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Female Takeover: Laila Khan

During the week of Female Takeover, I got to meet a range of different characters. One of which was Laila Lazer Khan, a colourful addition to the tutors on hand to support the young women of Hull.


Laila Khan (AKA Lazer K) joined the team for Thursday and Friday, offering workshops in Confidence Building and Performance Skills.

Best known as sharing lead vocals with Paul Barnes (AKA Barney Boom) with their band Sonic Boom Six, she has performed alongside acts such as Catch 22, The King Blues, HARD-FI and Paramore. She also shares her views on music, health, fashion and fitness with her blog on which she admits that she is a not a “massive girly girl” and that she has had body image concerns in the past.

Her love of music seems to stem from her childhood, as she mentions an uncle who used to DJ and describes singing in the school choir, where she was told that she had a talent for harmonies.

The bands lyrics offer a social commentary set to a background noise which incorporates ska, pop, punk and metal, with their first official EP (The Turbo EP) produced by Skunk Anansie’s Ace.

A young performer, Laila admits to drinking a lot during the first years of Sonic Boom Six; not necessarily as a coping mechanism for any nerves, but as part of being in the music business. A couple of drinks before a gig, then a few after, and before long needing to be put to bed. It has taken years of practise to take control of her performance, and in July 2012 she decided to give up on the booze. Now, she is able to focus on giving the audience 100%, engaging with the crowd and ensuring that everyone leaves feeling she and the band have done all that they can.

Having supported The Warren and Female Takeover in previous years, she is skilled at teaching workshops on confidence building, performance techniques, lyric writing, beat making, DJ’ing & sound engineering. She stated that “I was the Feminist that was proud of being strong, independent, opinionated and forging my own way in the world and for me that was the limit of what I did” which is what the Takeover offers to young women: a chance to be independent, whether it leads into music or simply as an improvement in their lives.

Laila’s experience with the band and the life-changing choices she has made, made for interesting tales to share with the young women of Hull. And she demonstrated her teachings when she was put on the spot and asked to sing, unprepared and with no backing track, during the final performance. Even with some heckling from the audience, she performed powerfully and finished with a declaration of support for The Warren.

Tutor bio originally written for Browse Magazine.


Hulloween – Round Two – Saturday Night

An even more ‘dark and surreal’ night at The Polar Bear, with bands dressed in a  crazy range of attire.

Starting the night slightly later, and somewhat more relaxed, I arrived with a friend in tow just after 7pm. Black Kes were playing, dressed as a selection of horror movie themed costumes.

My friend still feeling somewhat dicey from the night before, we listened to the first two acts from the quiet of the Smoke Room, watching lads chuck pool balls around the table. From this location, we were able to spy on Coaves who had chosen the less crowded room to prepare for their set. We chatted as they blew up balloons and stuffed them in black bin liners, discussing the possibilities of their costume choice. We were in for a real surprise.

Felony - Sam Griffin & Marc Ainley
Felony – Sam Griffin & Marc Ainley

Felony were the band which drew us into the large room, standing close to the stage (as this time I had my camera ready). I’d spotted Marc Ainley dressed very smart with a long velour cloak, and worried that this second day of Halloween celebrations may feature costumes worn a second time or simply purchased in the sale section. Sam Howell seemed completely without costume, but his outfit was explained as him being “[Marc] from last year” who had not made an effort previously. So Sam had come as Marc, Marc had come as a wizard and Daniel Griffin was a speedy zombie on drums.

Marc Ainley tackles the issue of a hot stage in a cloak
Marc Ainley tackles the issue of a hot stage in a cloak

The performance was as smooth as Felony always are on stage, with tracks played from their debut album ‘Come Back Home’ and cheery conversation with the crowd. Marc was clearly having issues with his wizard cloak, as I had worried many of the bands may have with their costumes, and tested a range of ways in order to overcome this discomfort, often to the humour of the audience. The best moment was when he tried to deal with the heat on stage by throwing the cloak over his head and singing into the mic with his face veiled by the fabric. It looked brilliant, and sounded okay, but he couldn’t continue for the whole song in that manner. They admitted that not many of their songs are overly spooky, declaring ‘My Bad Dream’ as “probably the scariest song we do’.

Jon 'Santa' Calvert
Jon ‘Santa’ Calvert

Next up were Coaves, who decorated the stage before themselves. Stringing Halloween themed lights over the mic stands, I wondered where the balloons fit in. I was convinced that their costume was a coat of balloons, but knew that this would be impossible for them to play any of the guitars. And when they did come out, it was quite a shock to see their choice was not so much Halloween-themed as Christmas-themed. Four Santa’s throwing sacks of balloons into the audience, we were laughing and cheering before they even set foot back on the stage. The holiday theme range through their banter, as they offered their new song ‘Waves’ as a Christmas gift to us all and asked us to come in closer and look under the gift-wrap. There were still a few issues with the costumes, as Jordan van Beem ended with his red trousers around his ankles and Liam Foster declared himself the “sweatiest Santa”. Their best bit was the finale, when they grabbed cans of silly string and smothered the audience in the colourful decorations.

