The big surprise was Sade. I knew about the Housemartins and the Beautiful South because they released records when I was buying them. And they really were records, but the CD was just gaining ground. Same for Fine Young Cannibals, especially when I heard that dad taught Gifty. But was that true?
Scarlet were even better: Cheryl’s dad sold us insurance in our living room throughout the 1980s, and Cheryl and Jo went to school with us, although we didn’t know it at the time. Debra Stephenson was there too for a while. But Sade? They didn’t sound anything like the others. And how did Mick Rono Ronson fit in? Didn’t he know our milkman? So how could he play with Bowie? If this sounds far-fetched to you, you can’t be from Hull.
The Road to Nowhere actually leads to Hull. It is called the M62 and it always, always runs west to east. Never east to west. Nobody ever leaves. Through Brough, Ferriby and Hessle, in that order. When it hits Paragon, where John Cleese filmed Clockwise, the train phlegs out again towards Beverley and York. Even the train can’t bear to stay. From the M62 or the train you might be heading to Rotterdam by boat. Not a song by the Beautiful South, although of course it was, but a port city in that distant place called Europe. That’s right, Hull is nowhere. And yet it’s everywhere. You can fly to Amsterdam and Aberdeen, or boat your way to Rotterdam, and my ancestors arrived in the other direction from Hamburg. Back in the day you could even boat your way to Gothenburg in Sweden. Port cities are always the end of the line, and the start of a global network, both at the same time. And so it is with music.
These bands have several things in common, but not much in the way of music. They all had their own style. There was never such a thing as a Hull sound, only a Hull attitude. Not Northern Soul, not Britpop, nothing more traditional like Jazz. The Hull attitude was rebellious and sardonic, never sweet and never cheerful. Could it have happened without Larkin? That is one of the questions I will be asking the survivors. Did Larkin make it okay to be sarcastic in public? But then, even Larkin wasn’t as cynical as he liked us to think.