Podcasters’ question of the day: Just how pretentiously French is The Velvet Queen?

IS the French snow leopard documentary La Panthere Des Neiges (The Velvet Queen) the moist pretentious nature film of all time?

Two Big Egos In A Small Car culture podcasters Graham Chalmers and Charles Hutchinson pass judgement in Episode 90.

What else is on their mind? Bono and The Edge go underground in Ukraine. What happens when critics change their mind on second acquaintance? Messums Gallery closes in Harrogate. Charm’s homecoming Karl Culley gig for the Harrogate Theatre restoration appeal.

To listen, head to: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1187561/10615841

Karl Culley returns home to play Charm gig for Harrogate Theatre Restoration Appeal

Karl Culley: Returning home to play Harrogate Theatre Restoration Appeal concert

ACOUSTIC guitarist and singer Karl Culley will head from Poland to his hometown of Harrogate to play a restoration appeal fundraiser for Harrogate Theatre on June 2.

Accompanying him in the intimate Studio Theatre will be fellow Harrogate musician Dan Webster, from Birdman Rallies, Gosh Hawk and New York Brass Band, who also will play a short set on the 7.30pm bill.

The fundraiser will be presented by not-for-profit Harrogate event organisers Charm, who previously brought the likes of Field Music and Gruff Rhys, of Super Furry Animals, to Harrogate Theatre.

“It’s a rare return to Harrogate from his successful sojourn in Kraków for Karl Culley, who has been hailed by Mojo magazine as a brilliant ‘metaphysical folk pop poet’,” says Charm promoter Graham Chalmers.

Dan Webster: Performing with Karl Culley and playing solo set at June 2 fundraiser

“Karl first appeared at a Charm night in 2005 and has become favourite of our events ever since with his mesmerising performances.”

Culley released debut album Bundle Of Nerves in 2009, put together from recording sessions on the Scottish isle of Jura. His second offering, The Owl, produced by Daniel Webster, was recorded in York and his native Harrogate in 2011 and drew comparisons with both Tim Buckley and José González in a four-star Sunday Express review.”

Three more albums have followed: Phosphor in 2013, Stripling in 2015 and Last! in 2018. “Karl will perform songs from all five and unveil tracks from his new EP, Redshift, which has already been reviewed favourably by folkradio.co.uk,” says Graham.

Charm presents Karl Culley and Dan Webster in a night of acoustic music at Harrogate Theatre Studio Theatre on June 2 at 7.30pm. All profits will go to the Harrogate Theatre Restoration Appeal. Box office: 01423 502116, at harrogatetheatre.co.uk or via email to boxoffice@harrogatetheatre.co.uk.

York Musical Theatre Company determined to take “phenomenal” Jekyll & Hyde The Musical out of niche status at JoRo Theatre

Steven Jobson, who plays Jekyll/Hyde, and Nicola Holliday, in the role of Lucy Harris, pictured at York Castle Museum

YORK Musical Theatre Company are marking their 120th anniversary with a new staging of Jekyll & Hyde The Musical.

Directed by Matthew Clare, York’s longest-running amateur theatre company are presenting Robert Louis Stevenson’s story of love, betrayal and murder from May 25 to 28, when the epic struggle between good and evil comes to life to the pop-rock score of Grammy and Tony Award-nominated Frank Wildhorn and double Oscar and Grammy-winning Leslie Bricusse.

Jekyll & Hyde has been described as a “niche musical”, prompting Matthew to say: “It was first done in Texas in the 1990s and it’s true it’s not been done commonly. Maybe its subject matter is off-putting to those who want something more family orientated: Annie comes without seven murders, doesn’t it – and I once did 17 productions of Annie in one year!

“But given that the music is phenomenal, we stood the chance of getting a really good cast, doing some music nights with musical director John Atkin going through some of the score, and we ended up with a really good turnout for the auditions.”

