Country duo Ward Thomas will be live and Unfiltered at Leeds City Varieties in April

Ward Thomas: Playing Leeds City Varieties this spring

COUNTRY-POP twin sisters Ward Thomas will play Leeds City Varieties Music Hall on April 30, the second night of their Unfiltered acoustic tour.

After winningthe Global Artist Award at the 2019 CMA Awards, Catherine and Lizzy Ward Thomas have announced a seven-date tour for Spring 2020.

The Hampshire twins will be complementing fan favourites from 2019’s top ten album, Restless Minds, 2016’s chart-topping Cartwheels and 2014 debut release From Where We Stand with new compositions.

The stripped-back arrangements will show off the sisters’ harmonies in an intimate setting after a year when they toured Europe with Jack Savoretti, joining him in a duet of The Killers’ Human at his sold-out Wembley Arena show. They also played the Isle of Wight Festival, supported David Gray on his Australian tour and performed Whiskey Lullaby with Brad Paisley at London’s O2 Arena.

Tickets for April 30 are on sale on 0113 243 0808 or at cityvarieties.co.uk or seetickets.com.

REVIEW: Kate Rusby has a hippo, a banjo, a Christmas pudding costume and a Holly Head for Christmas

Kate Rusby wearing her Holly Head, the title of her fifth Christmas album. Pictures: David Lindsay

Kate Rusby At Christmas, York Barbican, 18/12/2019

“HOW nice to be back in mighty Yorkshire,” said the Barnsley nightingale. “Don’t have to calm mi accent. Don’t have to worry about saying the word ‘mardy’.”

That said, there is nothing mardy about Kate Rusby At Christmas, her joyous celebration of South Yorkshire carols still sung heartily in pubs, complemented by Rusby’s own winter songs and a brace of novelty numbers.

It turned out Rusby was the only Yorkshire-born musician on stage, her sparkling green party dress twinkling like a Christmas tree in the forest of men in black: her folk band and regular winter guests, the “Brass Boys” quintet.

“Ruby Twosday”, the decorative reindeer, was there too, bedecked with fairy lights, her head nodding when Rusby asked her a series of questions. Rusby had been given the option of a “Yay” or “Nay” reindeer, and in keeping with the surge of positivity and humorous banter that accompanies these winter-warmer concerts, she chose the affirmative.

Hark, hark: Kate Rusby at Christmas

As evocative as the crisp sound of walking in newly settled snow, Hark Hark, from 2017’s Angels & Men, opened the set with the Brass Boys in situ, before Rusby explained the roots of these Christmas concerts, now in their 12th year, with Christmas album number five, to showcase.

Holly Head, so named by Rusby to equate her love of Christmas music with petrol heads’ love of cars, featured prominently in her two sets, each also sprinkled liberally with versions of While Shepherds Watched too. More than 30 exist, apparently, and Kate is working her merry way through them.

Here We Come A Wassailing and Sunny Bank (a variation on I Saw Three Ships) were early festive highs before the bleak midwinter’s chill of Lu Lay (aka The Coventry Carol) brought an eerie night air to the Barbican, Duncan Lyall’s Moog keyboard sending temperatures dropping. Not for long, however, as Rusby introduced her row of knitted miniature hippos to herald Hippo For Christmas, a particularly perky rendition of John Rox’s novelty wish-list song, parping tuba and all.

The album cover for Holly Head

Rusby’s own Christmas compositions are among her very best, never more so than this year’s newcomer, The Holly King, played early in the second set, where she evoked Clannad while stretching out fruitfully into folk-prog terrain.

Santa Never Brings Me A Banjo, a Canadian ditty by David Myles, wholly suited Rusby’s tightrope walk between melancholia and hope, and after a break for Damien O’Kane to lead the band through dexterous instrumentals and unexpected Christmas classics, Rusby steered us towards Christmas with an extended Hail Chime On, a delightful Walking In A Winter Wonderland and the latest heroic rescue mission for Barnsley’s Big Brave Bill.

No Rusby At Christmas show would be complete without the fancy-dress encore, and this year they really made a meal of it, Rusby dressing as a Christmas pudding, the Brass Boys as sprouts and O’Kane as, wait for it, a roast turkey for Sweet Bells and Yorkshire Merry Christmas.

Ruby Twosday was not the only one nodding in approval as Kate Rusby At Christmas grows ever better by the year.

Charles Hutchinson

Native Harrow are feeling happier now as The Basement gig beckons in York

Native Harrow’s Devin Tuel and Stephen Harms. Picture: Brenna Tuel

AMERICAN duo Native Harrow head down from their Celtic Connections show in Glasgow to play York the next day, January 18.

Singer-songwriter Devin Tuel and multi-instrumentalist Stephen Harms will be promoting their wistful folk-rock 2019 album, Happier Now, at The Basement, City Screen.

Signed to Loose Music, the London home to The Handsome Family, Courtney Marie Andrews and Israel Nash, Native Harrow will be performing 11 British gigs in January before returning to North Yorkshire for the Deer Shed Festival at Baldersby Park, Topcliffe, from July 24 to 26.

Native Harrow is the nom de plume of Tuel, a former ballerina and classically trained singer, from Newburgh, New York, who says of her third album: “This record is about becoming your own advocate. Realising that maybe you are different in several or a myriad of ways and that that is okay. And further, it is about me becoming a grown woman.”

After nearly two decades of rigorous training in ballet, theatre and singing, Tuel needed to break out of the oppressive rules of academia. She had to find her natural voice, write from her heart, and figure out what kind of performer she truly was, rather than the one she was being moulded into from the age of three. “I spent my early twenties playing every venue in Greenwich Village, recording demos in my friend’s kitchen and making lattes,” she says.

“I felt very alive then. I was on my own living in my own little studio, staying up all night writing; the dream I had of being a bohemian New York City artist was unfolding. I wanted to be Patti Smith.

“I was also heartbroken, poor and had no idea what I was getting myself into. My twenties, as I think it goes for most, were all about getting up, getting knocked down, and learning to keep going. I never gave up and I think if I told 20-year-old me how things looked nine years later she’d be so excited”.

She and Harms recorded Happier Now at Chicago’s Reliable Recorders over three days in March 2018, working with co-producer Alex Hall on nine songs that addressed fear, love, the open road, ill-fated relationships and coping with the state of the world.

“I wanted to share that I made it out of my own thunderstorm,” says Tuel. “I had experienced the high peaks and very low valleys of my twenties.

“I saw more of the world on my own, got through challenges, revelled in true moments of triumph, but all the while the world around me was growing louder, wilder, and scarier. Music for me is a place to be soft. This album was my place to feel it all.”   

Happier Now’s songs were written in the duo’s “downtime” during three back-to-back tours across North America, spanning 108 dates, in support of Native Harrow’s second album, Sorores.

Tuel approached the sessions like a musicians’ workshop, each morning beginning with the songwriter presenting her collaborators with the day’s material.

Tuel, Harms and Hall rehearsed and documented each song live on the floor, tracking as a band through each take. No click tracks, scratch tracks, or even headphones; just three musicians in a small room, captured with Hall’s collection of vintage microphones and subtle retro production techniques.

Overdubs, including vocal harmonies, B3 organ and the rare lead guitar, were added to decorate these live performances.  The creative energy of the tightly knit sessions spilled over into Tuel’s songwriting as well: she skipped lunch on the third and final day of recording to pen the road-weary Hard To Take.

Four days after arriving in Chicago, Native Harrow were back on the road and Happier Now was complete, with its songs oscillating between feeling the sting of uncertainty on Can’t Go On Like This, through the beauty of California on Blue Canyon, to the ache for lavish stability on Way To Light.

Hear them live in York on January 18 in an 8pm show promoted by Please Please You. Tickets cost £10 at ticketing.picturehouses.com.

Charles Hutchinson

REVIEW: Agatha Meehan so at home in The Wizard Of Oz, Leeds Playhouse *****

Agatha Meehan, from York, in the lead role of Dorothy in The Wizard Of Oz at Leeds Playhouse, All pictures: The Other Richard

The Wizard Of Oz, Leeds Playhouse, until January 25 2020. Box office: 0113 213 7700 or at leedsplayhouse.org.uk

AGATHA Meehan is going places. Right now, the blossoming York acting talent is travelling in a whirling tornado from her Kansas farm to Oz and the Emerald City in the lead role of Dorothy in The Wizard Of Oz.

Already she has starred in the West End as Summer Hathaway in School Of Rock and Annie in Annie, a part she first played for York Musical Theatre Company in March 2017 while a pupil at St George’s RC Primary School.

