It was inevitable that as one of the three contributors to one of the best-selling poetry anthologies of all time Adrian Henri would be thought of by many as primarily a poet. The half-million sales of The Mersey Sound, first published in 1967, launched Henri into national fame as a writer but it was as a painter that much of his creative talents were directed and which are perhaps the more enduring legacy.
A man who loved the city of Liverpool, he never followed many of his peers to the bright lights of London, he was in fact born in Birkenhead on 10th April 1932. His father was a seaman from Mauritius who had settled in Birkenhead where he ran the Seamen’s Mission. The family moved to Rhyl when he was aged 6 and he was educated at St. Asaph Grammar school. He studied fine art at King’s College Newcastle from 1951 to 1955 and taught at a Preston school then settled in Liverpool, lecturing in art at Manchester and Liverpool schools of art.
The nature of the man makes it difficult to pigeon-hole him into any particular discipline but running through all his endeavours was a theme of communication and performance. This found its natural outlet in the Liverpool Scene poetry band, featuring amongst others guitarist Andy Roberts of the folk rock band Plainsong. CBS released an album of Henri and Roger McGough’s poetry with musical accompaniment which was promoted by John Peel on his pirate radio Perfumed Garden show.
I am ill-equipped to make any assessment of Adrian Henri’s art, despite a long-standing likeness for his painting The Entry of Christ into Liverpool which, reminiscent of Sgt Pepper, features the Beatles, Arthur Dooley, John Gorman and Roger McGough of The Scaffold, Charlie Mingus and a number of Henri’s friends. There are many appraisals of his work available on line and an interesting assessment in John Willett’s superb book Art In A City [Methuen 1967].
Henri had a variety of homes around Liverpool 8. From the late 1950’s until about 1963 he lived in a basement flat at 24 Falkner Square L8. In the aforementioned book John Willett described trying to seek out Henri at “a virtually abandoned house in the corner of Falkner Square. No bell, no names on the door…..I think I called out in the brown hall, but no movement. Then as an afterthought I tried the steps and found a bell by the basement door. That was Henri’s…”. He later moved to 64 Canning Street L8 and lived for many years, until his death in 2000, at 21 Mount Street L1 opposite LIPA.
Henri married Joyce Wilson in 1959, the marriage ending in divorce. For 10 years he lived with the future Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy. For the last 15 years of his life his partner was Catherine Marcangeli. He had no children.
Adrian Henri suffered a stroke in 1998 from which he never fully recovered. He died on 20th December 2000, having been granted the Freedom of the City of Liverpool the previous day.
Adrian Henri's home c. 1959-63
Henri pictured outside his basement flat at 24 Falkner Square.
Henri's home c. 1964-70
Henri's final home in Liverpool
There are a host of sources on Henri available on the internet. The Wikipedia entry is a concise summary, as are the obituaries in the Guardian, the Herald Scotland, . There are many clips available on You Tube including one of the Liverpool Scene in which Henri performs Batpoem.
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