Protest punk bridges the generation gap and highlights 2017 legacy challenge

Forty years after the release of God Save The Queen and seven days before a General Election, protest punk rock is alive and well in East Hull.

Or is it? I’ve still got that single. Asked my mum to pick it up while she was in town. Remember when Boots sold records? And I saw the Sex Pistols on the tour which followed.

Memories fade, but I’m sure I’d have remembered if Johnny Rotten had said: “Okay guys, let’s huddle round the microphone. I’ll croon. Sid ­– you do the ‘bom, bom’, Paul – you’re on the ‘oohs’ and Steve, can you manage the ‘ahs’? And we’ll all click our fingers!”

A capella? A ca-bleeding-pella? No, the punk of The King Blues is more polished, tuneful and melodic than the raw stuff that rocked the world in 1977. They bring out an electro acoustic guitar, a ukulele and even have a guy whistling at one point.

And that audience! There are teenagers, and couples nearly as old as me. They all know the words, and they don’t pull any punches. For some it would have been a tough choice between The King Blues, supported by Counting Coins, at the Freedom Centre or a not-quite-head-to-head debate between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn live on TV.

The abiding thought here was that if the Prime Minister really is too fragile to take on her main adversary face-to-face, these guys would chew her up and spit her out before the end of the sound check.

Some of the material was beautifully brutal – ferocious messages wrapped in a soft, snuggly blanket. A razor blade in the raspberry mousse. Trojan tunes, appropriately enough being played just down the road from Hull KR’s place on the eve of the appearances there by Paul Heaton and Billy Bragg, expert practitioners of this sort of thing from 30 years ago.

The King Blues combine punk played with power, tip-toeing and tub-thumping ska, spoken word with bark and bite, and a sense of humour to bring the house down. When the hair-trigger fire alarm forced the band to ditch the smoke machine, they pulled a young, volunteer vaper out of the crowd and gave him the job of sitting centre stage, exhaling at every chorus. Not an easy task when the human smoke machine was trying to sing along as well.

Counting Coins were Counting Coins. High energy from permanently pumped-up front man Harry, the tightest musicianship starring spectacular, soaring trumpet, and signs of greater accessibility in the band’s new material.

They’ll be back soon as the festival season gather pace, but what next for the Freedom Centre? It was a coup to get the Coins there, never mind a crew of the calibre of London-based King Blues, and it happened only because the Hull 2017 team pitched in with the Back To Ours programme.

Such initiatives are essential and, in the legacy sense, arguably worth more in the long term than a Radio One Big Weekend. One young fan said it was the first time he could remember being able to see established bands, with proper equipment and tech, playing within walking distance of his home just down the road. And all for a fiver.

The challenge is to do it again, but the couple of hundred people who formed this Freedom Centre audience would soon dwindle if the absence of subsidies pushed up the ticket price. There’s an opportunity here for Sesh or for Springboard to spread their wings. It all costs money, but the benefits of culture are innumerable and immense. Community groups and corporates can get together to make it happen.

Many thanks to @louiseaeardly for the pix.



Leave a comment

Filed under Beer, Business, By Phil Ascough, Celebs, Drama, Election, Hull, Literature, Media, Music, Uncategorized

Screaming and swearing all the way to the book shop

Swear Down“Scream If You Want To Go Faster” was Russ Litten’s first novel, and maybe that’s what I should have done. It took me ages to read, and then far too long again to write a review.

Which isn’t to say there’s a problem with the book. It’s a belter. But real life gets in the way. Necessity dictated reading a bit, putting it down, going back again and eventually wrapping it up after about four months.

You can get away with dipping in and out of a book every now and then for a few months if it’s a dictionary, immaculately organised, everything precisely where it should be and the only surprises the handful of new words from the ever-evolving teenage and techno lexicons.

But where the dictionary is the walking bus to school, hop on and off wherever you fancy and you’ll still get there in the end, pausing Litten’s work is like trying a handbrake turn on a bullet train. It’s a lightning bolt, a riot, closer to Guy Fawkes Night than to the Hull Fair setting which provides the backdrop. A hand grenade tossed carelessly – or, more probably, deliberately – into a box of sparklers.

