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Celebration Month Successes and Thanks

I got four heads inside my mind
Four rooms I'd like to lie in
Four selves I want to find
And I don't know which one is me 
I got four hang-ups I'm trying to beat
Four directions and just two feet
Got a very very secret identity
And I don't know which one is me.
Four Faces, The Who.

It strikes me, when looking at the many identities he used throughout his life, the above lyrics from The Who could apply to George Garrett. A two year project and a month-long celebration of George’s life and work has made him better known than at any time since his heydays of the 1920’s and 30’s. Yet, I wonder, how close can we ever really get to finding out which one is really George Garrett, or Matt Low, George Oswald James or the A. Groundling we find on the cover sheet of his unpublished autobiography, Ten years On the Parish. Merchant Seaman, syndicalist, radical social activist, playwright, reporter, pamphleteer, short story writer, autobiographer, poet, actor, father, family man, advocate and comrade. The answer is all of that and much, much more – the perfect example of the complexities of the radical, self taught, creative working class everyman.
We have discovered over the past 18 months, and demonstrated during our May 2014 celebration events, that George Garrett is one of the finest working class writers of his generation, one of the finest writers Liverpool has ever produced, and a writer whose work remains relevant, modern and contemporary.
‘Brilliant addition to the Central Library and the City’
Our celebration events began with the launch and unveiling of his archive in the magnificent Central Library in William Brown Street – a fitting place to begin for such an avid reader, who spent many hours there and in other libraries. The launch, attended by over 100 people, with four generations of George’s family on hand, including Derek, one of his two remaining sons, was a huge success with the archive an immediate hit with all those present. We premiered the beautiful short film produced by Wes Storey and Chris Chadwick of the Hatch TV. Narrator Alexei Sayle provided a living link as his parents, both ardent communists, were great friends of George.
‘Proud to be invited and be part of it’
At the end of the launch we unveiled the unique installation created by 2nd Year art and design students from Liverpool John Moores University. With four ‘faces’, each representing an aspect of his life, and titled ‘Shore leave – Garrett in the City’, the installation became the public face of the project, moving around the city in the way Garrett himself did, and appeared in Central Library, The Bluecoat arts centre, Unite the Union’s HQ Jack Jones House, the Cruise Liner Terminal, and now stands in Anchor Courtyard on The Albert Dock. The installation has taken Garrett’s name across the city and across the world, with as many tourists as locals having seen it. It will have an increased impact situated on the Albert Dock throughout the River Festival and throughout the summer.
‘Brilliant info on the influences of the war and America on Garrett’ – feedback from Garrett at War and Peace.
A public discussion, ‘Garrett at War and Peace – The War Years and the Unemployed Struggles, 1914 - 1921’, with course tutor Tony Wailey, took us through an intense period of George’s life on land and sea, a time when Garrett fitted in enough travels, battles, writing and tales that others could spin out for a lifetime. Torpedoed twice, captured, escape, contact with The Wobblies, first major writings (Two Tides), a leader of the huge unemployed campaigns in Liverpool and leader of the Liverpool contingent on the First Hunger March in 1922. Escape to America in 1923 must have provided some welcome relief.
‘Very Interesting. Look forward to learning more about George Garrett’
The whole project has been a collective endeavour. This was demonstrated best in our proudest moment when our ‘Garretteers’, volunteers who took part in the original course we delivered and went on to scan, catalogue and curate the archive display, delivered the three public talks held in Liverpool’s Central Library during May. In each session three of the group worked together to lead the audience through a slide show, a question and answer session and a screening of the film. The comments below from audience feedback taken after each session show how well they rose to this task.
‘Brilliant! Insightful!’ ‘Enjoyed the passion of the speakers. It has given me a thirst to find out more. Thankyou.’ ‘Brill – really enjoyed it; very informative about a great man.’ ‘Most enjoyable and highly informative’
‘George is now being recognised – getting his just deserts.’
