Freedom Festival A Window On To Hull2017

I began, like many others, inside KAG at the members show enjoying the art on the walls in the familiar surroundings. I made a beeline for KAG because I felt sure there would be people there who I knew. I also hoped there’d be a welcoming glass of vino – which there was.

That evening KAG became something of a hub, where I decided to remain and let people come and go around me. That way I met up with far more friends and acquaintances, than I would have done, haring around the vast festival site. I made a point to meet with new people too, including a dance company from Manchester, involved in the 20 Minute shows, dotted around the city centre.

Voices of Freedom image by Leila Reeves

Voices of Freedom image by Leila Reeves

Having heard the opening spectacle Voices of Freedom was to involve the Scale Lane Bridge and seeing as that particular river crossing is close to my heart, I made my way, with hordes of others, up the cobbled High Street. We were stopped in our tracks  by a wonderful steam-punk mechanical horse. I assume this was one component of Rag and Bone’s Pageant. I looked on as young children went to pet the creature on the nose. Having marvelled at that ingenious contraption, I was now fired up for the opening show.

A friendly volunteer informed me to get as near to the front of the crowd as possible on the Tower Street side of the River Hull. I’d have done that anyway but we – I had met up with a lovely couple visiting from Brighton – did as told and found ourselves just a row or two back from the very front. And there we waited…

image by Leila Reeves

image by Leila Reeves

From stage left I saw the traffic being stopped on the A63 and Myton Bridge slowly opened. Up river I caught sight of a barge with a singer atop and heard the voice of actor Alan Williams. He broadcast a message about the nature of past and present how through history and the majesty of destiny, all had brought us to this auspicious moment. The Freedom Chorus sang, ‘Sailing under empty skies…’   flames and lights danced across the water, fireworks punctuated the night sky and we welcomed our Freedom Festival once more to the city. My spirits soared.

Seeing Scale Lane Bridge, the swing bridge, my bridge – always a contentious construction with many nay-sayers and much negativity surrounding it – become the focus of all that joy and spectacle was very heartening.  The  McDowell & Benedetti designed bridge, finally realising something of what the artist Nayan Kulkarni wanted: a moving platform; a stage with a sense of theatre, sympathetic to the surrounding architecture, connecting the city: firing the imagination of the people.

Did you feel a tingle of pride stood there? One among thousands, with the choir on one side, the vessel passing downstream, as thousands have done for centuries. Our Hull on the edge: the outsider; the underdog; the much maligned North East coastal city erased from history: not any more.

Here was a brief glimpse, a taster as to how 2017, will use the immediate environment, structures and cityscape, to project the cultural vision, a giant screen upon which the spotlight will settle for the year.  

I left the River Hull with renewed hope, energy and excitement for what the future held over the coming days, months and years. My spirits soared once more.

dancinginthestreetBack on Humber Street I did dance to the music outside Thieving Harry’s. I did not care for strange looks, I danced in the street and loved every minute. To my right more music from The Bodyfarmers instrumental art-rock bled into the night air and stalled the passing crowd.

Plastic pint glass in hand, I lingered like the pungent smell of incense, for one of my favourite acts of the past five years, Oedipus the King, on the Fruit Music Stage. I met new faces, old friends and made merry.

The previous day I’d seen the phone boxes appearing so Saturday morning, keen to get involved I marched purposefully up to the first one. Restrict Radio: there was a retro radio set inside playing music – my task was to solve the clues inside the box created by Cascade Arts and discover the location of the secret radio station. I did just that and made a mental note to visit the secret location.

Invisible Voices: my next phonebox was down the side of Princes Quay. You could hardly miss it seeing as it was fronted by two glamourous mirror clad performers from Gorgeous Arts who insisted, enticed and cajoled members of the public, to look inside their box. Once inside I took a scrap of paper – shaped like a cloud or a thought bubble – pondered a moment then wrote a message upon it and pegged it dutifully to the line. What happens with all the different messages, those secrets shared anonymously and Broadcast to the city?

It is easy to get disoriented during festival, it as if all the stalls and marquees stands and festival hoopla, mask the familiar landmarks we use to navigate. I spent an age looking for both the third phonebox and indeed the bandstand. They were clearly located directly behind Fruit, but the marina seemed to have grown more avenues and pathways over night. Network Tempora: On arrival I was disappointed. There was the phone box and inside it a great big slab of concrete. There is an art thing where you play with the idea of not being able to interact with the work, purposefully placing barriers between the art and the audience, in order to create tension. I wasn’t buying this one. I stamped my card and moved on.

Flick: image by Anna Bean

Flick: image by Anna Bean

Three down I searched for a coffee to reinvigorate the mind and body. Perhaps we were being daft but of a place to get coffee we saw none – a trip off site brought us back in perfect time to see Flick.

Not given much prominence in the programme Flick was a contemporary dance piece – based on seventies act Pan’s People – that was specially choreographed by Lea Anderson, during a week long workshop, attended by Hull dancers the previous month.

You will know if you saw this particular Freedom highlight, you will not forget the lime green body suits, doll-like make up and bizarre half wigs. Parading past the crowd in character, one by one the dancers took their position. The performance itself was too short and I’m not entirely sure if without prior knowledge I would have understood the concept.

