REVIEW: Songs Under Skies, Joshua Burnell and Katie Spencer, NCEM, York 14/6/2021

Joshua Burnell and Katie Spencer at the National Centre for Early Music, York, at Monday’s Songs Under Skies double bill

REVIEW: Songs Under Skies, Joshua Burnell and Katie Spencer, National Centre for Early Music, St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, York

EAST Yorkshire singer-songwriter Katie Spencer, like so many musicians divorced by lockdown restrictions from their livelihood of live shows, had taken to streaming gigs to the alienating sound of silence.

No wonder she smiled at the welcoming sound of applause, as reviving as hearing birdsong after being stuck indoors. “It’s lovely to be sharing live music for the first time in a long time,” she said at the 7pm outset of week two of Songs Under Skies, the acoustic outdoor festival run by the NCEM, Fulford Arms, The Crescent and Music Venues Alliance.

All those mid-pandemic night streams, and her guitar never misbehaved. First live show back, and a string snapped, whereupon Katie administered a string re-fit at a speed to impress Formula One wheel-changers. Joshua Burnell would later refer to her handiwork as “the fastest in the history of music”.

“It’s wild to be playing music in front of live people instead of my plants and bookcase,” said Katie Spencer

That said, Katie’s primary handiwork is her acoustic guitar-playing, a gentle caress to lyrics that have the scent, sentience and scene-painting of poetry, sung in a voice that lingered in Monday’s NCEM churchyard air.

Raised by the seaside near Hull, she sang of how the water shapes both the land and the people who live there in her best number, Edge Of The Land. Weatherbeaten and Shannon Road were similarly affecting in a re-introductory set best summed up by her sentiment: “It’s wild to be playing music in front of live people instead of my plants and bookcase.”

Katie will be doing so again in support of Martin Simpson at Primrose Woods, Pocklington, on July 1 and at The Magpies Festival at Sutton Park, Sutton-on-the-Forest on August 14. Hopefully, that guitar will be on best behaviour.

Half an hour would pass for an audience as socially distanced as the churchyard graves before prog-folk songwriter Joshua Burnell took to the blue awning stage with keyboard player Oliver Whitehouse.

Not even a sound alarm could put Joshua Burnell off his stride on his return to the concert stage.

Burnell is a multi-instrumentalist on his recordings, but here he focused on acoustic guitar, adapting to the night temperature that demanded constant re-tuning, a routine that afforded him the time to talk between songs, although not to the length that had prompted a BBC Radio York presenter to advise him he should hand out a pamphlet the next time he introduced new single Shelagh’s Song in concert.

No such pamphlet was forthcoming or necessary. Joshua is an engaging storyteller as much as an eloquent songwriter equally capable of evoking Tolkien, folk forefathers, Al Stewart, Peter Gabriel-era Genesis and even Marc Bolan’s puckish dictionary.

He name-checked Ian McKellen for the opening Labels, recalling how the thespian knight had pondered “Why do we need to put labels on love?”. “Do you know what, Sir Ian, you’re right,” he said. “So throw your labels away, ‘Cause love has no use for them,” Joshua duly affirmed, almost enough to make any reviewer desist from further labelling on this occasion.

Joshua is as good at excavation as at conjuring new material, typified by an obscure but wonderful cover version, Eli Geva, Norwegian songwriter’s anguished Siege of Beirut ballad from an album of 12 banned songs from around the world.

The artwork for Joshua Burnell’s single Shelagh’s Song

Next came the aforementioned Shelagh’s Song, his account of how early-Seventies Edinburgh folk singer Shelagh McDonald vanished for 30 years after a particularly bad LSD trip. The re-surfaced Shelagh so loved the song she has sent Joshua a parcel with a letter, artwork and some lyrics she never published. Actions can speak so much louder than labels!

Joshua had just adjusted his guitar tuning again in the night cold when a new interruption tapped him on the shoulder: a sound alarm going off in the neighbouring bustle of Walmgate. One look from Joshua, and it was gone, as if ashamed at having held up “a bit of an anthem for positivity and things to come”: Golden Days, written in lockdown as the good weather rolled in and the vaccine programme was rolled out.

Not even the Prime Minister’s 6pm postponement of Freedom Day could deflate Joshua. “I still feel optimistic that we’re in a better place than we were a year ago,” he asserted.

If one lyric encapsulates retro-futurist Burnell in 2021, it would be: “Did I go through the wardrobe door because it’s been winter here for much too long”. Indeed it has, and as Songs Under Skies nudged and hushed it out the back door, he ended with Lucy, his variation on a “Ziggy Stardust character song”. Closer to Bolan than Bowie, if a label must be applied, but Lucy under darkening skies was a diamond finale.

