Category Archives: Feature

Finding the Right Words | Hull Language Cafe

Hull, like most cities, is home to a mixture of people. And every other Wednesday evening there’s an event which invites many of these people to share in the delights of their varied personalities.

A year and a half ago, Hannah Shaw decided to start a Language Café in this city where so many cultures live side by side. She got the idea while travelling in Europe, an opportunity undertaken through ERASMUS.  Living abroad, these events seemed common, and offered a chance for someone new to the area, and not always confident in the native lingo, to meet new people and immerse themselves in both the language and lifestyle.

Upon her return, she realised that Hull didn’t have anything available to the general public in the way that they were so readily available in mainland Europe. So, she set one up.

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 “The cake helps!”

Originally held at Wagons on Princes Avenue, it then moved to the intimate Lydia’s Cakeaway on Newland.

The venue is quaint and simple, and what makes it truly splendid is that it is open solely for the purpose of the Language Café on these nights. From 7pm to 9pm, people from all over Hull come to drink tea, eat cake and discuss whatever they feel capable of in whichever language they choose. Whether you’re studying a language, reengaging with a lost language or are holidaying soon and want to learn some useful phrases, you are made welcome at this fortnightly gathering – which has been known to get very busy, as Hannah described nights where there had been standing room only and she was filled with guilt as people turned away.

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“Friendships have been made here.”

When you first enter, the room is flowing with conversation. Some you can pick up; other segments are lost in a language you may not know. You’re given a sticker on which is written the languages you wish to practise: some have one language, while others have two or three. There’s tea, coffee and delicious tempting cakes.

The crowd is one which quickly feels friendly. On my first Language Café night, I was quickly invited to join the main group. It was a quiet night – the university students on a break – and I was nervous about testing out my shaky language skills on strangers. But after a few minutes of chatting in English, we launched into a conversation in German, learning about each other in a language in which I was once fluent. I wasn’t anxious for long, and, although my German is very unstable, I found I was laughing at the jovial stories and enjoying the broken flow of words. We stumbled over vocabulary, we jumbled the grammar somewhat, but we successfully managed a conversation almost entirely in German.

And two Wednesdays later, I was filled with anticipation as I took those steps along Newland Avenue. The lure of using my language skills again stronger even than the desire for a cupcake of some ingenious design.

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“This is migration to Hull.”

There are people of all ages and nationalities who attend. When asked how many languages she’d encountered over the eighteen or so months, Hannah stumbled. She rattled them off: French, Spanish, Italian, Chinese, Persian, Thai… languages spoken by people from Europe, South America, Asia… A true mixture and a reflection of the diversity in this small city.

Most advertising is done word of mouth. There’s a Facebook page and events are set up in time for each event. There’s the board in Lydia’s with the necessary details. But from that point it is people like myself who have attended for a few nights and then shared their experience with friends and family.

We all share language. Not everyone has the desire to learn several, but what can be enjoyed on the night is this one thing which joins us all together. The crowd not only share their knowledge but also their experiences and their differing cultures. People gather with the confidence that they will not be judged, that we are all there to enjoy this same thing and learn with enthusiasm.

The next meeting is Wednesday 8th June.

 

Originally written for Browse Magazine, culture section.

13 Years of BBC Introducing Humberside

Browse Mag - BBC Intro feature Previously, I have described an evening spent at BBC Humberside radio. This was all in aid of research for a feature celebrating the radio station’s thirteenth anniversary.

So, in case you didn’t read the feature in Browse Magazine, here it is:

The Hull music scene is a vibrant one, with an effervescent assortment of talented individuals. And thirteen years ago, two organisations established themselves as a means of reflecting exactly this.

One was the Sesh, the other “Raw Talent” on BBC Radio Humberside, now known as BBC Introducing Humberside.