Among those auditionees was Glyndebourne Academy alumna Alexandra Mather, who will play Emma Carew. “The music has some operatic elements and strong musical theatre ones too,” she says.

“So, the show has that crossover appeal between the populism of Lloyd Webber and the sophistication of Sondheim. It’s Phantom meets Sweeney Todd, with the big power ballads for the Lloyd Webber factor and the interplay of Sondheim in the ensemble scenes.”

Matthew Clare: Directing York Musical Theatre Company’s production of Jekyll & Hyde The Musical

Stevenson’s tale of two men – one, a doctor, passionate and romantic; the other, a terrifying madman – and two women – one, beautiful and trusting; the other, beautiful and trusting only herself – finds both women in love with the same man and both unaware of his dark secret.

A devoted man of science, Dr Henry Jekyll is driven to find a chemical breakthrough that can solve the most challenging of medical dilemmas. Rebuffed by the powers-that-be, he decides to make himself the subject of his own experimental treatments, accidentally unleashing his inner demons, along with the man that the world would come to know as Mr Hyde.

“It’s a really powerful story rooted in Dr Jekyll looking for a cure for his father’s dementia,” says Matthew. “Most people can probably sympathise with that emotion, that desire, but the issue is that he becomes obsessed with it.”

Alexandra adds: “Jekyll doesn’t have a way to pursue this through the proper channels because it’s a one-man crusade and he ends up having to push Emma away because of what he’s doing.”

Anthony Gardner, cast as lawyer John Utterson, joins in: “Hyde is a diminished part of Jekyll. He’s juxtaposed with Utterson, who has all the correct moral values and represents stability.”

Matthew notes how Hyde is the only honest character in the story. “That’s a really weird thing to say about your villain, who’s always within Jekyll.”

“It’s Phantom meets Sweeney Todd,” says principal cast member Alexandra Mather, describing the musical style of Jekyll & Hyde

How we might behave in any given situation depends on where we are in our lives, suggests Alexandra. “We are not constant,” she says. “Depending on where we are, it can bring out that other side.”

Anthony is playing “one of the more relatable characters”. “Utterson is Jekyll’s best friend but he’s also someone who steps out of the story and becomes a narrator, so as such his voice is one of the ones you can trust,” he says.

“He’s desperate to save his friend but he’s also blind to his faults so he’s always one step behind.”

Anthony has been “knocking around I don’t know how many companies all these years”, from York Light Opera Company to York Opera, the Bev Jones Music Company to York Musical Theatre Company. “But the draw to Jekyll & Hyde for me was very specific,” he says.

“I met my fiancée doing an abridged version at the ROSS Musical Theatre Performance School at Lancaster: a 45-minute version that still had all the murders and the full story.

“I had to play two characters: my first take on Utterson, a role suited to my style, and Spider; my now fiancée was playing Lucy Harris, the prostitute, and now she’s playing Lady Savage next week.

Devoted man of science: Steven Jobson’s Dr Henry Jekyll

“We’re due to get married next year. We got engaged over lockdown, and we’ll be getting married on Kirkgate at York Castle Museum, where, as it happens, we did the photocall for Jekyll & Hyde.”

Anthony’s bride-to-be is Elizabeth Vile. “No, she will not be keeping her maiden name! I had always thought I would go double-barrelled when marrying, but ‘Vile Gardner’ doesn’t quite work, does it?!”

Should you be seeking further reasons to be “immersed in the myth and mystery of 19th century London’s fog-bound streets” in Jekyll & Hyde, here are two more from director Matthew.

“Because of Covid, York Musical Theatre Company haven’t had a full-scale production for two years since Jesus Christ Superstar, just a couple of online concerts, so it’s great to be back,” he says.

“It’s also very interesting to have two performers playing Lucy – Nicola Holliday on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday evening; Claire Pulpher on Thursday and at the Saturday matinee – and seeing how they play her in their different ways.”

