Taking trouble at At The Mill to build a community for the arts and the people

Daniel Kitson: Testing out new material in six Outside performances at Stillington Mill

SUMMER At The Mill is returning for a second season of creative, culinary and community events in the gardens of Stillington Mill, Stillington, near York.

“After the spectacular, gorgeous, fun, exciting, beautiful and heart-warming time we had throughout our inaugural summer last year – what a ride! – we’re over the moon to present the mixed bag of goodies that is Summer At The Mill 2.0,” says programmer, theatre director, writer and performer Alexander Flanagan-Wright.

“Until September 4, we’ll be hosting a load of wonderful events all about community, art, food and flipping good times. We’ll have a pop-up café and bar, community gatherings, theatre, music, comedy, supper clubs and special events.”

The “Wright stuff” is the work of outdoor theatre co-builder Alex, sister Abbigail Ollive (Saturday café cuisine queen and supper club supremo) and their retired headteacher parents Maggi and Paul Wright, together with partners Megan Drury and Paul Smith. That “stuff” also takes in weddings, events and shepherd’s hut accommodation: truly a village cottage industry, you could say, albeit somewhat larger than a cottage.

A Supper Club gathering at At The Mill

“We just had a blast summer,” says Alex. “It was kind of by accident. It felt very serendipitous or of its moment, saying, ‘here is a way we can gather safely, our local community and the arts community, post-lockdown’.

“So this summer is a chance to see if people still care, and so far the evidence is that they do, with the return of the busy Saturday café, the Crafty Tales show [The Case Of The Missing Bunny] that sold out, our Pizza & Cocktail Night and the Dance Dance Dance Big Bank Holiday Silent Disco.

“Last year felt like a huge rush of adrenaline, and then you think, ‘OK, where do we go forward this year for beautiful experiences together?’. Already this year, we’re meeting new people coming to the events and the café.”

Summing up the essence of At The Mill, Alex says: “We believe a feeling of community is so important when people want to have an evening out. Whereas commercial theatre can feel merely transactional, with us, the means is the art, but the end result is a sense of community, and that feels the right way round.

Alexander Flanagan-Wright: At the heart of At The Mill

“On top of that, eating outside together, drinking outside together, is a lovely thing to do, and we have the space and setting to do that.”

Where once Stillington Mill’s 18th century mill would produce flour, now the At The Mill combines food with food for thought, new recipes at the Supper Club, new works on stage. “We’re very clear with the artists about that. Everyone we’ve asked, we’ve said, ‘we think you’re cool, we like your work, do you want to come and play with us?’,” says Alex.

“What we have in abundance is space and time, imagination and a community. What we don’t have in abundance is cash, but we find most performers end up walking away with cash in their pocket.

“We don’t say to them, bring a particular show. What you get instead is artists testing out new material, so it becomes a genuine relationship with the audience built around nurturing new work. We’re seeking an equal balance between the two communities, where they care about each other, and if we do our part well in bringing them together, then they will meet in a beautiful way, and hopefully that process is more valuable, than, say, a Q&A session in a theatre.”

The Saturday cafe at At The Mill, baked by Abbigail Ollive

Alex continues: “Hopefully too, we’re going to be able to sustain that culture of being able to welcome artists for whatever they want to try out, and of audiences being continually excited about seeing new work at such an early stage, performed by people they wouldn’t expect to be passing through their village.”

A case in point is Edinburgh Fringe favourite Daniel Kitson, the Denby Dale stand-up comedian, who asked to take part in the Theatre At The Mill programme after he was tipped off by storytelling performer Sam Freeman.

“Daniel got in touch to say hello, could he come and do a show? I don’t know what the show is about; I don’t know if Daniel does yet, but that feels a pretty exciting thing to be going on, and testament to our aim for brilliant performers to test out their work to our community,” says Alex.

“I’m also aware that there will be those who don’t know who Daniel Kitson is and would just see him as someone standing up in a garden! But it feels beautiful to know that his shows in May will be his first in two years and it’s great to be part of that work-in-progress experience.”

