‘Future superstar of the blues’ Toby Lee plays Fulford Arms tomorrow. Guest slot with Jools Holland awaits at York Barbican

Toby Lee: Blues guitarist on the rise

TEENAGE blues prodigy Toby Lee heads to the Fulford Arms, York, tomorrow night, the next stop in a year when the Oxfordshire-born guitarist and singer will play more than 100 British and European shows.

In his diary are 40 solo gigs and 60-plus engagements as a special guest on boogie-woogie pianist Jools Holland and his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra’s travels in May to July and October to December.

The 2023 Young Blues Musician of the Year will be joining Jools at York Barbican on December 11, as well as further Yorkshire gigs at Bridlington Spa on July 16; Hull City Hall, July 17; Sheffield City Hall, November 23, and Leeds First Direct Arena, December 20.

The story goes that Lee’s musical journey began at the age of four when his grandmother bought him a yellow-and-green ukulele, but by then he had already “started banging around on stuff as if I wanted to be a drummer, when you want to make a noise out of anything,” recalls Toby, now 19.

“We always had instruments around the house, so I could ‘experiment’, as my mum reminds me on a regular basis. I started drumming on the piano legs with two drumsticks, so when it came to guitars and stringed instruments, that’s when I got the ukulele from my grandma, and my dad always had guitars in our home too.”

Toby still has that ukulele, “though it’s lost all its strings. I keep it in the footwell of the car,” he reveals. “It was a natural evolution to play guitar, so I got my first full-size electric guitar when I was eight.; it was a Stratocaster replica, I think.”

Within two years of receiving that guitar as a Christmas present while holidaying at a Cornish hotel, he was partnered by Gibson Guitars. “It was a very crazy experience, having that partnership at that age – and they rang me!” says Toby.

“It all came through social media, from when I did a Get Well Soon jam for BB King, recording myself playing along to a drum beat on my dad’s Fender guitar. It went viral, getting five million views in a week! Gibson Guitars got to see that video, contacted me, and they’ve been unbelievable in terms of them sending me guitars to use ever since.”

Living in the Oxfordshire countryside outside Banbury, no-one could object to Toby’s early guitar exertions. “Not even the cows,” he jokes.

Such was his talent that he was chosen to play guitarist Zack Mooneyham in the West End premiere of School Of Rock.

“I started rehearsals aged 11, going from being a bedroom guitarist, knowing every word of the show, when I got the call to go to Broadway, but it would have meant moving to the other side of the world.

“They said, ‘that’s fine, we’ll be coming to London’. So, after the auditions, they pulled me to one side to say ‘we’d like you to take the part of Zack Mooneyham’.

“That was a crazy feeling as it was a show I’d been listening all my life, and being told at 11 that you can play the guitar on stage, use all that energy, jump around on stage, was wonderful.”

Toby’s attendance record at school was “absolutely dire”. “But I was able to do classes during the day, sometimes cramming them into the morning,” he says.

Three young teams performed the show in rotation, with Toby picked for the team for radio, TV and press coverage. “We did the press opening night when Cliff Richard was in the front row,” he says.

He played Zack Mooneyham for a year, winning an Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement In Music, since when has gone on to share stages with blues luminaries such as his hero Joe Bonamassa (on his Mediterranean Blue Cruise), Buddy Guy, Peter Frampton and Slash.

Toby Lee with Jools Holland: Teaming up at York Barbican, Bridlington Spa, Hull City Hall, Sheffield City Hall and Leeds First Direct Arena

“It’s only now that I can look back and think about those amazing experiences, when now it feels real, because you’re in the moment. Now I know what they’ve been through to get where they are; the amount of graft that goes into it. Now I have infinite ideas of how hard it is to make it happen.”

 But what drew him to the blues, the music of BB King and Jimi Hendrix in particular, rather than rock?  “It’s a bit of an unusual style to pick, and I actually grew up listening to Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley and Eddie Cochrane, as my dad was always in love with American music, so that was the music around the house,” says Toby.

“So I grew up listening to anything from Buddy Holly – who was my first inspiration – to Metallica, but blues music was the one that took off the most with fans. That took me down a rabbit hole even more, so I’d go from listening to Stevie Ray Vaughan and BB King to thinking, ‘right, I better do more homework’.”

His passion for playing the blues remains a family business, the Lees having moved to Cornwall, just outside Newquay, five years ago. “It’s very much a family-run thing, just me and my mum and my dad.  I couldn’t have done it without them,” says Toby, who describes the guitar as his “comfort blanket”.

“There aren’t many parents who would have said ‘great’ when I said I wanted to be a guitarist at nine! My dad was on it straightaway, whereas at first my mum was saying, ‘where’s the curriculum for that?’.”

