The announced closure of Hull venues The Polar Bear and Welly, presumably due to loss of revenue during the Covid-19 pandemic, is truly heartbreaking. I’m sorry to say that it has been years since I’ve been to either — I don’t get up to Hull nearly as much as I’d like anymore — but they both defined so much of my teenage years and mid-20s.
Welly was the first club I ever went to. First to their under-18s nights and then numerous times afterwards as “an adult”. It went through a lot of changes over those years — first as a haven for emo kids, scene kids, drum’n’bass kids, goths, punks, and then it was eventually just the go-to student venue.
I remember the first time I was there I was 16 and someone put a cigarette out on my arm in a mosh pit. One of those lung-ruining nights before the smoking ban in 2007. This gurning girl just turned to me and said, “Err ner, ‘ave put me ciggie out on yur aaarm.” To which I said, “Yes,” and then she just walked away — a fond memory, for some reason. The mosh pits in there used to be rough too. It was a weird vibe when these men, that were evidently a lot older than the target clientele, would show up and start swinging fists. They were oddly part of the fabric though. There was a sense of danger at those nights (evenings, really) that was all part of the charm.
I don’t remember any of the songs they used to play in there. A lot of chart stuff. A lot of pop punk. Occasionally, they used to throw out “Out of Space” by the Prodigy and that would always drive me mental. As rare an occasion as this was, it always makes me think of Welly.
I was also in Welly the night that Michael Jackson died. I was stood at the bar leading out to the smoking area when the news filtered around from person to person to person. It was surreal watching the information travel through the throng. Once it eventually reached whoever was on the decks they didn’t play anything but Jackson tunes all night. That was special. (I’m not sure it would have the same effect now, child abuse allegations considered, but it was back then.)
I had a few birthdays in there too. I can’t remember which ones… I’m pretty sure I turned twenty-three in there, along with a couple of ages either side of that. One year, we were stood in the queue for hours on Boxing Day. My friends Will and Louis decided to do a very conspicuous piss each against a nearby wall and got caught by the bouncers who threw them out. I thought that was a birthday ruined. Instead we just had another hour in the queue. He’d forgotten about them by then.
There was also the night we went and then had a house party afterwards somewhere on Princes Avenue. I’d gone back a bit earlier with some friends and a few of us kept drinking quietly in the living room. Someone had loudly advertised the party at closing time, however, and I’ll never forget the sight of a few hundred people trying to pile into this tiny flat above a kebab shop. That night, the lads who ran the local indian took over the streets at sunrise and started a cricket tournament in the middle of the road at 5am. We cheered them on from the roof. That was the last time I went to Welly and didn’t feel old as fuck.
The Polar Bear, by comparison, hardly feels like it has been open long at all. When the Sesh moved there from Linnet & Lark, and when my friend Dan started working there, I’m pretty sure I went every Tuesday whilst I lived in Hull from 2013-14 and again in 2016.
The last time I was there was in March 2017, I think. I saw a Blackest Ever Black DJ set as part of the COUM Transmissions retrospective events. That was special too.
Too many memories. Below are some photos taken at various points over the last five years or so — mostly in the Polar Bear but the last one is from a night at the Welly.
Best wishes to the owners and events organisers. I hope this isn’t really the end. I’m sure those involved will find other ways to keep Hull interesting. I daren’t think about what that city will become if they don’t. So much time and energy has been spent building up Hull’s music scene to be something that the whole city can be genuinely proud of and the team at the Polar Bear have been a massive part of that. This could be a major set back, not just in terms of culture but also for morale. It’s not a city that deserves it.