Now in its 12th year, Light Night has become something of a cultural calling card for Leeds. Rob Vale tells Neil Hudson why it’s so special
Rob Vale admits he can no longer walk past a building without wondering what it might look like daubed in the phosphorescent glow of brightly coloured lights.
Together with his brother, Matt and their company, Illuminos, the Leeds Beckett graduate has been responsibly for some of the most spectacular lights shows and lighting special effects around the world.
In 2014, they stunned the city by turning the Civic Hall into a giant moving clock as part of Light Night. It was a feat of visual trickery which took months in the planning but which also took hundreds of people’s breath away and is still etched on the memories of many today.
This year, they plan to recreate the magic with an entirely new display.
Light Night is now in its 12th year and has become so popular that this year, for the first time, it will be held over two days - on October 6 and 7.
Light Nights take place up and down the country now but Leeds was at the forefront of it, it had it earlier than a lot of placesRob Vale, who works at Illuminos with brother Matt
Rob, pictured above on the right, Matt and their colleagues will be making a return to the event by creating a new work of art on one of their favourite canvasses, the Civic Hall, which will become a phoenix spreading its wings.
Rob says: “I think Light Night is really important, not just because we’ve worked on them, it’s more how it makes the city come alive. It’s full of excitement and interesting things. What it does really nicely is it changes a city to bring out that sense of it being for families as well as individuals. It’s something that’s more in keeping with cities on the Continent, where people are used to be out at night, because the climate is different. These nights show these places are for everyone. Within that, you are revisiting places you think you know and seeing them in a completely different way, so it changes your perspective a bit.”
But if you thought their work was limited to Leeds Light Night, think again. Their talent can be seen on stage and theatre shows around the world.
At the moment, they are working in Cardiff on a Roald Dahl-inspired display and they’re also working with The Lyric Opera of Chicago on a truly momentous, four-hour long show involving hundreds of people.
They will also be working with a team in Oldham in October and in Portsmouth in December at the naval dockyard, not to mention a dance collaboration in Derby with one of their sisters which will tell the story of Icarus.
“We are video projection artists, creating large scale events for theatre and dance. It’s a partnership, we set up about 10 years ago. I did a fine arts degree and MA at Leeds Met [now Leeds Beckett University], a lot of the artwork I did involved video and sound, whereas Matt’s background was in lighting.”
In fact, the 38-year-old comes from a family of creatives, something he credits to his parents, whom he says gave his brother Matt, 41, and their two sisters, Ella, 34, an actress and writer, and Alice, 29, a choreographer and dancer, the chance to try all kinds of after school clubs and to feed their imaginations.
Now a father of two himself with wife, Francesca, Rob says the appeal of Light Night extends to all age groups. “It’s great for the kids and I will be taking mine to see it and I know they will love it but quite often, if the kids like it, then the parents will too. It’s about discovering that sense of wonder and magic.
“It’s always interesting when you have done a building already, to go back to it and re-imagine it. We wanted to propose something that was very different but also in a lot of our work we try to avoid things that are tricks and gadgets that computers can do. We want a real grain and texture, it’s about storytelling and narrative.
“So, we wanted to create a giant building projection but so it also felt like you were round a campfire telling a tale. I think Light Night does that. You have families coming out in the evening to share an experience. It’s like the Grimm tales... we wanted to link with that but also to link to Yorkshire.”
The Phoenix display will see the gigantic mythical bird represent the coming together of four elemental forces, symbolising the different parts of Yorkshire working together, with Leeds at their heart.
Rob explains: “The Phoenix projection plays with a known element but we are trying to take it into a different direction. The story will use the architecture of the building to tell a story. There’s music and spoken word elements which go with that. It’s almost like epic storytelling but also quite simple and beautiful.
“It’s bespoke to that building, it couldn’t be shown anywhere else and people who see it know it’s a one off, an experience that won’t be repeated.
“So, we pitched that to the organisers and they were pleased with it. We respond to the building and the space. The Civic is great, especially because it has Millennium Square in front of it’s a big white building.
“I’m scoping places all the time. Absolutely, I walk past them and I end up thinking what they’d look like with this or that on them. We lived in Leeds for seven years, I met my wife there, so we’re very connected to the area.”
He adds: “Light Night is really big now and it has been going a long time, so it’s pretty well established. There are similar events up and down the country - London and Durham have them now - but Leeds was at the forefront of those events and had them a lot earlier than most places.
“The way it’s developed in Leeds, I think it has a momentum of its own and the organisers have adapted to that in terms of spreading the event around the city and finding different spaces for different displays.
“The fact it is now being held over two nights just means that more people can take part in the experience and share the magic.”
The Phoenix in the Stone will be at Leeds Civic Hall, Millennium Square, October 6-7, 7.30pm-11pm.
FACTFILE - FOUR OTHER EVENTS TO LOOK OUT FOR
Waterlight Graffiti, Victoria Gardens, The Headrow, 6-11pm: a wall covered with thousands of LEDs, which light up if their surface is touched by water
Light Water, Dark Sky, Leeds Dock, 6-11pm: a 3D installation made of 6,000 lights that pulsate and change colour as it floats on Leeds Dock
Giant Dandelions, Merrion Gardens, Merrion Street, 6-11pm: a forest of 90 giant, lit flowers
The Falls, Queens Hotel, City Square, 7.30pm-11pm, a 100ft digital waterfall projected onto the hotel.