That was the year that was…

What a year, eh? Never before has Hull played host to such a party, nor its people partied so hard.

2,000 events in more than 250 venues, galleries, museums and performances spaces, as well as countless other events on the fringes. I’ve not been to all of them, obviously. But we did see loads of things. Loads of different things. Loads of extraordinary things. It’s been a mind-blowingly different, positive and exceptional year of spectacles, shared moments, intimate events, world class artists and local purveyors of cultural shenanigans.

Hats off to the team that pulled it all off and, in the process, played a big part in restoring the sense of pride and optimism in the city that I recall this place had when I was growing up. What a city in which to be a youngster right now, surrounded by cultural activity and a can-do attitude and with arts high on the agenda in classrooms. May that bubble never burst.

In the weeks and months and years to come we need to keep riding the wave of momentum set in motion by Hull’s year in the spotlight. Can’t wait to see and experience what happens next and what the long-term positives for Hull’s citizens are. To contort a Ghandi quote, a city’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people, so this ride doesn’t stop just because 2017 now resides in the memory; the year is a gift to the future of Hull.

Happy New Year and all the best for 2018 and beyond.

And while you deal with your 365-day induced hangover, here’s a nice boilerplate…

  • At least 9 in 10 residents have experienced the hundreds of new commissions and artworks created to celebrate the UK City of Culture year.
  • 2,500 volunteers have given 33 years of activity, or more than 300,000 hours.
  • More than £32m raised to deliver the year, made possible by 80 funding partners. Building on Hull City Council’s £3.6 million investment as Host City, this represents a 9:1 return.
  • 79 per cent of Hull 2017 funding is dedicated to public facing activities, including the widest range of cultural events in every corner of the city and legacy.
  • 60 projects across the city involving local people and artists funded through the Hull 2017 Creative Communities Programme.
  • 85 events in the Back to Ours Festival, which took place during three half terms as part of Hull 2017, bringing circus, comedy, theatre, music and film to schools, shopping centres, community centres and other ‘on the doorstep’ venues, and seen by more than 8,000 people.

 

Catching up…

365/17. Daily notes from the City of Culture.

Yes, it’s over 10 weeks since I blogged anything about the City of Culture.

That’s not because there’s been nothing going on.

That’s not because it’s been shit.

That’s not because there’s some underhand, devious plot to silence me.

It’s not because I’m frightened of falling off the guest lists that have made attending so many events this year plausible.

It’s simply because I haven’t blogged anything.

And looking at the list of the things I have seen and experienced over those 10 weeks, the temptation is not to bother to document it on here (it’ll be on twitter if you’re familiar with that rather more succinct way to witter on about stuff).

What kind of stupid mindset was I in when I reckoned I’d blog every day of the year (like I did for, um, 8+ years)? Why didn’t I take notes? Why would I take notes – it’s not like I get paid for this drivel.

So, I reckon a list is easier. I’ve been out a lot and another weekend awaits (Where Are We Now? – “a gathering of time-served trouble-makers, spoken word rebels, artistic mavericks and left-field music pioneers”. Y’know, those people that you swerve in the pub).

Yes, a list. It’ll save you the bother of having to read a stupidly lengthy post, me the bother of having to write it, and avoid the fallout from makers and shakers should I mention that any of it’s been underwhelming, or from the ‘countercultural’ bullshitters should I overstate that I like something.

So, a list it is. Which is a shame, because I do have extensive thoughts on what the list contains, and bubbling away somewhere is some kind of overarching sense of how the year’s shaping up, now we’re five months in, and the team delivering it. But fuck it, this is a free service. Commission me if you want the full story.

This list is not necessarily definitive. I’m sure I’ve forgotten some stuff. And there’s been some work that falls outside the official programme that I’ve been to that’s not included here.

Height of the Reeds: a sound journey for the Humber Bridge. Music by Arve Henriksen, Eivind Aarset and Jan Bang, the Orchestra and Chorus of Opera North; field recordings by Jez Riley French; voices of Maureen Lipman, Barrie Rutter, and Katie Smith. Musical arrangement by Aleksander Waaktar.

