Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Malcolm Lowry's Merseyside: Illustrated Talk 10th November 2009

Tuesday 10th November 7.30pm
The Bluecoat
School Lane


Wirral resident Colin Dilnot introduces places of significance for Lowry who was born in New Brighton, grew up in Caldy, sailed from Birkenhead and was horrified by the Liverpool Anatomy Museum in Paradise Street. People interested in the writer and local history alike will be fascinated by relevations about Lowry's formative years.

As part of my presentation, I have produced a 30 minute video featuring images and film associated with Lowry's Merseyside. The presentation also has a soundtrack by Lowry's favourite jazz artists.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Under the Volcano author Malcolm Lowry was inspired by the Wirral of his childhood

Liverpool Echo Under the Volcano author Malcolm Lowry was inspired by the Wirral of his childhood 22/10/09

Catherine Jones follows in the footsteps of Malcolm Lowry

WIRRAL doesn’t recognise Malcolm Lowry. It recognises Wilfred Owen but he wasn’t from Birkenhead – he went to the school and Wirral has managed to put a blue plaque on a house in which he was in for a very short period of time and they also named a road after him,” says Colin Dilnot.

“The irony for me is that Lowry wrote a lot about Wirral. And Wilfred Owen couldn’t stand Birkenhead!”

Colin is a passionate advocate for the man who wrote what is considered one of the great novels of the 20th century – Under The Volcano. While he’s acclaimed internationally, and is a favourite author of writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez (100 Years of Solitude), Lowry is little known at home.

In fact, Colin would like to see a blue plaque erected on the writer’s birthplace in New Brighton.

Lowry, who would have been 100 this year, is currently being celebrated in a festival of art, writing, film poetry and performance at the Bluecoat arts centre.

Organisers hope to raise the profile of the writer who left the banks of the Mersey as a young man – the 17-year-old’s departure on a ‘gap year’ working his passage on the tramp steamer Pyrrhus was reported in the ECHO under the priceless headline “Deckhand With A Ukulele” – and whose love of adventure later took him to America, Canada and to the Mexican town of Cuernavaca which became the inspiration for his 1947 semi-autobiographical masterpiece.

Under The Volcano tells the story of Geoffrey Firmin, an alcoholic British consul in the Mexican town on the traditional Day of the Dead in 1938.

But, says Colin who first discovered the author at college and who contributed to the new book Malcolm Lowry: From The Mersey To The World, although Lowry’s stories may be set all over the place, the heart that beats within them is recognisably from Merseyside.

“If you look at his novels, his writing, his letters, they’re all permeated with mentions of Wirral, Liverpool, the river,” he explains.

“In Under The Volcano he talks about something called the ‘hell bunker’ and that was on one of the greens of the Royal Liverpool golf club at Hoylake. Lowry used a number of golfing symbols to symbolise things like hell”.

These local connections will be explored in a Malcolm Lowry magical mystery tour this month.

The Voyage That Never Ends is billed as a “day long journey by ferry, coach and foot” tracing the writer’s early years in Wirral and his forays across the river to Liverpool where his well-to-do father worked at the Cotton Exchange in Old Hall Street.

The tour starts in Liverpool, but citizens of the city may be dismayed to learn Lowry wasn’t exactly a fan.

In fact, he described it as a “terrible city” and in his work October Ferry to Seacombe he talked about being “imprisoned in a Liverpool of self.”

In what is rather like a reverse Brick Up the Mersey Tunnels, Lowry instead revelled in his Wirral ‘Eden’ roots.

“If you look at some of his writings, his love of nature began on the Wirral,” says Colin. “Where he lived in Caldy he was surrounded by wonderful places where you could walk, and he describes walking over the gorse – in those days it was wilder, the Wirral was a much more rural paradise than it is now.

“His communing with nature continued when he went to Canada. One of the most striking things for me is that if you look where he went in Canada, when you see photographs, when you look out across the hills its not dissimilar from looking out across the Dee.

“It was obviously a place where he felt very comfortable.”

Lowry was born in North Drive, New Brighton, but moved to Inglewood at Caldy when he was two.

The tour will visit both houses, along with the aptly-named (although as Colin points out, ironically not for him) Lowry’s Bank, waterfront pubs in Birkenhead and the site of the anatomy museum in Paradise Street.

“Lowry was obsessed with this. It’s recorded he paid a couple of visits and it stuck in his mind. They produced a guidebook and what he did was took a chunk of that and put it into his book Ultramarine.”

Then of course there’s the peninsula’s famed golf courses – home of ‘hell bunker’ and the equally infamous ‘donga’. Young Lowry was Hoylake Boys’ Golf Champion in 1925 and spent a lot of his time on the courses.

At Caldy, the vista takes in Hilbre Island, the lighthouse, Dee estuary and marine lake – all images Lowry, who died an alcoholic at 47, purposefully inserted into his work.

“We’re trying to allow people the opportunity to see the landscape and topography of what he’s talking about in his novels, because the detail he writes about is quite real,” says Colin.

“And we want to with some of the spirit of Lowry as well.”

Malcolm Lowry: From the Mersey To The World is published by Liverpool University Press and the Bluecoat.

You can also catch Colin Dilnot’s Lowry blog

Liverpool Echo

Read more details on the tour mentioned above here

The Voyage That Never Ends Saturday, 31 October 2009 9:00am - 9:00pm

A day long journey by ferry, coach and foot, tracing Malcolm Lowry's early years on the Wirral and his forays into Liverpool. Expect hot jazz, hymn singing, films, hidden histories, literary discoveries and more on this psychogeographical mystery tour devised by The Firminists.

(Please note that Tickets are £15 for the full day, or £5 for the music event in the evening)

Book tickets here

Below is an breakdown of the day:

Approx. Timings

Lowry Bank to North Drive, 7 minutes
North Drive Circular Walk, 10 minutes
North Drive to New Brighton Methodist Church, 3 minutes
New Brighton to Hoylake Golf Course, 24 minutes
Hoylake Golf Course to West Kirby Promenade (walking, 25 minutes)
West Kirby Promenade to the Donga (Caldy), 8 minutes
The Donga to Birkenhead Docks, 27 minutes
Birkenhead Docks to Mersey Tunnel, 5 minutes
Mersey Tunnel to Paradise Street, 20 minutes

Sunday, 18 October 2009

German Films in Lowry's Letter To Clemens ten Holder October 1951

Clemens ten Holder translated Lowry's Under The Volcano into German. The translation was published in Germany in September 1951. Clemens ten Holder mentioned in a now lost letter about the translation that there may have been a possibility of turning the book into a film in Germany which greatly excited Lowry because of his admiration for German cinema.

