ACOUSTIC guitarist and singer Karl Culley will head from Poland to his hometown of Harrogate to play a restoration appeal fundraiser for Harrogate Theatre on June 2.
Accompanying him in the intimate Studio Theatre will be fellow Harrogate musician Dan Webster, from Birdman Rallies, Gosh Hawk and New York Brass Band, who also will play a short set on the 7.30pm bill.
The fundraiser will be presented by not-for-profit Harrogate event organisers Charm, who previously brought the likes of Field Music and Gruff Rhys, of Super Furry Animals, to Harrogate Theatre.
“It’s a rare return to Harrogate from his successful sojourn in Kraków for Karl Culley, who has been hailed by Mojo magazine as a brilliant ‘metaphysical folk pop poet’,” says Charm promoter Graham Chalmers.
“Karl first appeared at a Charm night in 2005 and has become favourite of our events ever since with his mesmerising performances.”
Culley released debut album Bundle Of Nerves in 2009, put together from recording sessions on the Scottish isle of Jura. His second offering, The Owl, produced by Daniel Webster, was recorded in York and his native Harrogate in 2011 and drew comparisons with both Tim Buckley and José González in a four-star Sunday Express review.”
Three more albums have followed: Phosphor in 2013, Stripling in 2015 and Last! in 2018. “Karl will perform songs from all five and unveil tracks from his new EP, Redshift, which has already been reviewed favourably by folkradio.co.uk,” says Graham.
Charm presents Karl Culley and Dan Webster in a night of acoustic music at Harrogate Theatre Studio Theatre on June 2 at 7.30pm. All profits will go to the Harrogate Theatre Restoration Appeal. Box office: 01423 502116, at harrogatetheatre.co.uk or via email to email@example.com.
AVOIDING the “devastation of stag and hen parties” (copyright Rachael Maskell, York Central MP), Charles Hutchinson finds reasons aplenty to venture out.
Play of the week: Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming, York Theatre Royal, Monday to Saturday, 7.30pm; Thursday, 2pm; Saturday, 2.30pm
GAVIN & Stacey star Mathew Horne and Keith Allen star in Jamie Glover’s new production of The Homecoming, Harold Pinter’s bleakly funny 1965 exploration of family and relationships.
University professor Teddy returns to his North London childhood home from America, accompanied by his wife Ruth, to find his father, uncle and brothers still living there. As life becomes a barely camouflaged battle for power and sexual supremacy, who will emerge victorious: poised and elegant Ruth or her husband’s dysfunctional family? Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
Outdoor gig of the week: Tom Figgins, Music At The Mill, Stillington Mill, near York, tonight, 7.30pm
SINGER-SONGWRITER Tom Figgins returns to At The Mill’s garden stage after last summer’s sold-out performance, with the promise of new material.
Figgins’ vocal range, guitar playing and compelling lyrics caught the ear of presenter Chris Evans,who hosted him on his BBC Radio 2 show and invited him to play the main stage at CarFest North & South.
His instrumental works have been heard on Countryfile and Panorama and he is the composer for the Benlunar podcast, now on its fourth series. Box office: tickettailor.com/events/atthemill.
Classical concert of the week: York Guildhall Orchestra, York Barbican, tonight, 7.30pm
YORK Guildhall Orchestra’s final concert of their 2021-2022 season welcomes the long-awaited return of pianist Martin Roscoe, originally booked to perform in May 2020.
Retained from that Covid-cancelled programme are Shostakovich’s Jazz Suite, with its combination of cheeky jazz tunes and the Russian’s mastery of orchestration, and Dohnanyi’s mock-serious take on a children’s nursery rhyme. Leeds Festival Chorus join in for Elgar’s Music Makers. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
Eighties’ nostalgia of the week: Go West & Paul Young, York Barbican, Sunday, 7.30pm
PETER Cox and Richard Drummer’s slick duo, Go West, and Luton soul singer Paul Young go north this weekend for a double bill of Eighties’ pop.
