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Sully, The Housemartins, et moi

In early summer 2005, following the unexpected minor success of a first full-length play, I was invited to a place called Peaberries that specialised in selling big messy sandwiches that you ended up wearing, to discuss whether I had any other Hull-related ideas* for Hull Truck to produce, or if that was that.

I think I ordered a lemon pepper chicken in a bloomer the size of a planet, and probably a bottle of Corona to wash it down. Over the course of attempting to get some of this hefty, elaborate sarnie in my mouth, and between spitting mouthfuls over Truck’s then Associate Artistic Director Gareth Tudor Price, and him spitting whatever he’d ordered over me, I banged on, and on, about an idea for something called Happy Hour.

As you’ve probably guessed by now, it was slightly Housemartins related. As a recently discovered scrap of A4 reveals, the play would not be “reliant on the use of the [Housemartins] music, nor will any of the characters be based on band members.” Rather, he writes looking down at this piece of paper, it would be, ahem, “a fast-paced psychological comedy packed with the bleak humour prevalent at the time [1986]. Think Dog Day Afternoon set in a Hull pub [The Grafton].”

The overly simplistic outline suggests that untalented psycho Gus wants a piece of the fame, celebrity and fortune that he sees the band having and, to that end, intends to invite himself into the band. He holds four lads hostage in The Grafton, but they’re not the band – they’re just dressed in similar woolly jumpers and sportswear to that donned by Pd Heaton, Stan Cullimore et al (there were, of course, a lot of these groups of four wandering around Hull’s Avenues area at the time). Gus is also faced with bar staff who are even more disturbed than he is, which throws his plan off, somewhat, as the tables are turned and the hostage-taker becomes the hostage.

Anyway, I didn’t get round to suggesting how this hostage situation would pan out, although it would probably have involved sleeve note writer and Marxist poet Swift Nick bringing things to a shouty left-wing conclusion. Each scene would be named after the tracks on London 0 Hull 4, which I thought lent themselves nicely to me not really having to think too much for myself – Anxious, Get Up Off Our Knees, Think For A Minute, Freedom, etc etc. Swift Nick, or the actor playing him if Nick himself proved too expensive, would provide a little precis/review of each song ahead of the relevant scene to keep those deceived into buying tickets because they thought it would be a jukebox musical about their favourite, pre-Beautiful South band, happy.

With half of my sandwich in my lap and probably some of Gareth’s having made its way into my open, jabbering mouth during the course of this ‘pitch’, I looked at him for a response. Then started up again.

“I had a dream last night. Might be worth mentioning…”

As he mopped some sandwich/salad dressing out of the corner of his mouth, I assumed he was indicating I should go on.

“…it was a poster for a play. Clive Sullivan. Dressed half in Hull FC kit and half in Rovers kit, holding a rugby ball, about to run down the wing. Above his head, there’s the title, Sully. I guess it’s a biographical drama about a sporting legend.”

“Ok,” says Gareth, “We’ll do that.”

And we never spoke about The Housemartins idea ever again.

Which was the right move (Gareth, who settled the bill at Peaberries, went on to do the most amazing job of directing and casting, with Fidel Nanton excelling as Sully, and incredible multi-role support from Lee Green and Natalie Blades (and subsequently Amy Thompson in the revival)).

Anyway, I was only reminded of all this because I recently got the opportunity to re-visit the magnificent career of Clive Sullivan via co-writing the story, for a Humber Mouth commission, of the supporting role that Ros Sullivan played in her husband’s rugby league life. And the co-writer was Ros herself.

In 2005, sandwich digested and ahead of tackling the script for Sully, the brilliantly named Hull Daily Mail sports reporter Dick Tingle put me in touch with Ros (thankfully, given I didn’t know what I was doing) and, from the moment I met her, she was incredibly generous, sharing loads and loads of stories of their life together (and also giving me permission to do whatever I wanted with what she shared with me).

