Words: Mike Robbo…
Sitting here out the back of Pave with Mark Page chatting about this year’s supersized Humber Street Sesh, it’s astonishing just how much work goes into running the yearly event. Now in its sixth year, it’s become a mainstay of the Hull summer calendar since its first outing in 2012, when it was a free day out, and for my money, it’s Hull’s biggest and most consistently excellent day out. It’s clear, listening to him speak that integrity is of paramount importance to him, and the fact that he has managed to retain this in the face of circling vultures and grubby mitts rubbing together is nothing short of inspirational. Sure, the day after the festival, caps are doffed in platitudinous Facebook tags, but the lad works his arse off, wades through mountains of political shit and comes up against all manner of petty irritants to give us this.
Although, Mak (Mark’s stage name) is the face of Humber Street Sesh; the one who shoulders most of the public perception, whether it be receiving plaudits from the majority or copping flak from the minority, he is not the sole organiser. His brainchild has life breathed into it with the hard work of a team of around 20 that help him through the year, most notably fellow directors Dave Mays and Justine Peacock, along with Sponsorship Officer Elise Witty, Tech Director James Symonds and his trusty sidekick at Sesh, Daniel Mawer. It’s a real team effort, but it’s Mak at the helm, putting his name on the line, getting out there as the mad conductor of the whole affair. It has its upsides and downsides, being so visible, but he’s keen to stress that his vision couldn’t be realised without the equivalent of Liverpool FC’s boot room staff; Shankly putting his neck on the line, but the engine room is equally indispensable. The LFC boot room is the ultimate compliment, even though the Man Utd supporters among them might not welcome the comparison. But it’s Mak’s neck on the guillotine.
It’s not unusual to see him running about like a blue-arsed fly, putting the finishing touches to his year’s work, a couple of weeks before the festival, and anyone who knows him, knows that it’s a high-stress time for him. It’s admirable because he actually cares, to the point of making himself physically ill, but his hard work always pays massive dividends. For us. It pisses me off when I see people moaning about having to pay for it. The first two years it was a free event, not being able to pay the acts much, and people still expect all this work to be done for free. The notion of the bands playing for free is ludicrous, never mind all the other costs. He’s unwavering in his love for the city even in the face of such ingratitude, but he’s too polite to bite back. I’m not. Everyone needs paying for their work, the bands, the production team, security, stage crews, the lot. You can’t sustain it on goodwill alone. Ten quid for what you get is nothing. (£5 even, if you were lucky enough to get an Early Bird ticket at Xmas) It costs money to put it on, so we pay. End of.
Building on the success of last year’s biggest ever HSS, as an unofficial centrepiece of the Hull City of Culture celebrations, the event has expanded, both in size and length. The erection of a second site for the festival, the ‘west side,’ will house the Friday night’s ‘Best of the Sesh’. Intended as a celebration of Hull’s biggest and best local talent over the last 15 years, it will showcase the artists who have benefitted from the weekly Sesh night, now at The Polar Bear. It will free the Saturday up for what the festival is intended to be: a big stage for emerging talent. There’d be no Humber Street Sesh if it wasn’t for the weekly Sesh night, started by Mak in 2002. This year, there’s a focus on out-of-town bands, who make up 30% of the bill, and who’ve all played The Sesh on a Tuesday.
‘The idea is for it to become a talent pipeline,’ he says. ‘Ideally, we want local bands to network with out-of-town bands, make contact with their managers, agents and promoters, and get bookings outside of Hull because we can’t be too insular. A few bands are now making a noise outside of Hull, but we want it to be more. So, to get out-of-town bands more Hull gigs and get our bands playing outside of this city is the end game. There’s a really healthy scene here that needs taking nationwide.’
So, who’ve we got on the Friday?
‘Well, Friday night, which will be solely on the west side, we’ve got Turn and Face the Strange, with an adaptation of the Mick Ronson story focusing solely on The Spiders from Mars period, with original Spider, Woody Woodmansey, Trevor Bolder’s widow, Shelley and Mick Ronson’s sister Maggie, all being invited to open up, alongside Burnsy from BBC Humberside, the Spiders From Mars Big Top kindly sponsored by Hull College. Then you’ve got The Black Delta Movement, The Talks with their final gig ever and then The Paddingtons, back for a headline reunion gig. That’s all in the big top.
On the University of Hull main stage, we’ve got Counting Coins headlining, alongside Pearl’s Cab Ride, The Mighty and The Moon and Late Night Marauders. Then there’s the FunkyWormhole sound system, and the Strummerville Stage with Endoflevelbaddie, Polo from York, Young Jack and Jack Common. Plus in the brand new Yorkshire Yurt, you’ve got Speakeasy with Chris Helme from Seahorses headlining, alongside the likes of Fiona Lee and Matt Sturgess. We’re massively proud of that line up, but then you look at the Saturday, and it’s spread out over the whole marina, east and west with room for all sorts of diverse acts to flourish, with the expanded programme.’
