Piano on the Rock

A grand piano, an iconic beauty spot and David Attenborough’s Pangolins… Firstly, who said you can’t put a grand piano on Brimham Rocks for an impromptu concert? I co-run Cause…

Piano on the Rock

A grand piano, an iconic beauty spot and David Attenborough’s Pangolins…

Firstly, who said you can’t put a grand piano on Brimham Rocks for an impromptu concert?

I co-run Cause UK with my sister, Clair. We work to raise the profile of organisations – many of which operate in tourism and the arts. We put heart and intelligence into the news agenda.

Clair has come up with some remarkable media stunts in the past decade. So when she asked Melvin Besbrode, who runs the piano emporium Besbrode Pianos in Leeds, if he could put a grand piano on the rocks, he didn’t even blink. “I’m used to Clair walking on water,” he joked. The impossible is always possible.”

It just took four men, a transit van, a ramp, a team of volunteers including the pianist Kevin, a lot of permissions, co-ordinating with weather forecasts, photographers, BBC filming, a drone… Phew.

You can watch this incredible drone footage by Gary Lawson on getting it up there:

Which leads to the second and most important question – Why put a grand piano on Brimham Rocks?

Brimham Rocks is located in Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The clue is in the name. AONBs are so special that they are protected by the nation. And 95% of Nidderdale AONB is part of the Harrogate District.

In lockdown, it’s been incredibly stressful, anxiety-inducing, isolating, scary and hard for many, including us. It’s easy to get dragged down by the gloom and doom. Rising unemployment, closing businesses, the uncertainty of a second wave, the bombardment of news reminding us of our mortality. The dread!

Stand in the sunshine, in a breath-taking beauty spot surrounded by nature’s own artwork – rocks shaped over 320 million years – with the sounds of a piano playing John Lennon’s Imagine! Guaranteed goose bumps.

Music – art – nature. Their restorative, uplifting, healing powers are what makes life worth living.

Perhaps it’s been one of the most profound things of lockdown – how we’ve all re-prioritised the great outdoors, space, beauty: The Natural Health Service.

We needed to put that piano up there.

But there’s more to it than our well-being. At Cause UK, we have worked with Nidderdale AONB for a few years, finding ways to raise awareness for example to increase numbers of volunteers for their citizen science projects – which help monitor wildlife and shape vital future conservation work. We’ve helped raise awareness with events – bringing inspiring talks by Steve Backshall and Chris Packham to Harrogate last year, and securing a Patron for its Wild Watch project, the BBC presenter, Lindsey Chapman. TV and the media have a powerful role.

Many who watched David Attenborough’s Extinction: The Facts last week will probably be still reeling a little. It was painful to watch koalas in forest fires, the decimation of habitats, and those remarkable pangolins – the most trafficked animal in the world.

But what have at-risk rhinos got to do with Harrogate, huh?

Here in the UK, 41% of species studied have declined since 1970, with 15% of wildlife species under threat from extinction. These include much loved common species, such as hedgehogs.

The health of Nidderdale AONB is an indication of our own health. Human life relies on nature for everything – food, water, air.

Within the AONB, you’ll find our drinking water (11 reservoirs), farms that provide local produce, meadows, Sites of Specific Scientific Interest and ancient woodland. This habitat is home to vital biodiversity, including the iconic curlew – with populations relatively stable in comparison to the rest of the country. Internationally, the curlew is listed as Near Threatened on the Red List of Threatened Species. It shows how good land management and conservation work can make a difference.

The piano on Brimham Rocks highlighted how much we need both nature and the arts – and why we should safeguard both.

Both are under threat. Many live music, theatre and arts events closed. Without nature’s inspiration, we wouldn’t have the most influential works of art ever created – from the poetry of Wordsworth and sonnets of Shakespeare to the paintings of Hockney or music of Debussy. Without which, our lives would be so much greyer.

So, that’s why we lumbered a piano onto the rocks on an unseasonal hot day of the year (climate change anyone?) It was a visual shortcut to all this. And the image went viral – on the front page of the Yorkshire Post, in The Times, the Telegraph, the Independent, on BBC Look North, and a film shot on the day was broadcast to the world via msn, Yahoo and the Press Association.

The Harrogate District is home to astounding natural beauty. Go and enjoy it. If you venture into the great outdoors, you’ll create experiences and memories of a lifetime – you’ll fall in love with it. What you love, you’re more likely to safeguard and protect.

We can all be custodians of our countryside, and our precious arts.

The misery of Covid-19 has been clearly tracked back to our consumerism and behaviour as a species. As Attenborough powerfully laid out – our own survival is closely reliant on the health of the natural world. But despite the horror of extinction, he left us with hope as he revisited the at-risk guerrillas he met as a young man – now thriving thanks to conservation efforts.

Things, including our spirits, can bounce back, with the right efforts.

Watch them rise here: https://youtu.be/1bNm_RlxY1I

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty up and down the country celebrate Landscapes for Life Week from 19 September. #MyNationalLandscapes aims to help people reconnect with nature by enjoying and being inspired by the UK’s AONBs.


Pic and film credit: Gary Lawson Photography.