Expect We Close Our Eyes, Call Me, Don’t Look Down and King Of Wishful Thinking, from the Pretty Woman soundtrack, in Go West’s set. The chart-topping Wherever I Lay My Hat, Love Of The Common People, Everytime You Go Away and Everything Must Change will be on Young’s To Do list. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
Fun and word games of the week: Paul Merton’s Impro Chums, Grand Opera House, York, Monday, 8pm
HAVE I Got News For You regular and Comedy Store Players co-founder Paul Merton teams up with fellow seasoned improvisers Richard Vranch, Suki Webster and Mike McShane and accompanist Kirsty Newton to flex their off-the-cuff comedy muscles on their first antics roadshow travels since August 2019.
“What audiences like about what we do is that we haven’t lost our sense of play, our sense of fun, the sort of thing that gets knocked out of you because you have to get married or get a mortgage or find a job,” says Merton. Let the fun and games sparked by audience suggestions begin. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or atgtickets.com/York.
Homage, not tribute show, of the week: Hayley Ria Christian in Midnight Train To Georgia, A Celebration Of Gladys Knight, Grand Opera House, York, Friday, 7.30pm
HAYLEY Ria Christian’s show is “definitely not a tribute, but a faithful portrayal that truly pays homage to the voice of a generation, the one and only Empress of Soul, Ms Gladys Knight”.
In the late Sixties and Seventies, Gladys Knight & The Pips enjoyed such hits as Take Me In Your Arms And Love Me, Help Me Make It Through The Night, Try To Remember/The Way We Were, Baby, Don’t Change Your Mind and her signature song Midnight Train To Georgia. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or atgtickets.com/York.
Comedy gig of the week: Milton Jones in Milton: Impossible, Harrogate Theatre, May 21, 7.30pm
ONE man. One Mission. Is it possible? “No, not really,” says Kew comedian Milton Jones, the shock-haired matador of the piercing one-liner, as he reveals the truth behind having once been an international spy, but then being given a somewhat disappointing new identity that forced him to appear on Mock The Week.
“But this is also a love story with a twist, or at least a really bad sprain,” says Jones. “Is it all just gloriously daft nonsense, or is there a deeper meaning?” Find out next weekend. Box office: 01423 502116 or harrogatetheatre.co.uk.
Protest gig of the week: Grace Petrie, The Crescent, York, May 23, 7.30pm
DIY protest singer Grace Petrie emerged from lockdown with Connectivity, her 2021 polemical folk album that reflects on what humanity means in a world struggling against division and destruction.
Petrie’s honest songs seek a way to carry on the fight for a better tomorrow when every day you are told you have lost already. Bad news: her York gig has sold out. Good news: she will be playing Social, Hull, too on May 18 at 8pm (box office, seetickets.com). On both nights, she will be accompanied by long-time collaborator, singer and multi-instrumentalist Ben Moss.
Northern Broadsides in As You Like It, York Theatre Royal, 2.30pm and 7.30pm tomorrow, andon tour. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk
COVID had kept Northern Broadsides away from York since 2019, rudely curtailing Quality Street’s travels before the Theatre Royal run in 2020.
York’s wait to see a Laurie Sansom production following his appointment as artistic director in 2019 finally ended on Wednesday, with the sight of Sansom himself on stage.
Always a nervous moment: a director standing on the boards. Would he be delivering last-minute bad news? Thankfully not, instead expressing his delight at Broadsides being back in York, before announcing a couple of Covid-enforced substitutions after last week’s positive tests scuppered the Stephen Joseph Theatre run.
Jo Patmore would be stepping up from Amiens and William duties to stand in for Isobel Coward as devoted cousin Celia. Robin Simpson, his Ugly Sisters double act with Paul Hawkyard still fresh in the mind from the Theatre Royal’s Cinderella pantomime, would play the melancholic Jacques, a still grave but more bookish figure with safety-net book in hand after filling in at short notice for Adam Kashmiry.
