Monday, August 29, 2016


This is the beginning of a multi-layered post on Adrian Henri and the Liverpool Poets triggered by this brilliant book, sent to THE GENERALIST by Antony Hudek who is Director of Objectif Exhibitions, Antwerp and
Curator at Large at Raven Row, 56 Artillery Row London.

It was published by Occasional Papers to accompany an exhibition, curated by Catherine Marcangeli, staged at Liverpool John Moores University [5 July - 26th October 2014]. Antony facilitated the exhibition and contributed two essays including one based on a visit to Henri's home and archives, preserved thanks to the efforts of  Catherine M. who writes in the book's intro:

'In 'Notes on Painting and Poetry' Henri insists that he found 'no difficulty (other than shortage of time) in being a painter, poet, organiser of happenings, teacher and touring musician. This versatility is paired with an open-minded curiosity for and delight in other artists' work.'

In that same essay, Henri begins: 'The trouble is people want a label for you'. He looks back to Dada and Surrealism for validation. 'Consider Duchamp, or the prewar activities of Salvador Dali: films, exhibition-environments, poems, book jackets, objects, ephemeral events are equally important in their oeuvre'.

I'm ashamed to say I was largely ignorant of his work as an artist before seeing this book. He studied art at King's College, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and then gained a BA at the University of Durham where Richard Hamilton, the quintessential Pop artist, was a lecturer. Henri's initial work is very street-level and contains elements of Pop and collage. Its exciting and stimulating to see this work from the 50s/early 60s. His first exposure was at a group exhibition at the Walker Arts Gallery in Liverpool in 1958.

Adrian Henri with (on the right) his Big Liverpool 8 Murder Painting, c1964. Photograph: ICA.
This images, which appeared in The Guardian is almost certainly wrongly dated. In this book's detailed chronology and on the chronology on the Adrian Henry website:
its lists a solo show at the ICA in 1968. The website has great portfolios of his work.

'Total Artist' also has a excellent essay by Bryan Biggs, a Liverpool artist and now Director of the city's Bluecoat Arts Centre.

Interestingly Biggs suggests that Henri may have been influenced in his concept of 'total art' by the 1955 publication of this book by Roget Shattuck which documents the origin of the avant-garde in France at the beginning of the 20th century. It focuses on the naive painter Henri Rousseau, the composer Eric Satie, the poet Gulllaume Apollinaire and playwright Alfred Jarry, creator of Pere Ubu.

Biggs writes: 'The book pointed to the possibility of interdisciplinarity which Henri took a stage further by coalescing all these artforms into a single practice - the artist as painter-poet-performer-musician.'

A parallel book, Calvin Tomkins 'The Bride and The Bachelors' (published in the UK in 1965 as 'Ahead of the Game: Four Versions of the Avant-Garde') profiles composer John Cage, mixed media painter Robert Rauschenberg, machine sculptor Jean Tinguely and grandfather of the avant-garde Marcel Duchamp. [See Previous Post: Masters of the Avant Garde (Nov 2010)]

Biggs writes: 'By the time this book was published in Britain, Henri had 'already staged several 'events', arguably the first performance art in the UK, which put the idea of the multimedia experiment into practice...poetry, painting and pop.'

Another big influence on Henri was the American artist Allan Kaprow, a painter and pioneer of peformance art, who coined the term 'Happening'.

The book as a whole and Bigg's essay in particular, give a real feel for what was going on in Liverpool alongside the Beatles and the Merseybeat boom. I love this account of Allen Ginsberg's visit to the city in 1965. Biggs writes:
'He famously described the city as 'at the present moment the centre of the consciousness of the human universe. They're resurrecting the human form divine there - all those beautiful youths, with long, golden archangelic hair'. Henri recalls taking Ginsberg to the Cavern and other venues to taste Merseybeat first hand, drummers from local beat groups jamming with the Beat legend, who played Tibetan rhythms on a set of finger cymbals.'
Of course Adrian Henri came to national prominence, alongside fellow Liverpool poets Roger McGough and Brian Patten, through the publication of 'The Mersey Sound'  (1967) which has become one of the best-selling poetry books of all time and had a huge influence at that time. It was above all accessible to our generation.

