REVIEW: Damon Albarn, York Minster, December 2, 6.30pm

Damon Albarn: Playing York at last. Picture: Daisy Rutledge

YORK Minster will always drive out demons but welcomed a Damon last night. Damon Albarn, leader of Blur, Gorillaz and The Good, The Bad And The Queen, no less.

Albarn would be playing two sets in one night, an 8.30pm performance being added pronto last month by Leeds co-promoters Crash Records and Brudenell Presents after the 6.30pm show sold out in five minutes.

The advice was to arrive by the door time, advice taken as the hats-and-scarves queue snaked towards Constantine the Great’s statue. Accommodating 600 in the Nave, it would be 7.22pm before Albarn took to his grand piano seat, in studious glasses, after an introduction by a member of the Minster clergy, just as had been the case when York band The Howl & The Hum played there on May 25.

Albarn was not alone, instead being accompanied by an all-female string quartet, who set the hushed, wintry mood with two instrumentals, the second a magical, frost-tipped rendition of In The Bleak Midwinter, with candlelight displaying glowing approval at either side.

In the first ever York concert of his 32-year career, Albarn’s focus was to be on his November solo release, The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows – tickets had been sold in a bundle with a CD copy of the album – although Chris Sherrington, from the Fulford Arms, tipped off CharlesHutchPress to expect “an interesting set”, suggesting past as well as present might feature.

Albarn had first intended the album to be an orchestral piece inspired by the landscapes of Iceland. In lockdown, however, he returned to the music, resulting in 11 tracks rooted in themes of fragility, loss, emergence and rebirth.

Last night, those songs re-emerged with strings attached and in an atmosphere of contemplation, almost everyone in a mask as the new Omnicron variant reintroduced caution and uncertainty: those feelings of fragility and loss rather dampening these past months’ sense of emergence and rebirth.

Taking the album’s title from the John Clare poem Love And Memory, Albarn had been on his “own dark journey while making the record”. Crucially, too it had led him to “believe that a pure source might still exist”. That pure source is not specified, but listening to these sombre songs in the stillness of the cathedral made you wonder whether divine intervention could play its part.

That said, as Albarn recalled in his one humorous anecdote, in his youth he had been allowed to play his local church organ on Saturday mornings, until one day the vicar decided his rendition of The Stranglers’ Golden Brown was perhaps not appropriate.

As it happens, it would not have been appropriate on this night either, when melancholia and slow, serpentine songs of icy beauty and grave singing prevailed in a set played in album order (save for the omission of Combustion, Esja and Giraffe Trumpet Sea), climaxing with Polaris and Particles.

Given that the second concert would need to start on time, Albarn explained he had to keep strictly to 45 minutes – although he had wanted to play for longer – as he switched to performing a “few older songs now”.

Beetlebum sounded like it could have come from a George Martin recording session with The Beatles; Albarn aficionados would have recognised Lonely Press Play from 2014’s Everyday Robots, and if you would choose one Blur song to close a church concert…maybe Tender, but surely, The Universal? Yes! The Universal.

“When the days they seem to fall through you/Well, just let them go,” he sang, with resonance anew after so much drifting through lockdown days. “Well, here’s your lucky day,” he sang too, and we were indeed lucky to be among the 600-strong congregation.

At one point, Albarn had stood up to thank his unnamed string players, so vital to the night’s mood. At another, he talked of the great honour of performing in York Minster and of the “wonderful surprise” of playing in such a vast space (much like York singer-songwriter Benjamin Francis Leftwich’s look of awe when he first took in the grandest of Gothic church designs after agreeing to play the Minster).

Albarn, now 53, once tearfully surveyed the masses at Glastonbury on Blur’s comeback, but now he was moved anew, arms aloft at 8.08pm, after making the Minster feel intimate: no mean feat at a serious, seriously good concert.

He would soon enough be doing it all again: the second queue waiting for the doors to open as we departed. Second time around, it turns out he had his wish, playing for longer, adding Blur’s My Terracotta Heart and Under The Westway to the finale before The Universal made 600 more feel so delighted that it really, really had happened: Damon Albarn’s belated first and second coming at York Minster.