York Musical Theatre Company in Jekyll & Hyde The Musical, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, May 25 to 28, 7.30pm and 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

Copyright of The Press, York

York Musical Theatre Company’s poster artwork for Jekyll & Hyde The Musical

Yorkraine benefit concert for Ukraine has it covered when it comes to York bands

The poster artwork for Yorkraine, Ian Surgenor’s benefit concert for Ukraine

THE Yorkraine benefit concert for Ukraine brings together York cover bands The Supermodels, The Mothers, The Y Street Band and Sister Madly on May 24.

Acoustic sets from Alex Victoria and fellow York singer-songwriter Mal Fry and contributions from guest speakers complete the “totally York” 7.30pm bill at the Grand Opera House, York.

The evening of pop and rock classics from the past six decades will raise funds for the British Red Cross DEC appeal to aid Ukrainian refugees who find themselves in dire circumstances. All artists, hosts, sound tech and crew have donated their time free of charge.

Concert organiser Ian Surgenor says: “I’m a taxi driver by trade, and when I was working at night, there was a newsflash that Russia had invaded Ukraine. I was mortified, and then, like 99 per cent of the British population, I just felt helpless.

The Supermodels

“The only thing I thought I could do was to arrange a concert for the DEC appeal. I’ve always held York Rocks Against Cancer concerts at the Grand Opera House, so I got in touch.

“The manager, Alice [Long], went out of her way to find us a spot, squeezing us in for May 24, and we’re delighted to be doing the show there as the acoustics are great.”

Explaining the choice of musicians for the night, Ian says: “Cover bands have a broad appeal, and I have a really good relationship with most of them in York, just from doing events and seeing gigs.

“There’s a mutual respect, so I approached Dave Sykes, from The Supermodels, who did the first York Rocks; I knew Rob Wilson, from The Mothers, and I’ve done shows with The Y Street Band.”

Sister Madly happen to be Ian’s own band, also featuring two stalwarts of the York musical theatre scene, Jo Theaker, last seen in York Stage’s Calendar Girls at the Grand Opera House, and Ian’s wife, Marie-Louise Surgenor, from Rowntree Players.  

Sister Madly, featuring Ian Surgenor, Jo Theaker and Marie-Louise Surgenor

Ian was keen to include acoustic acts too. “I’d seen other venues putting on acoustic singers on such nights,” he says.

“In fact, I provided the sound for the acoustic lounge when Big Ian Donaghy held a fundraiser for the Ukraine emergency appeal at York Sports Club in March, with Huge playing in the main room, and Dan Webster, Emily Lawler, Rich Hardcastle, To The Blue and a young lady called Alex Victoria in the lounge.

“I was blown away by her. ‘What a voice this girl has,’ I thought, and I wondered if she’d like to do the Yorkraine gig. She said she’d be honoured!”

In attendance too will be a civic party led by Andrew Digwood, Undersheriff of the City of York, while a speaker from the British Red Cross will explain “what will happen to the money and what it’s like on the front”.

The Mothers

“We’ll also be welcoming a Ukrainian gentleman, Dimitri, who works for the Studio Cloud Nine fitness company. He drove to Poland to bring a family here, but couldn’t get them into the country, so they ended up going to Portugal, where the children were placed in a school within two days. Amazing what can be done, isn’t it?”

Look out too for a guest appearance by York vocal drag diva supreme Velma Celli, alias York’s West End musical theatre actor Ian Stroughair. “Ian approached me and said he thought what we were doing was amazing and asked how he could help,” says organiser Ian, who duly slotted Velma into the bill.

Surgenor has secured sponsorship from four sources: Nestlé, Vincent & Brown, Ainsty Ales and Fenton Simpson Financial Services. “They’ve covered the costs totally for hiring the theatre, projection, and so every ticket sold, every penny raised on the night from a collection, all the money will go the DEC appeal.”

The last mention goes to Simon Hudson, who is providing the sound and lighting…for free, of course.

Yorkraine, Ukraine Benefit Concert, Grand Opera House, York, May 24, 7.30pm. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/York.

