May the fourth be with you! Gary Barlow extends A Different Stage run in York

Gary Barlow: First there were two, now there are four shows

GARY Barlow is adding a FOURTH show at the Grand Opera House, York, on June 9 after his June 10 and 11 performances and hastily added Sunday matinee on June 12 all sold out.

The Wirral singer, songwriter, composer, producer, talent show judge and author will be presenting his theatrical one-man show A Different Stage, ahead of the September 1 publication of his autobiography of the same name by Penguin Books.

“Now I’ve done shows where it has just been me and a keyboard,” says the Take That mainstay, 51. “I’ve done shows where I sit and talk to people. I’ve done shows where I’ve performed as part of a group.

“But this one, well, it’s like all of those, but none of them. When I walk out this time, well, it’s going to be a very different stage altogether.”

Tickets for June 9’s 7.30pm show are selling fast at atgtickets.com/York or on 0844 871 7615.

Gary Barlow adds Sunday matinee to A Different Stage at Grand Opera House

Gary Barlow’s artwork for his seven-city tour of A Different Stage

AFTER his June 10 and 11 shows at the Grand Opera House, York, sold out within half an hour last Friday, Take That legend Gary Barlow has been quick to add a Sunday matinee on June 12.

Hurry, hurry, fewer than 100 tickets are still available for the 2.30pm performance by the Wirral singer, songwriter, composer, producer, talent show judge and author.

Barlow, 51, will be presenting his theatrical one-man show A Different Stage, ahead of the September 1 publication of his autobiography of the same name by Penguin Books.

“Now I’ve done shows where it has just been me and a keyboard,” he says. “I’ve done shows where I sit and talk to people. I’ve done shows where I’ve performed as part of a group.

“But this one, well, it’s like all of those, but none of them. When I walk out this time, well, it’s going to be a very different stage altogether.”

Tickets for June 12 are on sale at atgtickets.com/York or on 0844 871 7615.

‘Music makes things better’, says Gary Barlow in one-man show A Different Stage at Grand Opera House on June 10 and 11

TAKE That legend, singer, songwriter, composer, producer, talent show judge and author Gary Barlow will present his theatrical one-man show A Different Stage at the Grand Opera House, York, on June 10 and 11 .

“Now I’ve done shows where it has just been me and a keyboard,” says Barlow, “I’ve done shows where I sit and talk to people. I’ve done shows where I’ve performed as part of a group.

“But this one, well, it’s like all of those, but none of them. When I walk out this time, well, it’s going to be a very different stage altogether.”

Tickets for the York shows, part of an itinerary of 24 dates in seven cities, go on sale on Friday at 9.30am at atgtickets.com/York or on 0844 871 7615.

Telling his life story, in his words, in a “dramatised theatre setting”, A Different Stage premiered at The Brindley, in Runcorn, Cheshire, in February, since when Barlow has played to sell-out audiences in Salford, Liverpool and Edinburgh and has announced his West End debut at London’s Duke of York’s Theatre from August 30 to September 25.

Created by Barlow and his long-time friend, fellow son of the Wirral and collaborator Tim Firth, A Different Stage finds Barlow narrating the journey of his life alongside the music from his discography in a 32-year career spanning Take That, solo projects and his musicals Finding Neverland and Calendar Girls The Musical.

The show’s publicity describes A Different Stage as “a project unlike anything he’s ever done before, where Gary will take the audience behind the curtain, with nothing off limits in this special performance”.

Gary Barlow: On the road to the Grand Opera House, York, with his autobiographical one-man show A Different Stage in June

As part of Take That, Barlow has won eight BRIT Awards and sold over 45 million records, and among his stellar collaborations he has co-written and produced songs for Dame Shirley Bassey, Sir Elton John and Robbie Williams.

Since turning his attention to the world of theatre, he has composed the score for Finding Neverland, worked alongside Tim Firth on Calendar Girls The Musical and collaborating with his Take That bandmates and Firth on The Band’, a record-breaking stage musical now being adapted into a feature film.

Coming next will be Barlow’s autobiography, also entitled A Different Stage. Published by Penguin Books on September 1, it “documents the people, places, music and cultural phenomena that have had an impact on him both as a musician and a human being” in a warm-hearted, humorous and unexpectedly intimate memoir.

“Sometimes you are forced to take stock and wonder what your life’s all been about, and where it is going,” says Barlow. “Ever since I was a boy, I’ve thought that music makes things better. A Different Stage is my love letter to music, a celebration of the songs and sounds that have inspired me and meant something in my life.’

