What better way can there be to spend a sunny spring morning than with a walk round the best city in the world in the company of the amazing cellist, Abel Selaocoe along with members of the Orchestra and Chorus of Opera North. The heads of the early bird shoppers were definitely turned! OK, they were not curious as to what four musicians and singers were doing, just why an elderly gentleman should be schlepping round the environs of Leeds City Centre wearing a set of oversize headphones.

The idea for As You Are was hatched a couple of years ago and the first ‘performances’ done just before lockdown was imposed when it came to an abrupt halt. It has now been resurrected in conjunction with Leeds Year of Culture 2023 and comprises a soundtrack, recorded by the aforementioned, which is listened to whilst admiring the delights of our city and contemplating how great it is to be alive.

For those of you who are situated outside God’s Own County, or even the UK, in 2015 Leeds applied to be European Capital of Culture 2023 but, when we left the EU, our cv (or resumé for my American readers) was consigned to the rubbish bin (trash can – sorry you will just have to translate the rest of it yourselves!). Leeds, being Leeds decided that we didn’t need Europe’s validation so we went on to put the plan in place anyway. It is an indication of how frightened the EU was of Leeds putting on their own culture exposition by the way they have had to appoint three towns to combine in order to fill the gap, not only that, but they have also had to enlist the help of three countries to do the job, Elefsina (Greece), Veszprém (Hungary) and Timisoara (Romania). How big a compliment to Leeds is that!

Enough of the sympathy towards the EU, it is home we are bothered about, so at 10.00am on a beautiful day I arrived at the Victoria Centre which houses the pop-up nerve centre for the event where I was to collect my cans, a route map, and get a briefing from the chap in charge. I was greeted by David and two very pleasant young ladies, Elaine and Joann, who volunteer for Leeds 2023, so are in for a treat over the coming eight months. Duly prepared I set off on my journey to the accompaniment of a rather lively piece of music played by the ensemble.

I should point out that the object of this work is not to provide a guided tour with a commentary, but to enhance a stroll along a preordained route by means of suitable music. At first it seemed a bit incongruous that the soundtrack was of South African origin rather than something more local but after a few minutes everything made sense. It was the mood which mattered rather than the genre. In the absence of a spoken guide to the walk, I have taken the liberty of adding my own, some parts of which are personal but it’s my site I’ll write what I want.

The first job was to exit the Victoria Centre, which I did by turning right out of the office. The building is a splendid new shopping centre full of upmarket emporia and a huge casino where you can lose whatever dosh you have left, or, conversely, you can splash out your winnings in the Rolex shop or one of the designer boutiques.

It was then across Vicar Lane and into County Arcade, one of the many for which Leeds is well known. The shops here are now high end as well, as are the eateries. There is one place in this beautiful old building though which has a special place in my heart, and that is Reiss fashion store.

Much as I like their wares, it is the premises themselves which I love because, had it not been for this place, I would not be writing my article. Just after the war this was a ballroom and where my mother and father met. He was the manager and mum and her friends would go along to the dances. She was spectacularly good looking – I obviously take after my father – and so it didn’t take long for him to notice her. If you go inside now, and use a bit of imagination you can see how it used to look.

We then cross Briggate, more of which later, and go into another of the arcades, Thornton’s. This is a bit more in my price range but the main attraction for me is not the shops at all.

At the top of the arcade is a clock which has a set of mechanical figures who strike the bells when it is time to chime. The mesh is not to prevent any of them ending it all by leaping from their perch, but to stop the birds from expressing criticism of the performance on the statues.

We then emerge into the sunlight in Lands Lane, a mixture of old and new buildings which leads to the City’s largest indoor shopping centre, Trinity. Just before we get there we turn left into Commercial Street.

There has always been a large number of jewellers on this road but it now seems that every shop sells watches and rings. It took me quite a while to walk down here as I do like lusting over stylish timepieces.

At the end of Commercial Street it was a right turn down the bottom part of Briggate which seems to be getting ready for 6th may, and the Coronation. The building wrapped in polythene was a large department store which seems to be undergoing a facelift since it closed down. The metal portico on the right is another entrance to Trinity.

After crossing Boar Lane at the end of Briggate, we come to Lower Briggate, which is the gay area of the City. There are more rainbows than a summer in the Lake District.

