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Music, fashion and poetry events to mark First World War centenary

Published 20/01/2016

Blur's Damon Albarn will appear at the Royal Festival Hall in June
Blur's Damon Albarn will appear at the Royal Festival Hall in June

Music with Damon Albarn, fashion from Vivienne Westwood and poems by Simon Armitage form a new programme of events marking the First World War centenary.

Part of the spectacular sea of ceramic poppies at the Tower of London will also feature when it goes on display at St Magnus Cathedral in Orkney to commemorate the Battle of Jutland.

The events will be based around the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme and are put together by 14-18 NOW, the UK's official arts programme to commemorate the Great War.

The programme involves 140 artists, 80 new artworks, and will include events in all parts of the UK with organisers hoping it will be enjoyed by as many as 20 million people.

Highlights include Blur frontman Albarn who will appear when the Africa Express project presents the Syrian National Orchestra for Arabic Music with guests at the Royal Festival Hall on June 25.

Africa Express brings together musicians from different cultures, genres and generations in a bid to break boundaries and offer a new perspective on Africa and its music.

The Syrian National Orchestra for Arabic Music first appeared with Albarn in Damascus in 2008 before featuring on a Gorillaz record and later joining the group on a world tour which included shows in Syria and Lebanon.

Albarn said: "We're so used to seeing Syria through the prism of news, which is entirely a negative thing. This concert will give a completely different perspective.

"It's a truly miraculous sound they create. There's a whole choir, there's strings, there's soloists, there's amazing percussion. It's a really dynamic and joyous sound."

A key theme of the programme is the changing role of women, and an exhibition called Fashion & Freedom at Manchester Art Gallery will see leading female fashion designers - including Westwood and Roksanda - explore the impact this shift had on fashion at the time.

It was when women "lost the corset and gained the bra", according to Jenny Waldman, director of 14-18 NOW.

There will be new poetry by Simon Armitage reflecting on the Somme, presented as part of the Norfolk & Norwich Festival.

Armitage is choosing around six photographs from a collection of 100,000 at the Imperial War Museum and he will base his writing on those images.

Elsewhere, the poppy sculpture Weeping Window from the installation Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red - by ceramic artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper - seen by millions at the Tower of London, will go in display in Orkney from April 22 to June 12.

This visit is part of an expanded UK-wide tour, and the sculptures will also be presented in Lincoln Castle, Caernarfon Castle and the Black Watch Museum, Perth.

Ms Waldman said: "An incredible range of artists have created new works that bring the stories of the First World War to life, and show how this global conflict still affects the world today."

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