Velma Celli: New addition to the Yorkraine bill

May the fourth be with you! Gary Barlow extends A Different Stage run in York

Gary Barlow: First there were two, now there are four shows

GARY Barlow is adding a FOURTH show at the Grand Opera House, York, on June 9 after his June 10 and 11 performances and hastily added Sunday matinee on June 12 all sold out.

The Wirral singer, songwriter, composer, producer, talent show judge and author will be presenting his theatrical one-man show A Different Stage, ahead of the September 1 publication of his autobiography of the same name by Penguin Books.

“Now I’ve done shows where it has just been me and a keyboard,” says the Take That mainstay, 51. “I’ve done shows where I sit and talk to people. I’ve done shows where I’ve performed as part of a group.

“But this one, well, it’s like all of those, but none of them. When I walk out this time, well, it’s going to be a very different stage altogether.”

Tickets for June 9’s 7.30pm show are selling fast at atgtickets.com/York or on 0844 871 7615.

The Simon & Garfunkel Story is bound for York in Grand Opera House return in May

The Simon & Garfunkel Story: On tour at the Grand Opera House, York

THE Simon & Garfunkel Story returns to the Grand Opera House, York, on May 27 to celebrate the songs of the folk-rock duo from Queens, New York.

The 7.30pm performance features a cast of West End actor-musicians telling the story of elementary school friends Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, from their humble beginnings as rock’n’roll duo Tom and Jerry, through to their 1960s success, relationship troubles and dramatic break-up in 1970, finishing with a re-creation of their 1981 Central Park reunion concert.

Using a large projection screen, the show features 1960s’ photos and film footage while a live band performs such favourites as The Sound Of Silence, The Boxer, Mrs Robinson, Cecilia, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Homeward Bound, I Am A Rock and America.

The Simon & Garfunkel Story heads to York on the back of a week-long West End run at the Vaudeville Theatre and sold-out performances in 50 countries worldwide, 

Tickets are on sale on 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/york. 

Podcast question of the day: Are Fontaines DC in too much of a hurry?

The album artwork for Fontaines DC’s Skinty Fia

AS album number three arrives so soon, why are the Irish band being as prolific as the early Beatles? Two Big Egos In A Small Car culture podcasters Graham Chalmers and Charles Hutchinson discuss Skinty Fia in Episode 89.

Plus: what happens to the BBC when the licence fee ends? Anything else? Sheffield Leadmill update; The Divine Comedy at York Barbican review; Gary Barlow’s show with a difference, and why Mischief and Penn &Teller’s Magic Goes Wrong is wand-erful.

To listen, here is the link: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1187561/10570721

More Things To Do in York and beyond as Pinter’s pause and effect comes home to roost. List No 82, courtesy of The Press

Keith Allen: Homing in on The Homecoming arriving at York Theatre Royal on Monday

AVOIDING the “devastation of stag and hen parties” (copyright Rachael Maskell, York Central MP), Charles Hutchinson finds reasons aplenty to venture out.

Play of the week: Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming, York Theatre Royal, Monday to Saturday, 7.30pm; Thursday, 2pm; Saturday, 2.30pm

GAVIN & Stacey star Mathew Horne and Keith Allen star in Jamie Glover’s new production of The Homecoming, Harold Pinter’s bleakly funny 1965 exploration of family and relationships.

University professor Teddy returns to his North London childhood home from America, accompanied by his wife Ruth, to find his father, uncle and brothers still living there. As life becomes a barely camouflaged battle for power and sexual supremacy, who will emerge victorious: poised and elegant Ruth or her husband’s dysfunctional family? Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Tom Figgins: Introducing new material tonight at Stillington Mill. Picture: Daniel Harris

Outdoor gig of the week: Tom Figgins, Music At The Mill, Stillington Mill, near York, tonight, 7.30pm

SINGER-SONGWRITER Tom Figgins returns to At The Mill’s garden stage after last summer’s sold-out performance, with the promise of new material.

