The future of folk is here as Joshua Burnell travels to Mars on portentous new album

“On this album, I’m tapping into that terrible looming dread of what could go on in the future,” says Joshua Burnell. Pictures: Elly Lucas

THERE is no time like the present for Joshua Burnell’s new album: the place where a retro past meets a bold other-worldly future.

Newly released through Proper Music, Flowers Where The Horses Sleep finds the York multi-instrumentalist returning to writing his own songs.

“The last two records, 2018’s Songs From The Seasons and  last year’s The Road To Horn Fair, were traditional, so that was cheating!” says Joshua, winner of the Rising Star accolade in the 2020 Folking Awards.

“Certainly it’s been a big liberation to go back to my own song-writing for the first time since Into The Green [his 2016 fantasy epic].”

His website introduces his work as “folk-fused baroque’n’roll”. Some call it prog-folk with leanings to contemporary classical and vintage pop-rock too. His press release talks of Joshua “seemingly having his own musical time machine”, giving him the ability to teleport listeners between music’s yesterdays and tomorrows.

This is the moment for us to ask questions,” says Joshua

Or no more tomorrows, given his concern for our future. “On this album, I’m tapping into that terrible looming dread of what could go on in the future. There’s a doomsday feeling to some of the songs,” says Joshua.

“What’s going on now, with the pandemic, is a taster. What we’re going through is nature’s way of saying this is what you deserve, you horrible lot. But climate change ultimately is the bigger concern.”

In the transportation ballad Look At Us Now, Joshua imagines a future where we live on Mars in a tale combining folklore, climate change and space travel dreamer Elon Musk. “Definitely science fiction, yes, but science fiction is only science fiction until someone invents it for real,” he says.

“An uninhabitable Earth is something we can foresee, so while that song is sci-fi, with elements of doom and gloom thrown in, this is the moment for us to ask questions.

“What are we doing? Where are we going…when we take pleasure from all the delights of the 21st century that are a wonderful distraction from what’s happening?

“We’ve gone for a folky Bowie look, a folky, darker Aladdin Sane,” says Joshua, explaining Elly Lucas’s photographic portfolio for promoting his new album

“The problem comes down to economic greed. With all these advances, we wouldn’t be going there unless there was something to be made from it.”

Does Joshua consider himself to be a soothsayer? “There’s a romantic aspect to it, but folk singers have often talked about now and warned about the future; folk musicians are almost like political activists,” he says.

“But unlike politicians, folk musicians have the advantage of sitting on the sidelines, being able to be more daring in what they say, which fulfils the same role as punk music did.”

Equally adept on Hammond organ, acoustic guitar, accordion, mellotron, synths and a Steinway grand piano, Joshua’s boundary-pushing musicianship spans layered theatrical soundscapes and starker arrangements.

“What I’m trying to do is tell stories and take people somewhere else, taking them from the here and now, sometimes with a moral tale,” says Joshua, who was born in the Haute-Savoie in France but now lives, writes music and teaches in York.

“Folk singers have often talked about now and warned about the future,” says Joshua

“A lot of that comes from Tolkien…because so much of his work includes his own folk songs. Those stories are not fantasy rubbish. They’re giving people messages, but he didn’t want them to be allegorical. You can take something into the real world from them, or you can see them just as stories.

“From my teenage years, I adopted that as my ethos as a storyteller, where there’s something deeper there if you want to find it.”

Finished only two days before lockdown, Flowers Where The Horses Sleep is timely…and NOT all doom and gloom. “The songs were all inspired by people, past and present, and explore humankind’s remarkable ability to find beauty, even in the hardest of times,” he says.

Should you be wondering, the album title came from a story on the Family Ghosts podcast wherein a Japanese-American woman, interned in an American concentration camp during the Second World War, recalled how the prisoners, forced to live in stables, grew flowers to bring beauty into the ugly reality of their days.

Mumbai husband-and-wife artists Hari & Deepti’s papercut artwork for Joshua Burnell’s album cover

Beauty extends to the papercut album cover by Mumbai husband-and-wife artists Hari & Deepti, whose imagery plays out in the song Run To Me, recounting a surreal experience when Joshua and partner Fe [vocalist Frances Sladen] explored a ruined fortress near Harewood House, only to be approached by men carrying guns.

They took to their heels. “As we were running, a deer leapt out of the undergrowth and for one gloriously fairy-tale moment locked eyes with me and ran alongside us,” says Joshua.

Flowers Where The Horses Sleep is broad-ranging. Joan Of The Greenwood is a traditional folk song pastiche so authentic, you would swear it must come from a dusty old folk songbook.

Let Me Fall Down evokes Berlin’s decadent Kit Kat Club in its burlesque account of greed, while the Steinway on the album-closing Two Stars recalls the cabaret piano on David Bowie’s Hunky Dory album.

“What we’re going through is nature’s way of saying this is what you deserve, you horrible lot,” suggests Joshua.

Yet Flowers Where The Horses Sleep also marks a progression in Joshua not over-elaborating in any of his song structures. “I used to throw everything into the mix, but now, knowing when a song is finished has been a case of deciding what is enough,” he says.

“I’ve been trying to do a lot more of stripping it back for a song to have more space…though I still love those prog-rock elements with multiple textures!”

Combining artwork from Mumbai with recording in England and mastering at Stirling Sound in New York, not to mention the video for stand-out track Le Fay being made in New York too, the creation of the album spans three continents, such are the possibilities of our technological age. “I must go for four continents next time!” says Joshua.

