Paul Thompson and John Watterson: Beware Of The Bull – The Enigmatic Genius of Jake Thackray Concert & Book Launch, presented by Black Swan Folk Clubat National Centre for Early Music, York, October 28
DESPITE being a household name in the mid-to-late 1960s, Jake Thackray is now largely forgotten.
His humorous topical songs popped up on That’s Life (and before that Braden’s Week). The ephemeral nature of much of his television material was not made with posterity in mind. His slim album output does not fit neatly anywhere – certainly not anywhere near the mainstream.
For those who cottoned on in his lifetime (he died in 2002), or have discovered him through famous admirers, Thackray is held in the highest of esteem.
Paul Thompson and John Watterson have done much to keep the cult alive. Watterson’s Fake Thackray project is much more than a tribute turn, also breathing life into songs unheard in decades or putting new music to works never completed.
Two rarities graced the performance at the NCEM, The Ferryboat, extolling the charms of a public house, and a scabrous number about National Service that was aired, reluctantly, once in 1986.
The new biography seems to have kickstarted a wave of renewed interest in this Yorkshire chansonnier. Thompson and Watterson have produced a wonderfully researched book, the work of dedicated fans rather than biographers for hire.
It does not shy away from the sadness of his decline and later years, and also makes a strong case for his writing (Thackray was a columnist of note for the Yorkshire Post in the early 1990s, his contributions posted, often hilariously late, from his Welsh outpost).
Tantalising gaps in the story remain, particularly how Thackray’s time in France and civil-war Algeria transformed him both as a guitarist and performer. What the French made of Thackray is also unknown.
His love of their language and the chanson form is well documented however. Unique among his English contemporaries Thackray sought to write songs that contained both humour, poetry and insight – in the French style of Georges Brassens, where the words come before all else.
Watterson and Thompson performed ten songs, and 50 years after Thackray’s heyday, crowds continue to laugh and admire his singular dexterity with words. The performers chose their selections carefully, as Thackray’s humour is sometimes dated (all on stage exchanged knowing looks after the line “I shan’t lay a finger on the crabby old bat face” from La-Di-Da, which drew a consciously muffled laugh). His stories of the underdog, or sticking it those in authority, will never go out of style.
The artistry of the material shone. Bantam Cock, freed from its maddening keyboard refrain, was out-and-out funny while the Widow Of Bridlington was both sad and wry (a precursor to Richard Thompson’s Beeswing).
Thompson and Watterson did a splendid job performing these difficult songs. Perhaps Thompson unnecessarily underlined a line or two, in contrast to Thackray’s determinedly deadpan style, but it was a treat to hear the tunes live.
Thackray was a complicated man, marked by his difficult upbringing in Leeds. This working- class hero really did have (smelly) feet of clay. In later years, after the stage fright and weekly terror of performing on national television had passed, his songwriting slowed dramatically as he toiled to write more serious works. One of these, Remembrance, is one of the best anti-war songs, but not one you are ever likely to hear on November 11.
Yorkshire is the centre of the Thackray cult, so with luck we will be graced with many more opportunities to savour this underappreciated master of his craft channelled through Thompson and Watterson.
THE National Centre for Early Music’s autumn season of jazz, folk, global and early music and films opens today with the return of Making Tracks at St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, York.
First set up by a network of British venues in 2010 and re-launched in 2019, the project selects young world music professionals, bringing them together for a two-week residency and national tour designed to reach across social, cultural and geographical divides and to foster a deeper appreciation of musical and cultural diversity.
Eight musicians will be performing as soloists and collaboratively. In the line-up will be oud player Alaa Zouiten, from Morocco/Germany; Swedish fiddler Anna Ekborg; Scottish lever harpist and composer Lucie Hendry, based in Denmark, and Scottish Highlands smallpipes, whistle, pedals and fiddle player, composer, instrument maker, educator and musical director Malin Lewis.
