REVIEW: Songs Under Skies, Kitty VR and Boss Caine, NCEM, York, 9/9/2021

Kitty VR: Playing her first gig for seven months at the NCEM churchyard. Picture: Neil Chapman/Unholy Racket

REVIEW: Songs Under Skies, Kitty VR and Boss Caine, National Centre for Early Music churchyard, St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, York

THE inaugural Songs Under Skies season of open-air acoustic concerts in the NCEM churchyard resumes with Polly Bolton and Henry Parker tomorrow, concluding with Elkyn and Fawn on Thursday (both nights sold out).

Alas the skies were so sodden for the opening night that Amy May Ellis and Luke Saxton had to scurry indoors for their show, but the great British weather was on best behaviour for double bill number three, Kitty VR and Boss Caine last Wednesday, co-hosted by the NCEM, The Crescent and the Fulford Arms under the campaigning umbrella of the Music Venues Alliance.

At least a couple of sets of gravestones were not obeying social distancing, but this was a Covid-secure event in every way, from the requirement to sanitise hands on arrival to the one-way system in operation for entering and leaving the NCEM church building (wearing masks when inside too).

Audience members were seated in pods – or perhaps “God pods”, because we were in a churchyard – as a full garden gathered, full of the joy of being able to watch Kitty VR live, rather than in VR in that virtual reality hinterland of Zoom that has substituted stoically in lockdown and beyond.

Gravestones at the NCEM: Standing out from the social-distancing measures at the Songs Under Skies concerts

Kitty nearly came a cropper before the start, falling in an unseen hole as she carried her box of CDs, but thankfully not disappearing like Alice into Wonderland.

Once on stage, Kitty cut a composed, quietly spoken, contemplative figure in familiar  singer-songwriter mode, a la Laura Marling, so much so that her spectral electric guitar would never have said Boo to any passing acoustic music wardens or below-ground churchyard inhabitants for that matter.

In her first concert since lockdown, Kitty introduced new song Wisteria, rhyming that butterfly of short-lived flowers with hysteria, rather than listeria in these pandemic times, unless the Hutch hearing was failing, and revealed a predilection for single-word titles – Dimensions, Whirlpool, Slumber – and single-speed compositions in life’s slow lane.

Closing with an acoustic rendition of Release on a stool, her sunsetting set was the balm before the country, blues and even rockabilly storm of Boss Caine, aka Daniel Lucas, the stalwart sentinel of the York gig scene for so long in his rapscallion role as the city’s grizzled answer to Tom Waits.

Boss Caine and stand-up bassist Paddy Berry playing Songs Under Skies after rehearsing remotely. Picture: Neil Chapman/Unholy Racket

He has been creative in lockdown, writing sleepless nocturnal songs for Bandcamp  premieres and EPs and now airing them live, as darkness descended and lighting picked out the churchyard trees’ frameworks as subtly as watercolours.

“We’re going to be brave and play a completely new set,” said Lucas, who had rehearsed remotely with stand-up bass player Paddy Berry and would now be playing together for the first time. All the more reason to love to this troubadour tornado.

“If I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die high,” he sang defiantly…“I could use a little chemical sedation”… “I’ll even put your secret into one of my songs”… “Take me out like a Kennedy”…the memorable lyrics kept a’coming.

“No-one will be offended if I use a Conference League swear word, will they?”, he said, more as a statement, rather than seeking permission. Lucas has always been a master of the banter too.

Kitty VR closes her set by playing an acoustic version of Release, taking to the stool after her guitar strap broke the day before. Picture: Neil Chapman/Unholy Racket

“You keep going for the song,” he reasoned for not caving in to the stultifying impact of Covid-19, before a self-deprecating finale flourish. “This is a song about people having complaints after Boss Caine gigs,” he announced.

Too much that, not enough this, they say. Wrong, wrong, wrong, on all counts. Instead, in his concluding words, Boss Caine will always “Burn on bright, burn on bright again”: York’s torch-bearer for why live music at its best will always be a thrill, a rush, like no other.

Kitty VR, by the way, has contributed a haunted solo rendition of Colour Me In, Phil Grainger and lyricist Alexander Flanagan Wright’s finest composition, to The Mythstape, the North Yorkshire duo’s gradually emerging mixtape of recordings by their favourite artists of songs from their two-hander shows Orpheus, Eurydice and Gods Gods Gods.

The Howl And The Hum’s Sam Griffiths has applied his golden brush to Tumble Down, from Eurydice, now floating high on angel’s wings. Watch this space for news of more Myth making…

…Oh, and Phil, could you please deliver on your sort-of promise to record your own versions too. Make that particular myth come true!

Phil Grainger, left, and Alexander Flanagan Wright: Inviting Kitty PR, Sam Griffiths and fellow favourite singers to record their songs from Orpheus, Eurydice and Gods Gods Gods for The Mythstape. Picture: Charlotte Graham

Songs Under Skies garden gigs open at NCEM tonight. All but one has sold out. UPDATED

Polly Bolton: Tickets are still available for her Songs Under Skies concert on September 16

SONGS Under Skies kicks off tonight under foreboding skies at the National Centre for Early Music, York, with a double bill of Amy May Ellis and Luke Saxton.

All but one of the open-air acoustic concerts in the churchyard gardens of the NCEM’s home at St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, has sold out as live music with an audience returns to the NCEM for the first time since the March lockdown.

Tickets are still available for Polly Bolton and Henry Parker on September 16, but hurry as the capacity is only 50.

You can buy tickets for family groups or as individuals. Seating each night will be in pods and full details can be found at tickets.ncem.co.uk/.

Songs Under Skies bring together the National Centre for Early Music, The Crescent, The Fulford Arms and the Music Venues Alliance for the September series.

