31 Jan 2022
A photo of composer Boff Whalley sitting in an arm chair looking at the camera.

Q&A with Boff Whalley – A Song for West Yorkshire

Sound UK has commissioned Thanda Gumede and Boff Whalley, in partnership with Opera North, to write a new song inspired by the people of West Yorkshire.

Ahead of the premiere on 2 February 2022, we caught up with Boff Whalley to find out more about the new song, Looking Out, Reaching Out, and Boff’s connections to West Yorkshire.

Can you tell us about your links to West Yorkshire and what it means to you?

I’m from Lancashire originally but have lived here most of my life. As an artist West Yorkshire means having connections right across the county to all sorts of people and organisations.

As someone who loves getting out into the countryside, West Yorkshire also means endless possibilities for exploring.

Can you tell us about the inspiration for your song for West Yorkshire?

We asked lots of people some simple questions about their connections to West Yorkshire and what that means to them – also we asked how they think West Yorkshire connects to the rest of the world, and how the rest of the world comes into this county to influence it.

This has been an incredibly difficult time we’re all living through. What have you learnt about yourself in the last 22 months? What keeps you positive? And how important has creativity and music been to you?

I have had valuable time with my family and that was incredibly important in dealing with the pandemic. Also my love of running meant I had a way to escape the madness, often.

Music and all my creative work has kept me connected with other people – for instance, during the lockdowns I have been part of a choir called Commoners Choir. We decided it was important to keep our group together online, socially, even if we couldn’t sing together.

Also, having a creative outlet – writing for theatre, songwriting, finishing writing a book – was important in keeping me in touch with the world, keeping me active and working.

A Song for Us encourages creativity in everyone. Do you have any tips or words of encouragement for people wanting to create their own song?

Yes – as someone said to me recently, “here’s how to write a song. Firstly, start writing it. Secondly, finish writing it.”

Just do it and do it again and again until you can see you’re getting better. Talk to songwriters about how they write. And try to listen to music critically, think about how good songs are constructed. And learn to accept advice from people!

The public are also encouraged to share their favourite tracks to the music map, tracks that comfort, celebrate, commemorate or simply sum up this time. What track would you choose and why?

I would choose the song Blackbird by The Beatles. It’s an old song but it sings beautifully of the birds we started to hear when lockdown first happened, and celebrates life and song.

It is also a song about the American Civil Rights activists in the USA in the 1960s. I love that it’s about nature but can reference the need for political and societal change.

Can you tell us about the local musicians performing your new song and how these collaborations came about?

The song will be performed by two choirs singing together – we wanted a song that wasn’t just inward-looking, talking about our county; we wanted a song that reached out to the world, a song that was inclusive and welcoming, that puts West Yorkshire into a context of the planet and its people.

It seems more important than ever right now, post-Brexit, to make connections with other places, to look outwards and find allies.

Find out more about Boff Whalley and his work over on his website.

Looking Out Reaching Out – A Song for West Yorkshire – will be available online from 2 February 2022 (12.30pm) on the Song for West Yorkshire county page.