Review by Charles Hutchinson

How actor Ian Giles played his part in the rise of Adrian Mole writer Sue Townsend

Ian Giles’s Bert Baxter and Jack Hambleton’s Adrian Mole in Pick Me Up Theatre’s The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾, The Musical. Picture: Matthew Kitchen Photography

YORK actor and drama teacher Ian Giles played his part in the rise of writer Sue Townsend in his days in Leicester.

Now, 72-year-old Ian is to play grumpy old Bert Baxter in Townsend’s The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾ in Pick Me Up Theatre’s musical production at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, from December 8 to 18.

“In the summer of 1977, I was appointed artistic director of the Phoenix Theatre in Leicester, and one of my innovations was to create a writers’ group for local people,” he recalls.

“The then- unknown Leicester housewife Sue Townsend was among those who came along. She was in her thirties, from a council estate, had worked as a factory worker and shop assistant, and was very shy. She only attended because her partner, Colin [Broadway], told her to give it a go, though she used to love reading the likes of Dostoevsky.”

What happened next, Ian? “The chairman of the group managed to get hold of a manuscript off her for Womberang, and on the strength of that first play, I put Sue up for a Thames Television Writer’s Bursary, and she got it,” he says.

“Michael Billington [the esteemed Guardian theatre critic], who was on the panel, told me it was the funniest thing he had read in years.”

Womberang won the Thames Television Playwright Award, and Townsend was on her way, writing Bazaar And Rummage (1982) and The Great Celestial Cow (1984) for the Royal Court Theatre, Chelsea.

Townsend first penned what became The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾ as a one-man show: a workshop production starring Nigel Barnett as Nigel, rather than Adrian, Mole, recounting the diary he had written when he was aged 13 and three quarters.

“We think we then changed it to Adrian, because Nigel Mole sounded too like Nigel Molesworth [the subject of Geoffrey Willans’s series of books about life in English prep school St Custard’s], but the BBC say they changed it!” says Ian.

Either way, Adrian became the name when Sue was invited to convert the play into a novel. “She was a dramatist first and was very happy to write the novel as it meant she could use only one voice, Adrian’s, to tell his story,” says Ian.

“Published by Methuen in 1982, it went stratospheric,” says Ian. So much so, The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾ and its 1984 sequel, The Growing Pains Of Adrian Mole, made Townsend the best-selling British author of the 1980s. A further six books in the series took sales worldwide past the 20 million mark.

Inevitably, the books were adapted for the radio, television and theatre. “Sue worked on the first musical version, which was a play with songs, and then came the first West End theatre version,” says Ian.

Robert Readman’s York company, Pick Me Up Theatre, will be presenting the latest musical adaptation by Jake Brunger (book and lyrics) and Pippa Cleary (music and lyrics), premiered at the Leicester Curve in March 2015.

“They’d formed a partnership while studying music and contacted Sue about doing a musical, but sadly she died [on April 10 2014) before the premiere,” says Ian.

Now the story comes full circle for him as he takes to the stage as Sue’s character, the 89-year-old curmudgeon Bert Baxter. “Sue became resident writer at the Phoenix, and I moved on, and now the theatre is called the Sue Townsend Theatre in the place where I worked for four years, when  she took her first step into writing plays.”

Pick Me Up Theatre present Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾, The Musical, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, December 8 to 18, 7.30pm, except December 11 and 12; 2.30pm matinees, December 11, 12 and 18. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on University of York Symphony Orchestra

Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York

University of York Symphony Orchestra/Stringer, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, November 27

THE statistics were impressive. In their first public appearance for 20 months, the 85 members of the University of York Symphony Orchestra came from 20 different departments and nine nations – a truly cross-cultural ensemble.

The programme was equally eclectic. An Elgar second half was preceded by three 20th century pieces, including a tuba concerto.

George Walker’s Lyric for Strings – which, like Barber’s better-known Adagio, was originally
part of a string quartet – is a gentle elegy that does not reach quite as powerful a climax as Barber achieved. But the orchestra, under its regular conductor John Stringer, treated it tenderly enough, if with a certain caution.

In similar mood was Elgar’s heartfelt Elegy, also for strings alone, but given here with
reverence and a greater measure of conviction.

Thomas Adès quoted Julian of Norwich for the title of his ‘… But All Shall Be Well’ (taken up
much later by T S Eliot among others). Interjections by percussion threaten to disrupt the swirling strings until quite near the end, when the title motto begins to hold good. For all its complications, the piece relies on a simple five-note motif that gives it coherence. The orchestra sounded as if it understood exactly what was going on.

