Category Archives: Art blogs

Untanglement by Matt Nicholson

During the launch event I’d scrawled ‘google diphthong’ and ‘essence of whale’ in the half-light of the city centre venue. Now a week or more later I finally sit down with Untanglement.

Untanglement by Matt Nicholson (Yaffle Press 2022) cover by Stevie Mitchell Inky Conditions

The eye-catching cover illustration is of clothes drying, strung between pylons: the perfect visual metaphor for the madness of the intervening years between this book and the last.

The opening poem is visceral and cold as Matt relives and attempts to exorcise trauma experienced as a child. The single line that refers to ‘us’ as the author undergoes heart surgery stands out. ‘Said big me to little me’ is a strong opener.

There follows brief windows into childhood and teenage years; what will become a recurring theme of fearful encounters with canines, and me, asking, ‘Do fish hibernate?’ 

Untangle’, the titular poem of sorts jump cuts to the here and now suggests the words that can left unsaid amongst the winding and unwinding of threads. A series of complex movements are observed as an old man rolls his own. Matt frets about male patten baldness and then on page 15, as he is ‘Holding up a mirror’ it slowly dawns on me that there’s been a lot of unwords. Feeling somewhat clever, I go back, reread and sure enough they are all there: unspoilt, unhouseled, uncharted, unlost, unstanding, unroll, and they keep coming, unlabelled, unseeing: an entire cast of unwords. 

A simple verse halfway through the book provides a key, to the cover image. The topsy turvy world where the outside became no more than a picture inside one’s head. Those listless days punctuated with poems that scream silently at the stillness and solitude; as we sit beside and mourn for what is lost. Amongst moments of wry humour and the numerous forewarnings of his own demise – or that of some undefined other – there are some poems in the collection that are puzzles waiting to be pieced together to reveal a clearer picture. 

Untanglement: an excellent lesson in ‘show not tell’ with poems like rabbit punches, feelings like pinpricks, and jabs to the heart. The one called ‘Basic Transference‘ might well be the strangest analogy for love… but anyone who, while dreaming of a visit to an art gallery, gives the waiting world the gloriously scandalous line, ‘…exhume Mary Whitehouse then upset her,’ will not be left unread for long. 

postscript: ‘diphthong‘ remains ungoogled.  

Buy Untanglement at Yaffle Press

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Forced to flee opens Hull Refugee Week

Described as an ‘Exhibition of work from Hull artists who had to flee their homes, livelihood and country in search of safety’ Forced to Flee is a visual arts exhibition that opened 20 June – the start of Refugee Week – and runs until 17 July

from Amwaj by The Dirars 2022 image by @Bluebeany

On Monday I attended the lively opening event along with four or five dozen other people. Housed at the University of Hull Art Gallery – within the Brynmor Jones Library – the work seeks to show the people, highlight the ‘being an artist’ not just focus on the perilous journey narrative; not just another refugee.

This intent was demonstrated rather well when during the obligatory speeches from the various exhibition partners, each of the exhibiting artists were invited to introduce themselves, and speak about their work. In my experience that rarely happens in any group exhibition.  

One section of the gallery space has been cordoned off, and entirely given over to the work of The Dirar family. ‘Amwaj’ loosely translated from the Arabic into Waves is a series of paintings and prints bathed in blue lighting, with an accompanying seascape audio. The only way to fully experience the work, you must first navigate your way through the strips of painted fabric hanging from the ceiling.

The various paintings and prints focus on the journeys at sea;  a painting of an aerial shot of a dingy stuffed to the gunnels with people has echoes of the ‘Brookes’ slave ship diagram of 1787 by Thomas Clarkson.  In the farther most corner there is a large painting with a tiny boat being tossed about on huge churning seas, faceless ghostly figures stare back at the viewer.

from Amwaj 2022 image courtesy @Bluebeany

It beggars belief that people have little choice but to travel in this way to reach places of sanctuary. We count our blessings in the U.K. that we haven’t had a civil war – for a good few hundred years at least – or suffered an invading army and been forced to flee ourselves. 

Another image of people on a boat, has pinpricks of light emanating from the figures’ chests, perhaps indicative of the burning hope for a better future for their children… or maybe they are using  phones to light their way in the dark across the water; to warn larger vessels they are there; or signal to rescuers because the water is coming in, and the craft was never seaworthy. 

My favourite pieces in the Forced to Flee exhibition do not come from the overused refugee narrative of the tormented sad-faced other. There’s a surreal painting by R. Escobar of a giant foot, rooted in its home, yet moving to new horizons; a cartoonish boat on wheels with puffs of coloured smoke at the back by Lopez that feels almost joyous; abstract work by Shakib that expresses universal emotions using contrasting colour palettes; where as Eman directs her creativity and talent through a series of highly decorative paintings on glass.  

I take issue with the kinds of projects – well-intentioned as they might be – that focus on a particular community or minority group, and say ‘Show me your pain in order that you and your story might become real to me’, and far more importantly appeal to their audiences. We must guard against those organisations that play up to and reinforce stereotypes just to tick the boxes.

In some cases people and their life-experiences can be used by organisations to gain funding and other benefits, less immediately visible. Certain tactics and practices like rainbow-washing; refugee-washing; colour-washing; crip-washing are deliberately employed, where brands and organisations ally themselves to particular minority groups, in order to create the inclusion illusion. 

The idea that some sections of society will only ever be seen as their minority characteristic, is a huge part of the problem, and leads to dangerous and depersonalised generalisation. This thinking feeds into govt. policy and does untold damage to ourselves, and those we are supposedly trying to help. 

Returning to the exhibition, I am drawn to the verses under the heading ‘In my Dreams’. These are stories gathered by author Tracey Scott-Townsend, from people supported by Hull Help for Refugees, and then translated verbatim into English. The briefest stanza packs the biggest punch, the last one in the series.

from In my dreams, poetry series collated by
Tracey Scott-Townsend

This seemingly innocuous notion speaks to me about autonomy; about choice; about having the right to own your story and not to have it wheeled out for Western eyes to sympathise. The freedom to never have your life and all it could ever encompass pre-prescribed.  

Forced to flee – Stories from Hull Refugees is part of the University of Sanctuary programme to mark Hull Refugee Week 

Exhibition runs from 21 June until 17 July at the University of Hull Art Gallery, Brynmor Jones Library, Cottingham Road. 

For more information see:

Forced to flee is a collaboration between Welcome House, Hull Help for Refugees, Wilberforce Institute and University of Hull. 

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Resonance with Stewart Baxter

I am sat in a corner of the city. Before me a mural extols the virtues of J. Arthur Rank. Above me the sun blazes from an azure blue sky, and emanating in the heat of the late afternoon, a soundscape. I hear bird song and bees drone; wind and water; the sound of a stick running against a metal railing… all sounds found, and recorded within the immediate surroundings of the urban farm Rooted in Hull. 

image from Back to Ours @BTOHull

These are the opening strains of [resonance] a sound art project led by musician and composer Stewart Baxter, who aims to create new work, build and nurture collaborations between different artists and community groups, and then share/perform the resulting soundscapes within those communities.  

The work feels playful and engaging and by shutting my eyes I allow myself to be transported. The sounds coalesce into repeated patterns, aural motifs that over time become familiar, so much so I begin to anticipate them. I reach a state of calm, you might want to call it meditative, as I wait for and am rewarded by the sequence’s reappearance at the same intervals.

I’m reminded of the many hours I spent sat in Red Gallery on Osbourne Street listening to strange sounds on a Sunday afternoon. Where the hardiest of live art aficionados had dragged themselves from the comforts of home, to sit on hard floors, as a sonic wizard or three crouched, over a board of blinking lights and wires, to conjure crunchy digital concerti. 

Listening together. Each and every one of us entranced by the music. It’s a shared experience but one in which the listener is taken to their own realm of imagery and imagination. 

The looped sounds are interspersed with live instrumentation from Mark Slater on piano, lever harp played by Stephanie Halsey, and on guitar Stewart. From my vantage point I can see him busily turning dials, increasing and decreasing reverb and echo, as the sounds become distorted.

Suddenly the harp, those long strings thought only capable of producing soothing crystalline sounds, becomes angry, brash and demanding, jolting the audience from their reverie. 

