The brilliance of Bowhead…

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

Bowhead at the Maritime Museum.

Bowhead at Maritime Museum. Audience members find out more.

I sat in front of Louise Dempsey’s brilliant Bowhead – a whale model and animated interaction – for quite a while. But not as long as Louise, a third year student at Hull School of Art & Design – has. She started work on it in her second year as part of her client related practice and is taking it forward now as a multi-disciplinary research project. In the true spirit of collaboration, the accompanying soundtrack for this installation in the Maritime Museum has been composed by students studying music in the  new School of Arts at the University of Hull. It’s a stunning piece of work that showcases some of the best of the city’s emerging talent in music and games design and Louise’s skills in 3D design and digital animation, as well as the support she was provided with by my former colleague and Games Design lecturer Paul Starkey, who’s one of many extremely talented lecturers that do their thing without any fuss, and often confronted with no praise and shocking apathy from their masters at Hull College Group, over at HSAD.

I overheard a funny comment while I was sat there, prompted by a woman sat in front of me who is “writing a book about the whole year.” “I’m not sure how I feel about seeing this in a whaling museum,” the potential contributor to this book said in a jolly tone. “I mean, look at these beautiful creatures that we murdered. It’s such a shame.” Not sure that was the planned take-home from the installation, and I’ve never really noticed that the Maritime Museum celebrates this part of Hull’s history; rather, it just documents it. But it’s good that Louise’s great work has the power to provoke these thoughts on a past that Hull was built on.

Bowhead’s on until March 19 and I’d urge you to swing by and see it.

Hull before culture…

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

So Day Five of Hull’s journey in 2017 included me appearing, albeit briefly, on Radio 4 as a contributor to part-one of a two part documentary called Hull Before Culture, produced by Mary Ward-Lowery.

John Godber, the third most performed playwright in the UK, bundled me into a car at the end of November and a microphone between the pair of us captured a chat as John drove us over to Hull KR’s KC Lightstream stadium. I was a bit unwell at the time and had absolutely no idea if what was coming out of my mouth made any sense. I had to ask John halfway through if I was talking gibberish, as I kept losing my train of thought. Miraculously, Mary managed to find some stuff that didn’t make me sound too much of an idiot. I also sound like I’m from Hull, which is a relief. Good to hear Nick Lane on there too, my old mucker Phil Codd and Kardomah94 owner Malcolm Scott, who once gave me the keys to his office block without realising that I’d sleep there on the odd occasion. In fact, I once slept on top of a giant carrot suit. Happy days. Don’t work in the arts, kids.

Anyway, you’ll be able to listen to Hull Before Culture Pt 1 again here.



Pot luck…

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

Pot Luck. Pic by Graeme Oxby.

“I don’t know about you,” I said to tonight’s audience, “but I have no fucking idea what day it is. And we’re only four days in.” I swore early on, because the night I was compering had a line-up of folk who don’t hold back when it comes to language. So I thought I’d set the tone. It’s as good as a parental advisory sticker and somewhat fruitier. Which is fitting, as the venue for the night was Fruit, Hull’s finest former warehouse turned arts space.

Pot Luck, it was called. An idea that prompted people to take a punt on a night, purchasing tickets for something that might not be their cup of tea, from live music, a film screening, an evening of art and spoken word. We were actually allowed to spread the word about the line-up in the morning, and as a result quite a healthy crowd turned out to see Dean Wilson, Attila the Stockbroker, eye-linertastic Luke Wright and the bloody brilliant cultural terrorist Joelle Taylor. Maybe they’d have gone anyway, such is the hunger for culture already.

Nobody, it seemed, was surprised at what they’d turned up for. “Do you all know why you’re here?” I asked. There was a resounding yes in response. Nice audience who clearly wanted to have a lot of fun.

I think I’m right in saying that this was the first official ‘gig’ of the year. Nice to be a part of it in a small way and share the stage with four very talented poets.  Joelle Taylor completely blew me away with her short but very powerful set.

Pot Luck is part of the Made in Hull opening shebang, overseen by Sean McAllister, currently the most popular man in the city and being stalked by his own ever-present camera crew.  I’m hoping Graeme Oxby, who captured me reading off my scraps of paper, will do the same for me. Hang on, what am I saying?

#challengehull week 1…

The first challenge of 2017 in Hull? Make a self-portrait.

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

DW Self Portrait

What was it like to draw yourself?

Trouble with my dad being a half-decent illustrator and artist, when he wasn’t creating signage for Jackson’s supermarkets, is that I avoid drawing anything because I know I’m nowhere near as good as the old man was. I have no desire to put in the hours to get good at it, but generally it was a fun 90 seconds with a nice pen.

Did you feel self-conscious?

Shouldn’t you, when drawing a self-portrait?

What did you want to share about yourself?

That I’m conscious of having a big nose, and bags around my eyes, and loads of frown marks, and that when I look in the mirror I’m often puzzled as to why a short-cropped Keith Richards appears to look back at me.

