Sheffield Doc/Fest Review: A Northern Soul

I lived in Hull in the late ‘90s and for one reason or another saw quite a lot of the city. Apart from having the ‘biggest council housing estate in Europe’, it had very little going for it. With a port whose influence is rapidly receding, it’s a city which suffered dreadfully from the loss of traditional industries and recent government austerity measures. I was surprised as anyone when it was awarded the UK City of Culture in 2017 but wondered what effect it would have on the city’s long-term prospects. This forms the background of Sean McAllister new film A Northern Soul.

Sean returns to his native Hull as creative director for the opening ceremony, after spending much of the last twenty years travelling around the world making award-winning documentaries. He moves back in with his parents, now in their 90s, but to put it politely they’re not wowed by his achievements. Steve works eight-hour shifts in a factory but dreams of making a living from music. As part of the celebrations, he’s given the opportunity to run the Beast Bus, taking a mobile recording studio to five primary schools in impoverished areas.

A Northern Soul is a tale of two cities. The one which is hosting wave after wave of cultural events for a year. The other is what’s left when it’s all over. Steve personifies an ordinary working-class Hull resident. Struggling with debt, working long hours but desperate to build a better life for himself and a better city for his daughter. You can see the effect the Beats Bus has on the kids involved. It gives them a chance to shine in a place where arts funding is thin on the ground. An opportunity to find a way out of poverty and avoid a life seemingly already mapped out for them. A Northern Soul shows a chance is all many need for the possibility of a better future.

A Northern Soul screens again at Sheffield Doc/Fest on 12 June.

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