Blog: Mike Morris

The co-director of Liverpool's Writing on the Wall explains why this year's festival has revolution as its theme

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It’s been a turbulent year: Brexit, Trump, Leicester winning the league… A £5 treble on that and I’d be writing this with a view of my private beach from a yacht in the Bahamas. Who’d have thought just one year back that all this would have happened? And now a general election. It doesn’t look like things are going to calm down anytime soon. WoWFest 2017 was always going to be themed “revolution”. We decided our themes a couple of years ago, when we were laying down plans while preparing our previous Arts Council funding bid. It seemed an obvious one to me, with the centenary of the Russian Revolution as its anchor. I felt that WoW as a radical arts organisation would find enough to fill a month even without the aforementioned turbulence.

We start with a Mayday Parade celebrating the life of a legendary Liverpool radical and writer George Garrett, and then move on through a series of events, including one devoted to revolution, with two brilliant writers, China Mieville and John Rees, and one brilliant graphic novelist, Kate Evans, talking about their books on the English, Russian and German revolutions.

When originally proposed, we wanted to explore other revolutions too, building on themes we explored in previous festivals and events. Tax the Robots is one of those. I am fascinated by the pace and spread of technologies and the developing impact on our whole lives: work, play, health, emotional and physical wellbeing and long-term future. While we were in the middle of planning the Tax the Robots day I opened a news app and read about a Japanese insurance company that had laid off 80 staff and replaced them with a software program. It struck me that this revolution will be silent.

Sci-fi imagery pits us against metal machines, usually built in our image, but how do you fight an algorithm? The 250,000 jobs in the UK under immediate threat aren’t heavy industry blue-collar jobs; it’s the white-collar office-based staff in the firing line first. 02 has been the first to announce its plans to follow the same route as the Japanese insurance company. Who will be the new Luddites? To counter the effect of tech some, like Scottish councillor James Farrar, are proposing a universal basic income. I support this for a variety of reasons, but recognise this could be another sticking plaster to ameliorate the effects on those hardest hit.

It ain’t good for business when a warm planet is regularly engulfed in storms and hurricanes

Electric cars will be hugely beneficial to the environment, and I expect will soon be surpassed by the self-driving car. We are way behind the curve here. The first car to win the first RAC Rally 100 years ago was electric. The development of battery technologies has been purposely held back by oil companies and those who benefit. Time is being called on oil, the environmental effects of climate change will reach a peak soon if we’re not careful. Trump doesn’t want to admit this, but look at the US companies lining up to continue with their policies to improve their footprint; at the end of the day it ain’t good for business when a warm planet is regularly engulfed in storms and hurricanes, etc. Unless of course you’re in the business of selling raincoats.

Technology could already have the working day down to six hours for all, and who better to talk to us about that than the unions, some of the longest standing community organisations in the country. But are they too behind the curve, or can they play a positive role in this, utilising tech to improve our lives and maintain employment and living standards?

I’m looking forward to hearing a panel with Lynn from the TUC and the techie people debating this. I feel at times things are changing yet all remains the same. Vinyl is the comeback king – maybe we’ll come to a compromise with tech and absorb it without any major change to our lifestyles, but I don’t think this is true. Capital likes tech, and it’s a long way from being done with exploring how it can utilise it and maximise profits, usually at our expense.

Publishing is our thing, and independent publishing and self-publishing even more so. We come back to this each year and decided to make more of a hullabaloo in 2017 with Indie-pendence Day devoted to it, featuring people in the know like Sophie from Inpress Books who will talk about it. The Kindle was going to rule the world, but Waterstones ditched its dedicated spaces for it, and now it mainly rules our suitcases, finding its niche keeping costs down on low-cost cabin luggage-only holidays. It seems again the old world and the new are living in harmony.

I had my own revolution last year and became a vegetarian. I was the one for whom a meal without meat was incomprehensible. And yet, here I am six months on and not missing a juicy, medium rare, tasty steak, with some pepper and mustard smeared on it, and maybe some crispy home cooked chips on the side…where was I? I’m not missing that one bit.

And I don’t. Why veggie? My partner went vegetarian last year, just before we went on our joint 50th birthday trip to America. Insane. I said there’s no way I’d do that before going to America. She ate like a queen. I mean, she’s always got good manners and was dragged up very well overall, but her food throughout our trip was pretty excellent. My meat was good too, even as a side.

Almost the day we returned there was a report on the flu contamination among chickens in Tesco, and something else similar about pigs. That mostly did it for me, and then she persuaded me to watch the documentaries Cowspiracy and Forks Over Knives. Watch them and you’ll see how much is at steak (boom, boom!).

I often try to sneak in a title from one of The Jam’s songs into our programme

Rainforest activists murdered to keep on clearing land for feeding cattle to meet the demand for beef; water usage and water pollution at extreme levels; and so many chemicals pumped in to the meat before it reaches you: something turned for me, and one of the benefits is that we now cook almost everything we eat from scratch. I don’t want to preach or get into moralising about it, but I am glad we are able to use the festival as a platform to talk about it, with a day on Food Revolutions with Squash Nutrition, and honoured that this will also be a launch for its fab new HQ on Windsor Street.

I often try to sneak in a title from one of The Jam’s songs into our programme, but this year it was Madeline, my co-director who helped me revisit my Mod days by suggesting Time for Action as the title for our all-dayer on politics and protest. Time for Action was the debut single, circa 1979, by one of my favourite bands, Secret Affair, part of the Mod revival movement of the day. Their songs, like those of The Jam, The Specials and Selecter, made us dance to a beat with a social conscience. They made me who I am today and this festival, more than many before, represents our attempt to get closer to our community across the region, directly engaging with daily concerns and mixing it up with a strong literary base of new and established writers and artists, offering creativity, discussion and debate as the perfect recipe for revolution.

WowFest 17, Revolution, is on 1-26 May, opening with a MayDay Rally and Protest starting at Toxteth Library, assembling at 12.30pm. Festival details and tickets available from

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