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Dark Winter | Hull Truck Theatre

SPOILER ALERT – for both novel and play I have mentioned key characters and scenes, but I hope I haven’t given too much away.

Dark Winter - sold out

Sold out, so if you’re enticed you’re also out of luck, Dark Winter is showing this week at Hull Truck Theatre.

I’ve read two of David Mark’s crime novels: Original Skin and Dark Winter, in that order. Someone had suggested the author and his Hull-based novels, and the cover to Original Skin intrigued me. It was some months later that I read the first in the series, so I wasn’t introduced to Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy as I was probably supposed to be.

What I particularly enjoyed about the novels was the way in which David Mark describes the city I live in. A scene in Original Skin had me cross the road to avoid Dagger Lane, the image of one death scene so clear in my mind after reading it. I don’t often carry a story with me for very long after finishing a book. Certain books stay with me, but not in the direct nature that David Mark’s descriptions have. I recall with considerable clarity the three deaths in the first half of Dark Winter.

And it was this that made me book the ticket to see the theatre production. I wanted to know how they were going to produce the initial scenes at sea, off the coast of Iceland, and how they’d incorporate the murder which takes place in Holy Trinity Church.

Movies have meant that my imagination has been tested before: beloved characters and storylines given face and shape. But a movie production has CGI, huge amounts of makeup and costume. A theatre production is so much more stripped back. And I was excited and concerned about how the vivid images in my head, even months after finishing the book, would be created on stage.

It was also a first time experience in the smaller stage area of Hull Truck, in the Studio. Initially this worried me even further, because I’d pictured it on the larger stage. We entered to a minimalistic office with a white desk, filing cabinets and chairs lined up on either side of the stage, items of costume hanging on their backs. There was a large projection scene above this, which I expected was where scenes such as Fred Stein’s murder at sea would be shown.

The storyline was altered, with key characters telling the story through Aector’s viewpoint mostly. The first murder given any mention was the church stabbing of Daphne Cotton. This unnerved me as I was already trying to piece bits together as I drew on memory to serve as a gap-filler.

I was also struggling quickly with the depiction of Aector McAvoy. Naturally, it’s no fault of actor Peter McMillan that he doesn’t look like the Aector of my imagination – this is the most common casualty of an adaptation, that your imagination is not the one in charge. It meant that for the first half, right up until minutes before the interval, I couldn’t quite focus on what I was actually watching. I was 50% watching what was unfolding on stage and 50% flipping through the pages of my memory.

But once I accepted the Aector McAvoy on stage and got my head around some of the plot movement, I found I was drawn into the performance in the same way as I was drawn into the book.

The visuals added depth and a reality to the murder scenes. Fire flicking across the stage as well as on the big screen, and scenes of the locations around Hull – so recognisable to this audience – built the tension and made the murder scenes real without being overperformed.  Murder scenes can be so badly done on stage, but they kept it simple and this worked. The most poignant image from the novel are the eyes of the killer, which adorn some copies of the book, and which McAvoy repeatedly refers to. I was glad to see these depicted, the image cast onto the white desk at two points when they were most important.

For a small theatre group, the performance of this complex story was delivered very well indeed. My biggest issue with it all was within me.

You don’t need to have read the book to go and see the play. The woman sat next to me told me that her husband had written the title as “Dark Matter” on the calendar, so she was probably imagining something very different. But she was equally as enthusiastic as I was, chatting about it excitedly in the interval. And at the conclusion, the response was a resounding applause. People were chatting about it as we walked out into the night air.

I feel as though I’ve negative, when I really enjoyed the play and left feeling really positive. Where I struggled with stage-Aector, stage-Pharoah was very close to imagination-Pharoah. I was so glad to see the iconic blue eyes, tears about to fall, used as a visual and not just a mention in the storyline. The script did honour to the original story, staying true to all of the events of the novel.

Sometimes it’s difficult to watch something so vivid in your mind come to life through someone else’s eyes. But I was clapping as excitedly as anyone else in that room: other readers of David Mark, regular theatre goers, and those who were looking for something a bit different.

Hull Help for Refugees: A Night of Hull Talent

So often we read the horrific tales of refugees making their way to safety, some not surviving the journey. Hull Help for Refugees does everything it can to support those in need, not only here in Britain but further afield in such places as Calais and Greece.

On the night of January 28th, a cold evening with a scattering of stars marking the sky, the charity held a fundraiser at Kardomah94. It wasn’t an evening to wallow in misery. We can do that by watching the news. This was a night for likeminded people to get together and enjoy local music and raise some money for a fantastic cause.


