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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Things To Do in and around York and at home, as opposed to a “social gathering” for the joy of six. List No 14, from The Press

Helen Wilson in a damned spot of Scottish bother in York Shakespeare Project’s Sit-down Sonnets at Holy Trinity churchyard, Goodramgate, York. Picture: John Saunders

MUSICAL theatre in a park, drag cabaret at a sports club, Shakespeare sonnets and songs in churchyards, high-speed film action at an airfield and chamber music online catch Charles Hutchinson’s eye

Graveyard smash of the week: York Shakespeare Project’s Sit-down Sonnets, Holy Trinity churchyard, Goodramgate, York, until Saturday

WHEN York Shakespeare Project’s Macbeth bit the dust in March, put on hold by the Covid lockdown, York’s purveyors of Shakespeare’s Sonnet Walks decided to stage a sit-down, but not as an act of protest.

Director Mick Taylor and producer Maurice Crichton hatched a plan to present assorted familiar Shakespeare characters, brought into the modern world, to reflect on the pandemic with an accompanying sonnet.

Holy Trinity’s churchyard, with its five park benches, tree shelter and mown grass, provides an ideal socially distanced open-air setting. Bring a rug, cushion, camp chair, flask and biscuits, suggests Maurice, to performances at 5.45pm and 7pm, plus 4.15pm on Saturday.

Polly Bolton: Sharing a double bill with Henry Parker in the NCEM churchyard

Double bills in another churchyard: Songs Under Skies, National Centre for Early Music, St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, York, tonight, September 16 and 17

SONGS Under Skies brings together the National Centre for Early Music, The Crescent, The Fulford Arms and the Music Venues Alliance for an open-air series of acoustic concerts.

The opening night with Amy May Ellis and Luke Saxton on September 2 was driven inside by the rain. Fingers crossed for more clement conditions for Wolf Solent and Rosalind tonight, Polly Bolton and Henry Parker on September 16 and Elkyn and Fawn the following night.

Gates will open at 6.30pm for each 7pm start; acts will perform either side of a 30-minute interval with a finishing time of 8.30pm. 

The Bev Jones Music Company in a socially distanced rehearsal for Sunday’s show at the Rowntree Park Amphitheatre

Musical theatre showcase part one: Bev Jones Music Company, Strictly Live In The Park, Rowntree Park Amphitheatre, York, Sunday, 3pm.

THE Bev Jones Music Company stage a full-sized musical theatre concert with more than 20 socially distanced singers and a five-piece band on Sunday afternoon.

Strictly Live In The Park promises a “spectacular show for all the family, with popular show music, pop music, dance and comedy”, under the musical direction of John Atkin with choreography by Claire Pulpher.

Expect numbers from Adele to Robbie Williams, Cabaret to Hairspray, Mack & Mabel to South Pacific, The Full Monty to Chess, Miss Saigon to the finale, Les Miserables, all arranged by the late company driving force Bev Jones. Also expect temperature tests on arrival.

Conor Mellor in York Stage Musicals’ first show at the Rowntree Park Amphitheatre, York. He will be back for the second one too. Picture: Jess Main

Musical theatre showcase part two: York Stage Musicals present Jukebox Divas, Rowntree Park Amphitheatre, York, September 18 to 20, 7pm

AFTER the sold-out three-night run of York Stage Musicals’ first ever outdoor show last month, producer/director Nik Briggs and musical director Jessica Douglas return to their Rowntree Park psychedelic igloo to stage Jukebox Divas.

Jessica’s band line-up has changed, so too has the singing sextet, with Conor Mellor from the debut show being joined by Dan Conway, Sophie Hammond, Grace Lancaster and Eleanor Leaper.

“With music from We Will Rock You, Mamma Mia! and more modern releases like + Juliet and Moulin Rouge, audiences will be entertained for 90 minutes with vocal tributes to artists such as Elvis Presley, Queen, Meat Loaf, Katy Perry, Carole King and many more,” says Nik.

Baby Driver: one of the films with high-speed thrills to be screened at AA Getaway Drive-in Cinema at Elvington Airfield

Car experience of next week: AA Getaway Drive-in Cinema, Elvington Airfield, near York, September 18 to 20

AFTER Daisy Duke’s Drive-in Cinema on Knavesmire, now comes a celebration of high-speed thrills and derring-do skills at Elvington Airfield…on screen, courtesy of AA Getaway Drive-in Cinema.

Tickets have sold out already for the September 19 screenings of James Gunn’s 2014 space chase, Guardians Of The Galaxy (12A), at 2.30pm and James Mangold’s 2019 Ford v Ferrari race-track clash, Le Mans 66 (12), at 7.30pm.