So too will Cherif Soumano, the rising star of the kora from Mali, now living in Paris; Leeds folk singer, folklore songwriter, guitarist and shruti box player Iona Lane; Iranian-born tar, setar and daf player and vocalist Shabab Azinmehr, from Belgium, and Ranjana Ghatak, a London singer, composer and tanpura player embedded in the classical and devotional Hindustani vocal tradition, who is also part of the Yorkston/Thorne/Ghatak trio with James Yorkston and Jon Thorne.
As part of their residency, the Making Tracks musicians also will be hosting a free music workshop for young people.
Saxophonist Jean Toussaint, who came to prominence in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in 1982 and moved to London in 1987, will be showcasing his latest album tomorrow.
Songs For Sisters Brothers And Others reflects on the turbulent Covid-19 years. “The pandemic caused me to focus on the fragility of life and the fact we’re here one moment and gone the next,” he says of penning songs as a “tribute to my wonderful siblings while they were still around to enjoy it”.
Joining him in his quintet in York will be Freddie Gavita, trumpet, Jonathan Gee, piano, Conor Murray, bass, and Shane Forbes, drums.
THE NCEM is offering a reduced ticket price for those who book simultaneously for Toussaint’s gig and the Zoe Rahman Trio’s NCEM debut on November 9, when the exuberant British/Bengali pianist and composer steeped in jazz and classical music will be introducing compositions from her forthcoming album, set for release next year.
Rahman has worked with George Mraz, Courtney Pine and Jerry Dammers’ Spatial AKA Orchestra music and won the Ivor Novello Impact Award at the 2021 Ivors Composer Awards, a MOBO award and British Jazz Award and has been nominated for the Mercury Prize. In York, she will be performing with Gene Calderazzo on drums and Andrea Di Biase on bass and will be working with York Music Forum too.
Fresh from the BBC Proms, Welsh harpist Catriona Finch teams up once more with Senegalese kora specialist Seckou Keita on Saturday in their multi-award-winning duo to mark May’s release of their third album, Echo, on Rough Trade.
Combining classical and folk, traditional and contemporary, Finch and Keita’s tender musical alliance explores different cultures and shared humanity “as their fingers flow like opposing tributaries into a single river of sound”.
The folk programme takes in co-promotions with the Black Swan Folk Club for Irish singer and bouzouki player Daoirí (pronounced ‘Derry’) Farrell, performing songs from album True Born Irishman and A Lifetime Of Happiness, on October 12 and performers and authors John Watterson (aka Fake Thackray) and Paul Thompson presenting Beware Of The Bull, The Enigmatic Genius Of Jake Thackray on October 28 at 8pm.
They will be combining humorous Thackray songs with stories of the late Jake in the wake of publishing their biography charting the life of the Leeds topical comedy songwriter, poet and journalist.
THE NCEM’s own folk promotions will be led off by Scottish multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer John McCusker & Friends on November 2, after the former Battlefield Band fledgling marked his 30th anniversary as a professional musician by releasing his Best Of compilation from solo records and television and film soundtracks in 2021.
Lady Maisery, the innovative award-winning English vocal harmony trio of Hazel Askew, Hannah James and Rowan Rheingans, play on November 16.
All composers and multi-instrumentalists in their own right, they perform intelligent and thoughtful folk arrangements of both trad repertoire and original compositions, whether unearthing a feminist twist hidden in a traditional tale, delivering a poignant anti-war ballad or drawing on myriad influences in their own songs.
On December 2, The Furrow Collective – Lucy Farrell viola, saw, voice, Rachel Newton, harp, fiddle, voice, Emily Portman, banjo, concertina, voice, and Alasdair Roberts guitars, voice – present Winter Nights, a spine-tingling evening of harmony and storytelling, bringing light into the wintry gloom.
On December 17, Green Matthews evoke the spirit of Christmas past in Gaudete, spanning 600 years of music that brings the festive season to life in a riot of sound and colour. In the line-up are Chris Green and Sophie Matthews, cittern, English border bagpipes, shawm, guitar, flute and piano accordion; Chris Matthews and Emily Baines, woodwinds, and Richard Baines, violin.