Toby’s sheer talent negated that question, and the sense of togetherness, completed by their three dogs, prevails. “My mum works from home, and I always travel with my dad, who’s part of the management team,” says Toby.

His multiple shows with Jools Holland will heighten his profile still more. “I got asked to do Cerys Matthews’ blues show on BBC Radio 2, and one of her producers works with Jools too and got asked to do some filming for a film being made about blues music that Jools was involved in as well,” he says.

“That was the first time I met Jools, about seven or eight months ago, and it was definitely a jump in at the deep end, with everyone there knowing they were going to play a song together apart from me! So it was like, ‘ready Toby? Go’!

“It was a really cool moment, jamming a song between Jools and Ruby Turner called Remember Me, so, all of a sudden, I was having a one-to-one music lesson with Jools. It turned out there were lots of similarities between us because neither of us reads music.

“We get on really well, and just as I was about to leave to head back to lovely Cornwall, they asked if I could play some shows with Jools.”

Initially, 30 shows were on his schedule, now it will be more than 60; the summer itinerary with Irish singer Imelda May as Holland’s fellow guest, the autumn and winter dates with Soft Cell frontman Marc Almond on board.

“I grew up listening to Jools, watching his Hootenanny shows on YouTube, and after watching them for years, it was a surreal moment to be working with him,” says Toby.

Before thoseJools Holland commitments comes tomorrow’s gig at the Fulford Arms with Lee’s four-piece band, featuring Chris Haddon on rhythm guitar, Sam Collins on bass and Joe Harris on drums.

“It’ll be original material and a few covers,” says Toby. “For the new album – all originals – we’ll be dropping singles over the summer and it’ll then be out in the autumn with the title House On Fire.”

Toby has played York once before, supporting blues guitarist, singer and songwriter Joanne Shaw Taylor at York Barbican in April 2022. “I’m excited to be coming back, headlining this time,” he says.

Toby Lee, Fulford Arms, York, tomorrow; doors open at 7.30pm. Tickets: ticketweb.uk/event/toby-lee-the-fulford-arms-tickets/13366163. Jools Holland and his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra, featuring special guest Toby Lee, York Barbican, December 11, 7.30pm. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Kate Rusby underneath the Christmas tree at York Barbican and headlining Underneath The Stars this weekend at Cinderhill Farm

Holly head: Kate Rusby At Christmas at York Barbican. Picture: David Lindsay

KATE Rusby At Christmas, the Barnsley folk nightingale’s alternative carol concert season with her folk band and The Brass Boys, is in York Barbican’s 2022 diary for December 18.

As ever, Kate will be rounding off her year with a Christmas tour full of warmth, sparkle, South Yorkshire carols, festive winter songs and the now obligatory fancy-dress finale.

Kate’s Christmas concerts draw on the 200-year-old tradition of carols being sung on Sunday lunchtimes in the crowded pubs of South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire from late-November to New Year’s Day.

As a child, while her parents sang, Kate would sit in the corner, absorbing these songs as they were belted out, each one a variation on a familiar carol but frowned on by the church in Victorian times for being too happy.

Kate’s Christmas concerts are full of festive good cheer, humour and storytelling, each auditorium becoming the equivalent of her local pub or front room. Tickets are on sale at yorkbarbican.co.uk and ticketmaster.co.uk.

This week, Kate will be headlining the Saturday bill at Underneath The Stars, the folk, indie, Americana, ska, soul and world music festival she founded, at Cinderhill Farm, Cawthorne, near Barnsley.

Suzanne Vega: Sunday’s headline act at Underneath The Stars

The event runs from Friday to Sunday, featuring headliner Imelda May; This Is The Kit; Ripon singer-songwriter Billie Marten; Davina & The Vagabonds; Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys; The Trials Of Cato; N’famady Kouyaté and Stone Jets on the opening day.

Suzanne Vega: Sunday’s headline act at Underneath The Stars

Saturday’s acts will be Kate Rusby; The Big Moon; An Audience With Adrian Edmondson; Penguin Café; The Brighouse & Rastrick Band; The Haggis Horns; The Bar-Steward Sons Of Val Doonican; Will Varley; Kinnaris Quintet; Trousdale and Flatcap Carnival.

Sunday’s headline act, Suzanne Vega, will be preceded by An Audience With Jason Manford; The Young’uns; Lanterns On The Lake; Dustbowl Revival; Tankus The Henge; Hannah Williams & The Affirmations, Damien O’Kane & Ron Block; Intergalactic Brasstronauts; Azure Ryder and Iona Lane. For tickets, head to: underneaththestarsfest.co.uk/tickets/.

This year, 48-year-old Kate marked her 30th anniversary of performing concerts by releasing the album 30: Happy Returns in May on her own family-run Pure Records label.

