Go West and Paul Young go north for York Barbican double bill next September

Double bill: The tour poster for Go West and Paul Young’s 2020 show at York Barbican

EIGHTIES chart heavyweights Go West and Paul Young will hit the road next year as a double bill that will visit York Barbican on September 13.

Formed in 1982 by Peter Cox and Richard Drummie, Go West scored such hits as We Close Our Eyes, Call Me and Don’t Look Down and were voted Best Newcomer at the 1986 BRIT Awards. In 1990, their song King Of Wishful Thinking featured on the soundtrack for Pretty Woman, Julia Roberts and Richard Gere’s romantic hit.  

After fronting Streetband and Q-Tips, Paul Young went solo, his career taking off with the 1983 album No Parlez and such singles as the chart-topping Wherever I Lay My Hat, Love Of The Common People, Everytime You Go Away and Everything Must Change. He won a BRIT Award for Best Male Vocalist and sung the opening lines on the original 1984 Band Aid single, Do They Know It’s Christmas? (Feed The World), also performing at Live Aid at Wembley Stadium in July 1985.

Young, 63, is a keen chef, biker and fan of all things Mexicana, not least touring with his Tex Mex/Americana band Los Pacaminos.

Tickets for Go West and Paul Young’s co-headline gig are on sale on 0203 356 5441, at yorkbarbican.co.uk or in person from the Barbican box office.

REVIEW: Rowntree Players in Sinbad, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York ****

Gourmet Graham: Rowntree Players’ dame, Graham Smith, in one of myriad guises in Sinbad

Sinbad, Rowntree Players, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, until Saturday. Box office: 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk

HOWARD Ella and Andy Welch are at the helm of their sixth Rowntree Players pantomime, Sinbad.

If they are all at sea, it is only in a good way, because this writing team is so skilled and quick witted now that their sea-faring adventure/misadventure is plain sailing to a big success. Tickets are at a premium, so don’t delay. In fact, book now, then resume reading this review…

…Director Ella and his co-writer and Old Man of the Sea, Welch, have delved into The Arabian Nights: Tales Of One Thousand And One Nights and then decided to give it a blast of bracing Yorkshire sea air: Whitby and Scarborough Harborough, as it seemed to be called at one point at Sunday’s raucous matinee.

It starts in olden storytelling mode, but Ella and Welch quickly establish they will be putting the naughty into nautical. That means Irreverent, rather than saucy, although Graham Smith’s dame, Tilly Tinbad, will sail pretty close to the wind, without ever being as blue as the Scarbadian sea.

More of Graham later. First, there are a couple of Brexit jokes from narrator Welch that both Leave and Remain camps can enjoy (but maybe not after Thursday’s General Election result). Even climate change pops up.

Sinfully good: Laura White’s outstanding Abadun in Sinbad

Laura White’s villainous, spiteful Abadun is out to spoil everyone’s party, turning Geoff Walker’s King Olaf into the Monkey King (cue plenty of funny monkey business and cartwheels from Josh Roe).

Can the two Hannahs, Hannah King’s resolute Sinbad and Hannah Temple’s plucky Princess Talida, find the Old Man of The Sea to revoke the spell and defeat vainglorious Abadun and dogged dogsbody Neckbeard (Sian Walshaw)?

Who else could be on hand to help/hinder them but the redoubtable mother-and-son comedy double act of Hapless Smith and McDonald, Graham and Gemma’s very silly Tilly and Gilly Tinbad.

You surely remember Madonna’s iconic cone bra? Smith makes the dame’s entrance wearing squashed ice cream cones, an amusing Scarborough variation with another cone for a hat. This is but one of many fab-u-lous costumes assembled by Leni Ella, Pam Davies, Jackie Holmes and Heather King to complement Howard Ella, Paul Mantle and Lee Smith’s delightful sets, ship decks, ultraviolet submarine and psychedelic rocks.

Hannah King’s Sinbad, front left, Hannah Temple’s Princess Talida, centre, and Laura White’s Abadun in the climactic sword fight on deck

Smith’s ever-so-slightly tetchy brand of Les Dawson dame and McDonald’s cartoon-esque sidekick in a shrunk Annie wig, daft voice and all, are comedy gold, rich with quickfire interchanges, whether reeling off every fish name under the sea or a series of words that rhyme with “sailor”. Here’s one: “he retired from the panto but didn’t leave…Berwick Kaler!”