Fountain 17. Armitage Shanks, Hull School of Art & Design and a load of artists celebrate the dual anniversaries of Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain (100 years) and Armitage Shanks (200 years). Toilets, etc.

John Grant’s North Atlantic Flux: Songs from Smoky Bay. Four days of Scandinavian and Icelandic musicians, including GusGus, Susanne Sundfør, Lindstrøm, Sóley, Sykur, Prins Póló, Nordic Affect, Ragga Gisla, Fufanu, Ghostigital, descending on Hull at various venues. With the added bonus of Cobby & Litten.

Slung Low’s Flood: Abundance (Part 2). The second quarter of “an extraordinary year-long epic”. Outdoor theatre in the Victoria Dock basin. With headsets.

ReRooted – Hull Time Based Arts. A two-day takeover of Hull’s new Humber Street Gallery. All free.

SKIN: Freud, Mueck and Tunick. What the half of Hull that got their kit off has been waiting for. With added delights including Ron Mueck’s mind-bending sculptures of the human form.

Depart. An atmospheric Circa Production in General Cemetery (one of Larkin’s favourite haunts).

Richard III. Northern Broadsides and Hull Truck co-pro. Marking 25 years of Broadsides, with added drumming from Hull Samba.

Jason Singh workshop. We learned how to beatbox and make the sounds of waves lapping, saws buzzing and foghorns blasting.

Lego Daffodils. Daffodils. Made of Lego.

BBC Radio 1 Academy – Piano Sessions hosted by Huw Stephens and Greg James that saw Two Door Cinema Club’s Alex Trimble, Oh Wonder, Ghetts & Shakka and Blanaevon stripping back their work and making it a bit more plinky plonky.

BBC Radio 1 Academy – You Me At Six

BBC Radio 1 Big Weekend. We went on the Saturday.

Poppies: Weeping Window. Several thousand handmade ceramic poppies, from the somewhat more impressive installation Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red at the Tower of London, oozed out of the Maritime Museum.

Grow. Hull Truck’s artist development programme for artists of all ages and at all stages of their careers. Now in its fourth year. Launch event and First Time Out, which included brand new work by Junior Adults, End of the Line and The Roaring Girls.

Raft of the Medusa/Somewhere Becoming Sea. Lucy and Jorge Orta’s multi-sensory installation on the ground floor of Humber Street Gallery, while upstairs international artists, including Simon Faithfull, Lavinia Greenlaw, Nikolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen and Isabella Martin, reflect on how expanses of water that divide countries are also channels that connect them.

Jeremy Corbyn Rally: Zebedee’s Yard. This was a 2017 event, right? With the added bonus of Cobby & Litten and that poem by Shane Rhodes.

What I didn’t get round to blogging about previously:

Coum Transmissions exhibition. The first exhibition of materials drawn from the personal archives of Cosey Fanni Tutti and Genesis P-Orridge.

Coum Transmissions: Cosey Club. Richard Clouston and Perc in the Tunnel Bar.

What I wish I’d been at:

I wasn’t fussed at the time but Periplum’s Seven Alleys in East Park sounds like it was fun.

 

Heads Up Festival and The Rave Space: We are loved…

365/17. Daily notes from the City of Culture.

So it’s around 36 hours since Heads Up Festival’s eighth season drew to a close. And, as is the usual case around about this time, I’m still attempting to process what happened over the course of the last two weekends and the days between.

Also being processed is The Rave Space, a stunning festival finale provided by Will Dickie, who first joined us at our second festival with his exceptional outdoor piece Team of the Decades.

But more of The Rave Space later.

Heads Up. Every season I’ve had a momentary lapse about the point of it all and considered walking away. We’re a small team and sometimes this all seems to be an unfathomable burden that we brought on ourselves four years ago. The very real concern that I have, that runs through my mind continually but completely overwhelms and overtakes me with each and every season, when dealing with venues and ticketing and promotion and co-promoters and a host of truly amazing artists, is that this is a complete and total distraction that threatens our ability to make and create our own work. We’re artists who became accidental producers because nobody else was doing this. Silly us.

