Life & Culture

Noteworthy fun coming to Leeds

Music and comedy are top of the bill at the city's Jewish arts festival.


A mix of music and comedy sets the tone for this year's International Jewish Performing Arts Festival in Leeds.

Among the top billings are Jay Foreman - who spawned a YouTube sensation with his song, Moon Chavs - and cellist Kate Shortt, who has been dubbed the "Jewish Victoria Wood".

Both started life as musicians and gravitated towards stand-up comedy - or, as is more practical with a large instrument, sit-down comedy.

Kate Shortt describes her act as a "mad hour of fun". She has a classical training on cello and piano from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, but turns to comedy when she is not performing serious pieces.

"I put very silly words to well-known classical tunes, do impersonations, pull funny faces, and I get the audience to join in," says the 45-year-old Londoner. "The comedy's in the songs, more than straightforward jokes."

Jay Foreman went viral with his annoyingly catchy tune about chavs on the moon in a Burberry spaceship. More than 200 copycat music videos have been posted online. But what of his act?

"It's a mixture of acoustic guitar and laugh-out loud jokes," he says modestly. He has attracted the same comparison as Shortt - "a Victoria Wood for the Spotify generation," one critic called him.

He started doing open-mic nights when he was studying at York University and ended up touring the country's student unions. "It's very studenty humour," he says. "It's generally not that rude, though there are some bits that should carry a 15 certificate."

More music and comedy comes from cabaret legend Earl Okin, who toured with Paul McCartney and opened for Van Morrison. He is 64 now, looks every bit the eccentric English gent with his 1940s dress sense, and recently performed for the King and Queen of Spain.

All three musical comedians play two nights during this, the 11th annual Leeds festival. It runs from Sunday until Thursday at venues in the city's Quarry Hill arts quarter, with a series of live music, drama and film events in addition to the comedy, which is not all musical. There is smart, political stand-up from New York ex-lawyer Jeff Kreisler, who wrote the bestselling satire, Get Rich Cheating.

And there is plenty of non-comedy music. For those who refused to sell a kidney to afford tickets to see Neil Diamond, there is Real Diamond - aka John Hylton, with his tribute show. He sings favourites such as Cracklin' Rosie, Anerica and Love on the Rocks in a voice described as "uncannily like Neil's" by experts at the UK Diamond Fan Club.

The Kosher Gospel Singers return to the festival after impressing audiences last year. Joshua Nelson, black and Jewish, presents familiar prayers in his own original style, with a new show for 2011.

The eight-piece klezmer band She'koyokh - Hebrew for "have strength!" - performs traditional eastern European, Balkan and Turkish melodies, plus their own compositions.

More klezmer from Stewart Curtis's K Groove who play a sort of Ashkenazi jazz. Curtis played the clarinet on the soundtrack of David Baddiel's film, The Infidel.

Israeli Terri Shaltiel and Leeds-based Dan Goldman bring both their bands together for a wild finale to the festival, with a mix of soul, blues, jazz, funk and disco.

At a different tempo there is the London Mozart Trio, including Israeli cellist Sagi Hartov, playing not only Mozart but Rachmaninov and Dvorak too.

A dozen young musicians from Beit Zvi - Israel's equivalent of RADA - will be performing Gershwin classics, while the Leeds-based Limelight Drama Group recalls the influx of Jews to the city with a new adaptation of the 1950 play, They Came to Leeds. Refugees from eastern Europe leave behind pogroms but find fresh troubles in their new home.

And Jonathan Gillis - originally from Sunderland, now living in Jerusalem - plays all the roles in his one-man play The Dreamer, with the focus on the head baker jailed by Pharoah alongside Joseph in the biblical narrative.

Leeds Jewish Festival

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