The muso in me reaches for comparisons: oh it sounds like the ambient genius Morris Gould; now early Future Sound of London; this some how feels like Mogwai or Johnny Greenwood off of Radiohead, and here, as the sounds of the natural world come back to the fore, we are returned blissfully and somewhat nostalgically to Chris Watson territory. 

Hearing the work in its own environment, in the open air, enhanced the experience threefold, something about being there at that time, listening to a one-off performance, a meeting between improvised and recorded sounds; a meeting of communities, that feels very special. 

The uniqueness of the experience was underscored when upon overhearing Stewart describing the joy he derived from recording the natural world. He spoke about how each and every sound, the conditions and characteristics of the place from where they are found, are completely unique. and that no matter how you might try, you can never recreate that exact same moment, that exact same sound ever again. 

RESONANCE – Live tape loop & found sound performance by Stewart Baxter was made possible by the support of Sound and Music, Back To Ours and Rooted In Hull.


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EXHIBITION PERFORMANCE EVENTS Humber Fruit Brokers Gallery. Sat 16th April Sat 7th May. Opening times every Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 4pm. Preview event on Fri 15th closing party on Sat 7th May from 7pm.

Exhibition, events, performances and workshops organised by studio holders at Shirethorn House will take place from 16th April to 7th May 2022 at Humber Fruit Brokers Gallery.

Shirethorn House appeared on the creative map of Hull in July 2021 providing studio space for artists and creators, and has grown into a community ranging from emerging to established artists, covering a wide range of art forms including painters, photographers, theatre practitioners, musicians, cartoonists, and circus performers. 

For the “SHH!” (Shirethorn House Happenings!) exhibition at Humber Fruit Brokers Gallery on Humber Street, studio holders have come together to show their work, create performances and host a range of events. The work shown will express the creative melting pot that is Shirethorn House and highlight the opportunities and synergies that happen in the space. 

In addition to the preview and closing events, you can look forward to Comic Stall Days by PhatComics, a St George’s Day provocation by various artists, led by Michael Barnes-Wynters,  Shirethorn House instigator, and on May 1st new work ‘The Strange Case of Mary Toft’ by Hull-based Women of Words. Events will be continuously added to the programme – keep an eye out on our social channels! 

Instagram @ShirethornHouse

Facebook @ShirethornHouse

supported by Fruit Market and Wykeland Group


For any press enquiries please email 

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My Cultural Week – worlds, writing, wavy realities

My week of worlds, writing and wavy realities began with live music at the Ropewalk with my folks. We saw Iain Matthews (original member Fairport Convention) playing something of a hometown show, warmly appreciated by the Saturday night crowd.

Sunday saw me in Beverley at the start of the Stage 4 Beverley week-long arts festival, workshopping with fellow writers on the themes of happiness, dialect and place, with Clint Wastling and Julian Woodford (High Wolds Poetry) The event was held in the Velo cafe bar on a very wet and windy afternoon. The ‘reward’ for doing the workshop was a taste of the limelight, with a moment or two on the East Riding Theatre stage, in front of a live audience of fellow writers, family and friends later that week.

Wednesday I read three poems from Foxholes, the svelte volume, I hope will be published this year. I opened with ‘Canopy Cradle’ (Lost and Found) adding a touch of theatre to my reading, enjoying immensely the feeling of being back on the ERT stage: the place where my Leonora Carrington show ran for three nights in the before times. 

Lucky us we grabbed the last tickets in the house for the main event that night, namely a visit from the poet laureate Simon Armitage. How would I describe him? Northern, very northern. Also he gave good value reading a whole punch of poems, long ones, short ones, found ones; ones that pulled on the heart strings; ones translated from The Odyssey, proving his scholarly credentials to the great and the good of the Beverley literary set.

My favourite and the one I told my hairdresser about the next day, as she shaped my hair into the perfect bob, was the one that began, ‘He splashed down in rough seas off Spurn Point’ ‘The English Astronaut’ plays with nostalgia and pays homage to the slightly less glamorous, and sometimes slightly less successful British space programme. Have a listen on Poetry Archive. 

Sat in the row just in front of us, was a Beverley-based musician called Tom and we got talking as you do waiting for the show. It turned out he’d seen my Leonora show four years ago: I mourn the time lost due to the pandemic, so much impetus lost. Not only had he been in the audience, but the potted history in imagery and verse, had inspired him to go and discover the lost surrealist’s work for himself. He described how Leonora became one of his favourite artists in those intervening years, so much so that he now has two of Leonora’s prints hanging proudly in his home. I was delighted by this brilliant revelation: something I had created, something I had dreamed up, had inspired someone so. 