The agile soloist in Edward Gregson’s Tuba Concerto was Christopher Pearce, whose contrasts in colour were greatly helped by the sensitivity of the orchestral accompaniment. He cleanly pointed the difference between the two opening themes before bringing a smooth legato to the slow movement’s songlike melody. Despite the exciting, jazzy textures in the finale, he kept his eye on the ball and his phrasing crisp.

Elgar’s Polonia is one of those works that would fit neatly into the last night of the Proms, bursting with nationalistic fervour and produced as a fundraiser for Polish refugees during the First World War.

Its opening was on the ragged side here, but the cellos settled nicely into its big tune and the rest of the orchestra followed suit. Vigorous percussion accented its martial flavour and there was hardly any holding the brass when the theme returned in an Elgarian nobilmente.

The orchestra clearly relished its chance to be back in live action. A full house enjoyed it too.

Review by Martin Dreyer

Native Harrow close in on Fulford Arms concert with new single Do It Again out now

Native Harrow’s Stephen Harms and Devin Tuel

PENNSYLVANIAN folk/rock duo Native Harrow are on the final leg of their tour travels showcasing their beautiful fourth album, Closeness. Close at hand is their York gig, booked for the Fulford Arms on December 7.

Now re-located to Brighton, guitarist-singer Devin Tuel and multi-instrumentalist Stephen Harms have just completed a string of European dates supporting American country singer Courtney Marie Andrews.

Native Harrow’s autumn concerts are accompanied by a new single, Do It Again, a song conceived during the sessions for Closeness, the album they released in September 2020 on Loose Music

Without the possibility of touring to support their most expansive record to date, Tuel and Harms elected to return to the studio where they had made Closeness to continue living in that world, if only for a few more days.

They recorded six new songs, again in tandem with drummer/engineer Alex Hall, and Do It Again emerges as the second and final single to be issued from the sessions. Tuel and Harms next will turn their focus towards a new sound, a new direction and the next era of Native Harrow.

Native Harrow’s artwork for September 2020’s album, Closeness, on the Loose label

“As much as someone could say this one speaks for itself, I don’t think it’s that simple,” says Tuel. “Yes, it could be only about the pandemic, but quite honestly this is how I felt before all of this unfolded.

“I am typically drawn to hiding away and being lost in my own dreamland; living for moments with nature and quiet. I read the news and see the lack of understanding going around, which has been accelerated by the utter state of chaos wreaking havoc on the world.

“The brains turn off and we seem to just putter along, ‘en routine’. We tell the same stories, each time embellishing upon them a little more. You still love the storyteller, but we have to have a sense of reality.”

Doors open at 7.30pm for Native Harrow’s 8pm gig (originally booked for March 1 until Lockdown 3 intervened). Box office: seetickets.com/event/native-harrow/the-fulford-arms/1471604.

York’s Community Carol Concert returns for 2021 at York Barbican on December 12

Steve Cassidy: Performing at York’s Community Carol Concert at York Barbican

TICKETS are still available for York’s annual Community Carol Concert at York Barbican on December 12.

The ever-popular festive event is making its Sunday afternoon return after last year’s Covid-enforced cancellation.

All the participants who missed out in 2020 have taken up the invitation to take part in 2021:  Shepherd Group Concert Brass Band, Dringhouses Primary School Choir, Clifton Green Primary School Choir, Stamford Bridge Community Choir and York singer Steve Cassidy.

The community carols will be conducted by musical director Mike Pratt and the 2pm concert will be co-hosted by the Reverend Andrew Foster and BBC Radio York presenter Adam Tomlinson.

Concert proceeds will be shared by the Lord Mayor and Sheriff of York’s Christmas Cheer Fund, along with St Leonard’s Hospice, the charity nominated by The Press, York.

Organising secretary Graham Bradbury says: “We’ve worked very closely with York Barbican and all the performers to make sure everyone is agreeable, working to strict guidelines, and to ensure the audience will feel comfortable and safe in the auditorium to enable them to enjoy a much-needed festive fillip.”