Ironically, Simpson almost missed out on his week under the lights, Sansom revealing that he had damaged his knee ahead of the first night and would take to the stage with a pronounced limp and a stick. Limp, yes, stick, no, as it turned out; the book being his more important crutch.
As You Like It was dismissed as a mere crowd-pleaser by George Bernard Shaw, a gibe that suggests it is an inferior work, made for laughs rather than weightier impact. In truth, aside from Jacques’ “All the world’s a stage” soliloquy, it has always been nothing more than an As You Only Quite Like It play, one that demands graft as much as craft from its cast.
What Laurie Sansom has done, however, is to make it a play for today, newly resonating with our pandemic-shadowed times in its celebration of (our return to) the joys of live performance; the right to work out who you are and who you want to be, and the heightened appreciation of the transformative power of the natural world. In a nutshell, what better time to go wild in the country in a tale of mistaken identities and changing attitudes.
From Sansom’s impromptu stage announcement onwards, his production is marked by informality, with a flexibility to the delivery of Shakespeare’s text to rival the gender fluidity.
Although the play’s initial tone is determined by the rigidity of Duke Frederick’s macho court, the mood is set by Joe Morrow’s drag-queen Touchstone, given freedom to roam, to improvise, as he would in his other lives as cabaret turn Joe Morose and Café de Paris master of ceremonies.
Sansom modernises the wrestling clash, bringing it into the WWF age with American- accented entries, Bailey Brook’s Charles becoming Chainsaw Charles and Shaban Dar’s Orlando adding ‘Dynamite’ to his moniker.
Morrow’s Broadsides debut is an utter joy, born for the centre stage, quick on the quips and asides, his voice a delicious tease throughout, playing the wise fool.
Elsewhere, this production revolves around an EM and an E.M.: namely non-binary actor EM Williams’s Rosalind, banished from the court, and duly taking the guise of a boy once in the Forest of Arden, and E.M. Parry, a designer who specialises in work that “centres Queer bodies and narratives”.
Parry delivers fabulous costumes, with a flourish reminiscent of Lez Brotherston, while the forest takes the form of hatstands, both a fashion statement and a bravura way to represent the wooded natural world and our roles as mere players going through the costume changes of life.
Williams’s Rosalind is teased in Morrow’s banter for being so serious, and indeed Williams’s performance is intense, earnest, yet lithely energetic and liberated too, before turning into Puck for the epilogue.
Reuben Johnson’s Oliver, Dar’s Orlando, Ali Gadema’s Duke Frederick and Patmore’s Celia keep the story moving; Simpson’s Jacques steps in with his glum commentary, breaking down the fourth wall once to acknowledge coming in too soon for his next line.
Morrow makes light of being the conductor for so much of the comedy, albeit aided by Brook’s Silvius and Gemma Dobson’s Phoebe. An out-of-the-blue cameo by three cast members as misbehaving sheep draws the biggest laughter, nudging towards pantomime in a scene orchestrated by Morrow seemingly on the hoof.
Tellingly, it is not the only moment where Morrow’s own wit is funnier to modern ears than Shakespeare’s script, although he is equally adept at spinning the Bard’s words like plates.
Robert Bentall’s music is industrial and harsh for the court, beautifully pastoral for the forest, adding to the contrast. Ultimately, Sansom’s As You Like It is more successful as a visual delight and as a piece of political theatre in tune with cultural and social issues in its diverse casting and sensibilities than as a comedy, Morrow aside. That makes it a better play for today. Job done.
Further Yorkshire performances will follow at Leeds Playhouse, May 17 to 21; The Viaduct Theatre, Halifax, June 9 to 18; CAST, Doncaster, June 21 to 25, and Harrogate Theatre, June 28 to July 2. Box office: Leeds, 0113 213 7700 or leedsplayhouse.org.uk; Halifax, 01422 849 227 or theviaducttheatre.co.uk; Doncaster, 01302 303959 or castindoncaster.com; Harrogate, 01423 502116 or harrogatetheatre.co.uk.