The shifts between characters and locations provide a real test of concentration as Litten leaps from fairground bust-ups, to gripping urban taxi rides and the eerie activities of a manipulative and cynical clairvoyant.

It’s like extreme jigsaw puzzle-making, but not all of the pictures are pretty and you soon find yourself wondering whether all the bits will be there in the end. The pace is such that “Scream” is best read in one session, and that was the challenge I set myself with his latest work, “Swear Down.”

It took two sessions, which I count as a huge success and as a promise kept to the author. I found the same, page-turning qualities as “Scream”, story lines which are cleaner and easier to follow, enough profanities to remove it from grandma’s Christmas list options and to perhaps prompt a rethink of the title to “Swear Loads”, but that merely reflects the subject and the setting. Yet the author reveals that swearing is actually down compared with his previous work.

Having written “Scream” about an environment, population and culture which he knows so well, Litten has ventured further afield for a second novel which is unconnected with the first in any meaningful way.

Hull was at the heart of “Scream”, the place, the people and the folklore, from Hull Fair lighting up the cityscape to the floods of 2007, their inclusion in Litten’s book and thereby in the art and culture portfolio further cementing their place in history.

In “Swear Down” Hull is something of a sub-plot, a bolt-hole for the two murder suspects. London coppers would never dream of looking for them in unfashionable Hull.

Litten knows the bars and back streets of Hull with the familiarity of someone who was born and brought up here but who has also explored the place with the excited enthusiasm of a tourist and the determination and attention to detail of a tax man.

While London’s sprawling, menacing tower block estates may be a different world, his scene-setting is strong enough to suggest similarly copious research into locations and lifestyles, citizens and stereotypes, distant dreams and brutal realities.

“Swear Down” feels for all the world like a four-part pilot to launch the career of a new TV detective whose style, manner, challenges and techniques not to mention his relationships in and out of work are an easy fit for prime time.

But I need to read it again because while this is more of a “Who Didn’t Do It?” than “Whodunnit?” in reality there’s little difference; within a couple of days I honestly couldn’t remember who had struck the fatal blow.

Not that it matters a great deal because both suspects clearly wished they had killed the small-time gangster who was terrorising the community. Both had motive and opportunity, and the lack of real hope for the future that fuels a disregard for the consequences of their actions.

There’s the young lad from London who is bright, respectable and has a plan to escape from the local gangland and join his dad in the Caribbean. And the old boy from Hull who has been there, done it, sailed round the world, survived countless scrapes, offered more dubious advice than the young man could ever be interested in. Or maybe all both of them ever had were dreams.

“Swear Down” is a compelling story, building tension and unleashing terror in action-packed but also occasionally hilarious fashion – a no-holds-barred scrap in the kitchen of an East London diner unfolds in the comedic style of Minder, Only Fools and Horses, Pulp Fiction.

But the undercurrent is one of unease as Litten looks into the perceived worthlessness of young life and the desperation of people to cling to dreams of a distant wonderland rather than face up to the distressing downward spiral of the here and now reality.

Leave a comment

Filed under By Phil Ascough, Drama, Hull, New books, Uncategorized

Shotgun drama in a garden shed

Curious to see what all the fuss was about with the bright yellow shed outside Hull City Hall, a teenage lad poked his face into the doorway.

And then he yelped: “He’s got a shotgun in there – I’m getting away from here!”


Had Brendon Fearon and Fred Barras high-tailed it in similar fashion at Bleak House in Norfolk in 1999 Tony Martin wouldn’t have shot them and Richard Vergette would have had to find something else to write about.

But Fearon and Barras burgled, Martin opened fire and Vergette penned An Englishman’s Home, a 70-minute production in its full version which he squeezed into about 25 minutes and the aforementioned shed for the Freedom Festival.

The shed thing is one of the features of Freedom. There are about ten of them dotted around the city centre, all offering quality entertainment in cramped quarters. Something for everyone, although Vergette’s work is definitely one for the more mature audience.

In a remarkable parallel it was reported that a passing ruffian put his fist through one of the windows of the shed as he wobbled, drunk, through Hull city centre on the night before this performance. He was taken away to be treated and charged, and his escapade left two questions.

