Artist Sue Clayton captures ‘the feeling, the atmosphere, the experience’ of the Tent of Hope, Askham Bar’s vaccination centre

Tent Of Hope: Sue Clayton’s commissioned painting of the NHS York Vaccination Centre at Askham Bar, York. Plans are afoot for prints and postcards to be made available to raise funds for a charity. Watch this space.

YORK artist Sue Clayton has unveiled a specially commissioned painting of the “Tent Of Hope” at the NHS York Vaccination Centre at Askham Bar.

Sue has picked out members of the Nimbuscare teams that work there to feature in the pen-and-wash work, joined on the canvas by the cat that makes daily visits to the site.

The work is on show in the tent that has administered 200,000 jabs, one in every 250 in Britain so far, with the full repertoire of Oxford/AstraZeneka, Pfizer and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines available.

On view too for those attending a vaccine appointment is Sue’s portrait exhibition of children and young adults with Down Syndrome, entitled 21, presented in association with Pocklington Arts Centre (PAC) until Sunday, June 13.

Nimbuscare’s director of quality and patient experience, Michelle Phillips, says: “It’s a huge privilege to have this very special art here at the Vaccination Centre. We’re especially delighted with the unique painting Sue has done for us. Thanks to everyone who has helped make it happen.” 

“We wanted to encapsulate the feeling, the atmosphere, the experience, in the Tent of Hope,” says Nimbuscare director of quality and patient experience Michelle Phillips

Standing beside the painting, Michelle adds: “We wanted to encapsulate the feeling, the atmosphere, the experience, in the Tent of Hope, where we try to not make it feel like a factory production line, like a turkey on a conveyor belt, but instead make it very much about everyone playing their part in the community. That’s why we call it ‘the tent of hope’ because the vaccine has been the turning of the tide.

“We wanted to find a local artist to express their interpretation of that experience, and I found Sue through a mutual friend.

“She was immediately excited and even more so when we met to chat about what we wanted from the painting, what the vaccination centre means to us, and what a variety of people work here: from the foundation-year doctors, nurses, retired [medic] returnees and health-care assistants to ambulance staff, security services, volunteers from all walks of life, and the military services at the start. Sue has come up with an amazing piece of art.”

Sue takes up the story: “I believe the recommendation to Michelle came from Big Ian Donaghy – Ian was one of the six York Heroes I painted in 2018 – making a nice full circle celebrating our heroes,” she says.

The commission brief was “quite open”, being left to her interpretation. “I immediately felt it should be a joyous watercolour; I wanted something almost whimsical…a definite celebration piece,” she says. 

“It was important to me to try to represent a member from each team that works there: the volunteers, marshals, nurses, doctors, army medics, plus a whole host more.

Artist Sue Clayton, site manager Will McEvoy and Nimbuscare director Michelle Phillips with the Tent Of Hope painting

“It was also important to speak to staff about what they felt about working there and I also spoke to friends about their feelings when visiting the tent.”

Sue enjoys the “quirky side” too. “That’s why the little black-and-white cat who visits the tent site each day is there, as is the much-appreciated tea trolley for the staff,” she says. 

“The finished piece shows the tent, celebratory rainbow-coloured splashes festooning the blue sky, and we see a little vignette of a vaccinator at work and various personnel, all socially distanced, of course!  It’s a pen-and-wash piece with the pen purposefully relaxed, almost in a ‘wibbly-wobbly’ fashion to add a sense of fun.”

The accompanying 21 exhibition was presented previously on the railings of All Saints’ Church, Pocklington, from March 19 to April 19 and comes a year after Sue held her studio show, Downright Marvellous At Large, at PAC, giant pair of hand-knitted odd socks and all.

Sue, a portrait artist with a vibrant colour palette and a social purpose, chose the theme of 21, not only to mark World Down Syndrome Day on March 21 but also to symbolise the extra 21st chromosome that people with Down Syndrome have, her energetic son James among them. 

