2017 sees the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Mersey Sound, one of the biggest selling poetry books of all time. Not only that, it’s widely credited with seeding the rise of Performance Poetry and Spoken Word and, as one critic put it, ‘wrestling poetry out of the hands of the academics, and taking it into pubs, clubs and the lives of everyday people’.
And to celebrate that anniversary the three major arts organisations across Hope Street (the beating heart of the Mersey Poets scene) Liverpool Philharmonic, Unity Theatre and Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse are working together to create a series of works celebrating the work of Roger McGough, Adrian Henri and Brian Patten….The poets, performers and artists behind the Mersey Sound.
“The Mersey Poets were pivotal to 1967 and the performances on offer at these three Hope Street cultural hubs will undoubtedly be hugely popular – not only with audiences who enjoyed their work the first time round, but also to those discovering these wordsmiths for the first time.” Cllr Wendy Simon, Deputy Mayor
The publication of The Mersey Sound in 1967 wasn’t the only thing happening in and around Liverpool that year. There was, of course, the small matter of the release of the Beatles Magical Mystery Tour and Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and on Hope Street the Metropolitan Cathedral opened its doors for the first time. Nationally 67 saw some of the biggest cultural shifts of a generation (not least the decriminalisation of homosexuality) releasing a genuine feeling of the avant-garde forcing its way into the mainstream. It was a defining year in modern culture and creativity.
So not surprising then that Liverpool is celebrating all of that, and more in 67-17: 50 Summers of Love. Two massive events have already been announced – the live performance by the Phil and the Bootleg Beatles of the afore mentioned Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (the show, called It Was 50 Years Ago Today is narrated by Roger McGough, plays Liverpool Phil, the Royal Albert Hall, and tours) and the already sold out, only European date, of John Cale’s celebration of The Velvet Underground debut album Nico (see this Liverpool echo story here).
Our Mersey Sound season joins these two events as a key part of the celebrations.
So what’s in the season?
First out the blocks are the Everyman. From 13-29 April LEP will produce a brand new adaptation of Brian Patten’s The Story Giant, a tale for families of a giant who lives off new stories from around the world. Directed by Matt Rutter and adapted by Lindsay Rodden, The Story Giant brings together four children from the different corners of the globe to exchange the tales they know from their own cultures to see if between them they can piece together the only story he’s never heard and keep him alive.
The Story Giant is a magical tale for children that contains all the poetry and humanity one associates with Brian’s writing for adults. We hope that this new theatrical incarnation of Brian’s imagination will inspire the next generation of storytellers and poets to create a voice as fresh and distinct as he, Roger and Adrian did all those years ago.
Everyman & Playhouse Artistic Director Gemma Bodinetz
Next up is the the RLPO who (alongside It Was 50 Years Ago Today) will perform Summer with Monika, McGough’s magical, iconic tale of love in the 1960s (first published in 1967). The Phil’s new music group, Ensemble 10/10, will play Andy Roberts’ original arrangements as McGough reads his epic poem in an evening also featuring more of Roger’s classic poetry set to music.
Liverpool Philharmonic is delighted to be working with Roger and Andy Roberts in presenting what will be an unforgettable evening of poetry and music in the intimate setting of Music Room. Along with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra’s collaboration with The Bootleg Beatles in the main auditorium that celebrates the release of Sgt Pepper, our two events give a great flavour of what will be a fantastic city-wide celebration of Liverpool’s role and contribution to the uniquely creative time that was the Summer of Love of 1967.
Richard Haswell, Liverpool Philharmonic’s Head of Programme (Hall & Events)
(archive video of summer with monika)
And here At Unity Theatre, Lizzie Nunnery, Vidar Norheim and Martin Heslop will combine poetry, live music, storytelling and film to create a new work inspired by The Mersey Sound, and specifically Adrian Henri. Horny Handed Tons of Soil is inspired by Henri’s poetic responses to the urban geography of Liverpool. The production, which takes to the stage from 13-15 July explores themes of destruction, construction and memory and what’s been lost and found in the re-sculpturing of the Liverpool landscape (and especially L8) over the last fifty years.
Adrian Henri’s work as a poet, painter, writer, musician and commentator freely mixed influences and art forms. He encouraged the kind of creative collisions which inspire much of the work we see today on Unity stages and spaces. As an artist he loved Liverpool, and spent a lifetime exploring and celebrating the city, making things (often strange things) happen. So it seemed only right to invite another Liverpool artist for whom ‘place’ is important to create a work inspired by Adrian. Step forward Lizzie Nunney (and her collaborators Martin and Vidar).
In fact Unity (together with Phrased & Confused) actually invited Lizzie to create the initial scratch performance for Horny Handed Tons of Soil back in March 16 for the Liverpool Acoustic Festival. (Arguably the whole idea for this Mersey Sound collaboration was born out of that Liverpool Acoustic Festival 16. ) You can catch a glimpse of that fantastic night here:-
So it’s incredibly exciting to be able to build on that initial first outing, and to invite Lizzie, Martin and Vidar to create a full length piece for the Mersey Sound programme, and for it to sit alongside Summer with Monika at the Phil and The Story Giant at the Everyman & Playhouse – a brand new commission, alongside a new adaptation and a revisiting and reworking. Three giants of the performance poetry scene celebrated at three very special venues. For us at Unity Horny Handed Tons of Soil is extra special as it will also be one of a number of new works being created to celebrate the re-opening of Unity Theatre following our £790,000 capital redevelopment project Build Unity Better.
There’s many more Summers of Love announcements to come (including some more work celebrating the influence of the Mersey Sound). To keep bang up to date keep an eye on 50summersoflove.co.uk , CultureLpool (Twitter) and Culture Liverpool (Facebook).
But for now…here’s the Hope Street Mersey Sound season detail in full
Unity Theatre Presents
Horny Handed Tons of Soil Written and Performed by Lizzie Nunnery, Vidar Norheim and Martin Heslop
At the Unity Theatre from Thursday 13 to Saturday 15 July
Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse presents
The Story GiantFrom the book by Brian Patten. Adapted by Lindsay Rodden. Director Matt Rutter. Season Designers Molly Elizabeth Lacey Davies, Jocelyn Meall, Michael Vale
At the Liverpool Everyman from Thursday 13 April to Saturday 29 April
The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Presents
Roger McGough with Ensemble 10/10
At Music Room, Liverpool Philharmonic Hall from Tuesday 27 June to Wednesday 28 June
The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra Presents
It Was 50 Years Ago Today
A Celebration of Sgt Pepper and the Summer of Love
The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (arranged by Nigel Osborne)
Presented by Roger McGough Conducted by Richard Balcombe with The Bootleg Beatles
At the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall on Wednesday 31 May, Saturday 3 June and Saturday 8 July