From the working men’s club where it all began through to the stadium tours, the book’s story of Barlow’s life, told through music, is complemented by photography from his one-man show and previously unseen personal photos and notebooks.

“I just wanted to share my personal journey through the last five decades – the highs and lows, the ups and downs. So, in A Different Stage, this is me opening the curtains and sharing moments nobody has heard or seen before,” says Barlow.

This week, York Stage’s York premiere of Barlow and Firth’s Calendar Girls The Musical is running at the Grand Opera House with performances at 7.30pm tonight and tomorrow, 4pm and 8pm on Saturday and 2.30pm and 7.30pm on Saturday. Tickets are still available.

York Stage’s poster for the York premiere of Calendar Girls The Musical, at the Grand Opera House, York, until Saturday

REVIEW: York Stage in Calendar Girls, The Musical, Grand Opera House, York ****

Rosy Rowley’s Cora, centre, preparing to face her camera moment with Jo Theaker’s Annie and Julieann Smith’s Chris in York Stage’s Calendar Girls The Musical. All picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

Calendar Girls, The Musical, York Stage, Grand Opera House, York, until Saturday. Performances: 7.30pm, tonight to Thursday and Saturday; 4pm and 8pm, Friday; 2.30pm, Saturday. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or atgtickets.com/York

HAVE you been struggling to buy sunflowers in York since Friday?

The reason is simple: these sunworshippers have taken up residence at the Grand Opera House, spreading all over a teenage party dress and a gloriously OTT sofa in director-producer Nik Briggs’ scenic and costume design too.

Even in the dark of the orchestra pit, a sunflower can be spotted radiating nocturnal sunshine from musical director Jessica Douglas’s stand.

Touching moment: Jo Theaker’s Annie and Mick Liversidge’s John with their sunflower seeds

Calendar Girls The Musical began life as The Girls when premiered by sons of the Wirral Gary Barlow and Tim Firth at Leeds Grand Theatre in December 2015. Now the Yorkshire sunflower power has been restored for the York premiere by Briggs’s company.

If you missed the Leeds debut, jump at the chance to remedy that error! If you loved the film or the stage play, Barlow and Firth’s musical is even better, the format suiting what is already an opera-scaled human drama of ordinary women at the centre of an extraordinary story.

What’s more, as Briggs says: “Having Yorkshire actors playing these roles in a theatre in York creates a real gravitas to the story. It could work anywhere, but it’s just a bit more special done here as it’s a proper Yorkshire tale.”

You surely know that story, the tragicomic one where gentle gent, National Park wall builder and sunflower grower John Clarke (Mick Liversidge) – spoiler alert – dies from leukaemia .

Julieann Smith’s Chris singing Sunflower in Calendar Girls The Musical

Whereupon his wife, Annie (Jo Theaker), teams up with Knapely Women’s Institute rebel Chris (Julieann Smith) to defy the new but old-school WI chair Marie (Maggie Smales) by posing with fellow members for a fund-raising nude calendar in John’s memory – and in his spirit of being inventive and not following the well-beaten track.

Firth and Barlow open with two big hitters, firstly the scene-setting ensemble anthem Yorkshire, then the character-establishing introduction to The Girls, the diverse members of the WI, in Mrs Conventional.

So, we meet not only Theaker’s grieving but resilient Annie and Smith’s agitated/aggrieved Celia, but also Rosy Rowley’s Cora, the vicar’s no-nonsense daughter; Tracey Rea’s reupholstered, flashy Celia, the former airhostess; Sandy Nicholson’s perma-knitting Jessie, the wise-owl ex-teacher, and Juliet Waters’ reserved dark horse Ruth.

One of the joys of ballad-king Barlow and witty-worded lyricist Firth’s musical structure is how every one of the Girls has a knock-out, character-revealing, storytelling solo number, each drawing cheers and bursts of clapping, especially Rowley’s rousing, big-band blast of Who Wants A Silent Night?, Smith’s assertive Flowers, Rea’s exuberantly humorous So I’ve Had A Little Work Done and Waters’ vodka-guzzling My Russian Friend And I.

Uplifting: Tracey Rea’s Celia revels in So I’ve Had A Little Work Done

Theaker, so consistently excellent in York Stage lead roles, plucks the heartstrings in the stand-out ballad Scarborough and later hits the emotional heights again in Kilimanjaro. Her chemistry with Liversidge is utterly lovely, touching too, making Clarkey’s loss all the harder to take. Likewise, Theaker and the feisty Smith capture the strains and stresses of friendship under the utmost duress.

