Category Archives: Media

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

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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.

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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.

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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:

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

Will football’s front men ever learn the lessons from Big’s Ron’s big mouth?

There are a few differences between the off-air comments of Ron Atkinson all those years ago and the “banter” that led to the suspension of Andy Gray and Richard Keys by Sky Sports.
Big Ron didn’t actually use any profanities and his partner in the commentary box made a brave effort to avert disaster by warning of the possible consequences.
We’re not talking here about the 2004 incident which led to Atkinson’s departure from ITV and The Guardian. We’re looking at the episode that occurred on 1 July 1990 during the epic World Cup tie between England and Cameroon.
Along with millions of football fans around the world you may have missed it. After all it was another off-air comment, except in the relatively tiny community of Bermuda.
But for those of us watching live coverage of the game it was one of those “did he really say that?” moments. Fortunately we were recording the match so we double-checked later.
Sure enough as the players sat and strolled on the pitch in readiness for extra time with the score locked at 2-2, Atkinson and Brian Moore chatted about the action so far.
We know this because the resources of the Bermuda Broadcasting Company didn’t stretch to a studio or to hiring the services of “experts” on a sofa. They just aired the live feed sent to them by ITV and trusted such experienced commentators to do their jobs.
Atkinson turned his attention to Benjamin Massing, the Cameroon defender who was having a pretty tough time, whose challenge on Gary Lineker had brought the penalty award that kept England in the game and who would repeat the offence in extra time to give Lineker the chance to score the winner, again from the penalty spot.
The reprimand that followed from ITV was apparently for Atkinson’s suggestion that Massing didn’t have a brain. The pundit also described the defender as a camel, a comment which appears not to have been brought to the attention of ITV.
Finally, following a warning from the ever-professional Moore, Atkinson asked if he could be in trouble if Massing’s mother was watching at home “up a tree in Cameroon.”
ITV claimed not to have heard the comment because it was off-air, yet a many of Bermuda’s 60,000 and 60 per cent black population picked it up loud and clear.
So ITV blamed the Bermuda station for a lack of professionalism in putting the live feed straight to air. Bermuda blamed ITV for hiring unprofessional broadcasters.
A few Bermuda residents complained to the local newspaper, where we reviewed the tape and sought a response from ITV. Always eager to pick up a bit of extra cash I also touted it round the English newspapers with mixed, and in one case remarkable, results.
As I recall the Mirror used it, as did the Express and we got a front page slot in the Yorkshire Post that paid about a tenner – Atkinson was manager of Sheffield Wednesday at the time.
The Sun though rejected the story and claimed, some may say bizarrely, that they weren’t sure it was true. We told them we had the whole thing on tape but they still declined. Sitting in our island paradise some 3,500 miles away from the UK we weren’t regular readers of The Sun and it would be some time before we would learn that their star columnist for the World Cup was… Ron Atkinson.
Maybe Atkinson was dissuaded from expanding on his opinion of Massing by the steadying influence of Moore. And maybe the revered broadcaster would have kept his sidekick on the straight and narrow 14 years later, but sadly he had passed away by the time Atkinson, having failed once again to recognise the perils of those off-air moments, described Marcel Desailly and black footballers generally in particularly obscene and offensive terms.
And maybe Andy Gray would not have been so readily caught out had he been in the company of someone like Moore, or John Motson, or Barry Davies, or Clive Tyldesley, or Martin Tyler.
Some might say they are past their sell-by date, uninspiring, irritating, arrogant but they are all professionals who harbour a real passion for the game with far more respect, even off-air, than that demonstrated by the “lads’ night out” approach of Keys and Gray.
With the old guard’s experience comes deep knowledge of their specialist subject, substance over style. You wouldn’t catch them struggling to remember the name of the first female assistant referee to officiate in the English leagues. They’re also pretty solid on the offside law, unlike many of their more recent counterparts, many of whom moved into the media from careers as players and managers.
Is the controversy tough on Sky Sports? Have they made a significant contribution to the presence of women in the media? Or is that just eye candy?
It could actually be doing them a favour. Over the last couple of years there have been signs that the Sky presentation format is becoming a bit tired, along with the people who front the show.
It’s something Sky has in common with Match of the Day, and the current scenario presents them with an opportunity to make a change.
I’m not saying here that Keys and Gray should necessarily be sacked for what they said, although short-term suspension seems a bit of a let-off given that such a punishment would be appropriate for offensive comments about any match officials made by any member of the “football family” and the sexist nature of these rants is clearly an aggravating factor.
But as further evidence that Sky’s star men are out of touch with the real world and consider themselves bigger than their audience it does at the very least move them nearer to the exit door. Time to ease them out and get Gabby Logan in.


Filed under By Phil Ascough, Celebs, Football, Media, Uncategorized, World Cup

Gangster? Or just gossip in the sleazy bars of old Hull?

REASONABLE RATES: Still charging by the hour on Waterhouse Lane.

