Tag Archives: Hull

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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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.


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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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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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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: http://amzn.to/fqnkt0

And check out what Humber Mouth has to offer here: http://bit.ly/llZxoB

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Ray’s beats Ramsey’s on Ruby Tuesday

In most curry houses of my acquaintance a dull thud after dinner is usually evidence of a drunk passing out.

But at Curry Corner in Cheltenham it’s a sign of confidence as the waiter drops a hefty comments book on your table.

And this is no ordinary comments book. The leather binding renders it mightily impressive from the outside, and a flick through the pages reveals some glowing endorsements from people who would claim to know their bhuna from their bhajee.

They include some very satisfied locals, a few tourists and even a small handful of celebs. Indeed the pages are printed with the testimonials of Rick Stein, Richard Branson and Gordon Ramsey.

It’s all a bit bogus of course because good manners dictate that you don’t spice up the comments book with fiery feedback. If the curry isn’t up to scratch surely you just tell them? Or do a runner?

Imagine Stein writing: “I’d rather have fish and chips.”

Branson: “Powerful enough to fly my balloon.”

Ramsey: “******* brilliant!”

But we know that’s what Ramsey really thinks because this place was the second-best curry venue in his TV challenge last year for local restaurants, beaten only by an even trendier joint in Birmingham.

While I wouldn’t say I have a problem with the concept of Michelin-starred Madras, it is a fair step from my curry house comfort zone.

My long-time favourite, Ray’s Place in Hull, has its roots in Bradford, a city where if you want cutlery you generally have to ask. The norm was, and still is in many places, to dip and dunk with your naan, chapati, paratha or house equivalent.

In some ways Ray’s is more sophisticated than that; in others not. With us it became a tradition during the 80s – plenty of beer in the local, top live music at the Adelphi club and then a curry at Ray’s, same day every week. We called it Ruby Tuesday.

And then there was a place in Attercliffe, just outside Sheffield city centre. I remember the food was great, the cutlery was absent and there were No Waiting cones on the tables, so it must have been a stag night.

In both of those places four or five of us could have eaten handsomely for the prices charged at Curry Corner, but they were much more modest establishments and it was nearly 30 years ago. The beer was plentiful, not that we hadn’t knocked back enough before we arrived. Indeed if someone had presented us with a comments book we’d have struggled to write our own names.

At Curry Corner we couldn’t fault the food or, given the surroundings, the price. But the beer selection was limited to bottles, which always means higher prices, and the serving dishes, when not quite empty, were whisked away before you could decide whether to dip or dunk.

So if we’d contributed to the comments book it would have been with three tips that may (or not) help the place take first prize in Ramsey’s new TV challenge.

  1. Let’s have some draught beer please instead of just bottles.
  2. Slow down. It’s not speed-dating (unless it is on a Tuesday night in Cheltenham and no one told us).
  3. Let’s have a nicer pen please. I bet Gordon Ramsey wasn’t offered a pound shop ballpoint with a broken clip.

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World Cup kicks off summer of multicultural fun

Flying the flag for Angola.

Of greater personal concern than the outcome of the general election is the fact that where I live the BNP came fourth.

They finished behind, respectively, the Tories, Lib Dems and Labour and ahead of the English Democrats and the trailing Greens.

That means 1,583 voters were of the view that neither the English Democrats nor sitting MP David Davis were sufficiently right-wing. Which in turn makes you wonder whether such individuals should be entrusted with anything so sharp as a polling station pencil.

Thankfully relief and some joy came at the weekend with the arrival, just over the border, of the first Hull World Cup.

A community organisation called the Goodwin Development Trust came up with the idea. Their aim was to assemble 16 teams; they attracted 20. Local residents represented the home nations, eastern Europe, Asia and Africa.

As a mini-festival of international football, food and music it was a good start. To develop into a bigger event embracing the wider community Goodwin needs to expand the off-field activities beyond the handful of tents and food vans present on Saturday, but with a promise of 30 teams for next year the signs are encouraging. There is even talk of expanding nationally.

No one should really be surprised by the success. Hull has an image problem, but one created by a failure to balance the negative publicity with a few column inches about some of the good stuff. Many people think Hull is rough, or they don’t think about it at all.

And the city does have a decent heritage when it comes to tolerance, stretching back through its years as a major port to the beginnings of the 19th century when the locally-born William Wilberforce led the abolition of the slave trade.

There’s more to come with the Springboard music festival (www.springboardfestival.org) about to attract more than 170 performers on the weekend of 28 May to eight or nine stages in six pubs in the nearby village of Cottingham. And on 5 June back in Hull the Vista festival (www.princesavenuehull.co.uk) promises more multicultural fun with live bands and some workshops from the award-winning Hull Truck Theatre.

Meanwhile back at the football the standard was mixed, much like the real thing. England as hosts had the strongest support, DR Congo the coolest shirts with light-blue and red sleeves, Ghana the brightest hat and the most passion, singing their anthem before every game they played.

Stereotypes did kick-in to a degree. The African nations had individuals capable of brilliance but lacked depth, England had a man sent off early in their first game and Scotland caused more of a surprise when their result against Latvia was corrected to a win than when it was originally announced as a defeat. For the record the Kurdish team beat Iraq in the final.

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