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.
But 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 on to 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 which is 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. Bradwell would go on to found Hull Truck Theatre, the company which has 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 precursors to Freedom. The Showstoppers, meanwhile, somehow managed to concoct a musical rom-com set in the meat aisle 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.
It's a gambit 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 grandchild 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.
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