“The PAC initiative of holding the outdoor exhibition was just so perfect, Covid-safe, free to access and inclusive, and it was a huge success on its first showing in Pocklington town centre,” says Sue. 

Sue Clayton’s portrait of Holly from her 21 exhibition of children and young adults who have Down Syndrome

“There was such a great reaction. I’ve had people sending in photos of themselves by the portraits. It was brilliant to be sent photos of the models themselves, by their portraits. 

“I know for many families it became a trip out – it was great that there was an ice-cream parlour at the end of the exhibition! I had a very proud moment with my kids as I heard some lovely comments from passers-by, discussing the portraits with no knowledge that I had painted them.”

PAC director Janet Farmer says: “We always enjoy working with Sue on staging her striking exhibitions at PAC, so it’s been absolutely fantastic to be able to continue sharing her inspirational work with the public in the midst of the pandemic by taking the exhibition outdoors. 

“It’s been brilliant to see so many people enjoying the opportunity to engage with art at this time, and we’re looking forward to sharing it with many more people as we bring the exhibition to the NHS York Vaccination Centre.”

The 21 posterboards are all-weather and ideal for transferring to other locations, hence Sue and Pocklington Arts Centre’s shared enthusiasm for touring the exhibition after the reaction to the Pocklington run.

 NHS York Vaccination Centre site manager Will McEvoy, Nimbuscare director of quality and patient experience Michelle Phillips, artist Sue Clayton and Pocklington Arts Centre director Janet Farmer at the unveiling of 21

“The idea to bring it to the Vaccination Centre came about just in conversation with Michelle really: a lovely correlation of discussing when I would present the commission piece and me saying I would love to show ’21’ in York, if only I could think of a venue. A lightbulb moment!” says Sue.

“When Sue offered us the 21 exhibition, we jumped at the opportunity,” says Michelle. “There’s so much colour in the portraits, and the way they have transformed the tent is amazing.”

Among the 21 portraits is Andrew, the son of a Nimbuscare vaccinator, lead nurse Theresa Ollerenshaw. “I’ve known Sue since Andrew was a baby and she’s been doing inspiring art ever since I’ve known her,” she says.

“She’s spreading awareness of Down Syndrome, and so many people are going to see these portraits when ordinarily they wouldn’t. I love how they capture young people enjoying life. It’s going to be very strange coming in and seeing Andrew whenever I’m in here!”

“Andrew was one of the new pen and ink portraits I did in lockdown,” says Sue. “With Andrew having beautiful Titian red hair, I just wanted to capture that, and it’s been a joy to be able to sit down and do these portraits, listening to BBC Sounds.”

Nimbuscare vaccinator Theresa Ollerenshaw stands beside Sue Clayton’s portrait of her son Andrew from the 21 exhibition at the NHS York Vaccination Centre

Now, two new options are in the pipeline for 21. “Hopefully, Hull Waterside & Marina and Bradford…so far,” says Sue. “More immediately, a short video of the exhibition is going to be featured in a pop-up art show at Kirkgate Market in Leeds.

“I was absolutely blown away by the positive feedback I received in Pocklington, so I’m really excited about now taking it to other venues so that many more people can browse the portraits and join me in celebrating young people with Down Syndrome at work and play. 

“My son James, who’s a huge inspiration for me, turned 18 in lockdown, so this was the perfect time to put this exhibition together and I hope it brings a lot of joy to people after what has been such a challenging time for so many.”

Six questions for York artist Sue Clayton on vaccine jabs, new projects, art classes, lockdown and life after June 21.

Your Tent Of Hope painting features the Vaccination Centre at Askham Bar. Did you have your jab there?

“I’ve now had both jabs as I’m classed as a carer because my son, James, has Down Syndrome. We had ours at the Haxby Group practice, although I did support my mum on both occasions to the Askham Bar site…it was that first sight of the gleaming white domes that stays in my mind.”

