Heads Up Festival and The Rave Space: We are loved…

365/17. Daily notes from the City of Culture.

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So it’s around 36 hours since Heads Up Festival’s eighth season drew to a close. And, as is the usual case around about this time, I’m still attempting to process what happened over the course of the last two weekends and the days between.

Also being processed is The Rave Space, a stunning festival finale provided by Will Dickie, who first joined us at our second festival with his exceptional outdoor piece Team of the Decades.

But more of The Rave Space later.

Heads Up. Every season I’ve had a momentary lapse about the point of it all and considered walking away. We’re a small team and sometimes this all seems to be an unfathomable burden that we brought on ourselves four years ago. The very real concern that I have, that runs through my mind continually but completely overwhelms and overtakes me with each and every season, when dealing with venues and ticketing and promotion and co-promoters and a host of truly amazing artists, is that this is a complete and total distraction that threatens our ability to make and create our own work. We’re artists who became accidental producers because nobody else was doing this. Silly us.

We’ll have a minor spat just before things get going as we attempt to get it together and what should be enormous fun feels anything but. This season, things were exacerbated by having to deal with the external juggernaut of a force that is 2017. It’s not true, but this is how I often feel, that, in the words of The Band (which I heard sat in post-festival comedown mode surrounded by people that I love in a boozer yesterday), in the extraoardinary effort required to shift a mere handful of tickets that will ensure that each production gets the audience it deserves, “you put the load right on me.” I write this in the knowledge that other producers and promoters in this fine city of ours, and beyond here, also feel the same way and might take succour from what is, most very definitely, an overshare.

Then the shows roll into town. And what we always knew to be the case when we put the programme together is writ large. Every piece of work is unbelievably brilliant. The tension subsides, the ill feeling slips away, we realise we like each other and that we’re good at this, and we start to relax and enjoy ourselves. Every piece of work is a highlight for entirely different reasons, every bit of audience feedback invaluable, every shared moment with, say, 1-3 year olds and their accompanying adults in Neverland, jaw droppingly beautiful, time spent with Battersea Arts Centre’s producing team a joy, every after-show jape possibly a late night too far, but sharing a corner of a dance floor with Theatre Ad Infitum at the Wow Hull after party sticks in the mind as a moment when I proudly, albeit briefly, thought, hey, we brought these people and their fine, important work to Hull.

And in the post-festival aftermath, in that short window when we’re thinking that this is great and absolutely what we should be doing, I’ve got a sense that Heads Up should get bigger and better and grow beyond our wildest dreams and be around forever, and that I’ll always be involved. I write this in the knowledge that the small team I’m a part of might feel this too and that we can chat about this later today, and so I don’t forget how I feel right now, when I start to get in a spin about us having to do it all over again for festival nine, which is coming in October 2017.

Some aspects of programming a festival are astonishingly and outstandingly self-indulgent. I love the Adelphi club, as every right-thinking, live music-loving scoundrel in the city does. I have never been in a band that made it beyond the bedroom, so one of the few regrets I have is that I’ve never stood on that stage with a low-slung guitar round my neck and a foot on the monitor. My DJing days also ended at the very point that superstar DJs rose to prominence, so, as much as I could see myself proffering the finest ever set at Residents, or boring people to tears with too much A Tribe Called Quest and Public Enemy at Represent, my inability to mix tunes seamlessly ensures that won’t happen anytime soon. We took Chris Brett Bailey’s This Is How We Die into the Adelphi in 2015 and Chris’s jaw-droppingly astounding rant and wall of sound left people reeling so we’ve always wanted to return there. I love dance music in all its forms. I love dancing like nobody’s watching. I meditate and know the power of taking deep four second breaths. Indeed, meditation changed my life. Will Dickie’s The Rave Space, a piece of work that fuses live art and club culture, and is a meditation on life and what it all means, gave me the chance to persuade Jacko to let us in to his venue once again, indulge my desire to dance and breathe, and for me to vicariously be involved in a piece of work there.

Naturally and understandably, Jacko was resistant to letting a load of theatre sorts in to his nocturnal nest at 10am on a Saturday morning. But, boy, am I glad he did. We got to hang out with Will, Hayley Hill, Chris Collins, Jesal and Fabiola for the day. We got to see the run. We couldn’t wait for 8.30pm to come round and for an audience to be in front of it.

There have been many memorable, life-changing shows at Heads Up. While I’m still processing and gathering thoughts on what it means and what it meant, The Rave Space feels a real highlight of four years of this. Poignant for Will, due to the recent real-life death of one of the characters and his friends within (Angie, represented by a vape), this is the finest close to our festival to date. Drum and bass and choreographed dance moves merged with MCing and cut-up actuality interviews, exploring rave and religion and a sense of community that is under threat. My life, as I imagine most people’s, feels like a series of disconnected fragments that very rarely make sense as a whole. While I may still be high on festival fever, The Rave Space felt, on Saturday night, like it was joining the dots for me. As Hayley went around the room, looked people in the eyes and declared “You are loved… and you are loved… and you are loved,” everything and everybody I’ve encountered was connected. And Heads Up Festival felt like home.