And Ros has done the same again so, together, we could tell this well-known story from her different perspective. The result is a short story that has been broadcast on the radio called Sidelines (it’s only 10 minutes long, so we barely scratch the surface). Ros was also brave enough to read the words, which are available on BBC Sounds, at least for a few more days. You can listen to it here (about 3 hours, 15 mins in).

*when I walked in to Truck for the first time as a ‘writer’ – to attend a new writing session – I remember explicitly stating that I didn’t want to write about Hull, most certainly didn’t want to write about rugby league and had no desire, by association, to become a professional Northerner. Ah, the confidence, swagger and naivety of the younger me.

I’d Love To Turn You On #13

With tracks from Moodymann, Tony Allen/Theo Parrish/Eska/Andrew Ashong, Groove Armada, Alice Coltrane and more, all interspersed with silly conversation and efforts to articulate what we love about music.

I’d Love To Turn You On #12

With tracks from Eska, Melody’s Echo Chamber, Gang of Four, Discodeine, The Selecter and more, all interspersed with silly conversation and efforts to articulate what we love about music.

Still at a loss

Today marks a year since my dear old mum died. I write this not for sympathy, for I have had plenty and it’s been appreciated, but to mark the occasion in a simple and straightforward manner. For it happened, as these things tend to do if the natural order of events is allowed to play out, as people get older. The death of a parent born in 1932, and one that had been ill for some time, didn’t come as a surprise, on April 5 2020. The surprise is that, in their later years, they managed to maintain their faculties, wicked sense of humour and love of silliness and immaturity. My mum, Ida, grew old but didn’t particularly ever feel the need to grow up. And I would be very keen to reach 87, if I’m permitted to reach that age, in the same manner. When I think of mum, which I do often, I mostly think of her laughing her teeth out.

So, no surprise. But, as anyone else that has lost anyone amid this global pandemic will no doubt have experienced, the Covid-adaptation to grieving and mourning has been the weirdest end to lives lived well. The tears, hugs and anecdotage amid a celebratory remembrance providing some sense of closure that one would feel and experience at a large funeral, while the right adjustment to make in order to prevent an even bigger clusterfuck of super spreadage, has left us in an ongoing state of denial, detachment and confusion.

While there’s always a similar sense that lingers after loss, sending someone off with just seven other family members and a vicar and then all going our separate ways almost immediately afterwards, complicates grief and our ability to deal with it. I write this in full understanding that some people, sans pandemic and under ‘normal’ circumstances, do have funerals bereft of any significant others – and for those people I can only say that this experience has done much to increase my empathic understanding of loneliness.

My mum would have enjoyed – and deserved – a big send-off and would have attracted a hefty crowd of admirers, for she was a very popular woman. There would have been a glorious knees up with lots of dancing, for she and my dad loved to dance so much they often wore holes in the linoleum flooring that they preferred (or maybe it was de rigueur) from the 1950s to the late 1970s (at which point they got into carpets). Yes, there would have been dancing into the early hours, until the sun came up, at least. There will still be some kind of gathering of this type, of the kind that I’m sure plenty of other people are promising for their departed relatives, but it will be so long after the fact one wonders if any purpose will be served, and how those gathered will feel, or if they will be pre-occupied with their own problems and issues that have sprung up over the last 12 months. We have all been affected by the changes to life we have experienced, and many of us severely, whether physically, mentally or financially. Even if you’re an anti-vac, Covid denier, there’s no running away from the fact that this shit is real and will continue to be so for many months and years to come. Look after each other, people, please.