Artist Sue Clayton and her son James

Did you find going for the first jab emotional?

“On my own jab, I didn’t feel too emotional, but the first time I took my mum, I did. She was nervous and is hard of hearing, so I was pleased to go in with her for support.

“I felt the same again, supporting James for his jab. He’s had to shield and it really felt like a positive step forward. The feeling of now having both jabs gives us a reassurance we’ve never felt before.”

How are your art projects progressing: when might we see the results?

“Oohhh…I’m on with an exciting new project, which came about from a conversation on a park bench in the Museum Gardens. I was having a chat with Michael Miles, who’s a lifelong York City fan and creates the Y-Front fanzine.

“Although not a follower of football myself, he held me captivated as he talked about his love for his team and what Bootham Crescent meant to him. One of those conversations where someone’s passion for something sparks your own interest to listen to them. 

Sue Clayton’s playful self-portrait

“I also learned that York City Football Club celebrates its centenary next year. So, a plan has come together: I’m painting a series of portraits of the fans to be revealed all together next year. The fans are sending me their photos and I’ll be including many through the years. I’m loving it!

“Also, excitedly, I hope to collaborate with Tony Cope. His photography is just exquisite and I’m a huge fan. He captures such a poignancy and feeling in his work. Watch this space.”

How are the art classes you lead online going?

“They’re going well. I love that I now have people tuning in each week from all over the UK and the Netherlands too! It’s interesting that this time last year I panicked about using this new-fangled Zoom ‘whatdoyacallit’ and now I’m reticent to return to face-to-face teaching as it suits me so well.”

If you could sum up your life in Lockdown x 3 in five words, what would they be?

“Lockdown 3 has been the hardest in many ways for me. I was devastated that my relationship ended, and as we came out of lockdown, I lost my lovely dog to cancer – so, not the best of times. 

“My five words? Sadness, loss but new beginnings.”

What do you most want to be able to do after “freedom day” on June 21(hopefully!)?

If it’s safe to do so, I’m looking forward to giving people hugs again. I’m naturally quite tactile and, boy, I’ve missed contact with people. I’m looking forward to seeing live gigs, theatre, cinema, and meals out again too.

Jab in the art: Sue Clayton’s portraits on show for when you take a seat at the NHS York Vaccination Centre at Askham Bar

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

REVIEW: Big Ian Donaghy’s Boxing Day visit to York Stage’s Jack And The Beanstalk

Ian Stroughair’s Flesh Creep: “Joyously evil-turned-up-to-11 villain”. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

MONKGATE magic!

Every year like clockwork, you wolf down the first clutch of chocolates from your Advent calendar, then panto arrives.

Men as women.

Women as men.

Two crew members as a horse.

Oh yes, it is!

Oh no, it isn’t!

Jack And The Beanstalk: “The healthy, bright-eyed and slim” bean feast of a York Stage pantomime, as promised by the newly appropriated Biles Beans sign

Children’s eyes agog.

But not in 2020.

The year that the show MUSTN’T go on.

Just watch the news.

Tisn’t the season to be jolly!

As theatres up and down the land spend Christmas in darkness, a shard of light could be seen down an alleyway off Monkgate.

It’ll never work.

How could it work?

Jack….and the beanstalk: Jordan Fox’s Jack with stage manager Lisa Cameron’s hand-made beanstalk in the York Stage pantomime. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

Necessity is the Mother of Invention.

This needed ideas, creativity and the personnel to pull it off and even then one announcement could pull its plug at any moment.

This had failure written all over it.

As we walked past the finest piece of genius marketing on Boxing Night, extending the locals’ favourite landmark – the Bile Beans sign on Lord Mayor’s Walk – to read “Bile BeanSTALK”, we were smiling even before the first line.

“Where’s the Minster?”, people ask? “It’s just over the wall from the Bile Beans sign.”

After a balanced diet of cheese and Toblerones, could this be the panto to keep us “healthy, bright-eyed and slim?”.