You find me at Humber Street Gallery to see how dancers Emily Gray and Tamar Draper, respond to the exhibition ‘Show Real’ by visual artist Kara Chin. Gallery One is filled with the strangest contraptions, torso-less legs flex and pulse, a deconstructed sandwich drips with grease, an innocent looking coffee table with glasses laid out on it, rigged to move and shake in a poltergeist kind of way; a coffee cup with perpetual steam; a suspended apple, an unappetising plate of grey food, and a gloriously anarchic revolving Wotsits chandelier. My friend Matt Sutton who took the picture below, described how he had seen the way facsimile is used in food advertising, how drinks glasses are sprayed with some kind of gel, to give the appearance of continuous cool moisture, but how it makes the soda taste awful for the sun-kissed, bright-eyed, unreal looking actor.

Show Real by Kara Chin @ Humber St Gallery – More Details

Emily and Tamar staged a series of interventions in and amongst the paraphernalia incorporating different choreographic languages, that spoke to me about the erasure of self, moving towards a startling and unnerving robotic climax. The limb control and machine-like movement was faultless, the accompanying soundscape of droning gears and motors added to the cyborg illusion. 

Front: Emily Ward @ Humber Street Gallery

Upstairs bathed in cerise and orange light Jamal Sterret, blew us away with an outstanding performance, defying human physiognomy, contorting his body, sliding across the space in jaw-dropping ways to hip-hop and ragga beats. I’d done my research, checked out some of the Nottingham-based movement artist’s work online and discovered his dance style was ‘Bruk Up and Flex’. It comes from dancer George Adams, who in the 1990s brought a kind of freestyle movement from the Jamaican dance halls, to the hip-hop clubs of Brooklyn. ‘Bruk’ is a patois word meaning broken. (Enough of the history lesson) I’ll try to describe more of what I saw from Jamal… athletic, gymnastic, ridiculous levels of control, a powerful energy sustained throughout, transitioning from floor to standing to floor again like pouring syrup.  

Jamal Sterret @ Humber Street Gallery – See Profile


Tonight battling storm Eunice and my nerves, I’m back at the gallery on Humber Street for the script-in-hand performances of new work from last year’s writers’ group lead by playwright Tom Wells and Middle Child Theatre. Eight short pieces written by a range of people new to play writing, performed by a cast of professional actors and directed by Middle Child’s Paul Smith. 

I had the piece ‘Tanya and Lisa B’ listed third in the night’s programme, and it suddenly hit me as I walked in the gallery door exactly what it was we were here for. I’ve done many a reading as you will know, standing up and sharing my words with an audience is almost like second nature. Handing over your work, having someone else read it, that’s a whole new ball of wax. It was a first for me, and for many of the other writers. I was simultaneously nervous, anxious, and excited.

Everyone shone: the actors, the writers and, considering the tempest outside, we managed a pretty good turnout. The writing standard was high across the board, many had pretty hard-hitting content warnings and dealt with adult themes, however the actors were still able to extract the humour and humanity out of some of the most bleakest of set ups.

Jess Morley, Georgia Ham at Humber Street Gallery – Picture by @iWilburnArt

I was hanging on every word, leaning forward utterly absorbed in Jess Morley and Georgia Ham’s performances, during my scene. ‘Tanya and Lisa B’ takes place in an NHS drop-in centre waiting room. There is a surprise meeting between two former friends, who haven’t seen each other since they were in the hostel system together a decade or more before. They find themselves reminiscing about their lives then and now and the contrasting paths they seem to have taken.

I knew what was coming, I’d written it. At the same time I simply had no idea what was coming, it was like experiencing it for the first time, in a parallel universe or something. The way the two actors had built on the dialogue, adding a look; a certain gesture, something in the way a line was delivered; was thrilling to me. The laughs, the pauses, the lines that suggested that more was going on underneath, all were handled brilliantly which meant Tanya and Lisa B felt believable, and their story was really brought to life.

