What we made of the Brief Encounter in the city centre

Posted on - 23rd September, 2017 - 10:30pm | Author - | Posted in - Arts, City Centre, Preston City Centre, Preston Council, Preston News, Things to Do in and around Preston, What's On in Preston

An illuminated giant stalked the streets of Preston during Saturday night as the city enjoyed a variation of light shows and sounds.


With a live band belting out classic clubbing hits the torchlight procession made its way from Winckley Square to the Flag Market for the centrepiece of the mini festival.

Brief Encounter was a four-hour frenzy of art installations to mark the interval year before the Lancashire Encounter biennial returns.

As well as the procession there were three performances of Trespass by Imitating the Dog onto the side of the Town Hall.

For many this was the highlight as the childrens choir created a formidable sound down Lancaster Road as the audience looked up at a retro video games style projection onto the side of the building.

Trespass projected onto the Town Hall while a choir sang below
Trespass projected onto the Town Hall while a choir sang below

Political messages rained down on the audience, with ‘for sale’ and pound coins catching fire on the side of the building – a clear political metaphor for the cash-strapped local authority.

Back on the Flag Market and the umbrella tree came to life as the darkness fell, shooting smoke and lights into the air.

Read more: See more pictures from the Brief Encounter festival

While a cacophony of noise was heard from the illumaphonium in Harris Street, with three sections of it lit up and allowing the crowds to create their own music on them. A popular attraction with families and also those heading on their way out into the city centre.

The illumaphonium was one of the most popular parts of the Encounter Pic: Paul Melling
The illumaphonium was one of the most popular parts of the Encounter Pic: Paul Melling

Meanwhile the Harris Museum and Art Gallery thronged with the sound of the One Voice Community Choir – not once, but twice – for their performances on the ring balcony. A host of different workshops were taking place and we’ve certainly never seen as many people in the Harris building at once.

Read more: What you can see at this year’s Preston Arts Festival

So what did we make of it? The range of events certainly worked with both big and small installations scattered at different locations.

There were lots of guides around giving out programmes and helping people locate different things – certainly a step up on staffing and volunteers compared to previous years and events.

Some serious questions need to be asked about the planning of the small-scale torchlight procession. Routes given out beforehand showed it coming down Cheapside and then around into Birley Street and back into the Flag Market.

But with the trees down Cheapside the giant was at risk of decapatiation and headed off down Church Street and instead turned into Birley Street coming down by Turtle Bay and Heavenly Desserts. However, no one told the rest of the procession and it went charging off down Cheapside and round the back of the Old Post Office into Earl Street.

Hasty reorganisation was needed as the giant waited on its own infront of the Harris with crowds, and increasingly shouty security guards, milling around in confusion.

Some of the dancers in the procession
Some of the dancers in the procession

Eventually the band reappeared and the procession was reunited with the giant infront of the Harris with the band up on the balcony serenading the crowd.

As the procession finished the giant wandered the Flag Market, allowing people to get plenty of pictures of the creature.

Read more: Monkey puppet from War Horse creators to perform in Preston

The most common phrase heard among the crowds was ‘what is this for?’. I guess that’s hard to answer – given the range of arts and entertainment on offer. But Tim Joel, the man behind the event, gave it a shot in our Facebook Live.

If Preston is to host serious events of this scale there needs to be more of a shut off of the roads – watching a projection on the side of the Town Hall with a bus hurtling by your left ear is a bit unnerving. Trying to keep a city centre moving and hold a major arts festival is certainly challenging (the look on the taxi drivers face when the giant blocked his path was priceless!).

Brief Encounter was certainly brief, and a bit frantic, but it shows the intent to hold these kind of events and do something different in the city centre. We’ll see what Lancashire Encounter brings in 2018.

What did you make of the Brief Encounter? Let us know your views in the comments below

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