process. The rest of the 1934 and 1935 cartoons where shot in two-strip Technicolor, because the Disney studio had an exclusive agreement with Technicolor that prevented other studios from using the lucrative three-strip process. That exclusive contract expired at the end of 1935, and the 1936 Color Classic cartoon Somewhere in Dreamland became the first Fleischer cartoon produced in three-strip Technicolor.

While they are sometimes considered by film historians to be pale Silly Symphonies knock-offs, many of the Color Classics are still highly regarded today, including Somewhere in Dreamland (1936), the Academy Award nominated shorts, Educated Fish (1937) and Hunky and Spunky (1938, first in a subseries), and Small Fry (1939). The first film in the series, Poor Cinderella, featured Betty Boop (with red hair and turquoise eyes); future films were usually one-shot cartoons with no starring characters. Two color classics - Educated Fish (1937) and Hunky and Spunky - were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Short Subject (Cartoons); both lost to Disney shorts.

Many of the Color Classics entries make prominent use of Max Fleischer's Tabletop 3D Setback invention, a device which allowed animation cels to be photographed against actual 3D background sets instead of the traditional paintings. Poor Cinderella, Somewhere in Dreamland, and Christmas Comes But Once a Year (starring Betty Boop character Grampy) all make prominent use of the technique. Disney's competing apparatus, the multiplane camera, would not be completed until 1937, three years after the Setback's first use.

The Color Classics series ended in 1941 with Vitamin Hay, starring Hunky and Spunky. In its place, Fleischer began producing Technicolor cartoons starring Gabby, the town crier from the 1939 Fleischer/Paramount feature film Gulliver's Travels.

A similar series would be started by Fleischer's successor Famous Studios in 1943, under the name Noveltoons. Some of the one-shots in this series would be reminiscent of the Color Classics in terms of production value and story.

In Playful Polar Bears, a group of polar bears are playing with their cubs in the ice and snow. One of the cubs has a little trouble sliding and swimming. An exploration ship happens along, and a group of greedy hunters come ashore. The little cub that we care for seems to have been shot. The hunters leave, and the mother bear starts to howl and mourn the death of her cub. All the other bears join in, and they prepare for a funeral. But all is not lost, the cub comes to life, the aurora borealis comes out, and all the bears dance and skip with joy. The Big Cartoon Database

The Hound of the Baskervilles 1939

In a letter to his wife Margerie written in September 1939, Lowry mentions 3 films that he saw while in Vancouver during the Fall of 1939. One was Wyler's Wuthering Heights, the second was The Hound Of The Baskevilles with Basil Rathbone and the third was the cartoon Playful Polar Bears.

I also saw The Hound of the Baskervilles which is altogether too deep for me. A poor devil keeps losing his left hunting boot for no valid reason, and there is a harmless pooch that lives in a grave. The Collected Letters of Malcolm Lowry Volume 1.

He goes on to make disparaging comments about the set which he thinks was designed for Wyler's Wuthering Heights which he had been critical of in the same letter. He also mentions the performance of "a relative of suspiciously adjacent nomenclature; Morton Lowry Well."

Born in London, Morton Lowry began a career to pursue acting on the London Stage. Even in his youth he remained a commanding presence with his volatile, yet dignified persona. During his many years of success on the London Stage he often perfected evil, authoritative roles which had such a desired effect upon himself a nd the public that later in the 1930s he moved on the Hollywood to began in the Film Industry. Starting out in unknown bit parts, his impeccable breakthrough p erformance was that of the murderous John Stapleton in The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939). He was indeed a brilliant performer with his glinty green eyes, smooth light brown hair, and handsome yet dark and imposing features. His performances on both stage and screen were so good to the extent that he ironically had a chieved the same success on screen as he did on stage. He moved on the numerous other roles in whatever he was offered, yet he was usually identifiable playing nasties such as the brutal schoolteacher Mr. Jonas in How Green Was My Valley (1941). Yet no matter what role he was playing good or evil, he brought the exact same charisma to both. By the late 1960s he retired from stage, for he was always careful not to be typecast as an actor. His success in such roles rank along with others favorites among Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Montagu Love, Claude Rains, Basil Rathbone, 'Peter Lorre' and many others. IMDb

The Hound of the Baskervilles 1939 mystery film based on the novel of the same name by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and is directed by Sidney Lanfield and produced by 20th Century Fox.

It is the most well-known cinematic adaptation of the book, and is often regarded as one of the better, though very inaccurate, films.

