Absolute turkey or totally gravy? 2023’s Christmas albums rated or roasted…

Made for Chering: Cher’s Christmas selection box of disco bangers, festive standards and big ballads

Cher, Christmas (Warner Records) ***

Wrapping: As expected, Cher’s first ever Christmas album at 77 is beautifully packaged with a choice of sleeve, either Rock Chick Cher, dressed in faded denim, or glamourous metallic haute couture. Choose from CD, red vinyl, or a fabulous 20-page magazine version packed full of the icon that is Cher.

Gifts inside: Lead single DJ Play A Christmas Song is yet another sub-remake of Believe, but with a memorably hypnotic hook. The remaining dozen tracks are workmanlike covers of Christmas rock standards, originals Angels In The Snow, I Like Christmas and Tyga duet Drop Top Sleigh Ride, and a few too many seasonal ballads. Stevie Wonder (What Christmas Means To Me), Darlene Love (Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) , Cyndi Lauper, Michael Bublé and a host of others join in the colour-by-numbers set.

Style: Cher’s career across seven decades has relied in three hues: old-fashioned rock’n’roll, disco and big ballads. The former two have served her well for more than half a century. However, to my ears, Cher’s voice is too big, and even clumsy, for sensitive ballads, of which there are many.

‘Tis the reason to be jolly: The artwork is gorgeous. No-one knew they needed a Christmas Cher album (as her 27th studio set) until one came along. However, under the tantalising wrapping is a Christmas album to be played once, then kept on display with the other Christmas baubles.

Scrooge moan: The thought of Canadian crooner Michael Bublé and Cher sharing a song is compelling. However, the resulting cover of Home is a Yuletide disaster. The two voices simply don’t blend. Fortunately, Cyndi Lauper’s chipper and upbeat contribution to Put a Little Holiday in Your Heart more than makes up for this faux pas.

White Christmas? Not a sign of Bing Crosby’s hit. However, we are treated to pub-rock versions of Run Rudolph Run, Please Come Home For Christmas and a rather inappropriate rendition of Santa Baby!

Blue Christmas? Well, the artwork is beautiful and the lead single is a grower. However, many would have much preferred that promised Volume II of Cher’s Dancing Queen set of ABBA covers, five years on from the first.

Stocking or shocking: Despite the negatives, this is still a Cher album. Everyone knows someone who needs a little Cher in their lives.

Ian Sime

Kate Rusby: Christmas songs merry, melancholic and dippy

Kate Rusby, Light Years (Pure Records) ****

Wrapping: Barnsley nightingale Kate in dark angel wings, feet planted in her beloved snowy South Yorkshire landscape. A pictorial theme she extends through the inner sleeve and sleeve notes, culminating in the exiting Kate walking towards winter woodland.  

Gifts inside: South Yorkshire pub carols (Spean; Nowell, Nowell); winter songs (A Spaceman Came Travelling;  The Moon Shines Bright, with Kate’s “early 50th birthday present ” of Union Station’s Alison Krauss and Ron Block guesting on vocals and banjo);  Christmas chestnuts “you hear in shops” (It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year; Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree/Sleigh Ride; three Rusby compositions,  and a brace of novelty numbers (Sid Kipper’s parody Arrest These Merry Gentlemen and Sid Tepper & Roiy C Bennett’s Nothin’ For Christmas).

Style: Kate and her regular folk and Moog synth players, augmented as ever by the “Brass Boys”, on songs merry, melancholic and dippy.

’Tis the reason to be jolly: Kate’s own compositions, led by Glorious, a song of renewal, healing, love and light, composed one February day as she stood in her snow-coated garden, longing for spring, and thought of a broken angel seated in a tree. Her seventh take on While Shepherds Watched still leaves 24 pub carol versions to go because this one has a new Rusby tune and gorgeous chorus, as does the closing Joseph, complete with Damien O’Keefe’s glockenspiel.

Scrooge moan: It took Johnny Mathis from 1958 to 2023 to chalk up seven Christmas albums, by comparison with only 15 years for Kate’s holiday season septet (including the live Happy Holly Days). What took you so long, Johnny?!

White Christmas? Only on the sleeve.  

Blue Christmas?  Nowell, Nowell evokes the blue-fingered bleak midwinter of coats, scarves, holly berries and distant carol singers but the bright glory of the Nativity too. Kate’s cover of Chris de Burgh’s A Spaceman Came Travelling (whose lyrics lends Light Years its title) is bluer than the original too.

Stocking or shocking?  Bought nothin’ for Christmas yet? Hollylujah, here comes the perfect gift for Yorkshire folk.

Eliza Carthy & Jon Boden, Glad Christmas Comes (Hudson Records) ****

Wrapping: Folk luminaries and fellow fiddle players Jon Boden (Bellowhead/Spiers & Boden) and Robin Hood’s Bay’s Eliza Carthy MBE (Waterson:Carthy/Wayward Band/The Imagined Village/Blue Murder/The Rails) in tree and candle-lit party mood with folk friends and a nodding mechanical reindeer. Later joined by a goose.

Gifts inside: Christmas in the Carthy & Boden households is a “serious business”, say E&J’s sleeve notes, and so is their debut Christmas collaboration. As heard at their December 10 Wassail (it means “be well”) at Whitby Pavilion, E&J combine evergreen carols with Norma Waterson recommendations (Stanley Brothers’ Beautiful Star and Jean Ritchie’s Winter Grace); a 2012 Boden composition, The Good Doctor; a 2021 Carthy & Boden original (Glad Christmas Comes, words by John Clare); the obligatory variation on While Shepherds (White Zion, from Boden’s local pub in Dungworth, along with The Holly & The Ivy) and a brace of 20th century interlopers, John Rox’s I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas and Shane MacGowan RIP and Jem Finer’s Fairytale Of New York. Make sure to read the sleeve notes too, painting the fullest picture behind the 16 tracks.

Style: Recorded at Yellow Arch Studios, Sheffield, the folk firmament is in full glory, from everything but the kitchen sink a la Bellowhead to haunting a cappella (Glad Christmas Comes, Remember Oh Thou Man). E&J’s fiery or mournful fiddles, E’s melodeons and percussion and J’s concertina, guitar and percussion are complemented by Backstage Brass, as warming as whisky yet as melancholic as toast gone cold, and the entwining voices of Waterson;Carthy cohorts Emily Portman and Tim van Eyken.

‘Tis The Reason To Be Jolly: Making merry with I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In; cavorting through Jingle Bells with fiddle, concertina and, yes, bells. Then, held back to the finale, having the baubles to smelt Fairytale Of New York in the Sheffield folk furnace, E & J jousting like Kirsty and Shane, changing “that line” (the one that rhymes with “you maggot”) to “You’re wasted, you’re plastered, You cheap lying bastard”, by the way. Who can resist bursting into dancing, like those mourners at Shane’s County Tipperary funeral? Certainly not the Morris-dancing Ewan Wardrop.

Scrooge moan:  Such a shame to have missed that night of Whitby wassailing with E&J…but the official carol singing season chez Carthy and chez Boden stretches from September 1 to February 1, outlasting even the winter season’s South Yorkshire pub weekend “sings”, so Glad Christmas Comes can keep a’coming.

White Christmas? No, but ‘Christmas’ bedecks two titles, Glad Christmas Comes (and its album-closing brass reprise) and J’s jocular concertina cabaret of I Want  A Hippopotamus For Christmas, boozy brass coda et al.