The marriage of Ella and Welch’s waspish wit and Smith and McDonald’s irrepressible playfulness grows ever more fulfilling by the year. As promised by Welch too, the duo’s slosh scene below deck is their best yet, so well timed in its physical clowning.

Smith’s running gag of playing a heap of helpful aunts ­– with terrible accents, as McDonald teases him ­­– is another joy, but please don’t think this is merely their show.

Far from it. King, Temple and Walshaw thrive in action and song; Welch has his moment in Old Man beard, wig and cape, leading the ever-responsive ensemble like Wizzard’s Roy Wood in one of the show’s best set-piece numbers, Light At The End Of Tunnel.

Better still is White’s Abadun, to the villainous manner born, with a dash of panache in song and dance, an eye for humour and a singing voice that keeps hitting new peaks in The Smell Of Rebellion.

Musical director Jessica Douglas is on top form with her band, and when they combine with Ami Carter’s choreography for the likes of Pretty Little Gangplank (as in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) and Blondie’s One Or Way, in the climactic fight scene, the results are both spectacular and fun.

If you still haven’t bought a ticket, despite the earlier advice, do so NOW for this ridiculous, but ridiculously good Rowntree riot of a pantomime.

Charles Hutchinson

Loudon Wainwright and some Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers you’ll know to play Pock

Wainwright times three: Loudon Wainwright III with Suzzy Roche and their daughter Lucy Wainwright Roche, playing Pockington next autumn

LOUDON Wainwright III, the North Carolina songwriter, folk musician, humorist and actor, will play Pocklington Arts Centre on October 3 next year.

Tickets will go on sale at 10am on Wednesday (December 11), as indeed they will for Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, a band of authors turned musicians, making their Pock debut on May 30.

Grammy Award-winning Wainwright, 73, will be joined by Suzzy Roche and their daughter Lucy Wainwright Roche at next autumn’s gig, the smallest venue of his 2020 British tour.

They will perform their own songs, complemented by a selection by songwriters they admire, such as Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Stevie Nicks and Baker Knight. 

Over the course of 23 albums of acerbic, wry writing, Wainwright’s songs have been covered by Johnny Cash, Bonnie Raitt, Earl Scruggs, Mose Allison, Big Star, Freakwater, Norma Waterson, [late former wife] Kate and Anna McGarrigle and son Rufus Wainwright.

Arts centre director Janet Farmer says: “Our auditorium is no stranger to welcoming music legends to the stage and Loudon Wainwright III is certainly no exception. We’ve previously welcomed his daughter Martha to Pocklington in August 2013, so we’re delighted to be featuring in Loudon’s forthcoming tour.

“This will be a very rare opportunity to see such a big name from the music world perform within the intimate surroundings of our auditorium.

“But with only a handful of UK dates lined up and Pocklington Arts Centre being the smallest venue, this is likely to sell out fast, so I would recommend you get your tickets as early as possible.”

Three Wainwright albums have been nominated for Grammy awards: 1985’s I’m Alright, 1986’s  More Love Songs and 2009’s High Wide & Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project, winner of the  Best Traditional Folk Album prize in January 2010. Wainwright also has appeared in such films as The Aviator, Big Fish, Elizabethtown, The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, for which he composed the score with Joe Henry.

Read the riot act: Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers could murder a good tune at Pocklington Arts Centre next May

Meanwhile, prepare for a different form of murder on the dancefloor next spring, committed by fiction supergroup Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers.

Harrogate Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival stalwarts Mark Billingham and Val McDermid, together with Chris Brookmyre, Luca Veste, Doug Johnstone and Stuart Neville, will put down their pens and pick up guitars to “happily murder” much-loved songs by The Clash, Elvis Costello, Hank Williams, The Beatles, Talking Heads, The Jam, Johnny Cash and many others “considering legal action”, apparently.

Between them, the writers have sold more than 20 million books worldwide and won every major crime-writing award. Now they swap page for stage to discover if the sword/axe is mightier than the pen after all.