Chris Stokes: Storytelling comedy in Lockdown Detective at At The Mill on May 26

Clearly, plenty of people know exactly who Daniel Kitson is: his 8pm performances of Outside on May 23 to 25 have sold out already and his June 8 to 10 run looks close to following suit.

What’s in store from Kitson? Here’s the show blurb: “Daniel hasn’t been on stage for over two years. And, to be entirely honest, he’s not really missed it. It is, however, his actual job and everyone’s gone back to work now. So, he’s picked out a comfy pen, bought a new notebook and booked himself a summer’s worth of outdoor shows to find out whether he can still do his job and what, if anything, he has to say to large groups of people he doesn’t know.”

Given his performing hiatus and lack of practice, Kitson predicts the shows are “likely to be relatively rickety affairs”. “But Daniel’s already written the question ‘Do worms feel fear?’ in his new notebook, so we should be okay,” the blurb adds. “Also, if it gets boring – you can just use the time to look at the sky and feel small.”

At The Mill’s role in nurturing new work ties in with Alex’s own creativity as a writer and director, whether directing The Flanagan Collective, heading off to Australia with songwriter/musician/performer/magician Phil Grainger or spending last September to December in New York, making the immersive piece Tammany Hall for the Soho Playhouse.

Gary Stewart: Hosting regular Folk Club nights at At The Mill

“We meet loads of brilliant people when touring our work, and it’s great that they want to come here to test new pieces,” he says. “We’re delighted that people will hone shows here just before the Edinburgh Fringe kicks off, or will do shows here that aren’t going to Edinburgh but fit that vibe.”

Picking out upcoming highlights, singer-songwriterTom Figgins follows up last summer’s gig – his first in four years – with a return tomorrow; Chris Stokes’s storytelling comedy show, Lockdown Detective, is booked in for May 26, and Scottish musician Gary Stewart, now resident in nearby Easingwold, will host his regular Folk Club night on May 27, June 24 and July 8.

“For his first night, it’ll be just Gary and his guitar, performing Paul Simon songs solo rather than with his Graceland band. It’s lovely for us that a local musician, who’s internationally renowned, came here and said, ‘I want to play here every month and bring acts here regularly’,” says Alex.

At The Mill’s ERII Platinum Jubilee celebrations will take in Jubilee Jubilee, A Very Jubilant Cabaret, on June 3 and A Right Royal Knees Up, with live music and pizza, on June 5.

Maddie Morris: 2019 BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award winner, playing a Music At The Mill gig for the first time

Leeds folk duo Maddie Morris & Lilian Grace will make their At The Mill debut on June 12, performing together as Death And The Daughter and playing solo works too. Their 2022 project, The Sticky Monsters, is influenced by the artwork of Swedish artist John Kenn and their compositions deal with childhood, poverty and more general reflections on culture and the idea of fear.

“I saw Maddie, the 2019 BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award winner, at The Courthouse, Rural Arts’ home in Thirsk, and she’s an absolute folk musician, studying folk music at Leeds University and looking at contemporary politics through the lens of the folk tradition,” says Alex.

Gemma Curry’s York company Hoglets Theatre will perform the children’s show The Sleep Pirates on June 19 (10am to 1pm); York spoken-word collective Say Owt will host a poetry-writing workshop on June 25 (5pm), followed by an evening showcase (7.30pm); Heady Conduct will combine physical storytelling with live music to tell the Greek myth of Tiresias on July 10, and Paperback Theatre will stage their charming account of roguish Toad’s misadventures, The Wind In The Willows, on July 30 at 2.30pm and 7pm.

Alex himself has a couple of contributions to the season: Monster, a work-in-progress new story, on June 16 and 17, and The Gods The Gods The Gods, the Wright and Grainger show whose Australian premiere tour was curtailed by the pandemic, now making its British debut on July 23, 24, 27 and 28 at 8.45pm.

