WORDS: Sophie Walker
Humber Street Sesh was, and will always be, founded upon the community: it brings together the city for a 32,000-strong street party, all to the soundtrack of Hull’s burgeoning creative scene, spilling out into the bars and streets around the jewel of the city’s Crown, The Marina.
With its roots in the weekly Sesh which continues to be a mainstay of Hull’s thriving nightlife every Tuesday, providing a platform for emerging regional bands since 2001, Humber Street Sesh is the ultimate showcase of what the city has to offer. What began as a seed of thought for Mark Page would germinate into a fully-fledged, annual operation, with a dream-team behind it providing the propulsive force that has made Humber Street Sesh one of the greatest events on Hull’s calendar.
2019, Mark assures us, will be by far the most important year of all. While 2018 saw Humber Street Sesh shift up a gear with the expansion into both sides of the Marina, 2019’s success is promising to be meteoric. The accolades Humber Street Sesh has gathered in the previous years have fuelled an unprecedented amount of interest from the wider music industry – “not so much financially”, he comments, “but more to do with the industry finally waking up to what we possess in this fine city of Hull”. This “substantial investment”, which he declines to divulge too much about, has fuelled the Humber Street Sesh team to up the ante for Friday, 2nd August. Reining in big-league bands such as The Hunna, Yonaka, The Blinders and Hull’s very own LIFE as Main Stage headliners, it’s a bold statement of intent for what began as an exclusively regional celebration. With the industry’s finest pouring in, to assemble the greatest line-up yet, Hull’s Pride have their hands on deck – as well as on the DJ decks – for their silent disco takeover, all blasted out by the Funkywormhole sound system, which Mark cites as the “runaway success of the festival last year”.
The Saturday, however, is going back to the festival’s roots in 2012, which was very much a celebration of the creative brilliance in the area. It’s going to feature over 1,000 young creatives – and old creatives – across 14 stages. There will be a plethora of genres to delight the tastes of all music-lovers. Alongside that, there will be got a pretty impressive arts programme as well; graffiti, dance, various installations and photo exhibitions from Hull’s finest artists. The city is certainly in for something special.
Q: What has prompted you to expand from what was originally intended as a platform for the region’s artists, to bringing in nationally renowned artists?
We’ve always said it’s an emerging music and arts festival. It wasn’t a case of bringing nationally known names, or anything. As time has gone on, there has been a call to bring in some bigger names, otherwise we just end up putting on the same acts each year, really. It’s important to freshen it up – going back again to the investment we’ve got for 2019, there are some really exciting times ahead for this city. The call is for the people to really get behind us this year – this year is more important than the past seven. We’ve got people here who can take us to a whole new level, and they are very committed to us, and we’ve got to prove that, as a city, this is what we want.
Q: Does the kind of scale and reputation Humber Street Sesh has achieved ever blow your mind?
I’ve had moments where I’ve looked out and seen the site in full flow during the festival and thought, “Wow”. I know my wife, when she first came down, had no idea of what we’d been planning – she thought I was just organising a club night down Humber Street – and when she came the second year and saw 40,000 people just on the East Side of the Marina, she was cursing at me, “What the bloody hell have you done? This is insane!” – but it’s what I do, it’s what I love. I love being surrounded with creative people, and I love being surrounded by positive, energetic forces. I’ve always surrounded myself with these types of people back when I first started as a DJ back in 1985 – I started when I was 16. From working abroad, coming to Hull and doing various nights in the city, it’s been building up to this over the years. I’ve learned to just go through the festival like any other event, and not have too many highs – because therefore I don’t have too many lows. I keep myself balanced. The whole idea in 2012 was simply to put on the festival to celebrate our weekly live music night. Our initial expectation was that 1,000 people might come down to see some local live bands. To get 10,000 on that first year, to then later attract 40,000, and then cap it to 32,000 and start charging and build it into what it is now is a proud achievement. I feel as if I’ve built some kind of legacy for my children, which is all-important for me. I feel like I’ve kept my integrity intact throughout, I haven’t strayed too far from the initial goals; it was always meant to be a platform to celebrate Hull and all the great goings-on at the likes of the legendary Adelphi, The Polar Bear and the much-missed but soon to return FRüIT.
Q: Have you ever considered expanding Humber Street Sesh into a wider, green spaces to give more opportunities for campers and people travelling from afar?
There have been times over the years, particularly towards the end of last year’s festival, where we had been looking into green-belt sites away from the city centre. We’d been thinking of downsizing it, but bringing in bigger names and making it a fully-fledged festival on that sort of level. But no – why would we want to move from the jewel of Hull’s crown? The Marina is developing, and there’s still a lot more development to come – whether we relocate just to the West Side in future years; whether we move to Queen’s Gardens, or we go into Zebedee’s Yard or use the Bonus Arena, and make it a city-wide style festival, or whether we go down the green-belt route, is something for the future. But right now, we want to concentrate on the arena. I think there’s a call on the north-east for a major festival because if you look on the UK festival map, it’s very sort of London-central. There’s a lot down in the West, there are some good ones in Suffolk, Norfolk and Lancashire and West Yorkshire – but nothing really on the North East Coast besides the excellent Stockton Festival which is another Inner City event, Not to do a disservice to anyone putting on festivals, but there are no 40,000-60,000 style festivals on the North East Coast featuring well-known acts. But right now, we’ve got to focus on the Marina. I think we’d be foolish to take it away from this area; it’s accessible to the whole city. What made 2018 our favourite festival was having so much more space on the West Side as well as the East. It opened up the festival and meant that we could put more stages on, which gave more platforms for emerging acts from the region, but it also meant that we could improve the facilities ten-fold. We increased the toilet provision four times what it was in 2017. It was a much friendlier festival and became much more accessible. Having the production area at the back gave it the feel of a fully-fledged festival. Acts coming into the city said, “Wow, you really have stepped it up this year” – and that has given us the confidence to step it up again.