So far, their set list of killer tunes has survived in tact at Glastonbury Festival, Cornbury Festival and the Edinburgh Festival. Now they must rock in Pock.

“The very concept of crime writers putting their own killer spin on well-known songs is simply brilliant, so we can’t wait to bring them to Pocklington for what promises to be a thrilling night of live music literally like no other,” says Janet Farmer.

Last month, the arts centre played host to a sold-out evening of poetry readings, questions and answers and book signings by Poet Laureate Simon Armitage, when Pocklington School students were among the audience.

Tickets cost £44 for Wainwright, £23 for The Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, on 01759 301547 or at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

Charles Hutchinson

REVIEW: York Symphony Orchestra, December 8

Cellist Cara Berridge: “Displayed beautifully rounded, resonant tone”

York Symphony Orchestra (YSO)/Venn; Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, December 8

YORK Symphony Orchestra’s newish conductor Edward Venn likes to take risks – and with the largest work on Sunday’s menu he was notably successful.

Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony overtly moves from tragedy to triumph. Beneath the surface, it is heavily laced with irony: Stalin’s Great Purge threatened the composer himself. The performance reflected this.

The violins quickly recovered from a tentative opening and thereafter never looked back. The central march accelerated majestically and the change to the major key was nicely controlled, before a chilling close with celeste to the fore. The scherzo provided just the comic relief we needed, Claire Jowett’s solo violin leading the way.

With the brass side-lined, first the strings, then the woodwinds conjured a rapt, almost religious, intensity in the Largo, typified by the trio of harp and two flutes. The finale’s mounting crescendo, with brass back in the fray, kindled anger rather than triumph, despite the brief oasis of calm. It was a splendid achievement, owing much to Venn’s impressive familiarity with the score.

Earlier, as soloist in Elgar’s Cello Concerto, Cara Berridge displayed beautifully rounded, resonant tone. But in a work notorious for its stop-go pitfalls, she and Venn too rarely took the same view of the music. The result was tuneful but episodic, too many trees and not enough wood. The orchestra sustained a respectful diffidence. Tchaikovsky’s Marche Slave had made a bold, brash curtain-raiser. But the Shostakovich was something else.

Review by Martin Dreyer

Kate Rusby wants a Holly Head, cheese and… a hippo for her Yorkshire Christmas

Kate Rusby in Holly Head mode for her fifth Christmas album. Picture: David Lindsay

BARNSLEY folk nightingale Kate Rusby has released her fifth album of South Yorkshire carols and original winter songs, Holly Head, so named on account of her love of Christmas music.

As with her fellow festive collections on her Pure Records label, 2008’s Sweet Bells, 2011’s While Mortals Sleep, 2015’s The Frost Is All Over and 2017’s Angels And Men, it is being promoted by a Kate Rusby At Christmas tour with Kate’s regular band and brass quintet.

Songs range from the Rusby original The Holly King, to a cover of John Rox’s novelty Christmas number Hippo For Christmas, via the carols Salute The Morn and Kate’s sixth version of While Shepherds Watched and God’s Own Country variations, Yorkshire Three Ships and Bleak Midwinter (Yorkshire).

Now part way through her 14-date concert series, Kate answers Charles Hutchinson’s questions ahead of Yorkshire Christmas shows at Leeds Town Hall on December 13 and York Barbican on December 18.

Five Christmas albums, Kate. Five! That must surely be a record? What keeps drawing you back to make another recording for the Yule season?

“I know, five albums, how on Earth has that happened?! It’s also album number 18 of mine, which I can’t believe either. Where have all those years gone? I still love making music and touring, so that time has whizzed by in a flash.

“The Christmas side of things began for me in the ‘pub sings’ around South Yorkshire. We were taken along as kids; our parents would be in the main room singing away, while us kids were sat with the other kids in the tap room, colouring and drinking pop, unaware that the carols and Christmas songs were seeping into our brains!”

“I decided anyone who adores Christmas music is called a ‘Holly Head’,” says Kate. “You know, like car fanatics are petrol heads.” Picture: David Lindsay

What happened next?

“It was only when I’d started touring around the country, I realised the ‘pub sings’ are  quite specific to South Yorkshire and people were unaware of these amazing songs we have.