Lowry wrote to ten Holder in October 1951 outlining his desires for the proposed film version. In the letter he mentions his favourite German films which are listed below:

Robert Weine Caligari 1919
E.A. Dupont Variete 1925
Arthur Robison Warning Shadows 1923
Henrik Galeen The Student Of Prague 1926
Joe May Heimkehr 1928
Frederick Murnau The Last Laugh 1924
Frederick Murnau Sunrise 1927
Karl Grune The Street 1923
Fritz Lang Destiny 1921

I intend to look at each of the films in the forthcoming months in a similar way to my posts on films shown as part of the Cambridge Film Guild Season 1929-30 whilst Lowry was at Cambridge University.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Pursued by Furies: A Life of Malcolm Lowry @ The Bluecoat Liverpool 14/10/09

Pursued by Furies: A Life of Malcolm Lowry: Talk by Gordon Bowker
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
6:00pm - 7:00pm
The Bluecoat
School Lane

The Bluecoat, as part of the Chapter and Verse Festival, is hosting a Malcolm Lowry season (Sept-Nov) to celebrate the centenary of the legendary Wirral author's birth.

Lowry's biographer Gordon Bowker will offer insight into the colourful life of a complex talent.

"Gripping and thoroughly engaged...Lowry's biography won't have to be done again" - Martin Amis

Day Out in Saughall Massie

That day it was, on the Saughall Massie Road with Janet, when he found the white campion on the windy hill, it was the only sound to break the stillness, the traction engine, and the sleep-shattering fall of white stones. Afterwards they had tea at Hubbard and Martin's, in Grange Road.....

Lowry includes many scenes in his early novel Ultramarine, in which the main character Dana Hilliot recalls his youthful courting of Janet, including their walks around the Wirral. These walks probably reflect the same journeys made by Lowry and his young love Tess Evans.

In the 1920's, the urban sprawl was only just beginning its pervasive journey across Wirral reaching out to the ancient villages of the Wirral including Saughall Massie. Saughall Massie could have been reached by taking a bus from Birkenhead to Upton and then walking down Saughall Massie Road seen on the right in the photograph below. Saughall Massie Road originally ran from the what are now the crossroads in Upton to the village to Saughall Massie Village.

Saughall Massie Road was once a Turnpike, a privately owned road on which a toll is charged, the toll house was located on the land opposite Greenbank. The road was re-aligned in the 1960s, it originally followed the wall of Upton Convent round the corner into the village.

Or the young couple may have walked from West Kirby towards Upton crossing the many footpaths which still traverse the fields of the northern Wirral.

The name de Massie, de Massey or de Mascy has been connected to the Wirral since the time of the Norman Conquest. Baron Hamon de Mascey, whose family came from the settlement of Mascey near Avranches, Normandy, established Birkenhead Priory in 1150. His relations, the Masseys of Sale, settled on the Wirral during the reign of King John were supposed to have given their name to Saughall Massie. It is also supposed that the name Saughall Massie means "Willow-tree nook of land".

The land around Saughall Massie is flat and lies between a ridge to the east on which Upton sits and the hills to the west which run from West Kirby down to Heswall. The hill Lowry is referring to in the above passage is most likely the ridge on which Upton sits.

A clue to the exact position is perhaps given away by his reference to the campion flower. The white campion is also known as the Grave Flower or Flower of the Dead in parts of England as they are seen often growing on gravesites and around tombstones. The highest point on the ridge upon which Upton built is the ancient site of Overchurch Hill.

Overchurch was the site of a Saxon church and in turn a Norman church demolished in the 19th Century though the graveyard still exists. The hill on which the church once sat is overgrown with tall trees now but in the 20's was a much more open aspect and would have been attractive for courting couples to gaze out over the North Wirral coast.

The young couple could have taken a bus back to Birkenhead from Upton in order to visit Hubbard and Martin's, which was a popular meeting place in the central shopping area of Birkenhead in the 1920's. The cafe was near to the Hippodrome Theatre in Grange Road which Lowry frequented in the 1920's.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Robert Wiene's The Cabinet of Dr Caligari @ FACT Liverpool 17/11/09

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (U)
17 November 2009 6.30pm
88 Wood Street
Tickets £7/£5.50
Tel No 0871 704 2063

A favourite film of Malcolm Lowry to be shown as part of the Centenary Festival.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (German: Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari) is a 1920 silent film directed by Robert Wiene from a screenplay by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer. It is one of the most influential of German Expressionist films.

The deranged Dr. Caligari and his faithful sleepwalking Cesare are connected to a series of murders in a German mountain village, Holstenwall. Caligari presents an example of a motion picture "frame story" in which most of the plot is presented as a "flashback", as told by Francis.

The narrator, Francis, and his friend Alan visit a carnival in the village where they see Dr. Caligari and the somnambulist Cesare, whom the doctor is displaying as an attraction. Caligari brags that Cesare can answer any question he is asked. When Alan asks Cesare how long he has to live, Cesare tells Alan that he will die before dawn tomorrow – a prophecy which is fulfilled.

Francis, along with his girlfriend Jane, investigate Caligari and Cesare, which eventually results in Cesare kidnapping Jane. Caligari orders Cesare to kill Jane, but the hypnotized slave refuses after her beauty captivates him. He carries Jane out of her house, leading the townsfolk on a lengthy chase. Cesare falls to his death during the pursuit, and the townsfolk discover that Caligari had created a dummy to distract Francis.

Francis discovers that "Caligari" is actually the director of the local insane asylum, and, with the help of his colleagues, discovers that he is obsessed with the story of a Dr. Caligari, who, in 1703, in northern Italy used a somnambulist to murder people as a traveling act. After being confronted with the dead Cesare, Caligari reveals his mania and is imprisoned in his asylum.

A "twist ending" reveals that Francis' flashback is actually his fantasy: he, Jane and Cesare are all inmates of the insane asylum, and the man he says is Caligari is his asylum doctor, who, after this revelation of the source of his patient's delusion, says that now he will be able to cure Francis. Wikipedia

You can read more here in an earlier post on Malcolm Lowry @ The 19th Hole

John Huston's Under The Volcano Movie Titles

Showing in Liverpool on 7/10/09 as part of Malcolm Lowry Centenary Festival.

Liverpool’s Bluecoat celebrates “lost” Wirral literary hero Malcolm Lowry

Liverpool’s Bluecoat celebrates “lost” Wirral literary hero Malcolm Lowry
Sep 30 2009 by Lorna Hughes, Wallasey News

A “LOST” literary hero from Wirral is being celebrated at the Bluecoat in Liverpool from this week.

Malcolm Lowry’s classic novel Under the Volcano has been hailed as a modern masterpiece by Time magazine and Nobel literature prize winner Gabriel Garcia Márquez but many have never heard of the New Brighton-born author.

The Bluecoat hopes to change that with a season of events celebrating his life and work.

The ambitious eight-week programme includes an exhibition, new book – Malcolm Lowry: From The Mersey To The World – live music, dance, talks and special participatory events.

Bryan Biggs, Artistic Director at the Bluecoat, said: “This exhibition, book and events programme at the Bluecoat aims to reclaim Malcolm Lowry for Merseyside.
“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. We hope it will help to restore him to his rightful position as one of our truly great creative exports.”

Lowry was born on July 28, 1909. In 1927 he swapped the comforts of his home at Inglewood, Caldy for to sign on as a deck hand on the steamer SS Pyrrhus, sailing from Birkenhead for the Far East.

This marked the beginning of 30 years of voyaging that would take in two marriages, three continents, several jails and a couple of psychiatric hospitals, and would leave in its wake both thousands of empty bottles and one of the greatest 20th-century English novels.