Q: What made you not think starting a festival was ridiculous?
For The Sesh’s 10th anniversary, I initially looked at doing an all-dayer at The Welly or The Piper – but those types of events had been done many times in Hull. With the experience of being involved with the Freedom Festival in 2010 with a Sesh Stage, and then doing an independent Sesh warehouse for Freedom in 2011, when it came to the 10th anniversary of the weekly night, I thought, ‘No, let’s focus on creating our own street festival down Humber Street.’ It was late one night, and I was reading my wife’s Cosmpolitan for my sins, and it was about this amazing woman who was involved with the 2012 Olympics. She had a small firm of 24 people, and after she won a security contract for the Olympics, she immediately went to working with 24,000 people. The interviewer in the magazine asked how she got her head around working with that many people, and she just said this line that has resonated with me ever since: “Fear is in the thinking, not the doing.” I’ve basically lived by that since 2012. We all seem to overthink things, when really, if you just go and do it you might surprise yourself. If you make mistakes, so be it – you learn from those mistakes. We certainly did – we made lots of mistakes with Humber Street Sesh in the first few years, and we’’ll no doubt make some this year. But, if you don’t make those mistakes, you’ll never learn what’s right. Grab the opportunities.
Q: How important is the Youth Stage to the identity of Humber Street Sesh?
It’s hugely important. We’re very lucky to work with Freedom Road Creative Arts (FRCA), who are a youth organisation that help young musicians and people wanting to get involved in the industry, achieve their goals. They’ve been with us since year one, running the Youth Stage. This year, we’re very fortunate to have Wilberforce College on board to support the Youth Stage, who are working alongside FRCA to put together a really exciting programme of young artists who are based at the college, as well as getting them involved with the organisation. It’s so important because it’s an aspirational stage. They’re given the same attention and go through the same processes as all the other acts at the festival. They go through the programming stage, with the EPK (electronic press kit) process so we get them up to a good standard to engage in the industry, and then they get their accreditation from the festival on the day where they’re treated like rock stars. Hopefully, it gives them confidence to get involved in the industry, as well as helping the city to move forward. It’s all down to that talent pipeline. There are some artists who actually began on the Youth Stage and have worked their way up to the bigger ones over the years. The best example of them all – not so much from the Youth Stage – but from the point of view of the talent pipeline, is King No-One. They started in 2012 on the Busker Stage. From the Busker Stage they went to the Dead Bod Stage; from the Dead Bod Stage they went to the Fruit Stage; from the Fruit Stage to the BBC; and from the BBC they went to the Main Stage – and then, from supporting on the Main Stage, they headlined last year. If people get to know us and engage with us at the Weekly Sesh, and we get to know what they’re doing and they suit the programme of what we’re intending to do, then we will engage with them and provide them with many, many platforms.
Q: Which local acts are you most looking forward to this year?
Personally, there are two main acts for me. The first are The Hubbards on the Main Stage. They’ve been prolific over the last couple of years in terms of recordings, videos and engagement with the wider industry. They’ve been signed to Scruff of The Neck, which is a great label with some brilliant bands on their roster. The Hubbards headlining the Main Stage is well-deserved, and we’re hoping to get a great turn-out. That’s the first one – the second one has to be Chiedu Oraka. He’ll be performing on the Back to Ours Big Top. Chiedu is blowing up. He has pushed grime in a city where there is very little around. We say there’s diversity in the city – and there is, but compared to the diversity levels in other cities, we’re a million miles away. When it comes to hip-hop, there are some great acts in the city, but as far as grime is concerned, it’s pretty limited in the region. There are a few that Chiedu has been encouraging through his Lockdown brand, but he’s just on top of his game. We’re expecting huge things for Chiedu, and we also think it’s very much on point this year – what with Stormzy headlining and smashing Glastonbury – that we bring Chiedu in to headline the Big Top. For a kid to rise above everyone else to push this genre speaks volumes. There’s probably a thousand like Chiedu in some of the bigger cities, but in Hull, there’s only one Chiedu Oraka. I honestly believe that he alone could put this city on the map in the next year or two.
Humber Street Sesh 2018 Highlights Video
Q: Why is Friday so essential for the success of Humber Street Sesh this year?
A: I want Friday, more so than the Saturday, to really grab the attention of the city. The more impact we have on the Friday, with the names that we’re bringing in to the festival this year, it could lead to much bigger things in the future. If we don’t, then we’ll reverse the programming and go back to regional and emerging acts next year – which would be a shame. We’ve got a chance in 2019 to put Hull, the festival and our local creatives on the map. We’ve got adverts in industry mags, city street mags and newspapers across the north of England. If we get the traction the Friday night deserves, it could lead to some amazing stuff in the future. Mark my words.