“They’re mostly songs thrown out of the churches by the Victorians as they were thought to be far too happy! Ha! Those who loved singing them took them to the pubs, where you could combine a good old sing with beer and a natter, and there the songs have remained and kept alive, being passed down the generations.

“I decided to start the Christmas tour to take the songs out around the country to show them off and share them out again. It’s just perfect when we go back to a town again and they’re singing the songs back to us. It brings me such happiness. Like, ‘my work is done here’!”

And the Christmas albums keep coming too…

“There are so many songs still to go at, I’ve no idea how many I’ll end up doing. I am a Holly Head, after all!”

What’s the story behind Hippo For Christmas, the quirkiest song on Holly Head? One for the Rusby daughters, no doubt!

“Aw, it’s such a brilliant song! I came across it while I was researching for the album. I love how it’s the magic of Christmas through the child’s eyes, ‘cos why on Earth would Father Christmas not be able to bring a hippo? He’s magic, right?

“But, of course,, once it’s there, how do you look after it? The brass arrangement on that track is just a delight; you can’t help but smile as they play it. It’s a big tuba moment! They don’t get many moments, tubas, do they? Well, it does on this song!”

While Shepherds Watched is the Christmas carol that keeps giving! Another one has popped up on the new album…

“Well, there’s over 30 different versions of While Shepherds Watched that get sung in the pubs here in South Yorkshire, so I’ve still got a lot to go at! This one is actually to the tune of a different song that I also love, but I wasn’t that keen on the words, then realised it went with the While Shepherds words, so yey, another has now been invented.” 

Holly and the ivy: The album artwork for Kate Rusby’s new winter album

What is a Holly Head exactly, Kate?!

“Ha ha!! Well, I decided anyone who adores Christmas music is called a ‘Holly Head’. You know, like car fanatics are petrol heads. I thought it was the perfect title for such people, and I’m a fully paid-up member of the Holly Head club! ”

What is the most significant Christmas song on this album for you? One of your own compositions?

“Oooh, am I allowed to choose one of my own? Well, OK,  I will, I’ll choose The Holly King. It celebrates the more pagan side of Christmas. I wrote it after reading about the winter king, The Holly King,  and the summer king, The Ivy King.

“Legend has it that the two met twice a year and had almighty battles. Going into winter, the Holly King would win and reign for the winter months. Then the Ivy King would wake and overthrow the Holly King and reign through the summer months, and on they went in a perfect cycle.

“I just loved the images that it conjured up and a song came flowing out. I gave him a wife, The Queen of Frost, who creeps across the land to be with him for his time. In fact, I’m writing her song at the moment, so she will appear on the next Christmas album, I’m sure!”

How will you be adorning the stage for the 2019 Christmas shows? Maybe a new reindeer?

“Ooh yes, I can’t tell you too much or it won’t be a surprise. What I can confirm, though, is Ruby Reindeer will be taking her place on stage again; it’d be too strange without her now.

“We have a completely new set this year…and there will definitely be sparkles.”

Who is in your Christmas tour line-up this time?

“Ooh, this year we have me, hubby Damien O’Kane on guitars and electric tenor guitars, Duncan Lyall, double bass and Moog; Stevie Byrnes, bouzouki and guitar; Nick Cooke, diatonic accordion and sleigh bells (ha!); Josh Clark, percussion, and our lovely, fabulous brass boys, Rich Evans, Gary Wyatt, Robin Taylor, Mike Levis and Sam Pearce.

“So, 11 of us altogether on stage, and six crew, I think, and of course not forgetting Ruby Reindeer!”

What do you most want for Christmas, Kate? 

“A big lump of Cornish Kern cheese – it won best cheese in the world last year and is just gorgeous – and a bottle of Bread and Butter white wine to go along with it. It’s a big creamy white; just love it.”

Kate Rusby At Christmas, Leeds Town Hall, December 13 and York Barbican, December 18. Box office: Leeds, 0113 376 0318 or at leedstownhall.co.uk/whats-on/; York, 0203 356 5441, yorkbarbican.co.uk or in person from the Barbican box office.

