More Things To Do in York and beyond in a world of Gods, Romans, a tiger and a sexbomb. List No. 92, courtesy of The Press

Alexander Flanagan Wright, left, Phil Grainger and Megan Drury in The Gods The Gods The Gods at Stillington Mill for four nights. Picture: Tom Figgins

GODS on the Fringe, battling Romans, a riverside market, a Welsh icon and a thirsty Tiger are courting Charles Hutchinson’s attention on the art beat.

Theatre event of the week: Wright & Grainger in The Gods The Gods The Gods, Stilly Fringe, At The Mill, Stillington, near York, tonight, tomorrow, Wednesday and Thursday, 8.45pm

ALEXANDER Flanagan Wright and Phil Grainger believe that three is indeed the magic number. Hence The Gods The Gods The Gods as a title for their third triad of myths, spoken word and music after Orpheus and Eurydice, and their first with a third participant, Australian actor, writer and dramaturg, Megan Drury.

Not everything is about threes, however. There will be four stories and 11 tracks in a show full of big beats, soaring melodies and heart-stopping words as Wright & Grainger head to the crossroads where mythology meets real life. Box office: atthemill.org.

Silversmith and jewellery designer Jen Ricketts: One of 42 artists and makers taking part in Ryedale Open Studios. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

Art event of the week outside York: Ryedale Open Studios, today, tomorrow, July 30 and 31, 10am to 5pm

FOUNDED by Layla Khoo, Kirsty Kirk and Petra Young, the second Ryedale Open Studios gives visitors the chance to explore the district’s creative talents and skills, ranging from painting, printing, drawing and photography to ceramics, textiles, metalwork and willow weaving.

More than 40 artists are participating in an event organised by Vault Arts Centre. Head to ryedaleopenstudios.com, where a printable map and handbook can be downloaded.

Miles And The Chain Gang: Busy weekend ahead

Miles ahead: Miles And The Chain Gang, Helmsley Arts Centre, tonight, 7.30pm; Harrogate Blues Bar, Montpellier Parade, Harrogate, Sunday, 9pm

YORK poet, radio presenter, festival founder, singer and songwriter Miles Salter and his new line-up of The Chain Gang head to Helmsley and Harrogate this weekend.

Crawling from the swamps of North Yorkshire, with the bit between their teeth and the blues biting at their heels, The Chain Gang will be making their Helmsley debut. Taking their cues from Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, Elvis Costello, Led Zeppelin and early 1980s’ new wave, Salter and co deliver a potent brew of their own tunes as well as classics by Johnny Cash, Joni Mitchell and more besides.

“There’s quite a crowd coming to Helmsley but some tickets are available, and you can book online at helmsleyartscentre.co.uk,” says Miles. “Both gigs will feature all the songs we have on YouTube: When It Comes To You, Drag Me To The Light, All Of Our Lives and latest single Love Is Blind, a song played more than 300 times on radio stations in the UK, Europe and USA.” For Harrogate details, head to: bluesbar.co.uk.

What did the Romans ever do for us? Time to find out at the first Malton Museum Roman Festival

Festival of the week: Malton Museum Roman Festival, Sunday, 11am to 3.30pm

MALTON Museum is hosting its inaugural Roman Festival this weekend at the Roman Fort on Orchard Fields.

Live action demonstrations will be staged in the arena by experimental archaeologists Equistry (Roman Cavalry) and re-enactment group Magister Militum will establish a Roman Legionary encampment and engage in battle sequences.

Children can join the Children’s Roman Army, paint shields, create mosaics, try wax tablet drawing and take part in archaeology activities. Tickets: maltonmuseum.co.uk.

Teatime mayhem amid much munching: The Tiger Who Came To Tea tucks in at the Grand Opera House, York

Children’s show of the week: The Tiger Who Came To Tea, Grand Opera House, York, Monday, 2pm; Tuesday and Wednesday, 11am, 2pm

WHAT happens when a Tiger knocks on the door at teatime? You better let Tiger in as the tea guzzler in Judith Kerry’s story returns to the road in this award-winning family show after a West End season.

Expect oodles of magic, singalong songs and clumsy chaos in a stage adaptation full of teatime mayhem and surprises, suitable for age three upwards. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or atgtickets.com/York.

Sexbomb alert: Sir Tom Jones soon to hit Scarborough

Knight’s night out of the week: Sir Tom Jones, Scarborough Open Air Theatre, Tuesday, gates open at 6pm

PONTYPRIDD powerhouse Sir Tom Jones heads to the Yorkshire coast with another number one album in his pocket, Surrounded By Time, his 41st studio set, no less.