Blue Christmas? None bluer than Rossetti/Holst’s In The Bleak Midwinter, frosty winds made moan by E’s singing, snow on snow on snow in the brass playing, stamped Could Only Be Made In Yorkshire.

Stocking or shocking? For shepherds and wise men, carol singers and folk club devotees alike.

When A Child Is Re-born: Johnny Mathis records new version of his 1976 Christmas chart-topper

Johnny Mathis, Christmas Time Is Here (Sony Legacy) ****

Wrapping: The Grandfather of the Christmas melody, Johnny Matthis is still looking good at 88. The Seventies-style sleeve holds a choice of a marbled red or ivy green vinyl LP or a modest standard CD version. Opt for the red version if you can find it.

Gifts inside: You will know all ten classic songs, such as Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, O Little Town Of Bethlehem and a remake of Johnny’s 1976 number one single When A Child Is Born.

Style: Like a good vintage wine, Johnny Mathis improves with time. This was the very last album to be recorded at the iconic Capital Tower Recording Studio in Hollywood before major restorations. Production helmed by Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler and indeed Johnny’s long-term collaborators Jay Landers and Fred Mollin, this is a festive slice of old-school easy listening.

‘Tis the reason to be jolly: This is Mr Mathis’s seventh Yuletide album (1958, 1963, 1969, 1986, 2002, 2013 and now 2023). Although visiting Christmas Past, this is a lovely selection of classics adored by many generations. Wicked/Broadway legend Kristin Chenoweth also guests on Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.

Scrooge moan: You may have to search a few websites to find the lovely red vinyl version.

White Christmas? Of course, White Christmas is present and correct. As are Merry Christmas, Baby and the album-closing Auld Lang Syne.

Blue Christmas? Yes, that song is here too, typical of a tasteful album, classic in style and tone, befitting a merry gentleman of senior vintage.

Stocking or shocking:  Johnny Mathis is an essential festive favourite and every home should have at least one Christmas album by this Texan old-timer.

Ian Sime

Gregory Porter: Comfort and joy personified on Christmas Wish

Gregory Porter, Christmas Wish (Blue Note/Verve/Universal) ***

Wrapping: Classic Christmas at home portraits of Porter, in his familiar hat rather than Santa’s, by the fireside on the cover, joined inside by his family and a photograph of his mother, and giving a child a present on the back. “I’m thankful for the healing that Christmas can bring,” he writes in his festive message. No lyrics, but credits for each song. CD colour? Christmas red, of course.

Gifts inside: Raised in Bakersfield, California, where his mother Ruth was a minister, Porter was encouraged to sing in church from an early age. That can be heard in his gospel voice (and the organ on the title track about his wish to kiss his dear mother mother’s Christmas Day). Christmas Wish is one of three Porter originals, joined by Everything’s Not Lost and the closing Heart For Christmas (with its refrain of “If children is for Christmas”) to accompany the likes of Little Drummer Boy and Cradle In Bethlehem.

Style: Trademark Blue Note/Verve Fifties’ holiday album elegance and sleek sophistication, as smooth as Nat King Cole, as warm as Louis Armstrong, recorded at Sear Sound, New York City over a week in late March/early April, gold-dusted with producer Troy Miller’s velvety string arrangements for the Kingdom Orchestra at London’s Abbey Road Studios. You want soul, jazz, gospel, vintage yet resonant today, Porter delivers, from the heavenly peace of a magical, piano and strings-decorated Silent Night to a gorgeous Do You Hear What I Hear?  

‘Tis the reason to be jolly: Frank Loesser’s What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?, swept off its feet with romantic yearning in a duet with the aptly named Samara Joy.

Scrooge moan: Just a little too polished, too cosy, where you might wish for Otis Redding or James Brown to burst the Bublé of immaculate perfection.

White Christmas? No, but Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne’s ChristmasWaltz, SomedayAt Christmas, Christmas Wish, Christmas Time Is Here and Heart For Christmas tick the Christmas box.

Blue Christmas?  No, but Purple Snowflakes (whatever purple snowflakes are?!). Clarence Paul/David Hamilton song, sung previously by Marvin Gaye on his 1965 album Pretty Little Baby, should you be wondering.

Stocking or shocking: No shocks here. Gregory Porter will be the go-to Christmas chestnut for 2023 stockings, parties and late-night liaisons alike, in the manner of Michael Bublé before him. Comfort and joy, Porter style.

Kate Rusby heralds Christmas tour with York Barbican opening night and Light Years album as she turns festive 50

Kate Rusby: Playing Yorkshire concerts in York, Bradford and Sheffield on her Christmas tour. Picture: David Angel

BARNSLEY folk nightingale Kate Rusby marks turning 50 on Monday with the release of her seventh Christmas album, Light Years, and an accompanying tour that opens at York Barbican on Thursday (7/12/2023).

In the company of her regular band, coupled with the added warmth of “the Brass Boys”, Kate combines carols still sung in South Yorkshire pubs with her winter songs and favourite Christmas chestnuts, whether It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year or a seamless mash-up of Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree and Sleigh Ride. As ever, look out for the festive fancy dress finale.

Here Kate shines a light on Light Years, Yorkshire pub carols and Christmas festivities in discussion with CharlesHutchPress.

How did you approach making your seventh Christmas album, Kate? Were you looking to add new elements to your successful format?

“Light Years has the sound and feel of my last two ‘normal’ albums, Hand Me Down (August 2020)  and 30: Happy Returns (May 2022). I’m loving experimenting with sounds, Moogs, layered banjos, low subs, effects etc, all things we have to hand these days as I’m blessed to have the most brilliant musicians around me.

“Produced by superbly talented Damien O’Kane [Kate’s husband, by the way], whose stunning playing also grounds each track musically. These are sounds I have wanted to achieve for so many years of my recording/touring career and finally at the age of 50 we’ve achieved that sound on a Christmas album. Happy birthday to me!”

How come you have made so many Christmas albums, whereas Michael Buble keeps re-releasing one?! 

“Ha! I have the whole treasure chest of South Yorkshire carols to delve into! There are so, so many to go at, with over 30 different versions of just While Shepherds Watched sung in pubs every winter. Don’t tell Michael though!”

What were the circumstances behind writing Glorious, perhaps the most glorious title you could give a winter song?

 “Glorious was written by me one cold February evening, after standing in my garden, snow-laden trees and warm glow of the evening sun illuminating only half of the world. While it was so still and beautiful, I was longing for spring and for the daylight to return.

“As I stood there an image of a lost and broken angel appeared in my head, just sitting there in one of the trees, wandering and waiting to heal and return from where he came. And so the song was born. I can’t wait to do this song live!”

Happy 50th birthday on Monday, Kate. You must have been delighted at having the early birthday present of Alison Krauss and Ron Block working with you on The Moon Shines Bright. How did that recording come to fruition and why that choice of song?

“Thank you! I’ve been celebrating all week and intend to for the rest of the month! The Moon Shines Bright features Alison’s gorgeous singing and Ron’s singing and string banjo; they’re both musical heroes of mine.

“I first sung it back when I was 15 as part of a theatre production of The Mystery Plays, and the song stayed with me all these years. The year after, when I was 16, my dad was a sound engineer working at Edale Bluegrass Festival.

“I was sat beside him when on to the stage came Alison Krauss and Union Station, including Ron Block, who still plays banjo, guitar and sings with Alison after all these years. I was completely blown away and my love of bluegrass began there.