I was on cloud nine. It’s the strangest feeling. I can’t really describe it. It’s not like the adrenaline high after a good performance of your own, no it is not that, it is something else. A writer friend of mine described it as ‘immediate validation for your talent’, that’s certainly one way of describing it. The comments and feedback I received from the actors and the audience afterwards, made my cheeks glow cherry red. Last night was glorious, so huge thank you to Tom Wells and Middle Child for continuing to support new writing.


Finally, in what is a leviathan blog post admittedly, I am just about to go out to 87 Gallery (formerly Artlink) to see how dance company Tamar & Jo respond to the installation work currently housed in the newly-renovated Princes Avenue gallery. Worlds Apart by Aristotle Roufanis is a digital work with lots of head scratching tech behind it, a work that takes place in the real world and in a fabricated world, creating an arresting comment on isolation and loneliness. Aristotle confronts how the negativity manifests and proliferates in the online world, how we feed it with endless screen time; and the ultimately destructive way, we have allowed the ‘technology of the unreal’, to infiltrate every aspect of our lives. It’s not easy to describe the work, it has so many layers and tentacles asking questions about what is real and what is construct.

Artist Site:

All week I have found myself in this liminal space, between reality and non-reality… and after many months of lockdowns and restrictions, all this activity, all this going out and doing and seeing, none of it seems real at all. I catch myself making strange social faux pas, as I try to retrain my brain, to remember what used to be instinctive behaviours.

Look out for more from Worlds Apart one of the more unusual and innovative visual works to come to Hull in the last five years. I have this week joined an artistic programme called Streams (led by Critical Fish in partnership with 87 Gallery) which met on Tuesday evening. It is a short course designed to explore how we can build knowledge, to hone and develop, through mentoring and support, the faculties and creative skills needed to critically respond to artwork. We are very fortunate to have Aristotle’s multi-dimensional work as a starting point. 

Next week the diary is a whole lot lighter.  


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The Kraken Awakens

Visitors to the city centre cannot have failed to notice the huge tentacles looming large over the Maritime Museum and the talk of a mythical and terrible beast known as the Kraken. During the first week of August monstrous creatures from the deep, have appeared down Whitefriargate, emerging from inside Princes Quay, the lightship on the marina, even seen inside Hepworth’s Arcade. Never one to shy away from a mystery I decided to take a closer look. 

#VisitHull #HullKraken Image by @HullMaritime

I left my home just after one sporting attire that suited the occasion, namely a new blue striped top of the Russian sailor variety, bought from Beasleys earlier in the week, and a bright orange kerchief tied about my neck. I strode purposefully into town for I had heard tell of some live performances happening in the Museum Quarter. I wasted no time in getting to the old town, stopping only to marvel at the purple tentacles breaking through the windows of the old Dock Office Building as I picked up some documents, and a comic book written and drawn by my old friend Gareth Sleightholme. [I’ll look forward to reading that later] 

Soon I found myself sat in the third row of a theatre set up under canvas, inside a large marquee and just in time, for the show was just about to start. It was a short yarn written especially for the maritime renaissance, suitable for young deckhands and old timers alike, performed by Theatre on the Edge @hullontheedge. A tale as old as the sea itself, a ship sets sail from Hull heading for the frozen north, a greenhorn on board, a mother waving her son off at the quayside, terrified she won’t ever see him again. On board there’s rumours of sightings of a creature known as the Kraken. I enjoyed the tale and its telling and joined in the hearty applause at the close. One very young audience member sat on a lap directly behind me, shouted out ‘seafarers’ and ‘kraken’  at opportune moments during the show, much to my delight. 

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The folk singers Spare Hands image by @HullMaritime #VisitHull

I turned around to spy some sea dogs setting up instruments in the sunshine. I immediately recognised Mick McGarry a singer of some renown in these parts, his comrades made up the folk singing group known as Spare Hands. I sat down to listen to ‘Luckiest Sailor’, originally written by Linda Kelly, a song about the shipmate who should have been on board the Kingston Peridot when it was lost, with all hands due to ice build-up in 1968. 

