Monday, 6 January 2014

Leeds to be Cultural Capital?

Thanks to Yorkshire Evening Post for printing my letter [20 December 2013]:

I see that Leeds is planning to to bid to be cultural capital (YEP 5 Dec). I am looking at the things that Leeds has been losing, and I am wondering exactly what it still has to offer.

The article mentions the West Indian Carnival, Henry Moore Institute and Opera North HQ. but this town, my adopted home town, seems to be a sorry state. For a start, the skyline from the motorway is a guastly mash-up of toy town designs, including the infamous Bridgewater. Beautiful Victorian buildings, like Royal Park are demolished; hideous PFI schools proliferate; Leeds has become a centre of shopping centres.

East Steel at YAMSEN:SpeciallyMusic Town Hall Concert
But I would most certainly support this bid, with a few provisos: that the culture should include us all. For a start I would give the orchestras, choruses and special needs music charities their homes back, either at the West Park Centre, or on its present site, or somewhere equally suitable. The YAMSEN:SpeciallyMusic Christmas Concert, playing its 30th concert last week at the Town Hall, is certainly a cultural asset to be celebrated.

For a second I would examine Leeds West Indian Carnival a bit more closely. The only live band in the procession is its own steel band. No other live acts - samba bands, djembes, or marching  bands from any other cultures get a look in, and my own steelbands (Foxwood, Sparrows etc) were banned three years ago, on the grounds that a live band might provoke a riot! Leeds Silver Sparrows played London Southbank two years ago to celebrate the Festival of Britain. Foxwood wowed Wonderland this weekend on Briggate. Alas they were not considered worthy to pay their own home town carnival!
Foxwood Steel at Leeds Waterfront Festival 2013

In other cities, Liverpool and Cardiff for example, they have reconsidered what Carnival means to their cities, and reinvented them, bringing in acts from more recent immigrants to reflect their cultural diversity. Huddersfield, for example has renamed its carnival "Huddersfield Carnival" and is setting about becoming more inclusive, without losing its West Indian roots. 

So, by all means apply to be the centre of culture, but first let's have a good inwards look at ourselves.

Sparrows play Festival of Britain at London Southbank July 2011
Victoria Jaquiss FRSA