Mission Impossible! Velma Celli finds new wonderbar home for York drag residency

“It’s happening!” says Velma Celli as York cabaret star moves residency to Impossible, York, from May 21. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick, Kirkpatrick Photography

YORK’S drag diva deluxe Velma Celli is on the move.

Out goes the Covid-suspended monthly camp cabaret Friday nights at The Basement, City Screen, York.

In comes a resplendent residency from May 21 at Impossible, York, Tokyo Industries’ new tea-room, cocktail bar, restaurant and speakeasy enterprise in the old Terry’s café in St Helen’s Café, latterly home to Carluccio’s restaurant.

“It’s happening!” says an excited Velma Celli, the exotic international drag alter-ego of musical actor Ian Stroughair, last seen on a York stage in December as the villainous Fleshius Creepius in York Stage’s debut pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk, at Theatre @41, Monkgate.

How the other half lives: Exit alter-ego Velma Celli, enter Ian Stroughair, musical actor, playing Fleshius Creepius in York Stage’s pantomime Jack And The Beanstalk last winter. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

“Velma has a new residency!! My very first live gig at the utterly fabulous Impossible, York. May 21st.  Doors 7pm. Show 8pm! My very special guest is [York soul sister] Jessica Steel (obvs). More special West End guests to be announced! Grab those tickets as it will sell out!”

Tickets are on sale at https://www.ticketweb.uk/event/the-velma-celli-show-impossible-york-tickets/10900325, priced at £22 for VIP front cabaret table seats and £16.50 for reserved seating.

“Basically, it’s replacing the shows at The Basement, where we don’t know when it will reopen for shows under Covid guidance as it’s a small space,” says Ian, as he switches from the impossible to Impossible, York.

The debut poster for Velma Celli’s new residency

“I met the Impossible general manager, Stephanie [Powell], in December, meeting her between Jack And The Beanstalk shows, and then suddenly she knocked on the window saying, ‘I’ve been trying to contact you!’.

“And so the first Velma Celli Show there will be on May 21, up the stairs, in the fabulous Impossible Wonderbar setting overlooking the square, with more monthly shows to be announced later. This one will be fun, comedic, with stand-up, impressions, the usual mix of rock, pop and the blues, plus Jess and guests.”

The Velma Celli Show residency will not be Velma’s only gig in the first-floor Impossible Wonderbar. “On June 5, we’ll be holding the first Drag Brunch, with Velma, surprise guest drag queens, bottomless cocktails and brunch,” says Ian, looking forward to hosting the “ultimate diva brunch in homage to all the queens”, from Whitney to Tina Turner plus many more besides.

Brunch date: Velma Celli will be joined by guest drag queens at Impossible, York, on June 5

That day, there will be two 90-minute sittings, the first from 12 noon, the second from 2.30pm. Tickets June 5 are on sale via info@impossibleyork.com or on 01904 864410.

After being London based for so long – like so many musical performers – Ian first moved back to York for Lockdown 1 when the pandemic sent him home from a Velma Celli Australian tour, and he plans to settle back in his home city permanently from May, travelling to London for three days a week when necessary.

Streamed concerts, first from a Bishopthorpe kitchen and latterly from a riverside abode by the Ouse Bridge, have kept Velma Celli’s voice in spectacular working order, sometimes accompanied by soul-singing York hairdresser Jessica Steel, leading light of Big Ian Donaghy’s fundraising A Night To Remember shows at York Barbican and salon owner of Rock The Barnet in Boroughbridge Road.

West End star Ian has appeared in such musicals as Cats, Fame, Chicago and Rent – not forgetting a sassy cameo for Velma Celli on EastEnders – but had to forego a long run in Funny Girls in Blackpool last year, thwarted by Killjoy Covid.

Ian Stroughair: Musical actor, drag queen , pantomime star

The pandemic strictures put paid to his international travels too, but already he has had two Covid-19 vaccine jabs to enable Ian to plan a week’s travel to Mexico for a Velma Celli show in Cancun.

“Thank god for that because the next cruise is not until October. I lost all the cruise-ship shows last year, and I’d already lost five cruise bookings this year, when in one day I lost three more cruise bookings,” he reveals.

In the diary too is Velma Celli’s participation in The Love Season at York Theatre Royal, performing one of Velma’s regular cabaret shows, re-titled Love Is Love: A Brief Of History Of Drag specially for the May 29 occasion.

Joining Velma that night will be two guest acts, Jordan Fox, Ian’s co-star in Jack And The Beanstalk, and Jessica Steel, backing singers Kimberley Ensor and Grace Lancaster, musical director Ben Papworth, drummer Clark Howard and guitarist Al Morrison.

“I last performed there in Kes, when I was 14, exactly 24 years ago, and sadly I’ve never been back,” says Ian. “I’ve tried to do shows there but it’s never happened, so it’s great to be back now. I love what Tom [chief executive Tom Bird] is doing there.”

When the ships are down: As it stands, Velma Celli will not do a cruise gig until October

Ian has taken A Brief History Of Drag to New York and Australia and on a British tour, as well as staging performances in London and York. “I’ve been doing it for four years now on and off, and I’m so glad the Theatre Royal wants the show,” he says.

“I wrote it when I was stuck in Africa for a few weeks. I thought, ‘let’s write a show’ and it ended up being about how I got into drag and a celebration of the impact of drag in theatre, music, film and popular culture.”

