FOR Hedfesters of a literary leaning, writes Lucy Brooke, the Spoken Word tent at the Shakespeare Inn was the best stage in town on Saturday night. As the evening wore on and the drinks went down, both the performers and the audience loosened up. Earlier sets, I was told by one of the acts, were tricky for some because they had to edit their material to avoid being lynched by horrified parents.
Lucy Clark managed to divide her poems nicely into two sections. In the first, she gave us gems such as Costa del Hull, a paean to the city and its lairy, lovely inhabitants. Her later set – kids now in bed – was hilarious. Cashpoint W***ers and F***ers Down the Gym (the first of several performers to point out that going to the gym does not improve one’s personality – must be a writers’ thing!) were scathing takedowns of everyday irritations. Lucy has only been writing for a year, but you wouldn’t think it from her stage presence. Confident and charming, her sweet exterior and docker’s gob had the audience loving her.
Author of Swear Down and Scream If You Want To Go Faster, Russ Litten, read from good old-fashioned paper, in contrast to Lucy’s tablet and phone prompts. There was anger in his set, too, but of a more poignant, world-weary flavour. Russ is a writer-in-residence at a Yorkshire prison, so when he says “prison stinks like a rotten egg”, it’s coming from a man who knows. His pieces dealt with the nostalgia of childhood holidays (A Bouncy Castle in Wales – complete with ace Welsh accent), love, and the tale of Rex Everything, a paranoid soul saved by “the power of poetry”. And anybody who uses the local expression “chowed at” has got to be worth a listen.
It was great that most of the performers drew on similar Hull slang, place-names and in-jokes, creating a warm, inclusive vibe for the audience. Lucy Clark gave us “a croggy down a ten foot” (not literally, sadly) and Hedon’s very own David Thompson read his poem The Demon Driver of Holderness. Surprisingly, there was no heckling from his wife – not in public, anyway.
Comedian Jed Salisbury widened the net, bringing in references to Somalian pirate ships in Withernsea and giving one of the best lines of the night: “Bridlington’s great…if you can’t be arsed to drive to Scarborough”.
Matt Nicholson went international with My Hangover Caused Globalisation, brilliantly rhyming it with “a morning-after libation” (bet that touches a nerve with those revellers still drinking Hedon dry at midnight). He painted great images of lowlife culture, like the guy “sitting with his Staffie drinking petrol from a can”, and with an ode to a barfly, Beneath this Old Sod Lies Another.
More criminal fraternising came from the superb Mike Watts, who introduced himself as being “not as good as all them” on before him. He then preceded to eat his own words, and spit them back at the audience in an unforgettable set drawing on feral youths, thieves – “Think twice before you have a go, or we’ll burgle you and break your jaw” – and the grotesque saga of Rocky the Rat that had everybody howling.
Right on Cue (actually on two minutes early) comedy troupe raised plenty of laughs, too, with their sketch Adam the Albatross, about a disillusioned ventriloquist’s dummy. Foul-beaked, depressed, and sick of “nosey b******s”, Adam’s pathetic wingflap was a joy. Hullite references were in abundance again, the best one being “Geordie Shore versus Hessle Foreshore”.
Guitarist and writer Pieter Egriega brought the tent to its own doorstep with his refrain “and she lived at…43 Baxtergate”. It was a lovely personal touch from the ex-Fall member who’d just driven all the way from Edinburgh for HedFest. His book Snapshots of a Stroke Recovery details his journey after a severe stroke; he told me he’s now living his “second life”, and that he’s like a cat in that respect. Here’s to the next seven, Pieter.
And here’s to the next Hedfest. Let’s hope the organisers were chuffed with this year’s success – the punters in the Shakespeare certainly were. More, please!