Golden moment: Kate Rusby received the Gold Badge from English Folk Dance & Song Society earlier this month. Picture: David Angel

On a separate note

ON December 4, Kate Rusby received the English Folk Dance & Song Society Gold Badge, in recognition of her 25-year contribution to folk music.

Among past winners were Cecil Sharp in 1923; Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1943; Ewan MacCoIl, 1987; Peggy Seeger, 1987; Shirley Collins, 2003, and Eliza Carthy, 2007.

Congratulations on your Gold Badge, Kate. What does this award mean to you? Just look at the names that have gone before!

“Aw, thank you. Goodness me, I still can’t believe it. It’s just amazing to be considered for this award as it’s recognition of my work from the massive organisation who work to preserve and document folk music and dance.

“I’ve done various gigs at Cecil Sharp House over the years, the building where they’re based in London. One time, they let me use the library as a dressing room and, oh my word, I was like a child in a sweet shop with all the ballad books. In fact, I think I may have been late on stage due to reading the books.

“But, yes, a real honour to be added to the list of Gold Badge winners. My love of the music has kept me entranced all these years, so to be given this award is just incredible.

“It was presented to me at our gig at in Sheffield City Hall, when it was also my [46th] birthday that day; what an amazing birthday present.”

York Symphony Orchestra’s Winter Concert welcomes guest cellist Cara Berridge

Cello soloist: Cara Berridge

CARA Berridge will be the guest soloist for tonight’s performance of Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E Minor. the centrepiece of York Symphony Orchestra’s Winter Concert in York.

Conducted by Edward Venn, the 7.30pm programme at the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, also features Tchaikovsky’s March Slave and and Shostakovich’s Symphony No 5 in D Minor.

Tickets cost £15, concessions £13, children and students £5, at yso.org.uk, from orchestra members or on the door.

Review: Kay Mellor’s Band Of Gold, Leeds Grand Theatre *****

Emma Osman’s Carol, left, Laurie Brett’s Anita and Gaynor Faye’s Rose in Kay Mellor’s Band Of Gold. All pictures: Anthony Robling

Kay Mellor’s Band Of Gold, Leeds Grand Theatre, until December 14. Box office: 0844 848 2700 or at leedsgrandtheatre.com

LEEDS writer and director Kay Mellor knew there was more life “on the lane” in Bradford to be mined. The result is a Band Of Gold that’s arguably worth even more on stage than her already precious, ground-breaking 1990s’ TV drama about northern sex workers.

For her new story of street life in Bradford’s red-light district of Lumb Lane, Manningham, Mellor has revisited the plot and characters of the first series and the score-writing heft of Dire Streets guitarist and original composer Hal Lindes, while retaining and honing her own brilliant skills of everyday detail made fresh, northern humour, dark truths, huge emotional impact and suspenseful, thrilling storytelling. A big story, both funny and sad, now condensed into two hours.

“They’ll get all the joy and the suspense they had from the television version, but it’s live theatre so it has that excitement to it because it’s unfolding in front of their very eyes” said Mellor beforehand.

Emma Osman in her “break-out role” as sex worker and single mum Carol…and what a break-out

Back then, she was an unknown writer, they were unknown characters; they are both well-known now, but still capable of surprises, shocks…and there is still a killer on the loose, but who killed Gina, the naïve, novice sex worker – spoiler alert – is different. So everyone can play detective along with The X Factor winner, Coronation Street star and Madame Tussauds’ waxwork Shayne Ward’s Inspector Newall.

Mellor tells the story of four women, Carol, Rose, Anita and Gina, and the men that use and abuse them as they battle to survive while working in the lane. All life is here: the street pub; the homes; the dark lane; the councillor (ever reliable York actor Andrew Dunn’s Ian Barraclough); the dodgy cleaning contract businessman (Mark Sheals’s George); the chicken factory boss with a fetish (Steve Garti’s Curly); the abusive husband (Kieron Richardson’s Steve); the loan shark (Joe Mallalieu’s “Mister Moore and more) and Gina’s over-stretched mum (Olwen May’s Joyce).