Yet for all the flamboyance of the imposingly tall Velma Celli, for all of Ian’s love of performing, he has a surprising admission to make: “I don’t like fame and celebrity,” he says. “I repel it!”

Tickets for Velma Celli’s 8pm show on May 29 at York Theatre Royal are on sale at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or on 01904 623568. For the latest Velma Celli trailer, go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a005o6eGZWI. Hit it!

Love is the drag: Velma Celli’s celebration of the art of the drag queen

Gary Stewart to release DIY lockdown album Lost, Now Found as he turns 40

The album artwork by Ruth Varela for Gary Stewart’s June 14 album, Lost, Now Found

YORK singer-songwriter Gary Stewart will release his lockdown album, Lost, Now Found, on June 14, the day before his 40th birthday.

“The album was recorded at home and is pretty much all me, with the exception of a few musical friends, like Rosie Doonan, Ross Ainslie and Mikey Kenney,” says the left-handed guitarist, who can also be spotted playing drums for Hope & Social on a regular basis.

Perthshire-born Gary cut his teeth performing on the Leeds music scene for ten years before moving to York. Writing songs in the folk/pop vein, and influenced by the major singer/songwriters of the 1960s and 1970s – Paul Simon, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Carole King and assorted members of The Eagles – he has released three albums and two EPs to date.

Now comes Lost, Now Found, comprising material written between April and June 2020, shortly after the first pandemic lockdown was announced.

“When Covid-19 struck in late March 2020 and it became apparent that the nation would be indoors for some time, I made the decision (after a short period of squander sponsored by I-Player and Netflix) to try and write some songs after quite a hiatus,” says Gary.

“As a professional procrastinator, my fear was that I wouldn’t stick with it or even bother to give myself a fighting chance. Thankfully, I took up the threads of a song, Leopard, that had been kicking around my head and notebook for 18 months or so and got to task.

“What emerged was a knitted patchwork of a song, drawing initially on one specific personal experience, but extended to a more general introspective of my character and unified under the familiar question: can a leopard change its spots?”

The answer: “Well, given that this self-confessed ‘pro procrastinator’ managed to finish a song in lightning time – by his own standards – and continued to write another nine songs within a period of three months, I would say ‘yes’,” says Gary.

“Can a leopard change its spots?” wondered Gary Stewart. “Yes,” he decided

“The speed at which Leopard arrived (boom) gave me the confidence to continue writing. The ‘stay at home’ rule allowed me the chance to spend time broadening my chordal vocabulary (something I have wanted to do since ‘discovering’ The Beatles last year); to go further than the usual ‘three chords and the truth’.”

“Technophobe” Gary ventured into the realm of D.I.Y musician for Lost, Now Found, playing, recording, mixing and producing the album as a solo work.

“Arts Council England enticed me to apply for some funding, with its Developing Creative Practice fund helping me to secure the purchase of a laptop, an interface and a couple of really nice microphones,” he says.

“This in turn led me down the rabbit-hole and into the Wonderland of home-recording, the next two months being spent learning a new trade on-the-go while recording the ten new songs.

“This involved learning how to place microphones; how to record tracks; how to edit and ‘comp’ takes; latency; how to use compressors and reverbs; how to be patient; how to ‘really’ shout and swear. At 39 years old, I did not expect to be in the position of being able to learn a new skill and apply that skill so quickly. Another facet that fits neatly into the leopard/spots adage.”

Multi-instrumentalist Gary has enlisted the help of a handful of musician friends to “add colour” to assorted songs. Rosie Doonan, who has worked with Peter Gabriel, duets with Stewart on Hot To Trot, Tu Eres Mi Media Naranja and Lost, Now Found, and Mikey Kenney, from Band Of Burns, lends string arrangements to Rainy Day Lover and Sailors And Tailors.

BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winner Ross Ainslie, from Treacherous Orchestra and Salsa Celtica, plays whistle on Front Lines, while Sam Lawrence and James Hamilton contribute woodwind and brass respectively to the opening track, Tailspin.

Lost, Now Found captures the sound and feel of a 1970s’ era singer/songwriter record. “My D.I.Y approach to recording, coupled with my musical influences, help give the album its lo-fi sonority: warm-sounding acoustic guitars and drums; plate reverb vocals, and instruments captured as naturally as possible, with very little effect,” says Gary. “Think Tapestry meets Tea For The Tillerman.”

Gary Stewart performing at A Night To Remember at York Barbican. Picture courtesy of Ian Donaghy

Stylistically, the album embraces 1960s and 1970s’ artists alongside more contemporary folk/pop luminaries: The Beach Boys’ drums and vocal-harmony influence are apparent on Hot To Trot and Tu Eres Mi Media Naranja; John Martyn and Nick Drake bounce off each other in Tailspin; lead single Leopard has a Villagers vibe, while the plaintive feel of Still Crazy-era Paul Simon is present on Rainy Day Lover, Sadder Day Song and the title track.

“These are ten songs that I’m really proud of,” says Gary. “Songs that deal with themes I constantly return to both consciously and sub-consciously: fabrics of my character that I’d like to change (Leopard and Chest); procrastination (Hot To Trot) and redemption, coupled with new beginnings (Tailspin) and straight-up love songs (Rainy Day Lover, Sadder Day Song and Tu Eres Mi Media Naranja).

