The Howl & The Hum, Bull and Huge to play Make It York’s new YorkLife festival weekend in Parliament Street in April

The Howl & The Hum: York Life headliners on April 3

YORK’S new spring festival weekend will showcase the city’s musicians, performers, comedians and more besides on April 2 and 3.

Organised by Make It York, YorkLife will see more than 30 performers and organisations head to Parliament Street for a free open event from 11am to 9pm each day with no need to book tickets in advance.

The Saturday headliners will be Big Donaghy’s long-running York party band Huge; the Sunday bill will climax with The Howl & The Hum in their biggest home-city performance since gracing York Minster on May 25 2021.

Both bands will play the main YorkLife stage as part of a programme curated by York’s Music Venue Network, presenting such York acts as Bull, Kitty VR, Flatcap Carnival and Hyde Family Jam.

An array of interactive sessions will be held by York organisations, taking in theatre workshops, instrumental workshops, face painting, comedy and dance performances, plus fire performers and circus acts.

The main stage on Parliament Street will have an open viewing area with a 500 capacity, while a covered stretch tent will hold a York Gin bar and seating area for 90 people with a one-in, one-out policy.

YorkLife is supported by City of York Council’s ARG (Additional Restrictions Grant) funding, which aims to boost businesses impacted by Covid-19. The April 2 and 3 programme has been curated with York residents in mind and to support the city’s recovery from Covid.

Big Ian Donaghy: Fronting Huge on the YorkLIfe main stage on April 2

Councillor Darryl Smalley, executive member for culture, leisure and communities, says: “Our cultural sector is the lifeblood of our communities. There is so much talent in York, from musicians to comedians and poets to performers, which makes our city so vibrant and unique.

“YorkLife is an excellent way to celebrate our home-grown musicians and performers, particularly after what has been a challenging few years for us all. I would encourage residents to join the festival and enjoy the best of York’s own talent.”

Sarah Loftus, Make It York’s managing director, says: “YorkLife is a celebration of York talent and culture, from our street musicians to our community groups. We want to really celebrate the sense of community in York and we’re encouraging residents to join the party and see some of the hottest talent York has to offer.”

Chris Sherrington, from the York Music Venue Network, says: “It’s wonderful to have this opportunity to showcase some of York’s amazingly talented artists who have developed their careers across the city of York’s many great grassroots music venues.

“As part of YorkLife weekend, we’re looking forward to celebrating the return of live music to the city and enjoying the wonderful variety of music for one and all. This event has been a true cooperative effort of York’s event industry and creatives and we look forward to working on future events.”

To find out more about YorkLife, head to visityork.org/yorklife. The full line-up will be announced later this month. 

Bull: Home-city gig for York’s first band to sign to a major label since Shed Seven

Confirmed acts and workshops

Musicians

The Howl & The Hum; Huge; Bull; Kitty VR; Flatcap Carnival; Hyde Family Jam;  Floral Pattern; Bargestra and Wounded Bear.

Workshops:

Mud Pie Arts: Cloud Tales interactive storytelling;

Thunk It Theatre: Build Our City theatre workshop; 

Gemma Wood: York Skyline art;

Fantastic Faces:  Face painting; 

York Mix Radio:  Quiz; 

York Dance Space:  Dance performance;

Burning Duck Comedy Club: Comedy night; 

Henry Raby, from Say Owt: Spoken poetry; 

Matt Barfoot: Drumming workshop; 

Christian Topman: Ukulele workshop; 

Polly Bennet: Little Vikings PQA York performing arts workshop; 

Innovation Entertainment: Circus workshops. 

Nicolette Hobson and Gemma Drury of Mud Pie Arts: Hosting Cloud Tales interactive storytelling workshops at YorkLife

NCEM gardens to stage second set of Songs Under Skies acoustic double bills with The Crescent and Fulford Arms

Joshua Burnell: Sharing a Song Under Skies double bill with Katie Spencer on June 14. Picture: Elly Lucas

SONGS Under Skies will return to the glorious gardens of the National Centre for Early Music, at St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, York, in June.