Santa Coaves - Jordan van Beem, Jon Calvert, Conor Maher & Liam Foster
Santa Coaves – Jordan van Beem, Jon Calvert, Conor Maher & Liam Foster

After their set, my friend and I ended up chatting to the members of Black Kes, who by this point were rather inebriated. Though their wardrobe choices stuck closest to the Halloween theme, they were perhaps not the most thoughtful. Coaves had shocked us and had the audience hooked as they used the theme within their performance. Besides, a sweaty Santa with his trousers down is kind of scary!

So were there to be an award for the best dressed band of the weekend, I would have to give it to Coaves. A wonderful effort which took the costumes that step further as they decorated both the stage and crowd. But for the most excitable band, I would award Black Kes, who were not disheartened when we admitted that we didn’t see their set and directed us to like them on Facebook (a deed I have done).

We stood with Black Kes and then chatted with one of the organisers, Mein Host / Martin Lewsley, as Mono Life took to the stage, getting a taste of what we can expect from next year’s Hulloween. I’m not very good at describing the sound engineered electronic dance music which he performed, but I am always amazed that one man can have so much energy on the stage. With a band you have a family, a comradery, whereby if there is a technical hitch or you miss something there is someone there to either help you out or make a joke of it so that it becomes a part of the performance. Nevertheless, Mono Life performed with a smile on his face, made rather frightening with the darkened eyes and scar drawn on his cheekbone, showing the true professionalism of performing music.

Tobias Reaper & The Graveyard Shift (AKA Black Delta Movement's Liam Kerman, Matt Burr, Jaconb Tillison, Dom Abbott)
Tobias Reaper & The Graveyard Shift (AKA Black Delta Movement’s Liam Kerman, Matt Burr, Jaconb Tillison, Dom Abbott)

The last band to perform were the mysterious Tobias Reaper & The Graveyard Shift. Otherwise known as Black Delta Movement. The clues had all been there, and I’d told my friend that I expected it to be the neo-psychedelia garage band. It’s only about a month since I last saw them perform, but I found I was excited about seeing them again, having felt like it had been a lot longer. As well as their own tracks, they performed a few covers, with Halloween-themed songs such as ‘Season of the Witch’ and ‘I Put A Spell On You’ which ended their setlist with a loud, energetic instrumental.

That wasn’t enough for the crowd however, and so an encore was called for. And to my joy, they chose to accept with a performance of my favourite BDM song ‘Butterfly’.

During this the laptop, which had played a very bizarre film in the background throughout the night, ran out of juice. Feeling similar myself, and resenting my decision to wear heels, I was glad to call it a night here. We hung around to find that I hadn’t won the framed Hulloween poster in the raffle and headed home.

The weekend of Hulloween has been amazing. Fantastic bands, good artwork, some very weird movies watched as a silent backdrop, and having met and chatted to so many different people. What I enjoy about venues like The Polar Bear is that they are laid out in a manner where groups can join and mingle, but more significantly are the welcoming people involved who willingly chat and discuss the event with you. Ideal for someone reviewing the celebrations, but also something which makes you want to go back.

I’ll not dish out any of the weird thoughts Lewsley shared with me about Hulloween 2015, and simply place my first preview here: make sure you attend at least one aspect of the event, as it will leave you feeling pleasantly creeped out.

Thank you to Martin Lewsley, Anna Bean and Lloyd Dobbs for organising the event and inviting me to discuss any questions I had. Also to the performers who gave some of their time to chat with me as well. And to everyone who attended either at the Union Mash Up or The Polar Bear, as they made the environment even more enjoyable.

It’s been a busy weekend attending both nights and venues, but one which I would happily do again.

Hulloween – Round One – Friday Night

The dress code was ‘dark and surreal’ and many took this on board. Most notably the bands performing in Halloween-inspired garbs.

I, sadly, left everything to the last minute. Usually one to be designing Halloween costumes over the summer, I could be found transforming a rah-rah skirt into a suitable witch’s mess of cobwebs, spiders and skulls. I was not to let this deter me though; Halloween is time to let those guards down and test your limits.

Catching the bus was a bit of an issue when the colourful aspects of your outfit only show up under a UV light. Thinking that missing the mode of transport would be the worst thing to happen this Allhallow’s Eve, I giggled with one of the Blues Brothers who noted that he’d had the same issue.

I was early for the first performance at the Alive With Art exhibition so, spotted by a former colleague, I joined friends in Pave for a pleasant catch-up.