“Then there are the songs that are woven more indelibly and intertwined with the time and situation in which they were written: songs about the triumph over adversity of the NHS (Front Lines) and family loss, both physical and mental (Sailors And Tailors and Lost, Now Found).

“These compositions, to me, are a step-up musically and thematically from what I normally write. I think they’ve been captured really well on record and I hope you like listening to them very much.”

Gary Stewart’s Lost, Now Found is released on June 14 on CD, 12 vinyl and download.

Just how multi-instrumentalist is multi-tasking Gary Stewart?

ON Lost, Now Found, he contributes vocals, backing vocals, acoustic guitar, hi-string guitar, electric guitar, bass, drums, keys, xylophone, glockenspiel, congas, bongos, shakers, triangle, tambourine, finger cymbals, temple blocks and…thighs. Oh, and he recorded, mixed and produced the album.

Did you know?

GARY Stewart plays drums for Leeds band Hope & Social and guitar for Rosie Doonan, performs at Big Ian Donaghy’s A Night To Remember charity nights at York Barbican and hosts the New York Greenwich Village-inspired acoustic hootenanny, The Gaslight Club, run by Dead Young Records every Monday at Oporto!, in Call Lane, Leeds.

He also fronts a seven-piece line-up that tours the UK with Graceland: A Celebration of Paul Simon’s Classic (plus a generous handful of other Simon classics for good measure). In the diary for September 18 is a York gig at The Crescent at 7.30pm. Tickets cost £12.50 (more on the door) at seetickets.com.

Gary Stewart’s poster for his Graceland shows. The Crescent, in York, awaits on September 18

No concerts since February, now is perfect time for Heather Findlay’s live album

“With the lack of actually experiencing live music in people’s lives, the timing of this live album might just be right,” says Heather Findlay. Picture: Kennedy

YORK folk/prog singer and songwriter Heather Findlay is to release a live album this autumn, Live White Horses, “to document the whole Wild White Horses experience”.

Signed copies of the “double-disc jewel” can be pre-ordered exclusively from Heather’s official website at www.heatherfindlay.co.uk/shop.

The general release date will be confirmed by Heather once her wait for the final masters is over. Keep an eye on her website and CharlesHutchPress for an update.

“Earlier this year, I was fortunate to have been able to tour Wild White Horses in the UK with an absolutely stellar bunch of hugely talented and wonderful souls,” says the former Mostly Autumn and Mantra Vega vocalist, who toured in a seven-piece line-up. “We recorded some of those shows, from which I’m delighted to be able to offer a new live album.”

Released on Black Sand Records, Live White Horses combines a first disc of a 17-song January concert recording with a complementary disc of live sessions, bootlegs and rare and secret gems from throughout the Wild White Horses ride, beginning in Nashville, Tennessee, in July 2019, travelling onward across Europe, with stops in London and Germany, and then heading back home again.

Making up Disc 2 are Broadway Bootlegs: She Rocks Showcase, recorded live at Tin Roof, Broadway, Nashville, in July 2019; Secret Sari Sessions, Unplugged, Live at Total Rock Radio, London, August 2019; Das Bootlegs, Live at Vinyl Cafe Schwazes Gold, Dorsten, Germany, with guitarist Martin Ledger, August 2019; Live in Session at York St John University Chapel, York, February 2020, and Acoustic Solo Sessions, live at home in York during lockdown, Summer 2020.

Here Heather saddles up her Wild White Horse for a ride through Charles Hutchinson’s questions.

Releasing a live album can only remind you of what you cannot do at the moment. What are you missing most about live performances?

“I miss my band mates and connecting with a live audience! There’s nothing that can replace that collective mood, or vibration if you like, of a live performance. When all elements come together, there’s a certain magic that happens which, once any element is removed, it’s very hard to recreate.”

When and where did you last perform on an indoor stage with your band?

“My last show with the band was the last night of the Wild White Horses tour earlier this year at the Robin 2 in Wolverhampton. That was on January 22. The last time I was on a York stage was at Big Ian’s A Night To Remember charity fundraiser at York Barbican on February 29.” 

Those were the days pre-Covid lockdown: Heather Findlay, left, Jess Steel, Beth McCarthy and Annie Donaghy giving their all to I Feel Like A Woman on A Night To Remember at a sold-out York Barbican in February . Picture: David Harrison

Was a live album always in the pipeline or did lockdown’s enforced blockade of concerts make you think this would be a good time for one?

“During our shows, my friend and support band leader Hughes Taylor announced he’d not only been recording his own band’s performances but, in stealth, he’d managed to capture ours too! We hadn’t planned to record any of the shows, so that was a real surprise!

“Once Hughes got back to the USA, he sent over the files, so I sent them to my engineer to throw up some draft mixes and I was thrilled to find the performances had been really well captured.

“Like most, I really wasn’t sure what on Earth to do at a time like this. I pondered over many things, but in a sudden moment of inspiration I just decided to go for it.

“It was a risk as I had no idea how new music would be received at a time when so many are struggling and suffering, but it really seemed that with the lack of actually experiencing live music in people’s lives, the timing of this might just be right.

“I was then pretty overwhelmed when the Limited Edition sold out so fast, but I was really glad I’d gone with my gut and taken the leap! Music can be such balsam and, seemingly, exactly what people need to help see them through tough times.” 

Capturing the essence of a live concert on an album is always a challenge. What makes you feel that these recordings have captured that essence?