Under the Volcano: An Exhibition for Malcolm Lowry is open daily at the Bluecoat on School Lane until Sunday, November 22.
Wirral News

Mexican Day of the Dead Altar @ The Bluecoat Liverpool 1/11/09

Angus Balbernie: The Lining Of Bees @ The Bluecoat Liverpool 10/10/09

Angus Balbernie: The Lining Of Bees
The Bluecoat
School Lane
10 October 2009
8.00 - 9.30pm
Tickets from The Bluecoat Box Office 0151 702 5324

Angus Balbernie, A Lining of Bees – what the critics said of previous Lowry inspired dance/theatre:

Materials For A Small Winter

“Inspired by the semi-autobiographical writings and rantings of Malcolm Lowry and erotically shaded by the evocation of Rita Hayworth in Gilda, Materials For A Small Winter seemed to physically shimmer and warp in the heat of a boozily recalled Mexico. A simple, striking backdrop of slatted wood presumably corresponded to the author's fisherman's hut in British Columbia, yet resembled nothing so much as the spied through window blinds of classic film noir. Rising late and stumbling from the audience, Clive Andrews' Lowry – crumpling and contorting, intermittently inspired and doubling over with regret – seemed to pass through various stages of lucidity during an intensely personal Day of the Dead. A young femme fatale in an elegant red dress barked questions in Spanish that confused even the fluent amongst the audience and later pleaded with them to pluck out her eyes with a gleaming blade.

“Five female dancers passed at various times across the stage, all but ignoring Lowry and his proffered scribblings, the strums of his ukulele and his more idyllic memories. Instead – seemingly possessed by the raw spirit of Elise Dabrowski's yowled vocalising and mournful double bass – they were sometimes free to move gracefully, other times jerking violently and crushed into a physically demeaning, crawling departure.

“Conceived and devised in just five days by director Angus Balbernie and the cast, Materials For A Small Winter has an intensity and immediacy that render it impossible to wrench your eyes from”.

(Jay Richardson. The Scotsman. Scotland)

“’Intensive’ hardly encompasses the processes set in motion by Angus Balbernie - his Materials for a Small Winter was made from "zero to finish" in five days. Taking impetus from the life and writings of Malcolm Lowry, and with nods in the direction of Rita Hayworth's performance in the film Gilda, the piece had a discomfitting, raw energy that - like the vocalisings of double bassist Elise Dabrowski - yowled and jittered with the madness and sadness of Lowry's various booze-altered states.
“A dividing stretch of slatted wood created separate realms while the cast of seven threw caution to the wind, seized on Balbernie's mix of text and movement and delivered up one of those radical onslaughts that leave you feeling sand-bagged, unlikely to forget it, and amazed at what five days can produce”.

(Mary Brennan, The Herald.)

“It is an atmospheric 80 minutes of beautifully choreographed theatre designed to give its audience a weird but tempting insight into the brilliant mind of alcoholic novelist Malcolm Lowry...the characters combine mesmerising physical theatre with the equally off-the-wall words of the novelist’s literature.”

(Rebecca Gilbert. Bristol Evening Post.)

“Malcolm doesn’t understand borders ...of any kind”, declares one of the characters in Angus Balbernie’s take on the life and work of alcoholic author Malcolm Lowry. It’s a phrase that applies equally to this work, which ignores all performer/audience, dance/theatre, reality/fantasy boundaries. Brilliantly conceived and executed, this dance-theatre was a dream to look at, stimulating throughout, and both perplexing and engaging in turns.”

(Lesley Barnes. Venue Magazine.)

Under The Volcano Movie @ FACT Liverpool 7/10/09

Under The Volcano (15)
Directed by John Huston Mexico/USA 1984 112mins
Introduced by Mark Goodall (University Of Bradford)
88 Wood Street
Tickets £7/5.50
Tel. No. 0871 704 2063

John Huston's film version of Malcolm Lowry's novel Under The Volcano is being shown as part of the Malcolm Lowry Centenary Festival as above.

Under The Volcano

Under the Volcano is a 1984 film directed in Mexico by John Huston with Albert Finney, Jacqueline Bisset, Anthony Andrews and Katy Jurado heading the cast. The film received Academy Award nominations for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Albert Finney) and Best Music, Original Score (Alex North).

It is based on the 1947 novel by English writer Malcolm Lowry which was adapted to radio on Studio One in 1947.

Remaining faithful to Lowry's original novel, Huston's film tells the story of Geoffrey Firmin, an alcoholic British consul in the small Mexican town of Quauhnahuac (recognizably Cuernavaca), on the Day of the Dead in 1938.

The film was entered into the 1984 Cannes Film Festival.

Reviewing in The New York Times, Janet Maslin had much praise for Finney's performance:

Drunkenness, so often represented on the screen by overacting of the most sodden sort, becomes the occasion for a performance of extraordinary delicacy from Albert Finney, who brilliantly captures the Consul's pathos, his fragility and his stature. Alcoholism is the central device in Mr. Lowry's partially autobiographical novel. (The author, like the Consul, was capable of drinking shaving lotion when nothing more potable was at hand.) Yet the Consul's drinking is astonishingly fine-tuned, affording him a protective filter while also allowing for moments of keen, unexpected lucidity. Mr. Finney conveys this beautifully, with the many and varied nuances for which Guy Gallo's screenplay allows. For instance, when the exquisite Yvonne (played elegantly and movingly by Jacqueline Bisset) reappears in Cuernavaca one morning, she finds her ex-husband in a cantina, still wearing his evening clothes. He turns to gaze at her for a moment, pauses briefly, and then continues talking as if nothing had happened. Seconds later, he turns again and looks at Yvonne more closely, still not certain whether or not this is a hallucination. It takes a long while for the fact of Yvonne's return to penetrate the different layers of the Consul's inebriated consciousness, and Mr. Finney delineates the process with grace and precision, stage by stage.

Paul Rooney: Lowry and New York @ Bluecoat 6/10/09

Artist Talks @ The Bluecoat
Under The Volcano; An Exhibition for Malcolm Lowry (1909-1957)
Paul Rooney: Lowry and New York
6th October 2009
The Bluecoat
School Lane

Paul Rooney, who is exhibiting his film Bellevue at the centenary festival for Malcolm Lowry, will be giving a talk about Lowry and New York on Tuesday coming.

Paul Rooney's Bellevue

Paul Rooney's film Bellevue draws on Lowry's time in a psychiatric ward at New York's Bellevue Hospital in 1935, which informed his novella Lunar Caustic. Published posthumously in 1958, the book focuses on a failed English musician who befriends two other patients. Rooney was interested in the book's 'study of the disorientation of addiction and intoxication, but also in the idea of Lowry's voluntary attendance at Bellevue (he could check out when he liked), which parallels the privileged position that art has in relation to real life: it is always easier to visit desparate places when you know that you can leave at any time'.