Flick: image by Anna Bean

Flick: image by Anna Bean

As a purely visual spectacle as you can see from the images by Anna Bean it was strangely arresting even surreal. I witnessed the afternoon show around 4pm and it was well received, much applause followed the dancers as they moved single-file from the space. Giving this particular piece more presence in the programme, would have increased the audience yet more and the visibility of contemporary dance in Hull. One for Freedom to work on for next year.

Back to phone boxes: with just three left to find, I was now determined before six pm, to get to all of the installations commissioned for Humber Calling with the ‘Broadcast‘ festival theme. Voice Box: – was situated in the Little Village. Russian Red – lo-fi sound artists Jodie and Greg – who I’d met previously at Danza! Collaborations the previous year, had a sky blue box that was emanating all manner of noise.

Voice Box: image by Toni P

Voice Box: image by Toni P

Closer inspection revealed a sound installation with looped and layered voices, to create a harmonious? soundscape that caught the ear and drew you in. Under instruction I added my voice to the throng recalling the previous evening’s exertions – I yelled down the mic, ‘ Freedom is… Dancing Like A Loon! You can just see it scrawled top left hand corner on the back of the box.

Just two left I wasn’t ready to give up – I took myself for the first time to Queens Gardens – I wasn’t enticed by the BBC Digital Tents despite having listened to the local radio’s outside broadcast from inside them earlier that day. They seemed a bit dark, I was on my own at this point – I’ve said all along Freedom Festival works much better in a group. It was nearing six pm by now and I wasn’t going to run out of time, having set my self this task.

Visualising the Voice of Freedom: I found Zach Walker, filmmaker and visual artist, with a queue by his phonebox. I looked over the young heads and saw a screen displaying a vibrating surface, that had some strange liquid, no solid, no liquid, moving, snaking, bouncing, bubbling upon it. As if defying accepted laws of matter, this substance seemed to change state at will.  Young and older viewers alike looked on wide-eyed, as this almost alien transformation took place. It certainly felt very odd indeed, manipulating the material and then seeing it morph into some otherness right in front of you.

The final box was located just by the entrance to Queen’s Gardens.The Megaphone Box by Omni Studio: I have to say I wasn’t overly excited by it, admittedly it used lights and I didn’t see it at night, but the input of voice didn’t appear to have any direct result on the LED display. Perhaps I was all phoneboxed out but I didn’t think this one had worked. Visually with all the megaphone trumpets sticking out it looked good, but the mechanics, the interaction didn’t work for me.

I’d heard it said by a few people during the day that they kept catching the end of something, or not being in the right place at the right time. There are timed events if you like to work to a schedule, but with so many things happening, it is difficult to keep track. I was very glad therefore to stumble upon a most curious performance involving a wheel, water and sand.

Frantic by Acrojou was just about to start.  I watched as tiny movements were made, music floated in the evening air, a story was told. A two hander between the couple: him consumed by modernity, she immersed in the sensual.

The crowd ten deep creating a semi-circle yet what followed seemed very intimate, very tender; very French. This was what I was waiting for, something that despite the crowds I felt was happening just for me so enthralled was I, with the emotions of the piece. There were murmurs around me of people exclaiming how they didn’t get it, how they didn’t understand it. It existed for twenty minutes and then it was gone, I found it really beautiful and thoroughly engaging.

russianredartEarly evening I’m once more drawn back to Russian Red’s phonebox – I’ll say it now this one was my favourite – I loved feeling part of their soundscape and of course hearing my voice, across the tented village. I was intrigued by the bee hives and the sweet scent of delicious honey filled the air. I was joined by a few families all watching and wondering what it was all about.

Peering into each of the hives you were rewarded with visions of peculiar and imaginative beehive behaviour. A curious side show that was the cause of much scratching of heads. It was really great to have some children around to share the bees with I mayn’t have done it on my own. Freedom Festival, many parts of it I imagine, are more fun with kids: a bit like Christmas perhaps.

As the strong smell of honey made way for the fruity scent of the Festival Ale brewed right there on Humber Street, the sky took on a pink hue and I took a well needed rest.

I’d made the decision over which of the Saturday night spectaculars to see. Having read in the local press and seen a bit online about Periplum‘s previous shows in Mexico having resulted in pandemonium, in squares recently visited by tumult and bloodshed, I knew that was the one for me. Those of you who saw Over and Out, I hope it was as thrilling as The Bell.

How to describe it? A pitched battle between good and evil, a timeless conflict  a dramatic war involving wheeled ramparts with acrobatics, from which impassioned speeches are dramatically delivered, to an expectant crowd.

The Bell by Periplum: image by Photomoments

The Bell by Periplum: image by Photomoments

I loved every moment and moved around to get closer to the action. This movement became part of the piece, as we surged forward en masse, supporting one side over another. I loved the armoured Samurai-like figures, who towered above us as the battle raged on. The final flourish was awe-inspiring with magic and fire, athleticism and beauty: everything you want a grandiose, theatrical performance to be.

Fire has become synonymous with Freedom, ever since the transformational power of Carabosse, opened our eyes to the potential of the Marina and Fruitmarket, as a vast changing canvas for creative expression.  Raise a glass to those who make the decisions, who balance safety and common sense and keep allowing, these breath-taking spectacles, to come to the city.

After all that we hit the discos hard in both the Big Top and Fruit, some dancing on stages, some drinking, some more dancing, some sweating, some more dancing, kissing… hugging… laughing. A fine Freedom Festival 2015 it was.

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