Calendar Girls is not just about the Girls, but the men too, from Chris’s level-headed husband Rod (Andy Stone) to humorous cameos for the ever-reliable Craig Kirby (Denis) and Graham Smith (Colin), and Finn East’s how-about-we-do-it-this-way photographer, Lawrence, sensitively venturing into new territory as much as his subjects.  

Not only does Firth’s script strike the right balance of northern humour, pathos, sadness and bloody-minded defiance, but also he places the stripping-off photoshoot as the climax (mirroring The Full Monty) and brings three teenage children to the fore, both as outlets for awkward, growing-pains humour and to expose their parents in a different light.

Danny Western is lovably cheeky as deluded, cocky workshy Tommo; Izzie Norwood affirms why Mountview Academy of Theatre awaits her in September with an assured, eye-catching York Stage debut as Jenny, the WI chair’s daughter, expelled from her posh school, with her wild, rebellious outsider streak still untamed.

Izzie Norwood’s Jenny leads Sam Roberts’s Danny astray

No wonder Sam Roberts’s clean-cut, gilded path to being head boy takes a wayward turn as too-cool-for-school Jenny initiates his discovery of alcohol. Roberts’s understated performance contrasts joyfully with Western’s ebullience as the young lads eggs each other on.

Briggs’s lucid, fast-moving direction places equal stress on the potency of the dialogue and the emotional heft of the songs, while his stage design combines dry-stone walls and Dales greenery with open-plan interiors for WI meetings, homes and the hospital, thereby evoking the vast expanse of Yorkshire yet suited to intimate conversation too.

Jessica Douglas’s keyboard-led musical forces do Barlow’s compositions proud, with Robert Fisher’s guitar, Georgia Johnson’s double bass, Graeme Osborn’s trumpet and Anna Marshall’s trombone all given room to flourish.

A quick mention for Louie Theaker, who stepped in for the temporarily indisposed Danny Western for Friday’s first performance, rehearsing his part from 5pm to 6pm as he called on his experience of learning TV script re-writes pronto for his regular role as Jake in CBBC’s children’s drama series James Johnson.

Audiences have not been as big as expected, but what folly it would be to miss York Stage in sunflower full bloom in a Yorkshire story of tears and cheers, grief and loss, spirit and renewal, humour and humanity, ace songs and cracking performances.

Sunflower show: The finale to York Stage’s Calendar Girls The Musical

York Stage bring out the buns for city premiere of Calendar Girls The Musical

“We’re going to need considerably bigger buns”: York Stage’s promotional picture for Bun

THE true story of the Calendar Girls from Rylstone Women’s Institute has transferred from print to stage to screen.

Best of all is its latest conversion to a musical by composer Gary Barlow and writer and lyricist Tim Firth, two sons of a Wirral village who met as teenagers before Take That and Neville’s Island respectively shaped their career paths.

Premiered at Leeds Grand Theatre in December 2015 under the title of The Girls, the show returns to Yorkshire from tomorrow (22/4/2022) for its York premiere, now restored to the Calendar Girls moniker that leaves no room for confusion.

Calendar Girls: The Musical will be staged by York Stage under the direction of company founder, producer and artistic director Nik Briggs. “I don’t honestly remember when we applied, but it must be over a year we’ve had the performing rights, I think,” he says. 

Jo Theaker and Mick Liversidge in rehearsal for York Stage’s Calendar Girls The Musical. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

“It’s a very popular show, so companies across the country have been scheduling productions. It’s such a beautiful story that’s based on real life, so it’s a joy to explore and work on.”

That story, should you have been hiding behind sunflowers all these years, revolves around the death of a much-loved husband prompting members of a Yorkshire dales village Women’s Institute “to do things a little differently”, stripping off decoratively for their annual fundraising calendar, blissfully unaware their daring behaviour would trigger such an impact locally, nationally, even internationally.

“The story of the ‘Calendar Girls’ has always inspired me,” says Nik. “Being the only boy on my mum’s side of the family, I’ve grown up surrounded by strong women and have always enjoyed being in the rehearsal room with actresses, creating work that celebrates them and puts their stories front centre.”  

For Calendar Girls, he is doing so with a cast fronted by Jo Theaker (as Annie); Julieann Smith (Chris); Rosy Rowley (Cora); Tracey Rea (Celia), Sandy Nicholson (Jessie) and Juliet Waters (Ruth), alongside Mick Liversidge (John) and Andy Stone (Rod).