It wasn’t my first night job at the Hull Daily Mail – that was a review of the Sooty Show at the New Theatre.
But it was one of my first late shifts. Start at 2pm, an hour’s break in the Hull Cheese about six-ish then back to the desk with a Yankeeburger. And fries of course. Read the papers, bash a few stories out, ring round the police, fire and ambulance contacts.
“A what?”
“A body.”
“Oh. Er… I need to know about that then.”
My first murder. There had been one or two to cover at my first paper in Doncaster but I’d never been involved at the sharp end. Now I was the only person on the Mail who knew about it; it was up to me to lead our response.
Thankfully there was only so much I could do at getting on for 10pm on a Friday in late autumn. I say “thankfully” because you never really get used to covering murders, and because this being a Friday the aim was always to get finished at 10 on the dot, head back to the Cheese and then down to the Waterfront Club.
So we covered the bases. A snapper went and photographed what he could from the scene at Earles Road, the lane leading down to the old Victoria Dock. He didn’t get much, a few coppers milling around, one or two police vans. I typed up a holding story for the morning, when we would be able to get more information.
That came from a police press conference. I can’t even remember now whether it was at Queens Gardens or Tower Grange. But what I will never forget is the question from a freelance journalist who I would get to know quite well over the years. Jim Goodrick must have been well into his fifties then and always looked older, silver-haired and immaculately dressed, very proper with no time for Fleet Street wide boys or anyone who adopted their approach.
“Was she a sporting girl?” he asked. Even at the age of 21 I thought it a strange term for a prostitute – rough sex on a remote part of the dock estate right up there with football and rugby league, hockey and lacrosse.
Sporting girl, prostitute, sex worker. She was all three, and met her death at the hands of a trucker, lorry driver, punter.
The episode got me thinking, as young reporters do, that there was an in-depth feature to be written about prostitution. I chatted about it with colleagues and we decided, as young reporters do, that we would have to carry out some independent research before presenting the idea to the news desk. So on my day off, as young reporters do, I headed to begin my inquiries in a sleazy pub known to be at the heart of the sex industry.
Waterhouse Lane, across the main road from what is now Hull Marina, was always lined with women offering sex for sale. The infamous Earl de Grey pub stood on the corner at the end. In later years there were stories of the girls conducting their business in the pub toilets because some Middlesbrough football fans were running amok in the lane outside. The whole hooker operation was very visible.
On this Thursday lunchtime the place was packed. I’d just been paid and by the look of the lounge bar so had everyone else. The air was thick with cigarette smoke and there was just once vacant seat. I didn’t think for a second why no one would want to sit next to the big black man, the only non-white face in the room and first person I’d ever seen with tattoos on his face. He confirmed the seat was free so I joined him and we chatted.
And we chatted and drank and smoked until last orders, 2pm in those days. And then, new best friends, we climbed into a cab and headed a mile or so down Hessle Road to Gillett Street Club, one of the few places in Hull where you could drink all afternoon.
On such occasions it’s perfectly possible to spend an entire afternoon with someone yet learn next to nothing about them – work, family, even age, although I’d have guessed at about 10 years older than me. In the Earl de Grey I established his name was Ray. On arrival at the club I watched as he signed me in, carefully scratching out “Raymond June Harvey” like a kid tagging their homework.
“Weird,” I said, as I told my colleagues that evening.
“You could’ve been killed!” they responded.
Turned out Ray was a bit of a bad lad. Fancied himself as the hardest bloke in Hull and not many were up for challenging him.
The next time I saw him was a few months later when, covering proceedings at Beverley Crown Court, I spotted the name Raymond June Harvey on the sheet just as he arrived in the dock. I forget the charge and I can’t remember whether he got sent down or was let off with a suspended sentence, but it was all down to him threatening a lad of about 12 somewhere on Beverley High Road. Ray put a replica gun to the boy’s head and pulling the trigger. The lad was scared witless, but someone told the police.
A couple of years after that I found myself sitting in another pub with another big black man who enjoyed – no, that really is the right word – a reputation for violence.
“Didn’t you used to hang around with Ray Harvey?” I asked Les Hilton
“Oh. I thought you two were…”
“Ray Harvey used to hang around with me!” finished Les
Years later Ray became a regular at the Adelphi Club, turned a few heads with a pretty bizarre and probably drug-fuelled dance style that involved a lot of staring into space. But he was never any trouble.
And the last time I saw him, in early summer 2008, he was positively frail as he stepped out of the Cross Keys pub into the early evening sun and shuffled off to watch another band in another bar at the Springboard music festival in Cottingham.
His dreadlocks were as immaculate as his dress, but his stick was evidence that he wasn’t well, as was the black and white check coat, too thick and long for such a warm day but inadequate to conceal the stoop of a man who looked much older than he was. I helped him across the busy road.
It all came back to mind at the launch recently of Scream If You Want To Go Faster, the new book by local author Russ Litten, and full of the flavour of Hull.
Eddie Smith, formerly the singer with The Gargoyles, kicked off the proceedings with some of his poetry – the same crackpot style of his old band, just without the music.
And his first poem was about Ray, Eddie suggesting that the one-time tough-guy would have terrorised his way through the pearly gates and would now be bullying Jesus while God turned a blind eye to try and keep the peace.
“Is he dead then?” came a voice from the crowd.
“Well they cremated him last week,” replied Eddie.
And I just thought: “He’d better have been dead, because you don’t fuck about with Ray Harvey.”
Or maybe it was all talk. We’ll never know.
The Earl de Grey is still there, spared by the delayed redevelopment of land next to the Princes Quay shopping centre but boarded up and not looking like opening any time soon.
And Waterhouse Lane is there as well, but the girls have moved on and there isn’t even a street sign at either end of the road or hanging from the derelict buildings. Oversight or an attempt to ease the notorious knocking-shop of a street out of the memory?
There is one sign though, in the car park next to the Earl de Grey. It says: “PAY & DISPLAY WATERHOUSE LANE.” Which sums up its history as well as anything.


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