Tour de France sparks creative energy in Yorkshire

By Ian Youngs
Arts reporter, BBC News


From a bicycle orchestra to pedal-powered gigs, cycling has inspired a burst of creative energy in Yorkshire as the county prepares to host the launch of the Tour de France in July.


image captionWith video goggles and real live helpers, Le Grand Voyage is a truly interactive experience

I am trying to take part in a bike race but have been jostled by some female roller-skaters, a small child has overtaken me on a tricycle and one of my team members has been kidnapped by a water pistol-wielding masked man.

Bradley Wiggins would not have put up with this.

So thank goodness that this is just a virtual reality bike race and I am really on an exercise bike on the third floor of an arts centre in Barnsley.

Wearing video goggles, I am watching a film that puts me at the heart of this odd race while instructions ("Pedal faster"; "Shake your fist"; "Stick your leg out") are relayed through headphones.

Although I cannot see them, there are real people in the room adding physical effects like the jostling and the water-squirting.

image captionThe Barnsley Civic is also hosting an exhibition on bicycle design

This enjoyable immersive theatrical experience, called Le Grand Voyage, has been devised by Harrogate Theatre to mark the real Tour de France's arrival in Yorkshire at the start of July.

It is one of many cycling-related performances, exhibitions and experiences being staged as part of the Yorkshire Festival, a £2m cultural festival taking place across the county in the run-up to the Tour.

And Barnsley is the first stop in my quest to sample as much of the festival as possible in a single day.

Le Grand Voyage is being staged at the Barnsley Civic, which is also hosting Bike Show, an excellent bike-related exhibition of Tour de France history and the evolution of bicycle design.

Le Grand Voyage is on tour until 6 July. Bike Show is at Barnsley Civic until 12 July.


image captionThe bicycle orchestra made instruments from unwanted bike parts

Some strange sounds are coming from an art gallery above a shopping centre in Huddersfield.

image captionThe orchestra played their new instruments for shoppers in Huddersfield

Inside, people are plucking guitar strings that have been stuck across old bicycle frames, and stroking the spokes on bicycle wheels with violin bows.

"They've all got different and peculiar tonalities," suggests musician Dave Birchall as he plays different spokes.

Yes - some make groaning sounds and others make screeching sounds. All are quite peculiar.

Mr Birchall is helping run a workshop organised by the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, in which anyone can have a go at making recycled instruments from unwanted bike parts.

Later, they will put on a performance in the town centre.

Chloe Glover, from Huddersfield, is making a "thumb piano" from spokes that have been cut to different lengths to play different notes when flicked with a thumb.

"It sounded better when we were having the demonstrations earlier," she says, anxiously flicking her spokes.

"I'm hoping something magical's going to happen when we play them."

I listen as the 10 orchestra members begin to jam, with Mr Birchall now blowing into a twisted pipe that was presumably once a bike frame.

I leave them before lunch with a somewhat discordant sound in my ears, unfortunately unable to stay to hear the final performance or see the reaction of Huddersfield's Saturday shoppers.


image captionOne young cyclist stopped her ride in the park to watch Bike Story

On an outdoor stage in York's Rowntree Park, 10 bikes are arranged around one giant bicycle wheel. These are the props for a play titled Bike Story.

Mike Kenney, who wrote an Olivier Award-winning adaptation of The Railway Children a few years ago, asked people to submit their own bike stories online and picked the best to weave into a script.

"It's quite fascinating, peoples' emotional relationships with bicycles," director Alan Dix says.

"We wanted to explore domestic relationships [with bikes] - rather than the hyper-adrenalised world of the Tour de France."

So three actors tell stories about first bikes, buying bikes, learning to ride bikes, crashing bikes, racing bikes, stolen bikes.

The audience sits on a grassy verge and the numbers slowly swell as people divert from their weekend walks or cycles to watch.

It is a democratic sort of theatre - free, in a public place and open to all ages. As long as you like bikes.

Bike Story is on tour until 6 July.


image captionThe Tour de Cinema visited Ravenscar on the North Yorkshire coast on Saturday

On the North Yorkshire coast, jolly French music and a murmur of laughter are drifting over the hills.

The music is the soundtrack to the 1949 film Jour de Fete, a slapstick comedy about a hapless bicycle-riding postman.

The laughter comes from the several dozen people who are watching it on a screen overlooking Robin Hood's Bay, between Scarborough and Whitby.

It is one of the most dramatic settings in a season of special screenings of bicycle-related films across Yorkshire under the banner of Tour de Cinema.

Others have taken place at the bottom of cliffs, outside stately homes and in old mill yards.

image copyrightDavid Chang
image captionFountains Abbey in North Yorkshire has been among the other venues for Tour de Cinema

Some people make a lot of effort, according to event manager Scott Bailey. "We've had people come with three candelabras with their picnic baskets," he says.

For Saturday's screening, the National Trust converted its truck parking area into a pleasant sloped green lawn for people to sit and watch both the films and the view into the evening.

Tour de Cinema continues at various venues until 6 July.


image captionThe Asda car park in Keighley was one of three stops for the Tour of Infinite Possibility on Saturday

From one of the festival's most picturesque settings to one of the least.

Back across Yorkshire, a stage has been erected at one end of the Asda car park in Keighley and a band in blue uniforms are belting out some anthemic tunes.

This is Leeds band Hope and Social, Yorkshire's best-kept musical secret, who are playing three gigs a day over four days as part of their Tour of Infinite Possibility.

Hope and Social have recruited local bands and choirs to perform with them after running workshops with 1,500 people in preparation.

image copyrightShot By Sodium
image captionThe Tour of Infinite Possibility also visited Knaresborough's market square earlier on Saturday

"We've had folk groups, brass bands, lots of school groups, scout groups, a female full-contact roller derby team," says singer Simon Wainwright.

"It's been mammoth. The best part of the project has been the workshops and seeing people light up as you teach them the songs."

In the supermarket car park, the stage is supposed to be pedal-powered - although the children who are on the eight electricity-generating bicycles next to the stage are posing more than pedalling.

The Tour of Infinite Possibility concludes in Elland, Holmfirth and Sheffield on Sunday.


image copyrightYorkshire Festival
image captionThe giant land art installations are best seen in daylight

As the light drains at the end of the longest day, I drive to a vantage point outside nearby Haworth, where you are supposed to be able to spot three of 12 large works of art that have been etched into the landscape along the Tour de France route.

I think I can just about make out some patterns in the grass in the valley below, but with the failing light and my failing eyesight I cannot be sure.

Instead, I sit on a bench for a while and just admire the landscape, which does not need any artistic adornments to make it look beautiful. The world (or the bits that like cycling, anyway) will see that too in two weeks time.

The land art installations, under the title Fields of Vision, will be available until 6 July. The Tour de France departs from Leeds on 5 July.

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