The film stars Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes, Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson and Richard Greene as Henry Baskerville. Because the studio apparently had no idea that the film would be such a hit, and that Rathbone and Bruce would make many more Sherlock Holmes films and be forever linked with Holmes and Watson, top billing went to Richard Greene, who was the film's romantic lead. Rathbone was billed second. Wendy Barrie, who played Beryl Stapleton, the woman with whom Greene falls in love, received third billing, and Nigel Bruce, the film's Dr. Watson, was billed fourth. In all other Holmes films, Rathbone and Bruce would receive first and second billing.
The Hound of the Baskervilles also marks the first of the fourteen Sherlock Holmes movies starring Rathbone and Bruce as the detective duo.


Wuthering Heights 1939

In a letter to his wife Margerie written in September 1939, Lowry mentions 3 films that he saw while in Vancouver during the Fall of 1939. One was Wyler's Wuthering Heights, the second was The Hound Of The Baskevilles with Basil Rathbone and the third was the cartoon Playful Polar Bears.

I thought Wuthering Heights was perfectly lousy too: a marvellous story directed by a charwoman. The Collected Letters of Malcolm Lowry Volume 1.

He goes on to complain about the quality of the sets and backdrops. Lowry compares Laurence Olivier's performance in the film to attempt to impersonate Paul Muni.

Wuthering Heights is a 1939 American black and white film directed by William Wyler and produced by Samuel Goldwyn. It is based on the novel, Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. The film depicts only sixteen of the novel's thirty-four chapters, eliminating the second generation of characters. The novel was adapted for the screen by Charles MacArthur, Ben Hecht and John Huston. The film won the 1939 New York Film Critics Award for Best Film. It earned nominations for eight Academy Awards, including for Best Picture and Best Actor. The 1939 Academy Award for Best Cinematography, black and white category, was awarded to Gregg Toland for his work. Read more on Wikipedia

It is funny now to think that one of the screen writers John Huston was to direct the only film adaption of Under The Volcano.

Lowry had a copy of Bronte's Wuthering Heights in his library in Dollarton.

Friday, 22 October 2010


In this post, I continue with the occasional juxtaposition of images and music inspired by Malcolm Lowry which has been a part of this blog from the beginning!

I recently stumbled upon a source of old postcards of Popocatepetl - one of the volcanoes which dominates Lowry's novel Under The Volcano.

Popocatepetl is an active volcano and, at 5,426 m (17,802 ft), the second highest peak in Mexico after the Pico de Orizaba (5,636 m/18,491 ft). Popocatepetl is linked to the Iztaccihuatl volcano to the north by the high saddle known as the Paso de Cortés, and lies in the eastern half of the Trans-Mexican volcanic belt.

The name Popocatepetl comes from the Nahuatl words popōca 'it smokes' and tepētl 'mountain', thus Smoking Mountain; the name Don Goyo comes from the mountain's association in the lore of the region with San Gregorio (St. Gregory), "Goyo" being a nickname-like short form of Gregorio.

Popocatepetl is 70 km (43 mi) southeast of Mexico City, from where it can be seen regularly, depending on atmospheric conditions. The residents of Puebla, a mere 40 km (25 mi) east of the volcano, enjoy the views of the snowy and glacier-clad mountain almost all year long. The volcano is also one of the three tall peaks in Mexico to contain glaciers, the others being Iztaccihuatl and Pico de Orizaba.
Read more on Wikipedia

Thursday, 21 October 2010

The Firminist

Mischievous world over which merely more subtle lunatics exerted almost supreme hegemony, where neurotic behaviour was the rule, and there was nothing but hypocrisy to answer the flames of evil, which might be the flames of judgement, which were already scorching nearer and nearer…

The above words are the thoughts of William Plantagenet, the protagonist of Malcolm Lowry’s story Lunar Caustic. Lowry began the tale in 1935 after he was interned in Bellevue Hospital, New York following a bout of alcoholic excess – an occurrence he described wryly as a ‘deliberate pilgrimage’. The book was finally published as a novella in the UK in 1963 after, typically, many revisions.

Lowry had a gift for the prophetic. His most famous character Geoffrey Firmin – ‘the Consul’ in his most famous novel, Under the Volcano – stood for the perpetual failure of human beings to achieve wholeness because of desire, fate, weakness and bad luck. Beneath the dense language and layers of symbolism and mysticism in Lowry’s work one can find a profound if unpartisan political message. Plantagenet’s words ring out as a haunting description of our current social, political and environmental malaise.