From the 'happenings' Henri and the others realised the potential of combining spoken word with live music. Much of the collaborations up to that point were improvisations to jazz. Henri liked scripting rather than improv and was keener to combine poetry with rock and pop. The Mersey poets' work lent itself to performance. Biggs  gives us a valuable history lesson:

 'Poetry and live music was not new. In London, poetry and jazz were being performed together in concerts organised by Jeremy Robson featuring Adrian Mitchell, Laurie Lee, Dannie Abse and Christopher Logue, who also recorded an EP, 'Red Bird,' with The Tony Kinsey Quintet."

'Michael Horovitz's 'New Departures' visited British towns and cities between 1960 and 1965, the first touring jazz and poetry group in the country, coming in Henri's words 'to evangelise the north,' including Liverpool.

'A concert, 'Blues for the Hitch-hiking Dead', at the Crane Theatre in 1961 featured Horovitz, Pete Brown and Mark (Spike) Hawkins with The Art Reid Quartet. 

[You can listen to a long interview I recorded in November 2007 with Mike Horowitz on the Audio Generalist site ]

'Henri was disdainful of poets improvising with jazz: 'Some of the English poetry-and-jazz people make exaggerated claims about this and some poets I know are constantly re-writing their work'.

 'Pete Brown describes the poetry he was then writing 'in loosely musical forms like chase choruses. Theoretically it was pretentious but what saved it was the humour and a certain Britishness'.  

'If these experiments were unsuccessful artistically, the efforts of Brown and Hawkins - 'hitch-hiking evangelists of the London poetry/jazz circuit'" - were however instrumental, working with 'local unknowns', in getting the Liverpool live poetry scene going in the early 1960s, with readings at Streate's coffee house on Mount Pleasant hosted by Dubliner Johnny Byrne who, with Hawkins, relocated to the city. This was the archetypal 'cellar club', candlelit and with whitewashed walls, duffle coats and modern jazz. It 'was to poetry what the Cavern was to rock'n'roll'

'Musical accompaniment was a regular feature of these poetry readings and, at Sampson & Barlow's basement beneath the Peppermint Lounge on London Road and other venues, was increasingly played by electric bands, notably The Almost Blues and The Clayton Squares. In contrast to New Departures' proselytising, it was pop and rhythm & blues, not jazz, that offered a way forward for the emergent pop poetry, a path more in tune with the local Merseybeat.'

Most of the audience were fans of The Beatles or other bands at The Cavern. According to Mike Evans, one of Henri's chief collaborators, George and Ringo came to one of the poetry events at Liverpool's Hope Hall.

The best-known band to emerge from this scene was The Scaffold (1963–1974), which featured John Gorman, Mike McCartney (brother of Paul McCartney) and Roger McGough.

Wikipedia claims that 'Initially Adrian Henri was a member, when they were known as 'The Liverpool, One Fat Lady, All Electric Show'. ("One Fat Lady" is the bingo term for 8, and they mostly lived in the Liverpool 8 district.)'

In December 1967 'Thank U Very Much' (sung with a Liverpool accent) reached number 4 in the charts. A year later 'Lily the Pink' reached number 1. Ringo Starr's bass drum was used; also featured were Jack Bruce from Cream, Graham Nash from The Hollies and Reg Dwight, later renaming himself Elton John. Both hits were in the spirit of cheery and humorous drinking songs.'


Henri envied the greater freedom of pop stars compared to poets. In his essay: 'Notes on Painting and Poetry' he wrote:
'Because of the whole pop aura that surrounds their work they could allow themselves obscure or very personal images or sounds and their public will accept it. Whereas we always have to worry about the problem of communicating: what can't you allow yourself to say. I think this is a marvellous situation, for them. I think Dylan falls into the obvious trap this freedom opens, sometimes: The Beatles always seem to avoid it. Because no matter how interested in Oriental music or post-Stockhausen techniques they are they always seem aware of their responsibility as entertainers.'