Maybe singles Talking Reality Television Blues, No Hole In My Head, One More Cup Of Coffee and Pop Star from that April 2021 album will feature in the 82-year-old Welshman’s set. The likes of Delilah, Green Green Grass Of Home, It’s Not Unusual, She’s A Lady, You’re My World, What’s New Pussycat?, Kiss and Sexbomb surely will. Box office: scarboroughopenairtheatre.com.

Look sharp for a ticket: Joe Jackson welcomes sinners to his very rare York concert on Friday

Rearranged gig of the week: Joe Jackson, Sing, You Sinners! Tour, York Barbican, Friday, 8pm

FAMILIAR foe Covid-19 delayed only the second ever York concert of singer, songwriter and consummate arranger Joe Jackson’s 44-year career, put back from March 17 to July 29.

Better late than never, Jackson promises hits, songs not aired in years and new material, performed in the company of Graham Maby on bass, Teddy Kumpel on guitar and Doug Yowell on drums and electronics. 

A mini-solo set is on the cards too in Jackson’s only Yorkshire gig of his European tour; his first York appearance since the Grand Opera House in June 2005. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

A montage of work by artists and makers taking part in this summer’s York River Art Market

York River Art Market, Dame Judi Dench Walk, by Lendal Bridge, River Ouse, York, July 30 and 31; August 6 and 7; August 13 and 14

YORK River Art Market returns for its seventh summer, this time spread over three full weekends. Drawing comparisons with the Left Bank in Paris, this open-air market is free of charge and provides the chance to browse and buy directly from artists showcasing their creative wares along the riverside railings.

Each market will showcase a different variety of 30 artists with the guarantee that no two markets are ever the same. Look out for paintings, prints, jewellery, textiles, glass work, ceramics, maybe even artisan shaving cream (one of last summer’s hit stalls).

The tour poster for Michael Palin’s new travel show, From North Korea Into Iraq, bound for the Grand Opera House, York

Show announcement of the week: Michael Palin, From North Korea Into Iraq, Grand Opera House, York, October 6

MONTY Python comedy legend and intrepid globetrotter Michael Palin will give a first-hand account of his extraordinary journeys through two countries on the dark side of history on his new solo tour this autumn.

Using photos and film, he will recall his challenging adventures in the tightly controlled time bomb of the People’s Republic of North Korea and the bruised land of Iraq, once the home of civilisation, torn apart over the past 30 years by brutal war and bloodshed.

Palin’s theatre tour will be preceded by his new Channel 5 series, Michael Palin: Into Iraq. York tickets: 0844 871 7615 or atgtickets.com/York.

Miles And The Chain Gang’s new line-up kicks off summer of gigs at City Of York Folk Weekend on Sunday evening

New on the Chain Gang: Drummer Steve Purton, bassist Matthew Watt and keyboard player Daniel Bowater line up with band leader Miles Salter, back, left

YORK band Miles And The Chain Gang play their first home-city gig in almost a year at the City of York (Roland Walls) Folk Weekend on Sunday.

Catch singer-songwriter Miles Salter and his new line-up on the Marquee Stage at 5.30pm at the Black Swan Inn, Peasholme Green, York, where entry will be free.

“Come by and see us, we’d love to see you, as we kick off a run of events that takes us on a mini ‘tour of Yorkshire’, with dates over the summer at Doncaster, Helmsley and Harrogate, as well as gigs closer to York,” says Miles.

Joining guitarist Miles on stage will be drummer Steve Purton, bassist Mathew Watt and keyboards player Daniel Bowater.

“It feels good,” says band leader Miles. “We’ve got some great little gigs lined up and we’re looking forward to heading out.”

In the Chain Gang diary are: Doncaster Leopard, June 18; Helmsley Arts Centre, July 23; Blues Bar, Harrogate, July 24; The Smithy Arms, Swinton, August 27, and Jolly Sailor Inn, Cawood, September 24.

The band’s fourth single, Love Is Blind, is out now, accompanied by a video by York filmmaker Dave Thorp that has clocked up more than 25,000 views already in only two weeks.

“It’s a good song. People are really responding well to it,” says Miles. “It’s been played on lots of smaller, independent stations in the UK, as well as in the USA and Australia. Several stations made it their ‘single of the week’, including Jorvik Radio in York. It’s great to see it going out into the world – thanks to everybody who helped make this happen.”

Recorded and mixed at Young Thugs Studios in York, Love Is Blind features Salter on vocals and guitar; Tim Bruce, bass; Billy Hickling, drums and percussion; Karl Mullen, piano; Holly Taymar, backing vocals, and Jonny Hooker, organ.

Miles And The Chain Gang to release single Love Is Blind (Billy Bragg Said) in May

Miles Salter: Leader of The Chain Gang

YORK band Miles And The Chain Gang’s new single, Love Is Blind (Billy Bragg Said), is coming soon.

