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.

Harrogate Theatre to stay shut till 2021, so no panto, redundancy talks and what next?

Not so Happy Harry: Tim Stedman, pictured in the 2019-2020 pantomime Snow White, will not be taking to the Harrogate Theatre stage this winter in his 21st silly-billy role

HARROGATE Theatre will remain closed until 2021. No pantomime this Christmas and no safety net for up to 60 per cent of permanent staff, facing redundancy after an upcoming consultation period.

This hammer blow/”sensible action” comes despite Harrogate Theatre receiving £395,000 last month from the Arts Council England Emergency Fund, on top of Harrogate Borough Council funding, to cover losses incurred from March through to September.

And there’s the rub. Only until September, point out chief executive David Bown and chair of the board Deborah Larwood in this afternoon’s joint statement, despite being “extremely grateful” for the financial aid so far.

“Whilst we welcome the Government’s new Cultural Recovery Fund [£1.57 billion across Britain in grants and loans promised by Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden and Chancellor Rishi Sunak on July 5], we still require clarity as to what specifically we can access from the fund, having already been in receipt of Emergency Funding, and there is no certainty of success.”

The emergency press release carried an upbeat headline – “Our Safety Curtain is down for now, but we are still lighting the way for culture in Harrogate” – but behind that curtain, the unbroken reign of Coronavirus continues to stop play.

“Today we are announcing that the Safety Curtain will remain down at Harrogate Theatre until 2021,” the statement forewarns. “This has been an extremely difficult and very sad decision to make, but we feel it is the most sensible action under the current circumstances; not only to protect the safety of our audiences, volunteers and staff but to safeguard the future of Harrogate Theatre.”

In the wake of the Government postponing the re-opening of indoor performance spaces by a fortnight until August 15 at the earliest, and the even Grimmer Reaper blow of the Culture Secretary now saying that any possibility of a Government thumbs-up to theatres being allowed to return to full capacity will not be forthcoming until November…at the earliest, Bown and Larwood have declared their hand.

The still necessary curse of social distancing leaves them as glum as Cassandra. “Our business model relies on at least half of our auditorium being occupied to break even,” they say. “To produce our much-loved pantomime, we need to sell close to 90 per cent of our seats over two months of shows. With social distancing in place across this beautiful Victorian building, we can only fill 20 per cent of the auditorium. This is not financially viable.”

The heavy cloud of a possible second, wintry wave of Covid-19 hangs heavy over Harrogate Theatre, as indeed it does over all indoor theatre, serving as a killjoy to any planning. “Neither can we take the financial risk of paying for and then cancelling shows if the theatre is bouncing in and out of closure, due to possible quarantines or lockdowns,” warn Bown and Larwood. “Therefore, we are suspending or moving all planned activity for this year at Harrogate Theatre into 2021.

“As a direct result of the pandemic, and the dramatic loss of income associated with it, we have no other choice than to scale back the organisation and reduce our overheads in order to survive.”

What does that mean for the staff? “This means that we have been forced to make the incredibly hard decision to enter a period of redundancy consultation with our staff. At the end of this period, we may have to make up to 60 per cent of permanent roles redundant,” say Bown and Larwood.

“To make it through to next year, we will still need to continue our emergency fundraising campaign. Our audiences and the wider community have been incredibly supportive during these extraordinary times [raising more than £100,00 so far]. From the kindness of donations to the publicly led fundraisers, we have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and generosity shown towards the theatre.

“We accept our responsibility in this special town and must continue doing all we can to secure the future of the theatre. Thank you all for your help and commitment so far.”

Bown and Larwood are not down and out, however, and are looking to bounce back in 2021. “The majority of shows in our autumn season are moving to next year and Cinderella will be dancing at the ball in 2021. If you have tickets for a show during this time, we will contact you to let you know the rescheduled dates of performances.

“As you can imagine, this is a huge task for our small team, so please bear with us and where we haven’t been able to find a new date for you, please consider donating your tickets to the theatre.”

Harrogate Theatre is usually run in tandem with Harrogate Royal Hall and the Harrogate Convention Centre [formerly known as the Harrogate International Centre until a 2017 revamp], but the other two have been commandeered for the Corona war effort as a Nightingale hospital.

“We are working closely with the Harrogate Convention Centre and Royal Hall regarding the use of those venues as a Nightingale Hospital,” say Bown and Larwood. “The action at the theatre does not, as yet, affect these venues. However, we will contact bookers if and when shows are rescheduled or cancelled.

“Harrogate Theatre will also closely monitor what is an ever-changing global situation and will remain flexible to any changes in national policy or guidelines.”

Is there any sign of a silver lining or even autumn fruits? “While the Safety Curtain is down, we remain committed to making and sharing innovative theatre with audiences and participants and in autumn will launch an exciting socially distanced season of special performances and events, both in person and online.”

No details are being released to the media as yet, however. “Our White Rose Members will be the first to find out about these and will also get exclusive access to one-off events,” reveal Bown and Larwood. “Harrogate Youth Theatre and our Associate Artists will continue to be supported throughout the year. Although the doors might be closed, we will endeavour to light the way for the arts in Harrogate alongside our fellow cultural partners.”

To finish on a positive note: “We look forward to the day we raise our Safety Curtain and once again share the magic that live performance in our building brings,” say Bown and Larwood.

“While we understand the impact of this decision, as custodians of our organisation we will do everything in our power to safeguard the company to be able to entertain, educate and inspire for the next 120 years.”

Gothic terror tales Upon The Stair take over Harrogate Theatre from tonight

Upon The Stair: playing Harrogate Theatre from tonight

HARROGATE Theatre is teaming up with Adam Z Robinson to co-produce his Gothic terror tales Upon The Stair.

Traditional storytelling, live music and fully integrated British Sign Language (BSL) combine to bring three macabre ghost stories to life at Harrogate Theatre tonight until Saturday.

In The Cry Of The Bubák, a haunted man flees to a health facility to escape his past, only to have it catch up with him in a most horrifying way.

In Mirrorman, a family moves to an old house on the edge of town and discovers that the previous owner may not have left after all.

In The Xylotheque, a librarian visits the estate of a doctor with a nefarious reputation and comes face to face with his diabolical practices.

Each tale is scripted by writer/performer Robinson, who was supported by Harrogate Theatre previously when presenting his ghostly tales from The Book Of Darkness & Light.

Adam Z Robinson’s Shivers

Through Robinson working with deaf consultants and linguists Adam Bassett and Brian Duffy, his latest script has been developed and translated into British Sign Language and Visual Vernacular, making Upon The Stair accessible for d/Deaf audiences without the need of an interpreter on stage.

Performed by deaf actor and dancer Raffie Julien, the show is billed as “a truly remarkable gothic performance like never witnessed before”, featuring a live violin score composed and played by Chloe Hayward.

After two national tours of his first show, The Book Of Darkness & Light, and 30-plus dates  for his follow-up, Shivers – both performed in Harrogate Theatre’s Studio – Robinson returns with his “most exciting, ambitious and gripping production yet”, directed by Edinburgh Fringe First Award winner Dick Bonham.

Upon The Stair is a co-production with Harrogate Theatres, Square Chapel Arts Centre, Halifax, and producers LittleMight; the two venues providing support, space and creative input to produce the show.

Robinson’s play premiered at Square Chapel on January 11 and has since played Salisbury Theatre from January 16 to 18. More dates will be announced soon for Autumn 2020. 

Upon The Stair, Harrogate Theatre, February 25 to 29, 7.30pm nightly and 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 01423 502116 or at harrogatetheatre.co.uk

A short trailer can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7yrMBi-0_OU&feature=youtu.be