Brighton revellers sing "Without You" for academic research

Without You - Daniel Hignell-Tully

It may have seemed like an attention-seeking stunt to revellers in Brighton on a Saturday night, but University of Sussex researcher Daniel Hignell-Tully’s purpose was pure art.

Holding aloft a placard with the words “I can’t live, if living is without you” – the chorus of the classic pop anthem “Without You” – Daniel, who is taking a PhD in Music, silently strolled the noisy pavements of West Street to see what would happen.

The response ranged from pub drinkers bursting into rowdy refrains, to a hen party wrestling the board off him, to being unsportingly punched by a man on the seafront.  Some aggressively sang a different song, while others demanded to know the meaning behind Daniel’s actions and his sombre expression.

The experiment, captured on film and entitled Brighton Community Choir does….Without You, is among the highlights of the International Conference on Live Interfaces  (ICLI) at the University of Sussex (29 June to 03 July).

And for former punk band musician Daniel, it confirmed to him that the British in general have an uneasy relationship with public performance.

“I didn’t want to tell people what to do,” says Daniel, 33. “But I know that people become aggravated when they don’t know what’s going on. It’s a very British thing.”

Daniel, who is researching different ways to encourage public performance, was inspired to take to the streets of Brighton after attending a community choir and finding a distinct lack of both younger people and men.

“I wanted to explore how to get people to join in – how to meet them on their own terms,” he says. “I also wanted to explore how I could engage with an area of public life that frightens me – the Saturday night clubbers that dominate Brighton’s West Street.

“Once I had the idea, it occurred to me that I had to rely on people knowing the song. This one came to me relatively quickly, and it seemed to work. It was not my intention to take the Mickey out of people.”

Daniel, who grew up in Bristol and worked as a security guard before coming to Sussex to study for a Masters degree, added: “There’s a general negativity towards community art, but I think it’s important to get people involved more directly. Art has the ability to change the world. This is a low-tech way of doing it.”

The ICLI conference is taking place at the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts on the University campus and at venues in Brighton.

The programme involves musicians, magicians, puppeteers, dancers and computer gamers demonstrating some of the latest ideas and developments in performance technologies, with many events open to the public.

By: Jacqui Bealing
Last updated: Monday, 27 June 2016