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9 July 2004

London's Disability Rights Festival, reviewed by Colin Hambrook

For the second year running the Liberty Festival created a massive impact in London's Trafalgar Square, exposing the work of disabled artists to an audience of upwards of 2,500 people. Organised by The Mayor of London in association with GLAD, (Greater London Action on Disability) this years' freebie festival consisted of a typically various mix - everything from Opera to HipHop - that is one of the lynch pins of Disability Arts events.

Trafalgar Square felt like the obvious choice for a festival of this nature, despite the controversy last year over whether it would / could be accessible enough. The installation of lifts and the pedestrianisation of the north side of the square, meant reasonable physical access. A screen offering close-ups of the BSL interpreters, plus palantyped words also provided some key access. There were also headsets offering audio description and induction loops available.

The programmers went for more music and held back on some of the more visual-based art forms. This was wise as truly the only way to build up energy in a venue like Trafalgar Square is to make as much noise as possible.My family and I missed the first two hours, but there were several nuggets on the agenda, including a newly commissioned collaboration between soul singer Minika Green and sign song artist Caroline Parker. It makes sense for signed song to accompany a live performance and I'm looking forward to witnessing more of Divas in the up-and-coming Xposure Festival later this autumn.

2003 DadaFest award winner Susan Hedges did a mix of her own songs and sixties covers. She takes a positive and humorous look at disability in songs like Fighter, but came alive when performing songs like Dusty Springfield's I don't know what to do with myself and the Stones' Ruby Tuesday.

Stand-up comedian Laurence Clark was brought on at short notice to perform an extract from his Jim Davidson Guide to Equality, which has been a hit on the Edinburgh Fringe. You could imagine him getting an uproarious response in a theatre. But in this setting a lot of the humour got lost. It was a shame, because it made a refreshing change to hear a comedian coming at disability with the Social Model between his legs, so to speak.

Opera is something I've never been a great fan of, but Channel 4's Operatunity joint winner, Denise Leigh gave a beautiful performance. She did a few popular songs like Summertime, which set just the right tone. Sidike Conde followed with his compelling brand of African Dance, drumming and singing. Finally The Lyrical Rebelz set the place alight with their exuberant and good humoured brand of hip hop. Our 15 month year old daughter took great delight splashing her feet in the fountain water in time to the music.

All in all the event had a laid back party atmosphere and was a real humdinger of a day. One of its key advantages is its focus as a meeting point for disabled people. I came across people I hadn't seen for years all of whom had had a good day. Liberty is now a key event on the Disability Arts calendar. Lets hope it remains there.

For details of all future events organised or supported by the Mayor of London contact:
Tel: 020 7983 4100
Textphone: 020 7983 4458
Website: www.london.gov.uk

Visit Mat Fraser's website
Vist Julie McNamara's website

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