The promotional imagery carries a closer-to-home Yorkshire stamp:  the Sixties polo neck and make-up were fashioned by photographer Elly Lucas at Light Space Leeds. “We’ve gone for a folky Bowie look, a folky, darker Aladdin Sane,” says Joshua. “She works in a very hipster space and has become the go-to photographer of the folk scene, working with The Unthanks, Eliza Carthy and Martin Carthy, and I loved how she used black curtains, yellow light and dividing panels and did all the make-up herself.”

Inevitably his autumn tour with his six-piece band has been postponed until the spring, when Pocklington Arts Centre, among others, awaits. In the meantime, invest in Flowers Where The Horses Sleep: Joshua Burnell in full bloom.

Pocklington Arts Centre boosted by £4,100 funding for autumn digital theatre project

“The project will see both Pocklington Arts Centre and its audience members, new and old, go on a journey as it evolves the way it presents its artistic output,” says venue manager Janet Farmer

POCKLINGTON Arts Centre has been awarded a £4,100 grant from East Yorkshire’s I Am Fund for a digital theatre project this autumn.

The Market Place venue, with its track record for presenting high-quality children’s theatre and workshops, will work with Hull company Magic Carpet Theatre and DigiFish Film & Animation to stage two online family theatre productions with accompanying online workshops and social-media content.

Magic Carpet specialise in circus skills, magic and audience participation and have a long-standing relationship with Pocklington Arts Centre, having staged numerous sold-out events there.

The new productions and follow-up content will be made free with optional donations, removing any economic barriers from children and families accessing the resources.

Venue director Janet Farmer says: “The funding will enable us to have an enhanced online presence for families and young people, open up new programming opportunities for Pocklington Arts Centre (PAC) and will allow us to support venue staff, alongside regional artists and creative partners, in these difficult times.

“The project will see both PAC and its audience members, new and old, go on a journey as it evolves the way it presents its artistic output. The long-term aim is to see sustained arts engagement, during the closure/Covid period and beyond, from younger generations and increased attendance at PAC events.

“We are extremely grateful to the I Am Fund and Smile Foundation for their support on this application and we look forward to delivering a highly successful programme of events.”

The I Am Fund was established with funding from the will of the late Audrey Mosey, an East Riding resident with a passion for the arts. The fund is part of the Hull and East Yorkshire Smile Foundation, which, alongside the fund committee that includes Pocklington resident Andrew Bowden, aims to support performers and inspire future stars, while also helping East Riding residents to benefit from what the performing arts have to offer.

Andrew Barber, chief executive officer of Smile, says: “This is one of many grants that are being invested into the arts community across East Yorkshire. We recognise the value that venues such as the Pocklington Arts Centre have to play in supporting and inspiring young people to connect, participate and perform in the arts.

“The committee, led by friends of Audrey, with the support of Smile, look forward to hearing how the funding makes a difference in Pocklington and surrounding areas.”

Shed Seven LIVE? Not this summer, alas, but on a new album out in December, yes

Shed Seven’s artwork to announce their December 4 live album, Another Night, Another Town

SHED Seven are to release a live album on December 4 after a frustrating summer of Covid-cancelled gigs.

Specially curated by the York Britpop luminaries and available exclusively through the Sheds’ store, Another Night, Another Town “captures their dynamic live performances and anthemic songs over 21 songs”.

As trailed on the shedseven.com website, Shed followers can pick up a limited-edition coloured gatefold vinyl edition, a special double CD set, a 180g heavyweight triple vinyl version and a download, plus a selection of new merchandise.

From this week, you can pre-order a signed copy to download album opener Room In My House and Ocean Pie now.

“A few words” from frontman Rick Witter accompany the announcement: “When it became clear virtually no live events would be taking place this year and with no Shedcember [December tour] to look forward to, we thought it was a good time to go through recordings from our 2019 [Shedcember] tour and 2018 Castlefield Bowl show [in Manchester] to curate the best live album we could.

“From 10,000 people singing along to Chasing Rainbows at Leeds Arena to playing the classic outro of I Am The Resurrection in the home of the Stone Roses, this 21-track album features the best from our live shows over the last couple of years.”

The live album has been mixed by Chris Sheldon, who produced the Sheds’ 1996 album A Maximum High and 1999 single Disco Down (whose lyrics have been raided for the ‘Another Night, Another Town’ title).

Taking it sitting down: Shed Seven have been left with a blank summer gig diary in Covid-19 2020

“We’re delighted with the results, which we think are as close as we can get to capturing the Shed Seven live experience on record,” continues Rick, 47. “We haven’t released a live album since we returned as a five-piece in 2007 and we certainly haven’t released one as good as this!

“We hope this album provides just a little bit of the live experience we’re all missing before we return in 2021.”

Another Night, Another Town will be Shed Seven’s fifth “live” album after Where Have You Been Tonight? Live, in 2003; Live At The BBC, in 2007; See Youse At The Barras: Live In Concert, 2009, and Live At Leeds 2007, digital download only, in 2009.

The track listing will be: Room In My House; Mark; Where Have You Been Tonight?; People Will Talk; Devil In Your Shoes; Butterfly On A Wheel; She Left Me On Friday/I Am The Resurrection; Better Days; On Standby; It’s Not Easy; Getting Better; Enemies And Friends; Ocean Pie; Dolphin; High Hopes; Disco Down; Bully Boy; Going For Gold; Parallel Lines; Invincible and Chasing Rainbows.