In 1966, Henri teamed up with guitar player Andy Roberts and they fine-tuned music that worked with the poetry reading. Early in '67, they started performing in collaborations and happenings. 

Also in 1966, Henri and Patten met Edward Lucie Smith at the Nottingham poetry festival. He was known to them both as a prominent published poet and art critic. ELS wrote and said he wanted to publish one of Henri's poems in 'Encounter' but also later expressed an interest in producing an anthology of the Liverpool poets and quickly found backing from Rapp & Carroll. Born in Jamaica, Oxford graduate Lucie-Smith was an unlikely champion (as was Brian Epstein for the Beatles). 

Meanwhile McGough had been signed up by another publisher and the Liverpool poets came to the attention of Tony Richardson, the originator and publisher of the Penguin Modern Poets.'The Mersey Sound' which was published in the summer of 1967.

According to 'A Gallery to Play To: The Story of the Mersey Poets' by Phil Bowen [Liverpool University Press * see UPDATE at end] Lucie-Smith's book with photos by Phillip Jones Griffith was launched at the Cavern on March 3rd with a big press junket. It was then launched in London at the ICA, which Biggs says, led to tv appearance on BBC2, a gig at London's underground UFO club.

CBS used the same cover image for an album entitled 'The Incredible New Liverpool Scene' released to coincide with the book. Recorded in two hours in a studio in Denmark Street, it features Henri and Patten with Roberts on guitar. John Peel plays it on his pirate radio show 'Perfumed Garden' which led him to nominally becoming the producer of the first album by Henri's band: The Liverpool Scene.


'The Liverpool Scene shared a breadth of musical backgrounds that included jazz, beat, folk and blues, all of which were effectively deployed to create evocative settings for the poems of Henri, Evans and a non-band member, the Liverpool painter Maurice Cockrill ('Happy Burial Blues')... 'We do a noisy kind of abandoned thing', Henri declared, stressing that they only came together as a band for the last half hour of their set, the rest of the time being devoted to individual performances of poetry and songs.'
- Bryan Biggs

The band crystallised mid-1967 with Henri and Roberts being joined by Mike Evans (poet/sax), Mike Hart (vocals/guitar), Percy Jones (bass), Brian Dodson (drums) and became a regular gigging band on the progressive rock and university circuit.
In 1968, 'The Liverpool Scene: 'Amazing Adventures of...' album was produced by John Peel and released by RCA Records. After its release Brian Dodson was replaced by Peter Clarke.

 May 1969 saw the release of the their second album 'Bread On The Night' followed by appearances at the Bath Blues Festival, the Albert Hall and the Dylan Isle of Wight festival. and then toured the US doing supporting gigs with Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Kinks and Joe Cocker. At Kent State University, Ohio, they played support for Sly and the Family Stone in front of 17,00 people. None of their charm worked for an Americana audience and their three month tour was pronounced an 'absolute disaster'.

Their final album 'St Adrian Co., Broadway and 3rd' contained one live side and on the reverse a 22-minute word and sound collage 'Made in the USA'. The band split in 1970.

Adrian Henri [Born April 10 1932; died December 20 2000]  

Obituaries by Mike Evans and Nell Dunn/The Guardian    



'Andy accepted an offer to study law at Liverpool University, almost immediately bumping into Roger McGough at a bookshop as soon as he got there. The ‘jazz and poetry’ movement was at its peak, and Roger invited Andy to dive in: ‘February 1966 was the first time I did a thing with him and Adrian Henri, at the Bluecoat Theatre in Liverpool. It just took off from there. Within a couple of months I was doing poetry events at The Cavern and playing with a band at the University. There was loads going on.’

'Soon, on the back of a 1967 poetry anthology entitled The Liverpool Scene, Adrian Henri, Roger McGough and Andy, along with jazz saxophonist Mike Evans and songwriter/guitarist Mike Hart, were taking bookings as ‘The Liverpool Scene Poets’. Roger had to drop out of the poetry gigs (The Scaffold), leaving Andy to suggest to the charismatic Adrian Henri that all they needed was a bassist and drummer to become a bona fide band. .The Liverpool Scene was born.

