The very embodiment of that music-loving spectre in the poem ‘The Next Buzz’ making appearances at as many bands as I could. I was lucky I had that pass I wouldn’t have got in places with quite so much ease without it.
The Fruitmarket takes on a new identity during festival season, it is surprisingly easy to become disoriented by the thousands of people in the usually familiar spaces. ‘It’s like a village,’ says Mark Page festival organiser and it really is as new structures pop-up all over Humber Street and the surrounding streets. Once this area of the city was appreciated by just its residents and adventurous locals, but with new life being breathed into the area by a diverse collection of artists and entrepreneurs it is slowly becoming the focal point of creativity in Hull.
Creativity was on show in myriad forms for this year’s Humber Street Sesh, the annual event now in its third year it is described as being ‘A festival for the people by the people‘, and despite the six-figure sum it needs to put it on, it retains a very ‘local’ artisan sense.
I saw the shellshocked installation, the tank made entirely from recycled plastic, the poppy display and other WWI commemorative works I browsed the many stalls and concessions tempting festival-goers with handcrafted goods and festival food. Borne as it was out of a Free live music night that happens every Tuesday on Princes Avenue it is the place to go and hear live music. Whether you are a die-hard gig-goer with an obscure band tee for every day of the week, or someone who enjoys the odd show down their local or something in between, the Humber Street Sesh has a stage and a sound for all. 170 bands and artists over eleven stages enjoyed by locals and visitors to the area alike.
Arriving later than planned I am rewarded by the visually arresting sight of Dave Hargreaves wending his way down Castle Street. Once fronting Hull band Kill Surf City, he is now the lead singer of Bete Noire from London. Me hastily shoving down the last of a Couplands Sausage Roll and endlessly hunting the bottom of my bag for my phone, him sporting mustard yellow hair, matching beard and eyebrows looking like some kind of oceanic demigod. After the pleasantries we fall into step and it is like he never left. After attending the caravan down Blanket Row we enter the festival proper and then part company to follow our own planned agendas, promising to meet up later in the day. I always have a list of acts I want to see, which means executing a plan like a military campaign with strict time windows and a lot of mad dashes from stage to stage. Not so this time. Once I’d discovered that many of the stages were running anywhere up to an hour behind, adhering to my timetable would be fruitless.
It is perhaps a little after two, and I am experiencing that feeling of being slightly lost, I don’t know where to start, I bump into photographer Jerome Whittingham outside the Minerva and try to get my bearings. It is a while before I stride into Fruit to see Oedipus the King, but when I do my Humber Street Sesh really begins, I am once more a gig-goer, a live music lover paying homage to the object of my affection. Oedipus the King have much to offer the discerning listener, blisteringly good soundscapes frame strange vocals with dark cinematic overtones. A serious band with no time for stage antics, they simply allow the music to speak for them. New EP Budapest is a must for every fan of fuzzy dramatic art rock. An exceedingly good way to allow the festival vibes into my heart.
Over the next few hours I sway to the shimmery sounds of Night Flowers, get overexcited during La Bete Blooms but it is the Hull debut of Bete Noire which is the festival defining moment for me. Totally unheard by 99% of the crowd (one or two may have checked them out online) but for the most they were an unknown quantity. Three guys from Romford take to the stage followed by a straight-talking, take no prisoners, bearded wonder, prancing about stage dressed in a black figure-hugging ankle length turtleneck dress, singing anthems to individuality and fierce sexuality. Maybe a little bit sweary – but as a thoroughly elated Dave, would remark later, what better way to learn how to swear, than from a six foot drag queen. To close the set he straddled the barrier, arms aloft creating a spectacle, then he swung his leg over and proceeded to dance with a delighted, if not slightly bemused virgin crowd.
At some point the heavens opened and a weeks worth of rain fell in ten minutes, there was even a little thunder and lightning. In normal circumstances mentioning the weather might suggest there wasn’t enough to hold the attention, but it was such a dramatic storm it would be wrong not to mention it. I was one of the many people sent scurrying for shelter in doorways, galleries, stages and any covered place they could find.
After the storm a fresh sobering breeze began to blow through the site, and it was time to keep my promise to four musicians who go by the name Black Kes. Before the show I am rewarded for my efforts, when I introduce JT, Black Kes singer and slide, to Hetty vocalist of Night Flowers, and she enquires of a rather dishevelled JT, why they are known as Black Kes. The answer both amuses and intrigues me. Apparently the band long for a remake of the classic coming-of age tale of bird and boy Kes, but with Eddie Murphy in the lead role – to that end the bands new disc is to be called Eddie Murphy.
