Category Archives: international

Freedom Festival 2017

Freedom Festival: the three-day weekend where chaos reigns in Hull’s city centre.

I didn’t attend for full days like I have done in previous years, but in the eight or so hours, stretched over two days, that I did attend, I was captivated by so much that it is difficult to say which one aspect stood out me. I watched acrobatics like no other, sipped soup with a stranger, was attacked by prehistoric creatures and witnessed a bodiless lady drink wine through a straw.


I’ll start with the music, because when I plan any festival weekend this tends to be key features on the list. And I actually only saw one band for any length of time. Having missed Mighty and the Moon at Humber Street Sesh, I made sure to attend their set in the Speak Out Stage, as part of the Three Minute Heroes campaign run through The Warren Youth Project.

I was running late to everything that I planned, so found myself at the rear of a very busy Speak Out tent. Rushing down Queen Street I could hear Emma Fee’s sweet tones and it drew me into the tent, and I was so excited that I didn’t mind that I couldn’t see the stage. However, for the first few songs I was agitated by those small crowds of people who loitered at the opening chatting and just simply not focusing on the music, which should have been why they were there.

As difficult as it was to focus entirely on the music, I was still blown away with how fab the band are. I’ve always enjoyed Emma Fee’s sets at gigs and festivals, whether doing her solo work or performing with her band Happy Endings. When I heard that she was joining Mighty and the Moon I was so excited (I’ve said that already) because I could picture the beautiful harmony of her voice alongside Martin Clappison’s. In fact, I’d built such an aural image in my mind, that my biggest fear was that it wouldn’t sound as good in reality as in my head. But it was everything I had hoped, adding both to the Mighty and the Moon’s emotional tracks and their more uplifting, dance along sounds. Musically and lyrically, they’re just a beautiful band and you should definitely go and see them – I should go and see them more often.

I had planned to see other musicians but got caught up in a chat with a wonderful woman named Elaine. This wasn’t quite random, although for those who didn’t know that While Having Soup was happening it may have felt that way. Along Princes Dock Street, a stone’s throw from Ask, chairs sat in pairs and people chatted while eating soup. The soup was lentil soup made at Kardomah94 and was very yummy, but the menu had bites of conversation rather than food orders. The idea behind it was simple: to get people talking. You start by giving your name and being paired off with a stranger. My stranger conversationalist was a woman named Elaine who was wonderfully positive and easy to talk to. The menu is tailored to the city and we were asked to discuss whether or not a new narrative was needed when discussing Hull. We were given 15 minutes to discuss the topic, and I’m sure we went over that, never pausing, never feeling uncomfortable discussing personal opinions based on personal experiences.

FreedomFestival - While Having Soup picture with Elaine
Our morsel of wisdom

For dessert, we were asked to leave a morsel of our discussion which would then be written up onto a photograph taken of us both. These photographs of strange pairings with their offerings of wisdom were then displayed on a screen in the centre of the al fresco café.


What I loved about this the most was that as someone who often attends things on their own, I was made incredibly comfortable in volunteering myself. Elaine’s daughter joined in as well, but they were separated so that each had a different perspective. And both pairings continued conversation afterwards, introducing the others and bringing people together who wouldn’t necessarily ever speak to each other. In an age when you can sit on your phone while having a coffee alone in a café, people don’t spark random conversations, but they were forced to in this environment. And it was incredibly positive: the waitresses told us how inspiring and interesting the two days’ worth of conversations had been.

Elaine and I didn’t swap numbers or anything like that, but maybe our morsel of wisdom will help people see Hull in a different way, discuss Hull in a more positive manner.

The front page of the guide for Freedom Festival showed The Bullzini Family, famous highwire-walkers who have performed at a variety of festivals. They told a simple story of man meets woman, man and woman fall in love. But metres in the sky, far above the onlookers below, and a rope being their only means of reaching each other.

The Bullzini Family 

The acrobatics were amazing. The entire performance was terrifyingly fascinating. Not only were they walking along the tightrope, but they hung from it, twirled on it and cycled across it. There were fireworks and confetti and an overall good time was had by every person watching. The crowd was a mixture of suspense-filled intakes of breath and loud clapping in support of their amazing skills.

It’s difficult to describe in words because it was watching something which on paper sounds somewhat basic but in reality is incredible. Everyone who asked, I suggested they catch this performance simply because explaining it wasn’t enough – you had to see it.