After adding Jane in the UK premiere of A Little Princess at the Royal Festival Hall to her London credits, now she is alternating Dorothy with Lucy Sherman in the first Christmas family musical in the Quarry Theatre since the Leeds Playhouse’s £15.8 million redevelopment. All this, and she is only 12 years old. What a whirlwind rise.

Sam Harrison’s Tinman leading a merry dance in The Wizard Of Oz

There’s no place that Agatha feels more at home than on stage, and she gives a remarkably assured performance, from the moment she sings the iconic Over The Rainbow.

Her Kansas accent is spot on; her Dorothy, in pigtails and farm dungarees and later the ever-evocative blue gingham dress, is a stoical young girl of moral conviction, passion and determination, challenging adult authority and inertia in Baum’s  Kansas of the 1900s and Emerald City alike.

Combining Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg’s songs from the more innocent 1939 MGM film with John Kane’s witty, somewhat knowing 1987 script for the Royal Shakespeare Company, artistic director James Brining’s production delivers on an epic, filmic scale, full of heart and humour, joy and jeopardy, Munchkins and monkeys, mystery and magic.

Eleanor Sutton’s Scarecrow in The Wizard Of Oz

Meehan’s Dorothy is surrounded by a combination of hi-tech and lo-tech, and likewise the familiar and the freshened up, with Jitterbug re-introduced as one of two premier league showstoppers alongside The Merry Old Land Of Oz, choreographed to dazzling effect by Lucy Cullingford.

Phil Cole’s Uncle Henry and Angela Wynter’s Aunt Em are a mixed-race couple; Eleanor Sutton is a female Scarecrow; Sam Harrison’s Tinman is gay and the outstanding Marcus Ayton is a black timorous Lion, with boxing moves and a knock-out singing voice to boot for If I Were King Of The Forest.

Simon Wainwright, from innovative Leeds company Imitating The Dog, provides the video projections for the twister scene that combine with the time-honoured skills of spinning aerialists. Toto the dog is played by a real dog before the storm, then by a puppet animated so expressively by Ailsa Dalling in Oz. Look out too for the crow puppets, and be sure to duck when the Wicked Witch of the West and her dive-bombing monkeys are flying overhead.

A roaring success: Marcus Ayton’s outstanding Lion in The Wizard Of Oz at Leeds Playhouse

Polly Lister is terrifically terrifying as the mean, twisted neighbour Miss Gulch and the cackling, droll Wicked Witch, whose vamp camp air never quite ventures into pantomime villainy.

As you would expect of a major-city Christmas show, this is a big, big production:  a cast of 20, supported by a young Leeds community company as the Munchkins; a band of 11 directed with panache by Tamara Saringer; and wonderful set and costume designs by Simon Higlett, whose palette progresses from parched, dustbowl Kansas with its plain farmhouse and water tower, to the spectacular greens and yellows of a futuristic Emerald City.

Click your ruby red heels, make a wish and find yourself having a wizard time on the Yellow Brick Road at Leeds Playhouse this winter.

Toto and puppeteer Ailsa Dalling in The Wizard Of Oz

Review by Charles Hutchinson

Lynne Dawson, a tubby tuba and Strauss waltzes for Guildhall’s New Year concert

Lynne Dawson: narrator for Tubby The Tuba at York Guildhall Orchestra’s New Year concert on January 4

YORK Guildhall Orchestra will open 2020 with a family-orientated, mid-afternoon concert on January 4 at York Barbican.

“This is a great way to finish off the festive break by introducing the younger members of the family to the fantastic and entertaining world of live orchestral music,” says publicist Geoff Eggington.

Joining Simon Wright’s orchestral forces will be the YGO’s president, Tollerton soprano Lynne Dawson, in her role as narrator for a couple of pieces.

Brian Kingsley: tuba soloist for Tubby The Tuba

These will include Kleinsinger’s Tubby The Tuba, the heart-warming story of Tubby, the butt of all the jokes in the orchestra, who nevertheless finds a wonderful tune and persuades the whole orchestra to play it. The tuba soloist will be Brian Kingsley, from the Orchestra of Opera North.

Other family favourites in the 3.30pm programme will be Viennese waltzes and polkas by Johanne Strauss, the Elder and the Younger, such as Thunder & Lightning, Champagne, Gold & Silver and The Blue Danube. 