Emmie Craft opened the night with a cover of Guns and Roses ‘Sweet Child of Mine’. It was a fitting start for many reasons: it’s a popular and well-known song the audience could connect with; it highlighted elements of the images of refugee children shown on the slideshow which filled the brief intervals; it showcased Emmie’s fantastic, malleable voice. That opening song established the professionalism with which this young performer brings to an event, as well as setting the pace of the evening.

She performed a mixture of covers and own compositions, not sticking to one genre but mixing rock with modern and classic pop. What struck me the most was how much her own songs stood out against the cover tracks. One girl and her guitar, she owned the stage with her words. Singing about memories and love and the beauty of the world, she captured my full attention with an original track she has yet to name.


One performer in, the crowd was surging, and the room was already buzzing with energy. Emmie had warmed the night, and we welcomed Warthilas to the stage. Warthilas is a man named Farid whose stage-name means Without Borders. His collection of songs were sung in English, Berber, Spanish and French, and his banter even chucked some Deutsch in there too. It took no time at all for the audience to join the stage: tapping feet, clapping along, singing the chorus of “Freedom” to one song.

The whole room became one body: a community brought together by the solidarity of passionate entertainment and a worthy cause.

Central to the evening, Little Crooked Weather took the stage; a stripped-back version of the main band, consisting of Will, John and Roy. I’ve seen the band in various guises – stripped right back to just Holly and Will, to the full six-piece ensemble – and timg_7074hey always deliver a fantastic set. Their sound is country, rock, folk. It’s catchy and soothing and possesses the soul.

Their sound has the power to engage with you one-to-one regardless of the size of the crowd. And I spend every set saying I love each song. My stand-out favourite is ‘Control Your Blues’ which I was blessed with having dedicated to me on the night. The guitar introduces the beat in which possesses your body, you’re swaying slowly to the sound, from one side to the other. Will’s deeply soothing voice enters your mind, releasing any negativity. You are liquid, floating above the floor as you are taken into the embrace of the music. And Roy’s harmonica is the final casting spell to take your mind drifting away.



Sometime after performing this, they invited the next artist onto the stage prematurely. Cecil Jones, with his saxophone, was welcomed to join them. And his addition, which Will described as a battle between saxophone and harmonica, created such a powerful moment. The somewhat improvised instrumental with which their set finished lingered throughout the night, with people returning to it in their discussions.

And so when Cecil took to the stage on his own, we were all already enticed. His performance was a mixture of popular songs, with Cecil alternating between lead vocals and instrumental performance. Tracks such as George Michael’s ‘Careless Whisper’ took on a new life, and brought every age bracket and nationality in the room together.

His final track was his own composition celebrating the twinship between Hull and Freetown, Sierra Leone. It celebrated the City of Culture and touched on the similarities between the two.img_7004

In a couple of the intervals, we’d had further entertainment from two young lads, Ronith and Shobal. They had performed a song together and Shobal had wowed the audience – shocking and very much impressing them – with his street dance moves and light-up shoes. As our final act, Rowland took to the stage, he was joined by Ronith. A young teenager, he’s not had many performances on a stage such as this, but his confidence was uncountable. Together they performed a couple of tracks, completely unprepared. It summarised the freedom of the night: it was one to celebrate any local talent that was willing to take to the stage. All the performers volunteered their time, and Rowland went that extra little mile to support another young and enthusiastic performer before completing his own set.

Mark Rowland’s sound has adapted over the last couple of years since I reviewed his EP. With a loop pedal, he is able to create a more layered sound, performing his own melodies and beats. His song ‘Bread and Butter’ talked to us about the need to embrace each other regardless of our background, and this ideology summed the evening up wonderfully.


It was late by the time his set started, and as we’d had some young members of the audience, many of them had departed for the night. The handful of us who stayed until the end were able to enjoy his track ‘Tears Fall’ which was written with the current wars and violence in mind, and was first performed at his own fundraiser for War Child.


I think Will from Crooked Weather actually summed up the night perfectly: “Eclectic, diverse and beautiful.” It was an evening of people who were enthusiastic both about music and the plight of refugees. The event didn’t pigeon-hole any aspect of the night. It was a night for everyone with the aim to support as many people as possible.


Thanks to all who attended the evening and donated money to the cause. Hull Help for Refugees raised over £400 with this event. To keep up to date with the work of the charity, please visit their Facebook page (link above).