It was in 1992 that she stood, “close to alimentary havoc”, at Holmfirth Festival clutching a red Guild guitar borrowed from family friend and playwright Willy Russell to play her first “proper gig” at 18.

Five minutes after she had finished that set and sworn “never again”, Alan Bearman booked her for Sidmouth Festival. Thank goodness for Alan!

She has since released 19 albums, netted a Mercury Music Prize nomination in 1999, received awards and two honorary doctorates and headlined at the Royal Albert Hall, Cambridge Folk Festival and internationally too. 

Kate’s music has been used in Ricky Gervais’s Afterlife (series three, Netflix); Ruth Jones’s Stella (Sky 1); the 2002 film Heartlands, starring Michael Sheen (Miramax) and throughout series one and two of Jennifer Saunders’ Jam And Jerusalem (BBC).

Kate Rusby: 30th anniversary of first proper gig at Holmfirth

“Music has taken me all over the world in those 30 years, where I’ve met the most incredible musicians and singers,” says Kate. “30: Happy Returns is a culmination of those years, the music, the singers, the laughs, the songs, the memories.

“Here I am joined by some of my all-time musical heroes, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Richard Hawley, KT Tunstall, Darlingside, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Sarah Jarosz, Damien O’Kane, Sam Kelly, not to mention the amazing lads in my band.

“I am in awe of their talent and generosity in sharing it and can safely say there are so many ‘dream come true’ moments on this album. By my very nature I’ve never been ambitious, so I am astounded, taking this retrospective look over the years, and feel so blessed to sing with these incredible artists. I am one very happy, happy girl!!” 

The 15 songs on 30: Happy Returns span the eight studio albums from Sleepless in 1999 to Philosophers, Poets & Kings in 2019, newly re-crafted by Kate and producer, band leader and husband Damien O’Kane in the aforementioned multitude of guest collaborations, led off by the South Yorkshire/South Africa union with Ladysmith Black Mambazo for We Will Sing.

Richard Hawley rehearsed No Names in the dark in a power cut; Darlingside turn Cruel into a call-and-response song with Kate; K T Tunstall and Kate bring a sisterly strut to Let Me Be.

The sun and the moon go for a coffee together in Kate and Damien’s Hunter Moon, then Beth Nielsen Chapman takes on Damien’s original vocal about embarking on life’s journey hand-in-hand with the right person in Walk The Road.

The CD edition offers a bonus track in Secret Keeper, the commission Kate recorded with the Royal Northern Sinfonia for the Great Exhibition of the North, held in Newcastle and Gateshead in Summer 2018.

Why Imelda’s chomping at the bit to play 11 Past The Hour’s songs at York Barbican

“It’s a magical feeling we can only get from live music. Let’s go! ” says Imelda May as she returns to York Barbican

IRISH singer-songwriter and poet Imelda May plays York Barbican tomorrow in the only Yorkshire show of her first major UK tour in more than five years.

“I cannot wait to see you all again, to dance and sing together, to connect and feel the sparkle in a room where music makes us feel alive and elevated for a while,” said the Dubliner when announcing the Made To Love itinerary last April. “It’s a magical feeling we can only get from live music. Let’s go!”

Imagine how she feels, a year on from that “Let’s go!” invocation, as Imelda at last has the chance to promote her sixth studio album, last April’s 11 Past The Hour.

“I’m absolutely chomping at the bit to perform these songs live because normally you put out the album, go out on tour at that time, and see the songs grow as you play them,” says Imelda, 47.

“But until now, I’ve not really played any of them live, apart from Made To Love at a couple of things. When you start playing them, it can change suddenly what you might release as the next single, as you see what people enjoyed, but with this album I had to release them blindly as there couldn’t be any comeback from audiences. So, it’ll be interesting to see which ones they most react to, now I’m touring again.”

The cover artwork for Imelda May’s 2021 album, 11 Past The Hour

On a record that “brims with sensuality, emotional intelligence, spirituality and intuition”, Imelda collaborated with Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood, Noel Gallagher, Miles Kane and Niall McNamee.

“Niall is a wonderful Irish musician and actor and it was Ronnie [Wood] who introduced him to me because he was acting in a play by Ronnie’s wife, and we got on so well, we started writing together,” says Imelda.

The duet Don’t Let Me Stand On My Own resulted, with its theme of mental health, sticking together and holding on together. Lo and behold, Imelda and Niall are indeed not standing alone. “We fell in love over the kitchen table and we’re still together,” she says.

Imelda is grateful to Ronnie Wood for that post-show introduction but more besides. “It’s great to have Ronnie on the record, playing on Just One Kiss and Made To Love. I’ve known him since I was 16,” she says. “I’d never gone to music college or state schools; I just jammed at clubs, and I’d just started playing at this little club when Ronnie turned up and we ended up playing Rollin’ & Tumblin’ together.