Bookings can still be made, however, for Guardians Of The Galaxy on September 18 at 2.30pm and September 20 at 7.30pm and Edgar Wright’s 2017 getaway-car heist thriller, Baby Driver (15), September 18, 7.30pm, and September 20, 2.30pm.

No more kitchen-sink dramas for Velma Celli as York’s drag diva deluxe swaps live-streaming for the great outdoors in Acomb tomorrow

Stepping out of her Bishopthorpe kitchen into the York open air: Velma Celli: An Evening Of Song, York RI Community Sports Club, New Lane, Acomb, tomorrow, 8pm.

AFTER a spring and summer of concerts live-streamed from home, York drag diva Velma Celli takes to the outdoor stage at a sports club.

“The show will be a mixed bag of whatever I fancy on the day – pop, rock, impressions and some musical theatre obviously – and of course requests online. Message me on Facebook,” advises Velma.

Very special guests are promised: definitely York soul powerhouse Jessica Steel will be among them.

Tim Lowe: York Chamber Music Festival artistic director and cellist

Festival of the month: York Chamber Music Festival, September 18 to 20

THE 2020 York Chamber Music Festival is going online to live-stream three concerts from the National Centre for Early Music, Walmgate, York, in a celebration of the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth.

Festival artistic director and cellist Lowe will be performing with Simon Blendis and Charlotte Scott, violins; Matthew Jones, violin and viola; Jon Thorne, viola, and Katya Apekisheva, piano. For full details on the programme and on how to watch the concerts, go to ycmf.co.uk.

Strictly between us: Anton du Beke and Giovanni Pernice’s tour poster for Him & Me next summer at the Grand Opera House, York

One for the 2021 diary: Anton & Giovanni, Him & Me, Grand Opera House, York, July 12

STRICTLY Come Dancing staples Anton du Beke and Giovanni Pernice will link up for their debut tour together, Him & Me, next year.

Details are sketchy, but the dapper Sevenoaks ballroom king and the Italian stallion say: “This show promises to be the best night out in the Summer of 2021 for all ages…A true dance extravaganza!”

Anton and Giovanni will be joined by a “world-class cast” of dancers and singers for a show produced by Strictly Theatre Co and directed by Alan Burkitt.

And what about…?

A visit to the reopened Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre exhibition in Blossom Street, York. Malton Harvest Food Festival on Saturday. New Light Prize Exhibition, with more than 100 artists, opening at Scarborough Art Gallery on September 19. York Walking Festival, running or, rather, walking until Sunday (details at iTravel York website).

Jon, by Laura Quin Harris, at the New Light Prize Exhibition at Scarborough Art Gallery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Things To Do in York and beyond or at home, in or hopefully out of the rain, courtesy of The Press, York. List No. 13

Benched: Lisa Howard as grief-stricken Cathy, coming out of isolation on Easter Sunday 2020 in Matt Aston’s lockdown play, Every Time A Bell Rings, presented by Park Bench Theatre. Picture: Northedge Photography

A BANK Holiday on Monday, the return to schools drawing ever closer, masked or unmasked, the summer calendar is speeding by.

Make the most of the outdoors before the crepuscular Covid uncertainty of autumn and beyond arrives for theatres, concert halls and gig venues alike.

Charles Hutchinson pops outside, then quickly head back indoors in the rain with these recommendations.

Comedy for your living room…from theirs: Your Place Comedy presents Paul Sinha and Angela Barnes, Sunday, 8pm

Paul Sinha and Angela Barnes: The stream team for Your Place Comedy, performing in their living rooms on Sunday night

YORKSHIRE virtual comedy project Your Place Comedy returns after a summer break to deliver a second series of live streamed shows over the next three months, re-starting with The Chase star Paul Sinha and  BBC Radio 4 News Quiz guest host Angela Barnes this weekend.

Corralled by Selby Town Council arts officer Chris Jones, ten small, independent theatres and arts centres from God’s Own Country and the Humber are coming together again, amid continued unease for the industry, to provide entertainment from national touring acts.

Sunday’s show will be broadcast live to viewers’ homes for free, with full details on how to watch on YouTube and Twitch at yourplacecomedy.co.uk. “As before, viewers will have an option to make a donation to the venues if they have enjoyed the broadcast,” says Chris.

Mucking around: Cassie Vallance enjoying herself in Teddy Bears’ Picnic in the Friends’ Garden, Rowntree Park,
York. Picture: Northedge Photography

Garden theatre part three: Park Bench Theatre in Every Time A Bell Rings, Friends Garden, Rowntree Park, York, until September 5

SAMUEL Beckett’s First Love has left the bench for good. Children’s show Teddy Bears’ Picnic, starring Cassie Vallance, resumes daytime residence from today.  From this week, the premiere of Engine House Theatre artistic director Matt Aston’s lockdown monologue Every Time A Bell Rings occupies the same bench on evenings until September 5.

