An interview with Andy Abbott by Paul Carrington on BBC Radio Leeds prior to the event in Leeds on May 10th, 2008. Download it by clicking here.
Interview with Andy Abbott by Tess Eaton for Leeds Student following the event.
Why did you decide to call it a festival?
A festival is an event held in celebration of something. I wanted to celebrate some of the amateur and self-organised activity in Leeds and give people space to learn and talk about ways in which they can spend their spare-time.
I feel that a lot of this self-organised or grassroots activity is less visible than the options to go shopping, eating or drinking that tend to characterise Leeds in the press. I hoped that by creating a temporary space in which people could present and chat about what they do a festive or celebratory atmosphere and discussion would be created.
What was the most interesting hobby that someone had?
All the pastimes people had were interesting in different ways and it was amazing to see the sincerity and dedication people had for their pastimes. Equally it was nice to see passers-by who decided to sit down and play a game of 'Significant Pursuits' (a board game designed for the event in which you talk about hobbies) characterising themselves through activities normally deemed unimportant, such as 'sleeping in the bath' or 'collecting gun cartridges'.
Of course, I do have my personal favourites and I was amazed by Harry who makes origami birds, animals and objects at an incredibly minute but detailed scale from used lottery and bus tickets. He brought down a selection of his objects, which I found incredible, and then spent the rest of the day impressing girls with his crane-making skills. Not bad for an Old Age Pensioner!
Do you have any hobbies?
I moved to Leeds in 1999 to 'do music' which has been a pastime of mine since I was 11. My friends and I used to play in bands, organise gigs at youth clubs and record albums and EPs on cheap home recording equipment. I decided to move to Leeds to try and spend more time on that with the aspiration of it becoming a full time profession.
Fortunately for me when I moved to Leeds I came across the city's DIY music scene, which was (and is) centred around an ethos of keeping things cheap, accessible and just-for-fun. This way you have much more control and ownership over what you do and more freedom because of that. I still 'do music' in this way but started thinking there must be a variety of activities and organisations that work under the same spirit. Luckily it seems that there are plenty more than I could have imagined.
Have you held one of these events before? if so, how did the Leeds one compare? Will you hold another one in the future?
I did a 'dry run' in Hull as part of an art event called Time and Tidal flow that allowed me to develop and test the way the board game worked and how an audience would find the process. That was a valuable experience and one very different to Leeds because it was for an art audience and didn't revolve around pre-contacted groups or hobbies. In Hull it was a way of generating discussion around what people did in their spare-time so everything was produced in the day.
In Leeds I had done some research and promotion beforehand asking groups and organisations if they wanted to be involved. This meant that the event had an additional function as it provided a space for the groups to meet each other and promote what they do to the shoppers and visitors of a Saturday afternoon on Briggate.
Now that the groups have had chance to meet eachother and get an idea of what it might be like I would like to organise another Festival of Pastimes with a much higher level of involvement from the groups themselves. Hopefully Light Night in October might provide a good setting in which this could occur but itâ€™d have to be under-cover as I don't think the weather will be quite as nice as it was on May 10th.
Do you feel Leeds needs an 'alternative picture of the city'?
Absolutely. It so often seems that Leeds is characterised purely by its businesses, shops and bars when to me these are only a relative part in what makes the city an interesting place to live in. From the discussions I had on May 10th people are interested in doing other things but they often find them hard to find out about. I think then that it is important to offer an entrance point into these activities for those that might appreciate it. That entrance point can take many forms - through information, discussion or big sheds in the middle of the street.
In a wider context Leeds' development appears to have been driven by importing infrastructure and institutions from elsewhere in an attempt to keep up with peer cities like Manchester, Liverpool, London etc. To me the potential for Leeds to offer a qualitatively rich daily existence aren't found in these copycat tactics which make Leeds an increasingly generic place, but in the grassroots and people-led activities that are full of individual character and offer genuine ownership.
What is it that you see about Leeds that you think that the rest of us should see more of?
I guess it's a common complaint of people (not only in Leeds) that they are bored or can't wait for a holiday or sick of doing the same stuff day in day out. Many people have come to accept this idea that life is a routine of work and leisure punctuated by more or less occasional visits to the gym. In order to keep this routine exciting you need more money to spend on the leisure and therefore more time spent working and perversely less time and energy for leisure.
The thing I want to make visible in Leeds are the many ways in which people reject this routine either by creating their own fun (which is often much cheaper than eating out, buying clothes, records and DVDs etc) or by constantly finding new and interesting opportunities for keeping themselves occupied.
Did the event work as you hoped?
The weather was kind to us which was my main concern. Although the shed was built water-proof the day wouldn't have been half as pleasant if it weren't for the sun and light breeze that meant people seemed a bit more inclined to sit around and chat.
The groups that came to present what they do made an impressive effort with great costumes from Briggate Morris, a piper from Royal Scottish Country Dance, football skills from Republica, lots of shiny scooters from Leeds Crusaders and material from White Rosettes, the Thoresby Society and Friends of Dales Rail walking group plus more which you'll be able to find on www.festivalofpastimes.org.
I had a great day and very appreciative of everyone who was involved. That said its crucial for any further events to be led much more by the groups themselves so they have the freedom and space to express their pastimes in the way in which they think is most suitable. I believe my role should be as a facilitator rather than a 'lead-organiser'.
What age/type of people came to the event?
The nice thing about the day was that the range of ages and backgrounds of people participating was so varied. There were children as well as older people playing and contributing to the games of pastimes and the shed installation. The people that came or took an interest ranged from shoppers having a quick break to more leisurely characters who were hanging out in the street to people that had travelled from much further afield (by that I mean Huddersfield) specifically for the event.
Did you get any confused people or odd questions?
People seemed to get what it was about because of the name and the big banner. I think if there was any confusion or questions they stemmed from the motivation behind the event. People were asking 'why is it happening?' or 'why are you doing it'? because they assumed it must have had some commercial aspect. People have learnt to be naturally suspicious of things that say they are done just for the sake of doing them, but that is the spirit in which most of these activities are undertaken.
What inspired you to start the festival?
I hope I've managed to address this with your previous questions but in a nutshell the inspiration is the wealth of activity organised by people to keep themselves entertained.