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.


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.

Sun hits the Scarborough sky for Supergrass on comeback trail

Going out: Supergrass have a run of gigs next summer

EVERYTHING has aligned for Supergrass on the “improbable comeback” trail.

The Oxford four-piece of Gaz Coombes, Danny Goffey, Rob Coombes and Mick Quinn will head to Scarborough Open Air Theatre on June 20 next summer, with tickets going on sale at 9am on Friday.

Coming first will be Supergrass: The Strange Ones 1994-2008, released on BMG on January 24 2020 to mark the 25th anniversary of their chart-topping debut album I Should Coco.

This box set stacks up their six albums on picture-disc LP and CD; bonus CDs of unreleased live material; B-sides; remixes; rarities; studio out-takes; demos; acoustic versions; oddities, new mixes; a deluxe book, posters and button badges.

Supergrass made their comeback in September in a bold manner, taking to the stage unannounced at Glastonbury Pilton Party to rip through a greatest hits set, embracing Richard III, Moving, Alright, Lenny, Going Out, Caught By The Fuzz, Sun Hits The Sky, Pumping On Your Stereo and Grace.

Supergrass are back after a decade away? I should coco

“Everything aligned for us to make this happen for 2020,” says drummer Goffey, recalling September’s re-launch. “It was the first time that we collectively felt the buzz to get back in a room together and play the songs. We’re extremely excited to get out there and bring a bit of Supergrass joy to all our fans… and their extended families.”

Formed in 1993, the Oxford band released the Mercury Prize-nominated I Should Coco in 1995; In It For The Money in 1997; Supergrass, 1999; Life On Other Planets, 2002; Road To Rouen, 2005, and Diamond Hoo Ha, 2008, plus the 2004 compilation Supergrass Is 10.

After the BRIT, NME, Ivor Novello and Q award-winning band split in 2010, Gaz Coombes released his solo albums Here Come The Bombs in 2012, Matador in 2015 and World’s Strongest Man last year.

Quinn has been playing with his own group, DB Band, and has been a member of Swervedriver since 2015; Goffey’s album Schtick came out in 2018.

From Friday (December 20), tickets can be booked on 01723 818111 or 01723 383636; at scarboroughopenairtheatre.com or in person from Scarborough OAT, in Burniston Road, or the Discover Yorkshire Coast Tourism Bureau, Scarborough Town Hall, St Nicholas Street.

Did you know?

Supergrass’s I Should Coco in 1995 was the Parlophone label’s biggest-selling debut since The Beatles’ Please Please Me in March 1963.

Heather Findlay at the double for Christmas at NCEM and in York library

Shining light: Heather Findlay in angelic pose for her Christmas show

HEATHER Findlay will play York concerts on successive nights this week, the first with Friends in her Christmas Show at the National Centre for Early Music on Friday.

The next night, the York singer joins fellow composer Simon Snaize for a “pre-Christmas solstice spectacular” in the last of four concerts in the inaugural Live In Libraries York season in York Explore’s wood-panelled Marriot Room.

“I love making my Christmas show really magical, nostalgic and unique,” says Heather. “So, there’s a slightly different line-up, with Sarah Dean joining us on harp and special guest Annie Donaghy on vocals, and a couple of unannounced guests too.”

On Saturday, Findlay accompanies Snaize as he showcases his new album, A Song Of Bones, and his 2012 recording The Structure Of Recollection, in an intimate performance to a capacity audience of 50. CDs of the new record will be on sale on the night before the official release in January.

Wrapping up for winter: Heather Findlay heads to the NCEM for her Christmas show

Heather Findlay and Friends’ Christmas Show, plus Annie Donaghy, National Centre for Early Music, Walmgate, York, Friday, 8pm; Heather Findlay and Simon Snaize, Live In Libraries York, York Explore, Saturday, doors 7pm. Box office: NCEM, 01904 658338 or at ncem.co.uk; Live in Libraries, exploreyork.eventbrite.co.uk

WHISPER it abroad, the inaugural Live In Libraries York season of intimate concerts in York Explore Library and Archive’s Marriott Room, in Library Square, concludes this weekend.