How hilarious would it have been if the production team had removed the glass, which was at one stage a consideration, and the drunk had ended up hurling himself fist first through the window and onto the floor of the shed?

Or how about if the thug had smashed the window mid-performance and found himself bleeding, angry and face-to-face with Vergette, his Scotch and shotgun? An Englishman’s shed may also be his castle.

Vergette’s story is straightforward, particularly to anyone who recalls the original incident or a few others like it.

What raises the production to the extraordinary is Vergette’s own captivating performance. He admitted afterwards that on a stage, in a good-size theatre, he is able to stand up, stroll around, lose the audience if only for a few seconds.

In a shed, with the audience more arm’s length than armchair, there is no hiding place and the preparation has to be perfect.

The four of us, perched on stools and including a photographer who shot at the actor repeatedly, were entranced. Outside, the chatter, shouts and sirens of a Saturday afternoon added to the intensity of the atmosphere. Business as usual on the other side of the brown paper covering what was left of the windows, while inside we watched every grin and grimace of a man wrestling with his conscience and the consequences of his actions, putting down his newspaper to take another slug of Scotch, and then resting the glass on the floor to embrace his shotgun as his mood leapt between defiance and despair.

Vergette reassured us before the show that the gun had been decommissioned and was no more menacing than a pea-shooter. In the confines of the shed, where you could hear every breath and track every bead of sweat on Vergette’s anxious brow, that reassurance was forgotten as soon as the door slammed shut.

Fistnote: The second window was apparently smashed by passing drunks during the Saturday night.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Music, murder, tea and cake

What sparks your Euphoria?
On the evidence of this remarkable new play from Dave Windass and Morgan Sproxton, cavorting around a dancefloor did the trick for them. As it would for many people. So why not write a play about it?
Windass already has, with his lively Ballroom Blitz recently playing to high-percentage houses at Hull Truck. Sproxton’s City Of Light, which has just finished a two-week run at Truck, showed a sharp eye for the archives as it traced personal relationships over 70 years of Hull Fair.
The themes come together here, but in a different way. Euphoria shows that Saturday night on the dancefloor may be rather different now from the nineties, the seventies and the forties, but that the eagerness remains the same as people wait for the weekend to rescue them from the humdrum.
It is inspired, intriguing and in five different venues.
The action is already under way when you step into Fruit. You’re instantly part of the production as you spot the kids dancing at the front, get yourself a drink, meet a few friends and stand, chatting, around the edges. When people walk into nightclubs that’s what they do.
Then the volume drops and the actors are easing out the extras. Poppy and Kellie speak up. Jake intervenes and in no time the atmosphere descends from one of euphoria into something much more uncertain, even unnerving. Soulmate or stalker? Prat or predator? Harmless fun or homicidal maniac?
And then the walkabout, with the next three scenes each taking place in other former fruit market warehouses along Humber Street. The promenade style has been done before, but not often, not for a good few years and not totally out of the blue.
Flashing blue is the colour for the fifth venue, – a police crime scene tent, taped off and teasing the audience as they go looking for clues.

So there’s no interval in Euphoria, just the natural breaks which come from strolling between one venue and the next, passing other members of the audience in the street, chatting among each other and trying not to forget that when the actors address you, staring intensely, you’re part of the play.
We meet the Saturday Night Fever obsessive, the pill-popping ravers and the old dear who will never forget her last dance with a handsome young airman before his one-way trip to the Second World War, and who served tea and the most wonderful cake while she told her story.
All three tales weave together and take you back to Fruit for the final scene. The kids are still dancing. We’re still part of the production, wallflowers drinking, stepping aside to let Jake through to the bar for another round of shots, giving up a seat because Poppy really isn’t feeling well.
You study her throughout the show, watching her switch from perfectly lucid as she narrates the background to slurred and shambling as the night progresses. It’s a brilliant performance by Laura Aramayo and one which left many asking whether it is harder to act drunk while sober or to act sober while drunk.
It’s only on tonight and tomorrow but it’s well worth the effort so check out @EuphoriaPlay and @FruitSpaceHull Oh – and save room for cake.