Figgins’ vocal range, guitar playing and compelling lyrics caught the ear of presenter Chris Evans, who hosted him on his BBC Radio 2 show and invited him to play the main stage at CarFest North & South.

His instrumental works have been heard on Countryfile and Panorama and he is the composer for the Benlunar podcast, now on its fourth series. Box office:  tickettailor.com/events/atthemill.

Martin Roscoe: Guest piano soloist for York Guildhall Orchestra

Classical concert of the week: York Guildhall Orchestra, York Barbican, tonight, 7.30pm

YORK Guildhall Orchestra’s final concert of their 2021-2022 season welcomes the long-awaited return of pianist Martin Roscoe, originally booked to perform in May 2020.

Retained from that Covid-cancelled programme are Shostakovich’s Jazz Suite, with its combination of cheeky jazz tunes and the Russian’s mastery of orchestration, and Dohnanyi’s mock-serious take on a children’s nursery rhyme. Leeds Festival Chorus join in for Elgar’s Music Makers. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Go West and Paul Young: Eighties’ revival at York Barbican

Eighties’ nostalgia of the week: Go West & Paul Young, York Barbican, Sunday, 7.30pm

PETER Cox and Richard Drummer’s slick duo, Go West, and Luton soul singer Paul Young go north this weekend for a double bill of Eighties’ pop.

Expect We Close Our Eyes, Call Me, Don’t Look Down and King Of Wishful Thinking, from the Pretty Woman soundtrack, in Go West’s set. The chart-topping Wherever I Lay My Hat, Love Of The Common People, Everytime You Go Away and Everything Must Change will be on Young’s To Do list. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Paul Merton’s Impro Chums: Wanting a word with you at the Grand Opera House

Fun and word games of the week: Paul Merton’s Impro Chums, Grand Opera House, York, Monday, 8pm

HAVE I Got News For You regular and Comedy Store Players co-founder Paul Merton teams up with fellow seasoned improvisers Richard Vranch, Suki Webster and Mike McShane and accompanist Kirsty Newton to flex their off-the-cuff comedy muscles on their first antics roadshow travels since August 2019.

“What audiences like about what we do is that we haven’t lost our sense of play, our sense of fun, the sort of thing that gets knocked out of you because you have to get married or get a mortgage or find a job,” says Merton. Let the fun and games sparked by audience suggestions begin. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or atgtickets.com/York.

Hayley Ria Christian: All aboard her Midnight Train To Georgia for a night of Gladys Knight hits

Homage, not tribute show, of the week: Hayley Ria Christian in Midnight Train To Georgia, A Celebration Of Gladys Knight, Grand Opera House, York, Friday, 7.30pm

HAYLEY Ria Christian’s show is “definitely not a tribute, but a faithful portrayal that truly pays homage to the voice of a generation, the one and only Empress of Soul, Ms Gladys Knight”.

In the late Sixties and Seventies, Gladys Knight & The Pips enjoyed such hits as Take Me In Your Arms And Love Me, Help Me Make It Through The Night, Try To Remember/The Way We Were, Baby, Don’t Change Your Mind and her signature song Midnight Train To Georgia. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or atgtickets.com/York.

Milton Jones: International spy turned comedian in Milton: Impossible

Comedy gig of the week: Milton Jones in Milton: Impossible, Harrogate Theatre, May 21, 7.30pm

ONE man. One Mission. Is it possible? “No, not really,” says Kew comedian Milton Jones, the shock-haired matador of the piercing one-liner, as he reveals the truth behind having once been an international spy, but then being given a somewhat disappointing new identity that forced him to appear on Mock The Week.

“But this is also a love story with a twist, or at least a really bad sprain,” says Jones. “Is it all just gloriously daft nonsense, or is there a deeper meaning?”  Find out next weekend. Box office: 01423 502116 or harrogatetheatre.co.uk.