East Yorkshire folk-Americana singer-songwriter Edwina Hayes was first up in September, followed by hotly tipped York band Bonneville And The Bailers on October 25; Bradford songwriter Bella Gaffney on November 21, and Heather Findlay and Simon Snaize in a rare duo gig on Saturday.

The season has been curated by York busker David Ward Maclean in tandem with Dave Fleming, Explore York’s inclusive arts and media co-ordinator.

Simon Snaize and Heather Findlay: performing in a rare duo format at York Explore

Here Charles Hutchinson puts questions to David and Dave.

What prompted you to set up this series of concerts and how long has it taken to arrange the season, David? 

“It started from a chat with York Explore manager Barbara Swinn and Explore York’s Dave Fleming about the feasibility of the Marriott Room as a regular venue. Although we settled on a short series of just four concerts, it’s still taken a while to work out the logistics of both the requirements for staging the events and York Explore’s very busy timetable as a working library.”

How did Live In Libraries York come to fruition, Dave?

“Barbara and I thought it was a great idea to approach David to help curate, advise and develop the concept and the season of concerts.

“I’ve known Dave for years, both on the music scene and working together many years ago when I worked for City of York Council’s Arts & Culture service as community arts officer and working as part of the Illuminating York team.

“I coordinated a series of live short cultural performances in some of the city-centre churches called Inspire York and Dave created a soundscape in one of the churches. Barbara came across Dave performing in York and was captivated by him, so I suggested a chat and for Dave to check out the space and see what he thought.It’s fair to say he was blown away by its potential for live intimate performances.”

Bonnie Milnes of Bonneville And The Bailers, who played Live In Libraries York in October

What attracted you the Marriott Room, David?

“The first thing that struck me was the sound: astonishingly clear acoustics, requiring no more than the minimum amplification, if any. That’s probably down to the wood panelling and the wooden floor, combined with a fairly high ceiling.

“Also, due to its location at the rear of the library, it’s a very quiet location, making it the perfect small listening venue. We’ve limited seating to about 50, so that there’s plenty of room, and that also makes for a great intimate atmosphere. It looks gorgeous too.

“There are very good Green Room facilities behind the Marriott Room, and the performer accesses the venue from a different door, which I always think enhances an event. Everything I’ve ever looked for in a small venue. I’m hoping to book in myself next year sometime.”

What are the Marriott Room’s attributes as a concert setting, Dave?

“There’s nowhere else like it in York! Everyone who has popped down to check out the space wants to perform in the space. The interest has taken us by surprise. 

“We did a test concert a few months back with two internationally renowned harpists. It was sold out and both the performers and audience were captivated by the experience and were so impressed with the space.

“We dress the space beautifully and it will make you re-imagine what libraries can offer.”

What does a library setting bring to live music, David? After all, libraries are associated with hush, contemplation, study and solo concentration!

“I definitely think that when you walk in, the beautiful main entrance to the library instils a certain focus, ideal for listening events. I think we’re going for communication and attentiveness, rather than heads bowed in reverence.”

When curating the acts for these performances, how and why did you choose each one and what have they each brought to Live In Libraries York, David?

“When I was first asked for acts, Edwina Hayes was an instant choice. She’s incredible, a world-class act and a big favourite in York, and I’m so pleased she started the series.

“I also wanted to get two local organisations involved – Dan Webster of Green Chili Promotions and Dave Greenbrown from Young Thugs Records – and they put forward two fantastic up-and-coming York artists, Bella Gaffney and Bonneville And The Wailers.

David Ward Maclean: Curator of the Live In Libraries York season

“I’d always wanted to hear Heather Findlay and Simon Snaize as a duo again after they bowled me over with a set some years back. It’s an extraordinary sound, they truly complement each other and I’m so happy to finish the season on a high with them, on Winter Solstice no less!”

As a musician yourself, David, what makes for your perfect gig setting? 

“This one.”

What sort of contrasting places have you played in your long career? 

“Pretty much everything, from Sheffield City Hall to playing for a couple in their home while they had dinner. Probably the strangest was back in 1984, hitchhiking to Bremen, playing for some German policemen in a motorway service station to prove I was on my way to play some concerts. I passed the audition.”

Would you like to see a further season of such shows taking place in the Marrott Room, David? Or is this a special one-off?