The Sheds should have been playing in the open air at The Piece Hall, Halifax, on September  19, but as with this summer’s post-racing concert at Doncaster Racecourse on August 15, preceded by Witter and guitarist Paul Banks’s acoustic set at Pocklington Arts Centre’s Platform Festival at The Old Station on July 11, Covid-19 intervened.

However, Shed Seven’s diary for outdoor engagements in 2021 is taking shape: Don 21 Music Live, Doncaster Racecourse, May 15; Neighbourhood Festival, London, May 29; Isle of Wight Festival, Newport, June 18; The Piece Hall, Halifax, June 26; Corbridge Festival, July 3; Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival, Beaufort, July 31, and Watchet Music Festival, Somerset, August 29.

Meanwhile, The Piece Hall has added Nile Rodgers & Chic to next summer’s concert list, booked in for June 18 with Liverpool soul singer Rebecca Ferguson as the support act. Tickets will go on sale at 10am on Friday at www.seetickets.com and www.lunatickets.co.uk

Richard Thompson to play 2021 Platform Festival after Covid de-railed July’s Old Station gig. Son Teddy heads for Pock too

Richard Thompson: Changing Platform date in Pocklington

POCKLINGTON Arts Centre has confirmed Thompson dates at the double for 2021.

Father Richard, the 71-year-old English folk-rock luminary, songwriter and guitarist, will play next summer’s Platform Festival, run by PAC at The Old Station, on July 21. Son Teddy, the English singer and songwriter long resident in New York City, is booked in for January 22.

This summer’s Covid-curtailed Platform Festival would have opened with comedian Omid Djalili on Thursday, followed by Robert Plant’s Saving Grace on Friday; Shed Seven’s Rick  Witter and Paul Banks headlining Super Saturday in acoustic mode and the BBC Big Band next Tuesday.

Fairport Convention alumnus Richard Thompson, who now lives in Montclair, New Jersey, after three decades in Los Angeles, was in the diary to close the festival next Wednesday. Instead, you will have to wait a year now.

Next January, son Teddy will showcase his sixth solo studio album, Heartbreaker Please, released on May 29 on Thirty Tigers.

“Here’s the thing, you don’t love me anymore,” sings Teddy on his frank contribution to the time-honoured break-up record club. “I can tell you’ve got one foot out the door.”

Teddy Thompson: Joining the break-up album club. Picture: Gary Waldman

From the off, Heartbreaker Please wrestles with the breakdown of love with wistful levity and devastating honesty. The songs are drawn from the demise of a real-life relationship, set against the backdrop of New York City, the place Thompson has called home for the better part of two decades, having left London for the USA at 18 and settled in the Big Apple five years later.

“I took a summer vacation that never ended,” he says. “In retrospect, I was trying to reinvent myself. It was easier to leave it all behind, go somewhere new and declare myself an artist. And you can actually re-invent yourself in America; step off the plane, say ‘my name is Teddy Thompson, I’m a musician’.”

In a departure for Teddy, at the [broken] heart of Heartbreaker Please are references to someone else doing the heart-breaking. “I’m usually the one who does that!” he says. “A defence mechanism, of course, but all of a sudden I was the one on the back foot. I was the ‘plus 1’, and I admit, I didn’t deal with it very well. But also, don’t date actors.”

The relationship ended just as Thompson was finishing penning the songs that would form Heartbreaker Please. “I tend to write sad songs, slow songs. It’s what comes naturally,” he says. “So I tried to make an effort here to set some of the misery to a nice beat! Let the listener bop their heads while they weep.”

Teddy, 44-year-old son of Richard and Linda Thompson, will be supported by another artiste with a folk-roots heritage: Roseanne Reid, eldest daughter of The Proclaimers’ Craig Reid.

Tickets for Thompson times two are on sale at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

Thea Gilmore and Mary Coughlan move Pocklington Arts Centre concerts to 2021

Hat’s off to a new date: Thea Gilmore looks ahead to her re-arranged Pocklington solo show in October 2021

OXFORD singer-songwriter Thea Gilmore will play Pocklington Arts Centre on October 8 2021 on her first ever completely solo tour.

Held back by 12 months in response to the global pandemic, Thea, 40, now will be touring in September and October next year rather than this autumn.

In 2019, she released her fourth successive chart album, Small World Turning. Songs from all stages of a career stretching beyond two decades will make up her 2021 set, performed on guitar, keyboard and loop station

Since first stepping out aged 18, Gilmore has released18 albums and six EPs;  collaborated with “roots royalty” Billy Bragg, Joan Baez and The Waterboys; performed on BBC Radio 2 with Jools Holland’s Rhythm and Blues Orchestra and contributed songs to the soundtrack of the BAFTA-winning film Bait.

Third time luck of the Irish: first April, then September, now next April for Mary Coughlan’s Pocklington gig

“Like so many other shows, sadly Thea’s 2020 performance at PAC has been postponed, but all original tickets have been transferred to the new date and customers are being contacted by PAC staff,” says venue manager James Duffy.

Meanwhile, Irish jazz and blues chanteuse Mary Coughlan is re-arranging her Pocklington gig for a second time. First, she switched from April 21 to September 23 2020; now she has put PAC in her diary for April 23 2021. Again, staff will be in touch with ticket holders.

Coughlan, 64, is sticking to a September release for her new autobiographical album, Life Stories, preceded by a single this month, Two Breaking Into One.

Old Flowers will be older but Courtney will be in full bloom in Pock a year from now

Courtney Marie Andrews: June 17 2021, not June 17 2020, for a night out in Pocklington

AMERICAN country singer Courtney Marie Andrews should have been playing Pocklington Arts Centre tonight. Instead she will do so on…June 17 2021.