Here come the Girls: York Stage’s ‘Calendar Girls’ pose for a snap in the rehearsal room as Rosy Rowley points the phone camera. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

Nik did not make it to the Leeds Grand premiere. “I actually missed it in Leeds and the West End, so I’ve not seen it before,” he says. “I was especially gutted to miss it as the original cast included York Stage’s very own Josh Benson, but work and travel commitments just kept getting in the way when it was on! That’s the one bad thing about working in theatre; you miss a lot of shows!”

Nevertheless, Nik’s York Stage work since 2014 has given York debuts to West End and Broadway hits aplenty, and he is delighted to be adding Calendar Girls to that list. “Gary Barlow and Tim Firth have created a stunning score,” he says.

“It’s filled with pop ballads as you’d expect, but they’ve also created rousing Yorkshire anthems and jazzy big band show pieces too. Their ability to tell a story through song is really beautiful. They keep things simple and allow the emotion and acting to speak volumes.

“They’ve made a show with storytelling at its heart: there’s no big choreography or special effects, just an extraordinary story about a group of ordinary women that goes from heart-warming to heart-wrenching in an instant.”

“Having Yorkshire actors playing these roles in a theatre in York creates a real gravitas to the story,” says York Stage producer and director Nik Briggs

Calendar Girls wholly suits the musical format, Nik asserts. “It’s famously said, in musical theatre, ‘when it’s not enough to say it, you sing it’! The loss of a loved one creates some of the biggest emotions in a person, so it’s an ideal story to tell through the medium of musical theatre.

“The story is timeless too. Loss, grief and what huge life experiences like that can do to a person never changes, so audiences of all generations can relate to it.”

Nik, who is joined in the production team by musical director Jessica Douglas, has designed the set too. “It’s really evocative of Yorkshire and allows the production to move quickly and with pace, as intended,” he says.

The obligatory sunflowers will be omnipresent, but does Nik like this over-the-top flower? “I do. Who can say they don’t smile when they see one?! There must be close to 500 in this production, so it’s a good job I like them,” he says.

“The colour scheme of the marketing and the sunflowers connection to the story unintentionally now also evokes strong emotions, with the awful conflict we’re seeing in Ukraine, as the colours and flower are both national symbols of the country.”

Sandy Nicholson, left, Tracey Rea and Jo Theaker rehearsing Calendar Girls The Musical. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

Staging a Yorkshire story on home soil definitely has an impact on its telling, posits Nik. “Having Yorkshire actors playing these roles in a theatre in York creates a real gravitas to the story. It could work anywhere, but it’s just a bit more special done here as it’s a proper Yorkshire tale,” he says. 

“As a native Geordie, who has now lived ‘down south’ here in Yorkshire for nearly half of my life, I still find myself blown away by the beauty of the region. Whether I’m out in the Yorkshire countryside with the green hills and dry-stone walls, in the middle of a quaint village with babbling streams and chocolate-box houses, or in the beautiful towns and cities with their impressive, intricate architecture, I can’t help but be awestruck by the charm that surrounds me.”

Coming next for York Stage will be their York Theatre Royal debut in Little Shop Of Horrors from July 14 to 23, followed by Kinky Boots at the Grand Opera House from September 16 to 24.

“We’ll end the year with our annual youth show at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre,” says Nik. “This year it’ll be Bring It On by Lin Manuel Miranda, so that’ll be very popular with the teens who all love Encanto and Hamilton!”

York Stage in Calendar Girls: The Musical, Grand Opera House, York, April 22 to 30.  Box office: 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/York.

Copyright of The Press, York

Absolute turkey or totally gravy? 2021’s Christmas albums rated or roasted…

Gary Barlow: “Embracing the Big Band sound with gusto “

Gary Barlow, The Dream Of Christmas (Polydor) *****

Wrapping: Where to begin! There’s  a choice of the standard 11-track CD, a deluxe book version with 16 songs, a box set, a clear vinyl album, plus bundles including Barlow Christmas sweaters, bobble hats, baubles, cassettes and other merchandise. All are beautifully packaged, but the variety of options is a little baffling.

Gifts inside: All versions include a cocktail of Barlow originals and updates of Christmas classics, given a very pleasing Big Band makeover, including Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmas Time and Shakin’ Stevens’ Merry Christmas Everyone.

Sheridan Smith, The Puppini Sisters, Sheku and Aled Jones all make guest appearances. Seek out the  deluxe version for  I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm, I Believe In Father Christmas, In The Bleak Midwinter, The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year and The Christmas Sweater (also to be found on Michael Buble’s tenth anniversary set).