There’s another number remembering the terrible loss of the three vessels Kingston Peridot, Ross Cleveland and St. Romanus, an episode that would come to be known as the Triple Trawler Tragedy, and would go on to shape much of Hull’s recent maritime heritage focus. Alongside some songs familiar to me sung and played this afternoon by Spare Hands, are ‘Bury me Down at Cape Kanin’ and ‘Goodbye Old Humber Keel’, both can be found on the recording ‘Dead Bod, Songs of the Humber Waterways’. 

Comic by Gareth Sleightholme @hesir

My day ended when I was stopped in my tracks by a giant sloth in the middle of the high street. This is Hull after all, and you never quite know what awaits you around the very next corner. I asked local historian and heritage tour guide Paul Schofield to grab a snap of me with the curiously endearing beast… which he kindly did. Perhaps next time I will uncover the secret behind the strange nest of eggs that have suddenly appeared near to the Beverley Gate… 

the sloth and me: image by Paul Schofield @hulltourguide

On the comic by illustrator and designer Gareth Sleightholme to you I say bravo sir and enquire as to whether the ship Echidna might once have been named the Nostromo? I very much enjoyed reading ‘The Strange Case of The Very Strange Case’ with the clued-up detecting duo Lily Blades and Joseph Meaux: and I learned a little something along the way, which, is after all the point of these weekends. 

The Kraken Awakens image @HullMaritime #HullKraken #VisitHull

The Kraken adventures continue throughout August see website for details

Images from @HullMaritime Twitter page follow for more news of the #HullKraken   

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My Hull Vigil

Just think of me like the BFG watching over your night time routine

catching all the bad dreams, so you don’t wake in the night with

a fright. Think of me like a faithful hound, watching and waiting by the 

door listening out for intruders… think of me up there in a wooden box

looking to the east and looking to the west, just hoping for a glorious

 golden moment, think of me…

Oh there you are: I had a feeling I might see you up here. 

The following text contains some sensitive content. For trigger warning scroll to the bottom before reading further.

Well here we are united again after fifteen long years. As soon as I saw the location I knew I had to go up there, wanted to go up there just as much as I did and for a similar reason, that I climbed Roseberry Topping that morning when we took the trip up north: while you were still here. 

Now is not a time for answers. Now is the time to appreciate and reflect upon the life/death/life cycle… and no I don’t really understand it, not in a comprehensive, academic kind of way. I see it as having to still go on after tragedy, to continue in whatever way you can, just one step in front of the other, each day and night, and remember to breathe once in a while. Is that what you were thinking about when you used to come out here on your lunch hour? Or were thoughts of the future just too much?

Look how the city has changed since you walked its streets in your velvety leopard-print leggings. I don’t know how this works. Do you watch me all the time, or just during moments of note? If I told you I was a dancer would you know that I performed in front of thousands in a glorious torch-song for the queer community? Would you also know that I studied just down there next door, for three years and graduated, just like you did from here. I wonder how much your passion for study, for education and knowledge, fed my own, eventually. Seeing your unbridled passion for everything was exhausting… but we shouldn’t focus on that.

Image courtesy Bluebeany

Look at that sunset not a bad view hey? Not a bad view over not a bad city; it has its problems, many of them, but it’s the people that make a place, and they are, on the whole, really good folk: and have embraced me as one of their own. I’m lucky to have so many people I call friends, and very lucky to be able to share special moments with those few whom I adore. 

Talking about embracing do you know we’ve had/having a pandemic? Craziest thing ever, no hugging your loved ones; no going within two metres of another person; weeks of isolation and lockdown; and far too many, many deaths, maybe you’ll already know about that side, where you are.

And we have to wear a mask everywhere indoors. How would you have coped with all of that? You packed as much as you could into every hour of every day and you loved your freedom. Relishing the ability to get on your bike and just disappear…. like you are doing now… I’m glad we had this moment. I’ll go back to watching over the city, after all it’s my civic duty and an honour. 

I arrived homeless living in the Sallie Allie, then a round of sofa surfing, bouncing around hostel beds, to many false starts, moonlit flits, promises made and broken again to myself and those around me, from central to the east, and now the west. This city and the people within it have watched over me, and shaped me, moulded me into a better person, into the active and valued member of its vibrant colourful society. By the way I’ve put our poem in my new book, I hope you don’t mind. 

Go on then off you go: get thee to a nunnery and ogle beautiful women. 