But ultimately Lowry asked us to accept the fragmentary nature of humankind as somehow ‘normal’, often expressing this through humour. We all experience our own ‘tooloose-Lowrytrek’, but moments of redemptive joy intermittently break out. Lowry left only a small, though vivid, collection of works (stories, novels, poems, songs), but fortunately also a large collection of brilliant letters, which, still echoing out across time and space, remain a source of inspiration and wonder for writers and artists.

The Firminist is an occasional journal devoted to the work of Malcolm Lowry containing essays, reports, graphics – and crosswords. It is of course not intended to supplant the considerable body of research on Lowry already conducted or underway (and we note here especially the work of the Canadian group of Lowry scholars who ran, from 1984 to 2002, The Malcolm Lowry Newsletter/Malcolm Lowry Review), but will, we hope, make a modest contribution to the promotion of Lowry’s work – especially in the UK, the place of his birth and death.

The Firminists
October 2010

I have contributed an essay to the above on Lowry's use of music in Ultramarine.

Please contact me direct to purchase copies:

Harry Weldon

My missus’s tightly bound, she’s all tightly bound Ultramarine

The early letters of Lowry have several references to music hall stars such as Stanley Lupino and Milton Hayes. We can only presume from the detail of the letters that Lowry was aware of these stars because he had seen them either on trips to local theatres or when he was on holiday on the Isle of Man or Devon. Lowry mentions several local theatres with music hall traditions in his works including the Argyle and Hippodrome Theatres in Birkenhead and the Olympia in Liverpool.

The above song is an unidentified one performed by Harry Weldon at the Derby Castle theatre in Douglas on the Isle of Man. This reference probably relates to a Lowry family holiday made in 1923 to the island.

Harry Weldon was a big star in music hall and variety, and first appeared in London in 1900, coining the catchphrase “S’No Use!” and creating a popular song from it. Harry Weldon initially came to fame as part of Fred Karno's Company when he played opposite Charlie Chaplin in the sketch "The Football Match". Harry Weldon then used the character of Stiffy, the Goal Keeper, as the mainstay of his solo act. Other characters developed including his boxing skit "The White Hope”. Apparently he cut a very strange figure with his centre-parted wig, eccentric clothes, eyes that always seemed to be shut and a voice of whistling sibilance. He had a unique style, and frequently used the conductor of the orchestra as an extra part in his performance. Harry Weldon's conversational style and his use of the absurd may have appealed to the young Lowry. He worked until he died in 1930 aged forty-nine.

Here is one of his performances:

You can hear some of his recording on a CD called The White Hope

You can hear one of Weldon's songs ''The Policeman' on a podcast here

You can see Harry's daughter Maisie performing impressions of her father below:

MAISIE WELDON (on sleeve as WELDOM) (issue title RIGHT TURN)

The Lowry Lounge @ The Bluecoat Liverpool 29/10/10

The Lowry Lounge
@ The Bluecoat, School Lane, Liverpool
Friday 29 October

Places limited: reserve ticket at Tickets & Information: 0151 702 5324

Following the Bluecoat’s centenary celebration of Merseyside born writer Malcolm Lowry last year, the ‘voyage that never ends’ continues with an evening of talks, discussions, films and sounds. For fans of the author of Under the Volcano there will be fascinating perspectives from The Firminists on Lowry’s use of music in his writing and mapping his Liverpool; showing of a rare documentary film; the launch of a new Lowry periodical; readings from creative writing responses to Lowry; a volcanic Lowry-themed disco, and finishing with a toast to the writer.

My Sweet Hortense

A gramophone was going somewhere, playing My Sweet Hortense. The street was mainly unlighted, but there were dim lamps in some of the windows. Girls called to us as we passed by. Ultramarine

Lowry refers to the popular song My Sweet Hortense in Ultramarine as Dana trawls his way through the red light district of Dairen.

The other day I met a jay his name was Hezekiah
I had to grin to hear him chin about his hearts desire
I said I bet your little pet is just a real vampire
He answered hey there pal she ain't that kinda gal.

Oh! oh! oh! my sweet Hortense She ain't good lookin' but she's got good sense
Before I kiss Hortense I always buy a nickles worth of peppermints
Rain makes flowers pretty I hear I hope it pours on her for a year
That would be immense Yer never met a gal like sweet Hortense
Oh! oh! oh! my sweet Hortense She ain't good lookin' but she's got good sense
Before I kiss Hortense I always buy a nickles worth of peppermints

And by the way I'd like to say he took 'er to the preacher
The preacher said come right ahead Im mighty glad to meet yer
He whispered Hez the good book says that you're a lucky creature
And when he kissed the bride we're even Hezie cried.