Extracts from The Sound Of Music and Les Miserables will feature York Stage Musicals members in the singing roles.

Simon Wright: conducting York Guildhall Orchestra’s New Year concert

Looking ahead to 2020, this will be YGO’s 40th anniversary year, when the main celebratory concert will be held on February 15, almost to the day when the orchestra’s debut concert was performed in the York Guildhall, hence the name.

On that first programme were Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite and a Brahms Symphony. This time, the orchestra will be joined by Jamie Walton in Sir Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto.

“As always, we’re delighted we’ll be working with the City of York Council and the York Music Hub in 2020 by providing free places at our May concert for children from York primary schools and members of Yorchestra.”

Further information on the year ahead can be found at yorkguildhallorchestra.com. Tickets for the New Year’s Family Concert are on sale on 0203 356 5441, at yorkbarbican.co.uk or in person from the Barbican box office.

Absolute turkey or totally gravy? 2019’s Christmas albums rated or roasted….

A Dickensian-clad Robbie Williams gives a thumbs-up to his 13th number one album

Robbie Williams, The Christmas Present (Columbia) *****

Wrapping: Robbie is one of the very few contemporary artists who truly embraces album artwork: pleasing to the eye, telling a story and setting the scene for a multitude of surprises. A Dickensian-clad Rob goes shopping on a street not dissimilar to York’s Shambles.

Gifts inside: Double disc features a cocktail of new and evergreen classics. Rod Stewart, Bryan Adams, boxer Tyson Fury, Jamie Cullum, Helene Fisher and Mr Williams Senior, alias Poppa Pete, are guests across the 28 tracks. Tyson Fury? Really? Yes, on Bad Sharon. It’s a big hit. Of course.

Style: Mostly upbeat and certainly very jolly. A very content Robbie Williams is on top form.

’Tis the season to be jolly: Embrace this genuinely enjoyable album of good cheer, curated with love and affection.

Scrooge moan? Rob’s fabulous update of Let Me Entertain You, for Aldi’s Christmas campaign, and the rumoured cover of Fairytale Of New York with Britney Spears didn’t make the final cut. Maybe next year?

White Christmas? Not on this set, although you do get fabulous covers of I Believe In Father Christmas and a jazzed-up Merry Xmas Everybody with Cullum.

Blue Christmas? Absolutely not. Robbie’s gift is one of happiness!

Stocking or shocking? This is destined to become one of the greatest and most cherished Christmas albums of all time.

Ian Sime

Ex- Leeds United midfielder Chris Kamara tackles ten Christmas evergreens

Chris Kamara, Here’s To Christmas (So What/Silva Screen Records) ****

Wrapping:  – At 62, Chris Kamara is a very handsome fellow. The chromosome photograph is very becoming, yet not at all seasonal.

Gifts inside: The consummate Renaissance Man, this ex-Leeds United footballer is now a regular television presenter on Sky Sports. Who knew the former sailor and Bake Off finalist could also sing? Unbelievable, Jeff. The very talented crooner tackles ten glorious upbeat evergreen classics.

Style: Big Band, all day and night long.

’Tis the season to be jolly: …and singalonga with Mr Kamara to Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty The Snowman and It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas.

Scrooge moan?  Don’t be so silly. This is a joyful swinging affair.

White Christmas? Absolutely not. We are, however, treated to Winter Wonderland and Let It Snow!

Blue Christmas? Christmas with Mr Karama is a very jolly event.

Stocking or shocking? Chris Kamara is number one on the Jazz chart. Good for him. This is a very happy album.

Ian Sime

Bing-go: White Christmas guaranteed for Crosby

Bing Crosby with the London Symphony Orchestra, At Christmas (Decca Records) ****  

Wrapping: Decca have done their best with a selection of period family photographs. The set is boxed in a handsome, rather snazzy, gold-embossed sleeve.

Gifts inside: Fourteen of Mr Crosby’s classic Christmas songs given a modern orchestral makeover, with special guests The Puppini Sisters, Pentatonix The Tenors and, from the archives, The Andrew Sisters and David Bowie.

Style: Bing Crosby invented the Christmas album. This album is Bing’s original iconic tones with a complementary lush orchestra.

’Tis the reason to be jolly: The chance to rediscover why we love secular Christmas music so much in the first place.