Trigger warnings: Contains references to suicide. death and loss

Useful information :

Image courtesy Bluebeany


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Middle Child return to the stage with a cabaret in Queen’s Gardens, as part of Creative Hull

Eighteen months after their last live performance, Middle Child will return to the stage this month with a brand-new cabaret, performed outdoors in Queen’s Gardens.

we used to be closer than this is a cabaret of songs about reconnecting, written by Natasha Brown, Angelo Irving, Tabby Lamb, Jay Mitra, RashDash, Leo Skilbeck, Kobby Taylor and Tom Wells, with original live music by James Frewer.

  • we used to be closer than this celebrates reconnecting after lockdown
  • The outdoor show runs from 16-18 July, as part of Creative Hull
  • Pay what you can tickets are on sale now through Absolutely Cultured

The show will celebrate people coming together again, in-person, after the series of lockdowns that have closed many performance spaces and moved much of theatre online.

It will be performed at Absolutely Cultured’s Creative Hull festival, from 16-18 July, with BSL-interpreted performances on Saturday 17 July.

Paul Smith, Middle Child artistic director, said: “we used to be closer than this brings together a diverse group of writers, from a variety of backgrounds, to stage a summer cabaret that asks how we can reconnect with each other.

“We have all gone through different experiences over the past year, and this is our way of sharing some of those stories, while celebrating what we love most about live performance – bringing people together, in the same space.

“Lockdown took this away from us, but now we’re back and we can’t wait to celebrate with a Hull audience in-person.”

Middle Child last took to the stage with The Canary and the Crow at London’s Arcola Theatre, in February 2020.

The show, written by Daniel Ward with music by Prez 96 and James Frewer, has since earned its writer and cast multiple awards, including the George Devine Award for most promising playwright.

The cast of we used to be closer than this start rehearsals today in Princes Quay and pay what you can tickets are available now, from the Absolutely Cultured website.

Capacity is limited with socially distanced tables seating four people each, so audiences are encouraged to attend with their household, family or with friends. 

See for more details about the show and to buy tickets, or visit for more information about the company.

we used to be closer than this is supported by Absolutely Cultured, Arts Council England and the Cultual Recovery Fund.

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Swell by Camilla Bliss launches at 87 Gallery

87 Gallery is pleased to present SWELL, an exhibition by artist, Camilla Bliss. Curator Becky Gee says, “Camilla is the first artist we have commissioned for 87 Gallery, and we’re really excited to bring her new body of work to Hull.”

SWELL is part of a long-term exhibition programme established over the past year. The launch coincides with the opening of 87 Gallery’s newly renovated Gallery, Studio, and Shop space at 87 Princes Avenue.

We invite you to attend the special launch event from 6-8 PM on Friday, 25 June. Following the launch, opening hours are Thursday to Saturday, 10 am – 4.30 pm. Young people aged 7-16 can also get involved with this exhibition in a hands-on way through 87 Gallery Explorers, where they can meet the curator, interact with the work, learn new processes with artists.

Further information: | @weareat87 | #87Swell


SWELL is a new body of work that uses water as a metaphor for the psyche, a trope found in ancient mythology and the theory of Carl Jung. Drawing on nautical communication methods, the work references navigation buoys and maritime signal flags. Within each sculpture rests a manifestation of the Siren, a creature known for their powers of seduction and destruction. Bliss uses these sources to comment on the ways in which communication can fail, presenting uncertainties. The work also references the fluid way in which we navigate life, constantly changing, evolving and dissolving, searching for meaning.

About Camilla Bliss

Camilla Bliss (b. 1989) is an artist who primarily works in sculpture. Although her ideas can be crystallised through digital manipulation, her work places importance on handmade processes and qualities. In this way she utilises a wide range of materials such as ceramics, metalwork, glass, wood, textiles and 3D printing.

Through her practice she draws inspiration from motifs found in historical craftsmanship, myth and folklore to communicate ideas about the modern world. Bliss does this through the use of a personal language of symbols which can be interpreted differently by each person who encoun- ters it. Playful decisions around colour, material and form allow Bliss to make specific cultural connections, whilst taking the viewer on a personal and potentially ambiguous journey.

About 87 Gallery

87 Gallery offers development opportunites for artists such as residencies, exchanges, public engagement, mentoring, networking, training, bursaries, sales platforms and exhibition space.