Paul Rooney Biography

Born Liverpool 1967 Studied 1986-1991 MA Fine Art and BA Painting Edinburgh College of Art, Edinburgh Solo Exhibitions and Projects 2006-07 Lucy Over Lancashire, BBC Radio Lancashire, Radio 1, 6 Music, BBC Cymru and Resonance FM 2004 Know Your Place, firstsite, Colchester 2003 There Are Two Paths, off-site performance, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, Meadow Gallery, Shropshire and Birmingham ArtsFest; Songs and Routines, Reg Vardy Gallery, University of Sunderland 2002 The NWRA Variety Night, Cubitt Gallery, London 1999 Rooney 'Peel Session' John Peel Show, BBC Radio 1FM Group Exhibitions and Projects 2007 Cine y Casi Cine, Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid; Locale - British Artists in Residence, 1a Space, Hong Kong; Nachtschicht, Kulturzentrum K4, Nürnberg, Germany; Women at the Crossroads of Ideologies screening, Stara Gradska Vijenica, Split, Croatia; 2006 Single Shot, Tate Britain and other London venues, touring to fourteen other cities in the UK and Europe; TV Ergo Sum, PULSAR 2006, Galeria de Arte Nacional, Caracas, Venezuela; Walk On, Salon Vogue, Shanghai Biennial; Work in Progress, Freunde der Deutschen Kinemathek, Kino Arsenal, Berlin 2005 Variety, De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea; British Art Show 6, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester; Angel Row Annex at Beatties, Nottingham; and Arnolfini, Bristol 2004 Pass the Time of Day, Gasworks Gallery, London, Angel Row Gallery, Nottingham, Castefield Gallery, Manchester and Collective Gallery, Edinburgh; Shrinking Cities, Kunst-Werke, Berlin 2003 Let Us Take You There, Site Gallery, Sheffield, and Bluecoat Gallery, Liverpool; You Are At Home Here, Lokaal 01, Breda, Netherlands; We Go Round and Round in the Night and are Consumed by Fire, Comme Cá Gallery, New York; Fragmentos, Galeria Casa Gaia, Havana, Cuba; Electric Earth, a British Council show, touring to The State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Radio Laboratory Museum, Nizhni Novgorod, Yaroslavl Museum of Fine Art, Yaroslav, Na Solyanke Gallery, Moscow, and venues in Lithuania, Yugoslavia, Turkey, South America 2002 Shopping (as Common Culture), Tate Liverpool; Palestine International Video Festival, Birzeit University, Qamariyeh Gallery and various venues, West Bank, Palestine; Mappin Open, Mappin Gallery, Sheffield; 2001 Merry Movement, Laforet Museum Harajuku, Tokyo 2000 Pixelvision, Royal Museum Of Scotland, Edinburgh, Lost and Found, Amsterdam, Red/Hull Time Based Arts, Waygood Gallery, Newcastle, Catalyst Arts, Belfast, B16, Birmingham, Dick Institute, Kilmarnock, First Floor, Melbourne 1999 My Eye Hurts, Thread Waxing Space, New York; Perspective 99, Ormeau Baths Gallery, Belfast; EAST International (as Common Culture), Norwich Gallery, NSAD, Norwich

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Liverpool Echo Review of Under The Volcano Exhibition

Good to see more local coverage of the Under The Volcano exhibition at the Bluecoat in Liverpool:

Catherine Jones
Under The Volcano: The Bluecoat
Liverpool Echo 26/9/09

WRITER Malcolm Bradbury described Malcolm Lowry as having a “curious internationalism”.

That is what has perhaps led him to be less well known in his home city than he might have been, and is also what the Bluecoat has attempted to reflect in this new exhibition marking the centenary of his birth.

Those who do know of Lowry will probably have read his magnum opus, Under The Volcano.

But few will be aware that the author of what has been described as one of the greatest novels of the 20th century was born the son of a Liverpool cotton broker in New Brighton.

In fact, there are many intriguing aspects to the man who was a writer, golfer, nomadic adventurer and inveterate drinker (alcohol caused his death at 47).

The Bluecoat’s two-month celebration of all things Lowry includes the publication of a new book, From The Mersey To The World, the screening of John Huston’s film Under The Volcano starring Albert Finney, and music written by poet Ian McMillan.

At its heart, however, is this exhibition of artwork and film inspired by the writer and covering not simply his life in the Mexican town of Cuernavaca (where the novel is set on the Mexican Day of the Dead), but also his fascination with the Isle of Man, his time in New York and his spartan existence in Canada.

It turns out to be perhaps one of the most satisfying exhibitions held recently at the Bluecoat, mostly because while it features disparate artists, it has a pleasingly unified central theme – they all share a fascination with Lowry.

Adrian Henri’s vibrant Day Of The Dead In Liverpool paintings sit alongside works from Julian Cooper’s Under The Volcano series, Cooper’s images redolent of Hockney or Hopper.

There are also a series of intricate Under The Volcano-themed prints by Chilean artist Jorge Martinez Garcia, while the Tate has loaned the gallery watercolours by Lowry contemporary Edward Burra which (despite his apparently disliking Lowry) also feature the skeletons so prevalent in day of the dead iconography.

A newly-commissioned video installation centres on the alcoholic Lowry’s experiences drying out in a New York sanatorium.

And, most fascinatingly of all, there are never-before-seen telegrams, borrowed from Liverpool Record Office, charting the highs and lows of the globetrotting writer’s hectic life.

Watch interest in Lowry erupt.

8/10: novel

Liverpool Echo

Brian O'Toole's Cartoons

Unlike Malcolm Lowry, Brian O'Toole (1946-2001) spent most of his life in his native Liverpool, apart from art school training in Newcastle and London and regular stays in Dublin, producing cartoons, portraits of Irish writers and absorbing himself in the labyrinthine world of James Joyce. Frighteningly well-read, literature informed O'Toole's art and he admired Lowry, whose complex prose, references to other literature, rich thematic layering and Merseyside origins appealed to him.

O'Toole's darkly humorous, surreal pen and ink drawings appeared in a range of publications, on posters and in exhibitions, and the ones selected here echo the dancing cadavers of Mexican artist Posada, whose Day of the Dead prints were a particular influence. O'Toole's drawings, with their combination of the familiar and the absurd however can also be seen in a particularly British tradition of caricature and satire, stretching from George Cruikshank to Steve Bell.
Bryan Biggs Artistic Director The Bluecoat Liverpool Under The Volcano; An Exhibition for Malcolm Lowry 1909-1957

Ray Lowry Untitled (Under The Volcano)

Associated principally with punk through his weekly cartoons for the New Musical Express and artwork for the Clash, Ray Lowry (1944- 2008) was drawn increasingly to his literary namesake and fellow North Westerner. Like the alluring and tragic figures of his heroes, rock'n'rollers Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran, Ray found a kindred spirit in Malcolm Lowry. And just before he died, he created a series of colourful, expressive paintings on paper inspired by Under the Volcano.

Freer than anything else Ray completed, these final paintings are almost abstract. Though little is known about them, episodes from the book are discernible: the Mexican Indian dying by the roadside, the Consul's alcoholic bliss, his encounter with fascists accusing him of being a spy ('spider'), and the final indignity as a dead dog is thrown after his corpse into the ravine.