1 Comment

Filed under By Phil Ascough, Clubbing, Drama, Hull, Literature, Media, Music, Theatre, Uncategorized

The write stuff: do your promotional pens click with clients?

You would expect a certain steely determination from the people who work in Mines Rescue, so perhaps the steely pen shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Once they realised there was a competition to be won – even one with no prize other than ballpoint bragging rights – they were off, diving under the table with an urgency that has doubtless saved many a trapped collier and emerging with a confident grin and the sort of Rolls Royce of writing instruments that should be reserved for royalty. “We’ve only got a hundred of these,” said the rescue man, proudly, as I took it off him, humbled and just a bit worried about whether he had ever lost one underground. It started with a flippant tweet about collecting pens at Hull and Humber Chamber Expo 2012 and then blogging about them. From such a

Pens on parade at Chamber Expo.

position it’s only one small re-tweet to having to deliver. @hhchamber duly obliged, so here we are. The easy answer to the most obvious question is 26. There were more to be had but some were those bog standard, unbranded biros and some were on tables that were behind people who had company. It would have to be some pen for me to barge through and risk jeopardising the business discussion of the century. Some stands didn’t have any pens at all. Sweets were pretty big this year. The Promotion Company looked to have more pens than most. In fact more pens than WH Smith. But they also have the sort of specialist knowledge about corporate trinkets that would give them a huge advantage, so I gave them a wide berth. I also decided to create a separate category for the special entry from the Mines Rescue Service, just as you would if Metallica came up against 25 Plastique Bertrands in a busking contest. Analysis began in earnest when assistant Amber came home from school. The longest was the KCFM entry at 14.8 centimetres, the shortest Holiday Inn Express at 13.6.The total length was 369.1, or just over 12 feet. Ball-pointless information? Marks for colour were awarded only after consultation with a higher authority who outlined the importance of the handbag clause: a pen of even the finest quality can be dismissed as totally useless if it isn’t bright enough to be located within a couple of seconds of rooting in a handbag. So 8.5 for the bright orange of Cobus and the green of Rapid Serv and questions from me – unanswered – about how the similarly green Mines Rescue  ‘B’ team and striking yellow MNA Consulting only scored seven, with a paltry six for the purple grip from COF Solutions. Of the 26 pens tested only six had blue ink. I’ll be hanging on to the contributions from DB Schenker, KC Business and the two entries from AA Global because blue is much better than black for making notes on documents in meetings. Plastic was the material of choice for all but the mighty Mines Rescue under-the-counter candidate, although many pens featured bits of metal here and there. More than 30 years of professional pen-carrying has taught me to beware of metal clips: they can shred your inside jacket pocket, and nine of our sample have one. The square-ish Cobus and the rounded-triangular Schenker were the only pens that weren’t round – the latter perhaps modelled on those neat little grips that you used to be able to get from Early Learning Centre to help children develop pencil control. Thoughtful. Comfort of grip, ease of use  for occasionally high-speed shorthand and overall quality were my territory, and with marks out of 40 the clear overall winner with 31.5 was from Saville Audio Visual. Plastic, but with a nice rubbery texture. Smooth, rollerball writing style. Happy to overlook the potentially hazardous metal clip just this once. Available in black or black so would have scored much more highly for colour if assessed by teenage son instead of nine-year old daughter. And it was colour that gave MNA Consulting the edge over the lovely Schenker, 29.5 against 28.5 with Amber asserting that yellow is worth two points more than blue. There is a serious side to all of this. How much is spent on branded pens and how effective are they at raising the profile of a business compared with such give-aways as bags, calendars, USB sticks, balloons, t-shirts, post-it notes, stuff and more stuff? Angela Oldroyd, Director of The Promotion Company (Hull) Ltd says no other advertising medium is used so frequently by recipients as the ballpoint pen, and she has the stats to prove it. Apparently independent research shows that when you distribute 100 pens 99 per cent of recipients will use them, 92 per cent will remember the brand or message and 83 per cent will use the pen daily. And each promotional pen has an average of 5.2 users during its lifetime. Pens certainly generated discussion, once attention was drawn to them, among people who generally just hand them round without a second thought. Bruce Massie, the Chamber’s Membership Manager, recalled an initiative a few years ago in which businesses collected unwanted office equipment to send to Africa. After rooting round his workspace he retrieved 220 pens to send to the Victoria Climbie School in Ivory Coast. Which brings me to the pen that scored just 20 points in our survey. It wouldn’t be fair to name and shame, and the lowest-placed entry did actually write rather nicely. But it somehow managed to be as flimsy as it was cumbersome, leaving little doubt that if anyone ever posted one of these from Hull to Africa – or even Anlaby – it wouldn’t survive the trip.