'An album for CBS had already been recorded, prior to the band’s formation, called The Incredible New Liverpool Scene' BBC Radio’s champion of ’the underground’ John Peel took a shine to it and regularly booked the now fully-fledged band (or, as a duo, Roberts & Henri) for his show and for his own live engagements. He also nominally produced their first full-band album, Amazing Adventures Of… (RCA, 1968), in a recording deal secured by their new manager Sandy Roberton – a key figure in the careers of many now legendary acts at the progressive ends of folk and rock music of the time.

1969 saw the Liverpool Scene at their peak – delivering their second album Bread On The Night, touring the UK on a three act bill with Led Zeppelin and Blodwyn Pig, playing to 150,000 at the Isle of Wight Festival and touring America for a gruelling, and revelatory three months. ‘Absolute disaster', is Andy’s verdict on the tour. ‘We suddenly came up against the utter reality of it. With a British audience, given this poetry and a band that were never rehearsed, we got away with it through being so different and [through] our verve and irreverence. None of which worked in America.’

'The American experience would nevertheless inspire the band’s best work – the lengthy ‘Made In USA’ suite, one side of their last LP proper, St Adrian Co, Broadway And 3rd (1970).'


The 2-CD package features most of the band’s recorded output, along with some previously unreleased live material. Many of the included tracks have never been available on CD before, others have been meticulously remastered from the original master tapes from 40 years ago. This release has been made possible with the co-operation of the original members of the band and Adrian's estate.


Bryan Biggs has already flagged that Pete Brown and Spike Hawkins were however instrumental, working with 'local unknowns', in getting the Liverpool live poetry scene going in the early 1960s, with readings at Streate's coffee house on Mount Pleasant hosted by Dubliner Johnny Byrne who, with Hawkins, relocated to the city.

 Pete Brown also ran on a parallel course with Adrian Henri in that he got several bands together, got on a record and gigged. More anon.

Pete Brown's autobiography 'White Rooms & Imaginary Westerns: Ginsberg, Clapton and Cream an Anarchic Odyssey' which The Generalist has been digesting in sections and taking notes on over the last couple of years, makes more sense to me after reading Bryan's essay. Its published by JR Books but copies are rare and very costly on Amazon.

In an early chapter 'Devon and Beat Beginnings', he describes how he and Vic (his lifelong friend who he met at grammar school) 'bonded with Mal Dean, who was trying to play the trombone badly, and his fellow Liverpudlian Johnny Byrne. Mal, who had been a contemporary of John Lennon at the Art School, confirmed that there was a great scene in Liverpool and we should visit.'

[Left: John Lennon's own book of poetry, writings and drawings was published by Jonathan Cape in 1964. A treasured possession.]

Back in London, while his parents were away, Brown's homeless friends came to stay including the aforementioned Mel and Johnny. When the Browns returned, they were kicked out and were joined by Spike. All crammed into Victor's one-room flat. During a thunderstorm, they were all evicted by the police with a huge dog. 

Brown says of Spike: [He] 'had a similar relationship with his parents to mine, although his seem to have prompted more extreme behaviour. Legend had it that after he dropped out of college he was living in a hedge near Aylesbury. He was to become an extraordinary poet and a great friends.'

Somewhile later, Spike, Brown and other dossers were staying in 'a hovel in Victoria' which was soon overcrowded. Brown recalls: ' I arrived early one morning to find a note pinned to Spike's (still sleeping) conquest: BROWN. HAVE GONE TO LIVERPOOL. PLEASE FOLLOW.

'Spike had indeed gone to Liverpool, where he promptly began the seminal (in more ways than one) poetry readings in Streate's coffee bar on Mount Pleasant. The manager there, John L., later to become my roadie, dispensed sped pills from a huge sweet jar under the counter.

'It really was Spike who started the whole Liverpool poetry scene, and he has never received the credit for it, along with Johnny Byrne who helped organise things and later became a writer himself. Between they they recruited local talent such as Adrian Henri, at that time chiefly a painter and teacher, Sam Walsh, also a painter but a fine folk singer, Roger McGough, and a little later, the amazing 15-year-old Brian Patten. John Lennon was certainly around - he lived in the same building as Adrian and Sam across from the towering Gothic cathedral, the famed Gambier Terrace.'

