I’ve probably raved about this exhibition enough over the last few years and I hadn’t planned on saying anything more, but getting a shout out on stage from Sophie Coletta before Cosey Fanni Tutti’s performance melted my heart a bit and I felt like sharing one last time just what this exhibition means to me. I wholeheartedly agreed with every word Sophie said and the sentiment bears repeating: COUM and Throbbing Gristle were the first things to make me proud of this weird little town of Kingston-Upon-Hull.
Philip Larkin wrote most famously about the psychogeographic impact of living in Hull – situated at the end of the M62, drawing little attention from the rest of the country except for its post-industrial stuttering. Liverpool, at the other end of the motorway, has its own unique version of this phenomenon but Hull has continued to exist in apparent isolation for most of the post-war period. To feel like an outsider in an outsider town in the 90s / 00s was a strange experience that informed a lot of what I do and Throbbing Gristle were the first group to make me feel like that wasn’t such a bad lot to be lumped with. I bought Simon Ford’s Wreckers of Civilisation in 2009 and reading about COUM’s activities in there really fired me up. They are the first of a stack of people who have been affected by Hull in some way and who have shaped my worldview, and those lovely folks at The Quietus have invited a bunch of those people back to to the city to partake in the COUM festivities.
I’ve had no involvement in making the exhibition at Humber Street Gallery happen and I can’t begin to take any credit for how it has turned out but I did try to get involved in the early stages. After I graduated from my BA in 2013 I moved back to Hull. Around the same time that my Mum had a breakdown Hull won the City of Culture bid and I threw myself behind lobbying for a COUM retrospective as something to get me out of the house. Trying to lay the groundwork for the exhibition was a lifeline to me at the time. I wanted to see it happen more than anything and felt like the best way to do that was to make some noise about it for myself. People listened and, on Twitter at least, others joined the chorus. I worked on it for about 3 months as a passion project, doing research around the local area and trying to map a network of old COUM associates with an aim to tracking down lost materials. I chatted casually to some former members and then partnered up with a local gallery who wanted to host it. That gallery has been invariably named and shamed by me over the years – probably not the best thing to do but I’m still bitter about it. They were embarrassing. Everything fell apart. I ended up moving to Cardiff for 18 months and the project was rightly taken out of their hands. That’s where my involvement ended. In some ways I’m glad that happened because the final exhibition is everything I had hoped it would be and more. It feels like a true representation of COUM and their activities.
Long-time fellow traveller Sophie Coletta was soon on board with the project alongside Luke from The Quietus and they’ve put together a killer events programme. They’ve made my dreams come true. Tonight is the one thing I was dying to see happen in 2017 and they did it! They’ve gone beyond it, even! Teenage me, sat reluctantly in some screamo pub gig down Beverley Road unconvinced by the machismo and wishing someone else liked weird techno, is doing cartwheels. Here’s hoping these 6 weeks bring other young weirdos out the woodwork.