Style: Gary has embraced the Big Band sound with gusto. Think Strictly at Christmas, featuring the odd Rhumba, Cha Cha Cha and American Smooth, and you’re in the right territory

’Tis the reason to be jolly: If you like Strictly Come Dancing, love Gary Barlow and find Christmas the most wonderful time of the year, there is much to enjoy.

Scrooge moan: Had I known the deluxe version had the best tracks, I would have tracked it down immediately.

White Christmas? Surprisingly not.

Blue Christmas? No.Gary Barlow has a happy soul. Even a sad ballad is given a caring Barlow twist. Yes, this is decidedly a happy album.

Stocking or shocking? Everyone knows someone who likes Gary Barlow. It’s universal. What’s more, this will still sound good 20 years from now.

 Ian Sime

Norah Jones: ” Impossible to dislike but equally difficult to love”

Norah Jones, I Dream Of Christmas (Blue Note Records) ****

Wrapping: Norah pictured outside the Christmas season, wearing a red dress and holding a star against a cityscape. Slim pickings inside, simply detailing the musicians and credits for each of the 13 songs.

Gifts inside: A mix of originals and evergreens, elegantly produced in Jones’s distinctive jazz pop purr. A deluxe edition comes with three extra numbers including Last Month Of The Year and I’ll Be Home For Christmas.

Style: Steady yourselves, it’s languid, it’s jazzy and it’s classy. Very much in the fashion of the records Tony Bennett and Doris Day used to make, back in the day.

’Tis the reason to be jolly: Seemingly effortlessly evokes a mood of relaxed festive nostalgia. Jones’s originals show a real affinity for the genre (Elton take note) and stand unassumed alongside perennials. Perfect if you are warming St Bernards by a dancing fire or have people round for a work meeting with wine and cheese.

Scrooge moan: It’s impossible to dislike but equally difficult to love. Jones’s music has to be served up in the background while something else, more interesting, takes place. Listen too closely and you’ll soon be nodding. Scrooge like, the three extra tracks on the expensive edition have more life and interest than the rest, belatedly but brilliantly bringing in soul and gospel.

White Christmas? Centre stage, and Jones sings it beautifully. For once, a Bing cover that is worth hearing, upbeat and swinging. The brushed drums and upright bass provide the only frame needed to accompany her jaunty piano.

Blue Christmas? Blue Christmas is present and correct, relocated to the Crescent City. Like the rest, this track is even in mood and tone. As a whole, at 42 minutes, this album of old-fashioned length is balm to soothe away present-day worries.

Stocking or shocking? Strong album if you are seeking a very specific mood, or you entertain a lot. Since its release for Thanksgiving, millions of plays have accumulated on Spotify. Fans have been waiting a long time for a full-length Christmas album from Jones, and despite a prolific 2021, still yearn for more.

Paul Rhodes

“Rockin’, croakin’ Lucinda sounds like she’s been to one helluva party”

Lucinda Williams, Have Yourself A Rockin’ Little Christmas (Thirty Tigers) ***

Wrapping:  Pastiche of vintage Christmas album sleeves, with holly decorations and Lucinda and her Gretsch guitar pictured before having herself a rockin’ little Christmas. Jukebox-style song titles on the back. Credits in festive green and recording session snapshots inside.

Content: This is Volume 5 of Lu’s Jukebox, Lucinda’s In Studio Concert Series, her 2021 covers’ collections taking in Tom Petty, Southern Soul, Dylan, Sixties’ country classics and The Rolling Stones, each with a sleeve matching the iconography of the subject. This one brings the blues, swingin’ jazz, southern soul and country template to Merle Haggard (If We Make It Through December), Irving Berlin (I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm), Charles M Brown (Merry Christmas Baby), Mack Rice (Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin) and Willie Dixon (Little Red Rooster, with the lyrics given a  Christmas reboot).

Style: If Shane and Kirsty’s name-calling lovers had continued scoring points through the New York night. Or if Quentin Tarantino had put together a Christmas soundtrack. Or if you had the Boxing Day hangover and stonking headache every Groundhog Christmas Day, you might not make it through December. Rockin’, croakin’ Lucinda sounds like she’s been to one helluva party.

’Tis the reason to be jolly:  To haveyourself a merry little Christmas, with the emphasis on the merry, just add Linda’s heady winter warmer.  

Scrooge moan: You may well have the Boxing Day hangover by the timeyou come out the other end of these dozen Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight) encounters.

