Think of festivals and you might think of sun drenched countryside and staying out for the summer – although the reality is usually mud, damp tents, and the sound of your favourite band escaping you on the wind. But with the rise of the ‘urban festival’ continuing, there’s a different way to get your music fix, without having to face the ordeal of getting lost in a sprawling campsite at 3am.
From Brighton’s Great Escape to Live At Leeds and Glasgow’s Stag and Dagger, city centre events now liberally scatter the festival calendar. They offer (some!) urban comforts and the chance to see fresh talent, while keeping support for local music scenes in the places it exists all year round.
Hull’s Humber Street Sesh, now in its sixth year, grew out of long-running weekly music night The Sesh, which is held at the Polar Bear pub in the city and attracts around 100 people each week who want to see the best local talent.
The first Humber Street Sesh was a way to mark the tenth anniversary of the pub night and has grown from there, with 32,000 people expected when it takes place on 5 August this year.
The 200+ band festival line-up includes touring acts but is primarily focused on Hull’s local talents, which is testament to a scene bursting with artists reinvigorated by the opportunities of being in a UK City of Culture.
Sesh artist booker Daniel Mawer said, “This year we also have around 30 touring bands on a new stage called ‘Everyone Back To Ours’ – I’m really excited to see how that stage works.
“But local bands are always going to be key for us. Humber Street Sesh is what it is thanks to the local scene, so we could never make it a massive out-of town thing. It’s always got to have local presence, but it’s nice to have a few touring bands coming in too.”
While this balance is working for Hull, similar festivals in other cities have found it more beneficial to tip the favour towards touring bands to draw the crowds. Now heading toward its third year, the 2Q Festival in Derby is run by a team of four and has a ratio of local/touring bands which is almost reversed from Humber Street Sesh’s; recently they’ve brought in headliners such as Temples and Milburn.
2Q Marketing Manager Brett James said, “Attracting touring bands has always been tricky as we’re in the shadows of major cities like Nottingham and Leicester, but we persisted. 2Q was originally thought up in the beginning of 2015 after realising there was a gap in the market for something like this. While there is some strong local talent here, what Derby is missing is touring bands so we wanted to create a different experience that would sell tickets. We sold out our first event and grew in our second year.”
Arguably, Derby and Hull share the problem of attracting touring bands, thanks to outside perceptions that not much is going on in either city musically, something which is now changing in Hull’s case – one of the longer term aims of the The Sesh and Humber Street Sesh, Mawer says: “We’re trying to prove ‘outsiders’ wrong; we’ve always had a strong scene but people outside of the city don’t always know about it.
“Saying that, there are local bands who have had more success in the last two years than everyone in the last 10! Bands like LIFE who have just played SXSW and supported SLAVES on tour.”
“Having UK City of Culture status has inspired people and it seems there has been more music released than ever this year. Hopefully people’s perceptions will begin to change and the local scene can continue to thrive from that.” Sarah Lay
Humber Street Sesh now employs two people part-time throughout the year. Mawer said, “The aim is to keep Humber Street Sesh growing toward being sustainable. To go from a local music night run on passion to having people in full time employment would be a major achievement – that’s where we want to get to.”
Humber Street Sesh already has a very strong fanbase, with gig-goers returning year-on-year. It has remained embedded in a vibrant local scene supporting the city’s talent and is starting to provide local jobs. Eventually attracting more touring bands might mean more visitors to the city and eventually a larger permanent HSS team, but by enthusing local music lovers, it’s already a key part of Hull’s creative industry.
Humber Street Sesh 2017 takes place on 5 August in the wonderful surroundings of Hull Marina.
Tickets are now on-sale. You can book tickets in advance for £10 or 15 on the day. Those aged 12yrs and under can get free entry on the day.
You can also explore the full line-up, the many stages as well as take a look at the festival map over at humberstreetsesh.co.uk
Sarah Lay is editor of Louder Than War and owner of independent record label Reckless Yes.