Scrooge moan? There’s no reason to be a Grinch when Bing sings.

White Christmas? Well, the best-selling Christmas single of all time had to be included. It’s the law.

Blue Christmas? No, this is an upbeat Easy Listening classic.

Stocking or shocking? If you’re tired of Bing, you’re tired of Christmas! Every stocking should have one.

Ian Sime

Christmas Day? Let’s play Michael Buble….again

Ian Sime’s top five Christmas albums of all time

Mariah Carey, Merry Christmas (Columbia, 1994)

Donna Summer, Christmas Spirit (Mercury, 1994)

Whitney Houston, One Wish – The Holiday Album (Columbia, 2003)

Olivia Newton-John & Friends, Christmas Wish (BMG, 2007)

Michael Buble, Christmas (Reprise, 2011)

We wish you a metal Christmas: Rob Halford “gives off some attitude”

Rob Halford with Family & Friends, Celestial (Sony) **

Wrapping: Halford, the metal god from Judas Priest, giving off some attitude as he is pasted on to wrapping paper. Inside we see his family and friends (his brother Nigel and his band Voodoo Sioux) smiling and giving the devil horns metal salute. Worth a second glance? No.

Gifts inside: Heavy metal, from a much outdated style, set awkwardly against the simple melodies of the eight Christmas chestnuts, with four new songs cleverly woven in.

Style: Imagine if buzz and noise music never happened. Imagine if the musical time clock was stuck in 1985. It’s old-school metal, full of tight-trousered screams and flashy guitar solos, with some great drumming too. If that wasn’t bad enough, there are ballads and a choir-like song too.

‘Tis the reason to be jolly: Deck The Halls and Hark The Herald Angels Sing rise above the rest, with a powerful punk-like attitude and some searing musicianship. Halford’s voice remains formidable. Lead track Donner And Blitzen should be big in Scandinavia and the Black Forest.

Scrooge moan: If you look for merry metal Christmas albums in the shops, you will probably only find this (although, perhaps for the most persistent, also Halford III: Winter Songs from 2009). There’s a good reason for that; putting the two styles together does neither any favours. It makes the tough looking and talented musicians sound daft, and would anyone into this type of music admit to owning a copy?

White Christmas? The only snow, in blue, is printed on the CD.

Blue Christmas? The mood is more defiant, but A Winter’s Tale is more sombre.

Stocking or shocking? Shocking, for the unreconstructed rocker in your life. who will enjoy it, just to be rebellious.

Paul Rhodes

“Piano settings really suit the monochromatic winter world in the songs” on Rick Wakeman’s Christmas album.

Rick Wakeman, Christmas Portraits (Sony) ****

Wrapping: A grand piano perched in front of a starlit Christmas tree in a wintry wood. A strange star is rising in the sky. The booklet has a few portraits of the great man, the credits and a simple message.

Gifts inside: 14 traditional tracks, including seven medleys, from the purveyor of The Grumpy Old Christmas Show Tour that visited Harrogate Royal Hall on December 10.

Style: This is the sound of one man and his piano (a Granary Steinway Model D), from .

‘Tis the reason to be jolly: The album is beautifully recorded, and the piano settings really suit the monochromatic winter world in the songs. Like Jan Johannson’s Jazz På Svenska, which timelessly dances with folk tunes, Wakeman’s variations on these age-old melodies are both graceful and fitting.

Scrooge moan: This is certainly more BBC Radio 3 than prog, so won’t please all of Wakeman’s admirers, and enjoyable while it is, it does all blur together.

White Christmas? No, this is a more traditional set aimed towards the classical fan rather than frequenter of supper clubs (you know who you are).

Blue Christmas? There is certainly melancholy, and a sense of bitter cold, but the melodies should cast sunlight into the gloomiest of moods.

Stocking or shocking? Stocking, for anyone who gets lost in their thoughts while pondering the frost through the kitchen window.

Paul Rhodes

Aimee Mann’s Christmas album: so good, she released it twice

Paul Rhodes’s top five Christmas albums of all time

The Staple Singers, The 25th Day Of December

Carols from Kings

Aimee Mann, One More Drifter In The Snow

The Louvin Brothers, Christmas With The Louvin Brothers

Christmas Greetings From Nashville – featuring Skeeter Davis

Flowering anew: Kate Rusby’s fifth Christmas album

Kate Rusby, Holly Head (Pure Records) ****

Wrapping: Barnsley nightingale Kate in snowy white with her very own Holly Head, a Christmas garland of wintry flowers, foliage, twigs and leaves atop her curls. A “Holly Head” loves Christmas music like a petrol head loves cars, she says.

Gifts inside: South Yorkshire pub carols, Yorkshire winter songs, one new Rusby composition and a couple of novelty numbers (John Rox’s Hippo For Christmas, from 1953, and a third rescue mission for Kate’s Yorkshire Tea-powered Barnsley superhero, Big Brave Bill).  

Style: Kate and her touring folk players, augmented as ever by the “Brass Boys”, on her fifth Christmas collection in 11 years. Songs merry, melancholic and daft, all to be found here.

’Tis the reason to be jolly: Kate’s sixth version of While Shepherds Watched (only another 24 still to go, apparently!); the titles Yorkshire Three Ships and Bleak Midwinter (Yorkshire); and Kate branching out into folk prog via Clannad with the beautifully frosty The Holly King.

Scrooge moan: Hip, hippo, but not hurray for The Hippo Song, despite Mike Levis’s pomp-pomp tuba. Bah Humbug to such jollification.

White Christmas? No, but Lu Lay (The Coventry Carol) is chillier than a Yorkshire moor in winter.

Blue Christmas? Bleak Midwinter (Yorkshire); that title says it all.

Stocking or shocking? Christmas Is Merry, sings Kate, and Holly Heads and hippo devotees everywhere will love it.

Charles Hutchinson

Going on holiday: Josh Rouse’s Nashville Christmas album

Josh Rouse, The Holiday Sounds Of Josh Rouse (Yep Roc) ****

Wrapping: No hint of winter in a painting with warm red, pink and yellow hues. The opening song title, Mediterranean X-mas, explains it, as American singer-songwriter Rouse has only latterly moved to Nashville from Valencia after ten winters in Spain.

Gifts inside: Rouse’s first“ holiday concept album”, his 13th in all, contains nine originals, complemented by a bonus disc bearing the gifts of three demos and Rousing versions of trad holiday songs All I Want For Christmas, Up On The Housetop and Let It Snow.

Style: Breezy, warm, vintage folk, pop, country blues and jauntily jazzy rock, not too far removed from Nick Lowe’s 2013 seasonal selection, Quality Street. Indeed Basher urged him to make this record when touring together in 2015.  

Happy holidays: Josh Rouse raises a glass of bubbly to Christmas

’Tis the reason to be jolly: Lush, warmly reflective songs of childhood nostalgia and holidays spent away from home are the perfect accompaniment to the year’s glowing embers. Red Suit, New York Holiday, Lights Of Town and Christmas Songs are the pick.

Scrooge moan: None, unless you crave the absent sleigh bells, children’s choirs and Yuletide standards you won’t find in the Rouse house.

White Christmas? No. Presumably gone on holiday to somewhere colder.

Blue Christmas? Sadness seeps through Letters In The Mailbox and Heartbreak Holiday.

Stocking or shocking? Rouse should be in your house come Christmas Day.

Merry Cryptmas from The Cramps’ vinyl vaults

Merry Luxmas, It’s Christmas In Crampsville!, Season’s Gratings From The Cramps’ Vinyl Basement (Righteous/Cherry Red) *****

Wrapping: Family album photo from the Fifties, one woman, her glasses, her pearls, her dog and her overladen Christmas tree. What a swell party that looks.

Gifts inside: In the ghostly spirit of Christmas past, an original cassette compilation by the late Lux Interior of Sacramento psychobilly punks The Cramps, lovingly entitled Jeezus ****, It’s Christmas, is re-activated and re-mastered. Lux and Poison’s Ivy raves from the Christmas crypt add up to 31 of the “strangest Yuletide 45s ever”, now accompanied with ace sleeve notes by Mojo magazine’s Dave Henderson.

Style: Wild and weird rock’n’roll music and jumpin’ jive for beatniks, hipsters and swinging hep cats. Doo-wop ballads, novelty oddities, jailbird laments, mighty bluesmen, even skewed country (George Jones’s Eskimo Pie), are all Cramped in.

