A FOUNDER member of Chumbawamba has co-written a song celebrating the communities of West Yorkshire.

Looking Out, Reaching Out, by Boff Whalley and singer/composer Thanda Gumede, both of Otley, will be premiered as part of Sound UK’s nationwide project A Song for Us.

Co-commissioned by Opera North, Looking Out, Reaching Out is one of 14 ‘County Songs’ written to mark the struggles of the pandemic, and celebrate local communities and the power of music in bringing them together.

It will be recorded in front of an audience at the Howard Assembly Room, Leeds, and premiered at asongforus.org on Wednesday, February 2 at 12.30pm. The two composers will be joined by local ensembles The Commoners Choir, a “peculiar, feisty, celebratory, witty, angry and inclusive” collective founded by Boff, and Leeds-based Harmony choir.

“We asked people questions about their connections to West Yorkshire and what that means to them," said Boff. “We wanted a song that wasn’t just inward-looking, but reached out to the world, was inclusive and welcoming."

Born in Burnley, Boff moved to Leeds to study at the University in 1981 and formed anarcho-punks Chumbawamba the following year. After 25 years of recording and touring with the band, co-writing their hit Tubthumping, he embarked on a career as a writer of plays, community musicals, and books about another of his passions, fell-running.

Thanda is originally from Durban in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. He said: “As a migrant worker I personally felt reticent about speaking for the natives of God’s Own Country. So reaching out to the people of West Yorkshire to ask them what West Yorkshire means to them felt like a fitting route to take."

Looking Out, Reaching Out also reflects on the pandemic. “Lockdown made us feel separated from the whole world," said Thanda. “But music kept me sane and gave me purpose; I was able to connect with so many people around the world. Singing remotely with my choir in Otley helped me connect with senior citizens who may have been neglected."

The West Yorkshire track forms part of a Sound UK music map of the country to mark the time of the pandemic. Invited to upload original songs capturing the experience of the pandemic, or share songs that have meant something over the period, more than 650 people have taken part, with contributions ranging from an account of what it’s like to be a teenager to a 90-year-old's thank you to his exercise instructor.

Maija Handover, Director of Sound UK, said: “A Song for Us celebrates our communities during the pandemic and beyond. It celebrates the power of music to bring us together, whether as creators, performers or listeners.”

Jo Nockels, Projects Director, Opera North, added: “We're delighted to be working with Thanda Gumede, whose blend of Zulu, jazz and gospel influences make him such a unique composer. It's been great to introduce him to Boff. Together they have created a song that is powerfully outward-looking and richly local at the same time."