The single large painting entitled Under the Volcano, is more enigmatic, suggesting a baked landscape and parched vegetation. But despite the painting's title, it is not Mexico that is its subject, but Iraq, and the time is the present, as toy soldiers play out a war in a part of the world that, as Mesopotamia, was considered the 'cradle of civilization' - a reminder of one of the book's underlying themes, that of man's folly, with the world heading towards war.
Bryan Biggs Artistic Director The Bluecoat Liverpool: Under The Volcano; An Exhibition for Malcolm Lowry 1909-1957

Cisco Jimenez's Peddler

For Cisco Jimenez, a native of Cuernavaca where Under the Volcano is set, Lowry's book and his life continue to provide - 70 years after he stayed there - a barometer for measuring the expectations and failures of this Mexican town. For Jimenez the paradox portrayed in the novel repeats: the clash of the popular against the contemporary, tradition under threat from global changes and impositions, and the failure of utopianism (colonial utopias, the social experiments of the 1960s, the neoliberal policies in the 1990s).

Jimenez's mixed media sculptures make playful reference to Lowry's life: his drinking (Two Atoms Connected), golfing prowess (Necklace), and in Peddler the imagery and folkloric aspects of Under the Volcano, whilstAK47 Barroca is indicative of the artist's concern with the contradictions and violence of the everyday in Mexico.

'Cuemavaca is no longer what it used to be. What remains are tourism and opportunistic "cliches" of the quiet and colonial past - multiple thematic hotels and restaurants for wealthy foreigners and visitors from Mexico City, and real estate speculation. Nature has been covered over with tons of concrete, and the last old mansions with their majestic gardens are slowly falling down, giving way to massive condominiums (which we call "condemoniums"). You face such disaster every day'.

Edward Burra's Skeleton Party

Edward Burra (1905-1976) occupies a particular place in 20th century British art: represented in major collections yet remaining, like Malcolm Lowry, something of an outsider. He is best known for his satirical, often macabre paintings of 1920s and 1930s urban life, particularly its seedier side. He flirted with Surrealism and his allegorical works share some of its characteristics. Working mainly in watercolour, he imbued his art with 'a feeling of tawdriness and the meretricious and yet, at the same time, (created) such convincing beauty' (George Melly).

Despite constant ill health, Burra traveled widely, visiting Lowry in Cuernavaca in 1937, together with Lowry's early mentor and their mutual friend, the American writer Conrad Aiken. On his return to England Surra painted Mexican Church, its composition based on two postcards of churches he'd visited, the cathedral at Taxco and Santa Catarina, Mexico City. Burra and Lowry did not get on, however both shared an interest in Mexican culture.

Burra was influenced particularly by the Mexican muralists and the prints of Jose Guadalupe Posada (1851-1913), whose depictions of lively skeletons had a profound effect, contributing to his interest in representations of death. Under the Volcano's Day of the Dead theme is echoed in Burra's other two paintings shown here. Dancing Skeletons, painted after a visit to Spain, anticipates his Mexican journey and immersion in the iconography of death. In Skeleton Party, completed nearly 20 years later, Surra returns to this earlier theme. Whilst the pyramid shapes on the horizon have been identified as slag heaps in an industrial landscape, they could equally suggest the twin peaks of Lowry's Mexican volcanoes.
Bryan Biggs Artistic Director The Bluecoat Liverpool: Under The Volcano; An Exhibition for Malcolm Lowry 1909-1957,

Jorge Martinez Garcia's Espiritus Del Mezcal

Described as a 'Neo-Baroque' printmaker and painter, Jorge Martrnez Garda has read and re-read Lowry's writings since first discovering Under the Volcano in Quito, Ecuador. Inspired by Lowry's famous letter to Jonathan Cape, in which he proposed there were at least five levels at which the book could be read, the writer has been
a constant point of reference for the artist. The series of intaglio prints shown here demonstrates the way that Martfnez interacts with Lowry in diverse and layered ways, each print being both compositionally and thematically complex. Many familiar elements from Under the Volcano are evident: the Consul, the volcano, an 'eternal' cantina, the ever present bottle of mescal, all rendered through Martfnez's exquisite printmaking technique.

Martinez seeks to illuminate or, in a more metaphorical sense, circumnavigate Lowry's 'heraldic universe' (Lawrence Durrell) according to Martinez's own life experience and his own existential reading of Lowry's writings. Lowry has also motivated Martinez, an artist living and working in Chile, to reflect on Latin American realities in terms of what he calls 'our existence as culture and cosmovision'. Like D.H. Lawrence, Lowry represents for Martinez 'the outsider who is able to perceive other worlds with a universal sensibility'.
Bryan Biggs Artistic Director The Bluecoat Liverpool: Under The Volcano; An Exhibition for Malcolm Lowry 1909-1957

Pete Flower's Skulls and Flowers

Pete Flowers' interest in Mexico was awakened by reading Under the Volcano.
It introduced him to the Day of the Dead, which has become a life-long fascination. Flowers sees parallels between his work and Lowry's, for instance the way - as suggested by Michael Schmidt in the introduction to the book's current edition - that the writer's 'imagination exaggerates and distorts, forces connections and recurrences' . Like Lowry's fiction, Flowers' paintings use montage technique and are worked over and over again, becoming dense and complex in the process. Like Lowry, he is also drawn to the spiritual, referencing Eastern beliefs and religions.

Of the paintings here, two refer directly to the book, interwoven with Flowers' experiences visiting Mexico, where 'you very quickly become aware of the fact that you are always under the volcano'. A Prayer for the Consul is a memory of being mistaken for Christ in a cantina by a beggar who pinned two medallions of the virgin under his lapel. The idea for this painting and A Prayer for Malcolm, came from a votive candle of the Virgin of Guadalupe that Flowers' wife bought him. On the back of this is a prayer for those involved in the abuse of drugs and alcohol, although 'she claims not to have read the prayer when she bought it'.
Bryan Biggs Artistic Director The Bluecoat Liverpool: Under The Volcano; An Exhibition for Malcolm Lowry 1909-1957

Cian Quayle's Film & Photographs in Under The Volcano; An Exhibition for Malcolm Lowry 1909-1957

Cian Quayle's film and photographs interrogate Lowry's fascination with the Isle of Man, which he visited as a child, the island being a popular holiday destination from Liverpool. Lowry also befriended a Manx boat builder, Jimmie Craige, when he lived at Dollarton. Craige was indispensable as carpenter and all round handyman, helping the Lowrys survive the harsh conditions. He also helped fuel Lowry's interest in Manx folklore.

Quayle, himself from the Isle of Man, 'first encountered Malcolm Lowry on the bookshelves of my father, and my interest in his life and writing is concerned with the way that fact and fiction, myth, folklore and history are interwoven in narratives of exile and return. His affinity with the sea, and the idea of the journey, are pertinent in my own work and wider research.'