Gemma Curry in Hoglets Theatre’s The Sleep Pirates

“In its full iteration, it’s a big, heavy show, but this will be a lighter version before we take it to the Edinburgh Fringe,” says Alex of the final work in Wright & Grainger’s trilogy of myths, after Orpheus and Eurydice, both sell-outs at last summer’s At The Mill season.

The Gods The Gods The Gods, with its four stories and 14 compositions, corals big beats, soaring melodies and heart-stopping spoken words as it “calls us to the crossroads where mythology meets real life”.

“The Gods are gathering and you’re invited,” says Alex. “We’re excited about testing it out here, to wrangle up the story, to see that all the text and music works, and then add lights for Edinburgh, where we’ll be doing it in the Assembly’s 200-seat spiegeltent.”

The Mill’s summer programme will continue to add new events, with full details, including tickets, at athemill.org. Shows start at 7.30pm unless stated otherwise.

The Flanagan Collective’s Alexander Flanagan-Wright and Gobbledigook Theatre’s Phil Grainger staging Orpheus and Eurydice at At The Mill’s socially-distanced summer season in 2021. Picture: Charlotte Graham

REVIEW: Paul Rhodes’s verdict on Rachel Sermanni and Gary Stewart, National Centre for Early Music, York, November 23

State of grace: Rachel Sermanni on stage at St Margaret’s Church, home of the National Centre for Early Music, in Walmgate, York. Picture: Paul Rhodes

BEING born gloriously Scottish is simply the luck of the draw. What the performers at the NCEM on Tuesday chose to do with those lovely accents is anything but arbitrary.

Rachel Sermanni’s upbringing in the Cairngorms must have contributed to her distinctive personality, and certainly can be heard ringing through her wonderful singing voice.

Sermanni has only just turned 30. It’s almost a decade since she opened up for Jesca Hoop at one of Tony Fothergill’s much-missed House Concerts. Then, she had the charisma but not the songs, but now an adult, she is much further down that (never ending) road.

Her 75-minute set was richly textured – high praise as she was playing solo – and drew on songs from across her career. As a performer she naturally draws you in, and her habit of holding your gaze is quite disarming. While sometimes on record her material lacks heft, live and buoyed by her stage craft, it made for a really enjoyable evening.

Singer-songwriter Gary Stewart (who also fronts a Paul Simon tribute show built around the Graceland album, by the way)

Things had got off to a promising start with a charming support set from Gary Stewart. Comparisons with Paul Simon were inescapable, even down to the tank top, but then is there any higher benchmark for a singer-songwriter?

Born in  Perthshire, we are lucky to have Stewart live near York, and he performed a set of songs from his home-recorded lockdown record, Lost, Then Found. His lilting, airy voice and dextrous finger picking were a treat.

While it was a shame he didn’t play his dainty Sadder Day Song – where laying on the grass in York’s Museum Gardens finally makes it into song – there was still much to enjoy. Pick of the set was Sailors And Tailors, which wittily and tunefully brought back to life the romance of his Scottish ancestors.

Kudos to Please Please You promoter Joe Coates’s attuned ears for matching these two performers.

Rachel Sermanni: “Her habit of holding your gaze is quite disarming,” says reviewer Paul Rhodes

Sermanni’s songs took the evening up another level. While she professed to be rusty, the occasional ‘alternative’ note added rather than detracted, making it feel much more human and real – more in keeping with her organic persona.

She wove in a mix of happy songs, with the audience stirred into voice for Dream A Little Dream Of Me (made popular by Doris Day), bitter (the curiously titled Tractor and searching and sad (Everything Changes, a standout from 2014).

Her most recent EP focused on her response to giving birth, Swallow Me sharing the stage with its darker brethren, Travelled. It makes her a highly relatable artist. What Can I Do sparkled, with our Covid powerlessness adding extra layers of meaning to her powerful cry.

Her fascinating introduction to discovering that Semisonic’s late-1990s’ hit, Closing Time, was actually a song in disguise about fatherhood almost made up for Sleeping, which was less hidden, rather winking, in plain sight. It was one of very few weaker moments.

