The first Lowry project was in 2009 when a whole season was given over to Lowry on the centenary of his birth. Since then, the Bluecoat has collaborated with a group of Lowry enthusiasts, the Firminists (named after the main character in Under the Volcano, Geoffrey Firmin) in researching and celebrating the writer, reconnecting him to Merseyside through an annual Lowry Lounge. A prominent role here has been played by poet Helen Tookey, with the support of the Research Institute for Literature and Cultural History (RILCH) at Liverpool John Moores University, where she teaches. Other key contributors include Wirral artist and Lowry expert Colin Dilnot, Firminist founder, musician and academic Mark Goodall, and artists and writers Ailsa Cox, Alan Dunn, John Hyatt, Cian Quayle and Robert Sheppard.
About Malcolm Lowry
The son of a Liverpool cotton broker, Malcolm Lowry grew up exploring the Deeside of the Wirral after the family moved to Caldy. The topography of this Merseyside peninsula, with its beaches, woods, golf courses and lighthouses, set against the backdrop of North Wales, is vividly recalled in his writing.
Lowry studied literature at Cambridge, before leaving England for an eventful life in Europe, America, Mexico and Canada, where he settled, living in a squatter’s shack at Dollarton on the Burrard Inlet, north of Vancouver, with his second wife Margerie Bonner.
Here, during the Second World War, he completed his great novel Under the Volcano, set in Mexico as the world headed towards war. Structured around a single day – the Day of the Dead – in 1938, in the life of an alcoholic British ex-consul, the book is a richly layered meditation on the human condition and a portrayal of self-destruction.
Published in 1947, the book was hailed as a modern masterpiece and continues to be listed among the most significant novels of the 20th century. In 1984, it was adapted by John Huston for a film starring the late Albert Finney as the consul. In his life, Lowry had only one other book published, Ultramarine (1933), based on his voyage as a young deckhand, sailing from Birkenhead Docks to the Far East. He left several unfinished books, short stories and poems, many of which were published posthumously.
Though Lowry never returned to Merseyside, his childhood haunts inform his writing, not least in his ‘lost’ novel, In Ballast to the White Sea, set largely in Wirral, Liverpool and Preston, and published in a scholarly edition in 2014.
Lowry was honoured in 2019 by Wirral Council with a blue plaque in his birthplace of New Brighton, positioned on the sea wall looking out to the Mersey Estuary, a resonant site for a writer whose voyages took him across the oceans. The Bluecoat worked with Conservation Areas Wirral to realise this long-overdue acknowledgment.
We are currently updating this collection. Check back soon for more artefacts
Collection was developed in collaboration with the Research Institute for Literature and Cultural History (RILCH) at Liverpool John Moores University.
Header image: Malcolm Lowry at Dollarton, 1945. Image courtesy of University of British Columbia Library, Rare Books and Special Collections, Malcolm Lowry Collection, BC 1614/07.
2009, Malcolm Lowry Centenary
The Bluecoat's celebration of Malcolm Lowry started in 2009, the centenary of his birth. See images, artefacts and more from this two-month programme, which was curated around a special exhibition in our gallery.
2010, the first Lowry Lounge
Following the Bluecoat's celebration of Malcolm Lowry in 2009, a year later the Bluecoat worked with a group of Lowry enthusiasts to present an evening of activities called The Lowry Lounge. Take a look at the event's programme, set list and more here.
The Lowry Lounge, 2012
The Bluecoat continued its celebration of Malcolm Lowry with its third Lounge, exploring and celebrating the life and work of the Wirral-born writer. The programme started with a psychogeographical walking tour of Liverpool, led by Colin Dilnot and an afternoon at the arts centre which included performances, talks, a film and the launch of The Firminist No 3, the occasional journal of all things Lowry.
The Lowry Lounge, 2013
The Bluecoat continued its celebration of Malcolm Lowry with a fourth Lounge, exploring and celebrating the life and work of the Wirral-born writer. The programme took place entirely on site at the arts centre and included a sound work and film screening, and talks on Lowry's connections to Herman Melville, the writings of his first wife Jan Gabrial, establishing a Lowry archive, and the significance for Lowry of the Mexican Day of the Dead.
The Lowry Lounge, 2014
The Bluecoat's fifth annual celebration of the life and work of the Wirral-born writer Malcolm Lowry represented a substantial development for the Lounge.
The Lowry Lounge: The 19th Hole, 2015
The Bluecoat's sixth annual celebration of the life and work of Malcolm Lowry combined a walking tour of his Wirral birthplace, led by Colin Dilnot, with a focus on his golfing haunts, a screening of one of Lowry's favourite films, and a second book launch in collaboration with University of Ottawa Press.
The Lowry Lounge, 2016
The Bluecoat's seventh annual celebration of the life and work of Wirral-born Malcolm Lowry (1909-1957) started with a walking tour of 'consular Liverpool', led by Colin Dilnot, visiting the city's phantom consulates in homage to the lead character in Lowry's famous book, Under the Volcano, an ex-British Consul. At the Bluecoat the day continued with a screening of one of Lowry's favourite films, talks and readings, and a third book launch in collaboration with University of Ottawa Press.
The Lowry Lounge and Conference
The Bluecoat's eighth annual celebration of the life and work of Wirral-born Malcolm Lowry (1909-1957) was the most ambitious to date, incorporating a conference at Liverpool John Moores University and the Bluecoat, a coach and walking tour of the Wirral, an archival display, artists' installations, and the premiere of a new performance commission.
The Lowry Lounge: Sounding Lowry, 2018
Malcolm Lowry described Liverpool as 'that terrible city whose main street is the ocean' and the ninth annual Lowry Lounge was staged on both sides of the river Mersey that flows to the ocean. Firstly, at the Williamson Art Gallery, there was a talk introducing Lowry's Wirral and an installation by Alan Dunn.
Lowry Lounge, 2019
2019 was a busy year for Lowry enthusiasts, with the writer featured on BBC Radio Four's Great Lives, a blue plaque erected in his birthplace of New Brighton overlooking the Mersey, and the tenth Lowry Lounge staged on both sides of the river. This included a walking tour of Lowry’s Wirral haunts, an illustrated talk about his life and work at the Williamson Art Gallery, launch of The Firminist journal, and a reflection on ten years of the Lounge through creative responses from writers, musicians and fans.
Remaking the Voyage and Lowry During Lockdown 2020
The 2020 Lowry Lounge was, like everything else that year, affected by the Covid pandemic, when lockdown restrictions prevented the Bluecoat hosting an event. However, three of the Firminists - the group that organises the Lounge with the Bluecoat - participated in an online event, the Malcolm Lowry Colloquium which is staged annually in Cuernavaca, Mexico - the setting of Lowry's masterpiece, Under the Volcano. The year also saw publication of a new book, Remaking the Voyage: New Essays on Malcolm Lowry and In Ballast to the White Sea, edited by two people involved since the start of the Liverpool Lowry events, Helen Tookey and Bryan Biggs.