Around 800 tickets have sold so far, meaning that plenty are still on sale at £8, adults; £6, seniors and under 14s; £24, family (two adults, two children).  The box office is online only at yorkbarbican.co.uk.

REVIEW: Elf The Musical, York Stage, at Grand Opera House, York, until December 3

Sophie Hammond’s Jovie and Damien Poole’s Buddy leading a dance routine in York Stage’s Elf The Musical. All pictures: Charlie Kirkpatrick, Kirkpatrick Photography

YOU will be lucky if any tickets are still left for York Stage’s Christmas show, and luckier still if you do see Elf The Musical.

The Christmas spirit is alive in more than those irritatingly premature TV adverts; a neighbour has put up the Christmas tree already; pantomimes are underway; the weather has turned all Jack Frost on us, and Elf The Musical is packing out the Grand Opera House, with all manner of accompanying merchandise to tempt, and Christmas jumpers on their first outing of the new season.

On first thoughts, a run nearer Christmas might have been more ideal, but judging by Saturday’s matinee, full of excited young families, a festive trip to the theatre cannot come soon enough after the misery of multiple lockdowns.

Martin Rowley’s storytelling Santa

Under the limitations of social bubbles, York Stage went ahead with their debut musical pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk, last Christmas, but Elf The Musical marks the return to shows on the scale of Shrek The Musical, a huge hit for Nik Briggs’s company at the Grand Opera House. The orchestra alone numbers 16 under musical director Stephen Hackshaw’s zestful charge, to complement the cast of 20-plus.                     

Artistic director Briggs, who played the title role in that show, swaps places with Shrek’s director (and choreographer to boot), Damien Poole. Somehow, despite running Damien Poole Theatre Arts in Harrogate and teaching musical theatre at Leeds Conservatoire, he has found time to rehearse and play Buddy – and make him his own one-man national elf service. Did anyone mention Will Ferrell? No! “Damien is Buddy,” said Briggs beforehand, and now you can see why.

Elf The Musical retains the jokes and the naïve charm of the 2003 film, with a witty, playful book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin, then leaves out the impractical high-speed snowball fight, and adds all the song-and-dance razzmatazz of a Broadway musical, with music by Matthew Sklar big on winter brass and lyrics by Chad Beguelin full of humour, bold statements and big sentiments.

Get your skates on…but not even that may guarantee you a ticket for York Stage’s hot-selling winter warmer Elf The Musical

Emily Taylor, long associated with Grand Opera House pantomimes, brings her choreographic brio to York Stage’s Elf, excelling in the ensemble numbers, never more so than when a multitude of Santas are letting off their after-hours steam.

Should anyone miraculously have escaped the film, Elf The Musical has Martin Rowley’s old-school Santa introducing the story of how orphan boy Buddy crawls into Santa’s sack and ends up being brought up among all the elf toy makers on a sugar-rich diet with two visits a day to the North Pole dentist. 

In the opening scenes, all except Santa and Buddy are whizzing around on their knees playing elves, immediately establishing the magical yet daft fun of Briggs’s show.

Faateh Sohail as Michael and Jo Theaker as Emily Hobbs

Poole captures this tone perfectly, full of good cheer, love, innocence, cheekiness and a desire to please, like the silly billy/daft lad/Buttons roles we associate with pantomimes at this time of year. Then add boundless energy, delightful singing and nimble dance skills, plus natural stage “likeability” (to borrow a Berwick Kaler expression), and you have the ideal Buddy.

When Buddy learns that he is not an elf after all, despite being so elfish in his thinking, off to New York he must go to try to find his real father, children’s publishing-house manager Walter Hobbs (Stuart Piper), who never knew he had a son from a long-ago relationship. 

Perma-stressed Walter is now married to long-suffering Emily (Jo Theaker), with a son, Michael (Faateh Sohail at the matinee, sharing the role with Declan Childs and Ethan McDonald). 

Elf director Nik Briggs and choreographer Emily Taylor with lead actors Sophie Hammond and Damien Poole

Briggs has cast as well as ever, Piper’s Walter walking the tightrope of being unreasonable/reasonable in his behaviour, Theaker being as lovable as always and Sohail showing bags of confidence and promise.

Like Poole, professional actor Sophie Hammond, first cast by Briggs 11 years ago as Ariel in Footloose, has moved into teaching drama skills but she has jumped at the chance to play Jovie, Buddy’s slow-burn love interest.

Initially, her Jovie is typical of the New York cynicism to be found among the Macy’s department store staff, where Buddy finds himself working as he constantly corrects everyone’s misconceptions over Santa, the North Pole and Christmas. Like the rest of us, she cannot but warm to Buddy’s innocent enthusiasm, even for going on a date. Hammond captures this transmission with more subtlety than would be first apparent in the script’s broad strokes.  

Katie Melia’s Babs and Damien Poole’s Buddy

Strong support comes from Katie Melia’s Deb, Jack Hooper’s Chadwick, and especially Craig Kirby’s grouchy publishing boss, Greenway.

Hackshaw’s band are on ace form, not only the brass section, but with Sam Johnson, Barbara Chan and violinist Claire Jowett among the ranks, the quality is high indeed for the fantastic score.

The snowy icing on the cake is Briggs’s set design, big snowflakes, open North Pole skyline, bustling Macy’s store, finale snow machine et al, as he draws inspiration from Radio City Music Hall. Will there be a magical sleigh ride? Wait and see – if you have one of those oh-so-in-demand tickets of course.

Box office on the off chance: atgickets.com/York.

John Barrowman celebrates his musical theatre journey from West End to Broadway at York Barbican next May

“I’ve lived my dreams,” says John Barrowman. “My new show is a celebration of that wonderful journey”

MUSICAL theatre star John Barrowman will bring his new show I Am What I Am – West End To Broadway to York Barbican on May 20 2022.

Tickets go on sale on Friday, December 3 at 10am at yorkbarbican.co.uk for Barrowman’s return to the Barbican for the first time since May 2015.

“From the West End to Broadway, this has been the amazing journey of my musical theatre career,” says Barrowman. “I’ve worked with Andrew Lloyd Webber, Stephen Sondheim, Cameron Mackintosh, to name a few.

“I’ve performed at the National Theatre and on Broadway. I’ve lived my dreams. My new show is a celebration of that wonderful journey. I’ll perform songs from the biggest musicals I’ve starred in and perhaps one or two that I haven’t.

“Mix in a couple of duets. Sprinkle in a few surprises. This will be a show to remember. This has been a difficult time for many, so join me for a night of laughter and love and the best of musical theatre.”

John Barrowman is “the ultimate crossover artist”: he can sing, dance, act, present and on occasion he judges too.

The poster for John Barrowman’s I Am What I Am 2022 Tour

His journey to success on both sides of the Atlantic began in 1989 in musical theatre, making his West End debut as Billy Cocker opposite Elaine Paige in Cole Porter’s musical Anything Goes.

Leading West End roles ensued in Matador, Miss Saigon, The Phantom Of  The Opera and Sunset Boulevard, one he reprised in New York.

His other musical theatre credits include Putting It Together on Broadway and The Fix at London’s Donmar Warehouse, bringing him an Olivier nomination for Best Actor in a Musical.

The National Theatre revival of Anything Goes transferred to the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, but better still his performance – one of his favourites – as Albin in La Cage Aux Folles won him the What’s On Stage Best Takeover Role Award.

From that show, I Am What I Am has become his signature tune, always his choice to close his concert shows.

What was blues legend BB King’s favourite tipple on a night in Harrogate?

Wave goodbye to jilted Brexit festival, say hello to Unboxed festival’s alternative celebration of these Blighty/blighted isles

YORKSHIRE arts and culture podcasters Chalmers & Hutch reveal all about BB’s choice of thirst quencher in their latest wide-ranging episode of Two Big Egos In A Small Car.

Under discussion too are a ViP night watching Kristen Stewart’s Spencer with a string quartet at Cineworld, Jack Kerouac’s road to Hebden Bridge, and exit Brexit festival, enter Unboxed festival, but what is it?

To listen, head to: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1187561/9616189

Prima Vocal Ensemble and York Railway Institute Brass Band reunite for Christmas Classics concert at Selby Abbey on Dec 11

.Prima Vocal Ensemble performing with York Railway Institute Band in Selby Abbey in 2018

YORK choir Prima Vocal Ensemble and York Railway Institute Brass Band are uniting for a Christmas concert on December 11 at Selby Abbey.

The two groups last collaborated in 2018 to perform Karl Jenkins’ Armed Man at the same church to a sell-out audience and are looking forward to working together again.

Prima Vocal Ensemble, under the musical direction of the ever-energetic Ewa Salecka, have been active throughout the pandemic, progressing from the ubiquitous Zoom rehearsals, through small and then larger outdoor gatherings, and onwards to indoor rehearsals with Simulcast participation for those unable to meet in person.

This time last year, the choir was one of the few in the UK preparing for a live recording session, shortly before lockdown.

In a ” “very emotional step forward” for members, the choir gave a live concert in September, performing material largely learned in isolation during lockdown.

“Having missed Christmas celebrations last year, this year means and feels even more important to us,” says Prima Vocal Ensemble director Ewa Salecka

Later this autumn, they were honoured to be asked to sing again with Russell Watson at Buxton Opera House and Harrogate Royal Hall on the Salford tenor’s 20thAnniversary Tour in another milestone for the choir on its journey back to normality.

The Christmas Classics for Voices & Brass concert at Selby Abbey will be special for choir and band alike.  Ewa says: “Having missed Christmas celebrations last year, this year means and feels even more important to us. David Lancaster, director of the fantastic musicians of York Railway Institute Band, and I have prepared a very special Christmas programme and invite everyone to join us.”

Traditional carols and Christmas songs will be performed alongside the directors’ favourites. The choir will sing classical pieces by Morten Lauridsen, Gabriel Faure and John Rutter, while the band has chosen wide-ranging festive music, such as Shepherd’s Song and Eric Bell’s Kingdom Triumphant, based on Christmas themes.

The 7.30pm concert will end with choir and band together performing Gordon Langford’s joyous Christmas Fantasy, woven from the most popular Christmas carols.

Tickets cost £20, £5 for children and full-time students, on 07921 568826, in person from Selby Abbey or at primachoralartists.com/events/christmas-classics-for-voices-and-brass.

The poster for Prima Vocal Ensemble and York Railway Institute Brass Band’s Christmas concert at Selby Abbey

More Things To Do in York and beyond as Dickens tales, dames and Damon drop in. List No. 59, courtesy of The Press, York

What the Dickens? Yes, James Swanton is reviving his Ghost Stories For Christmas at York Medical Society

FROM boyish Boris to Dame Edna, Christmas concerts to panto dames, Dickensian ghost stories to solo Damon, Charles Hutchinson has highlights aplenty to recommend.   

Dickensian Christmas in York: James Swanton’s Ghost Stories For Christmas, York Medical Society, on various dates between December 2 and 13, 7pm

AFTER the silent nights of last December, York gothic actor supreme James Swanton is gleefully reviving his Ghost Stories For Christmas performances of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, The Haunted Man and The Chimes.

“I’ve scheduled extra performances of A Christmas Carol: the perfect cheering antidote, I feel, to the misery we’ve all been through,” says Swanton. “But the two lesser-known stories are also very relevant to our times.”

A reduced capacity is operating for Covid safety, meaning that tickets are at a premium on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Boris: World King, under debate at Theatre@41

Political debate of the week: Boris: World King, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, tonight, 7.30pm

THE year is 1985 and Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson has plenty going for him, being young, posh and really rather blond. However, his efforts to become President of the Oxford Union debating society have been thwarted.

Never fear. Boris always has a cunning plan up his sleeve. Cue time travel, classical allusions and good clean banter in Boris: World King, Tom Crawshaw’s comedic exploration of a young man’s ambition and humanity explored as a half-hour one-man show. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

Richard Kay: Co-directing York Philharmonic Male Voice Choir’s Christmas concerts

Harmony at Christmas: York Philharmonic Male Voice Choir and the Citadel Singers, Christmas Traditions 2021, The Citadel, Gillygate, York, Tuesday to Friday, doors 7pm

AFTER delivering an online Christmas concert via Zoom to an international audience in 2020, York Philharmonic Male Voice Choir return to live concerts for Christmas Traditions 2021.

The Citadel allows room for cabaret seating downstairs and balcony seating that can ensure safe distancing is maintained, while the show retains its format of carols old and new, Christmas songs, festive readings and sketches. Box office: arkevent.co.uk/christmastraditions2021.

The poster for Damon Albarn’s night at the double at York Minster

York gig(s) of the week: Damon Albarn, York Minster, Thursday, 6.30pm and 8.30pm

DAMON Albarn quickly added a second special intimate album-launch show at York Minster after the first was fully booked in a flash.

The Blur, Gorillaz and The Good, The Bad & The Queen leader now plays two sold-out concerts in one night in his first ever York performances, marking the November 12 release of his solo studio recording The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows.

Albarn, 53, has been on a “dark journey” making this album in lockdown, exploring themes of fragility, loss, emergence and rebirth.

Martyn Joseph: Lockdown reflections on landmark birthday on new album, showcased in concert at Pocklington Arts Centre concert

Gig of the week outside York: Martyn Joseph, Pocklington Arts Centre, Thursday, 8pm

“THE Welsh Springsteen”, singer-songwriter Martyn Joseph, will be showcasing his 23rd studio album, 1960, a “coming of age” record with a difference, in Pocklington.

Last year, amid the isolation of the pandemic, Penarth-born Joseph turned 60 on July 15, a landmark birthday, a time of self-reflection, that shaped his songs of despair and sadness, gratitude and wonder, and gave the album its title. Box office: 01759 301547 or at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

Alistair Griffin: Series of Big Christmas Concerts in York

Alistair Griffin’s Big Christmas Concert, St Michael-le-Belfrey, York, December 3 (sold out) and December 10, 8pm; Alistair Griffin’s Candlelit Christmas, Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate, York, December 11, 8pm

ON December 3 and 10, a brass band greets revellers, then York singer-songwriter Alistair Griffin’s Big Christmas Concert takes a musical journey from acoustic traditional carols to Wizzard, Slade and The Pogues. “Sing along and sip mulled wine while enjoying the fairytale of old York,” says Griffin’s invitation.

On December 11, he switches from St Michael-le-Belfrey to a candle-lit Holy Trinity Church. “Take a seat, or in this case, a medieval pew and soak in the festive atmosphere,” he says. Cue mulled wine, Christmas tunes, acoustic festive numbers and a Christmas carol singalong. Box office: alistairgriffin.com.

York playwright Mike Kenny: New production of The Railway Children with his award-winning script at Hull Truck

On the right track show of the week outside York: The Railway Children, Hull Truck Theatre, running until January 2

YORK playwright Mike Kenny has revisited his award-winning adaptation of E Nesbit’s The Railway Children – first staged so memorably by York Theatre Royal at the National Railway Museum – for Hull Truck’s Christmas musical.

Directed by artistic director Mark Babych in the manner of his Oliver Twist and Peter Pan shows of Christmases past, original music and dance routines complement Kenny’s storytelling in this warm-hearted, uplifting tale of hope, friendship and family, set in Yorkshire. Box office: 01482 323638 or at hulltruck.co.uk.

Faye Campbell: Brushing up on playing Cinderella in York Theatre Royal’s pantomime, opening on Friday

Evolution, not revolution, in pantoland: Cinderella, York Theatre Royal, December 3 to January 2

YORK Theatre Royal’s post-Berwick era began last year with the Travelling Pantomime, establishing the partnership of Evolution Pantomimes’ man with the Midas touch, Paul Hendy, as writer and Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster as director.

After the 2020 road show, here comes the full-scale return to the main house for Cinderella, starring CBeebies’ Andy Day (Dandini), last winter’s stars Faye Campbell (Cinderella) and Robin Simpson (Sister), Paul Hawkyard (the other Sister), ventriloquist comedian Max Fulham (Buttons), Benjamin Lafayette (Prince Charming) and Sarah Leatherbarrow (Fairy Godmother). Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Unmasked: Barry Humphries tells all at the Grand Opera House, York next April

Hottest ticket launch of the week: Barry Humphries, The Man Behind The Mask, Grand Opera House, York, April 13 2022

AUSTRALIAN actor, comedian, satirist, artist, author and national treasure Barry Humphries will play only one Yorkshire show on his 2022 tour, here in York.

Set to turn 88 on February 17, he will take a revelatory trip through his colourful life and theatrical career in an intimate, confessional evening, seasoned with highly personal, sometimes startling and occasionally outrageous stories of alter egos Dame Edna Everage, Sir Les Patterson and Sandy Stone. Hurry, hurry, for tickets on 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/york.