In contrast, her pre-encore set finished with Lay My Heart. Easily her most memorable number, or at least the most anthemic, this enraptured song of being in a state of grace was stunning. Written under the influence of the aurora borealis, it might have been better to leave the audience in that condition.

Custom and good manners demanded an encore, which didn’t reach the same heights but such was the warmth in the room that we could have looked on into the early hours, like Sermanni under those dancing Canadian skies, whisky full until frost grew from our noses.

Review by Paul Rhodes

24 acts in six days adds up to the first Live For St Leonard’s music festival fundraiser

Jonny & The Dunebugs: Topping the Live For St Leonard’s bill on September 24

THE debut Live For St Leonard’s fundraising music festival will take place over six days as part of York Food & Drink Festival 2021.

This charity event in aid of St Leonard’s Hospice will feature 24 live performances by musicians from York and the surrounding area, such as The Y Street Band, KissKissKill, Leather ’O, The Moths, Jonny & The Dunebugs and The Rusty Pegs.

The festivities will be held between 5pm and 9pm each evening in the event marquee in Parliament Street, where food and drink will be available from Food & Drink Festival participants.

Penny Whispers’ Harry Bullen and Terri-Ann Prendergast , who will be performing on September 23

All the live music events are free to attend, and St Leonard’s staff and volunteers will be collecting donations during the performances. Donations also can be made online via the  Just Giving page at: justgiving.com/fundraising/live4stleonards

The music acts have been arranged by Chris Bush, York BID’s business manager, whose time has been donated by York BID in support of the York Food & Drink Festival. “We have a sensational line-up of bands and solo artists that’s not to be missed,” he says.

“As a fellow musician, it’s so encouraging to see so many talented individuals enthused to get involved and do their bit for charity. I’m confident we can raise a considerable sum. It’s also a pleasure to be supporting both York Food & Drink Festival and St Leonard’s Hospice, which are two enormously valuable organisations for our city.”

Leather ‘O: Booked in for an 8pm slot on September 19

Michael Hjort, creative director of York Food & Drink Festival, says: “It’s a long-standing ambition of the festival to be active in the early evening and encourage those in the city during the day to stay on.

“Live music is a great way of doing this and at the same time we get to raise money for a great charity. We’re thrilled by the acts coming to play for Live for St Leonard’s.”

Emma Johnson, chief executive at St Leonard’s Hospice, says: “We’re delighted that Chris and the York Food & Drink Festival have chosen to support us with this fantastic event. It’s through the generosity of people in our community that we can continue to provide the best quality of end of care and support. Every donation really does make a difference to our patients and their families.”

The Live For St Leonard’s poster artwork

Here is the Live For St Leonard’s line-up:

Friday, September 17
5pm, Joshua Murray;
6pm, Bryony Drake;
7pm, Big Bad Blues Band;
8pm, The Y Street Band.

Saturday, September 18

5pm, Tri-Starrs;
6pm, Phil Hooley;
7pm, Zak Ford;
8pm, KissKissKill.

Sunday, September 19
5pm, Simon Snaize;
6pm, Joshua Murray;
7pm, White Sail;
8pm, Leather ‘O.

Gary Stewart: Opening act on September 24

Thursday, September 23
5pm, TBC;
6pm, Clive;
7pm, Penny Whispers;
8pm, The Moths.

Friday, September 24
5pm, Gary Stewart;
6pm, Fahrenheit V;
7pm, Andy Doonan;
8pm, Jonny & The Dunebugs.

Saturday, September 25
5pm, Jack Parker;
6pm, Miles Salter;
7pm, Smith n Wallace;
8pm, The Rusty Pegs.

The Rusty Pegs: The closing act for Live For St Leonard’s on September 25

More Things To Do in and around York, as Richard III ‘returns’ to his favourite city. List No. 38, courtesy of The Press, York

Next stop York Theatre Royal: The Showstoppers are on their way north for a night of improvised musical comedy mayhem

LOOKING to have a whale of a time? Here is Charles Hutchinson’s latest guide to what’s on and what’s coming up, featuring a snail, a whale, a hare, a York king and much more besides.

