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Review: Horny Handed Tons of Soil at the Unity ****

July 13, 2017

Adrian Henri, Liverpool’s late bespectacled polymath, was famed for his ‘happenings’ and his embracing of Total Art – poetry, music and painting.

So it’s apt that playwright and singer/songwriter Lizzie Nunnery has chosen the live art form for her latest performance piece, inspired by Henri and his work in L8, and part of the 50th anniversary celebrations for The Mersey Sound.

Nunnery penned the poetic and musical musings which wind and pulse in hypnotic and repetitive patterns through the 45-minute piece, while her regular collaborators Martin Heslop, Vidar Norheim and Martin Smith provide the musical composition and accompaniment on keyboard, a heartbeat of drums and some louche muted trumpet.

And this being a form of Total Art, the ‘painting’ is done in moving pictures – and move they do, slowly and steadily along streets, rooftops below impossibly blue suburban skies, and through waving patches of grass and wild flowers – by film-maker Tim Brunsden, Nunnery’s insistent sing-song verse interspersed with L8 residents’ more down-to-earth memories and observations.

Adrian Henri (right) with Brian Patten at the Everyman where 'happenings' took place

 

I say blue suburban skies because there are hints of Penny Lane (meets In My Life) in some of Nunnery’s verse, albeit a less jaunty and more contemplative litany of people and places, some of which are gone, and some which remain in the space “somewhere between Smithdown and the Aigburth Road chippy”.

At other times there’s hint of the sonic claustrophobia of Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane, while a syncopated number seen through a child’s eyes recalls an old skipping chant. Elsewhere there’s a touch of a folk tune, subverted through the opening gambit “down in the alley where the garbage blows”.

Lizzie Nunnery  (photos by Brian Roberts)

 

This is a Liverpool 8 where death and decay stalk the shadowy tinned-up streets, a place neglected and forgotten where nature takes back the ancient Toxteth park but also sparks some green shoots of recovery and a sense of hope.

It’s heady, trippy stuff (with some striking lighting by Julie Kearney), although the repetitive motif can become exhausting. But as a love letter to Liverpool’s most vibrant and resilient neighbourhood, and to Henri and his singular artistic vision, it’s a show well worth experiencing.

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