We’ll have a minor spat just before things get going as we attempt to get it together and what should be enormous fun feels anything but. This season, things were exacerbated by having to deal with the external juggernaut of a force that is 2017. It’s not true, but this is how I often feel, that, in the words of The Band (which I heard sat in post-festival comedown mode surrounded by people that I love in a boozer yesterday), in the extraoardinary effort required to shift a mere handful of tickets that will ensure that each production gets the audience it deserves, “you put the load right on me.” I write this in the knowledge that other producers and promoters in this fine city of ours, and beyond here, also feel the same way and might take succour from what is, most very definitely, an overshare.

Then the shows roll into town. And what we always knew to be the case when we put the programme together is writ large. Every piece of work is unbelievably brilliant. The tension subsides, the ill feeling slips away, we realise we like each other and that we’re good at this, and we start to relax and enjoy ourselves. Every piece of work is a highlight for entirely different reasons, every bit of audience feedback invaluable, every shared moment with, say, 1-3 year olds and their accompanying adults in Neverland, jaw droppingly beautiful, time spent with Battersea Arts Centre’s producing team a joy, every after-show jape possibly a late night too far, but sharing a corner of a dance floor with Theatre Ad Infitum at the Wow Hull after party sticks in the mind as a moment when I proudly, albeit briefly, thought, hey, we brought these people and their fine, important work to Hull.

And in the post-festival aftermath, in that short window when we’re thinking that this is great and absolutely what we should be doing, I’ve got a sense that Heads Up should get bigger and better and grow beyond our wildest dreams and be around forever, and that I’ll always be involved. I write this in the knowledge that the small team I’m a part of might feel this too and that we can chat about this later today, and so I don’t forget how I feel right now, when I start to get in a spin about us having to do it all over again for festival nine, which is coming in October 2017.

Some aspects of programming a festival are astonishingly and outstandingly self-indulgent. I love the Adelphi club, as every right-thinking, live music-loving scoundrel in the city does. I have never been in a band that made it beyond the bedroom, so one of the few regrets I have is that I’ve never stood on that stage with a low-slung guitar round my neck and a foot on the monitor. My DJing days also ended at the very point that superstar DJs rose to prominence, so, as much as I could see myself proffering the finest ever set at Residents, or boring people to tears with too much A Tribe Called Quest and Public Enemy at Represent, my inability to mix tunes seamlessly ensures that won’t happen anytime soon. We took Chris Brett Bailey’s This Is How We Die into the Adelphi in 2015 and Chris’s jaw-droppingly astounding rant and wall of sound left people reeling so we’ve always wanted to return there. I love dance music in all its forms. I love dancing like nobody’s watching. I meditate and know the power of taking deep four second breaths. Indeed, meditation changed my life. Will Dickie’s The Rave Space, a piece of work that fuses live art and club culture, and is a meditation on life and what it all means, gave me the chance to persuade Jacko to let us in to his venue once again, indulge my desire to dance and breathe, and for me to vicariously be involved in a piece of work there.

Naturally and understandably, Jacko was resistant to letting a load of theatre sorts in to his nocturnal nest at 10am on a Saturday morning. But, boy, am I glad he did. We got to hang out with Will, Hayley Hill, Chris Collins, Jesal and Fabiola for the day. We got to see the run. We couldn’t wait for 8.30pm to come round and for an audience to be in front of it.

There have been many memorable, life-changing shows at Heads Up. While I’m still processing and gathering thoughts on what it means and what it meant, The Rave Space feels a real highlight of four years of this. Poignant for Will, due to the recent real-life death of one of the characters and his friends within (Angie, represented by a vape), this is the finest close to our festival to date. Drum and bass and choreographed dance moves merged with MCing and cut-up actuality interviews, exploring rave and religion and a sense of community that is under threat. My life, as I imagine most people’s, feels like a series of disconnected fragments that very rarely make sense as a whole. While I may still be high on festival fever, The Rave Space felt, on Saturday night, like it was joining the dots for me. As Hayley went around the room, looked people in the eyes and declared “You are loved… and you are loved… and you are loved,” everything and everybody I’ve encountered was connected. And Heads Up Festival felt like home.