“I’ve been a fan of Alison and Ron for all these years and Ron has become a dear friend and recorded on my last few albums, so it feels like we’ve completed a circle somehow, and needless to say, it’s such an honour and a dream come true to have Alison sing with us. Again, happy birthday me!”

What drew you to A Spaceman Came Travelling: Chris de Burgh’s 1975 gem of a Christmas song that failed to chart in the UK but topped the Irish chart?

“I went on a little road trip with my older cousin (now a brilliant artist called Marie Mills, check her out!). She had Chris de Burgh cassettes in her car, so we listened to his music all weekend. It was the first time I’d heard his music and really loved it.

“Since the first of my Christmas albums I’ve wanted to do a version of Spaceman but it never quite fitted in with the rest of the album…until now.”

The snowy cover for Kate Rusby’s seventh Christmas album, Light Years. Artwork design by Martin Roswell at Simply Marvellous

Where did you discover the Chris Sugden (aka Sid Kipper) parody Arrest These Merry Gentlemen?

“Chris was one half of a folk comedy duo called The Kipper Family, a parody in itself of the famous folk family The Copper Family. They were absolutely hilarious! They wrote parodies of famous folk songs so everyone in the audience at festivals got the jokes.

“Chris later went on to do solo gigs as Sid Kipper, again, totally hilarious. I was brought up at folk festivals as my dad was a sound engineer so we went to many every summer. I’d heard Arrest These Merry Gentlemen way back then, and also The Ivy And The Holly, which we covered on an earlier album. I love them both and love to be introducing his songs to people who’ve never heard them. He’s a proper genius!” 

Always room for another version of While Shepherds Watched! What’s the story behind Rusby Shepherds on the new album?

“There has been at least one version on each one of my Christmas albums. I was deciding which version to put on this one when I accidentally wrote a new tune for it! So I called it Rusby Shepherds, so there’s one more now!” 

Aside from songs and Carols from Light Years, what will be new in the latest round of Kate Rusby At Christmas concerts?

“We have a new set design this year, I can’t wait to see it all on stage for the first gig in York. I know what it is and have seen elements of it, so I’m really excited to see it in situ. It’s going to be so beautiful.” 

What will be the band line-up for this winter’s tour?

“My lovely, brilliant gang of band, brass and crew! Damien O’Kane, guitars, electric guitars, tenor guitar, electric tenor, banjo and vocals. Duncan Lyall, double bass and Moog synthesiser. Nick Cooke, accordions and electric guitar. Josh Clark, percussion and drums.

“Sam Kelly is with us for Christmas for the first time; he’s been in my regular band for a couple of years and we’re pleased to have him along for the Christmas tour this year on bouzouki, guitar, electric guitar and vocals. And of course my lovely brass lads, Gary Wyatt, Mike Levis, Chris Howlings, Robin Taylor and Lee Clayson.

“The most amazing crew is behind us all making sure it all sounds and looks beautiful and that it all happens as smoothly as it can. Alison Povey, Pete Sharman, Zak Nicholson, Harry Le Masurier, David Bower and Asa Duke. I’m blessed to have each and every one of these marvellous humans with me on tour.” 

Roast turkey or goose for the Rusby-O’Kane household on Christmas Day?

“Ooh, now then, we’ve had a goose for so many years but last year we went back to having a turkey from a local farmer, as was the goose, but we loved it so much we’re going turkey again this year. With all the trimmings, including Yorkshire puds gravies, bread sauce etc.”

Which album would you recommend giving as a Christmas present this year?

“Damien O’Kane and Ron Block’s latest album, Banjophonics. I may be a little biased but it’s sunshine in a bottle music. Just what we need in these murky winter days!”

Kate Rusby: Light Years Christmas Tour, York Barbican, Thursday (7/12/2023), 7.30pm. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk. Also playing St George’s Hall, Bradford, December 8 (01274 432000 or bradford-theatres.co.uk) and Sheffield City Hall, December 14 (0114 256 5593 or sheffieldcityhall.co.uk) . Light Years is out now on Pure Records.

Track listing for Light Years: 1. Spean; 2. Glorious; 3. It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year; 4. Rusby Shepherds; 5. The Moon Shines Bright (feat. Alison Krauss & Ron Block); 6. Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree/Sleigh Ride; 7. Nowell, Nowell; 8. Arrest These Merry Gentlemen; 9. A Spaceman Came Travelling; 10. Nothin’ For Christmas; 11. Joseph.

Holly Head: Kate Rusby in Christmas headgear on the cover of her 2019 album of South Yorkshire pub carols and winter songs

South Yorkshire pub carols: the back story

FOR Kate Rusby, abiding memories of childhood at Christmas are full of carols in the tap room of many a Yorkshire pub, surrounded by family, community, warmth, happiness, colouring books and crisps.

The tradition of singing carols in South Yorkshire pubs grew out of the original versions being banished from churches by the pious Victorians, their “happier tunes deemed too raucous for choirs”. Instead, they moved to pubs to accompany the beer, the banter and the bunting.

Carols are sung from the weekend after Armistice Day to New Year’s Day. Colloquially known as the Sheffield Carols, they will be sung in the Steel City this winter at The Sportsman, Redmires Road, on Mondays; the Crown and Glove, Stannington, Tuesdays; The Stocks, Ecclesfield, Thursdays; The Travellers Rest, Oughtibridge, Saturdays; and The Royal, Dungworth, The Blue Ball, Worrall, and The Wharncliffe Arms, Wharncliffe Side, on Sundays.

More Things To Do in York and beyond as temperatures drop and festive fervour rises. Hutch’s List No.49, from The Press, York

The Gesualdo Six, with director Owain Park, centre, back row: Two concerts in one evening at NCEM

CHRISTMAS music, Scrooge the farmer, artist fairs and pantomime frolics set up Charles Hutchinson for the festive season ahead.

Festival of the week: York Early Music Christmas Festival, today until December 9

YORK Early Music Christmas Festival 2023 takes the theme of Music, Minstrels and Mystery, with today’s concerts by Flutes & Frets (Bedern Hall) and The Gesualdo Six & Fretwork Viol Consort (NCEM) having sold out already.

So has December 9’s finale, the Yorkshire Bach Choir’s Bach Christmas Oratorio (Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall), but tickets are still available for The Harmonious Society of Tickle-Fiddle Gentlemen, Fiddlesticks, The Marian Consort, Ceruleo and Baroque In The North. For concert details and tickets, visit ncem.co.uk. Box office: 01904 658338.

James Lewis-Knight and Emily Chattle in a scene from Badapple Theatre Company’s Farmer Scrooge’s Christmas Carol. Picture: Karl Andre

Tour opening of the week: Badapple Theatre Company in Farmer Scrooge’s Christmas Carol, until December 30

A GRUMPY farmer? From Yorkshire? Surely not! Welcome to Kate Bramley’s rural revision of Dickens’s festive favourite, A Christmas Carol, now set on Farmer Scrooge’s farm and in his bed in 1959 in Green Hammerton company Badapple Theatre’s tour of Yorkshire and beyond.

York actors James Lewis-Knight and Emily Chattle play multiple roles in a tale replete with local stories and carols, puppets and mayhem, original songs by Jez Lowe and a whacking great dose of seasonal bonhomie. For tour dates and ticket details, visit: badappletheatre.co.uk or call 01423 331304.