“Recorded and mixed by Jonny Hooker at Young Thugs Studios in York, the song will be released in May and has been compared to ‘a bar brawl between Squeeze and Springsteen’s E Street Band,” says frontman Miles Salter.

“There’s a great video by Dave Thorp to accompany the track, which will be on all the usual platforms, Spotify, Apple, YouTube etc.”

Writer, musician and storyteller Salter is working with a “re-wired” Chain Gang, the new line-up featuring Daniel Bowater on keyboards and accordion, Steve Purton on drums, Mat Watt on bass and Mark Hawkins on lead guitar.

“We’re lining up summer dates, including gigs in Helmsley, Harrogate, Doncaster and York, with more details to follow,” says Miles.

Miles is back but with a different Chain Gang for Black Swan gig on February 19

Miles Salter: Ganging up with new band members

YORK writer, musician and storyteller Miles Salter is back with a new Chain Gang for a headline gig at The Black Swan Inn, Peasholme Green, York, on February 19.

“We had some line-up issues with the first version, so I’ve re-wired the band and it sounds great,” says Miles, introducing Daniel Bowater on keyboards and accordion, Steve Purton on drums, Mat Watt on bass and Mark Hawkins on lead guitar.  

“Daniel previously played with Acko Pulco And The Cliff Divers and has been musical director at the Richmond Theatre pantomime for a number of years; Mark is a veteran of hundreds of gigs, including as stand-in guitarist for NoWaySis, the touring Oasis tribute.”

Counting down to the debut gig with the new gang in tow, Salter says: “After a very quiet couple of years – we played just one gig in 2021 – I’m pleased with how the new line-up sounds; it feels great. We’re looking forward to playing more gigs in the area soon.”

The support slots on the 8pm to 11.30pm bill go to Sarah Louise Boyle, Lee Moore and Monkey Paw. “It’ll be a diverse and fun evening, so do come along,” says Salter. 

Tickets are on sale for £5.50 at prime4.bandcamp.com/merch/miles or at £7.50 on the door.

More Things To Do in and around York when not banished to ‘see you later, self-isolator’. List No. 41, courtesy of The Press, York

Rick Astley: Soul favourite’s post-racing show is a definite runner at York Racecourse tomorrow evening

IT ain’t worth a thing if it got that confounded ping, but let’s hope this NHS Covid app hazard does not apply to any of Charles Hutchinson’s suggestions as Step 4 starts to kick in.

Outdoor concerts of the week in York: York Racecourse Music Showcase Weekend, Rick Astley, Friday evening; McFly, Saturday late-afternoon

YORK Racecourse was never gonna give up on Rick Astley performing on a race day, even if the original show had to fall by the wayside last summer. Sure enough, the Newton-le-Willows soul crooner, 55, has been re-booked for tomorrow for a post-racing live set.

McFly: Promising Young Dumb Thrills at York Racecourse on Saturday

After Saturday afternoon’s race card, the re-formed McFly will combine such favourites as All About You, Obviously and 5 Colours In Her Hair with songs from their 2020 return, Young Dumb Thrills, such as Happiness, Tonight Is The Night and You’re Not Special. The County Stand has reached capacity for Saturday already.

Friday’s racing starts at 6pm; Saturday, at 2.05pm. For tickets, go to: yorkracecourse.co.uk.

Rachel Podger: The violinist plays, after self-isolation, for online viewing from the York Early Music Festival. Picture: Theresa Pewal

Online concert home entertainment of the week: Rachel Podger, The Violinist Speaks, York Early Music Festival

WHEN Baroque violinist Rachel Podger fell victim to the dreaded “pingdemic”, she had to forego her July 13 concert performance, condemned to self-isolate instead.

In stepped Florilegium violinist Bojan Cicic to play the very same Bach, Tartini and Biber repertoire at St Lawrence Church, Hull Road, at only three hours’ notice.

Rachel, however, subsequently recorded The Violinist Speaks without an audience at the NCEM for a digital livestream premiere at 7.30pm last Saturday. This online concert is now available on demand until August 13; on sale until August 9 at:  ncem.co.uk/events/rachel-podger-online/ncem.co.uk

Twinnie: Twinning with Velma Celli for tomorrow’s double bill at Impossible York

York’s queen of vocal drag meets York’s country queen: The Velma Celli Show with special guest Twinnie, Impossible York, St Helen’s Square, York, tomorrow, 7pm, doors; show, 8pm

YORK’S international drag diva deluxe, Velma Celli, will be joined by country singer Twinnie at The Velma Celli Show at Impossible York on her return home from recording sessions for her second album in Nashville.

“My mate and fellow Yorky the awesome Twinny is my v. special guest tomorrow night at Impossible – York,” says Velma, the cabaret creation of Ian Stroughair, on Instagram. Like Ian, Twinnie has starred in West End musicals, most notably in Chicago, under her stage name Twinnie-Lee Moore.