Alex Weatherhill’s Dame Nanna Trott: “Showing off a range to stop Mariah Carey warbling her festive favourite”. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

As we walked through the door, greenery festooned every bannister and surface.

With a tiny capacity of only 60 to meet Covid safety requirements, this was not so much a family panto as a “bubble panto”.

Jack was played by the endearing Jordan Fox, who somehow managed to be both idiot and hero at once.

Flesh Creep was played by the joyously evil-turned-up-to-11 Ian Stroughair, who was nearly eight feet tall with hat!

A three-piece dance troupe featuring dance captains from both the Grand Opera House (Emily Taylor) and Theatre Royal (Danielle Mullan) felt like a luxury as did a small house band (Jessica Douglas, Sam Johnson and Clark Howard).

Corners could have easily been cut but weren’t. Quality clearly means everything to writer-director Nik Briggs.

“Top-tier entertainment”: May Tether as Jill Gallop (on the podium) with ensemble trio Emily Taylor (left), Danielle Mullan and Matthew Ives. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

The cast faced magnetic north as a convoy of beautiful original songs and production numbers ran through the show, choreographed by West Ender Gary Lloyd .

The harmonies as all the cast sang together were spellbinding, as the hairs on the backs of your arms acknowledged this wasn’t another panto re-heat -this was fresh.

I could listen to May Tether (who played Jill) sing the terms and conditions of an insurance policy and she’d make it sound like Carole King had penned it.

Where many pantos have actors, singers or dancers with on obvious ‘also ran’ in their skill set, every cast member was a Swiss Army knife of lethally sharp talent.

Rarely do you get soulful vocals from a panto fairy (Livvy Evans) and even the Dame, played by Alex Weatherhill, showed off a range to stop Mariah Carey warbling her festive favourite.

Head’s gone: Writer-director Nik Briggs and stage manager Lisa Cameron in a revealing moment for the longer-than-usual pantomime cow, Daisy, in Jack And The Beanstalk. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

Surprisingly, the cast showed no fatigue from the three-shows-a-day schedule but it begs the question why this wasn’t in a bigger venue with Covid measures in place. I can only imagine that the paperwork and risk assessments took more paper than the script in this impossible year. The audience were even guided to do hand gestures, as everybody desisted from shouting “Oh yes he is” all night.

Every ticket in this traverse set-up was a golden ticket as each group was separated into plastic booths. This is “in your face” theatre – but socially distanced of course – that you can feel, not just watch.

Featuring some of the most original gags I have ever heard in a panto to reflect the times, plus a couple of very well-known faces on screen who could grace any stage in the land, this is a show full of surprises: doing the same things differently. Proving that theatre can adapt to fit around the safety of its audience to give a Christmas to remember to a year many of us would like to forget.

“Soulful vocals”: Livvy Evans as Fairy Mary in Jack And The Beanstalk. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

In 2020, when Amazon have delivered everything to your doorstep, Briggs has delivered not just a panto, but also West End-quality musical theatre, while maintaining a safe distance, and NOBODY will be writing ‘Return to Sender’ on this triple threat-laden package.

York’s Tier 2 status meant that the doors could open, but there is nothing Tier 2 about this show in Monkgate. This is top-tier entertainment for all of your bubble.

Review by Ian Donaghy

Show times: December 29, 2pm (sold out) and 7pm; December 30, 2pm (sold out) and 7pm; New Year’s Eve, December 31, 12 noon (sold out); January 2, 2pm (sold out) and 7pm; January 3, 1pm and 6pm.

Please visit yorkstagepanto.com for an update on performances once York’s new Tier status is confirmed in the Government briefing tomorrow (30/12/2020).

Name up in lights: The traverse stage for York Stage’s Jack And The Beanstalk, with the audience seated in Perspex-shielded bubbles. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

Box office: online only at yorkstagepanto.com. Please note, audiences will be seated in household/support bubble groupings only. 

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