“That’s very true! Well, in this case, the whole band had worked really hard in rehearsals and the musicians I was blessed to have with me throughout the tour really are world class and super-reliable. The chemistry between us from the get-go was fantastic too.

“Lots of laughter and a sense that everyone was really giving it their all and truly enjoying being there, with the common goal of lifting hearts and roofs! Then, of course, there’s the audience who were just amazing. So generous and the icing on the cake!”

The artwork for Heather Findlay’s autumn album, Live White Horses

Did you have loads of recordings from which to choose the live sessions, bootlegs and rare, secret gems from your Wild White Horses travels for Disc 2?

“I didn’t have a vast amount to choose from, to be honest, and it’s not something I consciously planned either. Getting Wild White Horses off the ground and into production was all consuming. I kind of wear all the hats, so there’s often very little headspace to forward-plan alongside that.

“In some ways, it’s quite mysterious how it all came together for this live album really, but I was fortunate that the whole journey had been documented in some way or other from that first show in Nashville. 

“For someone who finds it quite hard to stop doing and just be, lockdown in some ways provided the permission to do just that. Once my schedule allowed me to actually slow down and get in the flow, I found that I was able to let go of worrying about how things would unfold and this is when the inspirations and, in turn, solutions appeared.”

What made you decide to add the second disc?

“I liked the idea of offering up rare stuff from the archives that doesn’t normally get released, but as I’m quite a perfectionist in my work, I’m usually way too self-critical for anything like that to be released!

“This time though, I liked the challenge of forcing myself to get over that, because what I realised I was missing was that many fans really love experiencing some of those things they’d have ordinarily missed out on. The unpolished, fly-on-the-wall stuff, if you like.

“The bootlegs on Disc 2 really are just that! Bootleg recordings captured by loving fans, so by no means the polished, multi-track experience Disc 1 offers. The Secret Sari Sessions are great and showcase some of the Wild White Horses album tunes in a different, more unplugged format, whereas the recording of Firefly is a beautifully intimate recording of just Emily Lynn and me around the grand piano at the York St John University Chapel.

“After the tour, it was suggested that we make a live recording of that song as it was such a special moment in the set. I got talking to Chris Johnson about it and that’s when he offered to record us there. The secret part about that track is that we filmed it for a video too, but now it’s no longer a secret! Oops!.More on that soon.”

“Naturally, people are very scared at such uncertain times as these, but I felt strongly that I wanted to promote hope and an optimism that we would get through this,” says Heather

What have you been up to in lockdown and beyond? Recording at home, for example.

“Recording Here’s To You, Already Free and a new song, Solitaire, with just me and an acoustic guitar at home felt like an authentic 2020 snapshot, or time stamp if you like. I was really back home again, like everyone else, but as I’d never released anything that featured just me and my guitar before, I felt I wanted to capture that and offer it as a full circle moment in the Wild White Horses story, as that’s really how all of my songs actually begin.

“Solitaire was written around the same time as some of the Wild White Horses material, but being a different flavour didn’t quite fit with the rest of the album.

“It’s a song inspired by Solitaire, the mystical seer and tarot woman played by Jane Seymour in Live And Let Die. My kids and I went through a Roger Moore Bond phase around that time and Live And Let Die ended up being our favourite. I liked how the last song on the album, recorded in an unforeseeable, solo lockdown situation is actually called Solitaire!”

What else have you done?

“A bit before I got the idea to release Live White Horses, I’d been brainstorming, trying to come up with a way that I could help people while still staying at home. As a lone parent, I had to put caring for my two kids first – home-schooling and all! – so volunteering was out of the question.

“The idea then came to launch a campaign calledLove For Salewhereby I would send out free, signed ‘care package’ albums to fans who ordered them as cheer-up gifts for their friends and loved ones during lockdown. I offered ‘PS I Love You’s’ too, which were specially handwritten notes offered to someone’s loved one on their behalf.

“The campaign ran throughout the lockdown period and to my surprise I was totally inundated with orders. I loved that old-school connection with people that this brought. Actually writing in pen and ink! I think this is really what reinvigorated my faith in the power that music has to uplift and connect people.”

“There’s nothing that can replace that collective mood, or vibration if you like, of a live performance,” says Heather. Picture: David Harrison

What did you learn in lockdown?

“Despite the current restrictions imposed across music worldwide, I was just really grateful I was still in a position to both help in some way and to remain connected with the outside world in a way that avoided the darkness and drama that seemed to be taking hold of people.

“Naturally, people are very scared at such uncertain times as these, but I felt strongly that I wanted to promote hope and an optimism that we would get through this. This is also what gave me the idea to create something a bit more special and personalised for Live White Horses by offering dedications with the limited-edition version of the album. 

“Other than this, I also enjoyed gardening with the kids, planting veggies and cat mumming. I also revisited creating art here and there. I’ve always been intrigued by astrology too, so I also began studying Vedic astrology, which has been fascinating, and along with my yoga practice, another way to connect with India.” 

 What were your plans for 2020 before Covid-19 changed all that?

“In February, I had no idea how the rest of the year would pan out. The plans at that point were to film one more video in April with my friends Danny and Luke from Thunder and, come November, to go back out on tour.

“Of course, both of those plans were halted due to the outbreak of the pandemic. Like everyone, I’ve had to think outside of the box as to how to move forward at this time.