“I would love to see more concerts here in the future.”

What would be your ideal song for a library setting, David?

“(What A) Wonderful World by Sam Cooke.”

How about yours, Dave?

“My word, this is a tricky one to answer! Struggling to think of one because there are so many. So, I’m going to say one of David Ward Maclean’s original songs as he is such a brilliant songwriter and local legend. Oh, and he sounds incredible in the Marriott Room!”

Charles Hutchinson

REVIEW: Ebor Singers, National Centre for Early Music, York, 15/12/2019

Paul Gameson: director of Ebor Singers

Ebor Singers, Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols, National Centre for Early Music, York, December 15

THIS was the Ebors’ now traditional performance of Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols, spiced with a selection of contemporary American carols and seasonal songs.

The Britten, given in the original all-female version, was accompanied by the harp of Rachel Dent, even to the extent of some optional improvising during the processional plainsongs. Her Interlude was a touch halting, but elsewhere she sustained a pleasing pulse.

The singing had its moments, though few were provided in the solo work where intonation was wayward. As a choir, the ladies made plentiful amends. There was a lovely legato in There Is No Rose and a direct, confident approach to This Little Babe. In contrast, the reverential ending to In Freezing Winter Night reflected the manger’s “humble pomp”.

The pair of soloists in Spring Carol chirped merrily. Deo Gracias was a little too rushed for its cross-currents to have maximum impact. Though it was good to have this music made available again, its overall effect was not as strong as it was last year.

In The Moon Of Wintertime, the evening’s subtitle, taken from the Canadian Huron carol, was also used by American composer Stephen Paulus. In the event, his modal tune was less attractive than the original (Jesous Ahatonhia), and he used a bowdlerized paraphrase of Edgar Middleton’s translation, which is much less down-to-earth than the native Indian version. Its last verse, however, was a model of choral control here.

The same composer’s Three Nativity Carols, surprisingly enjoying their UK premiere – Paulus died in 2104 – brought an engaging post-Britten style to some ancient texts. They were accompanied by oboe (Jane Wright) and harp (Dent). Syncopation jollied up The Holly & The Ivy, florid oboe counterpointed the slow rocking of This Endris Night, and Wonder Tidings used a proper refrain to add colour to the mediaeval text, with the instruments dancing attendance.

Much of the rest was slow-moving and diction went to the wall. American audiences may love it, but Craig Hella Johnson’s pairing of Lo, How A Rose with Amanda McBroom’s The Rose (written for Bette Midler and covered by Westlife) did the lovely Praetorius tune no favours at all.

Hackneyed favourites by Lauridsen and Whitacre came and went and a Jake Runestad lullaby just picked itself in time to avoid a similar fate. It was left to Nico Muhly’s setting of Longfellow’s Snowflakes, with piano backing, to offer some true atmosphere, albeit out of a corner of the minimalist playbook. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas makes for a tacky ending – it should be dropped.

I know this was a Christmas concert, with all the festive sentimentality that implies, but overall I left feeling that this choir is coasting: it is capable of tackling something a lot less anodyne and a lot more challenging.

Review by Martin Dreyer

Happy Chappies to open new season of Thursday afternoon jazz at the Cross Keys

Frank Brooker’s Happy Chappies: Playing at the Cross Keys on January 2 2020

“GET jazzing done!”, says Alan Bramley, organiser of a new season of Thursday afternoon jazz sessions at the Cross Keys pub, in Tadcaster Road, York.

“Those weekly sessions have become increasingly popular since their inauguration in 2017,” says Alan, who not only makes the bookings but also plays trombone with some of the bands.

“For the start of 2020, I’ve booked a programme of jazz in varying styles, all highly entertaining.”

Frank Brooker’s Happy Chappies kick off the New Year on January 2, followed by the Cross Keys Jazz Band on January 9; Tim New Jazz Band on January 16; 7th City Jazz Band on January 23 and the Nicki Allan Five, finishing off the month, on January 30.

These traditional jazz afternoons run from 1pm to 3.30pm each Thursday. Admission and parking are free, food is available and the pub is both dog and child friendly.

More details can be found on Facebook at Crosskeysjazz.

