Brighton Festival 2020Public booking opens: Wed 19 Feb, 9am

Brighton Festival Picks: Alex Leith, Viva Brighton Magazine

We asked a selection of Brighton dwellers, Brighton lovers and Brighton businesses to give us their Brighton Festival picks. Here Alex Leith of Viva Brighton Magazine shares his highlights...

When I heard the name of this year’s Guest Director of Brighton Festival, I guess I wasn’t the only person to think ‘Hofesh who?’ But, having since interviewed Mr Shechter, I think he constituted a bold choice by the organisers, a real outsider who has made ‘outsiders’ the theme of the Festival. I must admit that apart from a few visits to Sadlers Wells over the years, I haven’t really directed much of my attention towards the contemporary dance scene, but I’m really looking forward to seeing the Hofesh Shechter Company perform Sun on Saturday 3rd. Hofesh promises it to be a dark, hard-hitting piece about alienation. You can read the interview in the May issue of Viva Brighton Magazine.

Hofesh Shechter Brighton Festival Sun

Another interviewee in the same edition is Yinka Shonibare, of Fourth-plinth-fame, who has turned the old reference library in Brighton Museum – which I used to frequent to research historical pieces for Viva – into a colourful installation piece on colonialism, called The British Library. He’s covered thousands of books with his trademark ‘African’ fabrics, which are actually designed in Indonesia and made in Holland, and demonstrate how globalisation means that nobody is truly from one just place any more. On the spines of the books are written the names of various immigrants and descendants of immigrants some of which – Mick Jagger and Helen Mirren for example – are quite surprising. We’ve dedicated the centre spread of the mag to a close up of this work and it looks like it’s going to be stunning.

I was watching Later... with Jools Holland the other day, and was delighted to see that Zara McFarlane was among the guests. She’s a soul-fuelled jazz singer who brings to mind Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holliday, and she performed a nuanced and powerful rendition of Junior Murvin’s Police and Thieves, then did some improvisation with the compere playing the piano. Wow. She’s performing at The Old Market on the 11th.

Zara McFarlane at Brighton Festival 2014

There are some interesting people being live-interviewed, including musician/author Ben Watts (we got there first, as you’ll see in the May mag), Slit guitarist Viv Albertine (ditto) and (filth-y) novelist Irvine Welsh. And talking one-to-ones, one event I’ll certainly clear the diary for is the New Writing South annual lecture from Lynn Barber, Britain’s most well-respected newspaper interviewer. We were chuffed when she agreed to let the tables be turned on her, in our Festival special edition… and our writer Steve Ramsey certainly gave as good as he got.

So those are the main set pieces that I’m looking forward to come May. But the real beauty of Brighton Festival (and all the other offshoot events) isn’t about what you’re expecting to enjoy, but what takes you by surprise. Which is one reason I’ve made a pledge to do at least one Festivals-related thing every day, throughout the three weeks of the year that Brighton gets turned into the cultural capital of the country*. I’m hoping that most of those surprises will be positive ones…

*minor exaggeration alert