As catch-ups do, this overran so that I missed The Dyr Sister perform, but one friend accompanied me into the exhibition to watch Mein Host perform to a speckled crowd among the artwork. One man and his guitar, the intimate venue was a perfect place to capture his enchanting voice and personality. When we followed Mein Host upstairs to Union Mash Up, where he sang three more songs, he performed to each one of us. Moving around the room, he engaged with each of us who attended early into the evening, enjoying the calm ambience with a vampire movie silently playing in the background. It was at this point, aiming to get a shot where he wore a butcher aprin emblazoned with the event’s logo, that I realised just how unorganised I had been. Having uploaded the images from Tuesday night’s Sesh, I’d left my SD card in my laptop, and would be carrying around a fully-charged and utterly useless camera for the night.

It was about 9pm when I headed down to The Polar Bear, saddened that I’d had to make the decision between the collection of bands there and the performers at Union Mash Up. I would have liked to see Lewis Young (AKA My Pleasure) perform again, and certainly would have enjoyed the change of plan for Rachel Harris who would be performing a piece on heroin and the work of Michelle Dee. The atmosphere had been delightful and calm, with a comfortable collection of chairs and a chance to chat relax, chat and drink.

But, as if hearing Grant Dobbs practising his wolf howls, the call of the wild was drawing me to The Polar Bear, where The Cotton Gussets were playing and another group of friends were aiming to meet me within minutes. Clapping along, the first band stepping down as I order my drink, I looked around at the decorated room and the few decorated customers to have joined thus far. There were many surreal skulls and a fantastic werewolf costume, but many people had opted to come simply as themselves.

Spooky Friends
Spooky Friends

Dead Hormones performed spattered in blood, the volume turned up loud and bouncing around the walls. In fact, one friend commented that they were so bouncing that he need not shake when visiting the little boys’ room just the other side of the wall from the stage. Playing a mixture of original tracks and covers, the audience was able to join in whether they knew the band or not, shaking their shoulders to their version of Stuck In The Middle or tapping their foot to General Error.

It was wonderful to watch the increasing swarm of participants; the general public as well as members of the many Hull bands who were there in support of their fellow musicians. There were a mixture of outfits, from the traditional witches (myself included), zombies and cats (why?), to fully decorated skeletons and gothic-inspired ensembles. The efforts of both bands and customers were noted in conversation, people chatting with strangers about the application of make-up and choice of outfit. From our table there was a long discussion about the appropriate manner in which to ask Jacob Tillison if we could get a picture of his backside, decorated with two bloody handprints.

Hillbilly Troupe performing
Hillbilly Troupe performing

Fire – a truly unstoppable force – performed a collection of horror-themed songs, including Jack the Ripper and Psycho Killer. Alfie Steel’s voice was strikingly haunting, and would not go amiss as a voiceover introduction to a slasher movie. This, teamed with the wolf howls in Bad Man which were echoed back from the audience, painted an auditory picture of the joy of Halloween, the fantastical pleasure that comes so close to fear.

Last minute headliners were the Hillbilly Troupe, having only been announced that morning. With a mixture of eyeliner efforts and unusual wardrobe choices – Mick McGarry did comment on Lloyd’s “lovely knees” during on-stage discussion about his selection of dress for the evening – they crowded the stage before an eager audience. This band always get the crowd moving, playing their favourites from the current album and even getting down to dance with the people. Ending the night in a fit of energy, they left me, and I am sure many more, hungry for more.

A thoroughly enjoyable Halloween evening; easily chatting along with an array of characters dressed as assorted characters, with fantastic music and two welcoming venues. I’m certainly ready to do it all again tonight, when a second set of bands take to The Polar Bear’s stage which includes the mysterious Tobias Reaper & The Graveyard Shift (playing at 11pm).

A clue?
A clue?

This time I won’t be donning my witch’s hat and wand, but I will have a camera I can use. So, at the very least, tomorrow’s review will look nicer.

Halloween In Hull

Halloween: an annual day to remember the dead. Influenced by harvest festivals, in the turn of the seasons when the trees and fields seem empty of life, this celebration has been adapted to the modern world.

The city of Hull has a range of activities for all age groups over the Halloween period, tying in with half term entertainment opportunities.

The Adelphi Club is holding their annual Pumpkin Carving Competition on Thursday 30th October. Free entry and suitable for all ages, you simply need to BYOP – bring your own pumpkin, and light source in which to illuminate it. There’s the opportunity to carve your jack-o-lantern at the venue, or you can be pre-prepared and bring it in for 6pm. Open to all ages, there are prizes for the best under 12 as well as the best overall pumpkin, among others.

The lighting of the jack-o-lanterns, which translates from the origin term to mean ‘foolish fire’, will be at 7pm, and the venue has advised you bring along your wellies and torches.

The Prospect Shopping Centre are holding a 3-event day on Allhallows Eve (that’s Friday 31st October), adapting the horror film title into the fitting Nightmare on Prospect Street.