Community groups and organisations from across the city have teamed up with Hull 2017 and 64 Million Artists to set a weekly creative challenge that everyone in Hull can participate in.

Made in Hull…

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

Imitating The Dog's Arrivals and Departures. Pic by Ben Hames.

A real sense of pride. That’s what we felt, as we followed up our night at the fireworks by taking to the streets to soak up Hull 2017’s Made in Hull trail, the work of an “eclectic group of extraordinary artists”, headed up by creative director Sean McAllister, writer Rupert Creed, and with sound design by Dan Jones and lighting design by Durham Marenghi.

Where to start? Perhaps where we did, in Queen Victoria Square, for Zsolt Balogh’s We Are Hull – the “epic” retelling of the past 70 years of Hull people and their history and a deft use of image mapping lighting up the City Hall, Maritime Museum and the Ferens. For me, the mapping worked best on the Maritime Museum – the old Dock Offices, former home of the Hull Dock Company that ran the entire dock system in the city – partly because of that grand architecture and the use of the windows, partly because of the fishing industry headlines that would have caused headaches for those that used to work in the building but mainly because when the epic focused on the Blitz, it really did look like the building was alight.

We loved We Are Hull so much that we watched it from every available angle, spotting different moments in history, different faces, different headlines and marveling that, whatever the angle and craggy wall surface, Deano always cracked that volley into the back of the net.

We Are Hull set the tone and the standard. Invisible Flock’s 105+dB in the fab Zebedee’s Yard virtually sent us out into the centre of the KC Stadium, although nobody in their right mind would stay for the entire Hull City game that this “spectacular stadium of sound” was recorded at. It’s an aural and visual assault: We moved on with a chant of “Steve Bruce’s black and amber army” hurting our ears, having been blinded by the floodlights.

Then we took in Whitefriargate, a right rag-bag of installations in shop windows – the highlights being Preston Likely’s veracity-questioning Amuse Agents, Sodium’s We’re All Going On A Summer Holiday, featuring the Roaring Girls playing Scrabble in a mock caravan and miraculously not giggling like they do in real life and, again, Invisible Flock, this time with their Reflections.

Quentin Budworth’s Hullywood Icons is a fantastic collection of recreations of iconic big screen images and included so many of our mates that I’m still not sure if I like the pics because of their artistic merit (which is high) or if I’m just amused by people that I’ve consumed booze with dressing up (or in the case of Rupert Creed, standing on his doorstep in his underpants).

Jesse Kanda’s recreation of the club scene in Yorkshire – Embers – seemed to baffle most people, although the footage was fun. But it wasn’t the rave we were looking for. MakeAMPLIFY’s (in) Dignity of Labour looked beautiful but, having read the blurb, which promised something that gave voice to the unemployed, I’m not sure the narrative was clear enough – but one heck of a crowd took it all in.

We posed for Urban Projections’ Vantage Point, a large scale selfie that put us in a work of art, which was fun. And we ended up at The Deep, for imitating the dog’s Arrivals and Departures, my personal favourite of all of the Made in Hull happenings, which told the story of the ebb and flow of people, and animals, into Hull and, like We Are Hull, was a fantastic use of mapping technology.

It was a great trail to follow, most of it impressed greatly and there was a terrific buzz around the city, as people realised that this was not only the start of the year but a bloody good one at that. The team that pulled it all together deserve all the plaudits that will come their way – they instilled a real sense of pride in every one from Hull that experienced the trail, will no doubt silence critics outside of the city, and this opening salvo bodes well for what will follow in the coming weeks and months.

The city of culture speaks…

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

2017 opening fireworks display. Pic by Pritti Mistry.

Like everyone else, I imagine, I woke up somewhat bleary eyed on January 1, 2017.

Typing some notes into my phone in a bed in Willerby – which, for the uninitiated, is a place sufficiently on the edge of Hull that it may as well be in it – and trying to make sense of what I was thinking and feeling, I felt a bit pre-match over-emotional. It was about 8.30am. This was a big day. The big day. Hull’s big day. The first moment of a year of moments. A time to change those misconceptions about the city. To turn a new page, and start as we mean to go on.

I tweeted something about loving Hull in ways I can’t describe. And I’m not afraid to admit that there was a tear trickling down my face. Maybe more than one. But I’ll put that down to the fact that I’d been cleaning up the innards of a few giant party poppers from our hosts’ carpet at 5.30am, and the amount of beer, wine and rum I’d consumed, not to mention the rather frenzied salsa dancing that could well have been confused for a fit of some kind. I was still rather drunk. If I could have thrown my arms around the city at this point, I’d have slurred “I love you,” a hundred or so times until Humberside Police were called in to cart me off and may well have appeared in a shambolically provocative piece of editorial in The Sun or the Daily Mail.

I bobbed downstairs, put the kettle on, and hunted the house for a piece of paper on which to write the thoughts that were swirling round my head. I couldn’t find any. This was a house jammed full of vinyl, stylish carpets and impressive light fittings. But there was no paper. None at all. What is it with suburbia?