1 Comment

Filed under Business, By Phil Ascough, Exhibitions, Freebies, Hull, Marketing, Media, Pens, Twitter, Uncategorized

Kissing The Badge – a story of passion beyond the Premier League

Originally published on skillful, stylish, likes-a-pint football website The Two Unfortunates

As pointed out by Lanterne Rouge in his fine and much appreciated review – – of my book, Kissing The Badge, there are enough former Premier League clubs currently scattered around the Football League to give the competition – and my publication – wider relevance.

That was certainly part of my thinking as I pitched the idea to the publisher. There are 20 clubs in the Premier League and 25 former members at various levels of the three lower divisions – or 26 given the origins of MK Dons and AFC Wimbledon.

So while it’s a celebration of the Premier League as we approach the 20th season, Kissing The Badge also recognises that some of the most interesting stories are around clubs who haven’t been at the top for years, and will probably never return.

It covers some of the magical moments of the last 19 seasons but also pauses for reflection on some of the excesses. I still believe that every fan wants to see their team make it to the Premier League, if only because that is the logical conclusion of wanting your team to win every game they play.

But at the same time I believe those fans who would celebrate the ultimate promotion in the wildest fashion also take a more measured view – that if they have to stay a bit longer in the Championship at least the club may be more financially secure.

That was the view last season among many of my fellow Hull City supporters. They wouldn’t swap the memories of a Wembley win and two Premier League seasons for anything, but they had no qualms about missing out on the play-offs if a period of consolidation would allow time to put the finances in order.

The worry now though is that the money madness is spreading, with the sort of imbalance previously confined to the Premier League now seeping into the Championship.

In theory that might not be a bad thing if Championship teams are better able to challenge those relegated from the top flight, but ultimately if we find ourselves with 30 or so well-funded clubs someone will come along with a plan for Premier Two, and where will that leave the Scunthorpes and Peterboroughs?

This appreciation of the need for football to provide a route to stardom for so-called unfashionable clubs was part of the project’s appeal when it came to putting together Kissing The Badge – written by a Hull City fan, published by a Watford fan, illustrated by a Cambridge United fan.

I can’t speak for my colleagues on the project but I’m only too aware that during the club’s recent history Hull City have had more in common with the likes of York City and Mansfield Town than with Arsenal and Chelsea. Or even Bolton and Fulham.

Another relegation – which was very much on the cards for the first two months of last season – would take City another step closer to the level at which they suffered humbling home defeats against the likes of Luton Town and Lincoln City.

So it was a pleasure to look once again at the dizzying achievements of Swindon Town, promoted into the second Premier League season, Oldham Athletic, defying gravity at the end of the first season, and Bradford City, final day survivors in their first season. And a few more. The Premier League – and Kissing The Badge – would be poorer without them.

And it threw the interviewer in a recent chat on Radio London. Asked which Premier League players I thought might make the grade as managers I had to reply that I didn’t really know because I’d spent most of the last 20 years watching Hull City.

Leave a comment

Filed under By Phil Ascough, Football, Football League, Hull, Media, New books, Premier League, Two Unfortunates, Uncategorized

Litten’s disturbing debut is something to shout about at Humber Mouth festival

Russ Litten at work.

