Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Hull, Hell & Unhappiness

Thursday 22-Saturday 24 October: Five Live Octoberfest / Hull City memories

First up I apologise. No excuses. I got it wrong. Michael Turner’s sale from Hull City to Sunderland had nothing to do with the player wanting to leave, it was all to do with…well, I’m not sure what really. I was going to say “finances” but the returning ‘Messiah’ Adam Pearson assures us that’s not the case. And what AP says is good enough for me. Mind you, I said the same about Paul Duffen!!?
You see, as ridiculously naive as it is to "believe" (especially in these post-1997 New Labour-tainted days of spin, burying bad news and telling downright porkies in order to keep power) I still want to. Like many thousands of others for who Hull City FC holds a place in their hearts, I continue to “dare to dream”. Therefore it’s understandable that I was prepared to allow Messrs Duffen & Brown – the men who got us to “the promised land” – a bit of leeway when all my gut instincts were telling me that something was amiss.

And now we know. Along with many others in the “silent majority” I was taken for a mug. Michael Turner, the Tigers’ best player, rated at £12M, was sold for a third of that price with City only benefiting to the tune of £2.5M. Still, we got Paul McShane in return for a fifth of his reported price. Bargain! Result! Not.
This faith in authority stretches back to my Primary School days and remains firm despite many a knock over the years. Like my refusal to believe that the headmaster of said school could really be guilty of lewd acts in a public toilet (when it was proven in a court of law it made my previous role as his “bell monitor” a tad embarrassing).
Then there was my conviction at the time that Mrs T knew best when introducing the Poll Tax. And my support for Blair – in all other ways the epitome of everything I dislike – when he took British soldiers into Iraq. But, perhaps most shamefully of all, it was there in the days when I really believed that Terry Dolan was the man to resurrect Hull City’s fortunes!

Memories of the Dolan Era at City came flooding back recently when BBC Radio 5 Live broadcast a series of programmes from Hull, under the banner “Octoberfest”.One of the people behind the idea was Jonathan Wall, the Commissioning Editor at 5 Live and a former sports producer for Radio Humberside. As a guest on the Friday night “Sports Talk” he explained one of the main factors behind the idea as being Hull’s current status as a “premier sporting city” (four top class professional teams in three different sports).

In addition to plentiful coverage of The Tigers, as well as bits on Rovers, Hull FC and a token nod towards Hull Stingrays Ice Hockey, Octoberfest also included snippets on the city’s commerce and culture. Thus we were treated to interviews with some of the Kingston-upon-Hull’s finest ambassadors. Oh, and John Prescott.

With plenty of interactive stuff taking place around the streets, plus its own mini-website, Octoberfest 
brought positive publicity to a much-maligned city. What I wouldn’t have given for something similar twenty years ago.

During the period 1988-1992, in the wake of Acid House and the Madchester thing, I was part of a group desperately trying to promote Hull as another cool Northern city. Our main vehicle for doing this was a series of fanzines that profiled the city’s sport, music and culture. Unfortunately, more often than not the reaction was even cooler than the image we were trying to create!

It didn’t help that the only similarity between the Hull City of 1989 and 2009 was that you still can’t colour the letters in; or that when mentioning Hull music, people couldn’t see beyond the Housemartins; or that the irony of one of our first forays into street fashion – “Hull North of Manchester” t-shirts - was lost on most people.When the original fanzine “Hull Hell & Happiness” first hit the streets (to bemused reaction) in September 1988 City were drawing crowds of barely 5,000 at Boothferry Park.
Remarkably, within a few issues, it was selling to nearly a quarter of that number. At the time, co-editor Andy Medcalf and I joked about giving up our day jobs and taking the fanzine full-time. Had we been able to command a similar sales ratio with the crowds of today we’d probably now be looking at early retirement!
Over the next few years a succession of fanzines came and went (“From Hull To Eternity”, “Look Back In Amber”, “Last Train To Boothferry Halt”, “Tiger Rag”) which, on the whole, received the nod of approval locally as well as national acclaim from inside and outside the game.
There were forays into the music industry. Compilation cassettes such as “There’s Something Stirring In King Billy’s Bogs” showcased Hull’s rich musical talent, gigs at The Adelphi brought the footy and music crowd together and then of course there was ‘The Chip Shop Boys’.

