Paul Weller’s Fat Pop: Is he the Greatest Living Englishman or grumpy Dad Rocker?

CHATTY art podcasters Chalmers & Hutch mull over the Modfather’s 16th solo album in Episode 44 of Two Big Egos In A Small Car.

What else? Is there no point to nil-point Eurovision? Pop’s Brexit, Newman/old problem and the power of the minor key.

Is Nomadland overrated? No or yes?

York’s Love Trails tour. Art with heart.

Rainy days, holidays and the Lakes as nature’s canvas masterpiece.

What now for arts on Zoom? Boom or doom?

Here’s the link: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1187561/8599913

John Godber keeps it in the family for Sunny Side Up’s journey to the Yorkshire coast

Family bubble for Sunny Side Up!: John Godber with his wife Jane Thornton and daughters Martha and Elizabeth

“BUMPING” into Britain’s second most performed living playwright as paths crossed while stretching a lockdown leg at Pocklington Canal Head in early July, one question had to be asked.

“Must be plenty of material for a play about Covid-19, John?”. “No comedy there,” replied John Godber.

Nevertheless, the waiting for Godber’s new play is over. Presented by the John Godber Company and Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, the humorous and moving Sunny Side Up! will open in The Round at the SJT tonight (October 28).

Depicting a struggling Yorkshire coast B&B and the people who run it, the world premiere of the former Hull Truck artistic director’s holiday drama will be a family affair, starring the Godber lockdown bubble of writer-director John, wife Jane Thornton and daughter Martha. Elder daughter Elizabeth – who has just enrolled for a PhD at Hull University, studying the poetry of Emily Dickinson, by the way – is participating too as the company stage manager.

“What a strange time it’s been,” says John. “Shortly after I saw you at Pocklington Canal Head, I got a phone-call from Paul Robinson [the SJT artistic director] saying, ‘We want to open in October; I know you’re in a social bubble with Jane, Liz and Martha; would you like to do a new play together this autumn?

“It was like winning the Oscar, to have the opportunity to do your trade again – we’ve not received any Arts Council funding – and just to be clear, we could only do it in these circumstances as a family bubble.”

Reflecting on life in lockdown and beyond in Covid-19 2020, John says: “If we are following the science, which science is it? Watching all the news coverage on TV ends up making you feel ill,” says John.

Stephen Joseph Theatre artistic director Paul Robinson: Invited John Godber to write a play for the autumn season. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

“We live in a significant property with a lot of space but we’re still going mad, climbing up the walls. What’s it like for those living in a cramped apartment with no garden in lockdown? It must be like [Jean-Paul] Sartre. Do politicians understand that?”

John, the son of an Upton miner, has “always voted Labour for lots of reasons”. “We know Covid has been a challenge, but the Government can find all this money for Test and Trace and to pay nine million people’s wages in furlough, yet what an own goal to refuse to support free meals for schoolchildren in the holidays,” he says.

Sunny Side Up! is not a political comment on Covid times, but more so on how we have reacted to lockdown. “When Paul asked me to write a play, we’d been doing lots of family walks, going to the coast, walking on bridal paths, by canals,” says John.

“I thought there might be something in thinking about what our seaside towns might look like to people going there for the first time or going back after a long time.

“You have to take Scarborough and Filey out of the equation, but I wondered what the function of our seaside towns and villages is. I think they remind us of where we’ve come from, in terms of families enjoying simpler times.”

Fraisthorpe Beach, four miles south of Bridlington, has been one such coastal haven for John. “Have you been there? Mile after mile after mile of unbroken sand, which is just amazing,” he says.

“We’ve started to look at places locally through Covid eyes. I’m certainly looking at simplicity in our lives now. In the early part of lockdown, going on walks from the house, you’d look at a field for the first time that we must have walked past for 30 years and you suddenly think how beautiful it is.

The poster for John Godber’s new play Sunny Side Up!

“Or through walking along the Pocklington Canal, you start looking at the Industrial Revolution and the growth of Pocklington at that time.”