Brown fell in love with Liverpool: 'The mixture of Welsh, Irish and Lancashire cultures crossed with Afro-Caribbean, Chinese and socialism was very attractive. The city was soon to be home to nearly 500 professional or semi-pro rock bands, and probably the only independent poetry magazine in Britain ever to make any money, 'Underdog'. [Produced by Brian Patten]

Brown is probably best-known for the great songs he wrote with Jack Bruce for 'Cream' (four tracks on 'Disraeli Gears') and later for Jack's brilliant first solo album 'Song for A Tailor', one of my all time favourite albums.

Like Adrian Henri, Pete Brown formed, gigged and recorded with bands - the Battered Ornaments and Piblokto. Brown was unceremoniously turfed out of the BOs, a band he set up, on the night before they played the Stones concert at Hyde Park in '69, shortly after the death of Brian Jones. He immediately formed Piblokto. Many of the posters and album covers for these bands were done by Mal Dean, Genius.



by Phil Bowen [First published by Stride Publications(1999); revised 2nd Edition/Liverpool University Press (2008)]

'...the Liverpool poets listened, learnt and led.'
- Adrian Henri

When I began writing this post some days ago now, I did not even know this book existed. Halfway through the story, I discovered it on Google Books. I then ordered a copy from the net, devoured it in a few days, wrote to Phil Bowen who replied that, as it turns out, he is coming to visit Lewes before the end of the year. Result.

To summarise briefly, this is the boss history, a master class in how to write a group biography (v. tricky), how to write about poetry and analyse it well enough so that it is not pretentious but enlightening. Its extremely elegantly written, flows beautifully and takes us on an imaginative tour of the streets of Liverpool, the clubs, the flats, the Mersey, the sounds of the 1960s/1970s. 

Phil is no less successful in bringing the three major characters to life. He writes about their performances in Nightblues, a 1963 'event' in Liverpool, featuring also John Gorman and a local R'n'B band the Roadrunners.:
'Nightblues is something of a template for the three poets' performing styles. Henri, the front man, but self-deprecating and still uncertain of himself as a poet; Patten, young - but as McGough had noted 'mature in the sense that he knew he was a poet' - but uneasy and uncomfortable regarding performance; and McGough, already the assured poet-performer, handling both aspects with consummate skill.'
The book takes us in chronological order decade by decade up to The Noughties, setting the progress of the three poets and poetry in general in a well-fleshed out background of the national politics of the day, other cultural activity and international movements.

 One of he aspects of the story that is so striking is how prolific Henri, McGough and Patten were and are. Also was completely unaware of how much successful writing they had done for children. It's a wonderful tale to have a chance to tell, very satisfying, very real. Phil expertly weaves multiple threads together, making it both informative and readable, full of fresh interview material, quotes from the odes, and insider observations.

It is highly recommended to the more than one million readers who have bought the original Penguin Mersey Poets book. 

Phil is a poet whose last collection is Starfly (Stride Publications.2004)> He has edited two anthologies of poems also published by Stride, one that celebrates Dylan [Jewels & Binoculars (1993)] and Things We Said Today,which celebrates The Beatles. He has also written four plays including A Handful of Rain, an imaginary meeting between Bob Dylan and Dylan Thomas. Born in Liverpool, he lives in Cornwall and works all over the country as a freelance writer, teacher and poet.


I organised both of these gigs. The first (left) was in 1970 when I was 19 and was running with others the local arts lab The Worthing Workshop. Yes, I was Freaky John! According to local press clippings of the time, we had an audience of 350 but lost £100. This came after a hugely profitable benefit concert in January featuring the original Deep Purple and others. The second (right) was one of a series of events called 'The New Beat Experience', which we staged at the Komedia in Brighton for several years. This 'happening' dates from September 2003 when I was 53. To have Spike Hawkins and Pete Brown on the bill made for a memorable night.

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