Five outdoor acoustic double bills will comprise Wounded Bear and Rachel Croft on June 1; Kell Chambers and Nadedja, June 2; Katie Spencer and Joshua Burnell, June 14; Zak Ford and Alice Simmons, June 15, and Epilogues and Sunflower Thieves, June 16.

Wounded Bear and Rachel Croft: First Songs Under Skies double bill on June 1

As with last September’s debut series, season two of the open-air, Covid-safe Songs Under Skies will be presented by the National Centre for Early Music (NCEM), working in association with The Crescent community venue, The Fulford Arms and the Music Venues Alliance.

Gates will open at 6.30pm for the acoustic double bills from 7pm to 8.30pm with a 30-minute interval between sets. Each concert costs £8 and tickets must be bought in advance, either in “pods” for family groups or as individuals at tickets.ncem.co.uk.  

Kell Chambers and Nadedja: Double bill in the NCEM churchyard gardens on June 2

Social distancing will be strictly observed and masks must be worn inside the NCEM but will not be required in the gardens.

NCEM director Delma Tomlin says: “We’re very excited to be bringing you the second Songs Under Skies: a feast of acoustic music taking place in our beautiful gardens, the perfect spot for a June evening in the sunshine.

Katie Spencer: Yorkshire singer-songwriter to play NCEM gardens on June 14, as well as a second Yorkshire open-air gig at Primrose Wood Acoustics, Pocklington, supporting Martin Simpson on July 1 at 7pm

“We’re also glad to be working once again with our partners The Fulford Arms, The Crescent and York Music Venues Network to begin the long-awaited revival of live music in our city. Last year Songs Under Skies was a complete sell-out and we’re looking forward to welcoming back audiences for these summer nights of music by these talented musicians.”

Harkirit Boparai, from The Crescent and the York Music Venues Network and North East regional coordinator for the Music Venues Alliance, says: “We’re delighted to be collaborating with the NCEM for another short run of outdoor concerts to take place in their beautiful gardens, with a stellar line-up of musicians from York and beyond heralding the return of live gigs to York.

Zak Ford and Alice Simmons: Playing acoustic sets at Songs Under Skies on June 15

“One of the silver linings of the pandemic has been that cultural organisations in the city have been able to collaborate in ways that they didn’t before, and after the success of our last series in the autumn, it’s been great to work with the NCEM team once again.”

Among the first arts organisations to stream online concerts, the NCEM has been keeping music alive since the beginning of lockdown, attracting a worldwide audience of more than 70,000. 

Epilogues and Sunflower Thieves: Songs Under Skies’ closing concert coupling on June 16

Over the past year, the NCEM staged socially distant events when possible and streamed concerts and festivals from St Margaret’s Church.

In June, this will continue with the streaming of the very first Beverley & East Riding Early Music Festival Online with concerts, walks and talks from the Yorkshire market town where the first festival was staged 35 years ago. This summer’s York Early Music Festival will run from July 12 to 16; a full line-up announcement is expected today (17/5/2021).

Kitty VR: Playing her first gig for seven months at the NCEM churchyard at last September’s first Songs Under Skies concert series. Picture: Neil Chapman/Unholy Racket

Last year’s inaugural Songs Under Skies presented Amy May Ellis and Luke Saxton on September 2; Dan Webster and Bella Gaffney, September 3; Kitty VR and Boss Caine, September 9; Wolf Solent and Rosalind, September 10; Polly Bolton and Henry Parker, September 16, and Elkyn and Fawn, September 17.

Full details of this summer’s Songs Under Skies can be found at: ncem.co.uk/songs-under-skies/.