Bella Gaffney expresses her delight at the chance to play a concert again

Taking part are Amy May Ellis and Luke Saxton tonight (September 2); Dan Webster and Bella Gaffney, tomorrow; Kitty VR and Boss Caine, September 9, Wolf Solent and Rosalind, September 10; Polly Bolton and Henry Parker, September 16, and Elkyn and Fawn, September 17.

Concerts for last month’s online York Early Music Festival had to be recorded and filmed behind closed doors at the NCEM, with no audiences, for digital streaming from July 9 to 11.

For Songs Under Skies, gates will open at 6.30pm for each 7pm start; acts will perform either side of a 30-minute interval with a finishing time of 8.30pm. Social distancing will be strictly observed and masks must be worn inside the NCEM but will not be required in the garden.

NCEM director Delma Tomlin says: “We’re thrilled to be able to welcome artists and audiences back to our home at St Margaret’s Church, thanks to the invaluable help of our York partners, and I’d like to say a huge thank-you to them.

“We hope that this marks the beginning of a gradual and safe return to being able to bring you much more music over the months to come.

Sold out: Boss Caine’s double bill with Kitty PR on September 9

Like all arts organisations, the last few months have been difficult, but we’re lucky to have received overwhelming support from our loyal audiences and from our funders, to whom I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks. We hope you’ll be able to join us for these wonderful Songs Under [the] Skies of our beautiful city.”

Chris Sherrington, who runs The Fulford Arms and is the North East regional coordinator for the Music Venues Alliance, says: “Both The Crescent community venue and The Fulford Arms are excited to be working with our York Music Venue Network partners, the NCEM, to help fill some of the cultural vacuum that has sadly been affecting York since March.

“It’s an exciting opportunity to bring our expertise together and programme a beautiful series of shows in a safe and stunning space with a range of amazing talent. We hope this will be the first of many such endeavours.”

The NCEM has been one of the first arts organisations to stream online concerts, seeking to keep music alive since the beginning of lockdown and attracting a worldwide audience of more than 70,000 in the process.

Over the past few months, the NCEM has streamed a series of concerts from its archives, followed by the aforementioned York Early Music Festival Online with its combination of concerts and talks. The Director’s Cut, Delma’s selection of festival concert highlights, is available to download and keep. Go to ncem.co.uk for more details.

NCEM, Crescent and Fulford Arms line up 12 acts for Songs Under Skies garden gigs

Amy May Ellis: Opening open-air concert of the Songs Under Skies series in York

SONGS Under Skies will bring together the National Centre for Early Music, The Crescent, The Fulford Arms and the Music Venues Alliance for a September series of open-air acoustic concerts in York.

Taking part will be Amy May Ellis; Luke Saxton; Dan Webster; Bella Gaffney; Kitty VR; Boss Caine; Wolf Solent; Rosalind; Polly Bolton; Henry Parker; Elkyn and Fawn.

The setting will be the garden of St Margaret’s Church, home of the NCEM, for six double bills that will mark the return of audiences to the verdant Walmgate premises for the first time since the March lockdown.

Concerts for last month’s online York Early Music Festival had to be recorded and filmed behind closed doors at the NCEM, with no audiences, for digital streaming from July 9 to 11.

Boss Caine: Sharing the September 9 bill with Kitty VR

Songs Under Skies will take place on Wednesday and Thursday evenings between September 2 and 17. Gates will open at 6.30pm for each 7pm start; acts will perform either side of a 30-minute interval with a finishing time of 8.30pm. Social distancing will be strictly observed and masks must be worn inside the NCEM but will not be required in the garden.

Dates for the diary are: September 2, Amy May Ellis and Luke Saxton; September 3, Dan Webster and Bella Gaffney; September 9,  Kitty VR and Boss Caine; September 10, Wolf Solent and Rosalind; September 16, Polly Bolton and Henry Parker; September 17, Elkyn and Fawn.

NCEM director Delma Tomlin says: “We’re thrilled to be able to welcome artists and audiences back to our home at St Margaret’s Church, thanks to the invaluable help of our York partners, and I’d like to say a huge thank-you to them.

“We hope that this marks the beginning of a gradual and safe return to being able to bring you much more music over the months to come.

“We’re thrilled to be able to welcome artists and audiences back to our home at St Margaret’s Church,” says NCEM director Delma Tomlin

Like all arts organisations, the last few months have been difficult, but we’re lucky to have received overwhelming support from our loyal audiences and from our funders, to whom I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks. We hope you’ll be able to join us for these wonderful Songs Under [the] Skies of our beautiful city.”

Chris Sherrington, who runs The Fulford Arms and is the North East regional coordinator for the Music Venues Alliance, says: “Both The Crescent community venue and The Fulford Arms are excited to be working with our York Music Venue Network partners, the NCEM, to help fill some of the cultural vacuum that has sadly been affecting York since March.

“It’s an exciting opportunity to bring our expertise together and programme a beautiful series of shows in a safe and stunning space with a range of amazing talent. We hope this will be the first of many such endeavours.”

Bella Gaffney expressing her joy at the Songs Under Skies season being confirmed

The NCEM has been one of the first arts organisations to stream online concerts, seeking to keep music alive since the beginning of lockdown and attracting a worldwide audience of more than 70,000 in the process.

Over the past few months, the NCEM has streamed a series of concerts from its archives, followed by the aforementioned York Early Music Festival Online with its combination of concerts and talks. The Director’s Cut, Delma’s selection of festival concert highlights, is available to download and keep. Go to ncem.co.uk for more details.

Songs Under Skies tickets cost £6 per show and audiences are invited to buy tickets for family groups or as individuals. Seating will be in pods with a maximum audience capacity of 50. Full details can be found at tickets.ncem.co.uk/.