South Bank Studios artist Carolyn Coles: Taking part in this weekend’s Christmas Artists Trail

Artists with Christmas in mind: South Bank Studios Christmas Artists Trail, hosted by South Bank Studios, Bishopthorpe Road, York, today and tomorrow, 10am to 4pm

JOIN artists, illustrators and makers in the South Bank area of York for a weekend of festive cheer and a chance to visit artists’ houses and studios. For sale will be paintings, illustrations, ceramics, textiles, cards and gifts.

Taking part: Jill Tattersall, at 11 Mount Parade, today and tomorrow; Marie Murphy, 38, Scarcroft Road, today; Donna Maria Taylor, Carolyn Coles, Karen Winship, Rebeca Mason (11am to 4pm, in the loft), Katie Hill (outside) and Rachel Jones (outside) at South Bank Studio, today only.

Other art events happening in York over the weekend will be PICA Studios’ open studio, in Grape Lane, today and tomorrow, 10am to 5pm, and Rogues Atelier’s open studio, in Fossgate, today and tomorrow, 10am to 5pm.

Damion Larkin: Hosting Laugh Out Loud Comedy Club at The Basement

Comedy gig of the week: Laugh Out Loud Comedy Club, The Basement, City Screen Picturehouse, York, today, 5pm and 8pm

ESSEX comedian Markus Birdman headlines Laugh Out Loud Comedy Club’s brace of Basement gigs today. Joining him will be Tal Davies, Hasan Al-Habib and promoter/master of ceremonies Damion Larkin.

In 2022, Birdman suffered a stroke and ended up with a platinum heart, the subject of his Platinum Tour show. This year he was a semi-finalist on Britain’s Got Talent. Box office: lolcomedyclubs.co.uk.

Nina Cumin, left, Jonathan Sage and Kate Ledger: York Late Music concert of Anthony Gilbert works tonight

York Late Music: Micklegate Singers, After Byrd, today, 1pm; Nina Kumin, Jonathan Sage and Kate Ledger, 7.30pm, both at Unitarian Chapel, St Saviourgate, York

MICKLEGATE Singers bring together three anniversaries, Byrd, Rachmaninov and Thomas Weelkes, in a lunchtime musical sandwich of more than 500 years of a cappella choral music.

In the evening, Nina Kumin, violin, Jonathan Sage, clarinet, and Kate Ledger, piano, mark July’s death of Anthony Gilbert by performing four of the British composer’s works, plus music by Nicola LeFanu and David Lumsdaine, who both knew him well. Box office: latemusic.org or on the door.

Kirk Brandon: Fronting Spear Of Destiny at The Crescent

40th anniversary gig of the week: Spear Of Destiny, The Crescent, York, Wednesday, 7.30pm

FORTY years on from Epic Records’ release of Spear Of Destiny’s debut album, The Grapes Of Wrath, Kirk Brandon leads his punk-influenced power rock band on a 17-date November and December tour.

On the back of American travels, Brandon will be performing with his longest-serving line-up:  Adrian Portas (New Model Army/Sex Gang Children), Craig Adams (Sisters Of Mercy/The Cult/The Mission) and Phil Martini (Jim Jones And The Righteous Mind), bolstered by Clive Osborne on saxophone and Steve Allen-Jones on keys. Support comes from former Simple Minds bassist Derek Forbes & The Dark. Box office: thecrescentyork.com.

Kate Rusby: Showcasing her new Christmas album, Light Years, at York Barbican on Thursday

Festive folk gig of the week: Kate Rusby, Established 1973 Christmas Tour, York Barbican, Thursday, 7.30pm

BARNSLEY folk nightingale Kate Rusby marks turning 50 on Monday with the release of her seventh Christmas album, Light Years, and an accompanying tour that opens in York.

In the company of her regular band, coupled with the added warmth of the Brass Boys, Kate combines carols still sung in South Yorkshire pubs with her winter songs and favourite Christmas chestnuts. Look out for the fancy dress finale. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Rowntree Players having a ball in rehearsal for Cinderella

Pantomime opening of the week: Rowntree Players in Cinderella, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, December 9 to 16, except December 11

HOWARD Ella directs Rowntree Players in a rollicking romp of a pantomime, wherein Cinderella and Buttons are fighting to save the Windy End Hotel when the Queen announces a ball to celebrate Prince Charming’s birthday.

Trouble is brewing with the arrival of a “truly horrific trio”, determined to find themselves a prince. Expect song, dance, all the traditional silliness…and a mad rush for the last few tickets for all performances. Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

Billie Marten: Dropping into The Crescent with her Drop Cherries album. Picture: Katie Silvester

Recommended but sold out already

RIPON singer-songwriter Billie Marten, now based in London, returns home to Yorkshire to showcase her fourth album, Drop Cherries, on which she explores the struggle with modernity versus tradition, nature, mental health, relationships and “a general voyeurism on the world as she sees it”. Clara Mann supports.

More Things To Do in York and beyond as the summer of love arrives early. Here’s Hutch’s List No. 21 for 2023, from The Press

A study of people studying People We Love’s digital portraits in the Chapel at Castle Howard. Picture: Charlotte Graham

LOVE lost and found is all around in Charles Hutchinson’s picks from the shelf marked culture.

Goin’ to the chapel of love: People We Love, Castle Howard, near York, until October 15, 10am to 4pm

AFTER gracing York Minster twice, Pittsburgh, USA, Viborg, Denmark, and Selby Abbey, North Yorkshire, KMA’s latest contemplative digital art installation takes over the Chapel at Castle Howard, a setting that provides a contrast between portraiture old and new. Produced by York-based Mediale and designed by Kit Monkman, People We Love explores “the invisible transaction between a person, a piece of art and the emotion which bonds us all: love”.

A quintet of high-definition screens display portraits of estate staff and volunteers, Castle Howard visitors and Ryedale residents, filmed in March, as they gaze at a picture of someone they love. A picture you never see, but you will feel each unspoken story as the faces tell the tale of a person they love.

Alexandra Mather’s Adina, left, in York Opera’s The Elixir Of Love

Opera of the weekend: York Opera in The Elixir Of Love, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, today at 7.30pm

WILL Nemorino, a simple village farm lad, ever find love without the help of a magic potion? Discover the answer in Donizetti’s comic opera L’Elisere d’Amore, packed with light-hearted music sung in an English translation by Ruth and Thomas Martin with orchestral accompaniment.

Under the direction of Chris Charlton-Mathews, principal roles go to Hamish Brown as the lovelorn, lovable Nemorino; stalwart Ian Thompson-Smith as opportunistic Doctor Dulcamara; David Valsamidies as the boastful Belcore; Alexandra Mather as the intelligent, beautiful Adina and Emma Burke in her York Opera debut as the flirtatious Giannetta. Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

Harvey Badger, Eddie Ahrens, Hannah Baker and Rachel Hammond in Mikron Theatre Company’s Twitchers

Bird song of the week: Mikron Theatre Company in Twitchers, Scarcroft Allotments, Scarcroft Road, York, Sunday (21/5/2023), 2pm, and on tour until October 21

IN Mikron Theatre Company’s premiere of Poppy Hollman’s Twitchers, Springwatch is coming to RSPB Shrikewing nature reserve, home to raucous rooks and booming bitterns.

Can Jess take inspiration from the RSPB’s tenacious female founders and draw on its history of campaigning to save them? Can she find her own voice to raise a rallying cry for nature in Mikron’s flight through RSPB and birdwatching history, feathered with bird song and humour. No reserved seating or tickets are required, and instead a ‘pay what you feel’ collection will be taken after the show.