Review by Charles Hutchinson

Joshua Burnell and the mystery of the vanishing folk singer Shelagh McDonald

Joshua Burnell: Solving a mystery in song . Picture: Stewart Baxter

THE mystery of a Seventies folk singer who “vanished off the face of the earth”  for more than 30 years is the inspiration for the new single by York musician Joshua Burnell.

The genre-hopping singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist – and teacher to boot – became intrigued by the story of Scottish singer-songwriter Shelagh McDonald, who numbered Sandy Denny and Nick Drake among her friends and peers.

“I wonder where she goes; she never says, you see/Rarer than a fallen star, stronger than gravity/She says, ‘thank you all but I’ll be on my way’,” sings Joshua on Shelagh’s Song, surely sure to be aired this evening in his acoustic set, supported by East Yorkshire singer-songwriter Katie Spencer in the Songs Under Skies double bill in the National Centre for Early Music churchyard gardens at St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, York.

Recorded on guitar, keys and percussion by Burnell at home during lockdown, the song was mixed by Burnell and Edward Simpson at Moon Glue Studios for initial release on Spotify and other streaming platforms from May 21.

It will now form part of an EP, joined by Chase The Storm and The Den on Storm Cogs, available from July 9, the day when the Joshua Burnell Band is booked to play Ely Folk Festival’s main stage in Cambridgeshire.

The artwork for Joshua Burnell’s single, Shelagh’s Song

Edinburgh-born Shelagh had found folk-rock stardom in 1970 but disappeared abruptly and mysteriously in 1971 after a bad LSD trip…for three decades, presumed dead.

In reality, she was living a low-profile, nomadic existence, only breaking her silence in November 2005 when she contacted the Scottish Daily Mail to tell the story of her “missing years” under the headline “Back from the wilderness”.

Burnell, winner of the Rising Star accolade in the 2020 Folking Awards, stumbled across Shelagh’s music on a trip to the Bronte heartland of Haworth, West Yorkshire. In an old record shop, he made some folk album purchases and noted down the titles of a few others out of financial reach.

Among those was McDonald’s second album, 1971’s Stargazer, priced at £80. Once back home, Burnell scoured the internet for a copy and found only one, available at…300 dollars! 

“I listened to some of the tracks on YouTube and it was beautiful,” says Joshua. “I’d made a terrible mistake and knew I had to drop all plans and get the bus to the shop the next day to buy the record.

Folk singer Shelagh McDonald, before she “vanished” for three decades in 1971

“For a brief and surreal moment, I found myself standing outside the home of the Brontes, holding a rare relic of the legendary singer. It felt like I was on the trail of some kind of secret folky cult!”

Burnell listened to the recording while unwell. “Even without feverish dreams, it’s a very trippy album, so I felt like I’d been transported back to the hazy days of the late ’60s and early ’70s. It’s a deeply enchanting album; one of my favourites of all time.”

McDonald’s rendition of the Scottish border ballad Dowie Dens Of Yarrow particularly caught Burnell’s attention, so much so that he ended up doing a cover on his Songs From The Seasonsalbum in 2018 as a tribute.

In a 2013 interview in the Guardian, McDonald explained her disappearance: “It wasn’t my intention to walk out of my own life and vanish, especially when things were going so well. 

“I was an ambitious 24-year-old folk singer and had just started work on my third album. The second had been a critical success and had really started to get me noticed. But a bad trip was the catalyst for unexpected change. From my perspective, I was never really lost: I was just living a very different kind of life.”

“After all the music and inspiration Shelagh has given us, I thought she deserved a song of her own,” says Joshua

Leaving London and recuperating back in Scotland, McDonald had encountered a bookshop owner and, as recession hit, they decided to “jack it all in and live in a tent”.

They ended up carrying everything they owned on their backs, setting up camp in woods, making money by selling drawings or academic essays. “Some days it got so cold I genuinely thought we were going to die,” McDonald recalled.

They moved between flats and homeless shelters and then, one day, they saw a newspaper story. “What I saw stunned me:  a photo of myself in my 20s. The article talked about how I had disappeared, and no-one knew if I was dead or alive. My records were being re-released; it felt like reading my own obit.” 

The box set No Man Steal Your Thyme emerged on Sanctuary Records in 2005, and then, more than 40 years after her second album, McDonald made her third,  Parnassus Revisited, in 2013.

She started to rekindle her career with tentative performing too. Out of the blue, in 2017, Burnell discovered McDonald would be playing in a little room at the Dumfries Theatre Royal. “I watched in awe as this small, humble lady proceeded to blow us away with remarkable finger-picking and a voice just as strong and hauntingly beautiful as the one which had cut the grooves of my dusty vinyl record from 1971,” he says.