The installation here comprises a looped film taken on the ferry journey from Liverpool to Douglas, the island's capital, and a series of photographs of locations and other references made to the island in Lowry's writing, principally in the short story Elephant and Colosseum.
Bryan Biggs Artistic Director The Bluecoat Liverpool: Under The Volcano; An Exhibition for Malcolm Lowry 1909-1957

Julian Cooper's Under The Volcano Series

The three paintings by Julian Cooper are from a series of seven completed in the 1980s entitled Under the Volcano. The novel was instrumental in the artist's search to develop a kind of abstract painting using figurative methods, one capable of taking on contemporary experience in the way that Lowry's novel does, with its intricate symbolism and a vivid representational surface. For Cooper the book 'had everything. It was set in a landscape, it was outer narrative and inner narrative as well, it had lots of references to literature and cabbalistic religion - it had all the complexity of a Renaissance painting. '

Douglas Day's biography of Lowry in particular, linking the writer's life to his fiction, provided Cooper with a 'layering of myth and reality. .. I see the novel now as quite prophetic in the way that its leading metaphor applies as much to an "economic growth" as to an alcohol addiction'.

Like Lowry's writing, the paintings are meticulously detailed and create a real sense of place and time, an evocation of Mexico and the book's setting. Each takes a particular episode from the book chosen for its self-sufficiency and symbolic power. They avoid being simply illustrative however, the structure and execution of the paintings echoing the complex layering of meaning found in Lowry's masterpiece. Despite the specific references, the paintings are autonomous, requiring no prior knowledge of the book.
Bryan Biggs Artistic Director The Bluecoat Liverpool: Under The Volcano; An Exhibition for Malcolm Lowry 1909-1957

Adrian Henri's Day Of The Dead

In his series of paintings and drawings, Adrian Henri (1932-2000) sets the Mexican Day of the Dead in contemporary Liverpool, populating Hope Street with a crowd including artists and writers William Burroughs, Alien Ginsberg, Frida Kahlo, Ed Kienholz and Henri's Liverpool painter friend, Sam Walsh. In the main painting shown here the white suited, pipe-smoking figure on the far left is Malcolm Lowry.

Henri's partner Catherine Marcangeli describes his interest in the writer: 'He went to see the Day of the Dead exhibition at the Museum of Mankind, a visit that had immediate echoes with Lowry. He bought lots of paper-lace patterns, sweets in the shapes of skulls, and all manner of folkloric artifacts ... when he painted the Day of the Dead years later those echoes were also mixed with a host of other references, the most important and obvious one being his own earlier painting, Entry of Christ into Liverpool, of which The Day of the Dead, Hope Street is a kind of new version, except that the "friends and heroes" are dead ones here.'

There are other echoes, of a visit Henri made to a graveyard in Lorraine on the Day of the Toussaint (All Saints' Day in France, when people take flowers to the graves of dead friends or relatives), and of the eerie and sinister masks at the Basle Carnival. Bryan Biggs Artistic Director The Bluecoat Liverpool: Under The Volcano; An Exhibition for Malcolm Lowry 1909-1957

Paul Rooney's film Bellevue

Paul Rooney's film Bellevue draws on Lowry's time in a psychiatric ward at New York's Bellevue Hospital in 1935, which informed his novella Lunar Caustic. Published posthumously in 1958, the book focuses on a failed English musician who befriends two other patients. Rooney was interested in the book's 'study of the disorientation of addiction and intoxication, but also in the idea of Lowry's voluntary attendance at Bellevue (he could check out when he liked), which parallels the privileged position that art has in relation to real life: it is always easier to visit desparate places when you know that you can leave at any time'.

In the film a man, 'Bill', is taking part in an advertising agency's focus group meeting, which is using the conference facilities of a beautiful English stately home. The focus group is discussing an ad campaign for US city break holidays. But Bill also appears to be acting out scenarios set in a 1930s New York psychiatric institution, in which he takes on the character of a failed jazz musician recovering from alcohol abuse. Eventually, this 1930s world, and the shadow it casts over the present, entirely disrupts the proceedings.

The artist says 'Bellevue extends my interest in the artifice of narrative construction, and how this artifice is all we have to make sense of the world. I have adapted a pre-existing "found" text, and re-written and repositioned it in a new context. I am interested in language play, how differing "voices" - such as contemporary marketing speak or mid-20th century literary modernism - can be deliberately disrupted through collision to emphasise both their deceit and their formal delight'.
Bryan Biggs Artistic Director The Bluecoat Liverpool: Under The Volcano; An Exhibition for Malcolm Lowry 1909-1957

Ross Birrell and David Harding's Cuernavaca: A Journey in Search of Malcolm Lowry

Ross Birrell and David Harding's Cuernavaca: A Journey in Search of Malcolm Lowry chases Lowry's ghost through the Mexican town that inspired his novel. Their film and installation is in two parts. In the upstairs gallery, surrounding a lawn, a wall text is the Consul's mistranslation of a sign he encounters in a public garden next to his own. It should read 'Do you like this garden, which is yours? Make sure your children don't destroy it!' but instead it reflects Lowry's fear of being evicted, of being cast out from the Eden he had found at Dollarton.

The text in Spanish, repeated at the end of the book, provided the source for Birrell and Harding's installation, whose film, shown here in the Vide space outside the gallery entrance, revisits the final footsteps of the ex-Consul. It includes readings from Octavio Paz and Lowry, the painting of a mural/text from the novel, interviews with local people who claim to have met the author, a journey to the peaks of Popocatepetl and a ritual in which a spiritualist communicates with Lowry's tormented soul.

The artists describe how 'the mescal-infused poetic symbolism drawn from Dante to the Kabala, which informed the writing of Under the Volcano, was the inspiration for the composition of Cuernavaca - where the editing attempts to mirror Lowry's intoxicated syntax' .
Bryan Biggs Artistic Director The Bluecoat Liverpool: Under The Volcano; An Exhibition for Malcolm Lowry 1909-1957

Under The Volcano; An Exhibition for Malcolm Lowry 1909-1957

The Bluecoat's celebration of the centenary of writer Malcolm Lowry (born New Brighton, 1909) includes this special exhibition alongside a programme of performances and events. The exhibition takes its title from his best-known work, Under the Volcano, published in 1947. Set in Mexico, it is considered one of the most significant novels of the 20th century. Gabriel Garcra Marquez described it as 'probably the novel that I have read the most times in my life. I would like not to have to read it any more but that would be impossible, for I shall not rest until I have discovered where its hidden magic lies' .

Lowry has influenced not just writers, but artists working across the creative spectrum - painters, filmmakers, choreographers and musicians. This exhibition brings together contemporary visual artists from the UK and Latin America, who each respond to Lowry in different ways through painting, film, printmaking, sculpture, photography, drawing and installation. Much of the work relates to Under the Volcano, but other books and aspects of Lowry's life also provide the impetus.

The exhibition is intended to reflect Lowry's continuing inspiration for artists today, and to explore what Malcolm Bradbury has described as Lowry's 'curious internationalism'. Indeed the artists echo some of the writer's journeys, which took him from Merseyside to the Far East, Europe, USA, Mexico, Canada and finally back to England, and many points in between. Whilst the exhibition reflects Lowry's creative compass, works are not arranged chronologically or geographically and the exploration of themes moves away from simply a literal reading of the subject. Like Lowry's own writing, much of the work here is multilayered and can be read on several levels. Finding contemporary resonance in his work, the artists demonstrate that Malcolm Lowry is a writer very much for today.

