Songs are poems put to music; music is a story with no need for words.
Folk in Hull was a tale told in nine chapters, taking the audience on a journey of the city and its music makers.
Our initial narrators were Lyn Acton and Martin ‘Mad Dog’ Jones, who kept the audience engaged with their humorous conversation and endless jokes, bridging that gap from the stage. It was in quick succession that each band took their part, mere minutes as they bounced from one side of the stage to the other.
Up first were guitar-yielding duo Farino, who released their debut album in 2008. Influenced by any music genre which includes the guitar, you could hear the Latin vibe in their opening track. As is often the case, we launched straight into the music, with a fast-paced instrumental to which you could easily picture dancers strutting around the room to. Showcasing all that you can do with the instrument, the audience was swiftly warmed up, energised by the sound and eager to hear more.
Describing themselves as earthy, unruly and original, Crooked Weather were next on the bill. It was difficult to place them into a genre, having a folk-rock look and with more of a blues sound, this five-piece introduced the art of storytelling into the night. Performing four songs, one of which lead vocalist Will Bladen described as “the folkiest thing you’ll hear all evening”, they pulled the audience in by the heartstrings.
Returning the focus back to the instruments were RPM (which stands for the first initials of each member: Rob, Paul and Mike). With roots in improvisation, they performed a block of consistent powerful sound; the drums and bass getting your feet tapping, while the saxophone made you sway.
The last band before the short interval was Lyn Acton’s own Pearl’s Cab Ride, ending the segment with the funky soul of this large band, meant that everyone was eager for more.
The mood was set by the musicians, bouncing as they did from one stage to another, building up that kaleidoscope of sentiment.
The highlights for me were yet to come, and they did not disappoint.
Hillbilly Troupe were the fifth act on stage, instantly raising the roof of Hull Truck. Performing without Mick McGarry, Lloyd Dobbs and Mick Murphy took on lead vocals while Martin Jones joined the ensemble to play trumpet during ‘I Wish There Was No Prisons’, during which Dobbs mimicked picking his pocket.
Bringing the volume down, but leaving the energy high, the Heron String Quartet took over with. The back curtain now lit up like the night sky, they performed three classical collaborations, taking us on a wordless journey into the night, which including one which mixed ‘Beethoven’s Fifth’ with The Beach Boys’ ‘Surfin’ USA’.
Next up were dark grunge artists Fire: The Unstoppable Force. I’ve seen these guys a lot recently, and I’ve been saying they’re suited for a stage like this one. And, as their name suggests, the stage was unable to stop them; Alfie Steel did not instantly pick up his guitar, instead opening with a wolf call before taking the stairs in order to penetrate the audience. I’ve always said they are fantastic performers, and they proved this with every movement, reminding us that we were sat in a theatre and that music is more than just noise made by the instruments. Anyone who hadn’t seen them before were quickly enthralled, with members standing between songs as they applauded.
Wedging together two of my favourite bands, Tom Skelly and The Salty Beards took up their instruments next. Opening with ‘Morning Sun’, they started softly, easing us in while focusing our attention on Skelly’s luscious voice. Never failing to capture my heart, the world around them dissipated, fading to insignificance; those people who’d distracted me before as they stood to top up their drinks no longer there. The Salty Beards filling the space between songs with sound, you were kept hanging on, your heart beating in time with the music, which grew in ferocity.
Concluding the night, popular boys Bud Sugar were described by Lyn Acton as “one of the hits of the festivals last year”, and the calls from the crowd certainly back this up. Mixing rap, reggae and just about anything which takes their fancy, the audience clapped along as they played, casting the music around the entire room.
An amazing variety of talent, covering every genre of music and building the performance into the sound, Folk in Hull demonstrated exactly what makes this city strong. A tale which took many turns, saw many characters and ended with a happily ever after.
All photography by the wonderful Paul Newbon.