Photos | © Melvyn Marriott

2015: a summary in local music

We are drawing to the end of 2015.

I’ve been rather quiet recently. Well, as far as gigs have been concerned. I’ve not even been down to the weekly Sesh night for the past couple of months, instead feeling as though I have been dragged home from work by some undistinguishable force which throws me into the warmth and calmly tells me to ‘stay’. It’s not that there haven’t been fantastic things happening, I just haven’t found the energy to motivate myself into attending any of them.

So, now that I have started my Christmas holiday and begun to unwind, I find myself looking back over those warmer months which were spent in sweaty music venues and at crowded festivals.

This is my summary of 2015, through the musicians who have made this year an absolute blast.

Frankie pout FrankieStrings
Frankie, of Frankie & The Heartstrings 

And I start with my (second-only-to-the-Manics) favourite band, who I discovered in January of this year at The New Adelphi Club during Independent Venue Week. Their charisma and energy drew me to the stage and had me dancing along. I’ve since gushed with animated enthusiasm about Frankie and The Heartstrings, ensuring I stayed up to date with their latest album ‘Decency’ (pre-ordered so that it arrived at the earliest possible moment) and booking my ticket for the tour, when they returned to Hull in October. I can’t get through a Frankie gig with notepad still in hand. I just can’t focus on making words make sense when they perform; unable to stop my entire body from reacting to such tracks as ‘Think Yourself Lucky’. I stated in my review of their October gig that “It’s impossible not to feel elated when Frankie & The Heartstrings are on stage. They are everything wonderful about live music: fantastic tunes, glorious banter and more energy than a hummingbird after a can of Red Bull.”


My favourite home-based band is of course Streaming Lights. Since September of last year I have followed these boys to almost every single gig, which included most of the festivals over the summer, and interviewed them for their cover feature in Browse Magazine. It was their Freedom Festival 2015 set which shines out as the most colourful of them all. Headlining the Fruit Music Stage, they performed to a crowded Humber Street who chanted and cheered and sung along. Jumping from one corner of the stage to the other with my camera, aiming to capture every moment possible, I watched the crowd become frothed up with excitement. Every set is a humorous collection of catchy tunes and general silliness, which warms you on even the most freezing of a night. They make my cheeks ache from laughing too much, and I rarely awaken the following day with any voice left. With every set they improve, becoming more and more animated as they develop their sound and their presence in the Hull music scene.

Streaming Lights - Steve & Ryan
Streaming Lights

A new voice on my radar this year has been Mark Rowland, who now goes by the stage name of Signs of Home. Supported by percussion from Coaves’ Conor Maher, he performs an energetic acoustic set which features emotional and fun songs. I thoroughly enjoyed reviewing his EP, “The First One”, of which the opening track has become one of my most played tracks of the year. “Just Another Nerdy Kid” summarises geek-chic with simple lyrics, a clear meaning and a catchy chorus which will have a new audience singing along. I compared his vocals to Ed Sheeran – “a charming voice which comforts you, pleasantly taking your hand and guiding you through the music” – because the EP reminded me of my first impressions of the busking wonder, but having since seen Mark perform at a number of events, my view of him as a performer is less comparable with a focus solely on the lad before me.

Browse Mag La Bête Blooms
Browse Magazine issue 27, featuring La Bete Blooms in Thieving Harry’s (photograph credit goes to Luke Hallett Photography) 

The most intimate gig I attended this year was that of La Bête Blooms when they celebrated their fifth year as a band. Hosted at Thieving Harry’s, a café with ample character located on Hull’s picturesque marina, they were joined by friends and family, including that of supporting performers Emily Moulton and Tom Skelly. Three fantastic music acts, their music made ever more beautiful as we watched the setting sun through the open doors of the venue. Spilling out of these doors, La Bête Blooms performed one of their less aggressive sets, featuring new single “Summer”, the lyrics of which had been written into a small book that we were able to take home with us.

2015 has been an amazing year for local music. There is so much that I haven’t mentioned in this summary. There have been births – bands such as Vulgarians and Fronteers who have formed out of the ashes of former bands – and deaths – most notably the separation of BABIES who were quickly becoming one of my favourite local bands. There have been highs – mostly highs – and a few lows: as there is every year, we have taken the positive and the negative. But mostly, Hull has continued to shine as a brilliant star amongst many other wonderful music scenes.

Babies Humber Street Sesh 2015
Ryan Smith, BABIES, performing at HSS for their final gig. 