For the family, there are a host of events, including arts and crafts, face painting and even the chance to go trick’n’treating around the centre. A free party for kids in StEAT will include juice and Halloween treats.

However, while you’re little ones are trick’n’treating for their goodies, you may want to keep an eye on them. You know, in case they get attacked by zombies! Every hour undead beasts will be let loose to test the survival skills of all visitors. Lasting 20 minutes at a time. Keep an eye on the children, and think really carefully about the time in which you’ll be stuck at the till (you know something will go wrong seconds before they’re unleashed).

Locked In Prospect, in association with Scarecorp, starts at 8pm. This is ticketed event, and for the price of £25, you are invited to take a tour of the shopping centre after dark. TV medium Ralph Keeton will undertake a paranormal investigation as well as introducing visitors to the spirits which haunt the centre.

Slap & Tickle poster

If none of that tickles you fancy, then there is a chance to get A Bit of Slap and Tickle at Fruit on Thursday 30th October. A cabaret night with Art Exhibition held by The Naughty Arts Company, features a range of local artists. Most exciting for me is the prospect of seeing the Hillbilly Troupe, as it seems too long since Trinity Fest, when I last saw them perform. Tickets are £10 if you buy them online or £12 on the door. This is an 18+ event, with doors opening at 7pm and aiming to finish by 11pm.

If none of this seems enough, Hulloween comes to Polar Bear and Union Mash Up for Friday and Saturday. With a dress code of surreal and dark, you can decide whether to go fancy dress or not.

Hulloween @ Union Mash Up

Halloween see Hulloween at both sites, with a Dark Art Exhibition, run by the HU5 Arts Collective, being held upstairs at Union Mash Up, and music in both venues. The Dyr Sister will be singing her Fairytales for the Modern Gentleman downstairs in the Alive with Art Gallery from 6:45pm. There will also be short performances by Rachel Harris & Tom Steer and Michelle Dee and Nick Cammack (formally Mammal Hum). My Pleasure, a pop solo project provided by Lewis Young of The Glass Delusion, will also be performing his songs about death, life and all that is in between. I saw him support La Bête Blooms, and thoroughly enjoyed the song he introduced as having been written by 6-year old.

Hulloween @ Polar Bear

Over at The Polar Bear, there will be music from The Cotton Gussets, Dead Hormones, and Fire: The Unstoppable Force. Headliners Fire: TUF recently performed at The Sesh’s 13th birthday, already hinting at possible horrors in store for this scare-vent.

The celebrations continue on the 1st November at The Polar Bear, as some equally eerie band names add to the list. There will be performances from Black Kes, Felony, Coaves, the mysterious Tobias Reaper & The Graveyard Shift, and Mono Life.

So there’s no excuses when it comes to getting your fright on this Halloween half term. Kids or no kids, there’s something for you.


Female Takeover @ The Warren – Just Some Thoughts

Women are faced with discrimination in many different cultures and societies. In this year when Malala Yousafzai became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, events like the Female Takeover grow in even more significance than in previous years.

Some would say that compared to the lives of women in countries such as Pakistan, where Malala is from, British women have nothing to complain about. But I have lost jobs to men with less experience or skills (it ticks a box labelled equality), and struggled to list 5 female local artists on the spot.

How embarrassed I was when I met Yssi Wombwell, a local singer/songwriter, on a visit to the Female Takeover. As female members of Browse Magazine, with an office based in the maze that is The Warren, Megan and I were grateful to be invited into the workshops and to see what was being offered to the young people; a category neither of us fit into anymore.

Amidst interviews with guest tutors Yssi, Laila, Donna and Sarah, we spoke with the young women who were attending the selection of workshops. We watched them pick up the microphone or the drumsticks for the first time, and develop their skills in preparation for the Final Performance on the Friday. We discussed with them the discrimination they had faced, and the ways in which to overcome this. Megan was able to evaluate how she has overcome confidence issues when performing live, explaining how she had to demonstrate enthusiasm when all the while wishing she had a guitar she could hide behind. As the less musically gifted of the two, I discussed how confidence has been crucial in both my teaching career and recent journalistic endeavours. Interviewing one person or a band of six is equally terrifying, as is standing before a classroom of 30 or more teenage faces.

I hope that we were able to show that the skills developed in these workshops are essential in all walks of life, and in whatever occupational path you take.

Sound Engineering workshop – Laila K, KatSax & Yssi

A project aiming to tackle the inequalities forced upon women aspiring to be involved in the music industry, the performance did not separate the male from the female. The audience was an even mix of gender, and there was no negativity. There was an aura of understanding and acceptance, outlined by the enthusiasm which those ready to perform had conjured.