White Christmas? No, but Lucinda changes “The dogs begin to bark” to “The snow begins to fall” in Little Red Rooster. Oh, and “Snowball fighting, it’s so exciting!”, she exclaims at one point.

Blue Christmas? Oh yes, as blue as those veins in the Christmas Day Stilton.

Stocking or shocking? Just the giftfor the Little Red Rooster who needs driving home for Christmas.

Charles Hutchinson

“Buble’s impeccable presentation and delivery is nothing short of perfection”

Michael Buble, Christmas, 10th Anniversary Edition (Reprise) *****

Wrapping: Again, be careful of what you are looking for. Deluxe and anniversary versions have been released every year since 2011, on so many different formats, that it makes the marketing for Paul McCartney’s III and ABBA’s Voyage look understated. There are deluxe box versions, a multitude of coloured vinyl sets and the special two-disc version unique to 2021.

Gifts inside: This year’s set includes Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow, collaborations with Rod Stewart, The Puppini Sisters and Naturally 7 and a brand new song,  The Christmas Sweater, which also features on Gary Barlow’s Christmas set.

Style: Along with Mariah Carey’s collection, Merry Christmas, the original Buble Christmas album set the benchmark by which all modern festive albums are judged. Buble’s impeccable presentation and delivery is nothing short of perfection.

’Tis the reason to be jolly: The Christmas Sweater is a new classic. Expect to hear this song every December for the rest of our lives.

Scrooge moan: In common with Mr Gary Barlow’s set, it is confusing to devotees to identify which version is the best value for money.

White Christmas? Of course! Shania Twain sings on the original 2011 set; Michael sings a solo version on the second disc.

Blue Christmas? Mostly happy. Any album that includes Buble’s renditions of   Mariah’s All I Want For Christmas Is You, Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town and Santa Baby is invested in making people happy.

Stocking or shocking? Chances are that everyone interested in Michael Buble already owns this album. 14 million homes have a copy, and the songs are always on the radio. Why not opt for Gary Barlow instead, aimed at exactly the same audience.

 Ian Sime

Is Hiss Golden Messenger’s O Come All Ye Faithful joyful and triumphant? Read on…

Hiss Golden Messenger, O Come All Ye Faithful (Merge Records) ****

Wrapping: Peace be with you twice over: a dove on the red front, a peace symbol on the green back. Inside, a sepia photo montage of MC Taylor and his myriad guest players, among them Buddy Miller (electric guitar), Matt Douglas (saxophone and flute)  and Nathaniel Rateliff (singing).

Gifts inside: Three MC Taylor originals (Hung Fire, Grace and By The Lights Of St. Stephen); Taylor re-made lonesome hymns (O Come All Ye Faithful, Joy To The World, Silent Night) and canny covers (Spiritualized’s Shine A Light, Woody Guthrie’s Hanukkah Dance and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s set-closing As Long As I Can See The Light).

Style: When MC Taylor went shopping for wrapping paper during Covid-ruined Christmas 2020, he found the jolly piped music incongruous in the bleak circumstances. Cue a country blues album of sombre reflection, downbeat but beautiful too, weathered, watchful, even weary, but spiritually uplifting.

’Tis the reason to be jolly: Up there with Tracey Thorn’s Tinsel And Lights, Glasvegas’s A Snowflake Fell (And It Felt Like A Kiss) and Aidan Moffat and R M Hubbert’s Ghost Stories For Christmas as a truthful antidote to enforced jollification, full of wonder and hope for a guiding light but alive to the season’s propensity for heightened sadness and loneliness too.

Scrooge moan: Not even the gorgeous By The Lights Of St. Stephen will ever greet MC Taylor in the shopping malls of home-town Durham, North Carolina.

White Christmas? No. Dream on.

Blue Christmas?  Blue is the dominant mood here, all except Hanukkah Dance.

Stocking or shocking? Burst the Buble bubble. Take a punt instead on pleasing the Scrooge in your life with these golden messages in song.

Charles Hutchinson

What are the albums of the year? We decide…

Will The War On Drugs feature in Graham Chalmers or Charles Hutchinson’s list?

YORKSHIRE culture podcasters Chalmers & Hutch pick their Top Tens in Episode 68 of Two Big Egos In A Small Car.

Under discussion too are Damon Albarn’s bleakly beautiful concerts at York Minster; the tidal wave of streaming; and who will be number one at Christmas? Elton & Ed? Gary & Sheridan? Adele & yet more Adele? The sausage roll enthusiast?

To listen, head to: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1187561/9700461