When Hull was named the UK’s city of culture for 2017, I’m sure there were more than a few raised eyebrows, but even as someone on the outside looking in the city’s rejuvenation was staggering. Whether Hull pulled off a miraculous reinvention in the space of a year, or whether it was always a cultural hub somewhere beneath the surface and is just now sharing it with the world remains to be seen. I sadly missed last year’s Humber Street Sesh, which I’m told was one of the highlights of the summer, so I was interested to see how that passion for art and culture carried on into 2018… and of course see some great bands and artists too!
Starting my day at the centre of the action, between the equally picturesque marina and waterfront, I caught the wonderful Fiona Lee opening the BBC Introducing Stage. Her unique vocals and heartfelt lyricism proved to be the perfect start to the day and set the bar incredibly high. I then found myself in the cosy little Speak Easy tent checking out the first of two sets of the day from Joe Russell-Brown, offering some solo acoustic renditions of his own tracks alongside a few covers that he put his own personal twist on. Sticking around at the Speak Easy proved to be an excellent decision as I got to enjoy the boundless joy and enthusiasm of Rich Stephenson and his band, sharing upbeat summery vibes and even a taste of vaudevillian swing for good measure.
Though I was spoilt for choice when it came to music, I couldn’t resist the urge to see what else the day had in store and take the opportunity to explore the city. The walls and fences surrounding the event were divided up between local artists as a canvass to share their work, with some even being open to the public to express themselves. Rows of curious craft stalls shared their wares, the silent disco wasn’t all that silent as the bustling crowd were all singing along to their own soundtracks, and no feast for the senses would be complete without an actual feast of delicious street food. From the skate park, to the hip hop workshops, Stomp performances to far off metal screams and growls on the fringes of the festival; all were welcome and given the opportunity to explore their respective art form. There was even the Youth Stage that gave talented young kids the chance to perform School Of Rock style.
Humber Street itself was perhaps unsurprisingly at the epicentre of it all. Every business along that stretch of road – the bars, the shops, the gallerys etc. – ranks amongst the most interesting and aesthetically pleasing shops and the like that I’ve ever come across. It’s easily on par with Hebden Bridge and Manchester’s Northern Quarter as one of the coolest cultural hubs in the North. Just seeing little kids playing keepy-ups with a giant balloon right in front of the heavy riffs of The Cool Seas on the Dead Bod Stage made me appreciate how diverse and inclusive the event was. My only criticisms of the day were how crowded it got in the afternoon and the staggering number of stages that left you spoilt for choice, most that I never even got chance to check out. However, in the scheme of things, being popular and having too much music are the best criticisms a festival could hope to have.
Speaking of music, even this arachnophobe couldn’t keep away from the Spiders From Mars Stage, checking out the hot pink art rock fever dream that was The Golden Age Of TV, followed not long after by grunge trio False Advertising. I’ve heard a lot of good things about the latter, and I was impressed with how the guitarist and drummer were able to switch roles and share vocal duties, such an interesting dynamic. The curiously named Grinny Grandad brought some fired up funk and soul to the Introducing stage and Mint gave an electrifying set on the main stage, albeit after a failed attempt to crowdsurf on an inflatable flamingo. My highlight of the day however was undoubtedly York’s The Howl & The Hum. I witnessed a fair few new fans being made during their set as people were just as enthralled as when I felt when I first saw them.
Sadly I wasn’t able to stay for the evening and so I missed out on a multitude of great bands (disappointed to have missed out on Cattle & Cane in particular), but there’s no doubt that I still got a day full of artistic delights, both musical and otherwise. Hull may not hold the title of “City of Culture” anymore, but that doesn’t mean all that culture just goes away. All it needs is for events like Humber Street Sesh to nurture it, to celebrate all the weird and wonderful creators out there. It sets a fine example for what other cities across the country should be doing to breathe life into struggling music scenes, yearning to grow and bloom into something worth celebrating. With a great setting, great music, and above all great people, needless to say I’ll be back next year to see how they manage to top such a fantastic day.