Conversation from a collection of young people and volunteers filled the café of The Warren, as we sipped cups of tea and hid from the cold, damp weather outside. I sat beside one young girl who talked to me about the cost of living in the city centre, and opposite a young mother and her less than cheery baby. Laila and Yssi, stood before the stage chatting about work and boyfriends, attempts to quit smoking and general life topics. No woman was above another woman, regardless of confidence, occupation or role within the Takeover.

And so when it was time, Laila, dressed in brightly coloured leggings with what I think was a unicorn on one leg, stepped up from the crowd and started the event. Her natural charisma and the bond she has forged with so many of the young women, created a natural quiet as Yssi and Emily stepped up to perform first. Emily on vocals an Yssi playing guitar, they played their own version of Etta James’ ‘At Last’. The line “a dream that I call my own” summed up the efforts of The Warren and their guest tutors. Music is a dream so many people have, and for so many women it feels lost in the expectation to put motherhood first or to let the guys stand at the front of the stage.

For the following hour or so, I made notes and took photographs of the different singers and performers. Whether they were voicing their own lyrics or someone else’s, the message was strong: “Go on and try to tear me down … I will be rising from the ground”.


No matter what we face, as women we have to find strength in each other. Society has been embedded with an outdated view of women. The only way to break down the barriers, is to rise from the ground and knock them down together.

You can read my full review of the Final Performance as well as bio’s on the guest tutors in next week’s issue of Browse Magazine Hull.

Female Takeover – Challenging Gender Inequality in Music

I didn’t really listen to women when I was a child. Women didn’t feature on our stereo at home.

Dad was into Rush and Pink Floyd. Mum was into Meat Loaf, who did have Patti Russo – a vocally strong woman – supporting. But then I always liked that song where they basically sing about the guy wanting to get in her pants, and her gaining power by not letting him.

My stepmother brought a very different collection of music with her, and I was introduced to Grace Slick, an American singer and former model. She was a wild woman, who performed with many bands, only to be inevitably asked to leave because of her alcoholism and the manner in which she acted when intoxicated. Her solo album – which I played on repeat – was about her experiences when intoxicated and the 12-step programs she attended to evade this negative lifestyle.

My love of Grace Slick came at a time when I was battling my own demons. I felt like the only place to hide was in the warm embrace of strong women such as Slick, who had produced a Top40 album when she had every reason to give up and stop performing Alongside Slick, I devoured the words of Bikini Kill, Siouxsie Sioux and even Patti Smith. These women sang about what every young girl wants – to be a strong, powerful woman in this male-dominated world.

With a background like this, where such dominant women took on such a role, I should have found it easy to name five female artists in Hull. I could, with a lot of time to think.

So, when we asked Lyn Acton and Sally Currie (better known as the Dyr Sister) if they had ever encountered discrimination in the music industry, I was surprised at their surprise to be asked such a thing. Lyn physically responded by pursing her lips and shaking her head. She admitted that there were no female producers or bass players when she first started her music career, but said she had not felt directly discriminated against. A sentiment which Sally mirrored.

Still, I felt – as a woman – I should be supporting female acts. Further into the discussion, Lyn said something which summed up that niggling feminist part of my brain which was yelling at me by this point. Women don’t get asked to headline. Women don’t, traditionally, perform headline acts – in a way in which is suitable for a headline. As far as the Hull music scene, I wasn’t aware of more than a handful of female performers, for this exact reason.

I enjoy the music of Pearls Cab Ride and the Happy Endings as much as I do Streaming Lights or Counting Coins. But were you to ask for a Hull act, my brain would jump to the latter options.

Is gender-inequality so engrained into society that even a female music reviewer does not consider female musicians on the same level as their male counterparts? Do women fail to succeed because their audiences fail to accept them with an open embrace?

This is just one the reasons why such events as the Female Takeover at The Warren is so vital. With an aim to challenge gender stereotypes – in the music industry and beyond – and offering workshops on everything from song writing to music production to performance techniques, this is a week when young women in Hull can develop their skills without the need to fight against the allegedly stronger sex.

If you’re aged 16-25 and are a woman, then head on down to check out these opportunities.

female takeover 2014 poster

A Change in the Tides; Hull’s Impact on my CD Rack

Everyone has their own go-to band; that one which you refer to when people ask who or what you’re into. Everyone has that song which takes them back in time to a better place, mostly because you only ever seem to listen to it when the world seems dark and unforgiving. And everyone has that party tune which perks them right back up.

Manic Street Preachers – insert in The Holy Bible, featuring images of the members as children.

I’ve always had the Manics in my life. They enveloped my teenage years and still are the most referenced name on my CD rack. I’ll collect their albums long into the time when CDs are museum pieces, because they are something I want to be able to hold in my hands, to pass on to my children and say ‘this was my childhood’. One of the songs from their first album is adorned on my back in a most permanent fashion. And yet, I am prone to flow with tides of change. Though they remain the raft I return to when the seas get choppy and uncertain, they feature less and less on playlists than they used to. My love for them is strong, but my need for them is no longer all-powerful.