The rationale behind this expansion and the inclusion of the Friday night is to-give Saturday a bit of breathing space; bands can be moved up the ladder onto bigger stages. So, King No One are headlining the whole festival with Friday being about more established bands; all the big names from previous years together on one night, which has enabled younger local bands to be put on a bigger stage with better slots, which is true to the whole ethos of the festival.
So how did the expansion come about?
‘Well, first and foremost, the festival is well-established down Humber Street, but, as we saw last year, it’s getting too big for the area; last year there were bottlenecks, not enough room for toilets, waste management couldn’t cope, the bar queues were prohibitive and people were on top of each other. Of course, we listened to all the concerns expressed, and we decided to go to two days and expand. Now there’s more room and more attractions. The Spencer Group kindly allowed us to have that land on the west side and allowed us to widen the offer. We’ve got a bigger, improved programme, more stages, room to put in a big top, whilst improving the infrastructure-and bettering the facilities. We’ve quadrupled the toilets, and there’s more space for clearing up. There’ll also be 32 bar concessions along with the 8 festival bars. So, with Friday night just on the west, it frees up space for Saturday to be on both the east and west sides.’
I point out that some people come to HSS because it’s a big event, not exclusively to see the bands, and go ‘wow I didn’t realise there was so much talent out there.’ And hopefully, they’ll start going out and supporting live music in the city, whether it’s Sesh or Adelphi or whatever, and feed people, young and older, into the local scene.
‘Yes. It should be a platform for young, and old, people to get into the arts, it’s a celebration of emerging talent, like the weekly Sesh which showcases the depth of talent in the area. We’re individually brilliant, collectively awesome.’ As a fellow Liverpool fan, which suits Mike (Browse bossman) and myself, he goes on to quote the great Bill Shankly. ‘If we all work hard together we can share the rewards together, and that’s what I want the Sesh to be. If we can all work together we can create something brilliant for the whole community. Competition is great as it’s constantly raising the bar, but if we pool our resources outside of our flagship nights for a couple of times a year we can have events that can be amazing.’ It’s that fiercely socialist streak that resonates with so many in Hull that pulses through the veins of the Sesh, and, indeed Mak himself.
So, what next? What’s the long-game? Do you feel pressure to ride it ‘til the wheels fall off?
‘Well, there’s constant pressure to put on a ‘big name’ headliner, but we’d lose our identity, our uniqueness, so we’ve resisted the calls. The reason for putting on more out of town bands this year is to build a network for the local acts to break out of the city. That’s what we’re about, promoting emerging local talent. It’ll always be about that. We’re unique in the fact that we can get 32,000 people to come out for mainly local acts. I know it’s not all about the bands, it’s about the day, the community, bringing people together, and we should celebrate that. But it’s been brought about by the weekly Sesh, and not everyone knows that, but it might influence people to engage with what it sprang from. We just want to continue as we are. These bands,’ he thumps his fist on the open programme on the table, ‘they excite me. Why would I put on The Pigeon Detectives over what we’ve got here?’
He’s got a point.
So, another year, and another looming Humber Street Sesh, which looks set to be the best yet. Beneath the ubiquitous worry that hangs over his head at this time of year, there are flashes of pure, raw emotion. Excitement for what he’s created in the city, and excitement for what lies ahead in two weeks, with scant regard for his own well-being. He just wants to create something for us to enjoy, and his integrity is intoxicating. I’m not brave enough to do something like this; I flap like a deranged heron on my minor excursions into the world of event promotions. Paranoid that no-one will turn up, that people won’t enjoy it, that there’ll be trouble. It’s a potential bacchanalian orgy of the neuroses, but Mak’s game for the challenge. He’s pulled it off admirably, and it’s always referred to as Hull’s best day of the year. A celebratory mutual high-five with your best mates with the only soundtrack you want to hear for two days. If you don’t want to be a Last-minute Liam, as is Hull’s tradition, then get your wristbands before the day, because as sure as Liam Gallagher will post a picture of a potato on Twitter, thousands of people will wander down n the day and complain at the queues to get in. Get your wristbands in and jump that motherfuckin’ queue!
A final thing, which has to be raised. What does Mak make of some local councillor wishing torrential downpour on the city for the duration of the festival? His assertion that it was just an event for drunken idiots to run riot? I’d be incensed, because I take my child, as do many others, and I resent being labelled this way by a man of unfeasibly questionable morals, and his assumption that we’d take our kids into a situation of carnage. We take them because it’s inclusive and safe. In case I’m being opaque, I’m talking about Colin Inglis.
Mak refuses to be drawn into this and just smiles.
‘In six years, we’ve had zero arrests.’
Ever the gent. Let’s party. Sensibly obviously.
Over and out.
Humber Street Sesh returns for 2018, bigger and better than ever – taking place on Friday evening, August 3, in addition to the staple Saturday August 4, over an expanded site!
Avoid the queues, grab your tickets online or at an independent outlet….
FRIDAY – https://
SATURDAY – https://
Or call Hull Box Office (Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, Sat 10am-4pm)