“The Dunn deal”: Andrew Dunn as Councillor Ian Barraclough

Directing as well as writing Band Of Gold, Mellor has unearthed another gem in Emma Osman, who was born in Leeds, but later brought up in York, where she stood out as one to watch when playing Oda-Mae Brown in Pick Me Up Theatre’s Ghost The Musical in 2014. Playing single mum Carol, she is being billed as “newcomer Emma Osman”, and although she has appeared in Doctors and Snatch, this is indeed her “break-out role” at 25. And what a break-out.

Carol was “the Cathy Tyson role”, but Osman makes it her own, bringing lip, no-nonsense nous, jagged humour, resilience and a strut to a feisty woman who can handle a disinfectant bottle as well as she can deal with men’s demands and the inherent dangers of her work, taking care of herself and daughter Emma.

Carol takes Sacha Parkinson’s Gina under her wing when ends don’t meet up paying off a loan shark by selling cosmetics door to door, having jettisoned punchy, threatening husband Steve from their home. Parkinson is terrific too, introverted by comparison with Osman’s flashy, gobby turn, but deeply affecting.

Mellor’s casting is uniformly excellent, from Andrew Dunn’s typically Dunn deal to Sheals’s repulsive George, while she writes superbly for both the younger and older women. Laurie Brett’s Scottish Anita now sings karaoke hits in the prostitutes’ hang-out pub, wishes her life could be more pink and won’t call herself a call girl, although her sexual favours furnish her home, while she also looks after the girls’ toiletry needs etc at a price. Heart of gold, struggling for the readies, this is life on the edge, but in a different way.

The Mellor’s tale: Writer-director Kay Mellor on the red carpet at Tuesday’s press night for Band Of Gold. Picture: Anthony Robling

Gaynor Faye’s far-from-sweet Rose runs the street, hard as nail gloss, hooked on drugs, desperately missing the daughter she lost to the social services. Mellor pulls off a heart-tug of a finale, and even somehow infuses humour into the killer revelation, while all the while making serious points about the exploitation of women.

Janet Bird’s set design of blackened sliding doors, painted thickly with street building imagery, adds to the suspense, the sense of danger, especially when allied to Jason Taylor’s lighting and Mic Pool’s sound design, while Yvonne Milnes deserves a medal for her spot-on costume design, especially for Carol.

Kay Mellor’s 2017 stage conversion of Fat Friends into a musical at Leeds Grand was frank and funny, the wonderful Jodie Prenger and the novelty of Freddie Flintoff singing et al, but the fearless Band Of Gold is weightier, more significant, more empowering, more revealing. The gold standard, in fact.

Charles Hutchinson

Why Steve Wickenden will be “getting Nurse Brexit done” from Thursday as Snow White’s dame

The “softer side” of Steve Wickenden’s dame, Nurse Brexit, in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs at the Grand Opera House, York. Picture: David Harrison.

STEVE Wickenden suddenly had to divide himself into two in last winter’s Cinderella And The Golden Slipper.

This time he is playing a dame with a most divisive name, Nurse Brexit, in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs as the cheeky southerner returns north for his fourth successive Grand Opera House pantomime in York.

“I’m always one for a challenge. I love a challenge, and that’s what happened last year when we lost Ken [fellow Ugly Sister Ken Morley] from the show when he was taken ill at the first Friday matinee,” recalls Steve.

“I love Ken, he’s a dear friend, and it was sad he couldn’t continue, but then there had to be that element of ‘Come on, let’s make something of this’.

“By Saturday morning we were re-blocking the show on stage after I re-worked the songs on the Friday, with me now doing both Ugly Sisters’ lines.”

Ken Morley: Steve Wickenden’s fellow Ugly Sister in Cinderella And The Golden Slipper last year before illness struck the former Coronation Street soap star. Picture: David Harrison

Steve Wickenden’s rival sibling double act as Ugly Sisters Calpol and Covonia pretty much stole the show, but he says: “When you’re working with people you trust and that trust you, like Martin Daniels and John Collins, they’ll have your back. It was the younger ones in the cast who were more nervous at first, but the thing about panto is you just have to get on with it, as the rehearsal process is so quick you just have to crack on.”

Was Steve paid double for his impromptu one-man double act? “I’m still waiting. Funny that!” he says.