YORK Theatre Royal and the Grand Opera House, York, are joining more than 100 theatres in UK Theatre’s Love Your Local Theatre campaign.
The National Lottery is providing up to £2 million to subsidise 150,000 tickets nationwide in the biggest-ever 2-for-1 ticket offer, open to National Lottery players who attend a show during March, whether musicals, plays, family shows, comedy or dance.
Tickets are available to buy from 10am today via loveyourlocaltheatre.com in a campaign run by theatre membership body UK Theatre, designed to encourage the public to support their local theatres as they begin to recover from the impact of Covid.
Supported by Girls Aloud singer, television presenter and stage star Kimberley Walsh, Love Your Local Theatre is a thank-you for the £30 million National Lottery players raise every week for good causes, including support for the performing arts and theatres during the pandemic.
Walsh says: “We are so privileged to have so many incredible theatres and entertainment venues across the UK. I have been lucky enough to perform in many of them. Without our local theatres, the face of UK entertainment would look very different and it’s amazing the National Lottery is providing £2 million to support them.
“The entertainment industry was particularly impacted by the pandemic, and that’s why the Love Your Local Theatre campaign is so important in supporting their recovery.”
Stephanie Sirr, president of UK Theatre, says: “We are delighted to be working with the National Lottery on Love Your Local Theatre, the first time UK Theatre members across the country have united for a ticket promotion of this scale.
“We should be hugely proud in this country to have such an extensive, vibrant and diverse range of regional theatres, all of which play a vital role in the theatre landscape of the UK and beyond. After such a turbulent two years, we want to shout about the fact that theatres are open and ready to reward audiences for their patience and loyalty – please visit your local theatre and help them continue to make brilliant creative work!”
Nigel Railton, chief executive officer of National Lottery operator Camelot, adds: “The UK’s entertainment industry is world class, thanks to the huge variety of venues and projects across the four nations.
“National Lottery players raise £30 million a week to help fund good causes, many of which lie in the entertainment industry. The National Lottery is proud to have teamed up with UK Theatre to launch the Love Your Local Theatrecampaign, giving local theatres the support they need to get on the road to recovery following the pandemic, while saying thank you to National Lottery players who have helped support many theatres during the last two years.”
Among other Yorkshire theatres taking part are: Bradford Alhambra Theatre; Harrogate Theatre; Hull New Theatre; Hull Truck Theatre; Leeds City Varieties Music Hall; Leeds Grand Theatre; Leeds Playhouse; Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre, Leeds; Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, and Sheffield Theatres (Lyceum and Crucible).
The Love Your Local Theatre promotion is available to anyone who is a National Lottery player and possesses a National Lottery ticket. From today, players can purchase tickets at available performances taking place during March.
TWO Big Egos In A Small Car culture podcasters Chalmers & Hutch have their say in Episode 67.
Also under discussion are Blood Youth, heavy metal and heady beer; James & Happy Mondays’ Manchester night in Leeds; Harrogate Theatre’s sublime pantomime, Cinderella; Mick Jagger’s dedication to the blues and House Of Gucci’s style versus content.
PHIL Lowe, “irreplaceable” director and co-writer of Harrogate Theatre’s pantomime since 2007, has died.
The “devastated” theatre has announced: “Our friend, associate director, pantomime director and co-writer passed away unexpectedly on Wednesday, October 13.
“Phil was an integral part of what makes Harrogate Theatre special, both to work at and visit. Our pantomime has truly sparkled since he came to the helm in 2007. He is irreplaceable.”
In his memory, this winter’s production of Cinderella will go ahead, running from November 24 to January 16. “No-one wanted to bring the party back to Harrogate Theatre more than him,” the statement said.
Phil Lowe and chief executive David Bown first combined on a Harrogate Theatre pantomime in 2007, co-writing Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, with Mr Lowe directing a cast led, as ever, by “daft lad” Tim Stedman.
