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.
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 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.
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.
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.