REVIEW: Songs Under Skies, Kitty VR and Boss Caine, NCEM, York, 9/9/2021

Kitty VR: Playing her first gig for seven months at the NCEM churchyard. Picture: Neil Chapman/Unholy Racket

REVIEW: Songs Under Skies, Kitty VR and Boss Caine, National Centre for Early Music churchyard, St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, York

THE inaugural Songs Under Skies season of open-air acoustic concerts in the NCEM churchyard resumes with Polly Bolton and Henry Parker tomorrow, concluding with Elkyn and Fawn on Thursday (both nights sold out).

Alas the skies were so sodden for the opening night that Amy May Ellis and Luke Saxton had to scurry indoors for their show, but the great British weather was on best behaviour for double bill number three, Kitty VR and Boss Caine last Wednesday, co-hosted by the NCEM, The Crescent and the Fulford Arms under the campaigning umbrella of the Music Venues Alliance.

At least a couple of sets of gravestones were not obeying social distancing, but this was a Covid-secure event in every way, from the requirement to sanitise hands on arrival to the one-way system in operation for entering and leaving the NCEM church building (wearing masks when inside too).

Audience members were seated in pods – or perhaps “God pods”, because we were in a churchyard – as a full garden gathered, full of the joy of being able to watch Kitty VR live, rather than in VR in that virtual reality hinterland of Zoom that has substituted stoically in lockdown and beyond.

Gravestones at the NCEM: Standing out from the social-distancing measures at the Songs Under Skies concerts

Kitty nearly came a cropper before the start, falling in an unseen hole as she carried her box of CDs, but thankfully not disappearing like Alice into Wonderland.

Once on stage, Kitty cut a composed, quietly spoken, contemplative figure in familiar  singer-songwriter mode, a la Laura Marling, so much so that her spectral electric guitar would never have said Boo to any passing acoustic music wardens or below-ground churchyard inhabitants for that matter.

In her first concert since lockdown, Kitty introduced new song Wisteria, rhyming that butterfly of short-lived flowers with hysteria, rather than listeria in these pandemic times, unless the Hutch hearing was failing, and revealed a predilection for single-word titles – Dimensions, Whirlpool, Slumber – and single-speed compositions in life’s slow lane.

Closing with an acoustic rendition of Release on a stool, her sunsetting set was the balm before the country, blues and even rockabilly storm of Boss Caine, aka Daniel Lucas, the stalwart sentinel of the York gig scene for so long in his rapscallion role as the city’s grizzled answer to Tom Waits.

Boss Caine and stand-up bassist Paddy Berry playing Songs Under Skies after rehearsing remotely. Picture: Neil Chapman/Unholy Racket

He has been creative in lockdown, writing sleepless nocturnal songs for Bandcamp  premieres and EPs and now airing them live, as darkness descended and lighting picked out the churchyard trees’ frameworks as subtly as watercolours.

“We’re going to be brave and play a completely new set,” said Lucas, who had rehearsed remotely with stand-up bass player Paddy Berry and would now be playing together for the first time. All the more reason to love to this troubadour tornado.

“If I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die high,” he sang defiantly…“I could use a little chemical sedation”… “I’ll even put your secret into one of my songs”… “Take me out like a Kennedy”…the memorable lyrics kept a’coming.

“No-one will be offended if I use a Conference League swear word, will they?”, he said, more as a statement, rather than seeking permission. Lucas has always been a master of the banter too.

Kitty VR closes her set by playing an acoustic version of Release, taking to the stool after her guitar strap broke the day before. Picture: Neil Chapman/Unholy Racket

“You keep going for the song,” he reasoned for not caving in to the stultifying impact of Covid-19, before a self-deprecating finale flourish. “This is a song about people having complaints after Boss Caine gigs,” he announced.

Too much that, not enough this, they say. Wrong, wrong, wrong, on all counts. Instead, in his concluding words, Boss Caine will always “Burn on bright, burn on bright again”: York’s torch-bearer for why live music at its best will always be a thrill, a rush, like no other.