Some of the works have been made especially for the exhibition, others selected from artists with a longstanding interest in Lowry. Others still, such as the paintings by Edward Burra, were created during Lowry's lifetime.

It is appropriate that the exhibition is taking place on Merseyside where Lowry was born a hundred years ago. He described Liverpool as 'that terrible city whose main street is the ocean', and though he never returned, Liverpool and the Wirral peninsular where he grew up continued to haunt him, and local references appear often in his writing. The exhibition includes a timeline tracing key moments in Lowry's colourful life, which ended in 1957 in mysterious circumstances in a village in Sussex.

Read more below about the exhibition:

Ross Birrell and David Harding's Cuernavaca: A Joourney In Search of Malcolm Lowry

Paul Rooney's film Bellvue

Adrian Henri's Entry of Christ Into Liverpool and Day of Dead, Hope Street

Julian Cooper's Under The Volcano series

Cian Qualye's photographs and film

Pete Flowers's series

Jose Martinez Garcia's etchings

Edward Burra's Mexican Church, Skeleton Party and Dancing Skeletons

Cisco Jimenez's Peddler

Ray Lowry's Under The Volcano

Brian O'Toole's Cartoons

Under the Volcano author Malcolm Lowry is globally celebrated but forgotten in his Wirral home

It was good to see Liverpool's Daily Post newspaper giving the Malcolm Lowry Centenary Festival a 2-page spread in yesterday's edition.

You can read Laura Davis's full article, which includes an interview with Bryan Biggs, the Artistic Director of The Bluecoat in Liverpool, who is the curator of the exhibition and the driving force behind the festival, here:

Under the Volcano author Malcolm Lowry is globally celebrated but forgotten in his Wirral home

Malcolm Lowry: From the Mersey to the World Book Launch 24/9/09

The new book on Malc was launched last Thursday night at the Bluecoat in Liverpool. The launch was a prelude to the opening of Malc's Centenary Festival in Liverpool over the next 2 months.

Several contributors to the book attended the launch including Ailsa Cox, Mark Goodall and Rob Sheppard above. Rob was just passing me another bottle of the Malcolm Lowry Golden Ale which has been brewed for the festival!

After the book launch, we had an opportunity to view the exhibition which accompanies the festival. I will be posting more details on the exhibition in the next few posts.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Malcolm Lowry from the Mersey to the World

Malcolm Lowry described Liverpool as ‘that terrible city whose main street is the ocean’. Born on the Wirral side of the river Mersey, Lowry’s relationship to the Merseyside of his youth informs all of his writing and Liverpool itself continued to hold tremendous significance for him, even though he never returned. Published in conjunction with a festival and exhibition at Liverpool’s Bluecoat arts centre celebrating Lowry’s centenary, this beautifully produced book showcases a variety of creative and critical approaches to Lowry and his work, and includes twelve specially commissioned pieces of new writing. There is a particular focus on place and on journeys; contributors write from the UK, Europe, Canada and Mexico, and reflect both on Lowry’s ‘voyage that never ends’ and on their own journeys with and through Lowry’s work. The book also demonstrates the richness of Lowry’s influence on contemporary visual artists and includes full-colour illustrations throughout. It will be an indispensable companion for anyone interested in the creative legacy of Malcolm Lowry’s life and work.

I am very pleased to announce that the book is now available. This is an essential read for anyone interested in Lowry. However, the imaginative construction of the book may excite readers to delve into Lowry for the first time, dig out Lowry's books again or move beyond Under The Volcano and explore Lowry's other work.

Helen Tookey and Bryan Biggs, the editors, have assembled 12 essays written by a wide spectrum of people including myself. The editors say in their introduction; "the essays take a variety of approaches - creative, literary-critical, geographical, theoretical, fictional, anecdotal - to Lowry and his work."

Malcolm Lowry from the Mersey to the World: Synopsis

Ian McMillan(poet and broadcaster) Malcolm Lowry: who he was and who I was and who I

"Poet Ian McMillan begins with a personal story of his encounter with Under the Volcano – ‘a story of misreading and mishearings and misunderstandings and long hours at sea and long hours on trains"."

Colin Dilnot (Wirral-based artist/writer) Lowry's Wirral

In my essay, I provide a snapshot of my ongoing project to investigate and map the geographical contours of Lowry’s early years

Cian Quayle (Manx artist/writer) Elliptical Journeys: Malcolm Lowry, exile and return

Manx artist Cian Quayle reflects, through text and images, on the place and meanings of the Isle of Man for Lowry

Michele Gemelos (University of Cambridge) Lunatic City: Lowry's Lunar Caustic and New York

"Michele Gemelos gives an intriguing reading of the Liverpool/New York dynamic, and the complexities of home, family and origins, in Lowry’s novella Lunar Caustic; ‘writing in New York’, she argues, Lowry uses a distinctively ‘Liverpool’ literary voice ‘to capture another city in similar crisis, to balance its contradictions, and to try to deal with those personal ones that he imported’."

Alberto Rebollo (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) It's not Mexico of course, but in the heart..." Lowry seen from Quauhnahhauc

"From New York we travel south to Mexico, the setting and the genius loci of Lowry’s masterwork. Alberto Rebollo, guiding spirit of the Malcolm Lowry Foundation in Cuernavaca, gives an impassioned account of Lowry as the writer who, more even than most Mexican writers, has captured the truth of Mexico – and who, beyond any considerations of place, has written a novel of ‘human solidarity against death, human solidarity against isolation and the devastation of the world’."

Mark Goodall (University of Bradford) Lowrytrek: towards a psychogeography of Malcolm Lowry's Wirral

"At the centre of the book, and as it were giving a conceptual grounding to the whole, Mark Goodall gives background to the notion of ‘psychogeography’ and makes a convincing case both for the value of such an approach to Lowry and for Lowry’s own creative process as fundamentally psychogeographic; as he points out, in his letter to Cape Lowry describes the first chapter of Under the Volcano as ‘above all establish[ing] the terrain’."

Ailsa Cox (short-story writer/Edge Hill University) No se puede vivir sin amar

Mark’s piece is followed by Ailsa Cox’s short story, "which takes up the themes, so central to Under the Volcano, of circulating words – letters which may or may not reach their destination, may or may not even be sent – and of the absolute necessity, above all, of love."

Annick Drösdal-Levillain (Strasbourg University) Eridanus, Liverpool: Echoes and transformations at the edge of eternity

"From the volcanic landscapes of Mexico we follow Lowry to the northern idyll of Dollarton, Canada. Annick Drösdal-Levillain shows how Lowry’s Canadian ‘paradise’ was fundamentally imbued with the Wirral of his childhood; at the same time, she celebrates the ‘echo-system’ of Lowry’s writing, beautifully revealing the ‘treasures’ his work holds for ‘the reader willing to lend a “floating ear”’"

Nicholas Murray (Liverpool-born writer) Uxorius prose: Malcolm Lowry's October Ferry to Gabriola

"Liverpool-born Nicholas Murray also focuses on Lowry’s Canadian writing, in this case recounting how Lowry’s last work, the unfinished October Ferry to Gabriola, appeared in his own life as a book he was ‘destined to read’; October Ferry, Murray argues, is ‘occasionally a flawed novel, but it is a richly rewarding and haunting one in its celebration of human freedom and the determination to find a meaningful path or embark on the redeeming voyage’."