Kate Rusby: On song at Harrogate Royal Hall on Monday

Folk gig of the week: Kate Rusby, Harrogate Royal Hall, Monday, 7.30pm

BARNSLEY folk nightingale Kate Rusby rounds off a year of 30th anniversary celebrations with an 18-date spring tour, in the wake of releasing her 30: Happy Returns compendium last May to acknowledge three decades as a professional musician.

Coming later this year will be Kate’s Established 1973 Christmas Tour, visiting York Barbican on December 7, three days after she turns 50: a landmark she will mark with her sixth album of South Yorkshire pub carols and winter songs. Box office: Harrogate, 01423 502116 or harrogatetheatre.co.uk; York, yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Beware the Green Fingers: Fladam’s Flo Poskitt and Adam Sowter launch their debut children’s show at York Theatre Royal

Children’s show of the week: Fladam, Green Fingers, TakeOver Festival, York Theatre Royal, May 27, 3pm

GREEN Fingers is a work-in-progress performance to test out madcap York musical comedy double act Fladam’s first foray into family theatre ahead of its full debut at this summer’s Edinburgh Fringe.

Flo Poskitt and Adam Sowter present a deliciously Roald Dahl-style musical storytelling show for children aged five to 12 about a boy born with bright green hands. Is he really rotten or just misunderstood? Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Amy May Ellis: Back at The Band Room

Homeward bound: Amy May Ellis, The Band Room, Low Mill, Farndale, May 27, 7.30pm

BEWITCHING ambient Yorkshire rose folkster Amy May Ellis makes an overdue return to her “local” moorland venue, where she has opened for Hiss Golden Messenger, Willy Mason, Michael Chapman, Ryley Walker and Howe Gelb since teen days…and always brought the house down.

This time she is touring her debut album, Over Ling And Bell, released on Isle of Eigg’s cult Lost Map Records, home of Pictish Trail and one-time Lost Map Sessions singer and songwriter James Yorkston, with whom Amy has toured. Wanderland and Nessy Williamson support. Box office: thebandroom.co.uk.

Awaiting his coat of many colours: Jonathan Wells in rehearsal for his title role in York Musical Theatre Company’s Joseph And The Technicolor Dreamcoat

Musical of the week: York Musical Theatre Company in Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, Wednesday to Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee

KATHRYN Addison directs York Musical Theatre Company in Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s 1968 debut musical: the biblical journey of Joseph, son of Jacob and one of 12 brothers, and his coat of many colours.

From the book of Genesis to the musical’s genesis as a cantata written for a school choir, Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat has grown into an iconic musical theatre staple. Here husband and wife Jonathan Wells and Jennie Wogan-Wells lead the cast as Joseph and the Narrator. Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

Richard E Grant: Reflecting on love and loss at the Grand Opera House, York

Talk show of the week: An Evening With Richard E Grant, Grand Opera House, York, Friday, 7.30pm

ACTOR Richard E Grant tells stories from his life, entwining tales from his glittering career with uplifting reflections on love and loss, as told in last September’s memoir, A Pocketful Of Happiness.

Grant will be considering the inspiration behind the book – how, when his beloved wife Joan died in 2021 after almost 40 years together, she set him a challenge of finding a pocketful of happiness in every day. The book and now the tour show honour that challenge. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.

Leon Francois Dumont’s Ring Of Fire: Not one of the “life drawings” but featuring in the Donderdag Collective exhibition nonetheless at Pyramid Gallery, York

York exhibition launch of the week: The Donderdag Collective, Artists And The Human Form, Pyramid Gallery, Stonegate, York, York, today, from 11am, until June 25

FOUNDED in 2011 by a group of artists in York, The Donderdag Collective members – both professionals and keen amateurs – meet at St Olave’s Church Hall, in Marygate Lane, on Thursday evenings to sketch or paint from a life model (‘Donderdag’ being Dutch for ‘Thursday’).

Taking part in this resulting show are: Julie Mitchell; Rory Barke; Bertt deBaldock; Diane Cobbold; Carolyn Coles; Leon Francois Dumont; Jeanne Godfrey; Anna Harding; Adele Karmazyn; Michelle Galloway; Andrian Melka; Kate Pettitt; Swea Sayers; Barbara Shaw and Donna Maria Taylor.

Dame Joan Collins: Going Behind The Shoulder Pads at the Grand Opera House in October

Show announcement of the week: Dame Joan Collins, Behind The Shoulder Pads, Grand Opera House, York, October 2, 7.30pm

TO coincide with the release of her memoir Behind The Shoulder Pads, Hollywood legend, author, producer, humanitarian and entrepreneur Dame Joan Collins, who will turn 90 on May 23, will embark on a tour with husband Percy Gibson by her side.

Returning to the Grand Opera House, where they presented Unscripted in February 2019, they will field audience questions and tell seldom-told tales and enchanting anecdotes, accompanied by rare footage from Dame Joan’s seven decades in showbusiness. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.

REVIEW: Paul Rhodes’s verdict on Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman, Selby Town Hall, April 28

Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman: “Songs crafted with great care and love of language and form”

A POWER cut, a piano and a bottle of wine. Such were the beginnings for one of the new songs unveiled by the fine folk duo Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman.

That tune, Year Without A Summer, closes their new album Almost A Sunset, and is based on Mary Shelley’s sodden holiday that created Frankenstein.

You don’t have to travel to Switzerland to find inspiration, and the song was written one wi-fi-less evening at their home on Dartmoor. Roberts is originally from Barnsley while Lakeman is hewn from the Devon lands and from something of a musical dynasty.

Many of their songs are inspired by books. Roberts, a prolific reader, shared her love of fine words and colourful characters from the past (human and animal). Ropedancer, a standout on the album, is based on one Charles Blondin, a Victorian funambulist (a tightrope walker to you and me).

As she sang, Roberts’s voice soared, still a wonder and undimmed by the years. Roberts and Lakeman are not prolific, but each of their albums (the first in 2001) are crafted with great care and love of language and form.

Roberts and Lakeman’s Selby setlist “was a marvel, full of welcome changes and shifts of style and pace”

This was reflected in the quality of the performance, which was consistently at a level only a select few can reach. Blondin once carried his (presumably soon to be and now ex) manager on his back across a chasm – but this concert never felt like a nervy high-wire act. We were in the safest hands. Like her Barnsley peer, Kate Rusby, Roberts and Lakeman occupy the more accessible end of the folk spectrum and even their more obvious material is full of melody.

This wonderful venue felt like an apt staging post for the duo, entertaining and selling beautifully scented, organically made albums that you can’t buy on Amazon or eavesdrop on Spotify.

The 16-strong setlist focused mostly on the new record, interspersed with deft nods to their past. Roberts was mostly at the keyboard, barefoot, gracefully leaning to the left as she drew out the emotion with exquisite control.

Her husband, meanwhile, was in his brown familiars, and his face mirrored the patterns he coaxed from his guitar. While Roberts’s voice can take on all comers, Lakeman’s playing, in its variety and feel, was equally magnificent.

The setlist itself was a marvel, full of welcome changes and shifts of style and pace – including the obligatory bawdy one (The Lusty Blacksmith) and a more left -field moo (Cows Of Mystery, which could have been awful but was anything but).

After 90 minutes, all too soon they were gone like the May blossoms that adorn their songs. Memories of this lustrous concert will linger longer.