Anything Could Happen show of the week: The Showstoppers in Showstopper! The Improvised Musical, York Theatre Royal and livestream, June 30, 7.30pm

DIRECT from the West End, The Showstoppers’ Olivier Award-winning blend of comedy, musical theatre and spontaneity heads to York Theatre Royal for one night only.

A new musical comedy will be created from scratch as audience suggestions are transformed into an all-singing, all-dancing production packed with drama, dazzling dance routines and contagious melodies, everything being made up on the spot.

“Whether you fancy Hamiltonin a hospital or Sondheim in the Sahara, you suggest it and we’ll sing it,” say the Showstoppers, whose show will be livestreamed too, with more details in how to tune in at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk/show/showstopper-the-improvised-musical-livestream.

Wood work: York actor Richard Kay and Hetty the hare in Badapple Theatre Company’s Tales From The Great Wood

Family show of the week: Badapple Theatre Company in Tales From The Great Wood, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, July 2, 7.30pm; July 3, 11am, 2.30pm and 7pm.

LISTEN! Can you hear the whispering in the trees? The wood is full of stories in Tales From The Wood, written and directed by Kate Bramley, artistic director of Green Hammerton company Badapple.

York actor Richard Kay, Danny Mellor and a host of puppets present an interactive storytelling eco-adventure for ages five to 95, set on a hot summer’s day, when, instead of resting, Hetty the hare is investigating because someone is missing. 

As she unravels a tall tale that stretches across The Great Wood, Hetty realises how every creature, no matter how small, can have a huge part to play in the world of the forest. Box office: josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

On the snail trail: Tall Stories in The Snail And The Whale at York Theatre Royal

Children’s show of the week: Tall Stories in The Snail And The Whale, York Theatre Royal, July 2, 2.30pm and 4.30pm; July 3, 10.30am and 1.30pm

TALL Stories invite you to join an adventurous young girl and her seafaring father as they reimagine the story of a globe-trotting tiny snail, inspired by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s picture book.

In this heart-warming play full of music, storytelling and laughter, the sea snail hitches a lift on the tail of a grey-blue humpback whale to head off an amazing journey around the world, but when the whale becomes beached, how will the snail save him? Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Gary Stewart: Hosting his Folk Club night at the At The Mill outdoor theatre in Stillington

Folk event of the week ahead: Gary Stewart’s Folk Club, At The Mill, Stillington, near York, July 3, 7.30pm to 10pm

“IT will be a very special, one-off, folk club: part folk night, part headline gig, with an eclectic mix of acts and then me doing a set,” says Easingwold singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Gary Stewart.

Hosted by Gary, people in attendance will be given the chance to play and perform, whether music, stories, songs or poems. “If you want to share something, then bring your instrument and your voice and we’ll see you there!” says At The Mill’s Alexander Wright. For tickets, go to: atthemill.com.

Back in York at last: Richard III returns “home” in a National Portrait Gallery portrait loan to the Yorkshire Museum

Portrait of the summer:  Richard III, Yorkshire Museum, York, July 9 to October 31.

HIS ex-car park bones may be stuck in Leicester Cathedral, but that right work of art, Richard III, is heading back to his favourite city, York, albeit in portrait form.

On loan from the National Portrait Gallery as part of its Coming Home project, the iconic 16th century painting by the mysterious Unknown Artist will be on show at the Yorkshire Museum alongside “one of the finest groups of objects associated with Richard III”, such as the magnificent Middleham Jewel, The Ryther Hoard and Stillingfleet Boar Badge.

“Coming home,” you say? Yes, the project lends portraits of iconic individuals to places across the UK with which they are most closely associated. York 1, Leicester 0.