Sky-high cycling 

And, looking up at even the grey sky, I caught a bit of sun during the whole thing.

I caught a few performances, mostly dance performances. And I enjoyed them all.

I was quite excited by the blurb in the programme for Compagnie Dyptik performing D-Construction. Again, I was little late so four deep into the crowd, which made this difficult to see much of what was performed at ground-level. However, the performance involved them scaling a fence, which I could watch and was incorporated brilliantly into the dance. The blurb described the setting as a playground but that playground could have been anywhere in your imagination: with Arab hues in the music it could have reflected Syria, Afghanistan, or Palestine. With audience participation, it brought all of that to Hull. Even the choreography left your imagination to fill in the story: aggressive movements which could have been intended as playful or violent. The performance ended with the dancers on the opposite of the fence, seated amongst the Hull crowd and looking back at where they’d started, either longing for home or free from what was home or both.

The story of D-Construction inspired me, but the performance which amazed me was Joli Vyann and L’Eolienne performing Lance Moi En L’Air. Translated this means Thrown Into The Air. And that’s basically what happened. The entire dance told a violent love story and both male and female dancer pushed and threw the other around. It was a series of lifts and throws and every time they finished one terrifying lift, you assumed they’d done everything that they could, only to watch on as they performed more.

One of the many lifts 

There’s only one negative that I can consider with regards to the weekend’s events. The moaners. Every time I found myself moaning, it was about the moaners and the people who just weren’t embracing or giving their full energy to the festival and the acts that work hard to perform as wonderfully as they did. Struggling to listen to an amazing band is annoying; I understand it happens, but the conversations were unnecessarily loud and could have moved elsewhere. And those who joined the back of a crowd only to complain that they couldn’t see because of the crowd, really should have moved on. Last year I joined the back of a crowd, realised that I was missing something wonderful and made sure that I came back in time to see the entire performance when repeated. Because the majority of performances are repeated at Freedom, so that the majority of people can see and experience them. There are no excuses for moaning about not being able to see a repeated performance. And if it is a one-off performance and you’re not interested, make way for those who are.

The weekend was exceptionally chaotic and it was wonderful. The positives massively outweigh any negative. And reliving it by writing a review or looking over the photographs, you feel like you’re experiencing the joy and excitement all over again.

This has been a long one, but there is so much I’ve  not told you about. My advice? Get yourself to Freedom Festival 2018, experience it for yourself. And if you can’t do that, invite a stranger for a cup of soup and a chat.

A Rather Laidback Review | The Calais Sessions

I was excited about ordering this CD. It combines two of the things I am very passionate about in my life: my love of music and the work I do with refugees in our local area. I’ve always enjoyed learning about other cultures and their varying traditions. So when I saw an advert asking me to purchase The Calais Sessions CD, I knew it was something that needed to be on my shelves.


The album is a collection of songs featuring musicians who resided in the Calais Jungle. A makeshift studio was set up in the camp and an array of instruments were offered to the people. The website and album sleeve both promote this as the voices of those people behind the headlines. But it is also an expression of raw and pure emotion from those who have fled their homes because of traumas the majority of British folk can never truly understand.

My first time listening to the album was in the kitchen (a fine place to review an album), cooking up a fusion of Italian and Spanish. The first track was ideal for the job, as I needed to make a basic bread dough and knead for 5 minutes. On shuffle, the first song played was Deskovo Oro, an ideal 6 minutes and 11 seconds long. I finished kneading just in time for the song to change over.

The track was produced quickly, with all of the musicians involved being given a chance to express their skills and styles through their own adaptation of Blagoja Deskoski’s track of the same title. Lead by a Romanian violinist, there is a clear bass established through drums and other string instruments then accompany. It’s fast-paced and had me moving around the kitchen more than I would had I not been listening to the track. With no vocals, I wasn’t distracted and so focused entirely on the stunning sound.

Many of the songs are in a different language. The opening track to the album is called The Lost Singer, performed by four Syrians and dedicated – the CD sleeve has kindly translated the words – to ‘the Syrian martyrs’. La Llorana is a Spanish song, telling a truly sorrowful story. Ya Rab’oun was written by 21 Abdullah from Kuwait, where the main language is Arabic. Khandahar is sung in Farsi, though the original poem was written in English. Yesus and Hallelujah are both sung by singers of Ethiopian and Eritrean origin. The track Ismail is named after the artist, who was known as ‘the music man of the jungle’, who fled his country after being threatened by the Taliban who refused to let him perform.