The Unity Theatre, of which Garrett was a founder member, and active as playwright, producer and actor throughout the later 1930’s and 1940’s, was the perfect setting for the final event of our celebration month. George wrote his first play, Two Tides, between 1920 and 1921. The influence of his hero Eugene O’Neill is clearly felt, and it wouldn’t be beyond the bounds of possibility that Garrett may have actually met the great Irish American playwright. O’Neill had affinity with merchant seamen, having himself served aboard, and basing one of his most famous characters, ‘Yank’ in The Hairy Ape, after Driscoll, a Liverpool Irish stoker. It’s likely Garrett came across O’Neill’s work during the war when in contact with American seamen and American ships and ports. There’s no doubt Garrett would have been absorbing his work when  living in New York in 1920-21, when O’Neill’s first published play, Beyond The Horizon, was taking Broadway by storm, winning him his first Pulitzer prize for Drama.
Two Tides is stunning on many levels: the first play of an unschooled writer, who demonstrates a strong grasp of themes, plot, structure and drama, with a sharp ear for dialogue; his confident handling of themes, particularly war and the role of women, with dialogue that remains relevant today (the dialogue he gives to the young window cleaner Susie, who rails against the discrimination of women and the moral codes they are meant to subscribe to, sounds as fresh as the day it was penned).
‘It was inspiring’
The performance of the play was stunning. I suppose it could be called an enhanced rehearsed reading, as the director Carl Cockram introduced elements of drama to bring certain aspects, including the moving finale, to life. A top class cast of Liverpool’s finest actors, who had just three days of rehearsals drew an enormous response from a sell-out audience, and, incredibly for a rehearsed reading, was given a four star review by Ian D. Hall of Liverpool Sound and Vision, who commented that to ‘see this type of theatre placed before an audience, as naked as a seasoned naturalist and as beautifully read as a Pulitzer Prize Poet delicately setting free words to an attentive room, was a privilege.’
George helped found the Unity Theatre in its original incarnation as Merseyside Left Theatre as a direct response to the Spanish Civil War in 1937. Guernica and Spain, their first plays, were performed across the North West. George also toured working men’s clubs delivering solo performances of extracts from O’Neill’s plays. Tonight as I write, hundreds of thousands of Spaniards are once again on the streets of Spain’s cities and towns, calling for the establishment of the Third Republic in response to today’s abdication of King Carlos. I can imagine George’s ready response to the world once again being turned on its head.
‘George is now being recognised – getting his just deserts.’
We published ‘An Introduction to George Garrett’ which features two of Garrett’s finest pieces of writing; First Born, his first published short story and his reportage of The First Hunger March of 1922. The book, available in Liverpool bookshops and online, means that George’s work is available to all those who wish discover more.
Click here to buy ‘An Introduction to George Garrett’
This excellent website, with a beautiful timeline of artefacts from the archive, will allow us to keep updating information about George’s life and work, with the potential to reach interested readers, writers, academics and public from across the world.
We are a long way from finished with working on the George Garrett Archive. We have plans to carry on exploring his work, gathering more material for the archive, publishing his writing and critical commentaries, and expanding our focus to take in other port city writers including James Hanley and Jim Phelan. Our team would of course welcome any help and support from anyone interested in getting involved in this ever fascinating process. We will be meeting soon to evaluate where we are up to and where we want to go. All welcome.
You can never really know someone completely, and while distance can give a clearer view of the impact of a life’s work, it inevitably means we lose focus on other aspects of their life. We’ll worry about the end if we ever get there, for now we’re enjoying the journey too much to worry about whether we’ll ever reach the end.
Thanks and respect as ever to all those who have been with us thus far – the Garrett family, the Garretteers, our sponsors, supporters, audience, actors, web-designer, filmmakers, the WoW Team, Central Library, LJMU and of course Heritage Lottery.
Mike Morris, Project Manager. 2/06/2014

Last modified onFriday, 27 June 2014 11:32
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