Heads Up Festival returns in October 2017. Visit www.headsuphull.co.uk for updates and news.

#challengehull week 10…

365/17. Daily notes from the City of Culture.

Pen

Week #10 of Challenge Hull is courtesy of Pause Project, who provide a creative solution designed to address the needs of women who have, or are at risk of, multiple children being removed from their care.

They urge us to look around, go for a walk, see what we can see and collect objects as we go, then use our magic on these objects and inject them with new life, using glitter, glue, fabric, or anything else we might lay our hands on.

I ignored that brief, and went upstairs to ‘find’ something that I was given at Christmas. One of the most beautiful – and powerful – everyday objects with unfathomable creative potential: A pen.

In 1941, Woody Guthrie placed a sticker on his guitar that read “This Machine Kills Fascists”. And, of course, songwriters, Guthrie among them, have caused a lot of people to rethink their politics, brought about societal change, touched and entertained people, shone a light on wrongdoing or helped people understand life. Maybe he mainly used a pencil, I dunno, but at some point, I’d like to think that even the wielder of a Fascist killing axe will have put pen to paper to write some lyrics, or some dots on lines, down.

Writers in all forms, gripping pens, have sparked revolutions and transformed the world. The weapon of change remains the pen, even in these high-tech days. A pen, coupled with paper, is the primary tool to bring about change. Writing works. Words still work. Maybe that’s why they’re trying to close down libraries. And while it’s nice to tap away into your favourite text editor or phone app, those that know the power of the pen continue to wander the earth with a notebook in their pocket and several pens at hand; laying down thoughts, capturing overheard comments and conversations, exploring their feelings on what they see that is wrong with the world. Graham Greene once wrote, with a pen I hope, that his two fingers on a typewriter never connected with his brain. Only his hand on a pen did that.

There is no need to use glitter, glue, fabric or anything else. The glitter comes from the pen, the glue that binds us together likewise, the fabric that is required to bind society together also. Take your pen, and write about the abuses that people the world over are suffering at the hands of those in power, shine a light on the darkest, murky corners. Never has the pen been more important. It’s an analogue machine that, coupled with some intelligent and considered thought and creativity, can kill Fascists.

Go find a pen, now. And use it.

The Hypocrite…

365/17. Daily notes from the City of Culture.

The Hypocrite : Hull Truck / RSC

The early ‘hot ticket’ in Hull’s 2017 City of Culture year, Richard Bean’s bawdy, filthy, sex farce cum history lesson has sold out its run on Ferensway and much is being made that over a third of those ticket purchasers have never visited Hull Truck before. So it was nice to bag a pair of comps for World Premiere night and join the capacity crowd to experience the first production, a co-pro with the RSC no less, in Truck’s exceptional year of drama. It’s been a while since there’s been such an anticipatory buzz in this particular auditorium; people came for something special and were up for a good night out.

Bean takes the farcical events of 1642-43, when King Charles I was refused entry to Hull, thus sparking the English Civil War, and cleverly crunches 14 months into three days, crams the stage with characters, flexes his word play muscles, gets everyone running around the building, drops people into the coal cellar regularly and revels in the Hullness of the story, while also throwing in Pythonesque coconut shells as horses, getting away with an extraordinary level of sexism and revisiting some of his old gags. Someone somewhere will be saying it’s a ‘proper Hull Truck show’ and will be trying to work out why they laughed so hard at the mere mention of North Ferriby. Just like the old days.

Bean moves beyond the pub version of the events covered, his hands no doubt having been inserted into white gloves to handle old documents, and amid all the silliness and smut and gags there’s quite a lot that can be learned from this account, although it certainly doesn’t purport to be a documentary.

The play starts with the epilogue, fitting for the world turned upside down depicted and, when things get going after the beheading of Sir John Hotham and the play’s conventions are made clear, The Hypocrite is a breathless affair for, gulp, pretty much all of its almost three hours, with the cast of 20 worked hard by Bean and directer Phillip Breen. The contemporary political resonances are there, as you’d expect from this writer, although mostly in the songs peppered throughout.

Good to see so many actors connected with Truck and Hull in the cast, and again people will feel, in some respects, like they’re pulling on a pair of old socks at the sight of Martin Barrass, Paul Popplewell, Matt Sutton and Adrian Hood, delight at the long-overdue (but he’s been busy) return of Mark Addy and be chuffed, as I was, to see the brilliant Laura Elsworthy and Rachel Dale on this stage.

The Hypocrite is a good night out. It’s very funny. It’s very Beany. It feels very ‘big’. It’s most definitely a sex farce, but one that is self-reflexive and meta enough to get away with some crazy anachronisms and direct audience address.

Looking forward to designer Max Jones’ filthy, big cock-filled Inigo Jones’ bed going on ebay at some point in the future. It would look nice in a flat on the Thornton Estate.