Across the road from where the last photograph was taken is Time Ball Buildings, but I am sure you worked that out. This was the classiest jewellers in Leeds owned by John Dyson. Many a date night has started with a meeting under the clock at Dyson’s, a true landmark. For those amongst you who don’t speak Latin, Tempus Fugit means Time Flies. The jewellery shop relocated quite some time ago to premises in, you guessed it, Commercial Street.

The purpose of walking down Lower Briggate was to reach Leeds Bridge, where Abel Selaocoe asks us to pause and reflect, so I did. It was built by a local firm and bears the Leeds coat of arms. The owls represent wisdom – either that or late nights in the clubs, of which there are many – and the sheep is a nod to the woollen industry on which the City’s wealth was made. Each town in West Yorkshire played its part in the production of wool, Leeds being the tailoring centre and also the financial hub.

The flower incorporated into the ironworks is the White Rose of Yorkshire. The buildings used to be factories and warehouses but are now riverfront apartments and bars.

By far the most important fact about Leeds Bridge is that it was the site of the very first moving picture. It was made by Louis Le Prince in 1888 and if you want to see it please go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTlXaqG4VyE It is not exactly an epic but probably the most important piece of film in the world.

From Leeds Bridge we now head back into the City Centre, turning right into The Calls. This is The New Penny pub and obviously a gay bar. It was one of the first, if not the first in Leeds. It started life as the Hope and Anchor when it had to keep its use a secret as homosexuality was punishable by imprisonment until 1967. It was one of those places where everyone knew what it was but it was rarely mentioned. Leeds has always been a liberally minded city both to those who did not conform to the norms of the period, and those seeking a better life here from the horrors perpetrated on them at the beginning of the last century and up to the present. That is why I am so proud to have been born and raised here.

The next port of call was The Corn Exchange, which did what it said on the tin and traded corn. I could have got a fortune for my jokes had it still been used for that purpose. Today it is home to a plethora of small independent businesses, selling all manner of quirky things as well as food and drink. We were asked to step inside by Mr Selaocoe, so it would have been rude not to.

This has to be one of the most impressive interiors anywhere. I love it.

It was back out into Vicar Lane and onto the final stretch of the journey. It gave an opportunity to admire the architecture of the arcades but this time from the outside.

Just to the right of the red traffic light is Leeds Kirkgate Market another institution. It is sometimes claimed to be the largest indoor market in Europe but I am not so sure about that having visited the monolith in Riga, but obviously any benefit of the doubt goes to Leeds.

A quick peek down the side of the market shows another contrast between the old and new Leeds.

Finally it is back to the Victoria Centre and just as we approach it there is the only Michelin starred restaurant in Leeds, Michael O’Hare’s The Man Behind The Curtain. I have reviewed some stunning restaurants over the years but for some reason I have never been invited here, when I say ‘for some reason’, I think I know what it is, he is doing very nicely without my help and jolly good luck to him.

So there we have it, a wonderful walk round the best city in the world accompanied by some amazing music which enhanced the experience immensely. I have had the pleasure of seeing Abel Selaocoe perform live at Howard Assembly Room as well as on Later with Jools Holland not so long ago, and I am a big fan. It is not often you get to spend some time walking round town with one of your musical heroes.

The other musicians involved are: Sidiki Dembele, Simo Lagnawi, and Anna Mudeka. The arrangements for Orchestra and Chorus are by Benjamin Woodgate and Clark Rundell was the conductor.

Just one final reason I am grateful to be from Leeds – I would be totally knackered if I had had to do a walk from Elefsina (Greece), through Veszprém (Hungary) and then Timisoara (Romania).

As You Are runs, or walks, until 29th April on every day except Mondays. You book a time slot and take things at your own pace but be careful as it is a bit weird walking round a busy city centre without being able to hear the traffic. It is an Opera North production being part of Leeds Year of Culture 2023 and supported by Victoria Leeds.

To book a slot please go to https://leeds2023.co.uk/whats-on/as-you-are where there is also more information. The tour is free but it would be good if you cold make a donation.

For other events in Leeds Year of Culture 2023 go to https://leeds2023.co.uk/

For more details of coming performances by Opera North click on https://www.operanorth.co.uk/

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