University Story is a collaboration between an Iraqi rapper and two UK volunteers who have done a lot of work in the Jungle. It is a mixture of languages: I’m not sure whether the rap is done in Kurdish or Arabic – it doesn’t sound familiar to me at all, so I assume not Arabic. It’s a stunning song, with the English lyrics summarising the physical reaction to a love torn by distance.

Long Road has a traditional folk sound to it. It was produced by the team who ran The Calais Sessions, and is dedicated to all the musicians they’d discovered in the Jungle. It summarises to beautifully the natural association with all refugees “so far from home” and touches on the sentiment of those volunteers who can picture their home as the place they will return to, knowing that the people this track is aimed at cannot do the same.

It is the giggles at the end of Deskovo Oro and the cheers and whooping at the end of bonus track Every Heart That Loves which captures my heart. No matter how terrible the situation may be, music can always be a way to release emotion, share emotion and have voices heard. Even if you don’t understand the words, you cannot connect with the voice and the instruments and join with the story.

For me, the album is beauty. When listening to it is easy to forget that this beauty was created in a place symbolic of loss and devastation. It had me dancing around my kitchen and I have already grasped a couple of lyrics so that I am singing along.

All profits from the sale of this album go to Citizens UK. To get your own copy head over to

Tom Skelly & The Salty Beards – Morning Sun

From today, ‘Morning Sun’ is available worldwide.

Poetically written lyrics, this song captures the moment of that first glimmer of sunshine. Layers of sound cast a glow over the Skelly’s beautifully mesmerising voice. A downbeat song which contains an upbeat sentiments; the emotion of waking early in the morning to a stunning day.

But there’s another reason to purchase this single. All proceeds from the sale of this track will go to the Cornwall-based charity Surfers Against Sewage. This environmental charity works hard to preserve water quality and marine life across the UK coastline, protecting our waves, oceans and beaches, educating others and involving the community in a range of campaigns. They aim to promote conservation and improvement of coastal areas, ensuring that the public works to sustain ecologically sustainable management the marine environment.

The song was inspired by Skelly’s love of surfing, and so you can see the link between the single and the cause in which they hope to raise money for.

Beautiful music and all for a good cause. Sounds like a song which recently went to number one.

Head over to for more details and to download. The track costs £1, but you are invited to donate more if you wish to.

International Day to End Violence Against Women – A Warren Event

Every year, sixteen days are dedicated to Activism Against Gender Violence, starting on the 25th November and concluding on the 10th December.

All around the world, events are taking place to provide support to victims of violence and aim to put an end to humans attacking humans. The date of the 25th marks the brutal assassination of three Mirabal sisters, political activists who gave their life to the cause in 1960, and starts proceedings with the International Day To Eliminate Violence Against Women.

In the news recently there have been a string of stories which relate directly to this, clearly demonstrating that women are still subjected to violent crimes and harassment on too regular a basis. A positive female role model, Malala Yousafzai this year became the youngest person to collect the Nobel Peace Prize, for her work promoting education for women in her native Pakistan, where the local Taliban had placed a ban on girls attending school. She was shot in the head for her efforts, and became international news. Less dramatic, and yet just as poignant, the petition which has taken place recently to remove Dapper Laughs from ITV, successfully seeing his second sexist series axed. Yes, he’s not been accused of actual violence against women, but harassment is no better.

And there’s the repeated discussion of the treatment of women in specific cultures. It has been reported that “3 million African girls per year are at risk… Almost 70 million girls worldwide have been married before they turned 18.” The same article which states these figures points out that awareness of these cases is not enough. They are, of course, correct; awareness is never enough. Action has to happen.

But without awareness, nobody will step up to action.

Warren Project - gig to end violence against women POSTER

Violence and harassment towards women is an everyday occurrence across the world. These events spanning just over a fortnight, aim to highlight issues relevant to preventing and ending violence, primarily against women and girls but also at a more widespread level.