Tickets cost £15, £20 for VIP stage seating, at ticketweb.uk.

Michael Lambourne: Fenland storyteller at Theatre At The Mill, Stillington, this weekend

Storytellers of the week: Michael Lambourne and Shona Cowie, Theatre At The Mill, Stillington, near York, Saturday and Sunday

NOT that long ago a familiar bearded face and booming voice on the York stage before heading south, Michael Lambourne will return north on Saturday to present the 7.30pm premiere of Black Shuck, a “responsive storytelling experience” based on the legend of the Demon Dog of East Anglia.

Penned and performed by Lambourne, Black Shuck is the tale of a hound of unnatural size, an omen of misfortune to those who see its eyes, wherein he explores the enduring effect it has on Fenland folklore in a personal account of how a rural myth can become a chilling part of the present day.

Scottish storyteller and physical performer Shona Cowie will open the evening with her Celtic tale of the dreamer and visionary Bruadarach and then present Beware The Beasts, a show for families (age five upwards), at 2pm on Sunday. 

Shona will provide case studies from leading monster evaders and offer instruction on the most effective ways to avoid being squashed, eaten or turned into a nugget. Box office: tickettailor.com/events/atthemill/. 

Ralph Fiennes in TS Eliot’s Four Quartets, on tour at York Theatre Royal next week

First full-capacity shows at York Theatre Royal since mid-March 2020: Ralph Fiennes in T S Eliot’s Four Quartets, July 26 to 31

YORK Theatre Royal will return to full-capacity audiences with effect from Monday’s performance of T S Eliot’s Four Quarters, performed and directed by Ralph Fiennes.

Good news for those who had missed out on tickets for the most in-demand production of the reopening Love Season when it was first put on sale with social distancing in place. This week’s unlocking of Step 4 frees up the sudden availability of seats aplenty.

Please note, however, the wearing of face coverings will be strongly encouraged; some safety measures will continue too, but not temperature checks on the door.

Wall art: The poster for Miles And The Chain Gang’s first gig in York in 18 months. Picture: Jim Poyner

Back on the Chain Gang: Miles And The Chain Gang, supported by King Courgette, The Fulford Arms, York, July 29, 8pm

AFTER an 18-month hiatus. York band Miles And The Chain Gang will return to the concert platform next week, tooled up with new material.

In the line-up are singer, songwriter, storyteller, published poet and radio presenter Miles Salter, on guitar and vocals, Billy Hickling, drums and percussion, Tim Bruce, bass, and Alan Dawson, lead guitar, augmented for this gig by Fay Donaldson’s flute and saxophone.

The Gang have been working on a debut album, recording with producer Jonny Hooker at Young Thugs Studios in York. Tickets cost £7 at thefulfordarms.co.uk or £8 on the door. 

Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company’s poster for next week’s brace of Gilbert and Sullivan shows

Fundraiser of the week ahead: Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company Does Gilbert And Sullivan, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, HMS Pinafore, July 29, 7.30pm, and July 31, 2.30pm; The Mikado, July 30 and 31, 7.30pm

THE Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company, the JoRo’s in-house performing troupe, are producing concert versions of Gilbert and Sullivan’s biggest light opera hits, HMS Pinafore and The Mikado, next week.

The shows will be brimful of popular tunes and brilliant characters, with all profits from this topsy-turvy musical madness going straight back to the Haxby Road community theatre.

Rachel Croft: Cafe concert at Forty Five, with Reap What You Sow EP to follow in September

Music Café society gig of the week ahead: Rachel Croft, Forty Five Vinyl Café, Micklegate, York, July 31, 7.30m

NEXT Saturday at Forty Five, York singer-songwriter Rachel Croft will showcase tomorrow’s release of Reap What You Sow, a cinematic, moody taster for her four-track EP of the same name on September 9.

Exploring a more potent, bluesy style throughout, further tracks will be second single Time Waits For No Man, Roots and Chasing Time.  

Rachel will be supported by Kell Chambers and Evie Barrand. Tickets cost £10 via fortyfiveuk.com/whatson.

The Trials Of Cato: Tomos Williams and Rob Jones with new trio member Polly Bolton, playing Primrose Wood Acoustics in early August

Going down in the woods next month: The Trials Of Cato, Primrose Wood Acoustics, Pocklington, August 5, 7pm

BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winners The Trials Of Cato will headline the third Primrose Wood Acoustics session in Pocklington on August 5.

Organised by Pocklington Arts Centre, the outdoor concert series will complete its summer hattrick by popular demand after sold-out sylvan shows on July 1 and 8.