Back in 2002, there was an eruption of guitar bands in Hull, mirroring exactly what was happening in the rest of the UK. But there weren’t as many options for these bands wanting to spread their music as there is now. If you were unsigned and under the radar, then getting your music out on local or national radio could be difficult. People simply wanted to trust that you were good enough for the masses to listen to. And so, in our very city, it was decided that this was a platform our local artists needed.

Streaming Lights in the studio (photo by Chris Pepper)
Streaming Lights in the studio (photo by Chris Pepper)

Alan Raw, known by the BBC as a session drummer in various bands as well as having taught camera skills previously in the building, was selected as the ideal face for the show. Speaking to him about this time, he told me that he was “in the right place at the right time, doing the right thing”. Performing with a recognised band who John Peel had introducing onto London stages, he knew what it was like to both be under the radar and well and truly in sight. So, needing “someone who knew all the bands and didn’t mind telling people how much they loved them”, Alan was a natural fit for the bill.

Alan Raw, host of Raw Talent & BBC Introducing Humberside (photo by Chris Pepper)
Alan Raw, host of Raw Talent & BBC Introducing Humberside (photo by Chris Pepper)

Stepping out from behind the curtain that hangs before most drummers, he joined producer Katy Noone and John Anguish (who, in addition to Martha Mangan, still manages BBC Introducing Humberside) and “Raw Talent” was launched. He turned up on his first night with a suitcase, rescued from a skip outside, filled with vinyl and CDs and was faced with somebody on the desk who he was told to watch, copy and then take over.

And since then, he’s become a recognisable name not only in the Hull Music Scene, but further afield, as he hosts both the East and West Yorkshire shows.

In the past, there has been a stigma around Hull, which has led to bands not getting the recognition they deserve. Alan Raw described the music industry in contrast to that of football, where you have talent scouts constantly out looking for the next big thing. “In music, we’ve not had that structure… BBC Introducing is that structure.” And it started right here in Hull, and has established itself as something significant in the last 13 years. New talent can more readily make it on to bigger and better things, with the help and support of their local radio station.

In 2007 the BBC acknowledged a national need for the huge amount of new music being produced across the UK to be recognised. From Guernsey to Merseyside, from Ulster to Leicester, from Sheffield to Somerset, there is now somewhere for local bands to share their music and engage with a wider audience. Just as the Sesh in Hull provides a weekly live gig where local bands can play, BBC Radio was now providing a way in which anyone could tap in and see what was on offer.

Emma Fee in the Studio (photo by Chris Pepper)
Emma Fee in the Studio (photo by Chris Pepper)

In addition to the local scene, this also opens up the opportunity for Radio DJs to discuss the music in their area and promote them further afield. If a Hull band is touring and has a gig in Oxford (for example), then the sister show can also showcase them, expanding their profile and introducing them to an even wider audience. And the aspect of live music continues to flow through the veins of the organisation, with weekly live sessions and opportunities such as performing on the BBC Introducing stages as such events as Bestival and Glastonbury.

It all starts with the Uploader, an award-winning tool which means any band can create a profile, upload their music and direct it to their local BBC Introducing show. From this too, it can be shared with national shows at the click of a button by Katy, Alan or Martha. This is precisely how MOTHER gained airplay on Radio 1 and secured a slot at Leeds and Reading Festival. To be considered for any of these opportunities, you must start with the Uploader, which can be found on the webpage www.bbc.co.uk/introducing. There are currently over 5000 tracks in the local Uploader, with varied playlists being shared weekly.

I shall conclude with the words of Alan Raw, summarising exactly what our local BBC Introducing believes: “Hull bands are brilliant. And they need to get out and find out for themselves that they can go anywhere and easily be the best band on the bill.” One stepping stone to achieving this is getting that feature on their local BBC Introducing Humberside.


A massive thanks to Katy, Alan, Martha and John at BBC Introducing for welcoming Chris and myself into the studio, and to Streaming Lights and Emma Fee for agreeing to being photographed. As well as huge thanks to Chris (Jemstar Images) for taking fantastic images to accompany my feature.