Watch the Lancaster bomber soar over Yorkshire
Ndrika and I have created a film-poem that celebrates something about the music, the stories, the voices and the people of Leeds. This is part of the LEEDS 2023 Letting Culture Loose commissions which aim to show different facets of culture in Leeds.
It features images and voices of the people of Leeds, filmed across the city, by Ndrika. First I wrote the poem. I chose to perform it in collaboration with a variety of people in the city: from clowns to doctors; allotments to beekeepers. The poem-movie was made last year and we’re thrilled that people can now see it.
As a poet, I work with music and musicians. In my poem, I sought to capture the sound of Leeds. It is a city where more than 170 languages are spoken. The poem makes reference to David Oluwale and proposes that the presence and music of these languages (and the people who speak them) in the city is a living memorial to him.
I started my writing process by researching music in Leeds. I am fascinated by the Dearloves, a family of instrument makers who opened a music store on Boar Lane in the early 1800s. Their instruments have been played in concert halls and homes across the world.
The words: ‘Dearlove, Leeds’, were pressed, like a signature, into the wood of their instruments. I like the idea that an instrument made in Leeds can sing into the hands or the imagination of someone halfway around the world; people, everywhere, playing or hearing the sound of Leeds.
The poem is written in three stanzas. Each represents a different period in Leeds musical history, from the Dearloves to Soft Cell (who met at Leeds Poly), to the ‘glittering half-moons’ of the steel pan as a tribute to Leeds West Indian carnival .
It is really important to me that the film-poem honors the vast cultural contribution that generations of people, including people of colour, have made to Leeds.
Just as Rommi was interested in the sound of Leeds, I was interested in the look. Each area of the city has its own visual identity, from the red bricks of Chapeltown to the stone of Calverley. I chose to film the unexpected parts of Leeds, not just the gleaming downtown buildings.
I wanted to capture the gaze of the inhabitants of the city as well as its architecture. The film is a celebration of people from across Leeds, including musicians, artists and members of community groups. The film acts as a visual link to the variety of people and cultures that embody Leeds.
The film features video portraits of people looking straight into the camera lens, and they have an honesty and intimacy towards them. I wanted these video portraits to have the same impact and prestige as the paintings exhibited in major art galleries.
Most of the people we filmed had never participated in something like this before. Some were a little nervous about being filmed, but once we got started they opened up to us. One of my favorite people to film was Ruth, an older artist, performer, clown and storyteller.
I never would have met someone like Ruth without this movie, and I’m incredibly grateful for that. She inspired me to always stay curious and maintain a passion for learning.
Every city in the world has its own atmosphere and its own feelings. I hope our film captures the feeling of Leeds and that people who may never visit it will understand that feeling just by watching it.
We would like to thank everyone who gave so generously of their time to be in the film as well as those involved in its making, including composer and musician Dave Evans and musicians Toby Evans, Kenny Higgins and Guy Rickarby, as well as Ed Heaton, who mixed and mastered the soundtrack and musicians Judah and Paulette Morris (known as Royal Blood) who feature in the film.
‘Dearlove, Leeds’ premieres at the LEEDS 2023 roadshows and will go live at a later date.