Bookers for any two of Lady Maisery, The Furrow Collective and Green Matthews will receive a £5 discount; book all three for an £8 saving.
The NCEM’s Family Friendly show “for a while” presents Mish Mash Productions in a return to York with Strange Creatures, a musical adventure for children aged four to seven and families alike, on Sunday, October 16 at 1.30pm and 3pm.
Violin, viola and cello combine to create a magical world inspired by the book Beegu, written and illustrated by Alexis Deacon and performed by arrangement with Penguin Random House.
On the film front, Victor Sjöström’s 1921 Swedish silent movie The Phantom Carriage will be shown with live musical accompaniment on October 26 as part of York Ghost Week 2022.
In this 100-minute Dickensian ghost story and deeply moving drama that inspired a 12-year-old Ingmar Bergman to make films, the last person to die before the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve is doomed to ride Death’s carriage, collecting souls for the year ahead.
This eerie and innovative Swedish classic also was a showcase for ground-breaking special effects as well as haunting visuals, now to be complemented by the spontaneous performance of Frame Ensemble, a quartet of northern musicians – Irine Røsnes, violin, Liz Hanks, cello, Trevor Bartlett, percussion, and Jonny Best, piano, specialising in improvised silent film.
The Aesthetica Short Film Festival will be returning to the NCEM during its November 1 to 6 run, showcasing 300 films in a celebration of independent cinema that connects audiences through powerful storytelling.
The international festival spans comedies to dramas, immersive virtual realities to family-friendly animations, alongside masterclasses.
The NCEM may be the National Centre for Early Music but its brief under director Delma Tomlin is far broader. Three examples are Singlr An Appera on October 23 at 8pm, klezmer and Balkan band She’Koyokh on October 30 at 6.30pm and Manasamitra’s Slumber Stories and Dusk Notes on November 11 at 5pm and 7.30pm respectively.
Organised by Lydia Cottrell of SLAP, Loré Lixenberg’s Singlr An Appera is a dreamlike musical evening in the Singlr salon where ambient electronic tracks and live musicians accompany the vocalised conversations of the Singlr app participants.
London’s international seven-piece klezmer and Balkan band She’Koyokh will be presenting Klezmer With Nightingales, a night of energetic klezmer combined with ancient Sephardic songs, reflecting the diversity of Jewish heritages, the history of migration and the musical integration that has taken place across Europe and beyond over hundreds of years.
In the band are Çiğdem Aslan, vocals, Susi Evans, clarinet, Meg Hamilton, violin, Matt Bacon, guitars, Živorad Nikolić, accordion, Paul Moylan, double bass, and Christina Borgenstierna, percussion.
In Leeds-based Manasamitra’s Slumber Stories, stories from around the world swirl together with semi-improvised music to create the background to a restful, rejuvenating and meditative rest-time story ritual for adults and children alike.
For Dusk Notes, vocalist Supriya Nagarajan and musician and soundscape artist Duncan Chapman unite with designer Pritpal Ajimal in a spiritual work that speaks to the Hindu gods, particularly Krishna, the god of compassion, tenderness and love.
Combining songs whose melodies date back to the 2nd and 3rd century, Dusk Notes has ragas to suit the mood of a mellow winter evening at the time of twilight just before the sun goes down.
Early music enthusiasts should look out for the young Spanish instrumental group El Gran Teatro del Mundo, who head to the NCEM on November 20 at 6.30pm after a week-long debut British tour. These rising stars of the EEEmerging programme promise a sparkling concert of 17th and 18th century works by Vivaldi, Telemann and Fasch.
Organised by the NCEM, the 2022 York Early Music Festival’s run from December 8 to 17 features such guest artists as Solomon’s Knot, the Orlando Consort and Bojan Cicic. Full details can be found at ncem.co.uk/yemcf.
Still on the Christmas theme, The York Waits – Tim Bayley, Lizzie Gutteridge, Anna Marshall, Susan Marshall, William Marshall and singer Deborah Catterall – focus on The Mirth & Melody Of Angels, Music for Christmas and The Festive Season from Medieval and Renaissance Europe, as they celebrate the 45th anniversary of their re-creation of York’s historic city band, on December 20.