In an interview ahead of the first night, Mr Lowe defined the Harrogate Theatre pantomime experience that would prevail on his watch. “The thing is that we need to cater for four-year-olds to 94-year olds, and you need to have every panto element for everyone, so you don’t alienate anyone,” he said.
“The set, the music, the costumes, the script, they have to appeal to everyone, and it just has to be magical. I just hope I bring a bit of magic to it, and not in David Blaine or Paul Daniels way.
“Harrogate’s show is a traditional panto, where it’s all about the story. Hopefully, children will say ‘it was just like the fairytale’ they read.
“So, we keep it genuine, but with corny gags and little tricks too – and if it’s not broken, don’t try to fix it. The cast need to keep it rolling, be on the same wavelength with the audience, and have an abnormal passion for panto, like me.”
Thank you, Phil Lowe, for delivering year after year on that brief, in tandem with David Bown.
Harrogate Theatre has set up a Just Giving page for donations in Mr Lowe’s memory, in aid of Harrogate District Hospital’s cardiac care unit, with a £1,000 target that has been surpassed already. To donate, go to: justgiving.com/fundraising/harrogate-theatre1.
“Our thoughts are with Phil’s wife, Caroline, their beloved boys, family and friends,” the theatre statement concluded.
THE Hound Of The Baskervilles is at loose this Haunted Season at York Theatre Royal, returning Serena Manteghi to the city where she cut her acting teeth.
“I studied [at the University of York] and lived in York for many years and still work there often,” she says, ahead of the October 19 to 23 run. “It’s my spiritual home and I’ve been assured I can now call myself an honorary Yorkshire lass, so I’m very much looking forward to heading back there.”
Although based in London, Serena has spent plenty of time up north this summer, performing in early August in Alexander Wright and Phil Grainger’s Eurydice at Theatre At The Mill, Stillington, and later that month in the Harrogate Theatre community play Our Gate in and around the Wesley Centre, Harrogate.
Now she is part of a fast-moving cast of three in Lotte Wakeham’s production of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most celebrated detective tale as it receives a farcical overhaul, with Serena playing only men in Steven Canny and John Nicholson’s adaptation, first staged by Peepolykus in 2007 with West End success.
The story is as familiar as ever: world-renowned detective Sherlock Holmes and his colleague Dr Watson are asked to unravel the mystery surrounding the untimely death of Sir Charles Baskerville. Amid rumours of a cursed giant hound loose on the moors, they must act fast in order to save the Baskerville family’s last remaining heir.
What ensues, however, is an exhilarating collision of farce, ingenious theatrical invention and comic performances to “offer a brand-new twist on the greatest detective story of all time”, in the hands of the multi role-playing Serena, Jake Ferretti’s Sherlock Holmes and Niall Ransome’s Dr Watson.
“I play a whole host of colourful characters, including Sir Charles Baskerville, Dr Mortimer, a helpful London cabbie, three ‘yokels’ (one wise, two less so) and last but not least, the romantic lead (after Dr Watson, of course) and newest Squire of Baskerville Hall, Sir Henry Baskerville,” says Serena, who heads to York after breaking in the Bolton Octagon Theatre and Original Theatre Company production on the road under tour director Tim Jackson following rehearsals in London.
“Yes, they’re all male characters that I’m playing, but I’ve not really thought about their gender; you just play the character – and I have played men before.
“There were male characters in Build A Rocket, Christopher York’s one-woman play I did for the Stephen Joseph Theatre [Scarborough], and I played Rene Magritte in Belt Up Theatre’s Lorca Is Dead [York Theatre Royal, May 2010].
“And there are female characters in this show, played by Jake Ferretti, just as they were played by men when it was created by three wonderful performers [Javier Marzan, John Nicholson and Jason Thorpe]. I predominantly play Sir Henry, in the spirit of that original production.”