Michael Turner (Vancouver-based writer) The Malcolm Lowry Room

"Approaching Lowry from a rather different angle, writer and musician Michael Turner tells the wonderful story of how he came to create The Malcolm Lowry Room, a Vancouver nightclub ‘within mortar fire’ of Lowry’s Dollarton paradise, popular with bikers, playing host to the fabulous-sounding Demolition Doll Rods (‘a band that performed naked but for carefully placed pieces of gaffer tape, with two of the members in the midst of gender reassignment’), and presided over by huge photos of our hero himself ‘in his bathing trunks, standing guard’."

Robert Sheppard (poet and writer/Edge Hill University) Malcolm Lowry's land

"Finally, we come full circle. Writer and poet Robert Sheppard weaves together multiple times and multiple journeys to create a haunting (and haunted) depiction of his pilgrimage to Lowry’s grave in Ripe, Sussex."

Gordon Bowker (literary biographer; author of Pursued by Furies: A Life of Malcolm Lowry)Malcolm Lowry: neglected genius

"Gordon Bowker, author of the highly acclaimed biography of Lowry, Pursued by Furies, provides an overview of Lowry’s life and his place in the literary pantheon; he is, Bowker argues, ‘probably the most neglected genius of modern English literature’."

You can buy the book directly from the Liverpool University Press or from Amazon UK

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

Friday, 4 September 2009

Richard 11

A young Malc was taken by his father to see a version of Shakespeare's play at the Birkenhead Hippodrome circa 1919 (Bowker Pursued By Furies P 16).

King Richard the Second is a history play by William Shakespeare believed to be written in approximately 1595. It is based on the life of King Richard II of England (ruled 1377–1399) and is the first part of a tetralogy, referred to by some scholars as the Henriad, followed by three plays concerning Richard's successors: Henry IV, part 1, Henry IV, part 2, and Henry V. It may not have been written as a stand-alone work.

Although the First Folio (1623) edition of Shakespeare's works lists the play as a history play, the earlier Quarto edition of 1597 calls itself The tragedie of King Richard the second.
Read more on Wikipedia

D.W. Griffith's Broken Blossoms 1919

I see it as one of the greatest and most moving films of all time, one that is also a return to a great tradition of the movies, something that should combine the emotional impact of Griffith's Broken Blossoms and Isn't Life Wonderful with Citizen Kane. Letter to Frank Taylor 29 September 1949 discussing his film script for Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night.

This was one of the first films Malc ever saw as a child leaving a lasting impression (Bowker Pursued By Furies P 16).

Broken Blossoms or The Yellow Man and the Girl is a 1919 silent film directed by D.W. Griffith. It was distributed by United Artists and premiered on May 13, 1919. It stars Lillian Gish, Richard Barthelmess and Donald Crisp, and tells the story of young girl, Lucy Burrows, who is abused by her alcoholic prizefighting father, Battling Burrows, and meets Cheng Huan, a kind-hearted Chinese man who falls in love with her. It is based on Thomas Burke's The Chink and the Child. Read more on Wikipedia

You can watch the whole movie on You Tube

D W Griffith's Intolerance 1916

Abe gives his own background in movies: "I saw Buster Keaton in Seven Chances - I saw Intolerance." The cinema of Malcolm Lowry: a scholarly edition of Lowry's "Tender is the Night

No, but what's really funny, it was a D.W. Griffith film, Intolerance — or maybe Way Down East." Or perhaps (and ah, the eerie significance of cinemas in our life, Ethan thought, as if they related to the afterlife, as if we knew October Ferry to Gabriola

We went to see the old silent film Intolerance - played straight through without any music at all - a great mistake, since Griffith wrote his own score. Letter to Downie Kirk 13 December 1950

Intolerance: Love's Struggle Through the Ages is a 1916 American silent film directed by D. W. Griffith and is considered one of the great masterpieces of the Silent Era. The three-and-a-half hour epic intercuts four parallel storylines each separated by several centuries: A contemporary melodrama of crime and redemption; a Judean story: Christ’s mission and death; a French story: the events surrounding the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre of 1572; and a Babylonian story: the fall of the Babylonian Empire to Persia in 539 BC.

Intolerance was made partly in response to critics who protested against Griffith's previous film, The Birth of a Nation (1915), charging that it had overt racist content, characterizing racism as people's intolerance of other people's views.
Read more on Wikipedia

You can watch the whole film on You Tube

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Scampered Like Children Past The Hall Line Shed

And there had been nothing that mattered, save only themselves and the blue sky as they scampered like children past the Hall Line shed to the harbour wall just in time to see the Norwegian tramp steamer Oxenstjerna pass through the gate of the inner dock, while a scratch four paused on their oars watching her entrance steadfastly, their striped singlets dancing in the afternoon sunlight. Ultramarine

The Hall Line shed stood on the Wallasey side of the Great Float in Birkenhead Docks near to the Duke Street swing bridge.

Robert Alexander started shipowning in the 1850s and in 1868 founded the Sun Shipping Co., Liverpool which operated cargo and passenger services. The ships were named _____HALL, the company became known as the Hall Line, and in 1899 the name was officially changed to Hall Line Ltd. The company was purchased in 1901 by John Ellerman and continued operating as part of the Ellerman Group as Ellerman's Hall Line. Below is a photograph of a Hall Line ship The City Of Cairo built in 1915 and which would have been a familiar sight at the Hall Line sheds in Birkenhead during the 1920's

People rowing would also have been a familiar sight in the Great Float as it is today. The photograph shows a scratch four training from Wallasey Grammar School in the Great Float sometime in the 1930s. The Liverpool Victoria Rowing Club have been rowing in the Great Float since the 1884 and their boathouse is located near to the former Bidston Dock site. If you go to their site you can see a photograph of one of their oarsmen with a striped singlet as described by Lowry.

It is not surprising that Lowry has chosen to have a Norwegian ship entering the docks given the Norwegian heritage of Hilliot the main protagonist of Ultramarine which reflected Lowry's desire to adopt Norway as his spiritual or even sometimes his imaginary home.

The above ship Bravore would have been typical of the kind of Norwegian ships that would have visited Birkenhead Docks in the 1920's.

The Oxenstjerna acts a catalyst in Hilliot's mind to remind him of how Janet and his love first grew in Norway as they had both seen the ship in Oslo Fjord. I cannot find any ship with the name of Oxenstjerna and we can only speculate why Lowry chose this name. The ship in Ultramarine is named after a Swedish minister as we discover when Hilliot tells Janet the source of the name on the way home on the Liscard bus after seeing the ship.

Oxenstjerna is an ancient Swedish senatorial family, the origin of which can be traced up to the middle of the 14th century, which had vast estates in S6dermanland and Uppland, and began to adopt its armorial designation of Oxenstjerna (" Ox-forehead") as a personal name towards the end of the 16th century. Its most notable member was Count Axel Gustafsson (1583-1614), chancellor of Sweden, 1911 Encyclopedia