A feast of urban festivals

The many English city celebrations this summer offer something cultural for everybody
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The Independent Travel

It's an urban myth that a city is so defined by having a cathedral. In fact English towns lacking that ingredient have been granted city status by the monarch as an honorific title, most recently Brighton & Hove and Wolverhampton (both 2000) and Preston (2002). Among the criteria that had to be met were features that made them stand out regionally or nationally, or an historic or royal background.

It's an urban myth that a city is so defined by having a cathedral. In fact English towns lacking that ingredient have been granted city status by the monarch as an honorific title, most recently Brighton & Hove and Wolverhampton (both 2000) and Preston (2002). Among the criteria that had to be met were features that made them stand out regionally or nationally, or an historic or royal background.

The first English town to be awarded this honour was Leicester in 1919, and to celebrate the coronation of George VI in 1937, Lancaster was also awarded city status. The Queen's Golden Jubilee addition in 2002 brought the city count in England to 50. To celebrate its status as the North-west's third city (after Liverpool and Manchester), Preston is staging an International City Festival this summer - adding to the country's already considerable cultural strength.

BRIGHTON

The 38th Brighton Festival runs from 1-23 May this year, and some 300,000 visitors are expected. More than 700 dance, theatre, music, art and literature events will take place throughout the city, ranging from outdoor events in the Laines and by the seafront, to theatre and dance in the Dome auditorium. The festival kicks off on May Day in Sydney Street with the "Children's Classics" parade of 4,000 children; they'll be dressed as characters from the books of authors, such as one-time Brighton resident Lewis Carroll. Other events include exhibitions and street performances. For more information on events and booking call the box office on 01273 700709 or visit www.brighton-festival.org.uk.

NORFOLK AND NORWICH

This year's offerings, 5-15 May, combine older traditions with modern events such as a comedy evening. To help warm up, a free street festival will take place on 24 April, with human mannequin window displays at Jarrold's department store, acrobatic skateboarders and life-size garden gnomes. To book tickets for events and for a free festival programme, call 01603 766400 or visit www.n-joy.org.uk.

PRESTON

Promoting its status as England's newest city, Preston's International City Festival takes place 11-20 June. The festival will have an international flavour, because this year the Preston Caribbean Festival will be incorporated into the proceedings with a lively carnival and Preston's Asian community will stage dance, art and music events. The festival will have a gastronomic theme, with demonstrations from some of Europe's top chefs and cookery workshops given by the city's Indian and Chinese communities. There will also be a "Proms in the Park" and open-air cinema in Avenham Park, and street theatre. For more information on event dates and times call 01772 253731 or see www.visitpreston.com.

LIVERPOOL

The Mersey River Festival is the largest maritime event in England this year and will take place around Albert Dock and Pier Head 18-21 June. Visiting tall ships will be open to the public. Blue Badge guides will lead tours around Liverpool landmarks such as the Cunard building, and voices will unite for the International Sea Shanty festival.

Get into the festival spirit by trying out kayaking, water polo and a variety of other watersports for free at the Watersports Centre. There will also be unarmed combat displays by the Royal Marines, a River Parade, an Illuminated Narrow Boat Parade through the docks, and a Historic Diving Exhibition. For more information call 0151-233 3007, or visit www.merseyriverfestival.co.uk. For more information on England's waterways, visit www.waterscape.com.

CITY OF LONDON

This year's festival, 21 June-13 July, celebrates the 10th anniversary of democratic elections in South Africa. Events include a performance by Ladysmith Black Mambazo at St Paul's Cathedral, a varied programme of South African music at the Spitz Club and a range of free dance events in Guildhall Yard. There will also be performances of Beethoven's string quartets by the Borodin Quartet at various concert halls, as well as many other classical offerings, dance, theatre and literary events.

To book tickets and to obtain a full listing of events call 020-7377 0540 or visit www.colf.org.

EXETER

The Summer Festival in Devon's principal city takes place 2-18 July. Hot tickets are likely to be the audiences with Joan Bakewell and director Ken Russell at the Northcott Theatre, and a concert given by Mercury Music Prize 2000 nominee Nitin Sawhney.

Theatrical offerings include hit comedy Art, directed by Nigel Havers at Escot House, and a world premiere of the English Chamber Theatre's production of Chekhov's Leading Lady.

The Fourth of July will resound to a Latin beat, with dance performances from the Jaleo Flamenco Dance Company taking place around Exeter Quay. The London Community Gospel Choir, the Brodsky Quartet and the New Berlin Chamber Orchestra will also perform during the festival.

The full programme of events will be announced in May. For more information on event dates and ticket prices call 01392 265205 or visit www.exeter.gov.uk/festival.

For a copy of 'City Culture', a free 80-page guide to the best of England's cities, call 0845 458 0072 or go to www.visitengland.com/cities

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