“Later, I toured with Jeff Beck, who introduced me to Ronnie, saying ‘I don’t if you remember Imelda’, but he did!”

Artwork for Imelda May’s 2017 top five album, Life. Love. Flesh. Blood

Noel Gallagher co-wrote and sings on Just One Kiss while Miles Kane features on What We Did In The Dark. “Miles has been a friend for a long time and Noel is a good friend too,” says Imelda.

Feminist thinkers and activists Gina Martin and Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu contribute to Made To Love. “Gina does incredible work and it’s the same with Dr Shola, who is so eloquent and elegant and makes so much sense,” says Imelda.

“I was writing this song about how we’re made to love, because if we don’t look for love, what are we aiming for, especially now? I’m a living thing! Love is a living thing!

“I was looking for backing vocalists and decided I’d get in touch with Gina and Shola after they really captured our attention and hearts at this beautiful event for International Women’s Day.

“I said, ‘do you sing because I need your heart and passion on this song?’, and they agreed to do it with. We had to be [socially] distanced for the recording with all the doors open. Absolutely freezing, but it was worth it.”

Imelda’s record company, Decca Records, were favouring Diamonds for a single, but Graham Norton asked specifically for Made To Love for Imelda’s performance on his BBC One chat show, and it duly became the single.

Imelda loves being creative. “The writing process is like giving birth. Suddenly something exists that didn’t exist this morning,” she says. “I love it when my brain fires up and a song flows out.

“Then you start working on the artwork and the videos, the songs get to live and that’s another chapter starting. Then you work on how the songs will sound live, which is a very different creative process from studio recordings, especially when we were recording remotely in lockdown.”

Imelda’s creativity has expanded to poetry, as heard on her 2020 EP, Slip Of The Tongue, and printed in last October’s A Lick And A Promise. “Absolutely 100 per cent, poetry will feature in the show,” she says. “When the book came out, the reaction was unprecedented, I was told. The print runs sold out three times. They flew out the door!

“Working on poems for the EP with beautiful string arrangements behind them, the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, I can tell you.”

Now is the time for May in April, songs, poems and all, at York Barbican tomorrow.

Imelda May: Singer, songwriter, poet and multi-instrumentalist

Imelda May fact file

Full name: Imelda Mary Higham.

Born: July 10 1974, in The Liberties area of Dublin.

Occupation: Singer, songwriter, poet and multi-instrumentalist who plays bodhrán, guitar, bass guitar and tambourine.

Breakthrough: Discovered by boogie-woogie pianist Jools Holland, who asked her to tour with him.

Performed duets with: U2, Lou Reed, Sinead O’Connor, Robert Plant, Van Morrison, Jack Savoretti, Noel Gallagher and Elvis Costello.

Featured on albums and live tours with: Jeff Beck, Jeff Goldblum and Ronnie Wood.

Studio albums: No Turning Back, 2003; Love Tattoo, 2008; Mayhem, 2010; Tribal, 2014; Life. Love. Flesh. Blood, 2017; 11 Past The Hour, 2021.

Branching out: In the cauldron of 2020 Black Lives Matter movement, she released her poem You Don’t Get To Be Racist And Irish. Sentiment adopted by Irish government’s ReThink Ireland campaign on billboard displays.

What Imelda did next: Released reflective nine-poem Slip Of The Tongue EP, set to uplifting soundscape. May addressed themes of home and love, feminism, harsh realities of life, defiance, lovelorn longing and escapism.

Book: A Lick And A Promise, debut collection of 104 poems, including two each by her father and young daughter, published in October 2021.

York gigs: February 2009, at The Duchess, in bequiffed retro-rockabilly days; November 2011, York Barbican debut; May 2017, York Barbican, promoting post break-up album Life. Love. Flesh. Blood.

Imelda May plays York Barbican tomorrow (6/4/2022) at 7.30pm on her Made To Love Tour. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk, gigsandtours.com and ticketmaster.co.uk or on 0203 356 5441.

More Things To Do in and around York, where studios are opening up for spring inspection. List No. 76, from The Press

Kimbal Bumstead: one of 30 new participants in York Open Studios

NOW is the chance to go around the houses, the studios and workshops too, as recommended by Charles Hutchinson on his art beat.

Art event of the week and next week too: York Open Studios, today and tomorrow; April 9 and 10, 10am to 5pm

AFTER 2021’s temporary move to July, York Open Studios returns to its regular spring slot, promising its biggest event ever with more than 150 artists and makers in 100-plus workshops, home and garden studios and other creative premises.

Thirty new participants have been selected by the event organisers. As ever, York Open Studios offers the chance to talk to artists, look around where they work and buy works.

Artists’ work encompasses painting and print, illustration, drawing and mixed media, ceramics, glass and sculpture, jewellery, textiles, photography and installation art. Check out the artists’ directory listings and the locations map at yorkopenstudios.co.uk or pick up a booklet around York.