Grace Petrie: Carrying on the fight for a better tomorrow when every day you are told you have lost already

Protest gig of the week: Grace Petrie, The Crescent, York, May 23, 7.30pm

DIY protest singer Grace Petrie emerged from lockdown with Connectivity, her 2021 polemical folk album that reflects on what humanity means in a world struggling against division and destruction.

Petrie’s honest songs seek a way to carry on the fight for a better tomorrow when every day you are told you have lost already. Bad news: her York gig has sold out. Good news: she will be playing Social, Hull, too on May 18 at 8pm (box office, seetickets.com). On both nights, she will be accompanied by long-time collaborator, singer and multi-instrumentalist Ben Moss.

Taking trouble at At The Mill to build a community for the arts and the people

Daniel Kitson: Testing out new material in six Outside performances at Stillington Mill

SUMMER At The Mill is returning for a second season of creative, culinary and community events in the gardens of Stillington Mill, Stillington, near York.

“After the spectacular, gorgeous, fun, exciting, beautiful and heart-warming time we had throughout our inaugural summer last year – what a ride! – we’re over the moon to present the mixed bag of goodies that is Summer At The Mill 2.0,” says programmer, theatre director, writer and performer Alexander Flanagan-Wright.

“Until September 4, we’ll be hosting a load of wonderful events all about community, art, food and flipping good times. We’ll have a pop-up café and bar, community gatherings, theatre, music, comedy, supper clubs and special events.”

The “Wright stuff” is the work of outdoor theatre co-builder Alex, sister Abbigail Ollive (Saturday café cuisine queen and supper club supremo) and their retired headteacher parents Maggi and Paul Wright, together with partners Megan Drury and Paul Smith. That “stuff” also takes in weddings, events and shepherd’s hut accommodation: truly a village cottage industry, you could say, albeit somewhat larger than a cottage.

A Supper Club gathering at At The Mill

“We just had a blast summer,” says Alex. “It was kind of by accident. It felt very serendipitous or of its moment, saying, ‘here is a way we can gather safely, our local community and the arts community, post-lockdown’.

“So this summer is a chance to see if people still care, and so far the evidence is that they do, with the return of the busy Saturday café, the Crafty Tales show [The Case Of The Missing Bunny] that sold out, our Pizza & Cocktail Night and the Dance Dance Dance Big Bank Holiday Silent Disco.

“Last year felt like a huge rush of adrenaline, and then you think, ‘OK, where do we go forward this year for beautiful experiences together?’. Already this year, we’re meeting new people coming to the events and the café.”

Summing up the essence of At The Mill, Alex says: “We believe a feeling of community is so important when people want to have an evening out. Whereas commercial theatre can feel merely transactional, with us, the means is the art, but the end result is a sense of community, and that feels the right way round.

Alexander Flanagan-Wright: At the heart of At The Mill

“On top of that, eating outside together, drinking outside together, is a lovely thing to do, and we have the space and setting to do that.”

Where once Stillington Mill’s 18th century mill would produce flour, now the At The Mill combines food with food for thought, new recipes at the Supper Club, new works on stage. “We’re very clear with the artists about that. Everyone we’ve asked, we’ve said, ‘we think you’re cool, we like your work, do you want to come and play with us?’,” says Alex.

“What we have in abundance is space and time, imagination and a community. What we don’t have in abundance is cash, but we find most performers end up walking away with cash in their pocket.

“We don’t say to them, bring a particular show. What you get instead is artists testing out new material, so it becomes a genuine relationship with the audience built around nurturing new work. We’re seeking an equal balance between the two communities, where they care about each other, and if we do our part well in bringing them together, then they will meet in a beautiful way, and hopefully that process is more valuable, than, say, a Q&A session in a theatre.”

The Saturday cafe at At The Mill, baked by Abbigail Ollive

Alex continues: “Hopefully too, we’re going to be able to sustain that culture of being able to welcome artists for whatever they want to try out, and of audiences being continually excited about seeing new work at such an early stage, performed by people they wouldn’t expect to be passing through their village.”