“Especially as in music many avenues remain blocked, so I’m even more grateful that the Universe appears to have delivered me a clear pathway forwards and lined it with a very supportive audience who are excited to hear what is on offer!”

What are your plans for the rest of the year or is everything up in the air?

“Well, as up in the air as much of life still is, with further touring being halted, Angela Gordon and I have decided it’s time to finally begin recording the long awaited, second Odin Dragonfly album, Sirens!

“We’ve been writing for it over the past few years on the back burner and alongside our other projects. Recording proper has kept being put off until we both have more time to give it its due.

“For me, now the Wild White Horses chapter is drawing to a close, it feels like that time is here. It’s a beautiful and mystical collection of songs, which strangely I’ve always envisioned getting stuck into the recording of once the leaves are turning and days are crispy, cold and witchy faery again… 

… “Somewhere between Faeryland and Jiffy Bag mountain is where you’ll find me!”

Soon to fly again: Heather Findlay and Angela Gordon are to record their second Odin Dragonfly album, Sirens

What did you do in lockdown? Here’s a kind word from motivational author Ian Donaghy

Author Ian Donaghy with the first edition of his new lockdown book, A Pocketful Of Kindness

TRAVEL back to times BC, before Covid.

Let York author, singer, event organiser, conference speaker and dementia care campaigner Ian Donaghy take up the story. “Imagine if we had been told on New Year’s Eve, ‘enjoy the next 12 weeks because, come March 2020, schools will close the gates,” he posits.

“Pub and restaurant curtains will be drawn and live music venues and theatres will be told the show mustn’t go on… and on top of that, there will be no cuddles allowed’.” 

Never has the world needed a bigger cuddle than in these uncharted waters, says Big Ian, whose response to lockdown inertia was to write a 229-page cuddle of a book entitled A Pocketful Of Kindness. 

“During lockdown, many people were furloughed, uncertain of their futures,” says Big Ian, larger-than-life host of such York community events as A Night To Remember at York Barbican and Xmas Presence, former school teacher and now a “key voice in care”.

On song: Ian Donaghy hosting A Night To Remember at York Barbican

“As a conference speaker, I suddenly realised the venues I usually fill with delegates, whether ExCeL London or the Harrogate Convention Centre, were now Covid-19 Nightingale hospitals. Everything I did on my public-speaker travels had disappeared.”

At his home, not far from the York Barbican, where his band Huge played the first ever show, a restless Ian needed to keep himself busy.

Noting the acts of kindness that were proliferating in lockdown, he hit on the idea of writing a pocket-sized book on that very subject.

He already had two all-life-is-here books to his name, firstly Dear Dementia, published in June 2014 and now available in libraries home and abroad.

Writer Ian Donaghy and director Gemma McDonald at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre box office when hatching their plan to convert The Missing Peace into a Rowntree Players production

Next, in December 2017, came The Missing Peace, Creating A Life After Death, whose transfer to the stage by Gemma McDonald and the Rowntree Players should have been playing the Joseph Rowntree Theatre this weekend.

The Missing Peace had taken three years from first thought to printing, a longer gestation than an elephant birth. Come 2020, he had so many heart-warming stories bubbling away, waiting to be told, he felt compelled to put finger to keyboard once more, and lockdown’s quietitude allowed him a more concentrated focus, a much faster turnaround.

“Like many people, I like to work from a finish line backwards, so I needed to create a finish line. Not just a raison d’etre, but a raison d’aider, to help people in this difficult time,” says Big Ian, whose 50th birthday fell in those shutdown weeks.

York pianist Kieran White as he appears in the story A Fish Out Of Water

“So, after transforming the garden and doing some pretty shoddy decorating, I reflected on what was important in this new simplified world.

“The world had stopped, giving us a rare period of clarity – an opportunity to reflect, to see who and what really matters in our lives and who and what doesn’t.”

He set about writing stories from his experiences in dementia care; teaching young people with learning difficulties; working in crime reduction for the Home Office and 30 years as a showman singer, fronting bands in his native North East, Yorkshire and Nottingham.

The book combines short stories, monologues and TED Talk-style chapters highlighting the virtues and power that kindness has had in transforming people’s lives.

Sir Bobby Robson: The subject of Ian’s story A League Of His Own

Page after page of true stories, full of humour, revelation, wry observation and pathos too, recount  the deeds of England and Newcastle United manager Sir Bobby Robson, Irish boxer Barry McGuigan, American blues guitarist Robert Cray and an army of selfless people you will “never have heard of but will want to meet”.

Big Ian’s celebration of kindness attracted award-winning Private Eye cartoonist Tony Husband, who provided a cartoon, such was his belief in the inspirational project.

“The idea behind the book is that you gift it to someone who has made a huge impact in your life with their acts of kindness who may not realise it,” says Big Ian. “This enables you to reflect on who has helped get you where you are today.”

Seventy stories in total, they will make you laugh, cry and think in equal measure, promises Big Ian, whose storytelling elan has prompted one reviewer to call him “an Alan Bennett for the 21st century, who finds tomorrow’s charm and nostalgia in today”.

Kieran White’s reaction on being gifted a copy of A Pocketful Of Kindness

A Pocketful Of Kindness is available only from bigian.co.uk and is proving popular already, selling 1,500 copies in its first week, based solely on word of mouth.

“Many companies have bought bespoke versions of the book with their company logos to show their employees how appreciated they are,” says Big Ian.

Summing up his philosophy in advocating a championing of kindness, he says:

“Look back on your life and think…

Who believed in you?

Who pushed you?

Who said, ‘If there’s anything you want, I’m here’….and actually backed it up.

Who asked you how you were and waited for an answer?

Tony Husband’s cartoon, Be Kind, gifted to Ian Donaghy for A Pocketful Of Kindness

Who inspired you?

Who believed in you when even you didn’t?

Who gave you your standards?

Who made time for you despite being so busy?

Who was kind when the world was not?

Think who helped make you.

Who would you send the book to?”

Inevitably influenced by being written in lockdown, A Pocketful Of Kindness is “a book for our times”. “As its centre-piece, it even features a chapter called Stop The World I Want To Get Off about the chaos 2020 has dealt us all,” says Ian.

“But now I predict a new pandemic that I’ve already witnessed in communities and in care homes that I think won’t need a vaccine, as I expect the result to read: Covid 19 Kindness 20.”

Pocketed: Book editor Charles Hutchinson shows off his reward for suffering Ian Donaghy’s “punktuation”

AS an act of kindness in the lockdown lull, Ian Donaghy asked yours truly to edit some stories that he wanted to turn into a book.

As an act of kindness, CH said ‘Yes’…and so the to and fro and fro and to of 70 stories began.

As an act of cruelty, Ian subjected CH to his erratic punctuation, or “punktuation”, as his father has so aptly described it.

As an act of generosity, ex-Maths teacher Ian put up with being judged as if for a school report, story after story.

Now, however, the result can be yours, courtesy of Big Ian providing five copies to be awarded to recipients for the five best reasons to do so, honouring acts of kindness you want to showcase.

Send those brief stories of kind deeds to charles.hutchinson104@gmail.com, marked Kindness Acts, with your name, address and daytime phone number, by September 13.

Who deserves a copy of A Pocketful Of KIndness? Have your say by sending your suggestion and reason to charles.hutchinson104@gmail.com

REVIEW: Big Ian’s A Night To Remember at York Barbican…and what a night it was!

Heather Findlay, left, Jess Steel, Beth McCarthy and Annie Donaghy relishing I Feel Like A Woman at A Night To Remember. Picture: David Harrison

REVIEW: Big Ian’s A Night To Remember, York Barbican, February 29

DEMENTIA is a team game, says Ian Donaghy, now as much a motivational speaker at conferences as a showman, fundraiser and event host.

Not only Dementia Projects in York, but also St Leonard’s Hospice, Bereaved Children’s Support in York and Accessible Arts and Media benefit from these nights to remember.

Saturday, sold out as ever, was the eighth such night, nights that had raised £150,000 so far. Big Ian is yet to confirm this year’s total, but £5,700 was taken in bucket collections alone.

Torch singer! Big Ian Donaghy has the phones out for Lionel Richie’s Hello at A Night To Remember at York Barbican. Picture: David Harrison

Yes, the fundraising is important, but Big Ian puts the fun into that fundraising, as well as the heart and soul, in a community event that, no matter what hell of a world is going on outside right now, always brings out the best in York.

Here’s the news, delivered in a specially recorded Look North spoof bulletin from Phil Bodmer, devotee of Big Ian’s Guestlist nights at York Racecourse. This would be the biggest gathering of A Night To Remember yet: not only the old father time of musical directors, George Hall, on keyboards with his band of bass, guitars, drums and percussion, but 14 brass players to boot, four from Big Ian’s band Huge and a whole heap of shiny young players from York Music Forum, gathered under the tutelage of Ian Chalk.

What’s more, the musicians and singers had an 80-year age range, from those fledgling brass talents to 93-year-old Barbara from the Singing For All choir, a force of nature who summed up everything joyful about this celebration of the power of music throughout our lives.

River deep, mountain high: Graham Hodge conquering Cry Me A River. Picture: David Harrison

Big Ian took the lead, brass assisted, on Elton John’s I’m Still Standing and, yes, he would still be standing three hours later, still urging us to fill those buckets.

Simon Snaize’s rendition of Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer, with the brass section  breathing fire, was an early highlight; Boss Caine’s mine-deep voiced Dan Lucas turned Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 from daytime to night-time hours; Jess Steel, as vital to these nights as Big Ian, climbed the first of several vocal mountains with Barbra Streisand’s The Way We Were.

Songs were interspersed with Dementia-themed video clips, usually recorded on Ian’s phone, some bringing tears, others cheers, all indeed making it a team game.

Thank you for the music: A Night To Remember’s singers and musicians take a bow at the finale. Picture: David Harrison.

Kieran O’Malley’s fiddle bow was a wand of magic whenever he played, whoever he accompanied; Heather Findlay and Simon Snaize’s duet for Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain had exactly The Chain reaction it deserved, guitar solo and all.

Ken Sanderson, alias Las Vegas Ken, normally restricts himself to a solo slot, but for the first time, he was joined by Hall’s band, at Big Ian’s urging: another hit at this “Gang Show with people we really like”.

Later, a fellow staple of these shows, 6ft 3 folk stalwart Graham Hodge, newly turned 70, would be seen as never seen before, again at Donaghy’s suggestion, as he eschewed folk balladry for a dinner jacket to knock Cry Me A River out of the park with the vocal performance of the night. Better than Bublé? No troublé!