Review by Paul Rhodes

More Things To Do in York and beyond for Christmas joys, but Armageddon is coming. Hutch’s List No. 110, courtesy of The Press

A mouse on skis at the Fairfax House exhibition A Townmouse Christmas

A MOUSE house invasion, Christmas concerts galore, a much-loved musical and a cracking ballet are Charles Hutchinson’s festive fancies.

Exhibition of the week: A Townmouse Christmas, Fairfax House, York, until December 23, 11am to 4pm, last entry, 3.30pm

‘TWAS the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring. Not true! In among the Georgian festive decor, hundreds of decorative town-mice have descended on Fairfax House.  

Stealing the cheese and biscuits, running up and down the clocks, even skiing down the banisters, the charming magical mousey scenes complement the 18th-century-style festive foliage that evoke a Fairfax family Christmas of a bygone era in York. Tickets: fairfaxhouse.co.uk.

Chapter House Choir: Candle-lit carol singing in the nave of York Minster

Christmas institution of the week in York: Chapter House Choir’s Carols By Candlelight, York Minster, tonight, 7.30pm; doors, 6.45pm

DIRECTED by Benjamin Morris, the Chapter House Choir will be joined in the central nave by the Chapter House Youth Choir, the choir’s Handbell Ringers and York organist William Campbell for a feast of festive music, combining familiar carols with new and exciting compositions.

Jesus Christ The Apple Tree, a carol composed for the choir by founder Andrew Carter, will be premiered. The 90-minute concert with no interval will be dedicated to the memory of Dr Alvan White, the choir’s Candlelighter-in-Chief for these concerts from 2003 to 2018, who died in August. Tickets: “Selling very well” at yorkminster.org.

Sanna Jeppsson’s Maria Rainer sings to the von Trapp children in Pick Me Up Theatre’s The Sound Of Music

Musical of the week: Pick Me Up Theatre in The Sound Of Music, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, until December 30.

COMMONWEALTH Games squash gold medallist and Harrogate man of the musicals James Willstrop plays Captain von Tropp opposite Swedish-born Sanna Jeppsson’s trainee nun turned free-spirited nanny, Maria Rainer, in Robert Readman’s production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s final collaboration.

Three teams of von Trapp children, Team Vienna, Team Graz and Team Linz, will share out the performances at 7.30pm tonight, then December 19, 21, 23, 27, 28 and 29, and at 2.30pm, today, tomorrow, then December 20, 22, 27, 29 and 30. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

Holly head: Kate Rusby crowned in festive foliage for her Christmas celebrations

Festive folk concert of the week: Kate Rusby At Christmas, York Barbican, tomorrow, 7.30pm

AFTER marking her 30th anniversary in the folk fold with 30: Happy Returns, an album of collaborations with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Richard Hawley and KT Tunstall, Barnsley folk nightingale Kate Rusby ends the year with her customary Christmas tour.

Joined by her regular folk band, led by husband Damien O’Kane, and her Brass Boys quintet, Rusby draws on South Yorkshire’s Sunday lunchtime pub tradition of singing carols once frowned on by Victorian churches for being too jolly, complemented by festive favourites and her own winter songs. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Merry Christmas from The Howl & The Hum

Christmas fancy dress of the week: Please Please You presents The Howl & The Hum, The Crescent, York, Monday and Tuesday, 7.30pm, both sold out

DEMAND was so high for York band The Howl & The Hum’s now traditional Yuletide celebration at The Crescent that a Monday show was added to the fully booked Tuesday gig. All tickets have gone for that night too.

What will frontman Sam Griffiths wear after raiding the Nativity Play dressing-up box for angel wings in 2019 and bedecking himself as a lit-up Christmas tree in 2021? And which Christmas classic will they reinvent in the wake of The Pogues’ Fairytale Of New York last time when joined by fellow York combo Bull?

The New York Brass Band’s two Xmas Party gigs on December 22 and 23 at 7.30pm have sold out too.  

Christmas revival of the week: Northern Ballet in The Nutcracker, Leeds Grand Theatre, Tuesday to January 7 2023

The Nutcracker: Northern Ballet’s festive delight returns to Leeds Grand Theatre. Picture: Emily Nuttall

LEEDS company Northern Ballet’s touring revival of former artistic director David Nixon’s festive favourite heads home for a three-week finale at the Grand, replete with gorgeous Regency-style sets by Charles Cusick Smith.

“The Nutcracker is not just a ballet, it is a tradition for many families and generations, a way of having shared memories at a time of year when togetherness turns to the fore,” says Nixon. “I believe that The Nutcracker offers the perfect festive escapism for every generation, a chance to revel in the child-like magic of Christmas.” Box office: 0113 243 0808 or leedsheritagetheatres.com.

The York Waits: Christmas music on shawms, sackbuts, curtals, crumhorns, bagpipes and more

The wait is almost over for…The York Waits’ Christmas concert: The Waits’ Wassail: Music for Advent and Christmas, National Centre for Early Music, York, Tuesday, 7.30pm

THE York Waits, now in their 45th year of re-creating the historic city band, present Mirth & Melody Of Angels, music for Christmas and the festive season from medieval and renaissance Europe, performed by Tim Bayley, Lizzie Gutteridge, Anna Marshall, Susan Marshall and William Marshall with singer Deborah Catterall.

Angels abound, from the 1350’s Angelus ad Virginem to Orlando Gibbons’ Thus Angels Sung from the late-Elizabethan era. Familiar German chorales are followed by French Noels and Mediterranean folk songs, played on shawms, sackbuts, curtals, crumhorns, bagpipes, recorders, flutes, fiddles, rebec, guitar, hurdy gurdy and portative organ. Box office: 01904 658338 or ncem.co.uk.

Baaaaaarrrrgggghhhhhhbican frustration! Ricky Gervais’s brace of Armageddon dates at York Barbican sold out in 27 minutes

Apocalypse next month: Ricky Gervais, Armageddon, York Barbican, January 10 and 11 2023, 7.30pm precisely

ARMAGEDDON is not the end of the world as we know it but the name of grouchy comedian, actor, screenwriter, director, singer, podcaster and awards ceremony host Ricky Gervais’s new tour show.

Gervais, 61, will be torching “woke over-earnestness and the contradictions of modern political correctness while imagining how it all might end for our ‘one species of narcissistic ape’,” according to the Guardian review of his Manchester Apollo gig. Box office? Oh dear, you’re too late for Armageddon; both nights have sold out.

Also recommended but selling out fast: The Shepherd Group Brass Band Christmas Concert, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, tonight, 7.30pm

ONLY the last few tickets remain for this Christmas concert featuring all the bands that make up the Shepherd Group Brass Band, from their Brass Roots absolute beginners to the championship section Senior Band, playing a variety of Christmas and seasonal music with plenty of audience participation. Box office: josephrowntreetheatre.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.

REVIEW: Kate Rusby At Christmas, Harrogate Royal Hall, December 12

COVID crocked Barnsley skylark Kate Rusby’s 2020 carol concerts, replaced by the digital makeshift of a Happy Holly Day livestream from CAST, Doncaster.

Roll on a year, and relentless Scrooge Covid scuppered the first six shows of Kate Rusby At Christmas 2021, Kate herself having caught the lurgy.

Recovered, but still fighting off the last residue of a cough between songs, she was delighted to open the revised tour dates on Yorkshire soil at Harrogate Royal Hall, that icing cake of a beautiful concert hall, on Sunday night.

