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To Hull and Back - Freedom Festival Hull 2012


It’s early evening on a gloriously sunny Saturday, and the Teatro 
Spiegeltent is a sell-out. Onstage inside, Squeeze co-frontman Chris 
Difford has just been interrupted from a series of acoustic renditions 
of the band’s greatest hits by the appearance of comedian and former 
Edinburgh resident Norman Lovett. Lovett has just used a faux This Is 
Your Life routine as a contrivance to stumble onstage and into a series 
of shaggy-dog stories with no real punchline.

Such an unlikely double-act appears to have been formed simply because 
both parties quite like each other, and once liked a drink or three. 
The combination of Cool For Cats, Up The Junction, et al, with Lovett’s 
deadpan non-sequiters and a series of amusing video projections to 
accompany each song is a random, slightly shambolic alliance that never 
fully gels, but which is all the funnier because of that.

For the first half of the show, Difford and Lovett are forced to 
contend with loud ambient electronica booming in from outside. It 
sounds, as Lovett observes, like Pink Floyd have arrived. In fact, the 
sound-bleed comes from Terrarium – Dance in a Bubble, a piece of street 
theatre performed inside a see-through Perspex globe. It’s an 
unfortunate clash, but has been the stuff of the Edinburgh Festival 
Fringe ever since the acoustics of multiple space venues started 
rubbing up against each other.

Except, despite the appearance of a Spiegeltent, this isn’t Edinburgh 
in August. Rather, Difford, Lovett and Terrarium were appearing at the 
fifth edition of the Freedom Festival, Hull, which burst onto the 
streets of the East Yorkshire over four days last weekend. Other 
Edinburgh stalwarts on the Teatro Spiegeltent bill were comedian 
Patrick Monahon, chanteuse and Gracie Fields aficionado Lili La Scala, 
and comic mind-reader Doug Segal.

This is probably down to the fact that Freedom, named in honour 
politician, anti-slavery campaigner and Hull native William 
Wilberforce, is produced by Unique, Pete Irvine's Edinburgh-based 
company also behind Edinburgh’s Hogmanay.

Also Edinburgh veterans are The Showstoppers, the young troupe of 
performers whose raison d’etre is to improvise a brand new musical 
comedy at each performance based on suggestions from the audience. If 
such indulgences sound like a well-worn theatrical in-joke, bear in 
mind that the company’s initial mentor was the late Ken Campbell, the 
theatrical maverick who was one of the pioneers of alternative theatre.

In one of his early incarnations of the Ken Campbell Roadshow, Campbell 
toured circus tents with an anarchic ensemble which included a young 
performer/director called Mike Bradwell. Brsadwell would go on to found 
Hull Truck Theatre, the company who have arguably taken fringe theatre 
into the mainstream more than any other.

For Freedom, Hull Truck presented the world premiere of City of Light, 
a sentimental homage to the Hull Fair, an event in Hull ‘bigger than 
Christmas’, and one of the pre-cursors to Freedom. The Showstoppers, 
meanwhile, somehow managed to concoct a musical rom-com set in the meat 
aisle of the Wakefield branch of ASDA. Campbell, one suspects, would be 
proud.

If such umbilical links make The Showstoppers perfect for Freedom, 
kindred spirits arrived in the form of Amortale. This big-top 
extravaganza came from Belgian national treasures, Circus Ronaldo, a 
family-based ensemble who brought their own tent to Hull.

Beyond the ticketed programme, the real energy of the festival was to 
be found on the two or three streets that make up the newly designated 
Freedom Quarter, set in the city’s old fruit-market area. Here people 
congregated beside the two music stages and numerous pop-up venues, 
galleries and shops on Harbour Street and Wellington Street.

Round the corner, a myriad of local bands played, while in Harbour 
Street’s permanent night club, Fruit, eighteen-strong DJ collective The 
Residents Association threw open the doors for an all-day musical 
celebration of Jamaican independence.

Martha Reeves and the Vandellas headlining slot on the main Pier Stage 
was a glorious, crowd-pleasing mix of soul classics that summed up the 
populist spirit of Freedom. More inclusive still was The Love Cannon 
Parade, artist Zoe Walker and Neil Bromwich’s noisy 'action for peace'. 
This involved a pink inflatable cannon being led around the Freedom 
quarter by the brightly-clad Hull Samba Band before the cannon shot 
pink balloons into the sky.

The huge crowd get the idea from the cannon’s first helium-powered 
erection. With the Samba Band’s whistles and drums providing a Pied 
Piper-like call to arms, the Love Cannon Parade’s cheekily subversive 
mix of civic pride, community activism and performance art was 
irresistible

It’s a sleight of hand Unique have pulled off before when they paraded 
Big Man Walking down Edinburgh’s Royal Mile a few Hogmanays ago. In 
truth, Freedom is the hippified grand-child of the sort of bohemian 
street festivals that grew out of the 1960s counter-culture to become 
gloriously localised version of Carnival and Mardi-Gras.

Freedom and the Love Cannon Parade in particular owe much too to the 
punk and rave culture that begat the work of Jeremy Deller and the 
revived Beltane Fire on Calton Hill, the logical conclusion of which 
was NVA’s hillside participatory epic, Speed of Light. Walker and 
Bromwich will present a new work at the National Museum of Scotland as 
part of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay 2012/13. If Unique has provided Hull with 
the expertise of Edinburgh, Edinburgh’s festivals can learn much from 
Freedom’s less frenetic sense of containment. Hull is still getting 
used to Freedom, but for four days a year at least, the love cannon has 
been well and truly ignited.

www.freedomfestival.co.uk
The Herald, September 11th 2012

ends

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