Leamington Spa singer-songwriter Polly Bolton joins co-founders Tomos Williams and Rob Jones for the showcase of imminent second album Gog Magog. Tickets cost £14 on 01759 301547 or at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

Miles and his band are so glad to be back on the Chain Gang for Fulford Arms concert

Ganging up again: Miles And The Chain Gang return to the concert platform next week in York. Picture: Jim Poyner

AFTER an 18-month hiatus, Miles Salter’s York band are back on the Chain Gang, tooled up with new material to play The Fulford Arms, York, on July 29.

In the line-up are singer, songwriter, storyteller, published poet and radio presenter Salter, on guitar and vocals; Billy Hickling, from the hit show Stomp!, on drums and percussion; The Bogus Brothers and Goosehorns’ stalwart, Tim Bruce, on bass, and Alan Dawson, on lead guitar, augmented for this gig by Fay Donaldson’s flute and saxophone and Bernard Scarcliffe’s keyboards.

Miles And The Chain Gang have been working on a debut album since September 2019, recording first with Hairul Hasnan at University of York Studio, then with Jonny Hooker at Young Thugs Studios, in Ovington Terrace, York. “It’s not quite finished yet, but it’s sounding great,” says Miles. 

“We were just about to start a run of gigs in the spring of 2020 when Covid struck. Instead, we focused on recording and making videos, releasing three well-received download singles across 18 months.”

The latest was All Of Our Lives, a cover of a late-1990s’ Syd Egan song, recorded by the band in January and February, when Sam Pirt and Karl Mullen added accordion and piano respectively.

“We’ve had lots of airplay over the last year or so, on Jorvik Radio and YO1 Radio; it’s been great to hear our songs on these stations. We’ve done well, under the circumstances, but after a really long time away from playing, it’s great to get back to live sets again,” says Miles. “We’d love to see you, so do come along if you can. We have new songs and a new band member in the very talented Fay Donaldson.

“Support will come from North Yorkshire’s purveyors of hillbilly, King Courgette, who featured at our last show, way back in December 2019.” 

Tickets for next Thursday’s 8pm concert cost £7 at thefulfordarms.co.uk or £8 on the door. 

No time for vegetating: King Courgette are back in action as special guests at the July 29 gig

York band Miles And The Chain Gang to release single All Of Our Lives on March 28

Back on the Chain Gang: Miles Salter and his band have a new single out on Sunday

YORK band Miles And The Chain Gang release their third digital single, All Of Our Lives, on Sunday (28/3/2021).

The acoustic song was written in the late-1990s by Syd Egan, a friend of frontman Miles Salter, the group’s regular songwriter.

Joining Miles and band members Billy Hickling (drums) and Tim Bruce (bass) on the recording are fellow York musicians Karl Mullen, guesting on piano, and Holly Taymar-Bilton on backing vocals.

The Chain Gang’s lead guitarist, Alan Dawson, lives in Scotland, while guest accordion player Sam Pirt resides in East Yorkshire.

All Of Our Lives was recorded and mixed in January and February by Jonny Hooker at York’s Young Thugs Studios, above the South Bank Social Club in Ovington Terrace, and filmed by Dave Thorp during Lockdown 3. 

“I’ve been singing the song for 20 years,” says Miles. “Lee Heir, a friend of the band who has been helping with PR, said we should put it out, and he kept asking me to do so. In the end, I relented. I was a bit wary because it’s quieter than our first two releases, but everybody who has heard the song loves it.” 

Set in Manchester, with references to St Peter’s Square and Oxford Road, All Of Our Lives tells the story of an ambiguous relationship. “I wanted to film in Manchester, but lockdown made everything problematic, so in the end we did it in York,” says Miles.

The resulting video features shots of Miles playing guitar, Leeds-based actor Lucy Marshall and cameraman Dave Thorp in the role of Big Issue Salesman. 

Miles And The Chain Gang have picked up airplay on Jorvik Radio and YO1 Radio, as well as on several internet radio stations, and they also have been working on social media, with content spread across numerous platforms and sites, drawing 20,000 YouTube views of their second release, Drag Me To The Light. 

“Two years ago, we didn’t have anything, but now we have a presence on Spotify, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It feels like things are building,” says polymath Miles, who is also a published poet, storyteller, presenter of Jorvik Radio’s weekly arts show and former organiser of the York Literature Festival.

One frustration for Miles And The Chain Gang has been a lack of concerts. “The last time we played a gig was at the end of 2019,’ says Miles. “Anybody involved in live music has felt the disappointment over the last year. We’ll get back to gigs as soon as we can.” 

Miles and the band have been recording songs at Young Thugs, and plans are shaping up for more releases. “We’ve got some really good songs,” he promises.

All Of Our Lives will be released on Spotify, iTunes and YouTtube on March 28. A trailer for the track and the video can be viewed at: youtube.com/watch?v=cgJxCk5xxw8.