Caius Lee: Pianist for York Musical Society’s Rossini concert

Classical concert of the week: York Musical Society, Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle, St Peter’s School Memorial Hall, York, tonight, 7.30pm

DAVID Pipe conducts York Musical Society in a performance of Gioachino Rossini’s last major work, Petite Messe Solennelle, composed when his friend Countess Louise Pillet-Will commissioned a solemn mass for the consecration of a private chapel in March 1864.

After Rossini deemed it to be a ‘poor little mass’, the word ‘little’ (petite) has become attached to the title, even though the work is neither little nor particularly solemn. Instead, the music ranges from hushed intensity to boisterous high spirits.

Caius Lee, piano, Valerie Barr, accordion, Katie Wood, soprano, Emily Hodkinson, mezzo-soprano, Ed Lambert, tenor, and Stuart O’Hara, bass, perform it tonight. Box office: eventbrite.co.uk/e/rossini-petite-messe-solennelle.

Bingham String Quartet: Programme of Beethoven, Schnittke, LeFanu and Tippett works

Late news: York Late Music, Stuart O’Hara and Ionna Koullepou, 1pm today; Bingham String Quartet, 7.30pm tonight, St Saviourgate Unitarian Chapel, York

BASS Stuart O’Hara and pianist Ionna Koullepou play a lunchtime programme of no fewer than eight new settings of York and regional poets’ works by York composers.

In the evening, the Bingham String Quartet perform Beethoven’s String Quartet in B-flat major, Schnittke’s String Quartet No 3, York composer Nicola LeFanu’s String Quartet No 2 and Tippett’s String Quartet No 2. Box office: latemusic.org or on the door.

The poster for York Blues Festival 2022

A dose of the blues: York Blues Festival 2022, The Crescent, York, today, bands from 1pm to 11pm

YORK Blues Festival returns for a third celebration at The Crescent community venue after two previous sell-outs. On the bill will be Tim Green Band; Dust Radio; Jed Potts & The Hillman Hunters; TheJujubes; Blue Milk; DC Blues; Five Points Gang and Redfish.

For full details, go to: yorkbluesfest.co.uk. Box office: thecrescentyork.seetickets.com.

The Howl & The Hum: Sunday headliners at YorkLife in Parliament Street

Free community event of the weekend: YorkLife, Parliament Street, York, today and tomorrow, 11am to 9pm

YORK’S new spring festival weekend showcases the city’s musicians, performers, comedians and more besides today and tomorrow. Organised by Make It York, YorkLife sees more than 30 performers and organisations head to Parliament Street for this free event with no tickets required in advance.

York’s Music Venue Network presents Saturday headliners Huge, Sunday bill-toppers The Howl & The Hum, plus Bull; Kitty VR; Flatcap Carnival; Hyde Family Jam;  Floral Pattern; Bargestra and Wounded Bear.

Workshops will be given by: Mud Pie Arts: Cloud Tales, interactive storytelling; Thunk It Theatre, Build Our City theatre; Gemma Wood, York Skyline art; Fantastic Faces, face painting;  Henry Raby, from Say Owt, spoken poetry; Matt Barfoot, drumming; Christian Topman, ukulele; Polly Bennet, Little Vikings PQA York, performing arts, and Innovation Entertainment, circus workshops.  Look out too for the York Mix Radio quiz; York Dance Space’s dance performance and Burning Duck Comedy Club’s comedy night. 

Oi Frog & Friends!: Laying down the rules at York Theatre Royal

Children’s show of the week: Oi Frog & Friends!, York Theatre Royal, Monday, 1.30pm and 4.30pm; Tuesday, 10.30am and 1.30pm

ON a new day at Sittingbottom School, Frog is looking for a place to sit, but Cat has other ideas and Dog is happy to play along. Cue multiple rhyming rules and chaos when Frog is placed in in charge. 

Suitable for age three upwards, Oi Frog & Friends! is a 55-minute, action-packed play with original songs, puppets, laughs and “more rhyme than you can shake a chime at”.

This fun-filled musical has been transferred to the stage by Emma Earle, Zoe Squire, Luke Bateman and Richy Hughes from Kes Gray and Jim Field’s picture books. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Mother and son: Niki Evans as Mrs Johnstone and Sean Jones as Mickey in Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers, returning to the Grand Opera House, York

Musical of the week: Blood Brothers, Grand Opera House, York, Tuesday to Saturday

AFTER a three-year hiatus, Sean Jones has returned to playing scally Mickey in Willy Russell’s fateful musical account of Liverpool twins divided at both, stretching his involvement to a 23rd year at impresario Bill Kenwright’s invitation in what is billed as his “last ever tour” of Blood Brothers.

