AS the saying goes, shit happens. But as it happens, good stuff happens too. And some of the most interesting stuff that happens is sometimes described as a “happening”
Before there was performance art, there were happenings. The American artist Allan Kaprow used the term in the late 1950s to describe unique events, free-ranging and unpredictable, in which the distinction between participant and viewer was blown apart.
Our goal is to change this country's consciousness. The connections made here will be transformative
The idea took hold. In 1962, England’s first happening was concocted at Hope Hall in Liverpool by Adrian Henri, John Gorman and Roger McGough.
That was just the start. As the decade progressed, the whole city seemed to become a happening, with music, poetry, art and theatre all casting their spells and stoking the Liverpudlian subconscious.
And it was happening everywhere. In April 1967, London’s Alexandra Palace ushered in the Summer of Love with its 14 Hour Technicolour Dream, a happening in all but name.
Happenings were real events that challenged reality, that questioned logic and that rejected neat definitions. In Liverpool, the happening spirit flowed into the dreams and transgressions of surrealism and discordianism, of pop music and club culture, with the result that great torrents of imaginative thinking could trace their source back to Mathew Street, to Hope Street, to the churning creative waters of the pool of life.
The events conjured by the Liverpool School of Language, Music, Dream and Pun shared the happening DNA. So did the work of Ken Campbell, whose Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool created the wildly inventive nine-hour show Illuminatus!
And still they happen.
On All Fools’ Day this year, 1 April, the DJ Greg Wilson and his Super Weird Substance label bring the 14 Hour Super Weird Happening to The Florrie in the Dingle.
Since its recent renovation, this gleaming Victorian gem has hosted exhibitions by the original punk designer Jamie Reid and former KLF provocateur Jimmy Cauty which brought thousands of people to Mill Street.
Wilson’s all-day festival promises to continue in a similar, if even more spectacular, countercultural vein.
Fifty years on from the Alexandra Palace Technicolor original, the 14 Hour Super Weird Happening is described as a contemporary “gathering of the tribes”.
It continues where 2014’s Cosmic Trigger events left off, tapping into Liverpool’s powerful interstellar leylines to create more unpredictable myth-building magic.
In an impressive coup, the 14 Hour Super Weird Happening is bringing the revered writer Alan Moore – creator of Watchmen, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and the “genetic mythology” of recent novel Jerusalem – to the city along with his wife, the American comic artist Melinda Gebbie.
They are joined on the bill by John Higgs, author of books about the KLF and the 20th century’s hidden history, and Daisy Campbell, who will be revisiting scenes from Cosmic Trigger – her play about Robert Anton Wilson which catalysed a new generation of truth seekers when it premiered to sell-out audiences Camp & Furnace in November 2014.
Between 11am on 1 April and 1am the following morning, organisers say The Florrie will come alive with “live music, DJs, exhibitions, live art, spoken word, panel discussions and performance.”
According to Tom Calderbank, high octane cultural activist and fixer, the festival is much more than just an opportunity to enjoy a bevy and a dance with a countercultural backbeat.
“In terms of its richness, the happening will be a 14-tier chocolate gateau,” says Calderbank, who is curating an exhibition by Melinda Gebbie for the event.
“Our goal is to change this country's consciousness. The connections made here will be transformative.”
In a packed programme, the 14 Hour Super Weird Happening will also “explore some of the aspects that make up the city’s creative underbelly,” including the “modern mythos” surrounding Carl Jung, Mathew Street and Eric’s, the “colossal contribution of Roger Eagle”, and “Liverpool’s unique connection with black American music, plus its own, often obscured, black music legacy”.
DJ Greg Wilson is responsible for this
Tom Calderbank, cultural fixer, will stage the Super Weird Happening on All Fools' Day
There will be bands too, including “underground and up-and-coming” musicians from Liverpool, along with established names like the Tea Street Band and performers from the Super Weird Substance label
The Super Weird Society are appearing, including Kermit Leveridge (Black Grape) local singing duo The Reynolds and The Reverend Cleve Freckleton.
Things come to a musical climax late in the evening when Wilson himself takes to the decks and builds a “full-on party vibe” to close proceedings.
There have been six previous Super Weird Happenings, most recently at Festival Number 6, but even the organisers themselves are describing The Florrie event as “their most intriguing event to date”.
With so many ideas, concepts and creative strands woven into one 14-hour temporal tapestry, Wilson’s event is an ambitious undertaking.
But there’s one thing that isn’t in doubt. It’s happening.
*The 14 Hour Super Weird Happening takes place at The Florrie on 1 April 2017, 11am-1am. Pre-release tickets, on sale for a limited period, are £10 and are available here.