Heads Up Festival returns in October 2017. Visit www.headsuphull.co.uk for updates and news.

#challengehull week 10…

365/17. Daily notes from the City of Culture.

Pen

Week #10 of Challenge Hull is courtesy of Pause Project, who provide a creative solution designed to address the needs of women who have, or are at risk of, multiple children being removed from their care.

They urge us to look around, go for a walk, see what we can see and collect objects as we go, then use our magic on these objects and inject them with new life, using glitter, glue, fabric, or anything else we might lay our hands on.

I ignored that brief, and went upstairs to ‘find’ something that I was given at Christmas. One of the most beautiful – and powerful – everyday objects with unfathomable creative potential: A pen.

In 1941, Woody Guthrie placed a sticker on his guitar that read “This Machine Kills Fascists”. And, of course, songwriters, Guthrie among them, have caused a lot of people to rethink their politics, brought about societal change, touched and entertained people, shone a light on wrongdoing or helped people understand life. Maybe he mainly used a pencil, I dunno, but at some point, I’d like to think that even the wielder of a Fascist killing axe will have put pen to paper to write some lyrics, or some dots on lines, down.

Writers in all forms, gripping pens, have sparked revolutions and transformed the world. The weapon of change remains the pen, even in these high-tech days. A pen, coupled with paper, is the primary tool to bring about change. Writing works. Words still work. Maybe that’s why they’re trying to close down libraries. And while it’s nice to tap away into your favourite text editor or phone app, those that know the power of the pen continue to wander the earth with a notebook in their pocket and several pens at hand; laying down thoughts, capturing overheard comments and conversations, exploring their feelings on what they see that is wrong with the world. Graham Greene once wrote, with a pen I hope, that his two fingers on a typewriter never connected with his brain. Only his hand on a pen did that.

There is no need to use glitter, glue, fabric or anything else. The glitter comes from the pen, the glue that binds us together likewise, the fabric that is required to bind society together also. Take your pen, and write about the abuses that people the world over are suffering at the hands of those in power, shine a light on the darkest, murky corners. Never has the pen been more important. It’s an analogue machine that, coupled with some intelligent and considered thought and creativity, can kill Fascists.

Go find a pen, now. And use it.

The Hypocrite…

365/17. Daily notes from the City of Culture.

The Hypocrite : Hull Truck / RSC

The early ‘hot ticket’ in Hull’s 2017 City of Culture year, Richard Bean’s bawdy, filthy, sex farce cum history lesson has sold out its run on Ferensway and much is being made that over a third of those ticket purchasers have never visited Hull Truck before. So it was nice to bag a pair of comps for World Premiere night and join the capacity crowd to experience the first production, a co-pro with the RSC no less, in Truck’s exceptional year of drama. It’s been a while since there’s been such an anticipatory buzz in this particular auditorium; people came for something special and were up for a good night out.

Bean takes the farcical events of 1642-43, when King Charles I was refused entry to Hull, thus sparking the English Civil War, and cleverly crunches 14 months into three days, crams the stage with characters, flexes his word play muscles, gets everyone running around the building, drops people into the coal cellar regularly and revels in the Hullness of the story, while also throwing in Pythonesque coconut shells as horses, getting away with an extraordinary level of sexism and revisiting some of his old gags. Someone somewhere will be saying it’s a ‘proper Hull Truck show’ and will be trying to work out why they laughed so hard at the mere mention of North Ferriby. Just like the old days.

Bean moves beyond the pub version of the events covered, his hands no doubt having been inserted into white gloves to handle old documents, and amid all the silliness and smut and gags there’s quite a lot that can be learned from this account, although it certainly doesn’t purport to be a documentary.

The play starts with the epilogue, fitting for the world turned upside down depicted and, when things get going after the beheading of Sir John Hotham and the play’s conventions are made clear, The Hypocrite is a breathless affair for, gulp, pretty much all of its almost three hours, with the cast of 20 worked hard by Bean and directer Phillip Breen. The contemporary political resonances are there, as you’d expect from this writer, although mostly in the songs peppered throughout.

