A Northern Soul
Director: Sean McAllister
Words – Rhiannon Topham
Sean McAllister returns to his native town of Hull in his new documentary A Northern Soul, a story which is reminiscent of the hardships depicted in his previous work A Syrian Love Story.
McAllister brings the same kind of authenticity and sincerity to this instant classic, which honours Steve, the titular Northern soul, as much as it celebrates the Yorkshire grit and perseverance.
When McAllister moves back to Hull, he meets Steve Arnott at the opening of a new wine bar and gallery space near the docks. To say Steve is struggling puts it lightly. He works absurdly long hours, sometimes from dusk ‘til dawn, as a warehouse worker for next to nothing in wages like his fellow “high-vis prisoners”, and a solid chunk of the pittance he earns goes into paying off his massive bank loan.
But Steve’s true passion is to start his Beats Bus, a portable music studio bringing hip-hop workshops to children in the most deprived areas of Hull.
Despite the deepening destitution of his financial and occupational position, Steve emits an irresistible amount of energy and belief in the potential of his Beats Crew which is ultimately what keeps the project alive. Steve’s story is the epitome of what happens when a city is forced to reconcile the confusion of Brexit and enormous political tensions combined with the promise of a revived local identity following Hull’s City of Culture award.
Between the tragedy and sadness are some amazingly funny moments, often courtesy of Blessing, a young Beats Crew recruit and a sure-fire future star in the hip-hop game. McAllister balances this with the stark reality that Hull, like many other towns and cities across the country, felt the strain of government budget cuts and increasing austerity.
McAllister’s ability to build a rapport with those involved in the film is so fundamental to its power, because without it, he wouldn’t have been able to document the relationships that emerge and flourish throughout the film, nor would he have captured the commonalities of everyday working class life that resemble reality more than the sensationalised images portrayed in a stigmatising popular media.
“Stunning work… An instant classic”
– Reel Steel
See it on BBC iPlayer:
or watch now via BFI Player:
See our interview with director Sean McAllister from Sheffield Doc/Fest 2018: