BEN Folds occupies his own unique space in the music firmament with his uncannily tuneful, wry and sarcastic tunes. Aged 56, he’s late in making his York debut but it was worth the wait. The future Folds could hardly wait for 30 years ago is now here, and he is wearing it well.
This has been a tour of highs and lows. The Grand Opera House sits on the same itinerary as the Royal Albert Hall but we very nearly didn’t see him. Tendinitis in his left arm has forced Folds to cancel his solo shows. This injury didn’t get a mention – and the energy levels on stage were high but may partly explain why the roof stayed on at the end.
When North Carolina pianist and songwriter Folds burst into our lives in the mid-1990s with the Ben Folds Five (ironically, a trio), his approach was a refreshing potpourri of punk, Jerry Lee Lewis piano and a White Stripes attitude.
Now in his mid-50s, Folds’ music has evolved. The wit in his lyrics is still very much there, but that sophistication is more clearly reflected musically too; with his tunes full of interesting twists and arrangements, like an alt-pop Bacharach or the realisation of where Elliot Smith may have been heading (particularly striking on Annie Waits).
Fortunately, Folds had an absolutely crack band for this tour; visually and musically at the top of their game. Folds sat stage left, while to the right bass player Mandy Clarke was a black-and-white pulsing thrum of energy, contrasting with multi-instrumentalist Ross Garron with his salt-and-pepper beard.
Behind Folds were the Tall Trees (Tim Harrington and Paul Wright), who provided many of the musical highlights in the 18-song setlist. On guitar and cello, they also sang superlative harmonies.
Showcasing tunes from June’s What Matters Most, Folds’ fifth studio album, this was not some Nineties’ nostalgia greatest hits show. The new album was chipped out of Covid, when Folds taught songwriting online (at least two of his students were in the audience).
Where many artists resist explaining their songs, Folds was the opposite, providing a fascinating glimpse into how his leftfield creative juices work. Kristina From The Seventh Grade was a standout although Exhausting Lover pitched for midlife Beck and fell short.
What Matters Most sounded a little workmanlike, not achieving the heft the title demands. The introduction to the song was exemplary, taking us from laughs to pathos with perfect timing.
Well-chosen forays into his back catalogue also gave the audience a chance to shine, on the money as Regina Spektor on You Don’t Know Me, as well as three-part harmonies on Zak And Sarah that made Folds smile (I think kindly, rather than in sympathy).
As we filed happily out afterwards, the Tall Trees continued to play in the street with the flooded River Ouse to one side – an original touch to put the cap on a fine evening’s entertainment.
POLITICAL dramas, a heap of big comedy names, a newly revived Eighties’ band and a belated American debut will keep Charles Hutchinson out and about.
Controversial play of the week: The Merchant Of Venice 1936, York Theatre Royal, Tuesday to Saturday, 7.30pm, plus 2pm Thursday and 2.30pm Saturday matinees
WATFORD Palace Theatre’s ground-breaking touring production of Shakespeare’s The Merchant Of Venice has been adapted and directed by Brigid Larmour from an original idea by co-creator and actress Tracy-Ann Oberman.
As the tide of fascism swells in 1936, Oberman’s Shylock is a strong-willed single mother who runs a pawnbroking business from her house in Cable Street, where Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts will soon march. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
Comedy at the treble at Grand Opera House, York: Dave Gorman, Monday, 7.30pm; Ross Noble, Wednesday, 8pm; Paul Smith, 7.30pm
DAVE Gorman’s Powerpoint To The People show aims to demonstrate that a powerpoint presentation need not involve a man in a grey suit standing behind a lectern and saying “next slide please”. Far more important things demand analysis, he urges.
Geordie surrealist Ross Noble returns to York on his 21st tour, Jibber Jabber Jamboree, for another journey into inspired, improvised nonsensical comedy with detours galore. Paul Smith’s Joker gig, full of audience interaction and everyday true stories, has sold out. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.
Exhibition launch of the week: Not Black Friday But Colour Friday!, Kentmere House Gallery, Scarcroft Hill, York, until December 22
ORIGINAL art by more than 70 artists features in the Christmas exhibition at Kentmere House Gallery. “Among them is Jonathan Hooper, a Leeds painter deservedly becoming recognised, winning awards and now showing in London and at the Millenium Gallery in Sheffield,” says gallery owner and curator Ann Petherick.
“Then there’s Susan Bower, a Marmite painter – most love her, a few don’t! Look out for Andrew Morris’s delightful view of Knaresborough’s marketplace. We have new work arriving all the time.” Open any day, 11am to 5pm; ring 01904 656507 or 07801 810825 or take pot luck.
Tribute show of the week: The Chicago Blues Brothers, Cruisin’ For A Bluesin’ Tour, Grand Opera House, York, November 12, 7.30pm
JOIN Jake and Elwood, The Sweet Soul Sisters and the amazing CBB Band for a hand-clapping, foot-stomping, hard-hitting night of soul, rhythm & blues, country and Motown. Expect exuberant spirit, irresistible energy and even a few surprises. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.
Premiere of the week: Lumar Productions in Sea Stones, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, Tuesday to Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee
AFTER eight novels and a regular column in The York Press, Tim Murgatroyd has written his debut play, an emotional, suspenseful night of the soul when four people are brought together in a lonely house by the sea.
Two fathers. Two daughters. Each confronted with the consequences of the past as a high tide is turning and tests to their relationships are escalating. Tests that might cost them not only their dearest hopes and loves, but their very lives. “The truth can set you free. Or drown you,” says Murgatroyd. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.
Double act of the week:Wright & Grainger in Orpheus, Rise@Bluebird Bakery, Acomb, York, Wednesday, 7pm to 9pm
ALEXANDER Flanagan Wright and Phil Grainger’s Greek myth adaptation in spoken word and song heads to Rise after Adelaide Fringe award-winning success in Australia and at the Edinburgh Fringe, as well as back home at Stillington Mill.
Dave is turning 30. Eurydice is a tree nymph. Bruce Springsteen is on the karaoke. Cue a tale of dive bars, side streets, ancient gods and how far you would go for love. Box office: bluebirdbakery.co.uk/rise.
Gig of the week: Ben Folds, What Matters Most Tour, Grand Opera House, York, Thursday,7.30pm
AT 57, North Carolina pianist, songwriter, author and podcast host Ben Folds plays his debut York show in support of What Matters Most, his first studio album since 2015.
At the only Yorkshire gig of his nine-date British and Irish tour, Folds will be combining his new material with songs from his 35-year career. Guitarist and singer Lau Noah, from Catalonia via New York, is the support act. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.
Jazz gig of the week: Snake Davis & Friends, Pocklington Arts Centre, Thursday, 8pm
JAZZ At PAC presents Snake Davis, saxophonist to the stars, from Paul McCartney, James Brown, Tina Turner and Eurythmics to Take That, Amy Winehouse, M-People and Lisa Stansfield.
First making his mark in York band Zoot & The Roots, Davis plays not only the saxophone family, but flutes, whistles and an ancient Japanese wind instrument, the Shakuhachi, too. Box office: 01759 301547 or pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.
Fantastic day to see: Haircut 100, York Barbican, Friday, 8pm
NICK Heyward’s short-lived Brit-funk band Haircut 100 are back together after more than 40 years, following up May’s Pelican West 40th anniversary shows in London and Oxford with the 15-date Haircut 100% Live tour that ends in York, their only Yorkshire location.
“We are coming back with a tour to beat all tours this autumn,” says Beckenham-born Heyward, now 62. “All the hits that you love [Favourite Shirts (Boys And Girls), Love Plus One, Fantastic Day et al] and new tracks that we are bursting to share with you.” The support act will be Brighton band of brothers Barbara. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
Lovely jubbly look-ahead: Only Fools And Horses The Musical, Grand Opera House, York, November 5 to 9 2024
DIRECT from a four-year sold-out West End run, Only Fools And Horses The Musical is heading to York in Paul Whitehouse and Jim Sullivan’s show, based on John Sullivan’s record-breaking 1980s’ BBC comedy.
Directed by Caroline Jay Ranger, it features a script and original score by John’s son and Whitehouse, bringing Peckham rogues Del Boy, Rodney, Grandad, Cassandra, Raquel, Boycie, Marlene, Trigger, Denzil, Mickey Pearce, Mike the Barman and the Driscoll Brothers to the stage with wide-boy humour and 20 songs. Bonnet de douche! Box office: atgtickets.co.uk.
Recommended but sold out already
THREE nights, three sell-outs for South Shields humorist Sarah Millican at York Barbican from November 14 to 16 on her Late Bloomer tour, where she discusses Sarah then and now, dinners and lady gardens at 8pm nightly. Come along, laugh at her, with her, beside her, reads the invitation.
In Focus: Best dog in show: Zeus the collie collars role in Jack And The Beanstalk
YOUNG Kennel Club Crufts trophy winner Zeus has won a lead role in this winter’s pantomime at York Theatre Royal.
The six-year-old Border Collie, from York, will make his stage debut alongside EastEnders star Nina Wadia, returnee panto dame Robin Simpson and CBBC’s Raven star James Mackenzie in Jack And The Beanstalk from December 8 to January 7 2024.
A theatre spokesperson says: “Zeus’s amazing audition gave us all paws for thought. He’s a natural stage performer whose dogged determination to win the role was a real tail-wagging moment.”
Already Zeus is a winner on the canine stage with three Young Kennel Club Crufts trophies to his credit. Those closest to him say he is very agile and loves to play but has an “off switch”and likes to wind down too.
Pantomime director Juliet Forster was delighted to hear that Zeus is “very eager to please, playful and up for learning” as she will be training him for his acting debut.
Zeus loves cream cheese, squeezy cheese too, and sometimes has carrots for breakfast. He eats at the table and even has his own chair. His favourite toys are balls and he has a collection of soft toys.
Zeus enjoys rounding up horses but not, as you might expect from a Border Collie, rounding up sheep. He is, however, best friends with two sheep, Maisie Midnight Fluffington and Wallace.
He is yet to meet cows but will have his first close encounter with the bovine world in the rehearsal room as one of his co-stars will be Dave the Cow.
Dave is a rare breed of pantomime cow. “You’d almost think Dave is human,” says York actor and musician Anna Soden, who will inhabit the role on her own, rather than the usual two people squeezed uncomfortably into a cow costume.
Writer Paul Hendy, director of York Theatre Royal’s producing partner Evolution Productions, says: “In 19 years of writing and producing pantomimes, we’ve never had a human cow before. We wanted to do something different and director Juliet Forster was very open to that. It makes more opportunities in the show for the cow. It’s a much bigger part than usual. Dave is very much one of the gang.
“Our company is called Evolution for a reason: we are constantly evolving. One of the reasons pantomime has survived for 150 years or more is that it changes. There has to be a formula but within that you have to be original.”
Evolution is producing three Jack And The Beanstalk pantomimes around the country this winter. York has Dave; the shows at The Grove, Dunstable (starring EastEnders’ Steve McFadden, by the way), and Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury, will have a more traditional cow.
Meanwhile, the Theatre Royal’s legendary pantomime cow Patrica is heading for pastures new this Christmas with a role in Bridlington Spa Theatre’s pantomime, Beauty And The Beast.
Patricia’s career has taken in television appearances in The Crystal Maze with pantomime stalwart Christopher Biggins and Bargain Hunt, as well as starring in her own series of moo-vies on You Tube.
York Theatre Royal presents Jack And The Beanstalk, December 8 to January 7 2024. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
NORTH Carolina pianist, songwriter, author and podcast host Ben Folds will play the Grand Opera House, York, on his What Matters Most Tour this autumn.
Tickets for the 56-year-old American’s November 16 gig – his first ever York show – will go on sale tomorrow morning (22/2/2023) at atgtickets.com/york.
Making his name fronting the alt-rock trio Ben Folds Five, his genre-bending music has taken in collaborations and special projects.
Folds tours as a pop artist, while also performing with some of the world’s greatest symphony orchestras and serving since 2017 as the first ever artistic advisor to the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, New York.
Frequently he guest-stars in film and on television, latterly appearing as himself in three episodes of the Amazon Prime series The Wilds. Last year he received an Emmy nomination for his new theme song for The Peanuts Apple TV special, It’s The Small Things, Charlie Brown.
As an advocate for the arts, he serves on the board of the Arts Action Fund, Planet Word and the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. In his home state, he has launched a music education initiative for children.
In 2019, he released his memoir, A Dream About Lightning Bugs, with a second book on its way. In 2021, he launched his podcast, Lightning Bugs.
On June 2, Folds will release What Matters Most, his first studio album since his 2015 collaboration with the string ensemble yMusic, on New West Records.
“There’s a lifetime of craft and experience all focused into this one record,” says Folds. “Sonically, lyrically, emotionally, I don’t think it’s an album I could have made at any other point in my career.”
Recorded in East Nashville and co-produced by Folds with Joe Pisapia, this “bold, timely, cinematic” work spans the bittersweet to the tragic, despair to hopefulness, the title track being inspired by Folds’s late friend, the actor and comedian Bob Saget.
“I come from the vinyl era, and this perhaps more than any record I’ve made is a true album,” says Folds. “There’s a very specific sequence and arc to each side, all building up to this almost surreal positive finale, and that structure was really important to me.
“More than anything, I wanted to make an album that was generous, that was useful. I want you to finish this record with something you didn’t have when you started.”
The track listing is: But Wait, There’s More; Clouds With Ellipses (featuring dodie); Exhausting Lover; Fragile; Kristine From The 7th Grade; Back To Anonymous; first single Winslow Gardens; Paddleboat; What Matters Most and Moments (feat. Tall Heights)
On the What Matters Most tour, Folds will combine his new album with songs from his 35-year career. Guitarist and singer Lau Noah, from Catalonia via New York, will open the shows.
York will be the only Yorkshire gig on the 2023 tour’s nine-date British and Irish leg in November.