Performed by Slung Low and Northern Broadsides regular Lisa Howard and directed by Tom Bellerby on his return to York from London, Aston’s 50-minute play is set in Lockdown on Easter Sunday 2020, when isolated, grief-stricken Cathy searches for solace on her favourite park bench in her favourite park in this funny and poignant look at how the world is changing through these extraordinary times.

Tickets for performances in the Covid-secure Friends Garden must be bought in advance at parkbenchtheatre.com or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk. Bring picnics, blankets and headphones to tune in to shows delivered on receivers. 

Decked out: Hannah Sibai’s design for the Pop-Up On The Patio festival at York Theatre Royal

Deckchairs will be provided: Pop-Up On The Patio, week three at York Theatre Royal, August 28 and  29

YORK Theatre Royal’s Covid-secure summer festival of outdoor performances on Hannah Sibai’s terrace stage climaxes with five more shows, three tomorrow, two on Saturday.

First up, tomorrow at 4pm, is York company Cosmic Collective Theatre’s cult show Heaven’s Gate, an intergalactic pitch-black comedy starring  satirical writer Joe Feeney, Anna Soden, Lewes Roberts and Kate Cresswell as they imagine the final hour of four fictionalised members of a real-life UFO-theistic group.

York performance poet Henry Raby puts the word into sword to slice up the past decade in Apps & Austerity at 6.30pm; Say Owt, the York outlet for slam poets, word-weavers and “gobheads”, follows at 8pm. On Saturday, York magician, juggler and children’s entertainer Josh Benson is unstoppable in Just Josh at 1pm before York pop, soul and blues singer Jess Gardham closes up the patio at 4pm.

Jo Walton: Rust on show at Pyramid Gallery

York exhibition of the week and beyond: Jo Walton, Paintings and Rust Prints, Pyramid Gallery, Stonegate, York, until September 30

YORK artist Jo Walton uses rust and rusted metal sheet in innovative ways to create her artworks. Iron filings are applied as ‘paint’ and as they rust, reactions occur, resulting in every painting being unique and unrepeatable.

“Jo’s work is abstract, inspired by horizons,” says Pyramid Gallery owner Terry Brett. “Her work features enhanced rust-prints on plaster surfaces, combinations of rusted sheet metal with oil painting and painting seascapes on gold-metal leaf.”

The poster for Christopher Nolan’s Tenet

First blockbuster of the summer…at last: Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, at York cinemas

THE wait is over. This summer has been more blankbuster than blockbuster, thanks to the stultifying impact of the Covid lockdown and the big film companies’ reluctance to take a chance on a major release in the slow-burn, socially distanced reopening of cinemas.

Step forward Christopher Nolan, director of Memento, Inception, three Dark Knight/Batman movies and Dunkirk to grasp the nettle by releasing the 151-minute psychological thriller/action movie Tenet.

John David Washington (yes, Denzel’s son), Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Dimple Kapadia, Michael Caine and Kenneth Branagh ride a rollercoaster plot that follows a secret agent who must manipulate time in order to prevent the Third World War. Apparently, Tenet is a “film to feel, not necessarily understand”, like a Scarborough fairground ride, then.

Bella Gaffney expresses her enthusiasm for taking part in Songs Under Skies in the National Centre for Early Music churchyard garden

Double bills galore outside a church: Songs Under Skies, National Centre for Early Music, St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, York, between September 2 and 17

SONGS Under Skies will bring together the National Centre for Early Music, The Crescent, The Fulford Arms and the Music Venues Alliance for an open-air series of acoustic concerts next month in York.

Dates for the diary are: September 2, Amy May Ellis and Luke Saxton; September 3, Dan Webster and Bella Gaffney; September 9,  Kitty VR and Boss Caine; September 10, Wolf Solent and Rosalind; September 16, Polly Bolton and Henry Parker; September 17, Elkyn and Fawn.

Gates will open at the NCEM’s Walmgate home, St Margaret’s Church, at 6.30pm for each 7pm start; acts will perform either side of a 30-minute interval with a finishing time of 8.30pm. 

The artwork for the new album by perennial York Barbican favourites The Waterboys

And what about…

Discovering The Waterboys’ new album, Good Luck, Seeker, Mike Scott’s latest soulful blast, met with universal thumbs-up reviews. Or bunking down with 1981 Ashes-winning captain turned psychoanalyst Mike Brearley’s new book for the end of summer, Spirit Of Cricket.