Big Ian’s A Night To Remember leaps into action for charities at York Barbican

Annie Donaghy, Big Ian Donaghy, Beth McCarthy, Heather Findlay and Jess Steel at A Night To Remember in 2019 at York Barbican. Picture: Karen Boyes

AS New Year’s resolutions wane and gym memberships become a direct debit, a group of York musicians start their boot camp of rehearsals for A Night To Remember.

Now in its eighth year, the annual fundraising event helps good causes in the city to make a difference.

Organiser and host Big Ian Donaghy brings together “the finest musicians and singers for a gang show like no other” at York Barbican.

“This year’s show is so jam packed with quality that we’ve had to create another day to fit it in: Saturday, February 29, in the leap year of 2020!” says Big Ian.

Heather Findlay performing at last year’s A Night To Remember fundraiser. Picture: David Harrison

Unlike other shows, A Night To Remember has all the singers performing as an ensemble exceeding all of its constituent parts.

“When you have a dream team on the stage, it seems a shame to not use them, so everybody sings on everybody else’s songs,” says Big Ian.

“It’s become a big musical family – and there’s some range on stage! For example, festival superstar Kieran O’Malley, on fiddle, could power the entire night with his energetic performance leading the crowd like a pied piper,” says Big Ian.

A Night To Remember lets singers take on their favourite songs. “In previous years, no song has been off limits. Last year saw the cast rise to the challenge of Bohemian Rhapsody in its entirety, something not even Queen tackled!

Jess Steel: taking on “near-impossible demanding songs” at York Barbican. Picture: David Harrison

“Soulful Jess Steel will take on a Dusty Springfield classic, as well as other near-impossible demanding songs that she’ll deliver in the manner she’s now well known for.

“Heather Findlay, fresh back from a sell-out UK tour, brings her class into the mix,  performing two of her favourite songs.

“Overall, you should expect showbiz, expect boundless energy, expect the unexpected.”

The gig’s house band will be led by York music stalwart George Hall, joined by powerhouse duo Rob Wilson and Simon Snaize on guitar duty.

The poster for A Night To Remember 2020

Look out for Beth McCarthy, who made her debut at the Mount School when Big Ian ran a School of Rock concert there. “I still call him ‘Mr D’ as he was my teacher,” says Beth, who will be stepping out of her comfort zone to rock the Barbican foundations.

Graham Hodge will “venture into very different areas as he celebrates his 70th birthday”. Gravel-voiced Boss Caine, alias Dan Lucas, will tackle a country favourite that nobody would ever guess.

Hope & Social’s Gary Stewart will play the congas, as well as singing a Paul Simon rouser.

York singer Jessa Liversidge will bring  her fully inclusive Singing For All choir, a group with members aged up to 98.

Beth McCarthy: “Stepping out of her comfort zone to rock the Barbican foundations”

“This choir is all about bringing people together to combat loneliness and celebrate a love of music with rehearsals that are very tea and cake heavy,” says Jessa.

“I love Jessa’s passionate, positive approach to bringing the community together, so it was an obvious fit to raise the choir’s profile and show the city just how fantastic they are,” says Big Ian.

“So much, so we’ll have them singing The New Seekers’ I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing.”

Annie Donaghy will put her spin on a George Michael classic on a night when the set list will feature covers of Dusty Springfield, Shania Twain, Simple Minds, Paul Simon, Michael Buble, Guns N’ Roses, Barbra Streisand, Peter Gabriel, Elton John and Marvin Gaye classics, as well as a few surprises.

Oh, what A Night To Remember as singers and musicians gather at the finale of last year’s fund-raising concert at York Barbican. Picture: Ravage

“This year, the show has a bigger, brassier feel with a 12-piece brass section, made up of Kempy, Pete, Stu and Chalky from my band Huge, being joined by funk horns and brass players from York Music Forum, ranging in age from 13 to 18, led by Ian Chalk,” says Big Ian.

“We’re celebrating the young talent in the city within the brass section and putting them alongside singers up to 98 years old. Music has no age limit. It is for all of us!”

Possibly the most important man on the night will be sound engineer Craig Rothery, who has the unenviable task of mixing this leviathan of a line-up.

“Craigy is a phenomenal sound engineer, who mixed the launch event for the Tour de France at Leeds First Direct Arena that was viewed by millions. Craig is so much more than a safe pair of hands; he’s the cement that holds us together,” says Big Ian.

Graham Hodge in action at last year’s A Night To Remember concert

He also promises “ground-breaking, heart-warming and heart-breaking films” to raise dementia awareness. “Watch out for surprise appearances, as previous years have included messages from Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer, The Hairy Bikers, Rick Astley, Nick Knowles, Anton du Beke and Kaiser Chiefs’ Ricky Wilson,” he says.

“But the real reason these musicians come together is to help St Leonard’s Hospice, Dementia Projects in York, Bereaved Children Support York and Accessible Arts & Media.”

Jo Cole, of Bereaved Children Support, says: “As well as helping us fund one-to-one counselling, A Night To Remember has raised our profile, so families who desperately needed us to help now know where we are.”

Working the crowd: A Night To Remember host Ian Donaghy

Emma Johnson, of St Leonard’s Hospice, says: “Big Ian and the team have provided invaluable help for years, making such a difference in the city.”

Big Ian, who speaks all over Europe about dementia care, concludes: “Dementia awareness and the difference we can make by bringing community together is the envy of many cities around the UK.

“We throw everything into this evening. It takes months of hard work and phenomenally talented people working tirelessly. I’m so proud to be part of this team.”

Tickets are available at £17.55 and £15 on 0203 356 5441, at or in person from the Barbican box office.

The 7.30pm show is being sponsored by Haxby Group and Care Shop.

Singers, musicians and the York Barbican audience pose for a group selfie after last year’s concert