In conjunction with an exhibition programme featuring works by local, national, and international artists, 87 Gallery offers a parallel programme of activities such as Explorers, creative workshops, and artist talks to the public. We encourage everyone to interpret and explore contemporary arts.

“At 87 Gallery we champion a diverse group of artists in their journey of exploring, making, and exhibiting work, and we believe the process is equally important to the finished outcome. We work with artists to develop bespoke support packages tailored to their needs and goals, and we welcome enquiries from artists inclusive of all practices, art-forms, career stages, locations and demographics. We are passionate advocates of creative expression and visual culture, and we open our doors for everyone to experience and enjoy this.”

Further information: | @weareat87 | #87Swell

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Black Car Burning by Helen Mort

I broke the back of it in three sittings. For someone who has not been able to finish a novel for months that was good going. It helped that I knew the author. I’ve listened to her read from her collections Division Street and No Map Could Show Them, in warehouse venues, theatres and library reading rooms across the city. Latterly she has made regular appearances on literary radio shows and television documentaries: and won a slew of prizes for her writing.  

Helen Mort online:

How do we trust each other?

Alexa is a young police community support officer whose world feels unstable.

Caron is pushing Alexa away and pushing herself ever harder. A climber, she fixates on a brutal route known as Black Car Burning and throws herself into a cycle of repetition and risk. Leigh, who works at a local gear shop, watches Caron climb and feels complicit.

Each chapter, section, scene… is prefaced with an exquisitely crafted portrait of a single place from Helen’s beloved Sheffield: a street, an estate, a moorland, a rock’s face and character. The presence of these brief geographical snapshots and the way the author weave’s them into the narrative, feels fresh and exciting to me. Not a pithy quote from some learned scribe, but something heartfelt and real, something that sits apart and yet fits so readily with the storytelling. Helen does place so incredibly well. 

I liked how Helen’s women drank ale in old mans’ pubs; how they viewed the world with suspicion and wariness; the deep almost spiritual connection to the landscape they lived in; the strange way Mort doesn’t allow timeframes to get in the way: and the surprising sense of freedom ‘outside’ of their non-exclusive relationships. 

I wasn’t ready for how Helen’s use of language would make me feel, the words felt vital, alive precarious like they too were hanging from a jutting rock face, fingers jammed into handholds and tiptoes expertly balancing on a rock ridge. I enjoyed the climbing terminology, the poetry in the place names, and the deeper exploration into the mindset of a climber and what for me was a hitherto unknown, unchartered climbing subculture.   

Helen climbs, whether she has climbed Black Car Burning or not I don’t know. Throughout reading I resisted the temptation to scour the internet to see if the place names of the routes, the rocks were in fact real, or whether all had been a conjuring trick of the author. 

As I read Black Car Burning I was hearing news stories about Hillsborough in the present day, the ongoing fight for justice by the families of the 96. The bulletins ran in parallel to that of one of her characters ‘an ex-police officer who ‘compulsively revisits that day in 1989 that changed his life forever’. As he read about notebooks being altered after the fact, I was hearing in May 2021 that the charge of ‘perverting the course of justice; was being thrown out on a technicality: something about the notebooks being requested for administration purposes only, and not for a legal investigation: so even if they had been changed they could not now be used as evidence against the force. I wonder how the author felt about this slippery use of the letter of the law, as yet again the South Yorkshire police force ducked another arrow. 

For me Hillsborough – like it is for many – is pictures on a newsreel, dangling figures being hauled up football terraces, makeshift stretchers carrying people across the playing pitch, and football scarves and wreaths next to railings in remembrance of the dead. For Sheffield it seems like Hillsborough has become inextricably woven into the city’s identity. The impact still being felt in multiple different ways in the minds of every resident. Here in Hull we have the Triple Trawler Tragedy, the gruesome benchmark by which all other disasters are measured, and our own share of corruption and cover up in the death of Christopher Alder, and, as in Helen’s book, those people on both sides that long for the day the truth will out.

My lasting impression of the book – the first I’ve completed in months I remind you – is of a place not a million miles from where I write this, but in Helen’s hands it is an outside world transformed, familiar and inviting, unfamiliar and foreboding all at the same time. 

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