Christmas decorations interwoven with fairy lights framed the stage apron; Ruby, the decorated nodding reindeer, was in situ to Kate’s right, and everything else familiar to these shows in their 14th year was in place too: Kate’s sparkling party dress; her regular folk band and traditional partners in South Yorkshire Christmas sound, the Brass Boys, their instruments shining oh so brightly, Brass Boy Chris on crutches after a fall.  

Anything missing? Ah yes, the handmade garland normally wrapped around Kate’s microphone stand, ever since being thrown on stage by an enthusiastic woman in Sheffield one Christmas , but suddenly gone AWOL when Kate went looking for the Christmas stage decorations.

New for this year were the lighting projections, mirroring the snowy star design on the “unique” tour T-shirt: “unique”, said Kate, because the dates included the “ghost” shows never to be played (although the Sage show in Gateshead has been moved to from December 9 to 17). Depending on a song’s mood, the backdrop switched from warming red to moody blue to frosty white.

Where better to start than at the very beginning: the chipper opening to the first of five Rusby Christmas albums, Here We Come A-Wassailing, from 2008’s Sweet Bells: the perfect herald to Christmas celebrations, no matter the shroud of uncertainty now descending.

Kate would go on, as always, to explain the roots of these concerts, first prompted by the 200-year tradition of lusty Sunday lunchtime singing in South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire pubs of carols banned in Victorian churches for being too jolly, 30 versions of While Shepherds Watched among them!

Through 14 years – or is it 15, as Kate and husband-musician Damien O’Kane debated? – her Christmas repertoire has expanded and broadened. Now it takes in her own winter compositions; carols and wassailing songs from Cornwall, where her cousin lives; festive favourites from the American songbook (Winter Wonderland) and curios (David Myles’s Santa Never Brings Me A Banjo and John Fox’s Hippo For Christmas), while Josh Clark’s percussion has added another dimension.

The diversity is well represented over the two sets, peppered with a costume change to full-length hippo for a Brass Boy; three variations on While Shepherds Watched; joyful carols aplenty; a set of “manly” reels and Christmas tunes with dazzling interplay between brass and folk players, led by O’Kane, and a smattering of Kate’s own “girly” songs.

Duncan Lyall has introduced the Moog – surely the sound of the moon if it made a sound – to Kate’s winter landscapes, wherein the traditional Paradise and Kate’s The Holly King resounded with mystery and magic as the hall seemed to ice over.

Let The Bells Ring, written by Kate after seeing in the New Year and the rise of dawn on a Cornish beach, had our thoughts turning to wishes for a better year ahead, her midnight voice so clear and solitary, mournful yet hopeful too.

Rusby At Christmas has built up its own traditions, topped off by the fancy-dress encore, initially inspired by Nativity plays. In 2019, the theme was the Christmas feast, Kate dressing as a Christmas pudding, the Brass Boys as Brussels sprouts. This time, for Sweet Bells and Yorkshire Merry Christmas, it was films watched every Christmas.

York Barbican awaits on Monday, so let’s keep those films and costumes hush-hush for now. Suffice to say, your reviewer is still smiling at the sight of Kate.

Kate Rusby At Christmas, York Barbican, December 20, 7.30pm. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Review by Charles Hutchinson

Calling all ‘Holly Heads’! Hark, hark, here comes Barnsley skylark Kate Rusby’s Christmas concert at York Barbican

So, this is Christmas for Kate Rusby, South Yorkshire pub carol enthusiast and self-proclaimed Holly Head

KATE Rusby At Christmas is by now as much a winter tradition as mulled wine, mince pies and LadBaby at number one.

In its 14th year, or maybe 15th as Kate and husband musician Damien O’Kane debated at Harrogate Royal Hall on the opening night last Sunday, this celebration of carols banished from Victorian church services for being too jolly returns to York Barbican on Monday night.

Those carols – among them 30 versions of While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night – have been sung lustily for 200 years at Sunday lunchtimes from late-November to New Year’s Day in the pubs of South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire, and have made their way on to five Rusby Christmas folk albums, complemented by Kate’s own winter songs, Cornish carols, Christmas curios and festive favourites.

The tour’s first week was scuppered by Kate’s bout of Covid, but she recovered in time to pick up the sleigh-ride reins at Harrogate last weekend in the company of her regular band and the “Brass Boys”.

Mindful of saving Kate’s voice, Charles Hutchinson sent his questions by email.

How will the set list differ from your last live Christmas shows in 2019, Kate? Have you come across more old pub carols demanding inclusion?! 

“It’ll be quite similar actually, as my current Christmas album is Holly Head, which I released in 2019. So, the set is based around that album and we’ve rejigged the rest of the set list as there are now five Christmas albums, so quite a lot of older songs to go at!

“There’s always more pub carols reminding you to be included next time and another album is planned!”

Have you written any new winter songs since your Holly Head album? 

“I’ve been messing about with new songs, but nothing complete as yet. We’ve been concentrating on my new album to celebrate 30 years touring, so that’s taken most of our time over the last few months.”

Starry, starry night: Kate Rusby in a sparkly party dress at one of her Christmas concerts. Mike Ainscoe

What’s the set design for the 2021 Christmas show?

“We have a lot of twinkle and sparkle; we have the return of our giant crocheted snowflakes, which I adore. We haven’t used them in a few years, so I’m delighted to have them back on tour again.

“Oh, and our Ruby Reindeer will be joining us on stage of course! She deserves her own horse box as she’s toured with us for so long now.” 

Would you agree that Christmas concerts are needed more than ever after the silent darkness of last winter and beyond?

“Yes, completely! Any concerts, all the concerts!! We are social creatures; humans have been singing together since time began. It’s proven to release happy hormones in the brain when we sing, and even more so when we sing with others. It’s so lovely to hear people singing away with us.”

Monday at York Barbican closes the live tour. Will there be anything extra that night to mark the finale?

“Ooooh, who knows?! Things like that are a bit on the hoof with me. Depending on occurrences on tour…I’ll keep you posted!”

Where and when will your Jolly Holly Wrap livestream show be held?

“It will be live on the night from a secret location in South Yorkshire on Tuesday! It will be myself and the lads in the band. We wanted to do something for the people who are quite rightly still nervous about coming out to actual gigs, people who struggle to get out to gigs in normal times and people overseas who physically can’t join us.

“It’s such a strange time to tour and I want to include as many people as we can so no-one feels left out. We’ll be performing the songs live with fun and banter from 7pm. You can find the ticket info on my website, katerusby.com.

“We finish the gigs in York on December 20th, so I decided to add another show and we can have a wrap party whilst playing all the songs we love.” 

Kate Rusby, deep in the midwinter greenery for her Holly Head album artwork in 2019

You mention that you have been working on your new album. How is it progressing and when might it be released? 

“Yes, the aforementioned 30th anniversay album, called 30: Happy Returns. It’ll be released in April, just ahead of our 30 tour. Can’t wait! So excited about it all.

“We did an album at 10 years [called 10, naturally], 20 years [20], and 30 has come along all of a sudden! Each of those albums, we looked back at songs I’ve previously recorded and reimagined and re-recorded them, some with special guests.

“We’re doing the same with 30 and I have to say I’m bursting with excitement about the guests on 30; I can’t wait to reveal all.” 

You have adapted so well to lockdown times with concert livestreams and home recordings from “the front room”. Do you envisage this becoming a regular format as part of an artist’s repertoire?

“I’m guessing yes. I really loved the connection with our audience through lockdown; it seemed to bring us closer rather than apart.