Certainly, audiences more than had their money’s worth from Wickenden’s extra-quick wit. “That was the thing. The audiences were really sympathetic and just went with it, once it had been explained why there was only me when they were expecting two Ugly Sisters. Our audiences here are very understanding and supportive and that’s why they keep coming back.”

Last winter’s show turned into a learning curve for Steve. “The main thing I learnt is that normally, playing the dame, if I have a spot, a gag, a routine, I can do whatever I want. It just affects me, but what happened last time made me think about partnerships, and they’re about the other person and that relationship,” he says.

“It’s taught me to be more mindful of other people I’m working with in the rehearsal room, where it’s all so quick you tend to only think of yourself.”

Steve Wickenden’s Nurse Brexit with fellow Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs cast members Louise Henry, Jonny Muir, Vicki Michelle, Martin Daniels and Mark Little on the Grand Opera House stage. Picture: David Harrison

Playing Ugly Sister was harsh and mean spirited by comparison with his latest dame, Nurse Brexit. “I’m looking forward to being someone softer this time, after the nasty wicked Ugly Sisters. She’s more gentle, and I’ve been working with Martin, who’s playing Muddles this year, to maximise our comic relationship, to create comedy vignettes for us.”

There ain’t nothing like the dame in panto, reckons Steve. “This is THE part to play. When I first came into panto, I always wanted to play dame. I’d done bits and pieces of comic roles and straight roles, but I always felt most comfortable doing this role,” he says.

“I started quite young at 27; they took a punt with me at the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds, when I played Hyacinth Horseradish in Rapunzel. It’s not a panto that’s done very often, but what was great was that it was a very Mother Goose-type role in a very dame-driven show, so it really gave me the full first experience.

“I remember they said I was ‘very good but far too pretty’ as this beautiful young thing as I didn’t do make-up like I do it now.”

Steve had been the youngest auditionee in the room, but he took everything in his stride. “My agent had fixed it up for me because I’d kept saying ‘I really want to play dame’ when people had said, ‘you’re really good but come back in two years’.

“The main thing I took from that was ‘be ugly’, and I can’t believe how lucky I was to be given that first chance, but the even luckier thing was then to come here, to the Grand Opera House, and develop my character and ‘find’ my dame,” he says.

“I remember they said I was ‘very good but far too pretty’ as this beautiful young thing as I didn’t do make-up like I do it now,” says Steve Wickenden, recalling his first pantomime dame at the age of 27.

“I really play on my ‘inner southerner’, taken from my grandmother and great grandmother, and that southern turn of phrase works really well in a northern theatre, where it’s a bit alien, and the dame is a bit alien anyway, and doing it in a northern theatre makes it stranger still!”

He can’t wait for opening show on Thursday (December 12) when he starts to “get Nurse Brexit done”, right on cue on General Election night. “One of the things I said about my first year here was the warmth coming off the audience towards me, which, to an extent, I’ve not been able to have since then because of the characters I’ve played: Mirabelle in Beauty And The Beast and the Ugly Sisters,” says Steve.

“I’m looking forward to having that warmth again, rather than last year’s boos, but it’s always exciting because it’s dame again but in a new setting. I just love coming back here and I think it’s become my second home now.”

In the year since he was last in York, Steve has been busy directing a children’s theatre show, the musical Annie, doing plenty of teaching, and performing with his Fifties’ rock’n’roll band The Bandits, even headlining The Vintage Rock’n’Roll Festival in the South West, “just beyond Stonehenge”.

“I’d love to do a rock’n’roll number in the panto. Why not? Maybe Tutti Frutti!” he says. “I always say that one of the wonderful things about here is that there’s absolutely no expectation that the dame will sing well. You can screech!”

Steve Wickenden plays Nurse Brexit in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Grand Opera House, York, December 12 to January 4 2020. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or at atgtickets.com/york

Charles Hutchinson

Frank Turner finds himself in No Man’s Land as York Barbican bow beckons

Frank Turner: bringing history and song-writing together at York Barbican next March

FRANK Turner will turn York Barbican into No Man’s Land on March 8 on the Hampshire folk-punk singer-songwriter’s 2020 tour.

Tickets will go on sale at 10am tomorrow morning on 0203 356 5441, at yorkbarbican.co.uk or in person from the Barbican box office.

