In the first part of our quick overview of Leicester’s competitors to the UK City of Culture 2017 competition, we looked at the first 5; now it’s time to take a flying overview of the next three. It’s time to see what Hull, Plymouth, Portsmouth and Southampton might have up their collective cultural sleeves. Have they got the tricks to dazzle the judges and pull in the punters or are they, like we predict with Hastings’ bid changes, just a little out of their depth?
Hull City of Culture 2017?
The best thing about the UK City of Culture 2017 (and the ones for all other years) competition is it allows people to rediscover British cities and overcome prejudice (as well as pumping much needed capital into local economies) and Hull, over the years, has had it’s fair share of prejudice. Mention it to most people and you’ll get a negative response: grey, northern, run down, grim, smelly fish. Hull – like Grimsby and other working ports – always gets looked down on by the rest of the more modern and seemingly more dynamic UK cities, but let’s be straight, countries NEED towns and cities like Hull. These are the places where real work is done and real industries are still operating. Hull might have lost its shine since its heyday as one of the busiest ports in Europe but things are still happening and it’s still one of the most important ports we have. So what has Hull got up its sleeves? Some years back got itself back on the map with what is arguably the UK’s finest aquarium (and the world’s only submarium) The Deep,which is as captivating from the outside as it is from the inside. Away from the water Hull is the home of one of our greatest poets and to one of our most memorable poems, Philip Larkin and ‘This Be the Verse’ – and the immortal truth in the line “They fuck you up, your mum and dad”, a poetic bombshell that is as shocking now as it was in 1971. Hull began a modern redevelopment with the Humber Quays development that gained World Trade Centre status proving its heart is strong and beating. And to this mix of port commerce, old and new, Hull adds a vibrant tradition of arts and culture with several museums of national importance (including the Hull and East Riding Museum that contains the Hasholme Logboat, Britain’s largest surviving prehistoric logboat). Add to this mix its musical output (the legendary and mercurial Mick Ronson, The Housemartins, Everything But The Girl, Sade and Throbbing Gristle come from Hull) and Hull suddenly looks like it’s been ignored or derided by too many people for too long. It’s got the strange northern light, the majestic Humber, the Ridings and rich history to build a UK City of Culture 2017 bid on; and with a million visitors in 2012, they must be doing something right already. Hull might be the one to watch…
Plymouth City of Culture 2017?
Like a lot of UK towns and cities, Plymouth is up to its ears in history (and gin – Plymouth Gin is some of the finest in the world) so they have a great place to start from. And being a major and important port for both the Navy and commercial sea traffic, they’ve seen different cultures come into this country over many hundreds of years. Whilst the city has lost some of its importance and naval gravitas Plymouth is still alive and kicking. Its year-round programme of contemporary cultural events and festivals (and at great venues like the Plymouth’s Theatre Royal and Drum Theatre, the National Marine Aquarium, Royal William Yard and the historic Harbour) including the planned celebration of the 400 year anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower in 2020, show that it’s up for the arts; and their bid’s core message gives you a flavour of their passion for the competition: their bid website states “Culture – our ‘Vital Spark’ – is not exclusive, not just for the ‘elite’”. It is as much about reading a book, kicking a ball in the park, going to a gig, meeting our friends, eating and drinking, as it is about opera, ballet and Shakespeare. It’s a statement that lets everyone know that they want an everyman cultural approach, inclusive but one that’s destined to reinforce the City’s ocean and transatlantic identity. Plymouth’s bid chairman Mr Vinken said: “I think we have got a very strong offer. Even now the performing arts offer that we could put on in 2017 is far ahead of what Derry-Londonderry is doing this year, because of the fact the city has committed to the Theatre Royal for the last 30 years.” And in some sort of strange twist of fate, this coastal city has a local celebrity backer that’s used to making a splash, in the golden boy of UK diving, the Bieber of the diving board, Tom Daley. His tweeted to his 2.4million followers “Please support my home city, Plymouth’s bid for City of Culture 2017…” Plymouth have a great mix going into the bid, stunning seascapes and brilliant landscapes, a rich history and a passion; they even have a good looking bid website. They like to be different in the South West and they like to stand alone in the best possible way. The culture and the people down there have always been separate to the rest of the UK; they’ve fostered a unique outlook and pace of life and it’s testament to the people as much as the landscape that makes it one of the all time great holiday areas in the country. And Plymouth is on the edge of this golden area and because of this we’re sure that they’ll pick up some shimmer from the South West halo effect. Do they lack for anything for a UK City of Culture 2017 bid? Not really. Are they a serious contender? Most definitely.
