So here we are, a few months into the year of culture. The first season has come and gone, we’re wading into season two even as I type. Question is – how’s it going so far? You feeling the culture vibe yet?
Speaking personally, I am. Even though I don’t live in the city of culture these days, it’s never far from my mind. For a start, most of the weather forecasts I listen to have started mentioning the daily temperatures in Hull. Which makes for pleasant nostalgia on a daily basis.
Also, to be fair, I’ve had more time than most to get into the groove. You see, my year of culture started early. Towards the tail end of 2016, in fact. I was in Hull doing some filming for the BBC One Show. This meant I had the pleasure of spending a day in the company of John… er, sorry. Lord Prescott. We had a whizz round the sights and sounds of Hull, old and new. Taking in everything from the Humber Bridge to the shiny paving slabs that were being put down all over the town centre. Have to admit my favourite moment was when we popped into the best – and most famous – small, independent music venue the town has to offer, The New Adelphi. I played loads of gigs there, all those years ago when The Housemartins were first getting their wings. So having my picture taken with my new buddy, Lord Prescott, in the club toilets was, strangely, a cultural highlight for my diary.
But the artiness didn’t stop there. Oh, no. Shortly after my trip, Spencer Tunick made his very own visit to our City of Culture. In case you’re not familiar with the name, let me remind you. He’s the bloke who travels the world persuading folk to get naked so he can take pictures of them. Several of my Hull-based mates got up at silly o’clock one freezing morning, made their way into town, stripped off, covered themselves in blue paint and had a right rollocking time helping Spencer to create, Sea Of Hull, a photographic artwork for the Ferens Art Gallery. Most impressive it is, too.
Not going to lie, though. It came at a cost. And I’m not talking about money. All my friends who appeared in the piece took pictures of themselves wearing nothing but their blue paint and a wry smile when they got back home. They then sent these pictures out all over the place. For several weeks I couldn’t click on any social media without seeing one of these life-changing images. Let’s just put it this way. Once you’ve seen them, you can’t un-see them, if you know what I mean. It made making eye contact and shaking hands with those mates rather awkward for a while.
Luckily, there have been other highlights to move my mind on to higher things. The Hypocrite at Hull Truck, for instance. A play retelling the story of the time Hull refused to let King Charles I into the city. It was three joyous hours of drama that rushed by in the blinking of an eye. Was also the fastest-selling show of the year so far. But I digress.
Point is, the year is moving along with a boom, a zoom and a bang. Lots of them, come to think of it. This year, I’ve been lucky enough to spend time at the fabulous Longhill Primary School in east Hull. I pop up every term to work with the pupils and staff. This year, obviously, everyone wants to talk about their year of culture 2017.
What I’ve learned, especially from the pupils, has been eye-opening. Mainly because my favourite way to get the conversation started, is to ask them what they’ve enjoyed most about their home town being the city of culture. Naturally, they mention the fantastic firework display and awesome Made In Hull show that set the ball rolling way back when. They also talk about the enormous wind turbine Blade that sat in the city centre for the first few months. Towering over everyone and everything like a giant’s finger pointing to the future.
Poppies: The Weeping Window is another artwork that has got them all talking. It’s in the heart of Hull, 5,000 poppies flowing from an upstairs window in the Maritime Museum all the way down to the new pavement below. These ceramic flowers are part of the installation, Blood Swept Lands And Seas Of Red, originally housed within the Tower Of London. A reminder of the heartbreak and bloodshed of the First World War.
All of these various art works and art pieces have attracted the attention of the pupils but what surprises me most when I speak to them, is the way they are now reacting to other things in their lives. Things they would have taken for granted before 2017. They are full of stories about their visits to watch the football or rugby, to the impressive aquarium in Hull, The Deep, full of fantastic fish and spooky sharks, apparently. Even a trip to Ferens Art Gallery seems to impress them more than before.
These conversations got me thinking about what the year meant to these young inhabitants of Hull.
So I asked them. One of the youngsters summed it up neatly when she simply announced: “We ARE culture. We are Hull.”
As it turned out, that day I was lucky enough to find myself working alongside Henry Priestman – famous son of Hull, who has written many top pop tunes for The Christians, among others, and also Paul Cookson, poet to the stars.
We listened in amazement as the kids calmly listed all the many, many reasons they are proud of their city and its cultural contribution to the life blood of the UK. Didn’t take us long to turn this star-studded list into a song celebrating Hull. A rather jaunty little number it is, too, if I say so myself. Even features a band of Krucial Kazoo players.
When the headteacher heard his pupils singing away happily, I realised just how deeply the concept of culture is embedded in this city. He announced that the school needed to record the song and make a video of it. So they did.
They didn’t do it because someone told them to, they didn’t expect anyone to give them a grant, they definitely didn’t do it for the glamour. They did it, to quote Mark Batty, the inspirational head teacher of Longhill Primary School, “because it’s so good”. He just wanted to give his pupils the chance to shine, by creating their own culture, in this special year.
Which pretty much sums up this jewel in the north, this modest, yet cultured, city. The people know who they are and they know what they are. As that young lady in Year 4 so wisely observed: “We are culture. We are Hull.”