I don’t do the white-knuckle rides at Hull Fair. In the past because I’m a self-confessed wimp. Unashamed scaredy-cat. And from now on because I don’t need to. I’ve had that adrenaline rush courtesy of Russ Litten.
“Scream If You Want To Go Faster,” he urges. Er… no thanks. Litten’s pace is plenty.
In fact it’s too fast for me. Much as I love a good book, real-life gets in the way. Necessity dictated reading a bit, putting it down, going back again and eventually wrapping it up after about four months.
And that was a while back, because it’s also taken me too long to get round to writing Russ this oft-promised assessment. I make a special effort to do it now because there’s no football on telly and to mark the beginning of Humber Mouth, a literature festival that will hopefully encourage the emergence of a few more Russ Littens.
Robert Crampton, Hull-born columnist for The Times, touched on the problem when he spoke to launch Humber Mouth. His mates down south and elsewhere find it too easy to poke fun at Hull, mocking the city’s cultural status as being limited to a few sea shanties and the Beautiful South – although without quite grasping the deliberate irony in the band’s name.
And over the weekend the wife and kids did a car boot sale. All the books came back unsold. Even the ones with lots of pictures in.
But back to “Scream If You Want To Go Faster.” You can get away with dipping in and out of a book every now and then for a few months if it’s a dictionary, immaculately organised, everything precisely where it should be and the only surprises the handful of new words from the ever-evolving teenage and techno lexicons.
But where the dictionary is the walking bus to school, hop on and off wherever you fancy and you’ll still get there in the end, pausing Litten’s work is like trying a handbrake turn on a bullet train. It’s a lightning bolt, a riot, closer to Guy Fawkes Night than to the Hull Fair setting which provides the backdrop. A hand grenade tossed carelessly – or, more probably, deliberately – into a box of sparklers.
The pace is such that “Scream” is best read in one session. The shifts between characters and locations provide a real test of concentration as Litten leaps from fairground bust-ups, to gripping urban taxi rides and the eerie activities of a manipulative and cynical clairvoyant.
It’s like doing a jigsaw but not all of the pictures are pretty and you soon find yourself wondering whether all the bits will be there in the end.
Having lived in the Hull area for so long, come to know its people, places, qualities and quirks it’s hard for me to say whether familiarity makes understanding “Scream” any easier.
But I like to think that whether you come from Glasgow of Gloucester, Hull or Hemel Hempstead, the chances are there’s a place near you where people are enduring similar experiences.
The vulnerable widow tiptoeing through the process of rebuilding her life with online lonely hearts clubs, the warehouseman who gets into his glad rags and make-up for cross-dressing weekends on the town, the care worker haunted by the violent and mysterious holiday death of her sister, the supermarket bouncer at the end of his tether with thieving and abuse from scumbag customers.
And that’s just a snapshot of the people Litten has researched painstakingly, capturing the detail of lives, ambitions and self-esteem so limited as to be changed significantly, however temporarily, by a smile or a kind word, a shot of potent liquor or a stash of something stronger.
Litten knits their experiences together creatively. It’s not contrived because round here, as in other places, you suspect you’re only one or two people away from knowing everyone in town, like some huge real-life, warts and all Linked In.
And it makes a story because not enough folk are aware or honest enough about the challenges facing normal people, or even of the definition of normal people.
After “Scream,” you find yourself looking twice at people on the bus as you ride through Litten’s heartland, pondering what sort of emotional burden they might be carrying, hoping they’re having one of their good days and aren’t about to crack up under the strain of whatever dark secret sits on their shoulder.
“Scream” is written in the vernacular, which adds to its credibility by recreating the precise tone and the character of each person telling their individual story. For the same reason it is often grammatically wayward and packed with the language of the street and the factory floor. But that’s essential in a work that is part a product of Litten’s inspiration and imagination and part the outcome of his thorough research, part fiction but also close to a documentary about people who know they can have a better life but just don’t know how.
So “Scream” is contradictory, funny, tragic, vivid, dramatic, perceptive, disturbing, sinister. And that adds up to a lot of entertainment for a paperback priced at £11.99 that you can probably now pick up for rather less given how long it’s taken me to get round to writing this.
Russ Litten is currently working on his second novel. I have no idea what it’s about but I expect more of the same – a thrilling, fast-paced, under-the-skin account of something urban and earthy that he’s researched meticulously. I can’t wait, and when it comes out I promise to set aside some time to read it properly.
Meanwhile get hold of “Scream If You Want To Go Faster.”

Get it here:

And check out what Humber Mouth has to offer here:

Leave a comment

Filed under By Phil Ascough, Hull, Humber Mouth, Literature, Media, New books, Uncategorized