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28 July 2021

When I first saw my face on the side of a building, I couldn’t quite believe it was real

I don’t mean like an image of the Virgin Mary in an Italian hill town, visible only to true believers. I mean that I’ve been painted there, as part of a mural.

By Tracey Thorn

In the past couple of weeks my face has appeared on the outside wall of a building in Hull. I don’t mean like an image of the Virgin Mary in a small Italian hill town, visible only to true believers. I mean that I’ve been painted there, as part of a mural.

The first I knew of it was when someone tweeted me a photograph showing the side of a red-brick building on Clumber Street. Three ladders were propped up against it, and a man in paint-spattered dungarees was hard at work. Looming above him were the huge faces of Roland Gift, Mick Ronson and, well, me.

I couldn’t quite believe it was real, and I asked the original tweeter that very question. Although why anyone would bother to fake a mural of me and some rock stars in a northern town was another question altogether. The replies flooded in, confirming that it was all true, and linking to a recent article in the Hull Daily Mail which had the full story.

The mural is the work of a retired art teacher, Ed Ullyart, and is a celebration of Hull’s musical history. Also included are the Red Guitars, an indie band from the Eighties, and the folk group the Watersons. More faces are due to appear, so I imagine it won’t be long before we see the Housemartins.

I feel slightly guilty, as all these people are Hull born and bred, while I was a mere student there. For a year I lived a ten minute walk away from Clumber Street, in Pearson Park, and then for another year I lived even nearer, in Salisbury Street. I can’t imagine what I would have thought if you’d told me that one day, decades in the future, my face would decorate the streets I walked round.

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[see also: How I learned to love the Rolling Stones]

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Anyway, it is an honour, and instead of feeling guilty, I will work on just feeling flattered. The artist has done a grand job so far, using a range of brown and terracotta tones, so that the faces seem to emerge from the brickwork like natural forms, rather than being imposed.

Gift looks, of course, very beautiful, Ronson looks enigmatic, and I look OK, all things considered. I’ve been painted from a photograph, which looks like it was taken in around 1983. My hair is short and dark and spiky on top, and I’m wearing a long dangly diamanté earring, which I think I only wore that year. I look a bit pensive, a bit heavy-eyed. The expression on my face is one I often see on the face of my 20-year-old son.

There was much speculation on Twitter as to the identity of the man in the corner of the mural, who turns out to be Paul Jackson, the owner of the New Adelphi Club. Opened at the end of 1984 (which, as Philip Larkin nearly said, was rather late for me), the club occupies an old terraced house, with a bomb site for a car park. Still, Oasis, Pulp and Radiohead all played there, thus earning its owner a well-deserved place on the wall of fame.

It’s all very Hull, this mixture of fame and its opposite. All these people, it seems to say, have done very well and we are proud of them, and if you haven’t heard of some of them, well, that’s your bloody fault. Hull’s music scene has never quite had the glamour or status of other northern cities such as Liverpool or Manchester, but perhaps because of that it has, especially in recent years, worked hard to promote its history and contribution to culture.

But always with that typical refusal to glamourise, that insistence on the inclusion of the ordinary and the down to earth. Hull is very big on the notion of not getting above yourself. So I am delighted to read in the article that, alongside the beautiful rock stars, the artist will be including “an image of popular Hull lollipop man Phil Boreham, who died in January after spending several years patrolling a nearby pedestrian crossing on Princes Avenue with his dog Snowy and a handmade ‘Thank You’ sign he showed to patient drivers”.

Ullyart goes on to say that, “He was a lovely chap, so it’s the least I can do.” I’m even more honoured now, to be in such company. 

[see also: As plans for our family holiday crumble, our only option is a staycation in the garden]

This article appears in the 28 Jul 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Summer special