CommunityMusicNorth East & YorkshireReview

LEEDS2023 The Awakening – Headingley Stadium, Leeds

Reviewer: Sara Jackson

Co-Directors: Kully Thiarai and Alan Lane

What an exciting opening to a year of culture in Leeds, placing art, talent and community on centre stage at Headingly. The stadium filled with local artists and makers who received a free ticket in return for submitting a work of art.

Hosted by Gabby Logan and Sanchez Payne, the event opened with the orchestra and chorus of Opera North joining members of Chumbawumba in a roaring rendition of Tubthumping.

This was followed by various short live headline performances from Leeds based artists including rapper Graft, Tabla Maestro, Inder Goldfinger with guitarist Aziz Ibrahim, beatboxer Testiment, and musician Denmarc Creary.

Poet Laureate Simon Armitage and his band LYR joined the line-up with a brand new piece created especially for the occasion. It was a beautiful and poignant piece, however the still and staid style of the performance didn’t quite match the raucous energy of a stadium full of expectant and restless audience members.

The highlights of the evening most certainly went to the community performances. A piece opening with a performance of I Predict a Riot performed by one of Britain’s youngest rock bands, The Solar Jets, leading to a colourful energetic community led dance number complete with Brazilian-style fluorescent costuming and steel drum accompaniment. Choreography from Sharon Watson swept the audience into a euphoric state.

Leeds on Wheels featuring community roller derby and disability groups, choreographed by Lucy Hind, gave an exciting spectacle with joy written all over the performers’ faces.

These two community acts certainly summed the ethos of LEEDS2023 and represented the real meaning of art and culture.

The evening was rounded off with a performance from Leeds-born musician Corrine Bailey Rae, which was interrupted by a staged news broadcast and emergence of a giant over the stadium to mark the official launch of LEEDS2023. The audience had been given globes which lit up, filling the stadium with light reminding us that this year will give culture the opportunity shine in a city often overlooked.

It was a shame in many ways that the programming hadn’t worked in reverse. While Corrine Bailey Rae was one of the biggest names of the night, her low key style felt very still after the joyous events of the evening. If the event had closed with the raucous energy of Tubthumping, and the joy of seeing the stadium lit up by the community we could have left on a much higher energy.

It also has to be said that the food stalls did not represent the cultural heritage of the city, and more effort could have been made to celebrate the diverse community than the usual burger and chip vans that serve the rugby crowds.

A huge round of applause should be offered to the incredible BSL interpreting team for keeping pace with rapping and spoken word of the evening, no mean feat in an arena situation, and an important part of the accessibility of the event.

All in all, this was a fantastic launch to what promises to be an incredible year of culture, art and community!

Reviewed on 7th January 2023.

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The Reviews Hub - Yorkshire & North East

The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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