Classical meets house as '˜one off' Leeds music event goes annual
Dave Beer is telling me about the time he first met US rapper Puff Daddy (as he was then called). It’s just one of many anecdotes the Leeds music mogul and founder of the world’s longest running club night, Back to Basics has collected since he ‘ran away’ from school at the age of 15 to become a roadie for punk rock band The Clash.
At 53, he’s now “on the other side of the fence”, as he puts it but age has not dulled his rapacious enthusiasm or creative drive for all things music. Last year, he was at the centre of a collaboration between two of the city’s most renowned (and some would say opposing) musical institutions: the pairing of the orchestra of Opera North and Back to Basics.
The inaugural Symphonic Sounds of Back to Basics was nothing short of a triumph, attracting 4,000 people to Millennium Square (even in the rain) for a bold re-imagining of some of house music’s most iconic anthems. The event attracted DJs and artists from across the world - Corinne Bailey Rae, Basement Jaxx, Groove Armada, A Man Called Adam, Adamski and Robert Owens. So successful was it that it’s now set to become an annual event. But back to that anecdote...
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“I was at a gig in Miami, they asked me to help a woman with a broken leg. Little did I know it was Naomi Campbell. I went into the VIP area and this guy was there, I had no idea who he was but there was Crystal on the table. I’d never seen champagne in a clear bottle before. I poured myself a pint and we got talking. I asked him about his surname, because I’ve had some trouble with mine over the years. I just told him what it meant in my country. He was a bit taken aback. The next time I saw him, in Ibiza, he’d changed it to P Diddy. I gave him some stick about that. When I saw him again, he was called Sean. He actually comes to my gigs sometimes, he was very grateful because I found his watch on the floor and it was probably worth about a hundred grand or something.”
Dave grew up in Pontefract but left school at 15 to work as a roadie for The Clash. It was the start of a musical career which would take him all over the world and see him work with some of the industry’s biggest names, including David Bowie, Chrissie Hynde and Nile Rodgers. He counts Joe Strummer, Howard Marks and author Irvine Welsh among his friends.
This year’s event looks set to be even bigger, with Robin S, Utah Saints and Alison Limerick headlining, plus a few surprises.
“It’s almost like a dream, it was surreal” says the father-of-two (he has a daughter, 17 and a son, 26). “Last year, it was the moment of my life. To have all those musicians behind you and the orchestra sweeping in, it was unreal. It was beau- tiful and subtle and made you appreciate the music in a different way. We had people of every colour and sexual orientation just having a good time.”
But Symphonic Sounds wasn’t his idea, as he explains. “The council asked me to do it. They made me an honorary son of Leeds to thank me for the cultural and economic input the club night has had on the city. They said we would like to throw you this event with Opera North. That’s when I said, ‘Can I do it my way?’ There was a bit of a pause, because they know what I’m like but I explained I wanted to bring all the original artists over.”
There are some ‘big guns’ behind the scenes, including Steve Anderson, one of Kylie Minogue’s producers, composer Cliff Masterson and Glastobury stage manager Biff Mitchell.
Dave has lots of praise for the council too. He gushes: “Leeds is very fortunate to have a council like we have. It’s reminiscent of Berlin. They see their nightlife as something to be proud of and made one of their clubs, Berghain, a cultural flasghip. I said to the council, ‘Do you realise how cool you are doing this?’
“Clubbing is very much part of the backbone of the city, it’s not called culture for nothing.”
Phil Boughton, Director of Orchestra and Chorus, Opera North, says: “The first meeting of Opera North and Back to Basics brought together two very different Leeds institutions in the heart of the city. It was an unforgettable night for everyone involved and a huge buzz for our orchestra to perform for a whole new audience. With more original artists joining us to perform expanded arrangements of their classic songs, we’re preparing to build on that success.”
Councillor Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, said: “Music has always been part of the heartbeat of Leeds and the city has a very proud track record of supporting and encouraging both emerging talent and established artists.
“Bringing together two very different Leeds cultural institutions for such a unique show has been a bold and innovative step which has paid off in spectacular fashion.
“We’re very excited to be able to bring the concert back to the square again this summer as part of the annual Summer Series programme and to be working with the city’s incredibly diverse music scene to give it such a prominent spotlight.”