Back too, after a decade-long gap, is Niki Evans in the role of Mickey and Eddie’s mother, Mrs Johnstone.

Blood Brothers keeps on returning to the Grand Opera House, invariably with Jones to the fore. If this year really is his Blood Brothers valedictory at 51, playing a Scouse lad from the age of seven once more, thanks, Sean, for all the years of cheers and tears. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or atgtickets.com/York.

May in April: Imelda May plays York Barbican for a third time on April 6

York gig of the week: Imelda May, Made To Love Tour, York Barbican, Wednesday, 7.30pm

IRISH singer-songwriter and poet Imelda May returns to York Barbican for her third gig there in the only Yorkshire show of her first major UK tour in more than five years.

“I cannot wait to see you all again, to dance and sing together, to connect and feel the sparkle in a room where music makes us feel alive and elevated for a while,” says Imelda. “A magical feeling we can only get from live music. Let’s go!”

Her sixth studio album, last April’s 11 Past The Hour, will be showcased and she promises poetry too. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Corruption and sloth: English Touring Opera in Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel

At the treble: English Touring Opera at York Theatre Royal, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, 7.30pm

ENGLISH Touring Opera present three performances in four nights, starting with Bach’s intense vision of hope, St John Passion, on Wednesday, when professional soloists and baroque specialists the Old Street Band combine with singers from York choirs.

La Boheme, Puccini’s operatic story of a poet falling in love with a consumptive seamstress, follows on Friday; the residency concludes with Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel, a send-up of corruption and sloth in government that holds up a mirror to the last days of the Romanovs. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Eleanor Sutton in the title role in Jane Eyre, opening at the Stephen Joseph Theatre on Friday

Play of the week outside York: Jane Eyre, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, Friday to April 30

CHRIS Bush’s witty and fleet-footed adaptation seeks to present Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre to a fresh audience while staying true to the original’s revolutionary spirit.

Using actor-musicians, playful multi-role playing and 19th century pop hits, Zoe Waterman directs this SJT and New Vic Theatre co-production starring Eleanor Sutton as Jane Eyre, who has no respect for authority, but lives by her own strict moral code, no matter what the consequences. Box office: 01723 370541 or sjt.uk.com.

Beth McCarthy: Homecoming gig at The Crescent in May

Welcome home: Beth McCarthy, The Crescent, York, May 2, doors, 7.30pm

BETH McCarthy will play a home-city gig for the first time since March 2019 at The Crescent community venue.

Beth, singer, songwriter and BBC Radio York evening show presenter, has moved from York to London, since when she has drawn 4.8 million likes and 300,000 followers on TikTok and attracted 465,000 monthly listeners and nine million plays of her She Gets The Flowers on Spotify. Box office: myticket.co.uk/artists/beth-mccarthy.

Oh, and one other thing

MODFATHER Paul Weller’s gig on Tuesday at York Barbican has sold out.

More Things To Do in York and beyond, and not still bedded down in the home bunker. List No. 31, courtesy of The Press, York

Let Ian Massie take you to Another Place in his Northern Soul show at Ryedale Folk Museum, Hutton-le-Hole from May 17

NO mention of home entertainment here, as Charles Hutchinson decides to cast fears aside – albeit while acting responsibly – as he looks forward to theatres, bars, galleries, museums and music venues opening their doors once more.

Cupid, draw back your bow and let the beer flow, straight to the York Theatre Royal patio

LOVE is in the Step 2 air, and soon on the York Theatre Royal stage too for The Love Season from May 17.

Cupid’s Bar: Follow the arrow to the York Theatre Royal patio. Picture: Livy Potter

Perfect timing to launch Cupid’s Bar for five weeks on the Theatre Royal patio, where the bar will run from midday to 9.30pm every Thursday to Sunday, providing an outdoor space in the heart of the city for residents and visitors to socialise safely.

Working with regional suppliers, Cupid’s Bar will offer a range of drink options, such as draught beer from Black Sheep Brewery, Masham, and York Gin from, er, York.

Ian Scott Massie: Finding Northern Soul in his landscape watercolours and screenprints. Picture: Steve Christian

Exhibition of the month ahead outside York: Ian Scott Massie, Northern Soul, Ryedale Folk Museum, Hutton-le-Hole, North York Moors National Park, May 17 to July 11

MASHAM artist Ian Scott Massie’s Northern Soul show of 50 watercolours and screenprints represents his personal journey of living in the north for 45 years.

“The north is the truth of England, where all things are seen clearly,” he says. “The incomparable beauty of the landscape; the harsh ugliness left by industry; the great wealth of the aristocracy; the miserable housing of the poor; the civic pride of the mill towns and a people as likely to be mobilised by political oratory as by a comedian with a ukulele.”