Last year I was obsessed with Plan B, getting into rap for the first time since that one Eminem song I liked once. His music tells a story of modern life for so many, and, at the time, I needed to feel a passion like that which vibrated from my stereo. I had lost my mojo and I was seeking it out in the only place I felt confident to find it: music.

After Plan B, it was OneRepublic. My song of 2014 is probably their hit Love Runs Out. Again, Ryan Tedder is a fantastic poet. He was the one who’d written most of the songs I heard on the radio, where I would say that I didn’t particularly like the performer but the song was amazing. That one song – that was Ryan Tedder’s. time and time again.

And then I attended Press Pack and started writing for Browse Magazine. I’d decided that I wanted to do some more writing and I expected that there would be a spattering of both local, national and international talent which pooled across the pages of my blog. It didn’t really matter anyway, as I was writing for myself and not anyone else.

Ricky Wilson at the Adelphi30 gig – Friday 3rd October 2014

And then I wasn’t just writing for myself and I had followers and deadlines.

And I was writing about local, national and international acts. Toploader played the Trinity Festival, a free festival set in the picturesque grounds of Trinity Square. And in the same week I got press pass to see Kaiser Chiefs perform at another iconic spot, The Adelphi. I was there alongside other journalists and I was playing about with my photography, honing skills I didn’t even consider needing until the moment when I was told photographs were a necessity to any decent article.

Now my CD rack still features the name Manic Street Preachers more than any other band. But atop their collection, I have a new assembly of musical joys. Just as I have a ‘Hull Tunes’ playlist now on my computer, which is my first port of call for musical ambience when doing just about anything, I have a collaboration of CDs from Hull artists. Tom Skelly, Hillbilly Troupe and Streaming Lights sit above Plan B and even my first love from Hull, The Beautiful South.

The Hillbilly Troupe

When I need a quick pick-me-up, I will turn to the joy of The Hillbilly Troupe, knowing that I’ll know all the lyrics and the energy from their last gig will overtake any negativity in my heart. If I need a physical shake then I can trust Counting Coins will have me perform a one-woman mosh-pit in my living room, sparking adrenaline rushes and pumping endorphins around my blood stream. When I need something to chill me out and allow me to focus mostly on my work – the dull reminder of needing an ‘adult responsibility’ – I switch Tom Skelly or Jody McKenna on, with their poetic lyrics and melodies.

Hull is slowly but surely digging its way into my very soul, and turning me from small town girl, holding onto a loose connection with Wales in order to ensure that link with the Manics, to a city girl who wants to scream at anyone who questions this wonderful place I call my home. I’ll spend my weekends, and often weekdays, at gigs in a former fruit market or a local bar supporting local talents, rather than paying to watch someone perform at a huge venue.

At the Adelphi30 gig where I saw the Kaiser Chiefs, I was more excited about having a chat with Paul Jackson and finally getting to speak with Black Delta Movement’s Matt Burr than I was about touching the sweaty body of Ricky Wilson. Don’t get me wrong, it was ridiculously exciting to get the opportunity, but when the end of the night came I was singing Life’s Crawling and smiling at the gentleness with which Jacko spoke with my friend and me. These are the things I will share with my children, when my eyes will brighten and my soul will shine.

I want to share Hull’s music with the world. I want to support our bands and promote them and give them that platform they deserve. But I also kind of want to keep them for myself a little bit, ensuring I have that much more real connection.

Folk, as defined by the folk of Hull

Last weekend saw the second annual festival dedicated to Hull Folk music, following the various strands of the genre from traditional to contemporary.

With the concept of “give Folk a chance” it embodies Hull’s need to be recognised, in the same way that Folk music is no longer branded as a single genre. An event which has not been as hyped-up as those which sandwich it, Hull Folk Festival offered something different, with a range of musicians as well as over 50 Morris Dancers and fringe events which include “Survivor Sessions”.

And so I had to ask, what is Folk? A representative from organisers Sowden & Sowden said there were 6 strands, but gave no further details than “traditional” and “contemporary”. The only people to ask: the folk of Hull.

Questioning people who attended the main stage, based at the Minerva pub, members of the general public about their business in the city centre and a collection of my own friends, there seemed a clear inability to put the genre of music into simple words. It is not that Folk music is fractured in any way, but that many found it difficult to refer to as a form of music or as defined by any era of time in the way we can categorise other genres.


UK-touring Folk act, The Hut People commented during their set that “when you think of Folk Music and a popular tune, you think of Morris Dancing” and requested the audience to get their “hankies at the ready”. Yet, even this could not be defined with a singular expectation. Several Morris Dance groups were showing off their skills alongside the marina, dressed in a range of costumes. From traditional peasantry attire to leather corsets, you could see from the different dynamics of Yorkshire’s Morris Dancers that there are no rules on maintaining all the customs associated with the Folk dance. There was certainly a modern feel to what can only described as a Morris Dance-Off with performances based on Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and comments from the crowd such as “I’ve never seen Morris dancers with blacked-out faces before” – this referring to Hull-based Rackaback Morris, who wear their black, purple and green colours throughout their outfit.

