LEEDS 2023: Lecturer's project to unite musicians and artists in Leeds and beyond

Composer, conductor, producer and lecturer Ben Cottrell has been working on a project idea for LEEDS 2023 that would unite musicians, artists and communities not just in Leeds, but right along the M62 corridor from Liverpool to Hull. He writes here for the YEP.

By Ben Cottrell
Sunday, 16th January 2022, 11:45 am

I first saw that there were opportunities to get involved with LEEDS 2023 on social media, when they launched an open call to work with them to develop a project idea.

They were looking for people who wanted to use the year of culture as a catalyst to do something that might not be possible to do otherwise, which really struck a chord with me as I had been toying with an ambitious idea for a while.

After attending a seminar with some of the 2023 team about the open call, I was really excited about the opportunity to potentially make the idea happen, and even more so when my project was chosen as one of 20 to receive funding to progress it to the next stage.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Read More

Read More
LEEDS 2023: New project launched with 20 artists from Bramley to Chapeltown

My proposal focuses on people living and working along the M62 motorway but explores themes and ideas important to us all. I grew up near Liverpool, now live in Manchester and work in Leeds, so this road is very familiar to me.

One thing that always struck me about this route was the many contrasts on the journey, especially between the urban and rural sections. The people too – as we know, local rivalries are rife.

But there are also countless connections between us, and I realised that the 107-mile M62 motorway was a physical representation of this and could be used as a vehicle to examine them.

LEEDS2023 is working on new projects in the city. Picture: Adobe Stock.

The project explores these connections by collecting stories and reflections from local communities, which musicians will then improvise responses to. Improvising is sometimes seen as difficult or inaccessible, but it’s something we all do every day – every conversation we have is an improvisation. We listen, think of a response, then express it; repeating the process until we come to a conclusion.

Sometimes we have amicable conversations, allowing other people space for what they want to say; sometimes we shout over each other, trying to make ourselves heard above everything else that’s going on. This is exactly the same with improvised music.

While improvisation is of course a big part of the jazz tradition, it is also central to countless musical cultures from all over the world. Many of these cultures are represented in Leeds and across the North, and I want to use this project to engage with musicians from these communities – both amateur and professional – as well as those within the vibrant improvised music scene here.

It's been great developing this idea with the support of LEEDS 2023.

Having such open callouts creates opportunities for new people to get involved, meaning that there is a brilliantly diverse set of projects being created, by different people and organisations, which in turn means that when it comes to our year of culture there will be an explosion of creativity from each corner of the city, across the region and (hopefully!) all the way along the M62.