What will survive of us is love: Hull plays its Larkin card & gets Capital of Culture

Susie Stubbs

The UK Capital of Culture 2017 was announced this morning – and guess who was the winner?

The cultural denizens of Hull woke to good news this morning. The city had won its bid to become UK Capital of Culture in 2017, beating Cardiff, Dundee and Leicester to the title. But not everybody took the news particularly well: Swansea’s council leader sniffed that the residents of Hull “had to have something to look forward to” (ouch). The panel’s decision to award the title to Hull, was, however, unanimous – so what does Hull have that the other contenders don’t?

Hull’s big gun (if we can call him that – can we?) is Philip Larkin. One of Britain’s best-loved poets, the man who captured with biting accuracy the realities of an unglamorous English life was for thirty years a librarian at the University of Hull. The city unveiled a statue in his honour in 2010. Some of Larkin’s words were used in Hull’s bid; he described it as a city of “sudden elegances”, a place “that is in the world, yet sufficiently on the edge of it to have a different resonance”. As fans of Larkin, we’re not going to argue with his poetic wisdom.

Hull “had to have something to look forward to”

The word play doesn’t end with Larkin. The metaphysical poet Andrew Marvell hailed from Hull, while former Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion, has close connections to the city and to Philip Larkin. The pair met (and became friends) while Motion was teaching at the University of Hull, with Motion going on to write Larkin’s definitive biography in 1993.

What else? Well, we couldn’t overlook Hull’s living statue, “Gold Man” Andy Train, who – fresh from making it to the final of the World Championships for Living Statues in Arnhem – went on a nationwide trip last month (via train, natch) to launch the city’s new cultural guide. We have seen the pictures and we can confirm that, yes, Andy is indeed very gold.

Elsewhere in the city, the Ferens Art Gallery is a gem of a museum/gallery – the sort of place stuffed with old masters and the odd David Hockney. Housed in a Grade II-listed building, it’s not dissimilar to Sheffield’s Graves Gallery or Liverpool’s Walker. Then there’s the Hull Truck Theatre: founded in the 1970s, it moved to a new, purpose-built centre in 2009. We also like the look of the Museum of Club Culture, a world first – though we suspect it has niche appeal. The redevelopment of the historic Fruitmarket area may now finally go ahead, with work starting as early as next year. If it does, a new arts centre and cultural quarter could come of it, hopefully in time for 2017.

As for events, try the annual Humber Mouth Literature Festival (this year’s guests included Chuck Palahniuk and Carol Ann Duffy), indie film courtesy of the Hull Cinema Project and cute café/bar/bakery Fudge, which has a book club and film night schedule. Last but not least, there’s the Hull Bee Lady: 91 year-old Jean Bishop has singlehandedly collected over £90,000 for charity while dressed as a, you guessed it, bee. And just as we wouldn’t argue with Larkin we wouldn’t go head to head with the Bee Lady, either. Congratulations on the win, Hull – we’ll be coming your way very soon.

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Kamila Shamsie. Photo Alex von Tunzelman

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