In anticipation of the release of Holy Nowhere, the fantastic new book by Coral main man NICK POWER, P.Lee steps out with Nick on the annual Lowry Lounge tour event curated by The Bluecoat, to discuss the new book, creative processes, influences and wider impact of not only Malcolm Lowry, but also Wirral as a backdrop for writing.
It’s criminal that local history is not on school curriculums. Wirral is an area with such high cultural and historical significance, along with a massively undervalued artistic and creative heritage. What is not shared is ultimately lost. But in the minds of a few it exists in the hyper-real.
Wirral has been the living place and headspace (in formative years at least) of both Nick Power and Malcolm Lowry, and the region’s place as an influence and a muse is significant in the work of both. All these location-specific references are captured, throbbing and reverberating in different ways, within the works of these significant Wirralians, a century apart.
Since the work with his ‘day job’ band The Coral has died down, Power has turned his focus to his poetry and short-story writing, achieving great success off the back of his first published work Small Town Chase. I meet up with him on a blustery Saturday morning at The Bluecoat ostensibly to talk about his new book, Holy Nowhere, but there’s a bit of history to be waded through first. The enduring brilliance of Malcolm Lowry’s masterpiece Under The Volcano – frequently billed as one of the great novels of the 20th century – is the reason for our meeting. Each year on 31st October, The Bluecoat celebrate the life and work of Lowry by holding a series of events that take in his former haunts. Given the similarities between the two writers’ work, it seems most fitting.
Lowry was born in New Brighton and raised in Caldy, before a life of long travel, nauseating drinking, majestic literature, magnetic genius and the all too predictable unhealthy and impoverished early death. Our tour is programmed to trace key steps around Lowry’s homeland, referencing his third major love (behind drink and literature), golf. As we enter the 9th hole of the famous Royal Liverpool Club (where Lowry won the Junior Golf Championship at the age of 15), I speak with Power about what he identifies with in Lowry.
“I bought Under The Volcano ages ago but it was years before I read it, because people said it was quite hard work. It is a slow burner, but it’s really rewarding,” he intones. “The style it is written in is not really in fashion, it’s quite dense with really long sentences. Totally defiant, and I love that about it. He got rejected by tons of publishers and there are letters that exist where he is fuming with them. I love that about him, along with the symbolism and imagery, which is brilliant.”
We arrive at the Dee estuary, whose cascading and crackling frame meets the unforgiving Irish Sea with such terrible beauty: a beauty which impossibly impacts upon a writer. Where Power’s first book was written from a provincial perspective, this new one has a broader scope. The cover artwork – a pharmacy sign, enveloped by darkness – has deeper meaning in symbolising the identity of Holy Nowhere, along with the central message and themes of the writer.
“The cover is a green pharmacy crucifix, [which] appears as a symbol in loads of the book. It’s building upon Small Town Chase: [it’s] written from the perspective of looking over the city, so loads of the pieces are characters standing on rooftops and seeing the crucifix. Looking at the cult of religion and the cult of drugs, and the way that pharmacies peddle drugs and ways in which people follow stuff, which is an addiction whatever it is. Very much a film noir with a weird, psychedelic edge.”
What is ultimately inevitable is the familiar shadow that music casts within Power’s literary world. Much of the writing reads like music and the reader can easily imagine each act unfurling in the manner of a song, churned with introspection or a hazy, wavy, scatty and crazy appreciation of the world – recurring themes and d.e.f.i.n.i.t.e.r.e.f.e.r.e.n.c.e.p.o.i.n.t.s. As we mount the weathered, weary, crooked frame of Caldy Hill, past the home of the Taskersons (see Under The Volcano), I wonder about the soundtrack he could envisage for the book.
“It would probably be something like Blade Runner, by Vangelis. Especially the small pieces of flash fiction, which remind me of the speech at the end. Maybe something by Sun Araw, or Miles Davies, Ascenseur Pour L’échafaud’, which has that film noir feel to it.”
While Small Town Chase resided in these gritty, surreal, introspective, peculiar small towns, Holy Nowhere is Birkenhead: big brother yet not big city. Holy Nowhere is snapshots of life from the inside looking in, but it’s the small stories within that interest Power, with various chapters having more specific anchors to his home town.
“‘Waste Disposal’ is basically somebody going past Bidston Moss tip on the train. It was something of a dumping ground and they found a couple of dead bodies on there. He goes into a daydream between Birkenhead North and Bidston, because the train always stops for a few minutes there. It’s all very true. ‘Managed Decline’ is indirectly about how Liverpool FC have bought up property in Anfield that surrounds the stadium, like Breck Road, in a bit of a dodgy way.”
Just like the sole house that’s still standing on the patch of grass in Birkenhead North (see the cover of Caravan Gallery: Is Britain Great 2), Power’s work asks questions about the wild, marauding crusade against the invasion of modern life – dereliction by design. This wild, ragged old building, with its Union Jack fluttering above, personifies the weird, beautiful, glorious character and splendid uniqueness which Holy Nowhere examines.
As we arrive at Hell Bunker, we discuss the caricature-y ideals behind the work of Tom Wood, New Brighton resident and pioneering street photographer. “He was the Chelsea Nightclub’s in-house photographer, taking photos of loads of weird stuff, gangs of kids in the 80s and 90s,” Power explains. “Photography and images like that are big influences on the book. Interpreting photos from the book is describing a scene, in a filmic style. A lot of it is one scene that I am just describing in a passage. A snapshot, similar to photography.”
Sound familiar? The tour ends with me imagining Lowry, waxing lyrical in Under The Volcano about that same Dee estuary we visited earlier…
It looked like the sea; actually it was the estuary, seven miles wide, of a river: white horses westward marked where the real sea began. The Welsh mountains, gaunt and black and cloudy, with occasionally a snow peak to remind Geoff of India, lay across the river. During the week, when they were allowed to play, the course was deserted: yellow ragged sea poppies fluttered in the spiny sea grass. On the shore were the remains of an antediluvian forest with ugly black stumps showing, and farther up an old stubby deserted lighthouse. There was an island in the estuary, with a windmill on it like a curious black flower, which you could ride out on a low tide on a donkey. The smoke of freighters outward bound from Liverpool hung low on the horizon. There was a feeling of space and emptiness.
Does the apple fall far from the tree?
Words: P. Lee
Collage created by Low Coney especially for Holy Nowhere / coneysloft.com
Holy Nowhere is released on 5th November, published by erbacce-press.