Summing up his philosophy brought on by Covid restrictions, John says: “It’s not about regression; it’s about simplicity.”

This set him on the path of writing Sunny Side Up!, wherein struggling Yorkshire coast B&B proprietors Barney, Tina and daughter Cath share their stories of awkward clients, snooty relatives and eggs over easy in a “seaside rollercoaster that digs into what our ‘staycations’ are all about”.

“This is not a play about Covid, though it has references. It’s more about social mobility,” says John.

“Sunny Side is a fictitious East Coast Yorkshire resort that is so small, you wouldn’t find it on the map, where B&B owner Barney is very much a Brexiteer, a little Englander.

“Graham, a retired university pro-vice chancellor who’s done very nicely through education is invited there by his sister, Tina, and coming up 70 he’s going back to where he came from – a very ordinary background – but he’s never gone back since…until now.

“He sees it’s a place where they have turned the oxygen off. No jobs; no trains; two buses to get there; the nearest dual carriageway 15 miles away.

“But these are fantastic places, almost mythical, where the colouring and the sweep are incredible, so it’s a play about this guy coming to terms with ‘why haven’t I been back here, because it’s amazing?’. He realises his separation from his small-town roots doesn’t match with his reading of the world.”

On a bicycle made for two views: John Godber and Jane Thornton’s clashing cyclists in The Scary Bikers, Godber’s 2019 play about Brexit, bikes and bereavement.. Picture: Anthony Robling

A fast-moving one-act play, 64 minutes straight through, Sunny Side Up! is a “funny, fish-out-of-water story, but it has pathos and there’s magic realism too”, says John. “It’s not rubbing anyone’s nose in it, but those who get it will know what it’s about.

“You can go anywhere in the country and see places that are suffering, places that have been left behind, places that need water…but many of us wouldn’t spot a real person if we passed them in the street, like Graham wouldn’t.

“But here he’s confronted by people he thinks he’s been addressing [in his academic work], only to find he’s not been able to change that world. Just as the Westminster bubble dilutes the politicians from the reality.

“But having said that, this play is also a very humane, very touching, very funny story of a relationship between a brother and a sister.”

Against the backdrop of Covid-19 and renewed talk of a widening North-South divide, John says: “I think we are becoming divisive. There’s a line in the play that says, ‘we have to start again’. We’ve reached that point where we do have to re-start. I’m 64 now and you would have thought this would have been sorted out when we were younger men. Has it ossified, with social mobility no longer being a thing, but why?”

Rehearsed at home, Sunny Side Up! is the second John Godber work in lockdown. “The first one was in May, when I decided to write a 15-part radio drama for BBC Radio Humberside called Essentials, about a family needing to talk to each other,” says John.

“We recorded it in Liz’s walk-in wardrobe, with Martha’s boyfriend, Henry, doing the technical stuff, and we were all in each eight-minute episode.

“It was like The Archers, set around the family breakfast, with the father being a delivery driver for Tesco, delivering essentials.”

“It had a lot of politics in the early version, with them all saying ‘I think you’ll have a legal problem with that,” says John Godber of the writing process for Sunny Side Up!

When the invitation came to write a play for the SJT, John initially saw it as a chance to “draw anything on the canvas” in the prevailing Covid circumstances. “It had a lot of politics in the early version, with them all saying ‘I think you’ll have a legal problem with that’, and I decided, ‘I don’t think people want to sit there in a mask with me ranting about Boris Johnson.”

Under social-distancing measures, the audience capacity is heavily reduced: a new experience for Godber. “It’s fascinating because I’ve had a career of trying to fill theatres, but now you don’t have to ‘fill’ theatres,” says John, whose seven SJT performances have sold out.

“So it’s a bit like the early stuff: Happy Jack, September In The Rain, which I was going back to with The Scary Bikers last year. It’s that meta thing: taking in politics, self-analysis, class, all neatly told with four chairs and a suitcase.”

