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Echoes and Origins: A new project exploring Bluecoat's colonial legacies.

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Keith Piper, Trade Winds (video still) from Trophies of Empire project, 1992  Bluecoat’s mercantile maritime origins and colonial legacies to be explored in new ...

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Malcolm Lowry - Sailing into View

SS Pyrrhus in the Mersey: Malcolm Lowry’s first sea voyage was on this ship


 

Bluecoat has celebrated Merseyside writer Malcolm Lowry since 2009, when we curated an exhibition marking the centenary of the birth of the author of modernist classic Under the Volcano (published 1947). That exhibition was accompanied by a season of music, literature and dance performances, talks, walks, films, a publication, and Day of the Dead participation event. Since 2010 we have continued to celebrate and explore the writer and his work at an annual ‘Lowry Lounge’ event.

This year it was not possible to host the Lounge at Bluecoat. Some of those involved however were invited in November to participate in the Malcolm Lowry International Colloquium, organised by the Fundación Malcolm Lowry in Cuernavaca, Mexico, where Under the Volcano is set. We gave an illustrated presentation about how we have ‘re-placed’ Lowry on Merseyside. You can watch our contribution on Facebook

In addition, our Artistic Director Bryan Biggs has put together a Lowry-related playlist for an interdisciplinary research project starting next year. Facilitated by artist Alan Dunn (Leeds Beckett University) through an AHRC Networking Grant, this will reimagine our relationship with the sea. Its starting point is Lowry’s own voyages, including to the Isle of Man, which held particular fascination for him, and his long waterside sojourn in Canada, where he wrote about nature and humans’ disregard for and destruction of the environment. 

The compilation, named after the Manx Fishermen’s Hymn that Lowry so loved, features an eclectic mix of music, including some tunes he knew or were recorded in his lifetime. Most however are more recent and encompass small ships afloat on the sea of life, the Isle of Man, pollution of the oceans, drowning in drink, and Lowry’s writing, in particular The Forest Path to the Spring and Under the Volcano.

 

You can listen to Hear Us O Lord…: A Malcolm Lowry playlist here

 

Notes to the tracks

 
Steve Miller Band, Song for our Ancestors (1968). Best known for their funky 70s rock hit The Joker, the Americans’ languorous psychedelia eases us out of port and into the ocean.

  
Cab Calloway, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (1931). Lowry may not have known the scat singing of this African American all-rounder. He would certainly though have concurred with his sentiment here of being caught between Hell and the deep abyss.


Frank Trumbauer & His Orchestra, Riverboat Shuffle (1927). Popular 1920s and 30s jazz band featuring Bix Beiderbecke on cornet. It was recorded the year Lowry set sail on his maiden voyage from Birkenhead to the Far East on board SS Pyrrhus.


Mundwerk, Frère Jacques (2011). From his shack at Dollarton, where he lived withhis wife Marjorie and christened ‘Eridanus’ (his paradise), Lowry likened the enginesof deep-sea freighters that passed by in the Burrard Inlet, to the French nursery rhyme.


The Spinners, The Ellan Vannin Tragedy (1965). Liverpool folk favourites’ Hughie Jones, accompanied by a Philharmonic Hall audience, sings of the sinking in Liverpool Bay of a vessel from Ramsey in 1909 (the year of Lowry’s birth), with the loss of all on board.


Broughton Church Choir, Hear Us O Lord from Heaven Thy Dwelling Place (The Manx Fishermen’s Hymn). The hymn lends its title to the book of Lowry short stories, published after his death, reflecting the writer’s fascination with the Isle of Man. 


Graham Collier, Forest Path to the Spring (1977). Collier interpreted Lowry’s work on his LP, The Day of the Dead, weaving extracts from Under the Volcano into his improvisatory jazz. This track, from the Symphony Of Scorpions LP, evokes Lowry’s novella about Dollarton. All of Collier’s Day of the Dead recording can be found here.


Vinegarwine, A forráshoz vezet? ösvény/The Forest Path to the Spring (2010). Anobscure Eastern European tribute to Lowry’s Edenic retreat in Canada.  


Virginia Astley, From Gardens Where We Feel Secure (1983). Title track from Astley’s album of tone poems that ‘describe the cycle and mirror the moods of an indolent summer day’. Her piano improvisations and evocations of the natural world may have appealed to Lowry, who feared eviction from his own garden of Eden.


King Tubby, Dub Fi Gwan. First track of the CD accompanying David Toop’s book Ocean of Sound: Aether Talk, Ambient Sound and Imaginary Worlds. Sublime production from the dub pioneer whose waves, ripples and echoes of sound take us to otherworldly depths.


Aphex TwinAnalogue Bubblebath (1991). Also on the Ocean of Sound CD, this squelchy electro track floats midway between techno and ambient.