The Warren, a focal point of Hull’s community, is hosting its very own event, starting at 10am on Tuesday and concluding late into the night. With guest speakers and discussion groups, young people can discuss all aspects of the cause; supporting those who are victims of violence and those who are keen to help in any way that they can. An open mic will be available for music, poetry and stories, allowing the community to share their experiences and continue to educate people about the situation both at home and worldwide.

As if opening its doors late wasn’t enough, the Warren is also holding a Gig To End Violence Against Women at the Adelphi from 8pm. The stunning sounds of Tom Skelly & The Salty Beards, Yssabelle Wombwell, who also supported the Female Takeover last month, Cherry Red and other artists (tbc) will be performing for free as they champion this cause.

With statistics as harrowing as 70% of women worldwide, you can see why this cause is so necessary. I don’t know how comfortable I feel with the idea of ‘eliminating’ violence – it’s a fantastic dream, but perhaps that is the only way it can be described. But that figure cannot stay at such a frightful high. In our city alone, it is estimated that over 24’000 women and 18’000 children experience domestic violence each year. Without events such as this, we run the risk of continuing to live in a secretive society where violence is something which continues in blissful ignorance behind closed doors. It is so easy to ignore, and this would mean no change. No alteration to the life of fear at the hands of fathers, brothers, boyfriends, husbands and even sons. No freedom for victims to come forward and be given the opportunity to escape violence.

A development of my preview written for Browse Magazine Hull.

Manic Street Preachers: 20 years of The Holy Bible

An album which signalled beginning and an end for the Manic Street Preachers, it is dark, emotional and beautiful.
The title I have given this blog is a little imprecise: the album is 20 years old, but it’s only been a part of my life for about 12 years. It was not my Holy Bible, but the band were the closest I had come to a feeling of divinity. The spirit of Richey James Edward’s lyrics sung by the glorious James Dean Bradfield, was enough to have a teenage me seeing a chance at heaven.


The Manics were, and still are in a more ghostly manner, all-encompassing in my life. I no longer sit for hours surrounded by their paraphernalia, drowning in their lyrics, as I did at eleven, when This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours sought me out and took hold of my heart. They have become so much a part of me, that I do not need such a direct connection with them. My first tattoo was of my favourite song, emblazoned forever on my back, and just as with this tattoo I often find I catch a glimpse in the mirror and for a moment realise I have almost forgotten that it was there. I know it is there, but it’s been so long since I glanced at my own spine. Yet, knowing they are there means even when I forget, I am not removed from them.

The Holy Bible was their third studio album, released on the 29th August 1994. As with the Manics themselves, this album was attacked by the majority as a morbid collection of monstrosities and self-indulgence, and cherished by the minority who saw it as a series of screams in both pain and sheer pleasure. The band had stated that they felt they were drifting away from themselves, becoming too stereotypically Rock. And so this album came with a somewhat different sound to the previous Gold Against The Soul and allowed lyricists Richey and Nicky Wire to delve into their very souls and musicians James and Sean to lift them up with a hefty platform.

Six months after its release, Richey checked out of the Embassy Hotel on the day the band were due to set off for a US tour. Two weeks later his car was found on the Severn Bridge, abandoned, and since Richey James Edwards has been a memory and the occasional sighting by a possibly overly-ambitious fan.

Yet Richey’s spirit is still very much alive. He is remembered by all Manics fans, even those – like myself – who never truly knew the band of as a four-piece, through consistent questioning by interviewers and the use of his lyrics in later albums. James, Sean and Nicky have never accepted closure and his family turned down the option to declare him “legally dead” in 2002, instead allowing the term “presumed dead” later in 2008.“>Mastertapes: Manic Street Preachers on returning to The Holy Bible

For me, The Holy Bible greeted me at a time when I was facing my own demons.

The lyrics rang out and stirred something new in me. I could fall asleep to the words one night and be haunted by them another. Any truth I found in the lyrics, frightened me. They are, after all, an insight into one very disturbed mind.

Yes hits home so many teenage realities. “I don’t know what I’m scared of or what I even enjoy” – fear was my enjoyment as a teenager. I started to face them and to run full pelt at them, with a desire to overcome and subdue all that terrified and haunted me. And what teenager doesn’t relate to the “11th commandment” of solitude? What teenager doesn’t question their identity and their place in the world?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA4st 7lb was a song which inspired my university dissertation – 13000 words on a topic I delved into with far too much enthusiasm. It disgusted and intrigued me, leading to a mixture of non-fiction and fiction work on the topics of mental disorders, anorexia in both male and female patients and thinspiration (something which deeply sickened me). Richey summed it all up so wonderfully and hideously: “this discipline’s so rare please applaud”.