On the night that I was informed that my mum only had a few hours to live, we were about to play several hours of music on a Facebook live. There was some synchronicity to this – not because my mum did bad DJ sets comprising funky house and disco on FB (she tried to use the platform but technology was not her best friend) – but that most of my memories around mum, and dad for that matter, are also bound up in music-related moments. They loved big bands and spinning records when I was growing up, their sideboard was full of very good vinyl from the 1960s and 78rpms from a previous era, the house was always full of tunes, of all genres, we were always in the car on Sundays when the UK Top 40 was on and listened and sang along together, we travelled the north dancing – often to live bands – at competitions, our holidays were always a mix of dancing and watching live music, both my sister and myself were always, and I shockingly only realise this now, provided with the necessary funds to buy as much recorded music as we wanted, we’d spend most Saturday nights down the dance hall down the street where we lived, once my sister moved out and took her Osmonds records with her, mum, dad and me would swap and share music, and they tolerated my late 1970s-early 1980s efforts to get them into a load of bands that they no doubt thought were a right pile of shit, then in her late 50s mum decided to learn the guitar, bought a Strat and played the blues, and even in later life I’d talk to my mum, over a glass of Baileys, about her terrible choice of crooners and she’d insist on still playing them to me, and me listening while she went and made us both a bacon sandwich. When my mum died a year ago, the music only temporarily stopped playing. In my heart, there was a mournful, sustained note bowed on a cello. Yet it did not last long. My mum danced to a merry tune that put a big smile on my face, and even though she is absent, her music is still there, singing away.

I hope that all those who have had dealt with or are currently dealing with pandemic-related restrictions placed on funerals, care home visits and gatherings, and have lost people during lockdown are able to cope with the serious impact of recent events on bereavement and the grieving process, and have the support and understanding of friends and family to get them through these tough times. It is difficult, but do talk to others about how you are feeling. There are large amounts of people going through similar events, and, while it might not be apparent, there is a huge appetite for listening to and being there for each other right now. It’s a cliché to insert this here but if that help is not at hand, please do seek support from the likes of Cruse, Mind and The Samaritans.

I read an article in February on the London Review of Books blog that was incredibly useful to me, personally. It is called Grief, Interrupted and is written by Jude Wanga. Jude writes powerfully about loss, funerals, the process of mourning not being complete and the nature of ‘complicated grief’. Jude quite rightly posits that what many of us are experiencing is post traumatic stress disorder. She explains, “Post traumatic stress disorder occurs when the brain can’t process a traumatic event into memory. Rather than fading with time, it remains current and live. Think of a record playing. When it’s running as it should, a song finishes and the needle plays to the next song and on to the end of the record. With PTSD, the needle is stuck, skipping and scratching, the song unable to finish.”

Read Jude’s article, it may help you as it did me. We are not alone.

So it is a year since my dear old mum died. I miss her incredibly. I often wake up thinking that I’ll nip round and see her. This is no more surprising to me than her death. I would still have missed her in the same way had my grief not been interrupted in such an unfathomable manner, which is part of the problem really, I suppose. Today there will be music, a lot of music, and I hope to raise a glass of some sickly Irish cream liqueur, in the hope that the memories remain but that this devastatingly repetitive song gets closer to running towards its fade out grooves.

I’d Love To Turn You On #11

With tracks from Derek Bailey, Flux of Pink Indians, Genesis Owusu, Inflatable Boy Clams and more, all interspersed with silly conversation and efforts to articulate what we love about music.

I’d Love To Turn You On #10

With tracks from Throwing Snow, Max Tundra, Deadbeats, Cobby & Litten and more, all interspersed with silly conversation and efforts to articulate what we love about music.

I’d Love To Turn You On #9

With tracks from Public Image Ltd, Fast Eddie, St Panther, CE Schneider Topical and more, all interspersed with silly conversation and efforts to articulate what we love about music.

I’d Love To Turn You On #8

With tracks from Erykah Badu, Scritti Politti with Ranking Ann, Portishead, David Sylvian and more, all interspersed with silly conversation and efforts to articulate what we love about music.

I’d Love To Turn You On #7

With tracks from A Tribe Called Quest, Stevie Wonder, Monica, Les Amazones d’Afrique/Angélique Kidjo and more, all interspersed with silly conversation and efforts to articulate what we love about music.

I’d Love To Turn You On #6

With tracks from Zapp & Roger, Hieroglyphics, Cabaret Voltaire, Abraham and more, all interspersed with silly conversation and efforts to articulate what we love about music.