Those four chairs and a suitcase will next travel to Hull, after Hull Truck artistic director Mark Babych asked Godber to bring Sunny Side Up! to his former stomping ground. “It’s like Back To The Future; all the props in a suitcase and all our stuff in the back of my car,” says John.

As for working in a family bubble: “Martha’s all over me like a rash about the play! She and Liz don’t let me get away with anything. I can take it from Jane, but now it’s from my  kids too!”

John Godber Company in Sunny Side Up!, in The Round, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, October 28 to 31: 7.30pm, Wednesday; 1.30pm, 7.30pm, Thursday and Friday; 2.30pm, 7.30pm, Saturday. All sold out. Hull Truck Theatre, November 17 to 22: 7.30pm, Tuesday; 2pm and 7.30pm, Wednesday; 7.30pm, Thursday and Friday; 2pm, 7.30pm, Saturday. Box office: 01482 323638 or at hulltruck.co.uk/whats-on/drama/sunny-side-up/

REVIEW: Ed Byrne passes the honesty test at York Barbican, 13/12/2019 ****

Putting the “barb” into York Barbican: Ed Byrne on Friday night

Ed Byrne, If I’m Honest, York Barbican, December 13

FRIDAY the 13th is unlucky for some”, and certainly for those who missed out on Ed Byrne’s If I’m Honest show at a half-full York Barbican. An honest mistake, no doubt, that should be rectified next time.

Unlike our political parties in the General Election, 47-year-old Dubliner Byrne has decided honesty is the best policy, and while comedians are no less likely to exaggerate than politicians seeking the X factor at the ballot box, they do so with a silver, rather than forked, tongue.

Byrne headed to York, the lone red rash in deepest blue North Yorkshire, on the night after the nation had voted. Yet more politics was not for him, however. “I could talk about Brexit for 20 minutes, but I choose not to,” he said. Exit Brexit, stage hard right. Good call, Ed, judging that the party mood needed to be joyful, not political.

He was not one to massage figures, either, instead drawing attention immediately to the empty seats, making everyone there feel better for their impeccable judgement. Honesty, straightaway, was the best policy.

Byrne book-ended the show, providing the short opening and longer closing chapters, with Henley comedy pup Kieran Boyd let off his lead in between. While this can break the rhythm of the night, Byrne knows the importance of giving fledgling acts their wings. Nish Kumar, for example, played support slots in York several times before graduation to headline status at the Grand Opera House.

Rather too many comedians do material about their children; the equivalent of being passed endless pictures of little Johnny or Joanna at an inescapable party, but when Byrne, fast thinking and even faster talking, is making the observations, then fair children’s play to him.

In If I’m Honest, he “takes a long hard long hard look at himself and tries to decide if he has any traits that are worth passing on to his children”.  On Friday, he did so self-deprecatingly, as he takes on parenthood in his forties with children named Cosmo and Magnus. And no, they were not named for comic effect.

Far from it. When he played Reykjavic, Byrne was greeted with an outpouring of Icelandic congratulations for choosing one of their own!

Byrne could laugh at how his young sons already were mirroring him and his mutually sarcastic exchanges with his wife, theatre publicist Claire Walker.

Byrne’s comedy is both mentally and physically energetic, even hyper, as well as laced with Irish storytelling lyricism and much mischief making, and not only children’s received behaviour was up for his honesty test.

So too were superdads and superheroes and the way superhero film titles have become so convoluted, as he yearned for the simplicity of old.

Byrne wore a shiny red jacket and tapered jeans that would not have looked out of place competing on Strictly Come Dancing, a show he revealed he had turned down, foregoing the chance for “Byrne the floor” headlines, much to his family’s disappointment. He could not trust himself with the dancers, said the Oti fan, honest to the end.

Charles Hutchinson

Bob Geldof’s Boomtown Rats announce York gig and first album in 36 years

Here come the Citizens Of Boomtown: Bob Geldof, second from right, and The Boomtown Rats are to play York Barbican next spring

BOB Geldof’s punk old guard, The Boomtown Rats, are on their way to York Barbican on April 25 2020 on their Citizens Of Boomtown tour.