Booked into the diary for 2023 already are two folk nights: The Rheingans Sisters on March 3 and Leveret on March 15. Book for both concerts by October 31 to save £5.
The Rheingans Sisters make playful, powerful music that is contemporary yet deeply anchored in folk traditions, performed on myriad instruments, many made by their luthier father. Nominated for Best Duo/Group at the 2019 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, in 2020 they released their fourth album, Receiver.
Leveret brings together three of England’s finest folk musicians, fiddle player Sam Sweeney, button accordionist Andy Cutting and concertina player Rob Harbron, whose natural, relaxed musicianship is not arranged in the conventional sense. Instead, they rely on mutual trust and spontaneous musical interaction to create new settings of their repertoire in the moment, with no two performances ever alike.
The NCEM is supported by City of York Council, Make it York, Arts Council England, Creative Europe and Mayfield Valley Arts Trust.
All concerts start at 7.30pm unless stated otherwise. Tickets can be booked on 01904 658338 or at ncem.co.uk.
Spanish ensemble El Gran Teatro del Mundo to play York as finale to first UK tour promoted by NCEM in November
SPANISH baroque ensemble El Gran Teatro del Mundo will embark on their debut British tour in November, organised by the National Centre for Early Music, York, in its first venture as promoters.
The tour is supported by the Creative Europe EEEmerging+ programme [whose bridge-building work concludes next summer alas] and the Ministry of Culture of Spain through INAEM, the National Institute for Performing Arts and Music.
Winners of the Diapason d’Or for their first album, Die Lullisten, the six-piece ensemble previously won theCambridge Early Music Prize at the 2019 York Early Music International Young Artists Competition.
The ensemble comprises Claudio Rado, violín, Michael Form, recorders, Miriam Jorde, oboe, Bruno Hurtado, cello, Jonas Nordberg, archlute, and directorJulio Caballero, harpsichord.
Rising stars of the EEEmerging+ programme, El Gran Teatro del Mundo have performed at prestigious venues and festivals all over Europe, such as: Festival Oude Muziek Utrecht; Festtage Alter Musik Basel; Musikinstrumentenmuseum Berlin; Musica Antica Urbino; Festival d’Ambronay; Centro Botìn Santander; the Riga Early Music Festival and the Festival Baroque de Tarantaise in France.
Specialising in music from the 17th and 18th centuries played on oboe, recorders, cello, theorbo and harpsichord, the ensemble will celebrate the genius of Vivaldi, Telemann and Fasch in a tour programme of work entitled The Art Of Conversation.
El Gran Teatro del Mundo will appear at St John Smith’s Square, London, November 14; Turner Sims Concert Hall, University of Southampton, November 15; Cambridge Early Music, November 16; Lakeside Arts, Nottingham, November 17, and St George’s, Bristol, November 18. The grand finale, at the NCEM on November 20, will be filmed.
El Gran Teatro del Mundo say: “The 2019 York Early Music competition was a wonderful experience for us and we were really looking forward to coming back to the UK. After a very long wait, we can finally share with the British public the wide range of emotions and feelings that our energetic programme conveys.
“We are especially grateful to the NCEM for their support and dedication in making this tour possible. We are working to make it a great artistic and human experience for everyone.”
NCEM director Delma Tomlin says: “We are delighted to be initiating this exciting UK tour and to work with promoters from across the country as we welcome this impressive young instrumental group.
“We first welcomed El Gran Teatro del Mundo to York in 2019 when they took part in the York Early Music International Young Artists Competition. We were impressed with their talent and artistry, and they have continued to go from strength to strength, recently winning the coveted Diapason d’Or.
“This is the first chance to invite them post-Covid restrictions, and we can’t wait for them to return to the NCEM this autumn.”
Tickets for the 6.30pm York concert are on sale on 01904 658338 or at ncem.co.uk.