York poet Miles Salter finds Fix in lockdown to end hiatus with candid new collection

Salter of the earth: The ever-candid, sometimes apocalyptic, other times fantasy-seeking York poet Miles Salter

YORK poet, storyteller, journalist, songwriter and radio presenter Miles Salter has come up with his Fix for a seven-year hiatus.

He has released a poetry book of that name on his own new imprint, Winter & May – “it’s a way of saying ‘for all seasons’, reasons Miles – after a burst of writing in the pandemic ended the lull since his second collection, Animals.

In his apocalyptic, sometimes discomfiting yet hopeful miniature narratives and prose poems, Miles’s observational writing spans climate change; the rise and fall-out of love; loneliness and grief; rock’n’roll; the rites of passage through childhood, adolescence and beyond, and life’s flow being put on hold in pandemic lockdown, his tone ranging from deeply dark to darkly witty, quizzical to surrealist.

CharlesHutchPress fixes it for Miles to answer Charles Hutchinson’s frank questions on Fix and more besides.

Why the seven-year hiatus between volumes two and three: had it become a seven-year glitch or itch over that time, Miles?

“I’m a bit of a tortoise. I find that, generally, it takes a while for a project to come to fruition. I can be a real perfectionist. I always think I can do better.

“But the long gap wasn’t intentional. I went through a seismic mid-life crisis. That really slowed everything down. My life was a mess for a while. Some of the poems came out of that. I had a couple of years where I didn’t do much at all, no writing or anything. Just tried to look after myself and keep going. It was very grim.”

At the epicentre of that crisis was the end of your marriage in 2016…

“It took a long time to recover. I was devastated, and suicidal for a while. One of the poems that wasn’t included in the book was about looking for ways to end my life. There was a period in 2017 when I wanted to die. A friend of mine said, ‘You cannot do this to the kids’, and they were absolutely right. 

“One poem, Said, details exchanges between me and my ex-wife at the time of our separation. It was a very difficult time; I wanted to save the marriage but it wasn’t possible. That poem reflects what happened. Let’s say I was trying to capture two different voices.”

Simon Armitage: Poet Laureate has been a major influence on Miles Salter

Given your frankness about your marriage coming to an end, and your subsequent suicidal thoughts, is there anything too personal for poetic expression?

“Fix is very confessional. It’s a risk to write about personal things. Some people have read the book and found it a little uncomfortable, because of the subject matter, although they also said it was moving.

“I feel that vulnerability is important in all art. Otherwise, how are you going to touch people? Overall, I think the balance is about right. Those poems are a record of something traumatic. There are funny poems in the book too! 

“I talked about it with Carole Bromley, who’s a friend and mentor, and I reeled off a list of confessional poetry books like Stag’s Leap (about the end of Sharon Olds’ marriage), and Carole said, ‘Well, you’ve just listed my favourite poetry book’. That was very heartening.” 

How have you changed as a poet over the past seven years?

“I think I’m becoming more careful in the writing, perhaps a bit more lyrical and subtle. I like to think that is a sign of maturity. I always liked muscular writers like Philip Larkin, Carol Ann Duffy and Simon Armitage. They all were ‘zero bullshit’ in their writing. But you can have impact without raising your voice too loudly. I think I’m getting better at that.” 

How have you changed as a person in that time?

“Good question. There’s a very long answer to that, but a succinct response would be: more mature, a little older, a little less naive about the world. I know myself better. A bit more determined to not mess about, and keener to be more successful than before. Life is short. I want to make the next few years count.” 

How do you define what constitutes a poem: once it was rhyme and rhythm; is it now line breaks and a sense of timing for the content’s maximum impact?

“There are a lot of definitions of poetry; I’m not sure I have a definitive one. For me, it would be ‘tell a story with heart and precision, as fast as you can’. But that reflects my tendency to write stories in my poems. A lot of the poems in Fix are miniature narratives and prose poems.” 

Poetic licence to drill: the cover artwork for Miles Salter’s third collection, Fix

Does being a songwriter have an impact on your writing of poetry? How do poems differ from lyrics?

“I do find them to be very different things. My songs are more sloppy and more impressionistic. The poems are more crafted. Paul Simon sang once about ‘words that tear and strain to rhyme’, and he was spot on.

“With songs, you’re trying to match ‘rain’ with ‘pain’ or ‘again’. My poems dispense with that, most of the time, so the poems are much more liberated. I’d like to get closer to Del Amitri’s Justin Currie and Leonard Cohen in their song-writing, closing the the gap between poems and songs.” 

Why did you choose “Fix” for the title? The word has multiple meanings: to mend a problem; to fasten; to “fix” a sports result; to be “in a fix”; to decide or settle on a date; to fix your eyes on someone; a drug “fix”. Which “Fix” is it for you?