One consequence has come from the four weeks of shows so far, demanding more than “Olympian dexterity” from Serena, Jack and Niall. “It’s been quite hard on my voice because I’m having to use a much lower register all the time, so I have to work hard on my warm-ups,” says Serena, who is no stranger to challenging her vocal cords, having played LV, with all her singing voices, in The Rise And Fall Of Little Voice at the SJT in 2017.
Likewise, The Hound Of The Baskervilles, and indeed myriad Sherlock Holmes stories have been stretched in multiple ways. “I think the books are woven so deeply and lovingly into our cultural vocabulary that, growing up in the UK, you feel the infamous Holmes and Watson are just a part of the literary furniture, as it were. Like Father Christmas,” says Serena.
“That said, I absolutely loved the recent BBC adaptations [starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman] and would tune in as soon as they were aired for fear of someone spoiling the mystery.
“I think the diverse versions work because the Holmes and Watson partnership is so iconic; the performers and the audience begin from such a familiar starting point and that means you can take them on a slightly unexpected journey.”
Holmes and Watson are embedded in our cultural psyche as much as Morecambe & Wise, suggests Serena. “They’re loved just as much, and that dynamic is beautifully honoured by Jack and Niall; that joy Holmes and Watson have in each other’s company, which is so apparent in Conan Doyle’s writing,” she says.
“Any literary die-hard fanatics of Conan Doyle will be pleasantly surprised by our show: it’s a comedy retelling, written by a well-established comedy partnership in Steven Canny and John Nicholson – we met John when he came to see it in Exeter – and it’s an utter pleasure to perform. You’d be very hard-pressed not to enjoy yourself watching this play.”
Ah, but is it still scary, Serena? “There are some scares, but it leans heavily on the humour, less so on scariness,” she says. “Every spooky note is buttoned with a gag, but it’s not a send-up. It never mocks the story; it’s more an affectionate take on it.
“Very often, when you have farcical versions of the classics, you have to leave behind the story, but here you do get the whole story, just laden with joy and fun.”
Look out for David Woodhead’s set and costume designs too. “They’re beautiful. That’s another reason to see the show,” says Serena. “The set is just gorgeous to behold, elevated and malleable for multiple uses, and everything we wear is beautifully made.” In other words, no tat, Sherlock!
Original Theatre Company and Octagon Theatre Bolton present The Hound Of The Baskervilles, York Theatre Royal, October 19 to 23, 7.30pm; 2pm, Thursday; 2.30pm, Saturday. Age guidance: eight upwards. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
JULY I will be Ed Byrne’s night in York when the observational Southern Irish comedian headlines an all-star bill for the Live At The Theatre Royal Comedy Night.
Byrne, 49, from Swords, County Dublin, has presented the television shows Just For Laughs and Uncut! Best Unseen Ads and co-hosted BBC2’s The World’s Most Dangerous Roads, Dara And Ed’s Big Adventure and Dara And Ed’s Road To Mandalay with fellow Irish humorist Dara O Briain.
He is a regular guest on numerous television panel games, most notably Mock The Week and Have I Got News For You and has appeared on TV cooking shows, such as Comic Relief Bake Off 2015. As a semi-professional hill-walker and fully paid-up humanist, he brought a refreshing warmth and honesty to BBC2’s The Pilgrimage.
Byrne last played York in March 2018, presenting his Spoiler Alert tour show at the Grand Opera House, where he explored the thin line between righteous complaining and brattish whining as he asked: “Are we right to be fed up or are we spoiled?”
Joining the self-deprecating Bryne will be Mock The Week’s whip-smart wordsmith Rhys James and Have I Got News For You panellist-in-lockdown Maisie Adam, who performed from her living room on the second Your Place Comedy bill with prankster Simon Brodkin last May, as part of the virtual home entertainment series organised by Selby Town Council arts officer Chris Jones.
July 1’s 7.30pm show will be hosted by legendary compere-beyond-compare Arthur Smith, the veteran gloomy weather-faced comedian and presenter from Bermondsey, London.
Tickets cost £20 at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or on 01904 623568.