The age-range of Folk fans too is cross-generational. Starting at midday on Saturday with a 100-deep audience stretching three generations, I asked various people what Folk truly meant to them. The consensus was that of two ideas, though nobody could offer a pure definition.

It certainly seems that Folk is a genre broader than music; that you cannot place it in one hat. And still Folk as a genre is undefinable, and more an experience. One couple who had planned to attend the festival admitted that they never listened to the music in their home and that “if there was a building offering folk dance [they] wouldn’t go in”. Yet, “when it’s like this … scattered” they thoroughly enjoy it, arranging their weekend around the event.


This tied in with the view of a mother and daughter who both described themselves as having grown up with Folk music, and said that it is important in maintaining heritage. They explained that to them Folk music is the telling of stories and keeping history relevant. Two performers in the festival echoed this, with Sally Currie (stage name The Dyr Sister) stating that “Folk is quite broad nowadays … for me Folk is like storytelling” and Lyn Acton agreeing and adding that this was dependent on where in the world the story was being told as to what genre it matched musically.

And so I find that the notion of Folk is constantly changing and indifferent to place and time. Folk music and dance both tell a story, but can be adapted to ensure that it is entirely applicable to its audience.

Hull at one time was the third-largest fishing port in the UK, and the people of Hull are proud of this heritage. Simply holding the festival at the marina and displaying the docking of the ships brought this home.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor me, Folk has always been about remembering the past and sharing your experiences. Whether this is sea shanties which remind me of those family members who served as fishermen or songs about completing a 1000-piece jigsaw, Folk is about sharing your experiences with a wider audience and finding that common ground. Folk is about holding onto the past while you sail into future horizons.

Bands such as The Hillbilly Troupe, local favourites, define true Folk. They not only headlined the Folk Festival but also closed as headliners at Freedom the week prior. And the next big music festival in Hull features them too. With former Paddington’s Lloyd Dobbs there is an indie-punk element to their music, and – again crossing generations with the introduction of young Victor on flute – an eclectic mix of instruments.


What is Folk?

Folk is everything and almost anything.

Folk is the past. Folk is the present. Folk will exist in the future.

Folk is storytelling, the passing of knowledge and understanding from one generation to the next. It is a chance to be something collective and the possibility of sharing yourself with the world. As Hull is becoming a bigger piece of the jigsaw that is the world of culture, Folk is at the heart of Hull.

Article was originally written for Yorkshire Gig Guide.

PressPack – A Summer Experience

At the start of the six-week holiday, I felt lost. By the end, I was a part of something, and ready to take on any challenge.

Between teaching contracts, my image as a teacher was unclear: I remained unestablished and still saw myself as ‘the new girl’. Still, I was a stone’s throw from giving it all up, matching statistics with an increasing number of teachers leaving the profession. The last year had been beyond stressful, having had more ups and downs than the longest rollercoaster in the world, and I wasn’t sure I was strong enough anymore.

What made everything even more difficult, was that I just didn’t feel myself. I was growing increasingly stressed, unable to find ways to calm this down, and spiralling into what could have been a terrible place. A friend was constantly asking if I was depressed, and I kept reassuring her that I wasn’t. And yet, I wasn’t happy.

I’m not a list person, but at the start of the holidays I set myself a series of tasks. First of all, I was going to start a new blog, just writing the things I wanted to write about. I didn’t really care if people read it, I simply needed to be writing again. I was going to bake because baking is like therapy. I was going to do things, and I was going to see my best friend in the world who would remind me of the real me.

So, on the 22nd July, as the summer was about to begin, I set up a blog. The main topics would relate to the City of Culture 2017 and the city I now call home. I wanted to show off and wanted to show Hull off. Partly, I was sick of people from back home asking where Hull was or why I loved it so much when I’d moved away from a small, historic town.

Then, fate played a hand. A post on Twitter caught my eye: a free course in music journalism at Creator College.

presspack tweet invite

At university I had written reviews and over the years I had written pieces of various bands. It had all been for fun really, just a reason to write something which didn’t need to take epic lengths of time. So, I was intrigued.

The 6-week course started just after Humber Street Sesh, where I had gathered notes on a couple of bands. I’d already decided that my first blog post would be about the festival.

Mal Williamson, the director of the course, had warned us all that we would be discussing research skills and then would meet a surprise band in order to review. I was intrigued, and excited by the prospect of not only meeting new people but also a local band. Little did I know, that the one band who had stood out to me at the Sesh were the ones who would walk into the classroom. Had fate played another hand? Were the threads finally untangling and knitting together in a reassuring reality?