Oh! oh! oh! my sweet Hortense She ain't good lookin' but she's got good sense
Before I kiss Hortense I always buy a nickles worth of peppermints
She's got dandy teeth in her mouth one points north and the other points south
Say they're both immense Yer never met a gal like sweet Hortense
Oh! oh! oh! my sweet Hortense She ain't good lookin' but she's got good sense
Before I kiss Hortense I always buy a nickles worth of peppermints

The lyrics were written by Joe Young & Sam Lewis with music by Walter Donaldson

Victor Vorzanger's Famous Broadway Band, Stanley C. Holt's Quintette, Jack Hylton, Fred Douglas, The Vocalion Dance Orchestra, Fred Whitehouse amongst countless others recorded the song. Therefore it is impossible to determine what version Lowry was referring to in Ultramarine.

I haven't been able to find any recordings to date of the song so I have decided to post a song by Victor Vorzanger's Famous Broadway Band to perhaps give an idea of what it may have sounded like:

I couldn't resist thinking what Fred Douglas may have made of the song which may have appealed to Malc:

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Reading Under The Volcano 6th November 2010

Part interactive theater, part Día de los Muertos festival, part celebration of alcohol: come experience the hot music of Malcolm Lowry’s “Under the Volcano” in a 12 hour group marathon reading. On the Day of the Dead, 1938, Yvonne returns to her husband, a British Consul in Mexico, a year after having left him. His drunkenness intensifies as they spiral downward during their final 12 hours. Bring a pillow. —Saturday, November 6th at noon—High Concept Laboratories, 1401 Wabansia Ave, Chicago—tacos and tequila— Donations to benefit Literacy Works: an adult literacy organization in Chicago.

Peter Weathers, the organiser of the reading has contacted me to help publicise this worthy event.

Reading Under the Volcano from Praxis on Vimeo.

The novel can be read simply as a story which you can skip if you want. It can be read as a story you will get more out of if you don’t skip. It can be regarded as a kind of symphony, or in another way as a kind of opera—or even a horse opera. It is hot music, a poem, a song, a comedy, a farce, and so forth. It is superficial, profound, entertaining, and boring, according to taste. It is a prophecy, a political warning, a cryptogram, a preposterous movie.— Malcolm Lowry

Here is what Peter has to say about the event:

Lets be honest here. Reading this book requires some endurance, some tenacity. Most great things do. You can go on not reading it, of course. Or, you could read it. You could read it out loud. You could hear it read to you. The quote above makes me think that reading it together is a fruitful option. You can skip it and not skip it. You can get the force of the opera—horse opera being a cheeky reference to the novel’s potential kitsch. You can hear it as music, with music. You can see the movie, and taste the alcohol.

Here’s what I think will be involved on November 6th:

—The reading will begin with chapter 2, at noon. This is to bypass some of the difficulty of the first chapter, but is mainly so that we have a chance of reaching the end of the novel by midnight. Ten or fifteen-minute sections will be available to sign-up and read out loud. You can read out loud it if you want, or not if you don’t want to.

—You’ll get bored. You can come and go when you want to. You’ll get interested again. You can go to sleep. Step out and have a cigarette. The makeup and flow of the event relies on the people who come.

—There’ll be food and drink. It’s pretty much impossible not to drink while reading the most famous novel about alcohol ever written. Beer. Tequila. Mescal. More on this later.

—Technology. The reading will be live broadcast online. Others from around the world will be able to participate as well.

—A DJ will mix original, popular, referred and relevant music during the reading.

—The film version will be on loop in another part of the space. Directed by John Huston and starring Albert Finney and Jacqueline Bisset, it’ll be an interesting counterpoint to the original work. It can also help orient people who need some support in following the plot (yea—its easy to get lost.) A Canadian documentary on Lowry will also be on loop.

—The second floor of High Concept Laboratories will be transformed into a space celebrating the Day of the Dead. Altars to the deceased will mark the continuing presence of the past. Sugar and chocolate skulls; pan de muerto; Mexican marigolds; skeletons… Yeah.

—Also, there will be visual art. Art about the inevitability of death. Art about the trouble and rewards of relationships. Art about volcanos. Art about Mexico. Art about Día de los muertos. Some will be for sale; some will be for auction. All funds will benefit Literacy Works, a non-profit dedicated to improving adult literacy in Chicago.

I’d love your thoughts. I’d really love your suggestions?.

Contact Peter by email:

Reading Under The Volcano Blog

I will be back with further posts on the event!