Tickets go on sale at 11am on Friday (December 13) on 0203 356 5441, at yorkbarbican.co.uk or in person from the Barbican box office.

Next spring’s tour will complement the release of a new album, Citizens Of Boomtown,  the Rats’ first studio work since In The Long Grass in May 1984. Full details will be announced “very soon”.

Irishman Geldof, now 68, formed The Boomtown Rats in Dublin in 1975, touring in their early days with The Ramones and Talking Heads en route to achieving BRIT, Ivor Novello and Grammy awards.

Lanky, lippy frontman Geldof, pianist Johnny Fingers and co became the first Irish band to top the UK charts with Rat Trap in 1978 and made number one in 32 countries with I Don’t Like Mondays in 1979.

The Boomtown Rats recorded six albums, The Boomtown Rats in 1977; A Tonic For The Troops in 1978;The Fine Art Of Surfacing, 1979; Mondo Bongo, 1980; V Deep, 1982, and the aforementioned In The Long Grass two years later.

That year, Geldof formed the Band Aid charity supergroup, co-writing the chart-topping single Do They Know It’s Christmas (Feed The World) with Ultravox’s Midge Ure and later organising the Live Aid and Live8 fund-raising concerts in aid of Ethiopian famine relief in 1985 and 2005.

He played solo gigs at the Grand Opera House, York, in November 2002 to promote his Sex, Age & Death album, and at Harrogate Royal Hall in May 2012 after releasing How To Compose Popular Songs That Will Sell in 2011. It didn’t sell, ironically, peaking at number 87 in the British album charts.

His last stage appearance in York should have taken place in a line-up alongside Alan Johnson MP, Nicky Morgan MP and David Dimbleby in June 2016 at Central Hall, University of York. He was to have spoken on behalf of the Remain campaign on the last Question Time before the EU Referendum, but recording of the BBC1 show was cancelled after the death of Batley and Spen MP Jo Cox.

It would have marked the Irish knight, famine relief crusader, dot.com entrepreneur and rock veteran’s return to the Central Hall stage for the first time since 1986. That year Geldof had encouraged the audience to dance at a Boomtown Rats show despite a no-dancing rule in the contract.

“Since that day, only students have been allowed to attend York university gigs,” he recalled in an interview in 2002. “I only invited them to dance! We were a ******* dance band, for Christ’s sake.The student union sued us, but it was sorted out.”

How? “We ignored it! But I better not remind them – though they would have to sue the Rats, not me!”

Charles Hutchinson

Why Steve Wickenden will be “getting Nurse Brexit done” from Thursday as Snow White’s dame

The “softer side” of Steve Wickenden’s dame, Nurse Brexit, in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs at the Grand Opera House, York. Picture: David Harrison.

STEVE Wickenden suddenly had to divide himself into two in last winter’s Cinderella And The Golden Slipper.

This time he is playing a dame with a most divisive name, Nurse Brexit, in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs as the cheeky southerner returns north for his fourth successive Grand Opera House pantomime in York.

“I’m always one for a challenge. I love a challenge, and that’s what happened last year when we lost Ken [fellow Ugly Sister Ken Morley] from the show when he was taken ill at the first Friday matinee,” recalls Steve.

“I love Ken, he’s a dear friend, and it was sad he couldn’t continue, but then there had to be that element of ‘Come on, let’s make something of this’.

“By Saturday morning we were re-blocking the show on stage after I re-worked the songs on the Friday, with me now doing both Ugly Sisters’ lines.”

Ken Morley: Steve Wickenden’s fellow Ugly Sister in Cinderella And The Golden Slipper last year before illness struck the former Coronation Street soap star. Picture: David Harrison

Steve Wickenden’s rival sibling double act as Ugly Sisters Calpol and Covonia pretty much stole the show, but he says: “When you’re working with people you trust and that trust you, like Martin Daniels and John Collins, they’ll have your back. It was the younger ones in the cast who were more nervous at first, but the thing about panto is you just have to get on with it, as the rehearsal process is so quick you just have to crack on.”