A case in point is Edinburgh Fringe favourite Daniel Kitson, the Denby Dale stand-up comedian, who asked to take part in the Theatre At The Mill programme after he was tipped off by storytelling performer Sam Freeman.

“Daniel got in touch to say hello, could he come and do a show? I don’t know what the show is about; I don’t know if Daniel does yet, but that feels a pretty exciting thing to be going on, and testament to our aim for brilliant performers to test out their work to our community,” says Alex.

“I’m also aware that there will be those who don’t know who Daniel Kitson is and would just see him as someone standing up in a garden! But it feels beautiful to know that his shows in May will be his first in two years and it’s great to be part of that work-in-progress experience.”

Chris Stokes: Storytelling comedy in Lockdown Detective at At The Mill on May 26

Clearly, plenty of people know exactly who Daniel Kitson is: his 8pm performances of Outside on May 23 to 25 have sold out already and his June 8 to 10 run looks close to following suit.

What’s in store from Kitson? Here’s the show blurb: “Daniel hasn’t been on stage for over two years. And, to be entirely honest, he’s not really missed it. It is, however, his actual job and everyone’s gone back to work now. So, he’s picked out a comfy pen, bought a new notebook and booked himself a summer’s worth of outdoor shows to find out whether he can still do his job and what, if anything, he has to say to large groups of people he doesn’t know.”

Given his performing hiatus and lack of practice, Kitson predicts the shows are “likely to be relatively rickety affairs”. “But Daniel’s already written the question ‘Do worms feel fear?’ in his new notebook, so we should be okay,” the blurb adds. “Also, if it gets boring – you can just use the time to look at the sky and feel small.”

At The Mill’s role in nurturing new work ties in with Alex’s own creativity as a writer and director, whether directing The Flanagan Collective, heading off to Australia with songwriter/musician/performer/magician Phil Grainger or spending last September to December in New York, making the immersive piece Tammany Hall for the Soho Playhouse.

Gary Stewart: Hosting regular Folk Club nights at At The Mill

“We meet loads of brilliant people when touring our work, and it’s great that they want to come here to test new pieces,” he says. “We’re delighted that people will hone shows here just before the Edinburgh Fringe kicks off, or will do shows here that aren’t going to Edinburgh but fit that vibe.”

Picking out upcoming highlights, singer-songwriterTom Figgins follows up last summer’s gig – his first in four years – with a return tomorrow; Chris Stokes’s storytelling comedy show, Lockdown Detective, is booked in for May 26, and Scottish musician Gary Stewart, now resident in nearby Easingwold, will host his regular Folk Club night on May 27, June 24 and July 8.

“For his first night, it’ll be just Gary and his guitar, performing Paul Simon songs solo rather than with his Graceland band. It’s lovely for us that a local musician, who’s internationally renowned, came here and said, ‘I want to play here every month and bring acts here regularly’,” says Alex.

At The Mill’s ERII Platinum Jubilee celebrations will take in Jubilee Jubilee, A Very Jubilant Cabaret, on June 3 and A Right Royal Knees Up, with live music and pizza, on June 5.

Maddie Morris: 2019 BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award winner, playing a Music At The Mill gig for the first time

Leeds folk duo Maddie Morris & Lilian Grace will make their At The Mill debut on June 12, performing together as Death And The Daughter and playing solo works too. Their 2022 project, The Sticky Monsters, is influenced by the artwork of Swedish artist John Kenn and their compositions deal with childhood, poverty and more general reflections on culture and the idea of fear.

“I saw Maddie, the 2019 BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award winner, at The Courthouse, Rural Arts’ home in Thirsk, and she’s an absolute folk musician, studying folk music at Leeds University and looking at contemporary politics through the lens of the folk tradition,” says Alex.

