Category Archives: Literature

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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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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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:

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