The Frogmen, Underwater (1961). Primitive rock’n’roll instrumental reflective of the genre’s fascination with things both under the sea and from outer space. Not the monster from the deep lagoon here though, just a croaking frog.


Tommy Mercer & The McBrides, Volcano Rock (1959). More raucous rock’n’roll, recorded two years after Lowry’s death. A Lowry Lounge favourite, the writer– a jazz devotee - may have appreciated the song’s volcanic power, if not the music. 


Jack Bruce, The Consul at Sunset (1971). Another Lowry disco perennial, this lilting Latin-flavoured song from the Cream bassist’s solo LP Harmony Row, with lyrics by British beat poet and Lowry fan Pete Brown, captures the wooziness of Under the Volcano’s central character, The Consul.


Judy Henske and Jerry Yester, Charity (1969). One of the standout tracks on the couple’s exquisite psychedelic pop LP Farewell Aldebaran, charting the ship’s destiny sailing for ‘a million years on a sea of tears’.


Tim Buckley, Song to the Siren (1968). Gorgeous song full of watery metaphors, performed live by Buckley. The song took on poignant resonance after Buckley’s son Jeff drowned some 30 years after this recording, aged 30. Tim was 28 when he died.


Alan Perry/William Gardner Orchestra, Sailing By. Recording adopted as theme tune for Radio 4’s The Shipping Forecast. Lowry would no doubt have raised a glass, particularly as it was composed, in 1963, by the appropriately named Ronald Binge.


Brian Perkins, The Shipping Forecast. Read by the familiar voice of the nightly forecast, this spoof was written by Les Barker for Guide Cats for the Blind, a series of fundraising CDs for The British Computer Association of the Blind.


The O’Jays, Ship Ahoy (1973). Title track from chart-topping LP by the veteran vocal r’n’b group who formed in 1958. The song powerfully evokes the ‘middle passage’ of the transatlantic slave trade, from which Liverpool – Lowry’s ‘terrible city whose main street is the ocean’ – prospered.


Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Heart Like a Wheel (1975). The Canadian sisters’ song likening the heart to a ship out on the ocean, with its ‘deep dark abyss’, which would have appealed to Lowry. There is a later live version here.


Loudon Wainwright, Wine with Dinner (1976). Ex-husband of Kate McGarrigle (whose children Rufus, Martha and Lucy followed in their musical footsteps) sings of a ‘lost weekend…’ (Charles Jackson’s novel that Lowry feared would upstage his) ‘…under the volcano’.


Jimmy Liggins, I Ain't Drunk (1954). Intoxicating jump blues from Liggins, one ofthe late 1940s/early 50s bandleaders who paved the way for rockn’roll. ‘I ain’t drunk, I’m just drinking’ is a line Lowry could have penned for one of his own songs. 


James Carr, Pouring Water On A Drowning Man (1966). Deep Southern soul trackfrom the troubled singer, its title - and that of others like The Dark End of The Street and You've Got My Mind Messed Up - have almost Lowryan significance.


Kevin Ayers, Song from the bottom of a well (1972). From the ex-Soft Machine member’s Whatevershebringswesing LP, the song evokes disorientation and strangeness in the ocean’s depths, as in a well, where ‘the water seems like wine’.  


Closest whale encounters. Humpback whales showing humans how to make music. 


Country Joe McDonald, Save the Whales (1975). Ex-Country Joe and The Fish hippy activist McDonald continues to make socially conscious music, including this stirring contemporary sea shanty railing against the whaling industry.


The Doors, Ship of Fools (1970). Consciousness about the environment ran through much West Coast psychedelia, surfacing here in this Doors’ track from their Morrison Hotel LP, as Jim expresses concern about air pollution and humanity’s fate.


Tiny Tim, The Other Side (The Ice Caps Are Melting) (1968). Prescient ecological ditty from the eccentric US entertainer. There is an even further-out version performed on children’s television.


Jack Johnson
, Only the Ocean (Lyric video to fight plastic pollution) (2017). Fifty years on from Tiny Tim, Johnson advertises a ‘plastic free record’ in melodic fashion that expresses the same sentiment but without the bite of the next track.


Brian Goodall, Goes Around Comes Around: A Song About Plastic Pollution in Our Oceans (2018). In the face of our catastrophic overuse of plastic documented in the video here, the singer urges us to ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’.


Pink Floyd, Echoes (1971). Taking up all of side two of LP Meddle, the track grew over six months’ exploration of three recording studios’ multi-track capabilities. From ‘the echo of the distant tide’, the Floyd voyage, like the albatross, into oceanic space.


Bix Beiderbecke, In a Mist (1928). This improvisatory piano piece by Lowry’s favourite jazzman is a fitting place to pause on the ‘voyage that never ends’. 

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