Brighton Festival 2018 launches with David Shrigley as Director

The 52nd Brighton Festival, the largest of its kind in the UK, announced its programme this week, with a launch event at Brighton Dome, attended by this year’s Guest Artistic Director, David Shrigley. A relative unknown, Shrigley operates in the world of the visual arts, as a lively, sly, sometimes subversive illustrator, writer, film-maker, conceptualist and sculptor. You may have seen his Really Good sculpture on Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth. Or his 2013 Turner Prize-nominated installation David Shrigley: Brain Activity. Or perhaps his headless stuffed ostrich, or his cast of a single tooth (Brass Tooth) which he then created multiple editions of, and sold at £1200 a pop.

This is all rather good, if irreverent, stuff. What really interests us here at Brightonsfinest is his love of music, and his involvement in that world over the years; from directing the video for Blur’s ‘Good Song’ and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s ‘Agnes, Queen of Sorrow’, to designing 12 different covers for American cult indie band Deerhoof’s Friend Opportunity album, and enjoying the likes of Grizzly Bear, Franz Ferdinand, Hot Chip and David Byrne putting music to his 2005 book Worried Noodles, which was subsequently released as a double CD.

Shrigley was honest enough to say at the launch that all he really did was write out a list of artists he would like to see perform at this year’s festival. Hence, the fairy waved its wand, and Deerhoof (Brighton Dome, 9th May) obliged, performing an exclusive show that includes a collaboration with orchestral collective Stargaze, before Deerhoof’s founding member and drummer Greg Saunier presents special compositions for individual musicians, based on Fugazi’s 1993 post-hardcore album In On The Kill Taker.

David Shrigley considers his friend and former Arab Strap, Malcolm Middleton (St. George’s Church, 24th May), to be one of the finest singer-songwriters on the planet, and here he’ll be performing songs past and present, along with Glaswegian folk artist Ian Shaw, who has previously turned some of Shrigley’s poems into song, including ‘Awesome’ and ‘Listening to Slayer’. Best of all, Ezra Furman (Dome, 26th May) is coming to town. Neither a friend nor someone he has seen in concert, Shrigley nevertheless has several of his albums and asked if it would be possible to have Furman perform. Hey presto, here he is, performing songs from his just released and justly acclaimed album Transangelic Exodus.

There are many other great shows that have been programmed by the Brighton Festival team as well. Such as the London-based soul-funk outfit Jungle (Dome, 7th May), the heart-warming alt-folk of Kate Stables and her This Is The Kit (Dome 10th May), who will also be performing a one-off show with the aforementioned Stargaze in re-imagining This is the Kit’s Moonshine Freeze album of last year. Then there’s Crowdfunding queen, cabaret-diva extraordinaire, and one-half of Dresden Dolls, Amanda Palmer (Dome, 13th May) who’ll be performing a sure-to-be-polarising show of art meets rock, the legendary godfathers of rap, and later-day griots The Last Poets (Theatre Royal, 15th May) and the visionary Xylouris White (St. George’s Church, 17th May).

The duo of Cretan lute player George Xylouris and Dirty Three’s Jim White will also be performing along with the brilliantly rustic drone-folk of Lankum (St. George’s Church, 18th May); the multi-talented South African youngster Nakhane (St. George’s Church, 19th May); a collaboration between Welsh harpist Catrin Finch and Senegalese kora player Seckou Keita (St. George’s Church, 26th May); and three gifted jazz, soul and rap artists in the form of Nikki Yeoh, Carleen Anderson, and Speech Debelle, respectively. They’ll be exploring the power of protest song via A Change is Gonna Come (Dome, 22nd May).

Then there’s the women of Mali who’ll get together to create a supergroup of sorts – Les Amazones D’Afrique (Dome, 24th May) – including one half of Amadou-Mariam (Mariam Dounbia), a group formed to fight against violence towards women.

There are also some excellent conversations in store at this year’s festival, including with Suede frontman Brett Anderson (Theatre Royal, 20th May), and Viv Albertine (Brighton & Hove High School, 22nd May), best known as one of the members of the seminal all-girl punk band The Slits, but whose both brilliant and revealing memoir Clothes, Music, Boys was the launchpad for a new career as a writer. Here she’ll be discussing her radical new memoir To Throw Away Unopened, which examines the family conflicts that propelled her towards the uncompromising world of punk back in 1976.

Shrigley himself will be no slouch this May, whether attending as many events as possible, or by making a number of appearances, perhaps most interestingly with his written and directed Brighton Festival commission Problem In Brighton (The Old Market, 10th-12th May). An alt-rock and pop pantomime starring Pauline Knowles and Gavin Mitchell, the show’s music was made by Brightonian Lee Baker, who will lead the Problem band playing instruments specially created by Shrigley for this show.

There is more: neo-classical, classical, and experimental music events that cross-pollinate genres and categories. Then there’s the fabulous programmes for dance, theatre, art and film, spoken word, books and debate, comedy, outdoor events and children’s events, with the festival kicking off as always by the colourful Children’s Parade on the morning of 5 May. The standard is almost invariably very high, the events often unique one-offs. Also, with an expanded community outreach programme that was sparked last year by the directorship of Kate Tempest, Brighton Festival 2018 looks to be one of the most interesting, and varied ones yet.

We were lucky enough to interview David Shrigley at the launch of the Brighton Festival, as he divulged some interesting insights into his life as an artist, a music fan, how he got to become this year’s Guest Director, and how he got to get what he wanted at this year’s festival. You can hear the full and exclusive interview on Brightonsfinest Radio Show, Juice 107.2, Monday 12th February.

Shrigley explains: “I moved to Brighton in 2015, and the one friend I had the time, (writer) Craig Melvin, we went to see some stuff in the festival and I thought, ‘Wow, this is really cool’. And Craig said, ‘I know the Director of the Brighton Festival. Maybe you could become the Guest Director!’ I said, ‘I’d really like that, but do you think they’d want me!?’ They asked me, and here we are. I’m humbled to be added to a very impressive list of past Guest Directors.”

“I’m not taken that seriously in the art world. But I make a living, and I get to do what I want to do. I don’t care at this stage of my life! Music is a big part of my life, my social life, going to gigs. I used to be in a band. My ambition was to learn to play the guitar, and stand up on stage and sing at the same time!”

“There’s something about the guitar I have always loved. As an object, it’s somehow more than just a tool for making music. It has a presence and a desirability. I made this series of guitars which are called ‘Problem Guitars’, and that’s because they only have one string and the fret is in the wrong place. The Guest Director doesn’t really programme anything. It’s more of an opportunity to present something yourself, and to be a figurehead for introducing people to a project.”

“I was asked for a list for things that I wanted to put on. Deerhoof was one of them. They’re a band that really make sense live. They’re an amazing live band, far more than anyone else I can think of. Ezra Furman was also on that list because I hadn’t seen him play even though I have some of his records. I didn’t imagine he would actually play the festival!”

Jeff Hemmings

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