The news that Hull is to be the next UK City of Culture brought back all sorts of memories. I spent three years in the East Yorkshire outpost as an undergraduate. At first it seemed so far away from my midlands home, and my main memories of my first term are of everything getting progressively colder and darker.
As I grew into student life, I discovered a wealth of music, theatre and art that belies the city’s “grim up north” reputation. Living a bus ride away from civilisation in Cottingham meant my exposure to the city music scene was limited in the first few months. There were a few outings to Asylum, the campus nightclub, where we saw the likes of Turismo, 59 Violets and the Blue Slide Circle struggling against a horrific sound system.
Making the move up to Beverley Road for the university equivalent of the difficult second album, I was lucky enough to land a regular writing slot with free music paper Sandman. The Adelphi inevitably became my temple of worship, introducing local bands such as The Holy Orders, Alison Angus, Fonda 500 and My One Man Band. The Sidekicks Lounge at The Lamp on Wednesday nights hosted some of the best gigs of my time in Hull, including James Yorkston, Analogue Consumption, Park and Ride The Brightlights.
Excitement surrounded out of town acts, particularly those from the USA, from the eccentric Thomas Truax, to the ear-splitting Melt Banana and legendary “anti-folk” hero Jeffrey Lewis. They all spoke fondly of Hull, and were well aware of the city’s musical heritage
For aspiring musicians, open mic nights were ten a penny. My regular first year gig haunt was The King William IV pub on Cottingham High Street. Every Wednesday, Mike and Danny from The Bonnitts would host an open session in the back room, and a handful of scruffy indie kids – yours truly included – would bang out classic covers from Erasure to the Eagles, competing manfully against the pool tables and televised football.
The Sanctuary’s regular slot, started by the newly formed band society in 2006, was too often doomed by lack of publicity from the student union, but when it clicked it really showcased some of the best talent on offer. It was similar story at Sleepers on Newland Avenue, which regularly attracted quality artists without reaching out too far beyond its comfort zone. The daddy of all open mic experiences was Monday night at The Adelphi. Boss Paul Jackson did a tremendous job in providing a welcoming platform for young musicians to perform.
The Adelphi was also the scene of regular “scratch nights”, which allowed students to indulge their pretentions through the medium of performance art. There was cross-dressing. There was nudity. One night there was me sitting alone on the stage, hood pulled up over my head, speaking nonsense into a microphone running through a delay pedal. Quite what that achieved, I’m still not entirely sure. But it was all good fun.
When I heard the city had won the culture title, I felt moved to contact some old northern acquaintances. Tony Meech, who ran the drama department in my time and has since retired, said: “Hull has for too long gone along with outsiders’ views that it is a failing city, and that it has not celebrated its successes enough in the past. This year in the limelight should go some way to ending Hull’s status as the ‘best kept secret in Yorkshire’ – if not in the whole of England.”
Another lecturer, Sarah-Jane Dickenson, said: “This will truly raise the profile of Hull in so many ways. The next few years will be a really exciting time to be in and around Hull. This bid was for the city by the city, and it will involve many university students as the university was a major part of the bidding process.
“I’m really excited by Hull being the City of Culture 2017, it will show the world how creative Hull really is.”