Courtney’s postponed date with a full band was to have been a showcase for her new break-up album, Old Flowers, originally set for release on June 5 on Loose/Fat Possum Records.

Phoenix-born Courtney, 29, is now rescheduling the album launch too, again in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. “Hello dear ones,” she says on the Loose website. “Unfortunately, I must push back the release to July 24th. In order to protect the safety of its workers, the vinyl manufacturing plant producing my record is temporarily closed for the time being, meaning it won’t be possible to meet the original release date.

“During these strange times, I think it’s important we work together, rather than trudge ahead alone and abandon those who have helped artists along the way. I can’t explain to you how much this record means to me personally, and I am so incredibly excited for it to reach your ears soon. It’s just showing up fashionably late, 2020 style.”

In the meantime, Courtney has released another taster from Old Flowers: the late-May single It Must Be Someone Else’s Fault, accompanied by a video directed by V Haddad and choreographed by Marlee Cook-Parrot, alias Marlee Grace, a writer and dancer who focuses on improvisation and self-expression.

Haddad reflects: “It Must Be Someone Else’s Fault inspired us to create a video exploring being and becoming a woman and the world that surrounds her in this journey. Through dream-logic, we set out to interweave our characters through choreographed echoes and mirror moments of dance to draw out an ode to matriarchy, empathy, and sisterhood.”

This chimes with the overall theme of an album created in the aftermath of a long-term relationship ending, leading to Courtney’s most vulnerable writing on ten new songs that chronicle her journey through heartbreak, loneliness and finding herself again.

“I didn’t lie in what I wrote because it was a very cathartic process,” says Courtney Marie Andrews of her break-up album

“There are a million records and songs about heartbreak, but I did not lie when writing these songs,” Courtney says. “This album is about loving and caring for the person you know you can’t be with.

“It’s about being afraid to be vulnerable after you’ve been hurt. It’s about a woman who is alone, but OK with that, if it means truth. This was my truth this year: my nine-year relationship ended and I’m a woman alone in the world, but happy to know herself.”

Truth hurts, love hurts, but Courtney found writing Old Flowers “a safe place, a place of comfort”. “I didn’t lie in what I wrote because it was a very cathartic process,” she says. ”It was the only way I could channel what I was going through but I think sometimes people do lie in these situations because vulnerability is scary – and when you’re vulnerable you show your weakest emotions, and people are uncomfortable with that.”

By way of contrast, Courtney benefited from the confessional self-analysis. “Songs can predict your future or look back at what’s happened, and I didn’t realise that I felt the way I did until I started writing them,” she says.

“I definitely learned a lot about vulnerability: not hiding behind a character I learned so much about my relationship and goodbyes. Everything has a reason and we’re always searching for ourselves and for joy in our lives.This record is no different: when you reach the end of the tunnel, you reach the light and life goes on.”

Produced by Bon Iver and Big Thief producer Andrew Sarlo, Old Flowers was recorded at Sound Space Studio, a private studio in Los Angeles, with only three musicians: Andrews on vocals, acoustic guitar and piano, Twain’s Matthew Davidson, on bass, celeste, mellotron, pedal steel, piano, pump organ, Wurlitzer and background vocals, and Big Thief’s James Krivcheniaon drums and percussion.

“You can’t revive old flowers, but they remain beautiful even when they’ve died and they’re preserved,” says Courtney, drawing parallels with the end of her long-term relationship.

“I think it may be only the third or fourth album to have been made there. Andrew had made a connection with the owner, and it’s just an amazing downtown space in the arts district of LA with giant windows and so many cool instruments in there,” says Courtney.

“Andrew and I had both decided the album needed to be made in a very intimate space with the fewer cooks in the kitchen, the better, and this place was perfect.

“A lot of the record was just Matt and me and I guess it was like a musical dance of communication between the two of us, and then James added those small moments of magic between our ‘dancing’.”

Old Flowers is Courtney’s seventh album, following on from 2018’s May Your Kindness Remain; 2016’s Honest Life; 2013’s On My Page; 2010’s No One’s Slate Is Clean; 2009’s Painters Hands And A Seventh Son and 2008’s Urban Myths.

“I definitely look at albums in their own right. I’m with Neil Young on that,” says Courtney. “Every album has its own journey. It would be a disservice and an injustice if I were to try to make the same record over and over again. The best artists are constantly re-born with each album.”

Old Flowers finds Courtney in full bloom. “The title means lots of things to me, one of them being that you can’t revive old flowers, but they remain beautiful even when they’ve died and they’re preserved.

“A friend of mine once said to me that flowers are timeless, and I can agree with that sentiment.”

Courtney Marie Andrews plays Pocklington Arts Centre on June 17 2021. For tickets, go to pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

Here comes the Welsh singer Martyn Joseph, playing Pocklington Arts Centre

“A good song makes you feel like you’re not alone in the world, ” says Martyn Joseph

PENARTH folk singer, songwriter and guitarist Martyn Joseph will play Pocklington Arts Centre on January 16 2021.

Often called “the Welsh Springsteen”, he has released 32 albums in a career spanning 30 years, half a million record sales and thousands of live performances.

In April 2019, Joseph won a Wales Folk Award for Here Come The Young, the title track of that year’s album. “He’s never sounded more potent than he does here,” said Uncut on its release.

In 2018, he was honoured with a Spirit of Folk Award by Folk Alliance International in Kansas, USA, and he received Fatea magazine’s Lifetime Achievement Award in Britain.

In his song-writing of passion and humour, Joseph, 59, engages with challenging narratives that tackle the complexity of the human condition, underpinned with a promise of hope.

“Really what I do is to try and write songs that might step up and make some sense of a moment in time,” says the Welsh raconteur of his tales of topical concerns and stories of the fragility of love. “A good song makes you feel like you’re not alone in the world.”

Tickets are on sale at £18 at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

Are you ready to be heartbroken by Teddy Thompson’s break-up album and Pock gig?

Teddy Thompson: Joining the long-running break-up album club. Picture: Gary Waldman

TEDDY Thompson, the English singer and songwriter long resident in New York City, will play Pocklington Arts Centre on January 22 2021.

He will be showcasing his sixth solo studio album, Heartbreaker Please, set for release on May 29 on Thirty Tigers, a launch put back from its original April 24 pitch.

Teddy, 44-year-old son of folk luminaries Richard and Linda Thompson, will be supported by another artiste with a folk-roots heritage: Roseanne Reid, eldest daughter of The Proclaimers’ Craig Reid.

“Here’s the thing, you don’t love me anymore,” sings the frank Thompson on his new album. “I can tell you’ve got one foot out the door.”

From the off, Heartbreaker Please wrestles with the breakdown of love with wistful levity and devastating honesty. The songs are drawn from the demise of a real-life relationship, set against the backdrop of New York City, the place Thompson has called home for the better part of two decades, having left London for the USA at 18 and settled in the Big Apple five years later.

“I took a summer vacation that never ended,” he says. “In retrospect, I was trying to reinvent myself. It was easier to leave it all behind, go somewhere new and declare myself an artist. And you can actually re-invent yourself in America; step off the plane, say ‘my name is Teddy Thompson, I’m a musician’.”

Six albums have arrived since 2000, spanning rock and country, pop and folk. “Who do I sound like? I think I sound like myself,” Thompson says. “There’s a strong element of British folky in me, it’s in the blood, and I heard the wonderful music of my parents around me as a young child.

The artwork for Teddy Thompson’s new album, Heartbreaker Please

“Then there was the 1950s’ American pop and country that I fell in love with, plus the ’80s’ pop music that was in the charts at the time.”

From a young age, Sam Cooke, Hank Williams, Chuck Berry and The Everly Brothers made up the bulk of Thompson’s listening, along with select contemporary tunes heard on Top Of The Pops: A-ha, Culture Club and Wham.

“As a teenager, I couldn’t talk to my friends about Fifties’ rock’n’roll. I wasn’t cool enough to be that different. I’d say Crowded House was the first contemporary band I really found that I liked, that was socially acceptable,” he says.

“Today? I like to think my taste in music is catholic, I listen to whatever catches my ear, I don’t care about genre. There’s only two types of music, good and bad.”

On Heartbreaker Please,Thompson incorporates elements of Sixties’ doo-wop on Record Player and Eighties’ synth sounds on the epic No Idea, but his first musical love always will be rock’n’roll, country and pop.

“I’m completely enamoured with the three-minute pop song,” he says. “Maybe it’s conditioning if you hear enough of it, but the brevity of those songs, I always thought that was ideal. Trim the fat.

“Those songs are from a time when the song itself was important and would live on. If it was great, people would cover it. So, I still think that way, write a great song first. I try to be succinct and witty, but also cut to the heart in a matter of two or three minutes. I may never write a song as good as Chuck Berry’s Maybelline or The Everly Brothers’ Cathy’s Clown, but those are the touchstones for me.” 

Richard Thompson, Teddy’s father, was booked to play Pocklington’s now postponed Platform Festival this summer

In a departure for Thompson, at the [broken] heart of Heartbreaker Please are references to someone else doing the heart-breaking. “I’m usually the one who does that!” he says. “A defence mechanism, of course, but all of a sudden I was the one on the back foot. I was the ‘plus 1’, and I admit, I didn’t deal with it very well. But also, don’t date actors.”

The relationship ended just as Thompson was finishing writing the songs that would become Heartbreaker Please. “I tend to write sad songs, slow songs. It’s what comes naturally,” he says.

“So I tried to make an effort here to set some of the misery to a nice beat! Let the listener bop their heads while they weep.”

After releasing his self-titled debut in 2000, Thompson went on tour as part of Roseanne Cash’s band. Since then he has collaborated with good friends Martha and Rufus Wainwright and contributed to numerous tribute projects, most notably two songs for the Leonard Cohen covers’ collection, I’m Your Man, and two to the Nick Drake retrospective, Way To Blue, too.

Thompson has produced albums for Americana singer-songwriters Allison Moorer and Shelby Lynne, Dori Freeman and his mother, Linda Thompson. Last year, he added Roseanne Reid’s debut, Trails, to that list: an album that featured a duet with Steve Earle, by the way.

Teddy’s father, Richard Thompson, was to have played the closing concert at this summer’s Platform Festival at the Old Station, Pocklington, on July 15 but the event was de-railed by the Coronavirus pandemic. Negotiations are under way with all the acts, Thompson included, to take part in the 2021 festival.

Tickets for Teddy Thompson’s 8pm gig are on sale at £20 at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

After York Heroes, Sue Clayton paints Covid ward nurse Rachel for NHS Heroes portrait as the heart and the art come together

“Vibrant, young, positive”: The qualities radiating from Rotherham Covid-19 ward nurse Rachel Beal in a photograph that inspired Sue Clayton to paint her for the #portraitsfornhsheroes” national project

YORK Heroes artist Sue Clayton is participating in the nationwide #portraitsfornhsheroes initiative.

Her subject is Rachel Beal, a “vibrant, young, positive” nurse in charge of a Covid-19 ward in Rotherham, who Sue has never met but was struck by one photograph of her in particular.

“The initiative was created in early April by Tom Croft, an Oxford artist who was on the 2018 Sky Portrait Artist series,” says Sue, from Wigginton, York.

“The idea was to celebrate our NHS heroes in portraits, to which he invited artists to participate. On our social media sites we posted a green canvas to say ‘I’m offering a free portrait to the first NHS key worker to contact me’, and the finished portrait is then posted to the ‘model’ as a thank-you.”

Sue’s offer received an immediate response. “I was delighted that within two minutes I had a request from a chap who wanted me to paint his wife, who’s a nurse in charge of a Covid-19 ward in Rotherham,” she recalls.

“The photos sent over showed Rachel as a vibrant, young, positive nurse. One image particularly drew my attention: her smile beaming as she held her hands up in a heart shape.”

Sue felt a spontaneous bond. “The first thing that struck me about Rachel was…this is the gal I would want by my bedside in ICU. She appeared to have a cheerful glint in her eyes and a smile to give hope.

Sue Clayton with her York Heroes portrait of Sainbury’s trolley attendant Andrew Fair, as featured in the first episode of Grayson’s Art Club on Channel 4

“I felt a connection as two Yorkshire lasses whose glass is always half full. I also loved the composition, a wonderful triangulation. Finally, I loved her nose ring and tattoos set against a crisp uniform with the traditional silver filigree belt clasp.”

Sue’s response was to produce an expressive portrait, joyous even. “Perhaps strange considering these strange, sad times, when many fantastic portraits have been created showing masked nurses, fatigue and sadness etched in their eyes – really poignant and emotional to the viewer. 

“But, conversely, I wanted to show a time that has also shown the strength of human kindness and that hope still shines through, and here was a girl from Rotherham to prove it!

“My main focus obviously would be Rachel but I wanted her to be surrounded by free, bright, colourful brushstrokes symbolising her energy, vitality and hope.”

By necessity, Sue’s working practice differed from her York Heroes portraits of pantomime dame Berwick Kaler; motivational speaker, charity fundraiser, author and Huge frontman Ian Donaghy; “unsung hero” Andrew Fair, stalwart Sainbury’s trolley attendant at Monks Cross; York Against Cancer co-founder Steve Leveson; Nuzzlets animal charity driving force Mary Chapman and the late police constable Suzanne Asquith, who was awarded the Gold award for Inspiration at the North Yorkshire Police Annual Awards.

Unlike the 2018 series, there were to be no sittings this time, no voice, no chance to see facial expressions in motion “I worked solely from my response to Rachel’s photo without knowing anything about her, but the story that she sent me after seeing the painting assured me that I had captured her character,” says Sue.

“I painted purely from instinct, which was an interesting challenge for me and a new one. Usually, I will have met and chatted to a sitter and as a norm I find this important. 

York artist Sue Clayton with her son James, whose portrait to mark his 18th birthday features in her Downright Marvellous…At Large! series of 12 Down Syndrome studies

“I can build up a ‘feeling’ about someone, even down to what colour I feel portrays them. I will watch for quirks, their gestures, how someone talks: are they animated and excitable or quiet and reserved?

“These things I have in my mind and pre-form how I paint someone. In the case of a posthumous portrait, the loved one commissioning it will tell me about a person, what they were like, and it’s sometimes their response and feeling to their loved ones that come through when I paint.” 

For Rachel’s portrait, Sue decided to “just go with the flow and see how it developed”. “For instance, as I began the portrait, the background was plain aqua colour but, as I progressed, I knew vibrant colours needed to be there to suggest Rachel,” she says.

“She felt to me to be a buzzy, vital character. The bold, spark-like brushstrokes seem to come of their own accord, creating a dazzled aura and perhaps subconsciously giving a nod to the rainbow we’ve come to symbolise our NHS at this time.”

On receiving her portrait, Rachel sent a message to Sue to say: “This is so lovely! Thank you so much! It’s more than amazing!

“I’m a wife, mum and a nurse. I love Disney and creating a colourful, happy, healthy, fair world. I am passionate about helping people feel comfortable and empowered about their care and love working with patients to help them manage and maintain their overall health and well-being.”

Rachel said she was a firm believer in always having hope: “During these terrifying, unprecedented times, I find hope in the smallest of human gestures, which gives me the strength to keep smiling and caring and sharing positivity.

James and Lily – Sibling Love, by Sue Clayton, from her Downright Marvellous…At Large! series of Down Syndrome portraits

“I believe we will have our Victory over Covid and that our Victory will be beautiful! The NHS is something I cherish, I give my heart and soul to it. As staff we are family and I am extremely proud to be a part of that.”

Although Sue does not envisage meeting Rachel once circumstances allow, she says: “A lovely connection has been made with both her and Greg, Rachel’s husband, via social media. I think the ‘call and response’ nature of the initiative is great.”

NHS Heroes is a term often heard since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, hospital staff putting their life at risk for the good of others, even drawing comparison with the young soldiers sent into the trenches in the First World War. “We as a nation will be forever indebted to our NHS workers,” says Sue.

“I will be forever saddened and shocked that we asked them to go into a situation without adequate protection and that as a result people have died, saving others. How many other professions would find this acceptable, to know this and still go to work potentially risking their lives?”

First York Heroes, now NHS Heroes, what makes a hero for Sue? “Interesting question. I remember when I approached one of the ‘York Heroes’ to ask to create their portrait, they took some persuading.

“They did not consider themselves a hero, although all the nominations that came for them begged to differ!” she says.

Sue Clayton’s home work in lockdown: Painting a Chinese heron/crane on cupboard doors

“One of my final emails to persuade them was to just copy the definition of ‘hero’: ‘a person who is admired for their courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities’.”

Adapting to life in lockdown, Sue is “grateful to be home, safe with my two children, in acknowledgement that many are unable to be so”. “I’m missing my partner terribly as, due to vulnerable health in both our households, we have to be cautious,” she says.

“From an art point of view, the urge to paint left me temporarily, which frightened me. However, home decorating began instead and my creativity was encouraged this way, from ripping up the stairs carpet and painting the stairs in rainbow colours to remember this period, through to painting a cupboard with a Chinese heron/crane.

“There’s no real reason for the choice of a Chinese heron/crane, I just thought it might add interest to the cupboard, and as usual I went off piste and used black Sharpie pen to scribble in blossom…I liked the effect though!

“I’ve been through a real ‘make do and mend’ episode at home, revamping without cost: the fireplace has been made over too, using mountcard off-cuts and shed paint…as you do!”

“I knew straightaway I should send in the image of Andrew, one of the York Heroes,” says Sue, whose portrait of Andrew Fair featured on Grayson’s Art Club.

The NHS portrait project gave Sue the jump start she needed to paint again. “I tend to paint in the early hours now as the house is peaceful and as a mum I’m off duty!” she says.

This week Sue has conducted her first art workshop via the Zoom video app. “It worked OK  thankfully: such a huge relief to know I can deliver art sessions and still have some connection with people. I’ve so missed it,” she says.

“I’ll start two new weekly sessions in June, one purely portraits and the other, Clayton’s Art Club. If it’s good enough for Grayson Perry, it’ll do for me.”

While on the subject of Grayson’s Arts Club, Sue has played her part in Perry’s Monday night series in lockdown on Channel 4.

“My portrait of Sainsbury’s trolley attendant Andrew Fair appeared on the first episode. It was an absolute shock to me, but a bittersweet moment too, as I missed the original showing due to shocking news that a friend was unconscious and on life support fighting Covid,” she says.

“I had been making calls to friends to update them on the sad news and had taken a bath to just ‘be’ and reflect as the news had shocked me so. But my phone kept pinging and a friend phoned to say ‘Sue…I’ve just seen you on TV!’. 

“Grayson’s Art Club will introduce many to creating, both its power and how stimulating it can be,” says Sue Clayton in praise of Grayson Perry’s Channel 4 series

“So, the first time it was aired, I was in the bath, but I’m delighted to say my friend recovered and is now home…so it will always be a poignant moment for me.”

Grayson’s Art Club had asked for submissions of art for the show, accompanied by a video clip “telling him who you were and why you were submitting your painting”. “The first week was ‘portraits’ and I knew straightaway I should send in the image of Andrew, one of the York Heroes,” says Sue.

“As he works at Sainsbury’s, I felt it was an important nod to other key workers during this time but also because I love Andrew; he is such an amazingly, cheerful soul who loves his job. Getting to know him through the project was a happy time. 

“He had just turned 60 and he’s now shielding with his mother and I know he would be so proud to see his portrait on TV. 

“It was one of my most joyful moments painting Andrew. The delight and pride he had at being painted was so touching. He’s a prolific letter writer and has written to The Queen, Prince William and the chief exec of Sainsbury’s, to name but a few, to tell them he was selected as a Hero of York. He’s a very sweet, endearing man.” 

Sue Clayton’s staircase: Painted in lockdown in rainbow colours to show her appreciation of NHS staff and key workers

Sue is delighted by the impact of Grayson’s Art Club. “I think Grayson’s show will introduce many to creating, both its power and how stimulating it can be. It’s also a positive, uplifting show,” she says.

“I’ve loved seeing other artists appear too, both celebrity and world-renowned artists. So great to see Maggi Hambling on there, I love her. The exhibition at the end will be interesting too, a testament to this time…a time capsule, a snapshot of creations.   

“It’s interesting that as more cuts are made to the arts sectors, we are so lost without it. Where would we be now, in this period, without our music, the arts and museums’ online tours, the live theatre show streaming, movies, Netflix?”

Sue’s Downright Marvellous…At Large! exhibition at Pocklington Art Centre had to close early after the Coronavirus shutdown in March. “I was showing 12 new portraits in celebration of Down Syndrome, in part to mark my son James, who has Down Syndrome, turning 18 this year, this Friday in fact,” she says.

“I’m pleased to say that the exhibition will be shown at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford from November, then York Hospital in February 2021.”

David, by Sue Clayton, one of her portraits in the Downright Marvellous…At Large series

Coming next is Sue’s Double Portraits project, placing two contrasting portraits next to each other. “It’s still in its very early stages but the first portrait has begun,” she says.

“They will all be large and at least a metre. I want to challenge the viewer. For example, a large, colourful, brash, full in-your-face portrait of a man with facial paralysis will be shown against a sombre painted, full nude study of a confident man comfortable in his own skin. Do we at first glance acknowledge that they are the same person?

“Or a man in his prime, top of his game, delivering lectures to hundreds, assured, knowledgeable, performing…set against a desperate, sad portrait image of a ‘black treacle’ time – his words – when depression hits him. A monochromatic study, possibly painted in tar.

“As usual, I have nowhere to show these yet, nor thought to try and find funding, but it’s something I need to do. The ignition has been lit!” 

Did you know?

Two more York artists are taking part in the #portraitsfornhsheroes project: Lucie Wake and Karen Winship.

Courtney Marie adds to Pocklington Arts Centre’s raft of rearranged shows

Courtney Marie Andrews: June date at Pocklington Arts Centre put back by a year

AMERICAN country singer Courtney Marie Andrews is moving her June 17 2020 concert at Pocklington Arts Centre to…June 17 2021.

“All customers are being contacted this week to offer them a transfer or refund,” says venue manager James Duffy, whose 30th birthday falls today, by the way.

Courtney’s now postponed date next month with a full band was to have been a showcase for her new album, Old Flowers, originally set for release on June 5 on Loose/Fat Possum Records.

Phoenix-born Courtney, 29, is now rescheduling the album launch too, again in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. “Hello dear ones,” she says on the Loose website. “Unfortunately, I must push back the release to July 24th. In order to protect the safety of its workers, the vinyl manufacturing plant producing my record is temporarily closed for the time being, meaning it won’t be possible to meet the original release date.

“During these strange times, I think it’s important we work together, rather than trudge ahead alone and abandon those who have helped artists along the way. I can’t explain to you how much this record means to me personally, and I am so incredibly excited for it to reach your ears soon. It’s just showing up fashionably late, 2020 style.”

John Smith: November 3 date at Pocklington Arts Centre

Pocklington Arts Centre (PAC) continues to update its list of rescheduled shows for 2020/21, with the prospect of more being added in the coming weeks and months.

Inquisitive folk truth seeker John Smith has switched from May 21 to November 3; American singer-songwriter Jesse Malin, from June 27 to February 2 2021; retro country soul band The Delines, from July 28 to February 23 2021, and BBC Radio 2 and Channel 5 presenter Jeremy Vine will now ask “What the hell is going on?” on February 26 2021, rather than May 1 2020.

Billy Bremner & Me, comedian Phil Differ’s comedy-drama recounting his dream of eclipsing the fiery Leeds United and Scotland captain’s footballing deeds, has moved from June 5 to March 11 2021; Herman’s Hermits will re-emerge on April 22 next spring, and Mock The Week comedian Andy Parsons’ sold-out April 28 gig is re-booked for April 24 2021.

Led as ever by vocalist Maddy Prior, folk favourites Steeleye Span’s 50th anniversary celebrations of debut album Hark The Village Wait will have to wait until its 51st anniversary, their show now moved from May 3 2020 to May 7 2021.

BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winners Catrin Finch, from Wales, and Seckou Keita, from Senegal, will be joined by Canadian multi-instrumental trio Vishten on June 10 next summer, rather than June 13 2020 as first planned.

The Felice Brothers, from the Catskill Mountains, New York State, will be playing almost a year to the day later than their original booking. Ian and James Felice, joined by drummer Will Lawrence and bass Jesske Hume, are in the PAC diary for June 22 2021, replacing June 23 this summer.

Pocklington Arts Centre director Janet Farmer

The spotlight would have been on their 2019 album Undress, as well as their back catalogue from 2006 onwards, but now there should be new material too. .

All existing tickets holders for the rescheduled shows are being contacted by the PAC box office for ticket transfers or refunds.

PAC director Janet Farmer says the public response to the East Yorkshire venue’s prolonged closure, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, has been “wonderful both in terms of financial support and well wishing”.

“To date, we have raised £8,660 from crowdfunding and customer ticket refund donations, a total well beyond our original target,” she reveals.

“We have been working with artists and agents to reschedule the whole of the venue’s spring and summer 20th anniversary season and most, if not all, shows are being transferred to late 2020 and into 2021.”

Shed Seven guitarist Paul Banks and singer Rick Witter: Acoustic headline set at Platform Festival 2020 at The Old Station cancelled. Hopefully they will be Chasing Rainbows next summer instead

July’s Platform Festival, organised by Pocklington Arts Centre, with a line-up including Robert Plant’s Saving Grace, Shed Seven’s Rick Witter & Paul Banks, Richard Thompson and Omid Djalili at The Old Station, has been called off too, Again negotiations are on-going to feature as many of the 2020 artists as possible in the 2021 festival’s run from July 21 to 27. More details will be announced in the coming weeks.

“It was heart-breaking to have to postpone the majority of the venue’s 20th anniversary celebrations but the safety of our audience members, performers, staff, volunteers and wider community has to come first. We intend to turn these events into 21st anniversary celebrations next year,” says Janet.

“During this period, we believe it is critically important that PAC continues to support its staff, artists and creative partners. We are working closely with our peers, across the region and indeed the country, on collaborative projects during the closure and we hope to announce a series of online events very soon.

“While we will be increasing the venue’s online artistic output, we are very aware there is no substitute to watching a live performance and sharing this experience with fellow audience members. We, like all of our customers, look forward to the time when this can resume.”

Pocklington Arts Centre remains in regular contact with Arts Council England, the Music Venues Trust and the Cinema Exhibitors Association. “All have been very supportive with advice and support,” says Janet. “PAC is determined to weather this storm and emerge from this challenge stronger and more vibrant than ever.”

“We are all braving this crazy storm, in different ships, but together,” says Courtney Marie Andrews

The last word, for now, goes to Courtney Marie Andrews: “We are all braving this crazy storm, in different ships, but together,” she says. “I am continuously inspired by everyone coming together, in so many ways, during this unprecedented time.”