Within two days I had two blog posts: my review of the Humber Street Sesh and an article on ‘surprise band’ LIFE.

I also had my own band of new faces – the other members of PressPack – faces who would become both familiar and friendly. Now, just over a month later, I am blogging as often as I get the chance, between lesson plans and writing for two online publications.

Having met Mike White, editor of Browse, I had begun writing for the weekly online magazine, publishing reviews of bands and local events. My photography – nothing overly impressive, but something I also decided to develop over the summer – has also been included.

Also, Andrew and Eve Sugden, editors of the Yorkshire Gig Guide, have taken me on-board, after publishing my review of the Freedom Festival. Freedom Fest banner

Joining PressPack, being involved with Creator College, has given me the fuel to reignite the fire inside. At school, I have been told I come across as very confident, painlessly taking on additional responsibilities. Outside of school, I am busy visiting local events and writing reviews of live gigs, previews of band tours, articles on Hull and what is happening in preparation for City of Culture 2017. On top of that, I have some wonderful new friends and colleagues.

Mal, Jess (from Hull Libraries) and Harriet Jones (freelance journalist) couldn’t know how much they have done over the course of six weeks. I’m not the only one they found at a low and brought up into the light. They’ve not simply taught people the skills needed to write as journalists, but given us the chance to develop our personalities and confidence and put ourselves out there to be what it is we want to become.

I started the summer holidays a bored teacher with a memory of having enjoyed writing something other than lesson plans. I finished, a confident, content music writer with followers to her blog, bands and companies following her Twitter account and asking for reviews, publications of my work which have been accepted by other passionate writers, and a smile on my face.

Thank you to Mal, Jess and Harriet for working with us, and pushing us ensure we did the best that we could. Thank you to Mike and Andrew for inviting me to write for them and for asking me to continue to write for them. And thank you to Dave, Liam, Megan and Luke for being a part of it all and working with me.

So you want to be involved in the Freedom Festival?

Freedom Festival is promoting itself as Hull’s “urban street festival”, relating both to some of the music acts featuring over the weekend as well as emphasising the characteristics of the city.

Hull a city which has built itself up. It has won City of Culture by simply showing the world what we already do. Other festivals, such as the Humber Street Sesh with its slogan of “a festival by the people for the people”, emphasise local talent and demonstrate the full palette of what Hull has to offer.

This year’s Freedom Festival has taken this on, ensuring that there is a bank of opportunities for visitors – local and those from further afield – to be a true part of the festivities. In Hull you do not simply turn up to watch an act, you become part of that act.

Throughout the summer, up to 400 people have been involved in creative masterclasses preparing for two of the main features of this weekend.

Saturday night features the smaller procession, leading the way to the Spellbound performance on Humber Quays. Organised by Walk the Plank who produced the torch procession at Freedom 2013, local people attended a 4-hour class on making willow lanterns, depicting the story of Rama and Sita. This is tied in with the story of Indian epic Ramayana which the Britain’s Got Talent finalists will tell on stage from 9pm. These lanterns will be carried with pride as pieces of art made by local people, with children under ten being able to join in with shadow banners.

Sunday features the larger procession, featuring general public, local communities and companies. Running groups, art companies and music acts are just some of the groups who will be joined by families and friends of Hull who too have been willing to give up their time to make props. The procession will feature hundreds of participants of all ages, depicting Nelson Mandela’s vision for a tolerant multi-cultural society as well as maintaining Hull’s heritage.

But you want to know how you can be involved! Well, there’s even more.

Also relating to this year’s focus on Nelson Mandela, you can make a flower in his honour. Visit Studio Eleven on Humber Street between the hours of 12-6pm on Friday and Saturday and 12-3pm on Sunday, and you can join organiser Adele Howitt in making a flower out of bone china. These will feature a temporary art installation featured on the Long Walk to Freedom alongside commissioned artists – temporary as these flowers will become part of the soil as time takes control and consumes the purity from the clay. It takes 10 minutes, but you will be a part of something which will become iconic in Hull, even if only for a certain length of time.

See something on the day and fancy a go – there are workshops held by some of the acts.

For adults and children, you can work together to produce your own book with the aid of Bootworks Theatre. Cost is £5 to cover the expense of materials, but will allow people of all abilities to try something new.

There are also many free workshops. Keelan Phillips will be showing off his BMX skills and offering you a chance to test yourself. You can participate in a bit of Parkour on Hull Marina with The Urban Playground team. You can even try out some circus skills with acrobatic artists Acrojou who will feature with their German Wheel.

Unlike most festivals which offer comedy and/or music, Freedom offers you a chance to do something different, to open up your mind to new experiences and opportunities. If you want to be a part of it, then they want you to participate.

All details can be found on the Freedom Festival website.