THE wait had been all too long. 922 days since the last blast of A Night To Remember, Big Ian Donaghy’s fundraising concerts for York charities at York Barbican.
Then, suddenly, Thursday afternoon’s focus turned northwards to Balmoral as the nation waited for updates on The Queen’s health, BBC news presenter Huw Edwards already in black tie.
Her Majesty’s passing was announced shortly after 6.30pm. “We’d had a day of chaos, setting up such a big show, uncertain what would happen,” said Big Ian post-show. “Would the show go on? Would it be pulled? Thankfully…the show must go on.”
Indeed it did, albeit with a few seats now empty as some ticket holders preferred to stay at home to take in the news. Out went the planned opening, a Boris Johnson satirical routine et al . Instead, a photograph of The Queen, against the backdrop of the Union Flag, filled the screen as a sombre Big Ian took to the stage to join the band, 12-strong brass section and multitude of singers.
“Right, I don’t care if you are a monarchist; I don’t care if you are an anarchist, I care that she was someone’s mam,” pronounced Ian, adding “grandmam” and “great grandmam” as he called on his conference-honed public-speaking skills to be the people’s laureate in that moment.
A minute’s silence and a spontaneous round of applause followed. Then, exit the regal elephant in the room, last respects paid, for one Queen to be succeeded so soon by another: Mercury’s Queen. What else could master of ceremonies Big Ian declaim but The Show Must Go On. Right song, right time, right note struck.
The way these fast-moving nights work, songs are covered, if not in glory, then often spectacularly, affectionately, surprisingly, humorously, always heartily, and invariably with a wall of harmony from participants readily guesting on everyone else’s songs. As many as 30 can be performing at one time, never better than when the young players of the York Music Forum join Huge’s brass section.
In between come Big Ian’s rallying calls for donations, bonny lad bon-mots, quips and jests, and expressions of appreciation for the work of the night’s backers, Nimbuscare, and good causes, St Leonard’s Hospice, Bereaved Children Support York and Accessible Arts and Media.
Raising dementia awareness is another driving force, after the death of both Big Ian’s mother-in-law and father, his own work for this cause highlighted in a series of shorts films, two featuring women with dementia, one being introduced to playing pool, the other singing Yesterday with Ian as she was having her hair done.
Later, he dug out a video clip of daughter Annie, then aged nine, paying lyrical tribute to her grandma at an earlier A Night To Remember at York Theatre Royal.
York’s very own best football commentator bar none, Guy Mowbray, popped up on screen from Old Trafford with a message of support, signing off with “dementia is a team game”. Lovely touch, Guy.
The hits kept on coming: Jess Steel, blowing away any remaining cobwebs with Ironic; Dan (Boss Caine) Lucas’s country take on Dire Straits’ Walk Of Life; Graham Hodge, Annie Donaghy and a saxophone solo for Time After Time; Big Ian leading the audience finger clicks and hand claps for Wham’s Edge Of Heaven.
First-half favourite? How about Heather Findlay, Jess Steel, Annie Donaghy and Beth McCarthy’s rendition of Abba’s Dancing Queen, the one song title of the night with resonance anew. Next, Las Vegas Ken brought the house down, as comprehensively as that Mecca Bingo demolition job across the road.
Kate Bush was an in-vogue choice after her Stranger Things resurrection, but rather than Running Up That Hill, Heather Findlay brought a shawl, fan flicks and theatricality to Babooshka. Musical director George Hall’s keyboard then brought out the crooner in Big Ian in Elton’s Your Song.
Such is the all-inclusive philosophy of these joyous concerts that performers’ ages range from 13 to 96, heralded at the start to the second half by Big Ian introducing Jessa Liversidge’s Singing For All choir, a breath of fresh air in song, with Jessa on keyboard and neighbour Gary Stewart on guitar for You’ve Got A Friend and Lean On Me.
Gary, playing percussion throughout the night as he does for Hope & Social, later took the microphone with sweet-voiced swagger for Paul Simon’s 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, and Lean On Me made an unexpected comeback as George Hall’s party piece at the impromptu invitation of Big Ian.
The Y Street Band turned Shania Twain’s Man! I Feel Like A Woman on its head; Simon Snaize stepped out of the band to front Rod Stewart’s Maggie May, accompanied by Kieran O’Malley’s violin, whose beauteous impact on a song rivals The Waterboys’ Steve Wickham.
Hodge, O’Malley and The Y Street Band bonded over Stuck In The Middle With You; Findlay’s 13-year-old son, Harlan, took over the keyboard for her rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams.
Into the final straight, Beth McCarthy pulled off yet another costume change for Tina Turner’s Simply The Best; Big Ian busted out his Travolta moves for Stayin’ Alive; Jess Steel celebrated seeing Diana Ross in Leeds with a supreme Chain Reaction, and Beth hurriedly found one more pink number for the Lulu part in the finale, Relight My Fire, alongside cheerleader Big Ian.
September 8 re-lit the fire for A Night To Remember in the most challenging circumstances. “How we did that, I’ve no idea. Less than an hour after The Queen’s death was announced. Making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear,” said Big Ian the next morning.
“A lifetime of standing up in front of people came to my rescue for a night to remember that no-one will ever forget.
“I know some people love the monarchy and others do not. Yet I was given 1,400 people and a minute’s silence. I needed an angle to make it not about that.”
Big Ian found one; the audience, band and singers alike responded. The show did go on and how! Watch this space to learn the funding total raised for the three charities.
“The only thing local about this show is the postcode,” concluded Big Ian. “The talent on stage and the generosity they show to one another is something quite unique.”
To view more of David Harrison’s photographs of A Night To Remember, head to: https://dharrisonyorkphotos.smugmug.com/Music/ANTR-2022
Unforgettable York Barbican night raises £24,000. Big Ian Donaghy says Thank You
“WHEN money is at its tightest and families are struggling to make ends meet, our community and some of the finest musicians with the kindest hearts came together on September 8 at A Night To Remember to raise money for local causes,” says Big Ian.
“The final figure raised was a staggering £24,311. Not bad for a gang show and a big raffle with a group of mates!
“The night, now in its eighth year, has shone the spotlight on local causes and groups to not only provide much needed funds but also raise their profiles.
“The show featured a 30-piece house band made up of Huge, Kieran O’Malley, Gary Stewart and Simon Snaize and musicians from York Music Forum as they accompanied the likes of Jess Steel, Heather Findlay, Beth McCarthy and Graham Hodge.
“The night saw an 80-year age range of performers on stage as Singing for All -a fully inclusive singing group – had the auditorium sing with one voice.
“Who will benefit from this? St.Leonards Hospice, Bereaved Children’s Support York and Accessible Arts and Media, of which the Hands & Voices Choir are part.
“Rather than give money to larger charities, A Night To Remember supports smaller, local, bespoke projects that help people living with dementia and combatting loneliness.
“These include the gardening project York Hull Road Park Volunteers; bespoke dementia-friendly side-by- side art classes for people living with dementia and their carers, run by York artist Sue Clayton; Singing for All and Xmas Presence, giving older people who live alone a family Christmas and delivering lunches and hampers.
“We were uncertain if the show would even happen as it fell on the day the Queen died, but after having to make the official announcement, we opened with The Show Must Go On.
“This is York helping York. Thank-you to Nimbuscare for their invaluable support and to everyone on stage, back stage, front of house and in the audience.
A Night To Remember will return to York Barbican on Thursday, September 14 2023.