Turner, 37, released his latest album, No Man’s Land, in August, touted as his most original to date with its parade of fascinating characters, such as the woman who invented rock’n’roll, a serial killer from the Deep South, who plucked her victims from lonely hearts pages, and a Wild West vaudeville star shot by a small-town outlaw. 

“It’s bringing together my two main interests in life, which have always been separate from each other: history and song writing,” says Turner, who can be found seeking out long-forgotten historical sites on self-guided psycho-geographical strolls when not touring.

No Man’s Land is dedicated to the women “whose incredible lives have all too often been overlooked by dint of their gender”. “These stories should have been told already,” says Turner of the album and its accompanying podcast series. “And I suspect if they were men, they would be better known.” 

A couple of names here will be familiar, in the form of Sister Rosetta Tharpe in Sister Rosetta and the mysterious Mata Hari in Eye Of The Day, but other women who feature have long been ignored by the mainstream.

Turner was inundated with crowdsourcing suggestions when seeking more names. “I know a lot of very smart people who sent me these huge lists of historically interesting women,” he says, after he ended up researching hundreds, seriously expanding the size of his home library in the process. “It felt a bit like going back to school, but it was so much fun.”

The women featured on the album’s 13 tracks come from across wide geographical and historical lines, whether Byzantine princess Kassiani in The Hymn Of Kassiani; Egyptian feminist activist Huda Sha’arawi in The Lioness, or Resusci Anne, an apocryphal drowned virgin whose face was used as the model for the medicinal CPR mannequin across the world. 

“You can’t resist writing a song about a woman who died never having been kissed and then became the most kissed face in history,” reasons Turner. 

No Man’s Land boast perhaps the most revelatory song of Turner’s career. Written in tribute to his mother, Rosemary Jane honours her grit and determination through the harder parts of his childhood. “It’s quite a raw song,” he admits, adding that he felt compelled to ask permission from his mother and sisters to include the track. “But it’s nice about her. It’s not necessarily nice about my dad.”

Turner, by the way, will be making his York Barbican debut at next March’s gig.

Charles Hutchinson

Britten and America unite for The Ebor Singers’ transatlantic Christmas concert

Not exactly dressed for winter! The Ebor Singers nevertheless will be in the mood for Christmas at the NCEM on December 15

LOOK forward to “a whole new world of carols” when The Ebor Singers present the British premiere of American Christmas choral works alongside Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols on December 15.

The York choir’s ever-popular candlelit Christmas concert always features Britten’s festive favourite from 1942, this time complemented by modern compositions from the United States at the National Centre for Early Music, York, at 7.30pm.

“Benjamin Britten was particularly drawn to Christmas,” says Paul Gameson, the choir’s director, introducing Britten’s masterpiece, scored for three-part treble chorus, solo voices and harp.

“Britten spent three years in North America at the beginning of the Second World War, and he composed A Ceremony of Carolsduring the long and dangerous transatlantic crossing back to Britain in 1942.”

How apt, then, to present Britten’s work alongside Christmas music from the USA. “We’ve had a lot of enjoyment putting this together”, says Paul. “As well as pieces now considered popular mainstays of the repertoire, by Lauridsen and Whitacre, we’ve been exploring sacred pieces by Jake Runestad, Nico Muhly and Stephen Paulus.

“Runestad’s writing in Sleep Little Baby, Sleephas an American folk-song quality, and Paulus’s exploration of the sonority of choir with accompaniment of oboe and harp is every bit as imaginative as Britten. 

“Muhly is one of today’s most imaginative choral composers, and his Whispered And Revealed,a setting of Longfellow’s poem Snowflakes,is quite breath-taking, within three minutes magically conjuring up images of snow covering a winter landscape.

“So, we’re delighted to be giving some of this music its UK premiere. Then throw in some classic seasonal jingles and some choral ‘mash-ups’ and you have a seasonal concert quite unlike anything else you will have heard, guaranteed to bring you Christmas cheer.”

Tickets for Britten, A Ceremony of Carols, By Candlelight cost £15, concessions £12, students £5, at eborsingers.org/currentevents or on the door.

Charles Hutchinson