The Waterfall Of Nikko-Zan In Shimotsuke Province, by Utagawa Hiroshige, 1853, from York Art Gallery’s show of rarely seen Japanese prints, Pictures Of The Floating World. Image courtesy of York Museums Trust

Reopening exhibition of the month ahead in York: Pictures Of The Floating World: Japanese Ukiyo-e Prints, York Art Gallery, from May 28

YORK Art Gallery’s display of rarely seen Japanese Ukiyo-e prints, complemented by much-loved paintings from the gallery collection, will go on show in a new Spotlight Series.

Marking next month’s gallery reopening with Covid-secure measures, Pictures Of The Floating World will feature prints by prominent Ukiyo-e artists such as Utagawa Hiroshige, along with works by those influenced by Japanese art, York artist Albert Moore and Walter Greaves among them.

This free-to-visit exhibition will highlight the significant impact of Japanese art on the western world and the consequential rise of the artistic movements of Aestheticism and Art Nouveau.”

Van the manoeuvre: Morrison’s York Barbican gigs put back to July

On the move: Van Morrison’s York Barbican shows

NO reopening date has yet been announced for York Barbican, but Irish veteran Van Morrison’s shows are being moved from May 25 and 26 to July 20 and 21.

“Please keep hold of your tickets as they will be valid for the new date,” says the Barbican website, where seats for Van The Man are on sale without social distancing, in line with Step 4 of the Government’s pandemic Roadmap to Recovery, whereby all legal limits on social contact are potentially to be removed from June 21.

Morrison, 75, will release his 42nd album, Latest Record Project: Volume 1, a 28-track delve into his ongoing love of blues, R&B, jazz and soul, on May 7 on Exile/BMG.

Lockdown love story: The taster poster for Alan Ayckbourn’s new play at the Stephen Joseph Theatre

New play of the summer: Alan Ayckbourn’s The Girl Next Door, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, June 4 to July 3

AFTER the 2020 world premiere of his virus play Truth Will Out lost out to the Covid pandemic restrictions, director emeritus Alan Ayckbourn returns to the Stephen Joseph Theatre to direct his 85th play, The Girl Next Door, in the summer season.

“I wrote it back in Spring 2020. I like to think of it as a lockdown love story,” says Ayckbourn, introducing his touching, tender and funny reflection on the ability of love to rise above adversity and reach across the years.

Influenced by his own experiences in two “lockdowns”, one in wartime London in childhood, the other in the on-going pandemic in Scarborough, Ayckbourn will play with time in a plot moving back and forth between 2021 and 1941. Box office: sjt.uk.com.

May and April in tandem: York Barbican date for Imelda next spring on her first tour in five years

Gig announcement of the week in York: Imelda May, York Barbican, April 6 2022

IRISH singer-songwriter Imelda May will play York Barbican next April in the only Yorkshire show of her Made To Love tour, her first in more than five years.

“I cannot wait to see you all again, to dance and sing together, to connect and feel the sparkle in a room where music makes us feel alive and elevated for a while,” says May. “Let’s go!”

Last Friday, the 46-year-old Dubliner released her sixth studio album, 11 Past The Hour. The box office opens tomorrow at 10am at yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Dance like Fred Astaire…or more likely like Tim Booth as James end the summer at Scarborough Open Air Theatre

Gig announcement of the week outside York: James, Scarborough Open Air Theatre, September 9

WHERE better for James to announce a summer show in the week they release new single Beautiful Beaches than at Scarborough Open Air Theatre?

The Manchester legends will play on the East Coast in the wake of launching their new album, All The Colours Of You, on June 4. Tickets go on sale tomorrow (23/4/2021) at 9am at scarboroughopenairtheatre.com.

This will be the third that James, led by Clifford-born Tim Booth, have played Scarborough OAT after shows in 2015 and 2018.

The writers, actors, directors and organisers in a Zoom gathering for Next Door But One’s Yorkshire Trios at The Gillygate pub, York

And what about?

GOOD news: Live theatre bursts into life in York for the first time since December 30 when York community arts collective Next Door But One presents Yorkshire Trios in The Gillygate pub’s new outdoor seating area tomorrow and on Saturday.

Themed around Moments Yet To Happen, trios of actors, directors and writers will bring to theatre-starved York a quintet of short stories of laughter, strength, dreams and everything in between: a neighbour with a secret; a delivery driver full of wanderlust; an optimistic carousel operator; a poet inviting us into her world and a Jane McDonald fan on a soapbox.

Bad news for tardy readers? The 7.30pm shows have sold out.

Imelda May to follow up Friday’s 11 Past The Hour album with York Barbican gig in 2022

“I cannot wait to see you all again, to dance and sing together, to connect and feel the sparkle in a room where music makes us feel alive,” says Imelda May. Roll on next April

IRISH singer-songwriter and poet Imelda May will play York Barbican on April 6 2022 in the only Yorkshire show of her first major UK tour in more than five years.