’Tis the season to be jolly: So many.Especially Tony Rodelle Larson’s impossibly cool Cool Yule; Louis Armstrong’s joyous Zat You, Santa Claus; Joan Shaw’s insistent I Want A Man For Christmas and Jimmy Butler’s innuendo-laden Trim Your Tree, culminating in the Reverend J M Gates’s fire-and-brimstone sermon, Did You Spend Christmas Day In Jail.

Scrooge moan: Spike Jones and His City Slickers’ dogs launching a barking-mad assault on O Christmas Tree. Doggerel.

White Christmas? Anything but. Make way for The Marquees’ Christmas In The Congo, more like.

Blue Christmas? Too many to mention, but these will do for starters: Floyd Dixon’s Empty Stocking Blues, Little Esther & Mel Walker’s Far Away Christmas Blues; Julia Lee And Her Boy Friends’ Christmas Spirit, T-Bone Walker’s Cold, Cold Feeling and Washboard Pete’s Christmas Blues.

Stocking or shocking? Do you know someone who hates Christmas? Present incoming.

Charles Hutchinson

Great work: Emmy The Great and Ash’s Tim Wheeler do Christmas

Charles Hutchinson’s top five Christmas albums of all time to discover

Bruce Cockburn, Christmas (Columbia, 1993)

Glasvegas, A Snowflake Fell (And It Felt Like A Kiss) (SonyBMG, 2008)

Emmy The Great & Tim Wheeler Present…This Is Christmas (Infectious Music, 2011)

Smith & Burrows, Funny Looking Angels (Kitchenware/Play It Again Sam, 2011)

Tracey Thorn, Tinsel & Lights (Strange Feeling Records, 2012)

Oh, and everyone should have Christmas gifts for you from Phil Spector, Elvis Presley, Kate Rusby and Sufjan Stevens.

COMPETITION TIME! WIN SIGNED KATE RUSBY ALBUMS

Kate Rusby wearing her Holly Head garland

CharlesHutchPress has five CDs of Kate Rusby’s Holly Head to be won, signed by Kate in festive green, courtesy of Pure Records.

Question:  Which tea-drinking Barnsley superhero has Kate invented for a series of songs?

Send your answer with your name and address by email to charles.hutchinson104@gmail.com, marked Kate Rusby Competition, by Tuesday, December 31.

York Festival seeks charity partners for next summer. Here’s how to apply…

Madness: June 19 headliners at the first York Festival

YORK Festival, next summer’s three-day music event headlined by Madness, Westlife and Lionel Richie, wants to raise thousands of pounds for good causes by supporting York charities.

The organisers, concert promoters Cuffe and Taylor, are seeking three charity partners, who will benefit from the June 19 to 21 concerts at York Sports Club, in Clifton Park, Shipton Road.

Charities in and around York are asked to send an email to hello@york-festival.com to “find out how York Festival can help you” and register their interest in becoming a partner.

Cuffe and Taylor director Peter Taylor said: “We are incredibly excited about York Festival. This is going to be three amazing days of live music in this wonderful and historic city, headlined by a host of global stars.

“York Festival is going to be something really special,” says Cuffe and Taylor director Peter Taylor. “What will make it extra special is if we can help good causes in the city.”


“We want to help raise funds and exposure for local good causes. Over the past decade, we have worked with a number of fantastic charity partners at our events right across the UK. Through these partnerships we have helped raise more than £100,000 and we are now looking for charities based in and around York who we can work with.


“York Festival is going to be something really special. What will make it extra special is if we can help good causes in the city.”


Cuffe and Taylor promote the summer concert seasons at Scarborough Open Air Theatre, bringing Britney Spears, Kylie Minogue and Lionel Richie to the Yorkshire coast.

They also staged Rod Stewart’s sold-out York Racecourse concert this year, drawing 35,000 people to a specially constructed pop-up amphitheatre in the centre of the Knavesmire course on June 1.

All night long: Lionel Richie has the York Festival stage to himself on June 21

Cuffe and Taylor previously set up Lytham Festival, a Lancashire event that has worked with various charities over the past decade.

Trinity Hospice and Brian House Children’s Hospice in Blackpool, for example, have benefited to the tune of £50,000.

Trinity Hospice Community fundraising manager Michelle Lonican said: “We feel very honoured to have worked with Cuffe and Taylor on a number of their high-profile events.