ED Byrne’s Live At The Theatre Royal Comedy Night in York next Thursday is a one-off, detached from his If I’m Honest tour.
To see that show in North Yorkshire, you will have to wait until October 12 at Harrogate Theatre, when he will delve into a father’s sense of responsibility, what it means to be a man in 2021, and whether he possesses any qualities worth passing on to his two sons.
Noted for his whimsy, Byrne is more serious in tone in If I’m Honest. Take gender politics, for example. “I’ll admit that there are things where men get a raw deal,” he says. ‘We have higher suicide rates, and we tend not to do well in divorces, but representation in action movies is not something we have an issue with.
“It was Mad Max: Fury Road that kicked it all off, even though nobody complained about Ripley in Alien or Sarah Connor in Terminator 2. Of course, social media means this stuff gets broadcast far and wide in an instant, which emboldens people.”
Byrne continues: “The problem with men’s rights activists is that it’s not about speaking up for men’s rights, it’s about hating women. If you’re a men’s rights activist, you’re not going to care about the fact that there’s an all-female Ghostbusters remake.
“That’s nothing to do with men’s rights or female entitlement. That’s everything to do with being, well, a whiny baby.”
Byrne judges how to be provocative without being too polemical. “I did stuff about Trump and the Pizzagate right wing conspiracy, and a couple of the reviewers said, “Oh, I would have liked to have watched a whole show of this’. And I think, ‘well, you might have, but the average person who comes to see me would not like to see that’. I like to make a point or get something off my chest, or perhaps I’m talking about something that’s been on my mind, but the majority of stuff is just to get laughs,” he says.
“People who come to see me are not political activists necessarily, they’re regular folk. If you can make a point to them, in between talking about your struggles with ageing, or discussing your hernia operation or whatever it is, you can toss in something that does give people pause as regards to how men should share the household chores.”
Byrne goes on: “It’s not that I feel a responsibility. I think it just feels more satisfying when you’re doing it, and it feels more satisfying when people hear it. When a joke makes a good point, I think people enjoy it. It’s the difference between having a steak and eating a chocolate bar.”
As the show title would suggest, If I’m Honest pumps up the tendency towards self-deprecation. “I do genuinely annoy myself,” he admits. “But the thing of your children being a reflection of you gives you an opportunity to build something out of the best of yourself, only for you to then see flashes of the worst of yourself in them. It’s a wake-up call about your own behaviour.”
Byrne observes that “self-aggrandising humour is a lot harder to pull off than self-deprecating humour”. “A lot of people get really annoyed when Ricky Gervais is self-congratulatory,” he says. “I always find it very funny when he accepts awards and does so in the most big-headed way possible. I think it’s a trickier type of humour to pull off, talking yourself up in that way.
“I don’t think I’m being massively hard on myself. The fact is when you’re the bloke who is standing on the stage with the microphone, commanding an audience’s attention, you’re in a very elevated position anyway.”
If I’m Honest expresses the frustration that comes with middle age. “I’m bored looking for things, I’m bored of trying to find stuff, because I can never find it, and it is entirely my fault,” says Byrne.
“Nobody’s hiding my stuff from me. Although my wife did actually move my passport on one occasion.”
Amid the mordant and occasionally morbid humour, If I’m Honest accommodates quietly triumphant moments too. “I thought I was being quite upbeat talking about the small victories,” says Byrne. “You know, finding positivity in being able to spot when a cramp was about to happen in your leg and dealing with it before it does. I was very happy with myself about that.”
Next April, Byrne will turn 50. “You see comics who are my age and older but are still retaining a level of ‘cool’ and drawing a young crowd. I can’t deny that I’m quite envious of that,” he says. “But there’s also something very satisfying about your audience growing old with you.”
Ed Byrne, If I’m Honest, Harrogate Theatre, October 12, 8pm. Box office: 01423 502116 or at harrogatetheatre.co.uk.
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.
“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.
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.
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.