Jessa Liversidge, front, centre, leads one and all in I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing..and she did! Picture: David Harrison.

What better way to open the second half than radiant York singer Jessa Liversidge leading her Singing For All group, ebullient Barbara and all, in fact all the audience, as we sang I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing. In perfect harmony, of course! “I’m a bit c**p these days,” said Barbara, but singing is about so much more than the act of singing, and you could see how much it means to her after all these years.

From Annie Donaghy’s Careless Whisper to Beth McCarthy’s U2 and Guns N’Roses mash-up, Hope & Social’s Gary Stewart turning into Paul Simon for You Can Call Me Al, to Annie, Beth, Heather and Jess, all in black  and white, for Shania Twain’s I Feel Like A Woman, the show-stoppers kept coming.

Out came the phone torches on Big Ian’s command for Lionel Richie’s Hello and a big, big finale followed up the apt Don’t You Forget About Me with Jess does Dusty for You Don’t Have To Say You Love M and, what’s this? A video message of support from Rick Astley that arrived in Ian’s in-box from Sydney, Australia, at quarter to five that morning.

Cue a Never Gonna Give You Up singalong, and no, you just know Big Ian is never gonna give up on these special nights, his belief in making every life vibrant and vital to the last. Well done big fella, well done sound techie Craig Rothery, well done York.

Even the audience’s shoes were shining stars on A Night To Remember at York Barbican on Leap Year Saturday

Charles Hutchinson

Last chance for tickets for Big Ian’s charity fundraiser A Night To Remember

Annie Donaghy, Big Ian Donaghy, Beth McCarthy, Heather Findlay and Jess Steel at A Night To Remember in 2019 at York Barbican. Picture: Karen Boyes

A NIGHT To Remember, tomorrow’s charity concert at York Barbican, has sold out but any returned or cancelled tickets will go on sale this morning from 10am.

Now in its eighth year, this annual fundraising event helps good causes in the city to make a difference, as organiser and host Big Ian Donaghy brings together “the finest musicians and singers for a gang show like no other”.

Tomorrow night, all the singers will perform as an ensemble exceeding its constituent parts. “When you have a dream team on the stage, it seems a shame to not use them, so everybody sings on everybody else’s songs,” reasons Big Ian.

Jess Steel: taking on “near-impossibly demanding songs” at York Barbican

A Night To Remember lets singers take on their favourite songs. “Soulful Jess Steel will take on a Dusty Springfield classic, as well as other near-impossibly demanding songs that she’ll deliver in the manner she’s now well known for.

“Heather Findlay will bring her class into the mix, performing two of her favourite songs,” says Big Ian.

Beth McCarthy, who made her debut at the Mount School when Big Ian ran a School of Rock concert there, will be stepping out of her comfort zone to rock the Barbican foundations.

Beth McCarthy: “Stepping out of her comfort zone to rock the Barbican foundations”

Annie Donaghy will put her spin on a George Michael classic on a night when the set list will feature covers of Dusty Springfield, Shania Twain, Simple Minds, Paul Simon, Michael Buble, Guns N’ Roses, Barbra Streisand, Peter Gabriel, Elton John and Marvin Gaye classics, as well as a few surprises.

York singer Jessa Liversidge will lead her fully inclusive Singing For All choir, a group with members aged up to 98, who will sing The New Seekers’ I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing.

Among the men, Graham Hodge will “venture into very different areas” as he celebrates his 70th birthday; gravel-voiced Boss Caine, alias Dan Lucas, will tackle a country favourite that nobody would ever guess; Hope & Social’s Gary Stewart will play the congas, as well as singing a Paul Simon rouser.

Jessa Liversidge: bringing her Singing For All choir to York Barbican

The gig’s house band will be led by York music stalwart George Hall, joined by powerhouse duo Rob Wilson and Simon Snaize on guitar duty.

“This year, the show has a bigger, brassier feel with a 12-piece brass section, made up of Kempy, Pete, Stu and Chalky from my band Huge, being joined by funk horns and brass players from York Music Forum, ranging in age from 13 to 18, led by Ian Chalk,” says Big Ian.

He also promises “ground-breaking, heart-warming and heart-breaking films” to raise dementia awareness. “Watch out for surprise appearances, as previous years have included messages from Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer, The Hairy Bikers, Rick Astley, Nick Knowles, Anton du Beke and Kaiser Chiefs’ Ricky Wilson,” he says.

Oh, what A Night To Remember as singers and musicians gather at the finale of last year’s fund-raising concert at York Barbican. Picture: Ravage

“But the real reason these musicians come together is to help St Leonard’s Hospice, Dementia Projects in York, Bereaved Children Support York and Accessible Arts & Media.”

Any returned or cancelled tickets for tomorrow’s 7.30pm concert will be on sale on 0203 356 5441, at yorkbarbican.co.uk or in person from the Barbican box office.

Big Ian’s A Night To Remember leaps into action for charities at York Barbican

Annie Donaghy, Big Ian Donaghy, Beth McCarthy, Heather Findlay and Jess Steel at A Night To Remember in 2019 at York Barbican. Picture: Karen Boyes

AS New Year’s resolutions wane and gym memberships become a direct debit, a group of York musicians start their boot camp of rehearsals for A Night To Remember.

Now in its eighth year, the annual fundraising event helps good causes in the city to make a difference.

