Category Archives: Drama

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.



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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.

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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.

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