Light Fantastic

When you have spent most of your life in and around a particular area you get a feeling when genuine change is afoot. I’m not talking about the change sometimes espoused by high profile local figures – rhetoric heavy top-down campaigns lacking in sustained conviction that may have more to do with personal agendas than the common good. I’m referring to the change instigated by or at least widely bought into by the general public.

Derby has had a reputation for being something of a shy inward looking soul. I feel it has previously defined itself largely in terms of an industrial past and perhaps falsely aspired to be like its’ “big brother” Nottingham. Fast forward 20 years and things are vastly different. There has been a massive investment in industry with the likes of Pride Park, retail (Westfield) and infrastructure with the new bus station, modernised train station and (after a 40 year wait!) the imminent completion of the inner ring road. There has also been a notable shift in the city demographic with a great influx of national and international young students swelling University numbers, feeding the economy and driving a creative small business culture. Derby is reclaiming its crown as the city of ideas.

The City has come of age, it has the new found confidence to stop following and start leading. Nowhere is this more evident than in a growing programme of cultural events that is attracting national attention, such as the maturing Derby Feste – now in its third year. And now a new addition to the local calendar is attracting national media interest. The inaugural staging of the week long Derby Gleam festival of light ended last night. I headed out on opening night to take in some of the light shows projected against local city landmarks and returned to see last nights festival finale in defiance of the near freezing fog.

Light Trail projection in The Strand
Light Trail projection in The Strand

The Cathedral Quarter light trail is attracting a diverse range of people who, like me, clutch the glossy trail guides that are being handed out around the route. I join the trail on The Strand where rural scenes are being projected against the white walls of a building. Interesting yes, but it’s a little ineffectual due to the surrounding street lighting.

Court like an Egyptian?
Court like an Egyptian?

A short stroll to the old Magistrates Court reveals a more convincing display. It’s a peaceful setting – normally this street would be deserted in the evening – and there is little light pollution. It’s tough getting any decent photos as the images scroll across the building but it works when you are there…

A courthouse projection
A courthouse projection

…although some of the images escape my understanding.

Illuminati grafitti?
Illuminati grafitti?

The strains of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata emanate as I walk towards the next projection against the Cathedral tower on Iron Gate. This is my favourite yet with spheres of colour gracefully rotating to good effect against this timeless structure. The music is becalming and it is striking to see young groups dressed up for a night out stop a second in temporary appreciative silence to watch before continuing onto the local pubs.

The big screen on drugs
The big screen on drugs

The Market Place has been billed as the main event tonight. The big screen has been given over to what I can only describe as a kind of Incredible Hulk hallucinatory figure. There are roaming spotlight projections against the market hall and the surrounding buildings.

Market place under the spotlight
Market place under the spotlight

Articles in the media this week have concentrated on the interactive light displays of Seeper whereby projected animations bring alive or accentuate the natural features of the targeted buildings. The building appropriately targeted here is Quad and a regular 5 minute sequence sees glowing blocks of light dance their way around the glass windows in time to a soundtrack. It’s clever stuff, if not quite as dramatic as some of the incredible displays orchestrated against other buildings to be found via the Seeper website.

The Quad comes alive
The Quad comes alive

That’s as much as I have to share with you tonight. There’s a bit more – some confusing and missing video installations down the party street otherwise known as Sadlergate, but I have devised my own liquid trail starting at the Horse & Groom so that’s your lot for tonight.

Roll on a week to the final night of Derby Gleam and the closing parade. There is a thick blanket of fog and at one point I assume it must be called off. A twitter buddy assures me it is going ahead and I head out into the cold night. There’s a lantern parade to the market place that I have missed but the climax is due at Cathedral Green so I head straight there.

Before the advent of fire...
Before the advent of fire…

The gradually thinning fog rolls over the river derwent and as people start to assemble there is a real sense of expectation. Drumming marks the arrival of a modest entourage from the market place – how these people have endured the cold for so long I have no idea. A parade float heads the procession and shivering children swing home made lanterns.

Parade float
Parade float

Attention turns to a lively display of fire twirling which takes everyone’s mind off the cold.

Playing with fire
Playing with fire

It’s impressive fare at close hand with lit batons, burning hula-hoops and (intentional?) fire breathing.

River fire display team
River fire display team

The finale of the finale is marked by a bright fizzing stream of fireworks and firecrackers.

Derby Gleam 2010 finale
Derby Gleam 2010 finale

The last embers of the firework display blink out and an evocative smell of cordite settles on the fog as the appreciative audience disperses into the night. It’s tempting to join them in some welcoming hostelry but the show isn’t over. There is the 365 day light display for those who take the time to look on a night like this…

Cathedral Green foot bridge
Cathedral Green foot bridge
Foggy outline of Cathedral from footbridge
Foggy outline of Cathedral from footbridge
Exeter Bridge over the Derwent
Exeter Bridge over the Derwent
Derby Silk Mill or a scene from Dickins?
Derby Silk Mill or a scene from Dickins?
Gleam 365 at St Marys Church
Gleam 365 at St Marys Church

So the festival is over for this year. Like any new idea it needs to evolve and to improve. Some of the events ran late, a few aspects of the light trail were a little hard to fathom or mysteriously absent but broadly there were plenty of plusses and the public embraced it. It is a work in progress, like Derby itself. There’s more and better to come.