AFTER making its socially distanced debut in North Yorkshire last summer, impresario James Cundall’s Sounds In The Grounds is adding a new location to its picnic-concert portfolio for Summer 2021.
Complying with Covid-19 guidelines, the Clocktower Enclosure of York Racecourse will play host to Beyond The Barricade on June 25, Abba Mania on June 26 and A Country Night In Nashville on June 27.
Welburn producer Cundall says: “Audiences can come together and enjoy three evenings of best-loved and internationally renowned bands from their own designated picnic patch – for two, four or six people – that will be socially distanced from others but close enough to share the fun.”
The capacity will be capped at 1,400 for the fully staged productions with LED screens on either side of the stage.
“We’re just trying to do some fun events for this summer, and we’re encouraging concert-goers to come in fancy-dress: will it be showbiz sparkle, platforms or cowboy boots?!” says Cundall, who is best known in York for two summers of Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre in a pop-up Elizabethan theatre on the Castle car park in 2018 and 2019.
Beyond The Barricade, now in its 22nd year, features past principals from Boublil and Schonberg’s Les Misérables in the West End and on UK tours performing much-loved songs from the greatest musicals, among them The Phantom Of The Opera, The Lion King, Evita, Miss Saigon, Chicago, Hamilton and Jesus Christ Superstar, topped off by a spectacular finale from Les Misérables.
From London’s West End to Las Vegas, Abba Mania is billed as the world’s number one touring tribute to the ubiquitous super-Swedes, playing more than 30 countries over the past two decades, delighting millions with platforms, flares and all the hits.
A Country Night In Nashville re-creates the energy and atmosphere of a buzzing Honky Tonk in downtown Nashville in a celebration of country music built around songs from its biggest stars both past and present.
Returning by popular demand, York’s very own party starters, the New York Brass Band– a Glastonbury favourite too, by the way – will be the support act to each concert, performing a different repertoire every night, from jazz to Eighties’ pop to current hits.
Cundall has booked them for no fewer than 17 engagements this summer when his picnic-concert programme will return to 2020’s debut double act of Scampston Hall, near Malton, from June 11 to 13 and Ripley Castle, near Harrogate, from August 20 to 22.
In the new line-up of popular acts for these North Yorkshire country-estate venues will be The Definitive Rat Pack, One Night Of Tina and Killer Queen.
The Definitive Rat Pack presents an uncannily accurate recreation of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr in an evening of swing; Tina Turner’s greatest hits are rolled out in a rock’n’rollercoaster ride through four decades, and Killer Queen recall the iconic songs and showmanship of Queen’s shows in the late Freddie Mercury’s 1980s’ pomp.
Sounds In The Grounds concerts are designed to comply with all official guidance on Covid-19, ensuring audiences can enjoy live music outdoors in a safe and responsible way.
The picnic patches will be defined by painted lines in the grass arena within the grounds, with views of the racecourse and grandstands or stately home. They will be set out in alternating rows, with patches for two people, followed by a row of patches for four people, then for six people. The patches have been designed to be one metre apart within each row, with two-metre aisles between the rows.
Looking back on last year’s launch, Cundall says: “What happened was that Sounds In The Grounds came about because we were sitting in the garden, looking out, thinking, ‘surely there must be something we can do to get artists back to work?’.
“We thought, ‘what if we put people in ‘boxes’ for concerts in the open air, with patches of two, four and six?’.
“After the shows, people came up and said, ‘that’s amazing, not just for Covid-safe conditions but for the future’. The advantage of this [configuration] is that you can book a patch like you book a theatre ticket: you have a guaranteed place.
“Everyone asked us to continue the concept, which we’ve done, and vaccine or no vaccine, the message is that in our 40s upwards, we’re not going to want to be really close up to other people at concerts.
“Our picnic patch concept enables patrons to pre-book their own designated space, thereby eliminating that mad scramble for the best site, which often mars an outdoor concert. Our audiences can turn up when it suits them and know they will have a safe and fun evening.”
Cundall already had settled on returns to Scampston Hall and Ripley Castle for “fun concerts by bands that play music you know, performed by musicians who’ve worked in shows you know in the West End”.
“Then, late in the day, we thought, ‘why don’t we do something at York Racecourse, where we could get 1,400 people in the Clocktower Enclosure?’,” he recalls.
“We’re thrilled to be adding York Racecourse to our list of prestigious venues! These picnic concerts are a great opportunity to get together and enjoy a fun night of live music in a safe, socially distanced way. From the glorious Broadway classics to Dancing Queen and Dolly Parton, I hope we have something for everyone.”
He is delighted to have signed up the New York Brass Band too. “Without doubt, they are one of York’s best exports and it will be wonderful to get them on stage in their home city,” he says.
“Importantly, it’s an opportunity for both musicians and crew to showcase their talent again after months of inactivity during these difficult times.”
Cundall recalls the finale to last September’s last Sounds In The Grounds concert. “There was a feeling of ‘when will we see each other again’, so what’s key for us with the new season of shows is we’re trying to re-connect artists and audiences.”
York Racecourse may play host to another James Cundall entertainment enterprise in the winter ahead: the Great Yorkshire Pantomime production of Aladdin in a big top.
Produced by Cundall and directed by Chris Moreno, writer-director of the Three Bears Productions pantos at the Grand Opera House in York, the “tentomime” was first mooted for last Christmas, then confirmed for an Easter run from today (19/3/2021) to April 11 before killjoy Covid forced a postponement decision on January 18.
Billed as “a dream come true”, Aladdin would have played in a luxurious heated tented palace to an audience capacity of 976 in tiered, cushioned seating.
The 36 performances would have been socially distanced and compliant with Covid-19 guidance, presented by a cast of 21, including nine principals, and a band on a 50-metre stage with a Far East palace façade, projected scenery and magical special effects.
Will the show go ahead this Christmas? “We’re waiting to see what the Government will do on Covid measures before deciding on what we’ll do with the pantomime,” says Cundall. Watch this space.
Tickets for all Sounds In The Grounds concerts are on sale at soundsinthegrounds.seetickets.com with prices starting at £59 (plus booking fees) for a standard picnic patch for two people. All Covid-19 guidance from the Government is continuously monitored and followed.
Concert times at Clocktower Enclosure, York Racecourse:
Gates open at 4.30pm; New York Brass Band, 6pm; Beyond The Barricade, 7.30pm, concert finishes at 10pm.
Gates open at 4.30pm; New York Brass Band, 6pm; Abba Mania, 7.30pm; finale, 10pm.
Gates open at 3.30pm; New York Brass Band, 5pm; A Country Night In Nashville, 6.30pm; finale, 9pm.