Hope & Social distancing: Leeds band to play Covid-secure gig at The Crescent, York

Where there’s hope…and a NEW date: Hope & Social, The Crescent, York, October 12, 7.30pm. Moved from July 16

“WE wear blue jackets. Fingers crossed, we will die with our hearts out in bloom,” say Leeds band Hope & Social, purveyors of the 2014 Tour de France Grand Depart  and Yorkshire Festival anthem The Big Wide.

Ah yes, but why do they wear those blue jackets? “Homburgs, in Leeds, were selling off goods, and they had a choice between Wombles outfits and these Butlins holiday camp-style outfits,” explains drummer Gary Stewart. Box office: thecrescentyork.com.

The Courteeners: Playing a warm-up gig at the 8,000-capacity Scarborough Open Air Theatre

Warm-up gig of the summer: The Courteeners, Scarborough Open Air Theatre, September 8

THE Courteeners will loosen up for two-late summer shows with an exclusive warm-up on the East Coast, supported by Wirral wonders The Coral.

The Middleton band are to play Glasgow’s TRNSMT Festival on September 10 and Manchester’s Emirates Old Trafford cricket ground on September 25, a home-coming that sold out in 90 minutes.

Best known for Not Nineteen Forever, Are You In Love With A Notion, How Good It Was, The 17th and Hanging Off Your Cloud, The Courteeners released their seventh top ten album, More. Again. Forever, in January 2020. Tickets will go on sale tomorrow (25/6/2021) via scarboroughopenairtheatre.com.

As you Lycett: More, more, more Yorkshire dates for Joe Lycett on his long, long, long 2022 tour. Picture: Matt Crockett

Comedy gig announcement of the week: Joe Lycett: More, More, More! How Do You Lycett? How Do You Lycett?, York Barbican, April 1 and 3 2022

FRESH from filming in York last Thursday for his Channel 4 consumer-campaign series Joe Lycett’s Got Your Back, Birmingham comedian and presenter Lycett has announced a 60-date tour with a title riffing on a 1976 Andrea True Connection disco floor-filler.

In More, More, More!, Lycett will explore his love of art and passion for gardening, how he toys with companies on Instagram and the perils of online trolls.

As well as his York Barbican brace, among more, more, more dates in 2022 will be Hull Bonus Arena on April 2 and Leeds First Direct Arena on September 14. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk and joelycett.com.

Gary Stewart parades themes & skills old & new on Lost, Now Found lockdown album

Gary Stewart: Fortified at forty

IN the week when Gary Stewart turns 40, the Easingwold singer-songwriter has released his lockdown album, Lost, Now Found.

“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 and multi-instrumentalist, whose birthday was on Monday.

“Especially with this album, when you finish a recording, there’s that culture, that thing, where you always think it’s the best you’ve done, but I really do, because I had the time,” says Gary.

“The difficulty is that normally I don’t give myself time to write songs because I’m always doing other things, but I think I’ve tended to use that as an excuse before, but that couldn’t be an excuse this time.”

Before Covid-19 became the invisible enemy in March last year, Gary’s diary would be filled with such commitments as playing drums for Leeds band Hope & Social and guitar for Rosie Doonan; alternating the drummer’s seat for eight years in the Harrogate Theatre pantomime orchestra pit; hosting the Greenwich Village-inspired Gaslight Club acoustic hootenanny gigs at Oporto!, in Call Lane, Leeds, and fronting a seven-piece covers band, touring the UK with Graceland: A Celebration of Paul Simon’s Classic.

“In lockdown, I could give myself to writing after quite a hiatus from doing that. Suddenly, you have all this time and you can either squander it or you can try to use it productively, and I thought, ‘I’m going to be productive,” he says.

Perthshire-born Scotsman Gary had cut his teeth performing on the Leeds music scene for ten years before moving to Easingwold. 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 had released three albums and two EPs to date.

“The last album came out in November 2018, but I didn’t really give it the push it deserved, probably because there were other things going on, though I did have a launch night at The Crescent [in York],” he says.

Lost, Now Found emerged over a burst of song-writing between April and June 2020, ten compositions completed in “lightning time” by his own standards. “I started with a song, Leopard, that had been kicking around my head and notebook for 18 months or so, with a verse and chorus,” says Gary.