“The big theme of the book is living in an imperfect world. The title was an allusion to addiction, to being in a fix, to trying to make things better. I liked the ambiguity. [Fellow York poet] Antony Dunn had a book called Bugs, which has three meanings. Maybe that was in the back of my mind.”

If you could fix one problem to improve the world, what would it be?

“Climate change. We’re all in big trouble. I have two children and I am scared for them. It’s very frightening. I keep writing about it, as if warding off a bad dream that keeps coming back.” 

Dark humour has its place, but what else drives you in your writing.  Is it cathartic?

“The humour is important, because life is funny and ridiculous as well as difficult and sad. Thomas Merton once said, ‘I want to write a book that contains everything’. I know what he means.

“There’s a Justin Currie song called At Home Inside Me, which has a similar feeling. As an artist, you want to encompass everything. There’s something universal about art. It’s funny, beguiling, unsettling, inspiring…” 

Does something make more sense to you by the end of a poem than at the beginning?

“The best poems, usually, are the ones where you don’t know where you are going. You just follow an idea, and it takes you down a little rabbit warren. It’s a very exploratory thing.  Was it Picasso who said ‘If you knew what you were doing at the start, what would be the point?’ Can’t remember. Somebody like that!”

When do you know a poem is finished? Artists often find it difficult to decide when a work is complete. What about you?

“Fix was exhausting at the end. Multiple revisions and then more, and more. It went through 16 drafts. I’m a bit of perfectionist. I just want stuff to be really, really good. Some of the poems I thought were finished, but I showed them to writer friends and would always try to revise them in light of what people said. I’ve learnt that a dodgy phrase is ‘That will do’. Revision is important. Do it again!” 

“I always admired Philip Larkin for the way he was so honest about the more unpleasant aspects of life,” says Miles Salter

Writers are outsiders, whose observations make us look differently at the world around us. Discuss…

“Yes, absolutely. Writers are outsiders, and sometimes they are difficult, prickly people. But we need their perspective, the way they hold a mirror up to the world. What would literature be without George Orwell, Margaret Atwood, Philip Larkin, D H Lawrence, Ernest Hemingway? We need outsiders sometimes. They show us how life is, and how it could be different.” 

You name your influences as Larkin, Duffy, Armitage. Why that trio?

“They didn’t pull any punches; they talked about life in such an uncompromising way, and they were all brilliant with language. Larkin’s The Whitsun Weddings is one of the greatest poems of the last hundred years, I think. It’s so moving.

“He has a bad reputation as a human but the writing is wonderful. I used to stand outside his house in Pearson Park in Hull and go ‘that’s where he was’.

“I always admired Larkin for the way he was so honest about the more unpleasant aspects of life – he wrote beautifully but was never sentimental. Like him, I try to balance the dark elements with some humour, too. I didn’t want Fix to be unremittingly bleak. I really wanted it to feel life-affirming.”  

…and Duffy and Armitage?

“I worked with Carol and Simon when I ran the York Literature Festival. I put Carol on three times. That was a buzz.

“Armitage’s Seeing Stars was a big influence on me; it’s an amazing book. He walks a tightrope between humour and horror. Beyond Huddersfield – a bear in a recycling plant. It starts light and funny and gets really dark. Brilliant.”

Your candour within Fix takes in expressing frustration with men being portrayed in a negative light in the poem Shed. Over to you, Miles…

“In the wake of Me Too, there’s been a lot of anger about male behaviour. Some of that is entirely justified – abuse is unacceptable. However, I also see lots of comments that demonise men, and some of that takes place in the poetry world.

“I’m optimistic about what we can do in the future,” says Miles And The Chain Gang frontman Miles Salter, pictured, second from left, with fellow members Billy Hickling, Tim Bruce and Alan Dawson. Picture: Jim Poyner

“Shed is about toxic masculinity, but there’s a redemptive aspect to it: men can be better, we can move on. I’d like to see that reflected in the discourse, instead of ‘aren’t men awful?’ I feel very strongly about it.

“The highest risk category of suicide in the UK is men aged 45 or under, and I was nearly one of those statistics. Voices that demonise men are not helping, frankly. There’s a lot of shame – and shaming – going on out there, and we need to find a more rounded way of talking about things.”

Your poems stretch from realism to surrealism. What draws you to fantasy: a need to escape; a wish for change?

“I like that space where you take a real situation and twist it a little, so it becomes more surreal. I like to have one foot in the real world and one in a place that is much less familiar.

“I always had a slight feeling of guilt about fantasy and escapism, until I saw [artist] Grayson Perry talk about escapism, and how it’s OK and important. That really helped me a lot. I think imagination is hugely important. We need, as a culture and society, to be more imaginative. I hate the way technology is making us less imaginative, I find it really depressing.”

Is that why you have given your book imprint Winter & May the tagline “Books for Humans”?

“In an age of technological dependence, the motto stands as an attempt to reach for human creativity and independence. It scares me how we’ve all been sucked into thinking like machines.

“Part of me longs for a Utopia where we’re much closer to the earth, and much less attached to technology. One of the apocalyptic poems in the book, Witness Statement, foresees a society where machines take over from humanity.” 

“He’s so good at wearing different hats, but it’s always about communication and connecting with people,” says Miles Salter of Barnsley Bard Ian McMillan, a guest on his Jorkik Radio programme, The Arts Show

Despite the stultifying frustrations and uncertainties of the pandemic cycle of Government-enforced lockdowns, how have you been keeping artistically busy, aside from publishing Fix?

“My band, Miles And The Chain Gang, released a couple of videos in 2020, When It Comes To You and Drag Me To The Light, and we’re working towards making an album.

“We’ve been going two years, and it’s been a slow burn. That’s partly because of Covid, but the songs are really strong and the band are brilliant. I’m optimistic about what we can do in the future.”

How is your regular Wednesday night slot on Jorvik Radio, hosting The Arts Show, going?

“I’ve interviewed luminaries such as cookery book writer Nigel Slater, young adult author Melvin Burgess and Barnsley bard Ian McMillan.

“Talking to Ian was great. He’s one of those writers who really inspired me; he’s so good at wearing different hats, but it’s always about communication and connecting with people. That’s where I feel happiest. Communicating makes me feel more alive.”

How do people respond when you say you are a poet?

“Ha! I don’t really say that. I say I’m a communicator.”

Musician, poet, broadcaster, communicator: why is communication so important to you?

“I just feel happy when I’m using words or music to make a connection with people, tell a story, create an atmosphere, impart information. It makes me happy. I’m getting better at it. It’s taken a while, but I’m improving.” 

Should you be wondering…

Why has Miles Salter called his publishing imprint Winter & May?

“It was a joke. It was a way of saying ‘for all seasons’. It’s a made-up name, I just liked the way it sounded. Weidenfeld and Nicholson. Winter and May.” 

Is this new venture mere vanity publishing for you? “I really hope not. I always had an inkling that I might go into publishing, in some way. I’ve always adored books. The feel of them, the smell, the potential held inside pages. I’ve got ideas for possible projects with other writers, so I hope it’s not just a bit of ego.”  

Miles Salter’s Fix is available via Ohm Books at info@ohmbooks.com, priced at £8.95. 

Back on The Chain Gang, Miles releases lockdown song Drag Me To The Light

Miles And The Chain Gang members, left to right, Billy Hickling, Miles Salter, Tim Bruce and Alan Dawson. Picture: Jim Poyner

YORK band Miles And The Chain Gang release their second song and video, Drag Me To The Light, on November 15.

Available on Spotify, iTunes and Apple Music, with the video on YouTube, this follow-up to February’s When It Comes To You reflects the experience of the pandemic lockdown in Spring 2020. 

“I wrote the song during lockdown in April,” says frontman Miles Salter. “I was trying to capture the emotional feeling of what was happening, the sense of hunger for human interaction.

“We are social creatures and I think everybody felt the absence of human connection and warmth.”

Drag Me To The Light was recorded in June and July at Young Thugs Studio, at the South Bank Social Club in York, where the video was then filmed in September. “I had no idea that when it came out, it would be during a second lockdown,”’ says Miles, musician, writer, storyteller and presenter of The Arts Show on Jorvik Radio.

Singer and guitarist Miles is joined in The Chain Gang by Billy Hickling, drums and percussion, Tim Bruce, bass, and Alan Dawson, guitar.

Swelling the gang on Drag Me To The Light are Sean McMullan, guitar, Holly Taymar-Bilton, backing vocals, Sam Pirt, accordion, Thomas Rhodes, trumpet, and Jonny Hooker, organ, most of them drawn from the York area. 

Hooker also produced the track. “Jonny’s really good to work with and Young Thugs is a great facility,” says Miles. “They want to champion music in the north of England and have enjoyed success with York band Bull, who signed to EMI Records this year.”

Drag Me To The Light is “a bit more funky than things” Salter would write usually. “I think playing with Billy, Tim and Alan has opened me up to other ways of approaching music. It has something of a Nile Rogers feel to it,” says Miles, who then reflects on a very frustrating year.

“As a result of the pandemic, we haven’t played any public gigs. We were due to play our first gig in late-March, and then the  first lockdown happened. We’re trying to focus on video and reach people that way.

“We’ve had more than 2,000 views of various things, so that’s not bad, and we’re also developing our social-media presence. We’ve made a lot of progress since the start of 2019. Nobody knew who we were then! So, things are building, slowly.”