But the song which strikes me the most, especially in hindsight, is Die in the Summertime. “the hole in my life stains even the soil” referred, in my view, to a growing emptiness I held as tightly as I could. The summer in which I purchased this album was one which changed my life forever, both the better and worse. It was the summer which changed me, and saw the end of my childhood and the beginning of my road to adulthood.


For more news and tour dates for the Anniversary Tour visit

A Message to the Ebola Virus: Pack up and Go

The Ebola Crisis is worldwide news at the moment. Since the outbreak started in February, flights to the Ivory Coast have been restricted and over a thousand people have died. The BBC reported this outbreak to be the “deadliest to date” since the virus was first discovered in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976.

Newspapers are reporting that many of the infected sites – Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria – are bringing in soldiers to monitor and establish strict quarantine sites. When speaking to Barmmy Boy, a young man visiting Hull from Sierra Leone and unable to return because of the outbreak, he compared the crisis the civil war which affected the country from 1991-2002.

Barmmy Boy, aka Lansana Mansarey, is from Freetown, the capital city of Sierra Leone. He came to the UK to work with several schools in Hull, teaching our young people about the conflict and corruption in his country as well as offering rap lessons. He has been unable to return due to the Ebola crisis, having to extend his time here until the end of the month. Though this may seem like a lengthy holiday, now that the kids are on their summer break, Barmmy Boy continues to work over here in order to support his family, a family who he misses and worries about constantly. He spoke to a group of us about his fears for the people in Sierra Leone, including his family and the members of a friend’s family who have contracted the virus.

Next week, Barmmy Boy is working with Steve Cobby, a music producer from Hull who has worked with such musicians as Radiohead, to produce a song about the dangers of Ebola, which he described as a “stranger” coming into the country and taking control. He said that you would not accept this from a stranger, telling him to pack up and go before he could cause any damage, and so he says the people must treat the Ebola virus in the same way, shunning it until it leaves. He aims to take the song back to Sierra Leone in order to teach the young people of his country about the precautions they can take to evade this virus and stop it from spreading. Ebola is contracted through bodily secretions, including sweat, and in a country with a 60% Muslim population, the shaking of hands is a custom difficult to break. Barmmy Boy explained that to test for a fever, a person will place a hand under the jawline to check temperature, something which is perfectly sensible were you to fear the other person had the flu, but which can be deadly if that person indeed is showing one of the first symptoms of the Ebola virus.

Barmmy Boy told us that “music is a driving force for many people in Sierra Leone”, describing the ways in which young people, including ex-combat fighters, can use music to give themselves a voice, to express their ideas and discuss their problems in a way which many still feel they are not entitled to do. He explained that his music is about many serious topics, including the conflict and corruption he has witnessed in his country, taboo subjects such as child abuse and HIV, as well as promoting a different way of life.

His song about Ebola will be similar to that of his biggest and most famous track ‘HIV Dangerous, which promotes taking precautions against this deadly virus. With messages written into this song such as “get up, stand up, make up, and go for check-up” as well as “better use a condom” his point is clear. His songs are catchy, with traditional dancehall rhythms and use of repetition to ensure the meaning stands out in strength. When asked why he was using a similar sound, he simply said that this is what is popular, and in order to reach as wide an audience as possible the song needs to be one which the people can accept quickly into their dancehalls and onto their radio stations.

In addition to the song about Ebola, Barmmy Boy will produce a song about the flaws in the education system, which he aims to produce when he returns to Freetown, which he admitted “the government might not like”. Previously, he has had his music taken off radio stations, and he said that they may threaten to banish him from Freetown, but he did not seem too concerned as he has a wide fan base not only in Freetown but also internationally with the work he has done in the UK and with WeOwnTv, a media production company based in Sierra Leone working with international companies and North American Filmmakers.

Barmmy Boy stated the messages he shares in his songs are “the most important thing I do” and that “there are things that can change in Sierra Leone” which he wishes to promote and share with his people.

I wish him all the best, and look forward to the release of ‘Pack ‘n’ Go’.