Good to see so many actors connected with Truck and Hull in the cast, and again people will feel, in some respects, like they’re pulling on a pair of old socks at the sight of Martin Barrass, Paul Popplewell, Matt Sutton and Adrian Hood, delight at the long-overdue (but he’s been busy) return of Mark Addy and be chuffed, as I was, to see the brilliant Laura Elsworthy and Rachel Dale on this stage.

The Hypocrite is a good night out. It’s very funny. It’s very Beany. It feels very ‘big’. It’s most definitely a sex farce, but one that is self-reflexive and meta enough to get away with some crazy anachronisms and direct audience address.

Looking forward to designer Max Jones’ filthy, big cock-filled Inigo Jones’ bed going on ebay at some point in the future. It would look nice in a flat on the Thornton Estate.

#challengehull week 5…

365/17. Daily notes from the City of Culture.

Week #5 of Challenge Hull came from 2017’s Learning and Participation Team.

Take a piece of paper and see what you can turn it into. Fold it, tear it, cut it (but watch your fingers!) What can you create? Perhaps you could make your own piece of art, desk decoration or mini sculpture – or maybe something entirely different from your own imagination.

I was on a train. And the last time I tore pieces of paper on a train – making face masks from the pages of a newspaper magazine supplement, and posing with ripped out photographs of sandwiches – I drew a few frowns and left the table I was sat at in a right state. So I decided to scrawl out a ‘cut out and make it’ night scene of The Deep for someone else to make a mess with. I left it behind when I got off at Paragon. There’s a reason I don’t draw very often.

Challenge Hull Week 5

 

Coffee dregs…

365/17. Daily notes from the City of Culture.

Lines of Thought at the University of Hull

Finally went to see Lines of Thought, the British Museum’s touring exhibition currently in the Brynmor Jones Library exhibition space at the University of Hull. “The greatest gathering of artistic talent ever seen in Hull, in one exhibition,” revealing some of the creative process of Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Dürer, Degas and a load of other big names.

Having stared up at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel a couple of weeks ago, I’m still going through a period of reacclimatising when it comes to looking at anything not on an epic scale, but it was very interesting to see these drawings, etchings, sketches and doodles. I had to stop short of telling everyone in the room, as a I looked at Michelangelo’s Studies for the Last Judgement, that I’d seen the finished product, and it was a lot more mind-blowing than the black chalk on paper I was looking at.

I was most enamoured by the work of a writer. Victor Hugo produced nearly 3,000 drawings in his lifetime, which provided the impetus to let his imagination run riot when it came to putting pen to paper and his words in the right order. I love his choice of materials – soot, the occasional bit of ink and, most impressively, the dregs of his coffee.

I said to a woman staring at Hugo’s Landscape With A Castle (1857) that I now knew what I could do with all that leftover coffee that lurks at the bottom of mugs I have next to my laptop. “Ah yes,” she said, “but could you do something that good with them?” She’s clearly not seen the self portrait I did for #challengehull otherwise she’d have known the answer.

Greed…

365/17. Daily notes from the City of Culture.

Worth remembering, in the clamour for tickets…

“I am afraid that our eyes are bigger than our stomachs, and that we have more curiosity than understanding. We grasp at everything, but catch nothing except wind.”

Michel de Montaigne, The Complete Essays

City of vultures…

365/17. Daily notes from the City of Culture.

“You ever get the feeling the world’s filling up with bastards? I do. What I want to know is what happens when all the bastards run out of people to crap on? What happens when all that’s left in the world is bastards? . .”

William Hoffman – A Place For My Head

Heads Up Festival tickets…

365/17. Daily notes from the City of Culture.

We’ve got another Heads Up Festival on the way. This will be number eight and the festival’s now in its fourth year. Yeah, we were doing culture in Hull before it was fashionable. Tickets are on sale. Theatre Ad Infinitum, Tom Penn, Shannon Yee and Will Dickie are all coming to Hull because of us (and Battersea Arts Centre, and the desire of those artists to rock up here). And we’ve also got Theatre Hullabaloo, Blazons and Indigo Moon too. Not too shabby at all. www.headsuphull.co.uk