Portsmouth & Southampton City of Culture 2017?
Another major UK port in the UK City of Culture 2017 race (there appears to be a theme happening here, all shortlisted cities are coastal except Leicester and Chester – which sound suspiciously the same), Portsmouth, like Plymouth, has a truly epic maritime history and is the UK’s only island city located mainly on Portsea Island. Portsmouth’s maritime history, although long and distinguished is not an old dusty history though; it’s alive and part of the city’s daily life. For starters Portsmouth has the strange accolade of having the world’s oldest dry dock still in use but it’s also home to some more interesting and tourist pleasing sea-bourne artefacts – famous ships. Their vessels read like a list of Who’s Who in ships: HMS Warrior, the Tudor carrack Mary Rose and Lord Nelson’s flagship and HMS Victory all fight for the visitor’s attention and fire the imagination. This is the kind of culture that helped form a nation at sea and set Britain on a course for world domination and empire. Even today though the empire has gone, the naval base remains a major dockyard and base for both the Royal Navy and Royal Marine Commandos whose Headquarters are there. Away from the sea and Portsmouth has a lot going on in the city with its 4 theatres (The New Theatre Royal, the Kings Theatre, The Groundlings Theatre, St. Peter’s Theatre), which if anything proves that the locals like theatre and then some. And where there’s an active theatre scene other culture surely follows. The love for theatre and music appears to stretch back in time as well as up to the present day: middle England’s favourite comic opera H.M.S. Pinafore (1878) with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert, was set in Portsmouth Harbour and in a more up-to-date theatrical setting they have their very own Bollywood starlet, Geeta Basra who highlights Portsmouth’s proud and vibrant south Asian community. As with their maritime and musical histories, old and new seem to rub along nicely in Portsmouth. Architecture is always a good indicator of what a city is and in Portsmouth’s case it’s an old city that’s got its eyes firmly set on the future. Victorian and Georgian piles sit happily with clean, modern buildings and in between it all are the boats and ships, the Southsea Marina, Saturday markets, museums like the Royal Marines Museum and the Portsmouth International Kite Festival. At a glance, Portsmouth is full to the brim with stuff whichever way you turn. Things look good for their UK City of Culture 2017 bid based on what they have to work with.
As for the Southampton element in this bid (these 2 cities have joined forces for a joint bid – fair? Hmm, maybe, maybe not…), it too is drenched in history. It’s home to the longest surviving stretch of medieval walls in England whilst at the same time it’s looking forward, having some rather amazing new, modern and daring civic buildings in their SeaCity Museum and the Southampton Central Police Station. Culturally it’s given us some gems over the years too: Benny Hill’s comedy masterpiece ‘Ernie (the fastest milkman in the West)‘ was inspired by a round he used to have in the city and it was where film firebrand Ken Russell came from. Both looking a little like they shared the same mother but two artists that could not have been more different from each other if they had tried. Southampton also remains a busy port and a popular starting point for many cruise ships including the rather famous RMS Titanic, which set forth from there on the 10th April 1912. Thankfully, their safety record has improved since. Combined then, these 2 cities have a distinct advantage on the surface. Together they can pool their resources, cut costs and get traffic moving back and forth, but will all this movement cause a bit of friction between them, cause tensions and dilute the overall bid? It could be as much a curse as a blessing, like taking a two-headed dog for a walk.
So, there we have it. More coastal cities, more maritime history than you can shake an oar at and some really interesting opportunities for places to nail their colours to the mast and challenge people’s perceptions of what they are and the opportunity to put themselves firmly on the City of Culture 2017 map. From these who’s got the edge? It’s a difficult one and one that’s probably too close to call; maybe Portsmouth and Southampton have the slight advantage in their double-header but can they pull it off and make it feel unified? Who knows.
In part three we’re down to the last two! Southend-on-Sea and Swansea Bay.
Got an opinion on how Leicester stacks up against these odds? Let us know.
To get an idea if Leicester City of Culture 2017 has a chance have a look at our quick overview of Leicester.