Kitty VR, by the way, has contributed a haunted solo rendition of Colour Me In, Phil Grainger and lyricist Alexander Flanagan Wright’s finest composition, to The Mythstape, the North Yorkshire duo’s gradually emerging mixtape of recordings by their favourite artists of songs from their two-hander shows Orpheus, Eurydice and Gods Gods Gods.

The Howl And The Hum’s Sam Griffiths has applied his golden brush to Tumble Down, from Eurydice, now floating high on angel’s wings. Watch this space for news of more Myth making…

…Oh, and Phil, could you please deliver on your sort-of promise to record your own versions too. Make that particular myth come true!

Phil Grainger, left, and Alexander Flanagan Wright: Inviting Kitty PR, Sam Griffiths and fellow favourite singers to record their songs from Orpheus, Eurydice and Gods Gods Gods for The Mythstape. Picture: Charlotte Graham

Songs Under Skies garden gigs open at NCEM tonight. All but one has sold out. UPDATED

Polly Bolton: Tickets are still available for her Songs Under Skies concert on September 16

SONGS Under Skies kicks off tonight under foreboding skies at the National Centre for Early Music, York, with a double bill of Amy May Ellis and Luke Saxton.

All but one of the open-air acoustic concerts in the churchyard gardens of the NCEM’s home at St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, has sold out as live music with an audience returns to the NCEM for the first time since the March lockdown.

Tickets are still available for Polly Bolton and Henry Parker on September 16, but hurry as the capacity is only 50.

You can buy tickets for family groups or as individuals. Seating each night will be in pods and full details can be found at tickets.ncem.co.uk/.

Songs Under Skies bring together the National Centre for Early Music, The Crescent, The Fulford Arms and the Music Venues Alliance for the September series.

Bella Gaffney expresses her delight at the chance to play a concert again

Taking part are Amy May Ellis and Luke Saxton tonight (September 2); Dan Webster and Bella Gaffney, tomorrow; Kitty VR and Boss Caine, September 9, Wolf Solent and Rosalind, September 10; Polly Bolton and Henry Parker, September 16, and Elkyn and Fawn, September 17.

Concerts for last month’s online York Early Music Festival had to be recorded and filmed behind closed doors at the NCEM, with no audiences, for digital streaming from July 9 to 11.

For Songs Under Skies, gates will open at 6.30pm for each 7pm start; acts will perform either side of a 30-minute interval with a finishing time of 8.30pm. Social distancing will be strictly observed and masks must be worn inside the NCEM but will not be required in the garden.

NCEM director Delma Tomlin says: “We’re thrilled to be able to welcome artists and audiences back to our home at St Margaret’s Church, thanks to the invaluable help of our York partners, and I’d like to say a huge thank-you to them.

“We hope that this marks the beginning of a gradual and safe return to being able to bring you much more music over the months to come.

Sold out: Boss Caine’s double bill with Kitty PR on September 9

Like all arts organisations, the last few months have been difficult, but we’re lucky to have received overwhelming support from our loyal audiences and from our funders, to whom I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks. We hope you’ll be able to join us for these wonderful Songs Under [the] Skies of our beautiful city.”

Chris Sherrington, who runs The Fulford Arms and is the North East regional coordinator for the Music Venues Alliance, says: “Both The Crescent community venue and The Fulford Arms are excited to be working with our York Music Venue Network partners, the NCEM, to help fill some of the cultural vacuum that has sadly been affecting York since March.

“It’s an exciting opportunity to bring our expertise together and programme a beautiful series of shows in a safe and stunning space with a range of amazing talent. We hope this will be the first of many such endeavours.”

The NCEM has been one of the first arts organisations to stream online concerts, seeking to keep music alive since the beginning of lockdown and attracting a worldwide audience of more than 70,000 in the process.

Over the past few months, the NCEM has streamed a series of concerts from its archives, followed by the aforementioned York Early Music Festival Online with its combination of concerts and talks. The Director’s Cut, Delma’s selection of festival concert highlights, is available to download and keep. Go to ncem.co.uk for more details.