“Their support for both Trinity Hospice and Brian House has been phenomenal, and not only have we been able to raise thousands of pounds, but also every event has always been a fantastic opportunity for us to increase our profile and attract new supporters.

Westlife: Playing York Festival on Summer Solstice night

“It is great to see Cuffe and Taylor launching a new festival in York and we would urge charities there to apply to become a partner and get involved in what will no doubt be a very successful event.”

York Festival’s debut line-up brings together headliners Madness, those Nutty Boys from Camden Town, Lightning Seeds,funk and soul DJ Craig Charles, Leeds indie rockers Apollo Junction and York’s Violet Contours on June 19.

Irish boy band Westlife top the Saturday bill – next year’s Summer Solstice night – as part of their Stadiums In The Summer Tour, joined by All Saints, Sophie Ellis Bextor, Scouting for Girls and Take That’s Howard Donald for a DJ set.

The Sunday night focus falls on American soul and funk legend Lionel Richie for a set of Commodores and solo hits.

For more York Festival information and tickets, go to York-festival.com.

Dogs invited to friendly encounter with Cats at City Screen on December 29

Dame Judi Dench as Old Deuteronomy in Cats

CATS and dogs will be in harmony on December 29 when City Screen, York, plays host to a dog-friendly screening of the new musical fantasy film.

“We’re offering dog-lovers the chance to bring their canine friends to the cinema that morning at 11am,” says marketing manager Dave Taylor.

“A dog is not just for Christmas, but it’s Christmas for dogs too, so this is a special treat for dog-owners and their pets. 

“They’ll be issued with a fleece blanket to cover the seat used by the dog or to use as a rug if the dog sits on the floor. During the screening, we’ll provide bowls of water around the screen, and we’ll also leave lighting levels a little higher than usual during the screening and lower the volume of the soundtrack.

“Please be aware that we reduce capacity for such screenings, so there may be fewer tickets than usual. We also have a limit of one dog per adult so that people can keep control of their dog.”


City Screen has arranged dog-friendly screenings in the past. “They’ve been well received by dog-owners and have gone off without incident, though cinema staff undertake a thorough ‘deep-clean’ of the auditorium before the next film is shown,” says Dave.


Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats, one of the most successful stage musicals of all time, has been adapted for the big screen by director Tom Hooper, who directed The Damned United in 2009, The King’s Speech in 2010, Les Misérables in 2012 and The Danish Girl in 2015.

Now he “reimagines the musical for a new generation with spectacular production design, state-of-the-art technology and dance ranging from classical ballet to contemporary, hip-hop, jazz, street dance and tap”.

Released this Friday, its cast of star actors and dancers includes Dame Judi Dench as Old Deuteronomy; Idris Elba stars as Macavity, the mystery cat; Rebel Wilson as Jennyanydots; Ray Winston, Growltiger; James Corden, Bustopher Jones; Jennifer Hudson, Grizabella; cat lover Taylor Swift, Bombalurina; Jason Derulo,  Rum Tum Tigger, and Sir Ian McKellen, Gus the Theatre Cat.


Oscar winner Hooper wrote the script with Billy Elliot writer Lee Hall, based on T.S. Elliot’s whimsical Old Possum’s Book Of Practical Cats.

Tickets for Cats (U) on December 29 are on sale on 0871 902 5747, at picturehouses.com or in person from the City Screen box office. “You’re also welcome without a dog,” says Dave.

The York Waits lay down the rules for Twelve Days of Christmas revels at NCEM

The York Waits: festive songs, carols and celebratory music at the NCEM

THE York Waits celebrate Christmas in tomorrow’s concert at the National Centre for Early Music, York, when they will be joined by singer Deborah Catterall.

The start of Christmas was traditionally announced at the entrances to York on December 21, St Thomas’s  Day, with the reading by the Sheriffs of the Yoole-girthol, with the Waits’ shawm band in attendance.

This proclamation declared “an amnesty to all nere-do-wells and unthrifty folk” and invited 12 days of merriment in the city.

The York Waits recreate this atmosphere with festive songs, carols and celebratory music from across mediaeval and Renaissance England and Europe, performed on loud and quiet wind consorts, bowed and plucked strings, the rustic bagpipes and vielle.

The York Waits will be in conversation at the NCEM at 7pm before their 7.30pm concert programme. Tickets cost £23, concessions £21, on 01904 658338 or at tickets.ncem.co.uk.