Hello again! Lionel Richie to play Scarborough as well as York next summer

Hello? Play Scarborough as well as York, you say? Why not, says Lionel Richie

LIONEL Richie will play two North Yorkshire shows within a fortnight next summer after adding Scarborough Open Air Theatre on June 9 to his York Festival appearance on June 21.

Tickets go on sale for his Scarborough return on Wednesday at 9am, Richie having made his sold-out debut there in June 2018 on his All The Hits, All Night Long tour.

“It was a truly wonderful night on the Yorkshire coast in 2018 and I cannot wait to return to this beautiful part of the UK again,” says the Alabama soul singer, songwriter and producer. “It’s going to be another night to remember, so bring you’re dancing shoes.”

Richie, 70, will play Scarborough as part of his Hello!, Hits tour, performing songs from his Commodores days to the present day, taking in Three Times A Lady, Truly, Dancing On The Ceiling, Say You Say Me, Hello and All Night Long.

Honoured last year with the Ivor Novello PRS for Music Special International Award, to go with an Oscar, Golden Globe and four Grammy awards and 100 million album sales, Richie released his latest album, Live From Las Vegas, in the summer.

Heading East: Westlife: to play Scarborough in the same week as their York Festival headline show next June

York Festival can be added to such Richie festival headline sets as Bonnaroo, Outside Lands and Glastonbury, where he drew more than 200,000 to main stage in 2015.

Cuffe and Taylor are promoting both his Scarborough and York gigs. “Lionel Richie is an undoubted global superstar and we are delighted to be able to bring him back here to Scarborough,” says director Peter Taylor.

“His 2018 sold-out show was the stuff of legend. It was a brilliant night in the presence of one of the most successful and celebrated music artists of all time.”

As well as Richie, Cuffe and Taylor have booked Irish boy band Westlife to play both locations, Scarborough OAT on June 17 and York Festival, at York Sports Club, Clifton Park, Shipton Road, on June 20.

Tickets for Scarborough OAT concerts are on sale at scarboroughopenairtheatre,com, on 01723 818111 or 01723 383636, or in person from the venue, in Burniston Road, or the Discover Yorkshire Tourism Bureau, ScarboroughTown Hall, St Nicholas Street.

For York Festival tickets, go to york-festival.com.

REVIEW: York Early Music Christmas Festival, Yorkshire Bach Choir, 14/12/2019

Bass soloist Gareth Brynmor John

York Early Music Christmas Festival: Yorkshire Bach Choir/Baroque Soloists, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, December 14

THE York Early Music Christmas Festival finished brightly on Saturday with Handel’s Messiah before a packed house. Tempos were rapid, but that comes with the territory when Peter Seymour is at the helm (he sat at the harpsichord and even fingered it from time to time).

Nothing wrong with speed: it is widely thought to deliver excitement. But audiences, like electorates, are not easily fooled and Messiah is not really about excitement. Although traditionally wheeled out at Yuletide, its true focus is the message of Easter.

Mezzo soprano soloist Helen Charlston. Picture: Matthew Badham

One of Seymour’s soloists, mezzo Helen Charlston, appeared to realise this and took him on. He raced into her aria, He Was Despised – and she managed to slow him down. Thus her unaccompanied voicing of “despised” and “rejected”, with a little sob in the latter word, unexpectedly became the evening’s most telling moment.

The choir of 36 voices was impeccably on the ball, its diction superb and its staccato runs unimpeachably clear. Six tenors were not enough in this company and the bass line lacked its usual authority, but the upper voices – several countertenors included – were exemplary.

York soprano soloist Bethany Seymour. Picture: Jim PoynerJim Poyner

The best of the soloists was the bass Gareth Brynmor John, relaxed and forthright in equal measure and especially stirring in Why Do The Nations. In contrast, Gwilym Bowen’s increasingly effortful tenor verged on the operatic, although perfectly suited to Thou Shalt Break Them. Apart from her smooth I Know That My Redeemer Liveth, Bethany Seymour’s soprano arias were shrieky, with dodgy breath control.

No such problems with the tireless orchestra. Led by the spritely Lucy Russell, the strings laid a consistently stylish foundation. Yet relentless speed is only one of countless ways to treat this work. It would be nice to hear some of them occasionally.

Review by Martin Dreyer