I realise that I haven’t mentioned some significant names. LIFE performed at Leeds and Reading Festival on the BBC Introducing stage, giving them their well-deserved spotlight on the festival rota. For my birthday, I enjoyed the sounds of Less Decieved and Liberatae Mae (now both minus one member but still performing regularly) who supported the fantastic delight of Funeral For A Friend. I’ve spent a lot of time at Yasmin Coe gigs, amazed by the talent of such a young girl.

Truth is, there’s been so much to get excited about. And there continues to be. 2016 will bring more music, more memories.

Don’t forget to continue supporting local artists and your local independent music venues. Without continued support from friends, family and fans, they can not work. And if they can not work, then they can not supply is with the gift of their music. It’s a win-win really.

Life: In All Honesty

The word ‘life’ is everywhere. Look around the supermarket and try to argue that I’m wrong: this butter will improve your life; this magazine dissects the life of this celebrity; even long-life milk. This was the response from LIFE when asked how they chose their band name.

The band LIFE consists of brothers Mez (lead vocals) and Mick (guitar), originally from Lincoln. Mez moved to Hull for university, where he met Loz (bass) and Rich (drums), former school friends, and established the band The Neat. About a year ago, Mick was introduced and the band took an alternate spin, playing a different, cleaner sound.

As Life, the band have certainly developed, having released their first demo ‘In Citrus’ in 2013, the video to which is a kaleidoscope of colour and sound.
Since then they have played numerous events, this weekend having performed at the Humber Street Sesh and Kendal Calling, and signed with Birthday Records. The band have been working alongside Nick Hodgson in London, and putting themselves out there to ensure the name LIFE is heard in every corner of the country. We were lucky to have over half an hour talking to the band, whereas often they only get 10 minute slots with journalists to promote themselves in this need-it-now windstorm of a music industry. This isn’t enough, as these “Hull scamps” are hungry to promote their music and engage with their audience. This is evident in their live performances, where the focus is on the integration with the audience rather than on perfecting the delivery. Mez says that he treats every show like his last, giving as much of himself to the audience as he can. When I saw them last weekend, he certainly did this, spending as much time in the crowd as he did on stage. They are a true punk band who play because they love to play, recognising that their songs could be interpreted to delve into political issues though this is not always the aim.

The band have been heavily influenced by a wide range of music in addition to Literature and popular culture. Mick, who often writes the lyrics alongside his brother Mez, explained that they like the slightly egocentric manner in which they will slip in a literary reference or comment on a contemporary popular television show, giving their songs a dated and edgy feel. This promotion of their intelligence reminds me of bands such as the Manic Street Preachers, who build their academic knowledge and intellect into their music because they love to, and because they can. This gives a poetic feel to their lyrics, sung to a catchy pop-punk tune which can really get the audience moving to the music.

It’s difficult to compare this band to any specific previous musician, as a whole. They write in a similar way to the Manics, they play in the same way as most punk or indie bands, and they sound like LIFE. Though you can always hear a sense of influence – we live in a world where so much has been done, that it is nigh-impossible to create a truly original piece of any art form. ‘In Citrus’ resonates the sound of The Clash’s ‘Rock the Casbah’, while ‘Crawling’ reminds me of the Ramones. Their current single ‘Take Off With You’ has a much cleaner sound, with controlled use of music to heighten the senses; knocking you sideways with sudden bursts of energy, taking you from shades of blue to intense moments of sunset red.

When asked why he wanted to be in a band, Mez stated that it has always been his dream to “self manage… self promote”, taking on the punk ethos of music, and to “be in a band, not working”, which he quickly pointed out is a misconception obtained in naivety (he later admitted to being the member of the band who feels he most has to control and organise). More than anything, what really came across, was that Life is a Hull band. Though they have recorded in London and played gigs across the UK, they promote Hull wherever they go and admitted that they couldn’t see themselves settling anywhere else. All members of the band are proud to have roots in Hull, and said they would like to be seen as “the leading light in Hull … show Hull in a good light.”

And I see no reason why this shouldn’t be the case. The band are currently finishing a string of festival dates, and then they’ll be recording again in September. Hopefully, an album is on the cards.

You can catch LIFE playing at the following places over the next few months:
Sat 9th Aug @ Boardmasters Festival, Cornwall
Thu 14th Aug @ Artrocker New Blood Festival, London
Sat 6th Sep @ Freedom Festival, Hull
Sat 20th Sep @ Southsea Festival