Gary Stewart performing at A Night To Remember at York Barbican. Picture courtesy of Ian Donaghy

“As a self-confessed professional procrastinator, my fear was that I wouldn’t stick with it or even bother to give myself a fighting chance, but thankfully I managed to finish it, and I thought, ‘let’s try to expand how I write, moving on from the usual four chords’.

“My girlfriend is a big Beatles fan and that kind of influenced my writing. For me, when I’m writing an album, I always think, ‘what would interest me as a listener?’, while trying to write each sing in a different key, though I didn’t quite manage it in end!”

“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.

“I thought, ‘I may as well spend time learning the technicalities of recording, learning how to use software of industry standard,” he recalls. “Arts Council England enticed me with its Developing Creative Practice fund, so I applied, got the funding, and that helped me to buy 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 were spent learning a new trade on-the-go while recording the ten new songs. “It was a really interesting process, as I didn’t have to worry about playing on the songs because I can play what I need to a reasonable standard,” says Gary, who studied orchestral percussion at Leeds College of Music from 1999 and lived the big-city life until relocating to Easingwold in 2014.

“I’ve played for such a long time, I’m like a magpie, or a musical carpetbagger, picking up different things to play, like the guitar when I was 14/15.

“What was great this time was being able to get the sound I wanted, and all those things make me feel it’s the best album I’ve done: the recordings are good, the sound is excellent.”

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.

Ruth Varela‘s artwork for Gary Stewart’s Lost, Now Found lockdown album

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. “Under the pandemic restrictions, we couldn’t meet up, but I was able to send the tracks to them record their parts,” says Gary.

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.”

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, consciously or 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) – songwriters just can’t get away from writing love songs!”

Inevitably, too, there are songs woven more indelibly and intertwined with the time and circumstances wherein they were written: family loss, both physical and mental, for Sailors And Tailors and Lost, Now Found and the triumph over adversity of the NHS for Front Lines.

“Some songs came really quickly, like Front Lines, which came from a conversation with my percussionist, who’s a paramedic, and told me of paramedics being put on the phone to speak with cancer patients who couldn’t be treated during the pandemic.”

This summer marks Gary’s return to performing, kicking off with Gary Stewart’s Folk Club from 7.30pm to 10pm on July 3, replacing the Silent Disco that has now aptly fallen silent that evening in the open-air setting of At The Mill, in Stillington, near York (box office: athemill.org).

“It will be a very special, one off, folk club: part folk night, part headline gig, with an eclectic mix of acts and then me doing a set,” says Gary.

Gary Stewart’s poster for his Graceland shows. The Crescent, in York, awaits on September 18

As At The Mill’s Alexander Wright explains: “The first half will work like a traditional folk night. Hosted by Gary, people in attendance are given the opportunity to play and share – music, stories, songs or poems. If you want to share something, then bring your instrument and your voice and we’ll see you there!

“The second half of the evening sees Gary take to the stage for a headline set. We can’t wait for Gary Stewart’s Folk Club. We love a folk night – and we really look forward to seeing and hearing all the wonderful things you bring to share!”

Gary will be in solo mode on the July 31 bill for Meadowfest, Malton’s boutique midsummer music festival, headlined by Lightning Seeds (box office: tickettailor.com/events/visitmalton/348810/s).

In The Crescent’s diary are two gigs: Gary’s Paul Simon show, Graceland, on September 18 , with tickets on sale at £12.50 at seetickets.com, plus he will be back on drums there for Hope & Social on October 12, newly rearranged from July 16.

Even in such strange times, Gary Stewart is living out a young Scotsman’s vow to himself. “I consciously made the decision that I was going to make music, as even if I didn’t make a lot of money, I’d still want to make music because that’s the win of it,” he says. “I’ll always work hard at it, though sometimes I could be more proactive!”

More proactive?  The multi-tasking new album, the diverse live performances, would suggest otherwise, Gary.

Gary Stewart’s Lost, Now Found was 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.

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