Gemma Curry’s York company Hoglets Theatre will perform the children’s show The Sleep Pirates on June 19 (10am to 1pm); York spoken-word collective Say Owt will host a poetry-writing workshop on June 25 (5pm), followed by an evening showcase (7.30pm); Heady Conduct will combine physical storytelling with live music to tell the Greek myth of Tiresias on July 10, and Paperback Theatre will stage their charming account of roguish Toad’s misadventures, The Wind In The Willows, on July 30 at 2.30pm and 7pm.

Alex himself has a couple of contributions to the season: Monster, a work-in-progress new story, on June 16 and 17, and The Gods The Gods The Gods, the Wright and Grainger show whose Australian premiere tour was curtailed by the pandemic, now making its British debut on July 23, 24, 27 and 28 at 8.45pm.

Gemma Curry in Hoglets Theatre’s The Sleep Pirates

“In its full iteration, it’s a big, heavy show, but this will be a lighter version before we take it to the Edinburgh Fringe,” says Alex of the final work in Wright & Grainger’s trilogy of myths, after Orpheus and Eurydice, both sell-outs at last summer’s At The Mill season.

The Gods The Gods The Gods, with its four stories and 14 compositions, corals big beats, soaring melodies and heart-stopping spoken words as it “calls us to the crossroads where mythology meets real life”.

“The Gods are gathering and you’re invited,” says Alex. “We’re excited about testing it out here, to wrangle up the story, to see that all the text and music works, and then add lights for Edinburgh, where we’ll be doing it in the Assembly’s 200-seat spiegeltent.”

The Mill’s summer programme will continue to add new events, with full details, including tickets, at athemill.org. Shows start at 7.30pm unless stated otherwise.

The Flanagan Collective’s Alexander Flanagan-Wright and Gobbledigook Theatre’s Phil Grainger staging Orpheus and Eurydice at At The Mill’s socially-distanced summer season in 2021. Picture: Charlotte Graham

REVIEW: Paul Rhodes’s verdict on Jake Xerxes Fussell, Fulford Arms, York, May 9

Jake Xerxes Fussell: “Full of songs that said much with little”. Picture: Paul Rhodes

PARED down, with a little extra off for good measure, American folk singer Jake Xerxes Fussell’s gig was the epitome of economy. Two expertly measured sets totalling 75 minutes, full of songs that said much with little.

Dressed in the standard-issue cap and sneakers, he sat with only his amplifier on stage and a full house for company. A packed crowd on a Monday evening surely means that Fussell’s star is on the rise.

Fussell is part of the new, new folk revival, taking tunes from the recent and more distant past, then subtly updating them to ring true today. “Folk music comes from the internet, at least that’s what I tell the young folk,” he deadpanned in a rare conversational moment.

Fussell wears the obvious dedication to his craft and the research he puts into selecting material lightly (this is a man who was raised in the American South on folk music and did a masters degree on fiddle music from the Choctaw people, hitherto neglected in research on “southern music”). Put it this way: he knows his onions.

He was careful too not to sing tunes that he has no right to sing (slavery ballads being an obvious example), and he sagely pieced together a setlist that was in the best of taste. The material was woven from American folk tales, cousins or perhaps blood kin of those who inspired a previous generation when Harry Smith alchemised his three majestic volumes. Each song was simply told, with Fussell’s Fender Telecaster and warm baritone voice never over-reaching.

His was a sound that stayed with you, long after he strode unassumingly off stage without messing around with an encore. Like a bourbon from his native Georgia, his warming sound can get to a man’s vitals.

Pick of the 13-strong crop were Raggy Lee, Jubilee and River St Johns – each perfect, tuneful and timeless. In truth, if you liked one, you would have liked them all, as the sound and tempos were pretty similar.

Stagecraft and between-song stories? Not so much as a Coo Coo bird. This was probably the only major bum note, as Fussell’s performance never really became a fully fledged show – one where the audience leave knowing more about the songs, his craft or the man singing them. A missed opportunity that dulled what had otherwise been a fine old-time evening.

Review by Paul Rhodes