“We did a series of little performances from our sitting room; I called them the ‘Singy Songy Sessions’, performing a different song each time. It was lovely hearing the stories from the people who saw them and what the songs meant to them. We plan to do more of them – and to keep streaming a Christmas gig of course.”  

And finally, Kate, are any of this year’s Christmas singles to your liking? Elton John and Ed Sheeran? Maybe Gary Barlow & Sheridan Smith? Or Abba? 


Kate Rusby At Christmas, York Barbican, December 20, 7.30pm. Please note, tickets bought for Kate’s postponed December 20 2020 concert remain valid. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Copyright of The Press, York

More Things To Do in York and beyond as the grand old dame is ready to frock’n’roll. List No 59, courtesy of The Pess, York

The boys and gal are back in town: AJ Powell, left, Suzy Cooper, Berwick Kaler, David Leonard and Martin Barrass return to the pantomime stage in Dick Turpin Rides Again at their new home of the Grand Opera House, York. Picture by David Harrison

DAME Berwick rides again, Adrian Mole surfaces, carol concerts abound and contrasting comedy cracks on, all demanding a place in Charles Hutchinson’s diary

Comeback of the week: Berwick Kaler and co in Dick Turpin Rides Again, Grand Opera House, York, December 11 to January 9

DAME Berwick Kaler last took to the pantomime stage in his 40th anniversary show, The Grand Old Dame Of York, on February 2 2019, having announced his retirement. Subsequently, he decided it was the “worst decision he had ever made”, a feeling only compounded by writing and co-directing Sleeping Beauty.

In the tradition of Clive Sullivan and Denis Law, he then switched to the other side in the same city, leaving York Theatre Royal to sign up with the Grand Opera House, along with panto teammates Martin Barrass, David Leonard, Suzy Cooper and AJ Powell.

Delayed by a year, Dame Berwick now resumes panto business at 75, writing, directing and starring in Dick Turpin Rides Again. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/York.

Hannah King’s Dick Whittington is ready to stride out from York to London in Rowntree Players’ pantomime, Dick Whittington, from today

Community pantomime of the week: Rowntree Players in Dick Whittington, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, today until December 11

ROWNTREE Players should have presented Dick Whittington last year, but director Howard Ella and co-writer Andy Welch have now dusted off their script written by satellite in lockdown, freshening it up for 2021.

Martyn Hunter returns to the Players’ panto ranks as King Rat, as does Bernie Calpin as Kit The Cat, joining Hannah King’s Dick Whittington, Graham Smith’s Dame Dora, Gemma McDonald’s Duncan, Marie-Louise Surgenor’s Ratatouille, Geoff Walker’s Alderman Fitzwarren and Ellie Watson’s Alice Fitzwarren. Box office: 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

Native Harrow’s Stephen Harms and Devin Tuel will be airing songs from their fourth album, Closeness, at the Fulford Arms

American gig of the week in York: Native Harrow, Fulford Arms, York, Tuesday, 8pm 

PENNSYLVANIAN folk/rock duo Native Harrow are on the final leg of their tour travels showcasing their beautiful fourth album, Closeness.

Now re-located to Brighton, guitarist-singer Devin Tuel and multi-instrumentalist Stephen Harms have a new single too, Do It Again, one of six songs recorded when they elected to return to the studio where they had made Closeness to continue living in that world, if only for a few more days. Box office: seetickets.com/event/native-harrow/the-fulford-arms/1471604.

The secret is out: Jack Hambleton will be one of two Adrian Moles in Pick Me Up Theatre’s musical premiere. Picture: Matthew Kitchen Photography

Musical premiere of the week in York: Pick Me Up Theatre in The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾, The Musical, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, Wednesday to December 18

PICK Me Up Theatre are returning to the Theatre@41 Monkgate stage for the first time since Covid’s first lockdown curtailed Tom’s Midnight Garden in March 2020.

In a change from the initially announced SpongeBob The Musical, director Robert Readman has jumped at the chance to present the British amateur premiere of Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary’s musical version of Sue Townsend’s 1982 story of teenage diarist Adrian Mole. Ignore the official poster, there will be a 2pm Sunday matinee. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.  

Ryan’s laughter: Canada’s dry-humoured comic, Katherine Ryan, discusses life as a Missus at York Barbican

Comedy gig of the week: Katherine Ryan, Missus, York Barbican, Thursday, 8pm

CANADIAN comedian, writer, presenter and actress Katherine Ryan, 38, previously denounced partnerships but has since married her first love, accidentally.

A lot has changed for everyone, and now the London-based creator and star of Netflix series The Duchess and host of All That Glitters will be offering new perspectives on life, love and what it means to be Missus. Box office: yorkbarbicancentre.co.uk.

Ewa Salecka: Directing Prima Vocal Ensemble at Selby Abbey

Reunion of the week: Prima Vocal Ensemble and York Railway Institute Brass Band, Christmas Classics for Voices and Brass, Selby Abbey, December 11, 7.30pm

YORK choir Prima Vocal Ensemble and York Railway Institute Brass Band are uniting for a Christmas concert at Selby Abbey for the first time since 2018.

The choir will sing classical pieces by Morten Lauridsen, Gabriel Faure and John Rutter, while the band’s festive music will include Shepherd’s Song and Eric Bell’s Kingdom Triumphant.

Choir and band will join together for a finale of Gordon Langford’s joyous Christmas Fantasy. Tickets: on 07921 568826, from Selby Abbey or at primachoralartists.com.

York singer Steve Cassidy: Performing at the York Community Carol Concert at York Barbican

Welcome back: York Community Carol Concert, York Barbican, December 12, 2pm

YORK’S Community Carol Concert returns after last year’s Covid-enforced cancellation, with all the participants who missed out in 2020 taking up the invitation to take part in 2021.

In the Sunday afternoon line-up will be the Shepherd Group Concert Brass Band, Dringhouses Primary School Choir, Clifton Green Primary School Choir, Stamford Bridge Community Choir and York singer Steve Cassidy, hosted by the Reverend Andrew Foster and BBC Radio York presenter Adam Tomlinson. Plenty of tickets are still available but online only at yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Holly head: Kate Rusby, who coined that term for a Christmas tradition enthusiast, will be in festive mood in both Harrogate and York. Picture: David Lindsay

Carol concert with a difference: Kate Rusby At Christmas, Harrogate Royal Hall, December 12, and York Barbican, December 20, 7.30pm

BARNSLEY folk singer Kate Rusby, her regular band and “the brass boys” have created a Christmas tradition of their own, celebrating South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire pub carols, punctuated by her own winter songs.

For more than 200 years, from late-November to New Year’s Day, these carols have been sung on Sunday lunchtimes in pubs, having been frowned on in Victorian times for being too happy. Not for the first time, the Victorians were wrong. Box office: Harrogate, 01423 502116 or at harrogatetheatre.co.uk; York, yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Nothing to smile about? Jimmy Carr takes a Terribly Funny turn for a third time in York

Looking ahead to a “terrible” 2022: Jimmy Carr, Terribly Funny, York Barbican, April 15, doors, 7pm

CYNICAL comedian Jimmy Carr will complete a hattrick of York performances of his Terribly Funny tour show next spring.

After playing sold-out gigs at York Barbican on November 4 and the Grand Opera House five nights later, he will return to the Barbican on April 15 with the promise of “all-new material for 2022”.

Carr will be discussing terrible things that might have affected you or people you know and love. “But they’re just jokes,” he says. “Political correctness at a comedy show is like having health and safety at a rodeo.” Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk