Peter Miller’s landscapes, bales and rivers bring a slice of Yorkshire to Partisan café

The White Horse From Fields Near Kilburn, Summer 2020, oil painting by Peter Miller

FOR 40 years, Peter Miller ran Ken Spelman’s Bookshop, on Micklegate, in York.

Now, he is completing a hattrick of exhibitions since the bookseller’s closing chapter, retirement in 2012, on the same side of the cobbled street, at Partisan, Florencia Clifford and Hugo Hildyard’s vibrant artisan café on the same side of the cobbled street.

Filling the café’s upstairs walls with God’s Own Country colour, Peter is exhibiting From Kilburn To Hawnby, his series of landscape oil paintings of North Yorkshire, until November 30.

“This is the third show I’ve had in the last few years, after Ken Spelman’s Bookshop in 2014 and Scampston Hall, near Malton, in 2015,” he says. “As with the first two, the paintings explore landscape, in this case North Yorkshire.

At easel: Peter Miller at work on an oil painting in his studio. Note the angle of his chair

“The first one featured Eskdale to Scarborough; the second one, for Scampston Hall, focused on the Wolds, and what you notice is that Yorkshire is such a big county with these completely different landscapes.

“The pictures are representational and are painted in a modest spirit of connection with place, but as with all painting, colour, tone and composition increasingly have become the real subject of the pictures.”

Miller’s tale behind his latest show begins on the Wolds. “I was approached by Florencia and Hugo to do an exhibition because they’d been out to a mutual friend, Una McCluskey’s house, beyond Kilnwick Percy, with its fantastic view of the Vale of York,” he recalls.

“Some years ago, I did a picture of that view for Una for her kitchen, and when Florencia and Hugo saw it, they said, ‘gosh, who did that?’. I’d known them for a long time, and in fact they approached me before the pandemic, saying they’d love to host an exhibition of my work…but of course it then got put back.”

Boltby Scar, Summer 2020, by Peter Miller

Peter is an enthusiastic walker, blessed with a painter’s appreciation of landscape. “I’d done a lot of walks between Hawnby and Kilburn before the first lockdown, getting out and about, and then, in between lockdowns, I was able to refresh my memory of certain landscape scenes,” he says.

“I then did the paintings in my studio based on studies and photographs: Kilburn to Hawnby is an area I know well because I go up to Shandy Hall in Coxwold, where I’m involved with the Laurence Sterne Trust, and I enjoyed doing the studies in different seasons, such as studies of the White Horse in spring, summer and autumn.

“Put together, the pictures form a tangible evocation of time spent in the wonderfully varied Yorkshire landscape.”

Peter’s love of walking takes him to the Wolds most weeks, packing up a sandwich and stretching the legs over eight to ten miles. “It’s very seldom that we experience weather bad enough to make us abandon the walk; the Yorkshire weather is often better than people imagine, and walking over the landscape is very sustaining,” he says.

Hay Bales II, near Felixkirk, Autumn 2020, by Peter Miller

With that in mind, you might expect Peter to be a plein-air painter, but not so. “There are very strong arguments for plein-air painting, but I prefer to carry the scene in my mind’s eye, have it there and then re-create it, re-living the moment of being there, because it’s not just a picture of being there in the open air: it has veracity in paint and tone, and I find that being at one remove suits me better.

“Whereas with plein-air painting, the light is changing all the time and I would find that very distracting.”

Peter uses watercolours and acrylics for sketching but favours oils for his paintings. “I’ve never really mastered the watercolour technique, which is very difficult,” he says. “I find oil to be the most sympathetic medium because you can move it around on the surface; you can point over it, you can mix in, blend in, the oils, whereas with acrylics, the surface is dry within half an hour.

“I love how, with oils, you can paint in the sky and two days later you can feather it around and change it a bit. That freedom is not something I would want to give up. It’s such a satisfactory feeling working with oils, and then when it’s finished, you apply the varnish that gives it an intensity that rather flatters it.”

In the mix: Peter Miller mid-painting in oils

Born in 1947, Peter grew up in Chiswick. “But when I was a boy, I lived with my grandparents for three years in Blackpool; my grandfather was a commercial artist there but loved the countryside and I used to go on sketching trips with him,” he says.

“I learned the basics of paintings from this lovely old man, and that was my starting point. In fact I did think of going to art school, but I felt it would be limiting my options too much, so instead I studied history as a degree.”

Peter’s grandfather, meanwhile, has his own place in Blackpool’s history. “At the age of 75, he was called out of retirement to repaint the 4,000 square feet of the Tower Ballroom ceiling after the fire of 1955,” he says.

“He had to re-create The Carnival of Venice series of murals, going up 120 ft of scaffolding to start each day’s painting in his mid-70s, with only one helper to mix the colours. The mural now has a preservation order on it.

Hay Bales and Field, near Felixkirk, Autumn 2020

“He was also invited to paint a scene that could be seen behind famous Tower Ballroom organist Reg Dixon as he emerged from below, choosing to paint Isle Of Capri, in honour of Gracie Fields, who sang that sing.”

Peter first came to York in 1965, initially as an undergraduate at the then-new University of York, but like many since, he ended up staying, running Spelman’s, latterly in partnership with Tony Fothergill, until the canvas and cloth called.

“In that time, I’ve always had close links with the Friends of York Art Gallery, helped to set up a modern art gallery in Grape Lane and held regular art exhibitions at the bookshop from the late 1970s,” says Peter.

One such artistic association has come in handy for the latest exhibition. “Many of the frames were given to me by my artist friend John Langton, who’s now in his late-80s and no longer paints,” reveals Peter. “I availed myself of them and then did the paintings to fit the frames! It ended up being the cheapest exhibition I’ve ever done!”

Peter Miller: From Kilburn To Hawnby, Landscape Paintings of North Yorkshire, on show at Partisan, Micklegate, York, until November 30. Opening hours: Monday to Friday, 9am to 3pm; Saturday and Sunday, 9am to 4pm.

The River Rye at Hawnby, Early Autumn 2020, by Peter Miller

Sounds In The Grounds summer concerts confirmed for York Racecourse enclosure

Beyond The Barricade: Les Miserables et al at the Clocktower Enclosure at York Racecourse on June 25

AFTER making its socially distanced debut in North Yorkshire last summer, impresario James Cundall’s Sounds In The Grounds is adding a new location to its picnic-concert portfolio for Summer 2021.

Complying with Covid-19 guidelines, the Clocktower Enclosure of York Racecourse will play host to Beyond The Barricade on June 25, Abba Mania on June 26 and A Country Night In Nashville on June 27.

Welburn producer Cundall says: “Audiences can come together and enjoy three evenings of best-loved and internationally renowned bands from their own designated picnic patch – for  two, four or six people – that will be socially distanced from others but close enough to share the fun.”

The capacity will be capped at 1,400 for the fully staged productions with LED screens on either side of the stage.

“We’re just trying to do some fun events for this summer, and we’re encouraging concert-goers to come in fancy-dress: will it be showbiz sparkle, platforms or cowboy boots?!” says Cundall, who is best known in York for two summers of Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre in a pop-up Elizabethan theatre on the Castle car park in 2018 and 2019.

Beyond The Barricade, now in its 22nd year, features past principals from Boublil and Schonberg’s Les Misérables in the West End and on UK tours performing much-loved songs from the greatest musicals, among them The Phantom Of The Opera, The Lion King, Evita, Miss Saigon, Chicago, Hamilton and Jesus Christ Superstar, topped off by a spectacular finale from Les Misérables.

From London’s West End to Las Vegas, Abba Mania is billed as the world’s number one touring tribute to the ubiquitous super-Swedes, playing more than 30 countries over the past two decades, delighting millions with platforms, flares and all the hits.

A Country Night In Nashville re-creates the energy and atmosphere of a buzzing Honky Tonk in downtown Nashville in a celebration of country music built around songs from its biggest stars both past and present.

Abba Mania: York Racecourse will be the platform for platforms on June 26

Returning by popular demand, York’s very own party starters, the New York Brass Band– a Glastonbury favourite too, by the way – will be the support act to each concert, performing a different repertoire every night, from jazz to Eighties’ pop to current hits.

Cundall has booked them for no fewer than 17 engagements this summer when his picnic-concert programme will return to 2020’s debut double act of Scampston Hall, near Malton, from June 11 to 13 and Ripley Castle, near Harrogate, from August 20 to 22.

In the new line-up of popular acts for these North Yorkshire country-estate venues will be The Definitive Rat Pack, One Night Of Tina and Killer Queen.

The Definitive Rat Pack presents an uncannily accurate recreation of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr in an evening of swing; Tina Turner’s greatest hits are rolled out in a rock’n’rollercoaster ride through four decades, and Killer Queen recall the iconic songs and showmanship of Queen’s shows in the late Freddie Mercury’s 1980s’ pomp.

Sounds In The Grounds concerts are designed to comply with all official guidance on Covid-19, ensuring audiences can enjoy live music outdoors in a safe and responsible way.

The picnic patches will be defined by painted lines in the grass arena within the grounds, with views of the racecourse and grandstands or stately home. They will be set out in alternating rows, with patches for two people, followed by a row of patches for four people, then for six people. The patches have been designed to be one metre apart within each row, with two-metre aisles between the rows.

Looking back on last year’s launch, Cundall says: “What happened was that Sounds In The Grounds came about because we were sitting in the garden, looking out, thinking, ‘surely there must be something we can do to get artists back to work?’.

“We thought, ‘what if we put people in ‘boxes’ for concerts in the open air, with patches of two, four and six?’.

A Country Night In Nashville: Presenting a country night in York on June 27

“After the shows, people came up and said, ‘that’s amazing, not just for Covid-safe conditions but for the future’. The advantage of this [configuration] is that you can book a patch like you book a theatre ticket: you have a guaranteed place.

“Everyone asked us to continue the concept, which we’ve done, and vaccine or no vaccine, the message is that in our 40s upwards, we’re not going to want to be really close up to other people at concerts.

“Our picnic patch concept enables patrons to pre-book their own designated space, thereby eliminating that mad scramble for the best site, which often mars an outdoor concert. Our audiences can turn up when it suits them and know they will have a safe and fun evening.”

Cundall already had settled on returns to Scampston Hall and Ripley Castle for “fun concerts by bands that play music you know, performed by musicians who’ve worked in shows you know in the West End”.

“Then, late in the day, we thought, ‘why don’t we do something at York Racecourse, where we could get 1,400 people in the Clocktower Enclosure?’,” he recalls.

“We’re thrilled to be adding York Racecourse to our list of prestigious venues!  These picnic concerts are a great opportunity to get together and enjoy a fun night of live music in a safe, socially distanced way. From the glorious Broadway classics to Dancing Queen and Dolly Parton, I hope we have something for everyone.”

He is delighted to have signed up the New York Brass Band too. “Without doubt, they are one of York’s best exports and it will be wonderful to get them on stage in their home city,” he says.

“Importantly, it’s an opportunity for both musicians and crew to showcase their talent again after months of inactivity during these difficult times.”

Artist’s impression of the Great Yorkshire Pantomime tented palace for Aladdin that may (or may not) be staged at York Racecourse in the winter

Cundall recalls the finale to last September’s last Sounds In The Grounds concert. “There was a feeling of ‘when will we see each other again’, so what’s key for us with the new season of shows is we’re trying to re-connect artists and audiences.”

York Racecourse may play host to another James Cundall entertainment enterprise in the winter ahead: the Great Yorkshire Pantomime production of Aladdin in a big top.

Produced by Cundall and directed by Chris Moreno, writer-director of the Three Bears Productions pantos at the Grand Opera House in York, the “tentomime” was first mooted for last Christmas, then confirmed for an Easter run from today (19/3/2021) to April 11 before killjoy Covid forced a postponement decision on January 18.

Billed as “a dream come true”, Aladdin would have played in a luxurious heated tented palace to an audience capacity of 976 in tiered, cushioned seating.

The 36 performances would have been socially distanced and compliant with Covid-19 guidance, presented by a cast of 21, including nine principals, and a band on a 50-metre stage with a Far East palace façade, projected scenery and magical special effects.

Will the show go ahead this Christmas? “We’re waiting to see what the Government will do on Covid measures before deciding on what we’ll do with the pantomime,” says Cundall. Watch this space.

Tickets for all Sounds In The Grounds concerts are on sale at soundsinthegrounds.seetickets.com with prices starting at £59 (plus booking fees) for a standard picnic patch for two people. All Covid-19 guidance from the Government is continuously monitored and followed.

Concert times at Clocktower Enclosure, York Racecourse:

June 25

Gates open at 4.30pm; New York Brass Band, 6pm; Beyond The Barricade, 7.30pm, concert finishes at 10pm.

June 26

Gates open at 4.30pm; New York Brass Band, 6pm; Abba Mania, 7.30pm; finale, 10pm.

June 27

Gates open at 3.30pm; New York Brass Band, 5pm; A Country Night In Nashville, 6.30pm; finale, 9pm.

Sounds In The Grounds to do the rounds at Scampston Hall and Ripley Castle concerts

What a blast: New York Brass Band players make sounds in the grounds of Scampston Hall. Picture: Charlotte Graham

NORTH Yorkshire stately homes Scampston Hall and Ripley Castle are to play host to Sounds In The Grounds, each presenting four nights of live music in the open air.

In a new venture from Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre founder James Cundall MBE, he will stage Covid-secure shows by The Bootleg Beatles, Abba Mania, Beyond The Barricade and A Country Night In Nashville.

The New York Brass Band, from old York, will be the support act every night in these fully staged productions with LED screens beside the stage.

On reflection: New York Brass Band members and A Country Night In Nashville performers at Scampston Hall

In compliance with Covid-19 safety guidelines, audience members can watch the concerts from a designated picnic patch for two, four or six people. These socially distanced patches will be defined by painted lines at each 1,888-capacity grass arena within the grounds of Scampston Hall, near Malton, and Ripley Castle, near Harrogate.

“Sounds In The Grounds offers the opportunity to get together and enjoy a fun night of live music in a stunning setting in a socially distanced way,” says organiser James Cundall. “Whether you prefer the Swinging ’60s or showstoppers, platforms or cowboy boots, I hope we have something for everyone.

“Importantly, it’s an opportunity for musicians and technicians to showcase their talent again after weeks of inactivity during lockdown.”

When A Country Night In Nashville meets the New York Brass Band in the grounds of a North Yorkshire stately home. Picture: Charlotte Graham

Visitors should provide their own chairs and can bring a picnic, although tables should  be left at home. Food and drink stalls will also be on site too.

Beyond The Barricades, featuring past principals from Les Miserables, will celebrate the world’s greatest West End and Broadway musicals at Scampston Hall on August 28 and Ripley Castle on September 4. The guest star will be Australian baritone Lockie Chapman, founding member and former lead singer of The Overtones.

Abba Mania will pay tribute to the super-Swedes at Scampston on August 29 and Ripley on September 5; The Bootleg Beatles will travel through the Fab Four’s back catalogue at Scampston on August 30; Ripley, on September 2; A Country Night In Nashville will evoke the energy and buzzing atmosphere of a Honky Tonk in downtown Nashville, while journeying through the history of country music at Scampston on August 31 and Ripley on September 6.

Let out on bale: New York Brass Band and A Country In Nashville musicians at Scampston Hall. Picture: Charlotte Graham

Tickets are on sale at soundsinthegrounds.seetickets.com/content/ticket-options. If you have any ticketing queries, email soundsinthegrounds@seetickets.com or contact the organisers directly on 07927 291267.

Organiser James Cundall’s separate enterprise, Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, mounted Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre in a pop-up Elizabethan theatre at the Castle car park in York in Summer 2018 and 2019 (also at Blenheim Palace, near Oxford, that second year), but Lunchbox hit the financial rocks of liquidation in October 2019.

Welburn impresario Mr Cundall also runs Thor’s winter and summer bars in York and Yorkshire’s Winter Wonderland at York Designer Outlet.  

Fab Four, outdoor: The Bootleg Beatles to play Sounds In The Grounds