Once referred to by Adelphi owner Paul Jackson as one of only three local bands guaranteed to pack out the 200-capacity venue (the others being The Housemartins/Beautiful South and early-Nineties chart-band Kingmaker) The Chip Shop Boys (“featuring Patty Slappin’ Debs” to give them their later full title) was a prime example of an alcohol-fuelled idea that (almost) became bigger than the project it was meant to promote. I’ll tell you about it in more detail some day. Perhaps.

Going one step further than the CSB’s (i.e. into the recording studio) was ‘Young Amber ‘N’ Black’. Again, it was an idea inspired by a large intake of alcohol; if I remember rightly in the pubs of the beautiful cathedral city of Exeter on a Tuesday afternoon prior to watching a City side with a certain David Jones in the ranks draw 0—0 against The Grecians at the other “Sid James Park”. ‘Young Amber ‘N’ Black’ by…er…’Young Amber ‘N’ Black (featuring Leon)’ was going to be the song to finally end the awful booming out of Tina Turner’s “Simply The Best” on match days at Boothferry Park.

Recorded in Hull’s Fairview Studios, performed at both the Adelphi and The Blue Lamp (to rapturous receptions I might add) and “critically acclaimed” locally (well, we got a good review in ‘Where?’, the local Hull music mag!) we thought we’d finally cracked the big time. And when we approached Hull-based DJ, producer and all-round cool fokker Porky ‘B’ with view to him doing a “Remix” we thought we’d really struck gold. We hadn’t. Porky might have been keen to promote Hull but as a supporter of hometown club Wolves (who ran out to The Skatalites classic “Liquidator”) he also knew a thing or tow about what sounds good at a football ground. The idea stalled.

By far the biggest exposure for "The Fanzine Movement" (or Blind Faith '92) came via Gary Hook’s innovative t-shirts. Starting with a “hu” (front) “ll” (back) design based on that of hip Manchester band James, this part of the operation took off big style. No corporate logo or brand was safe as Gary brought out wave after wave of "rip-off" designs aimed at promoting the city (“01482”), its heroes (Amy Johnson even got a look in) and the football club (“Going Down With The Tigers”). The sideline eventually spawned its own offshoot, “Umber Leisure” (complete with a take on a certain similarly-named sportswear manufacturer’s diamond logo). But while cult band Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine would probably have appreciated their typeface being used to accompany one of Hull City’s greatest ever heroes, Gary’s perversion of a certain soft drink’s slogan (“Enjoy Hull”) almost landed him in bother and after this brush with the legal bods, the designs dried up a touch. Understandably so.

Over time links were forged between the footy fanzines, their rugby equivalents and local style mags “Radar”, “Pulse” and “In The City”. Praise came from the legendary John Peel on his late night Radio 1 show, Mark Radcliffe brought Radio 5’s ‘Hit the North’ programme to the city and eventually the HDM gave us a regular slot in its Saturday night Sports Mail. But no matter how well received by “the converted”, for many locals and most of the outside world Hull remained a “backwater” and any “scene” remained secret.

Of course, for us to succeed we needed either top-class football or a chart-topping band. Manchester had Ferguson’s United, City’s inflatables, the Stone Roses and the Hacienda; we had Dolan, Fish, Death By Milkfloat and The Welly Club. I don’t think even a BBC "Octoberfest" could have bridged the gap.

By the time I returned to grassroots football, not only were The Tigers still in a mess but both rugby clubs were also on the slide. Indeed, the aforementioned Mr Wall went public with his thoughts that Hull and Rovers should merge – he’s somehow still around to be able to laugh at that suggestion some fifteen years on!

Ironically, having had the shot in the arm of the whole "Octoberfest" thing, the Tigers are now reeling from the fallout of the aforementioned Duffen's departure. Manager Brown would appear to need a win over Stoke to retain his place. Lose and it won't be his karaoke singing we hear at the final whistle but 3,000 Potters prforming "Delilah".

I'm taking my eldest to her first live match on Sunday and will no regale her with tales of when "Dad" was a member of the 'Black 'n' Amber Army'. Prior to the game she'll accompany me to the Remembrance Service in Hull City centre - I just hope the sombre mood of that occasion does not continue into the KC Stadium!

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