Once more the Hull crowds gather and Black Kes a skiffle pop band, launch into their intro and by the repeat of the first chorus we are all singing out Oh Oh Oh Black Kes….the washboard is electric, still played with spoons by Specky complete with scrolling digital display, the slide guitar tamed by JT has some kind of air blown vocaliser, the Captain is on bass, and King Rat (CrackTown) is on guitar: all band members lend their various vocal deliveries, to create a raucous frantic sound, that totally wins over the crowd. Recent single Haunted House goes down a storm with ghostly shrieking in all the right places, and the sight of the crowd raising plastic pint glasses, in tribute to Oliver Reed, will stay long in the memory. All too soon it was time to bid farewell to Black Kes, and the band went out the same way as they came with a reprise of Oh Oh Oh Black Kes…. The day before I’d texted in, to Burnsy on Radio Humberside, plugging the boys’ show, and jokingly I’d said Black Kes were nowt special. I was wrong.
Having had the good sense to bring a change of clothes, despite that meaning lugging a bag with me for half the day (many thanks to the Adelphi staff who looked after it for a while at their stall) I was able to put on a dry vest and blouse so I was somewhat a little more comfortable than some of the drowned rats around me. Such was the atmosphere inside Fruit and the rapidly rising temperature, any residual rainwater was soon replaced by the damp sweat of hundreds of bodies, packing in for the likes of Mother, The Holy Orders and of course the triumphant reunion of Hull’s most successful band of the noughties, indie rock n roll band The Paddingtons.
Before the headliners, there was a date with Fire – the Unstoppable Force if you please. Fronted by Alfie proprietor of Vintage Clothes shop Chinese Laundry and with a Paddington, squeezed into a crimson shirt on drums, the fun-loving sharply dressed band, delight the eight o’clock crowds with songs like Fire Regulation , Psycho Killer, Fire and more… Easily having just as much fun as the crowd if not more so. The band celebrate their magical twenty minutes on an HSS stage, by producing a few of those giant party poppers and showering the crowd, with multi-coloured confetti. Fire TUF, sound like Billy Idol, and dress like Kraftwerk and they definitely know how to entertain.
With one or two peaking too early, it is time for the final few hours inside Fruit. After a hastily conducted interview with Leon and Fegz from Fire, I am at the side of the stage as The Holy Orders play another blinding set, including some new material to another packed out Fruit crowd. The room gets hot and stifling, as incendiary guitars and drums rage across the warehouse venue. It is a magical moment. I turn to my friend and mouth the words ‘We are so lucky.’ underlining how fortunate we are to be there at that moment, watching the cream of the city’s talent. We are lucky, very lucky and we shouldn’t forget it; lest we lose it. Okay, soapbox moment over!
The penultimate band was Mother who are probably the most talked about band in the city in recent months, especially since the announcement of a highly-prized slot at Leeds and Reading Festival later this month. As I write this, I do have vague recollections of seeing the riotous indie band fronted by Dave Sinclair, at last years Humber Street Sesh… Mother share guitarist, Chris Marsay and drummer James Cooper, with The Holy Orders, both hugely talented so it comes as little surprise that they are members of two of Hull’s most exciting and critically acclaimed bands. The Leeds and Reading crowds are certainly in for a treat.
Then finally the finale. After more than four years it was the moment that many had been waiting for and that some believed could never happen, the return of The Paddingtons. Tom, Josh Lloyd Marv and Grant all sharing a stage, bringing the house down once more. The tension broke as the long wait ended and the band launched into an explosive set of crowd pleasers, mixed with some less well-known numbers for the die-hards, that didn’t result in the stampede, that moved through the audience like a tidal wave. Somewhere in the crowd a young would-be musician watched the band play, eyes wide, listening intently and dreaming…
Months from now they will take up a guitar, strum a few chords, turn those scraps of lyrics and poems they’ve been scribbling into songs. Perhaps find an appreciative crowd on a Monday night in Adelphi, moving onto a gig here, a show there. Almost surely graduating to play The Sesh, perhaps after Mark Page (DJ Mak) has played their demo song to the Tuesday night crowd. Who knows in time, if the city and the powers that be, have the good sense to keep supporting the Humber Street Sesh, a headline slot might be the reward, on this the most important day of the year for local music.
Thank you Humber Street Sesh. Apologies to all the bands I didn’t get to see. And now if you’ll indulge me just a little longer, a toast to all the brilliant and beautiful music, that I am yet to discover and fall under its irresistible spell.
(Link to the poem ‘The Next Buzz’ mentioned in the first line)