I considered butchering a couple of our hosts’ Christmas cards. Or rifling through the drawers for an old bill to scrawl on. But I didn’t want to get caught in the act because, although these were nice people we’d spent the night with, they’d also have no hesitation in hitting me over the head with a baseball bat if they mistook me for a burglar. So I gave up. The moment had passed. And I decided to head back upstairs with another coffee and annoy someone with my post-New Year’s Eve chatter.

We headed back to the city of culture, plonked ourselves on a sofa and, as you do on Hull’s big day, vegged out by putting The Goonies on. The temptation to sack off the fireworks was high. I mean, they’re only fireworks, eh? We’d do all that Made in Hull stuff another night. But we had a table booked at Ambiente where we’d be joining some of Hull’s biggest cultural misfits so, having discovered One-Eyed Willy’s hidden fortune we did finally manage to get cleaned up, wrapped up warm and thought we better go and join The City Speaks’ poet Shane Rhodes and filmmaker Dave Lee and their entourage and hurl some tapas down our necks. It did the trick, along with a few pints of Mahou. So, having maxed out our allocated table time, we headed out into the hustle and bustle in order to locate Zone A and a spot to stare skywards.

I’ve been to enough large-scale spectacles to realise that the moment isn’t so much about what you might end up gawping at but the company you’re keeping as the spectacle unfurls. Surround yourself with the right people and you could watch a packet of indoor fireworks from Dinsdale’s Famous Joke, Trick & Fancydress Shop splutter out pathetically and you’d still have the time of your life. That we’d been promised an epic display to light up the skies and the Humber Estuary and one that would better London’s New Year’s Eve didn’t really matter, then. We practiced our “oohs” and “aahs” in readiness, sang along to a couple of the tunes that Bonny Boat DJ Linda Levantiz (who usually spins her Neil Diamond and the like to 80 punters down the boozer), found a bench to stand on to elevate us another 24 inches (600mm) and braced ourselves, not really caring too much about what we may, or may not, see. The vibe was pretty good, everyone was in fine, if eerily (hungover?) subdued, spirits, we chatted to complete strangers, as you do, we pondered that we might be stood in completely the wrong place and tutted about the volume of the sound, and the absence of street entertainers, and the size of the screens. But none of it really mattered. Because we were with each other and this was about us.

I bumped into Sam Hunt, 2017 Executive Producer who had programmed the night’s shenanigans. He was ridiculously calm, given that 25,000 people who’d all elbowed thousands of other people out of the way for tickets for the night might be about to judge him. I like a calm head at a big event. Sam was at the point where it was happening anyway, there was nothing he could do to change anything now and he was a punter, like the rest of us. I never saw him again that night, but if I had I reckon I’d have seen a fella with a big smile on his face for a job well done.

Yeah, the In With A Bang fireworks were grand. They looked lovely and were in-sync with the accompanying soundtrack that was nicely slammed together. Was good to hear Kingmaker’s Really Scrape The Sky, amid the Ronno riffology, EBTG and The Housemartins, and a few other less obvious gems as colour splashed over our heads. I have no idea if things started on time or not – something was due to start at 20:17, somewhat predictably, but whether that was the fireworks or the pre-fireworks film screening or just that, at 20:17 it would be 20:17 in 2017, not sure. Nor do I care. But the countdown to whatever it was was a nice bonding moment for 25,000 of us.


The highlight of this evening was the 5’13” of The City Speaks, a screening of the film made by Dave Lee, with a soundtrack by Steve Cobby, of the poem by Shane Rhodes. I’ll express an interest here – I’m a big friend of the author. I had to endure him wittering on about the first line of his poem after he wrote it, his excitement at describing the Humber Bridge as a harp, and the estuary as chocolate, and how the word ‘peel’ would be reprised, as the word ‘peal’. I asked him to shut up but he wouldn’t stop. For five months. And a draft was wafted under my nose a few months ago for proofreading purposes (a few others were asked to do this too. We were mainly focused on whether ‘trawlerman’ was or wasn’t a compound noun. We’re from Hull. We should know this shit). And even reading it off a few sides of A4 was a quite moving experience. The City Speaks is a lovely bit of work, a short history of the city and its people and Shane’s relationship with Hull and reflects the uncompromising nature of the fella that penned it. So it was quite fantastic to realise, quite quickly, that people were most definitely listening to the words being read by Stan Haywood. And the spontaneous applause at the film’s close was very fitting and a tangible sign that this really could be our year (but don’t take my word for it; rather, the words of youtube commenter William Braquemard, who feels that The City Speaks is, “dull, cliched corny rubbish aimed at those who wouldn’t know a poem if it slapped them in the face.” Very Hull, that comment).

And then I snapped out of that odd sense of pride about my bald-headed mate – a council estate kid done good – and returned to the friends that I was with. And went in Butler Whites, comparing notes, laughing, drinking and chatting, and sharing and enjoying each other’s company in the city’s first moment of a year of moments as the crowds headed for home.

Not a bad start at all. Here’s to the next 364 days.