Meanwhile, May and April will unite on Friday (16/4/2021) when the 46-year-old Dubliner releases her sixth studio album, 11 Past The Hour, on Decca Records.

Tickets for May’s 12-date Made To Love Tour next spring will go on general sale on April 23 at 10am at yorkbarbican.co.uk, gigsandtours.com and ticketmaster.co.uk and on 0203 356 5441.

“I cannot wait to see you all again, to dance and sing together, to connect and feel the sparkle in a room where music makes us feel alive and elevated for a while,” says Imelda. “A magical feeling we can only get from live music. Let’s go!”

Imelda May’s new album, 11 Past The Hour, is out on Friday

On a record that “brims with sensuality, emotional intelligence, spirituality and intuition, marking a new chapter for Imelda and showcasing her at her most authentic”, May collaborates with Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood, Noel Gallagher, Miles Kane and Niall McNamee.

Feminist thinkers and activists Gina Martin and Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu make inspired contributions too to an album that adds up to “an invigorating blast of rock’n’roll with a purpose”.

Born and raised in The Liberties area of Dublin, May – real name Imelda Mary Higham – was discovered by boogie-woogie pianist Jools Holland, who asked her to tour with him.

She has since performed duets with U2, Lou Reed, Sinead O’Connor, Robert Plant, Van Morrison, Jack Savoretti and Elvis Costello and has featured on albums and live tours with Jeff Beck, Jeff Goldblum and Ronnie Wood.

Branching out into poetry: Imelda May’s 2020 EP, Slip Of The Tongue

May last played York Barbican in May 2017 in support of her T-Bone Burnett-produced Top Five album, the post break-up record Life. Love. Flesh. Blood, and previously performed there in November 2011, two years on from a show at The Duchess in her bequiffed retro-rockabilly Love Tattoo days.

Not only a singer and songwriter but also a multi-instrumentalist, equally adept on  bodhrán, guitar, bass guitar and tambourine, last year she added another string to her bow: poetry.

Last June, in the cauldron of the 2020 Black Lives Matter movement, she released You Don’t Get To Be Racist And Irish, a sentiment adopted subsequently by the Irish government’s ReThink Ireland campaign on billboard display.

This was followed in October by the reflective nine-poem Slip Of The Tongue EP, set to an uplifting soundscape as May addressed such themes as home and love, feminism, the harsh realities of life, defiance, lovelorn longing and escapism.

Now comes 11 Past The Hour, to be followed by next April’s tour, for which VIP packages, including access to soundcheck and a Q&A with May, are available.  Eager fans can secure exclusive access to a presale for the tour when they pre-order the new album from May’s store at imeldamay.tmstor.es.

What was Charles Hutchinson’s verdict when Imelda May played York Barbican on May 16 2017?

Imelda May: “The blues, rock, soul and gospel-singing, mature May is a cut above the more derivative, bouncier, boom-boom past”

WHEN else would Imelda May tour but in May, when every day is a May day, 17 dates in all this month on the Irish pocket dynamo’s first British travels in three years.

“It’s been a while,” said the 42-year-old Dubliner, reintroducing herself to a pleasingly full York Barbican crowd for the first time since November 2011. “Thank you very much for sticking with me and turning up tonight.”

Much has changed in that time. Imelda ditched the rockabilly look and sound last sported on 2014’s Tribal album; her 18-year marriage to guitarist Darrel Higham ended; she turned 40; she gave herself permission to find new love; she allowed her spectacular voice full range in her song-writing for the first time since hit single Johnny Got A Boom Boom steered her down Retro Avenue.

The artwork for Imelda May’s 2017 album Life. Love. Flesh. Blood

All this is reflected in her post break-up March album, Life. Love. Flesh. Blood, whose every song – even from the deluxe edition – was in Tuesday’s setlist, bolstered by a couple of Sixties covers (The Animals, The Shangri-Las) and a smattering of May oldies. That’s confidence for you, and one met approvingly by an audience of Imelda’s age and upwards who had in turn experienced Life. Love. Flesh. Blood.

Dressed in black, down to her ankle boots, with hair designed to a Chrissie Hynde template, Imelda began seated as if in a scene from the musical Chicago, she and guitarist Oliver Darling picked out by spotlights for Call Me: the album opener that announces the blues, rock, soul and gospel-singing, mature May is a cut above the more derivative, bouncier, boom-boom past.

Stage lit warmly by nine copper-toned lamps, May fronted a wonderfully responsive band, the guitars and Al Gare’s double bass complemented by saxophone and trumpet, as she sang from and to the heart, with Black Tears, The Longing and The Girl I Used To Be particular highs. The girl she used to be is still there, but the 2017 Imelda May is flowering in fullest bloom.

Review copyright of The Press, York