Organiser and host Big Ian Donaghy brings together “the finest musicians and singers for a gang show like no other” at York Barbican.

“This year’s show is so jam packed with quality that we’ve had to create another day to fit it in: Saturday, February 29, in the leap year of 2020!” says Big Ian.

Heather Findlay performing at last year’s A Night To Remember fundraiser. Picture: David Harrison

Unlike other shows, A Night To Remember has all the singers performing as an ensemble exceeding all of its constituent parts.

“When you have a dream team on the stage, it seems a shame to not use them, so everybody sings on everybody else’s songs,” says Big Ian.

“It’s become a big musical family – and there’s some range on stage! For example, festival superstar Kieran O’Malley, on fiddle, could power the entire night with his energetic performance leading the crowd like a pied piper,” says Big Ian.

A Night To Remember lets singers take on their favourite songs. “In previous years, no song has been off limits. Last year saw the cast rise to the challenge of Bohemian Rhapsody in its entirety, something not even Queen tackled!

Jess Steel: taking on “near-impossible demanding songs” at York Barbican. Picture: David Harrison

“Soulful Jess Steel will take on a Dusty Springfield classic, as well as other near-impossible demanding songs that she’ll deliver in the manner she’s now well known for.

“Heather Findlay, fresh back from a sell-out UK tour, brings her class into the mix,  performing two of her favourite songs.

“Overall, you should expect showbiz, expect boundless energy, expect the unexpected.”

The gig’s house band will be led by York music stalwart George Hall, joined by powerhouse duo Rob Wilson and Simon Snaize on guitar duty.

The poster for A Night To Remember 2020

Look out for Beth McCarthy, who made her debut at the Mount School when Big Ian ran a School of Rock concert there. “I still call him ‘Mr D’ as he was my teacher,” says Beth, who will be stepping out of her comfort zone to rock the Barbican foundations.

Graham Hodge will “venture into very different areas as he celebrates his 70th birthday”. Gravel-voiced Boss Caine, alias Dan Lucas, will tackle a country favourite that nobody would ever guess.

Hope & Social’s Gary Stewart will play the congas, as well as singing a Paul Simon rouser.

York singer Jessa Liversidge will bring  her fully inclusive Singing For All choir, a group with members aged up to 98.

Beth McCarthy: “Stepping out of her comfort zone to rock the Barbican foundations”

“This choir is all about bringing people together to combat loneliness and celebrate a love of music with rehearsals that are very tea and cake heavy,” says Jessa.

“I love Jessa’s passionate, positive approach to bringing the community together, so it was an obvious fit to raise the choir’s profile and show the city just how fantastic they are,” says Big Ian.

“So much, so we’ll have them singing The New Seekers’ I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing.”

Annie Donaghy will put her spin on a George Michael classic on a night when the set list will feature covers of Dusty Springfield, Shania Twain, Simple Minds, Paul Simon, Michael Buble, Guns N’ Roses, Barbra Streisand, Peter Gabriel, Elton John and Marvin Gaye classics, as well as a few surprises.

Oh, what A Night To Remember as singers and musicians gather at the finale of last year’s fund-raising concert at York Barbican. Picture: Ravage

“This year, the show has a bigger, brassier feel with a 12-piece brass section, made up of Kempy, Pete, Stu and Chalky from my band Huge, being joined by funk horns and brass players from York Music Forum, ranging in age from 13 to 18, led by Ian Chalk,” says Big Ian.

“We’re celebrating the young talent in the city within the brass section and putting them alongside singers up to 98 years old. Music has no age limit. It is for all of us!”

Possibly the most important man on the night will be sound engineer Craig Rothery, who has the unenviable task of mixing this leviathan of a line-up.

“Craigy is a phenomenal sound engineer, who mixed the launch event for the Tour de France at Leeds First Direct Arena that was viewed by millions. Craig is so much more than a safe pair of hands; he’s the cement that holds us together,” says Big Ian.

Graham Hodge in action at last year’s A Night To Remember concert

He also promises “ground-breaking, heart-warming and heart-breaking films” to raise dementia awareness. “Watch out for surprise appearances, as previous years have included messages from Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer, The Hairy Bikers, Rick Astley, Nick Knowles, Anton du Beke and Kaiser Chiefs’ Ricky Wilson,” he says.

“But the real reason these musicians come together is to help St Leonard’s Hospice, Dementia Projects in York, Bereaved Children Support York and Accessible Arts & Media.”

Jo Cole, of Bereaved Children Support, says: “As well as helping us fund one-to-one counselling, A Night To Remember has raised our profile, so families who desperately needed us to help now know where we are.”

Working the crowd: A Night To Remember host Ian Donaghy

Emma Johnson, of St Leonard’s Hospice, says: “Big Ian and the team have provided invaluable help for years, making such a difference in the city.”

Big Ian, who speaks all over Europe about dementia care, concludes: “Dementia awareness and the difference we can make by bringing community together is the envy of many cities around the UK.

“We throw everything into this evening. It takes months of hard work and phenomenally talented people working tirelessly. I’m so proud to be part of this team.”

Tickets are available at £17.55 and £15 on 0203 356 5441, at yorkbarbican.co.uk or in person from the Barbican box office.

The 7.30pm show is being sponsored by Haxby Group and Care Shop.

Singers, musicians and the York Barbican audience pose for a group selfie after last year’s concert