Was Steve paid double for his impromptu one-man double act? “I’m still waiting. Funny that!” he says.

Certainly, audiences more than had their money’s worth from Wickenden’s extra-quick wit. “That was the thing. The audiences were really sympathetic and just went with it, once it had been explained why there was only me when they were expecting two Ugly Sisters. Our audiences here are very understanding and supportive and that’s why they keep coming back.”

Last winter’s show turned into a learning curve for Steve. “The main thing I learnt is that normally, playing the dame, if I have a spot, a gag, a routine, I can do whatever I want. It just affects me, but what happened last time made me think about partnerships, and they’re about the other person and that relationship,” he says.

“It’s taught me to be more mindful of other people I’m working with in the rehearsal room, where it’s all so quick you tend to only think of yourself.”

Steve Wickenden’s Nurse Brexit with fellow Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs cast members Louise Henry, Jonny Muir, Vicki Michelle, Martin Daniels and Mark Little on the Grand Opera House stage. Picture: David Harrison

Playing Ugly Sister was harsh and mean spirited by comparison with his latest dame, Nurse Brexit. “I’m looking forward to being someone softer this time, after the nasty wicked Ugly Sisters. She’s more gentle, and I’ve been working with Martin, who’s playing Muddles this year, to maximise our comic relationship, to create comedy vignettes for us.”

There ain’t nothing like the dame in panto, reckons Steve. “This is THE part to play. When I first came into panto, I always wanted to play dame. I’d done bits and pieces of comic roles and straight roles, but I always felt most comfortable doing this role,” he says.

“I started quite young at 27; they took a punt with me at the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds, when I played Hyacinth Horseradish in Rapunzel. It’s not a panto that’s done very often, but what was great was that it was a very Mother Goose-type role in a very dame-driven show, so it really gave me the full first experience.

“I remember they said I was ‘very good but far too pretty’ as this beautiful young thing as I didn’t do make-up like I do it now.”

Steve had been the youngest auditionee in the room, but he took everything in his stride. “My agent had fixed it up for me because I’d kept saying ‘I really want to play dame’ when people had said, ‘you’re really good but come back in two years’.

“The main thing I took from that was ‘be ugly’, and I can’t believe how lucky I was to be given that first chance, but the even luckier thing was then to come here, to the Grand Opera House, and develop my character and ‘find’ my dame,” he says.

“I remember they said I was ‘very good but far too pretty’ as this beautiful young thing as I didn’t do make-up like I do it now,” says Steve Wickenden, recalling his first pantomime dame at the age of 27.

“I really play on my ‘inner southerner’, taken from my grandmother and great grandmother, and that southern turn of phrase works really well in a northern theatre, where it’s a bit alien, and the dame is a bit alien anyway, and doing it in a northern theatre makes it stranger still!”

He can’t wait for opening show on Thursday (December 12) when he starts to “get Nurse Brexit done”, right on cue on General Election night. “One of the things I said about my first year here was the warmth coming off the audience towards me, which, to an extent, I’ve not been able to have since then because of the characters I’ve played: Mirabelle in Beauty And The Beast and the Ugly Sisters,” says Steve.

“I’m looking forward to having that warmth again, rather than last year’s boos, but it’s always exciting because it’s dame again but in a new setting. I just love coming back here and I think it’s become my second home now.”

In the year since he was last in York, Steve has been busy directing a children’s theatre show, the musical Annie, doing plenty of teaching, and performing with his Fifties’ rock’n’roll band The Bandits, even headlining The Vintage Rock’n’Roll Festival in the South West, “just beyond Stonehenge”.

“I’d love to do a rock’n’roll number in the panto. Why not? Maybe Tutti Frutti!” he says. “I always say that one of the wonderful things about here is that there’s absolutely no expectation that the dame will sing well. You can screech!”

Steve Wickenden plays Nurse Brexit in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Grand Opera House, York, December 12 to January 4 2020. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or at atgtickets.com/york

Charles Hutchinson