Joshua Burnell meeting Shelagh McDonald and musician Nigel H Seymour in 2018, when he gave her a copy of his Songs From The Seasons album

At a second concert in 2018, he was able to meet her and hand her a copy of Songs From The Seasons, Dowie Dens Of Yarrow cover et al. “She may be a legend but she’s also a very down-to-earth person,” says Joshua.

Consequently, after his chance discovery of her music and of McDonald herself, he was inspired to write a song in her name. “After all the music and inspiration Shelagh has given us, I thought she deserved a song of her own.

“I’ve written Shelagh’s Song in the same style as some of her own songs on Stargazer, which were about the lives of musicians she knew who had taken off on their own travels, such as Rod’s Song and Liz’s Song.”

The evocative, retro-sounding Shelagh’s Song encapsulates her life in savvy lyrics and an upbeat, optimistic tune, topped off by cows mooing at the finale to underline its quirkiness.

“The cows are there on purpose,” says Joshua. “When Shelagh picked up a guitar after 30 years, she played to fields of cows as a tester audience. If they stayed, she figured it was a good song; if they wandered off, she did some more practice. She might have been on to something we are all missing!”

Joshua Burnell at work on his new EP, Storm Cogs. Picture: Stewart Baxter

For Burnell’s full, intriguing tale of how Shelagh’s Song came to be, go to his Instagram channel at: Instagram.com/joshuaburnellmusic/

After tracking down McDonald, now 73, to send her the single, he was delighted when she wrote to say it was “sheer perfection”. Her letter concluded: “No artist could ask for a better tribute from a fellow artist such as this gem of a song”.

Look out for a video of Shelagh’s Song, filmed by Hinterland Creative at Young Thugs Studios, York, at youtube.com/watch?v=hUOcKc-RYIM. Meanwhile, Burnell’s lyrics can be read at joshuaburnell.co.uk/music and the Storm Cogs EP can be pre-ordered at joshuaburnell.bandcamp.com/albums/storm-cogs-ep.

Tonight, gates open at 6.30pm at the socially distanced, Covid-secure NCEM gardens for Katie Spencer at 7pm, followed by Burnell’s 8pm set on guitar, accompanied by Oliver Whitehouse on keyboards. And, yes, he has just tweeted to confirm he will be performing Shelagh’s Song. The last few tickets in pods are available at ncem.co.uk.

To hear Rod’s Song from Shelagh McDonald’s Stargazer, go to: youtube.com/watch?v=cFrD2tVikTo.

More Things To Do in York and beyond that Euro football tournament. It’s all kicking off in List No. 36, courtesy of The Press, York

What’s the pecking order here? Twirlywoos Live! at York Theatre Royal

EUROS 2020? What Euro 2020? The sun is out and so is Charles Hutchinson’s diary as he points you in the direction of curious CBeebies favourites, acoustic concerts, a dockyard Romeo & Juliet, a large painting, Clough v Leeds United and more ideas aplenty. 

Children’s show of the week: Twirlywoos Live!, York Theatre Royal, tomorrow at 1.30pm and 4pm; Saturday, Sunday, 10am and 2pm

TOODLOO, Great BigHoo, Chick and Peekaboo set sail for York on board their Big Red Boat for their Theatre Royal theatrical adventure Twirlywoos Live!.

Curious, inquisitive and eager to learn about the world, these small, bird-like characters from the CBeebies television factory will be brought to life with inventive puppetry, mischief, music and plenty of surprises.

Written by Zoe Bourn, the 55-minute show is recommended for ages 1+; babes in arms are welcome too. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Joshua Burnell: York prog-folk musician will perform in a Songs Under Skies double bill on June 14. Picture: Elly Lucas

Outdoor gigs of the week ahead: Songs Under Skies 2, National Centre for Early Music churchyard, York June 14 to 16

SONGS Under Skies returns to the NCEM’s glorious gardens at St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, York, for acoustic double bills by Katie Spencer and Joshua Burnell on June 14, Zak Ford and Alice Simmons, June 15, and Epilogues and Sunflower Thieves, June 16.

As with last September’s debut series, season two of the open-air, Covid-safe concerts is presented by the NCEM in tandem with The Crescent community venue, the Fulford Arms and the Music Venues Alliance.

Gates open at 6.30pm for each 7pm to 8.30pm concert with a 30-minute interval between sets. Tickets must be bought in advance, either in “pods” for family groups or as individuals at tickets.ncem.co.uk.

Art at large: Subterranea Nostalgia, by Corrina Rothwell

Biggest painting of the week award: Corrina Rothwell’s Subterranea Nostalgia, in The Cacophany Of Ages at Pyramid Gallery, York, until July 1

CORRINA Rothwell’s exhibition of abstract works features the largest canvas painting in the near-30 years that Terry Brett has run Pyramid Gallery in York.

“Subterranea Nostalgia measures 1600mm by 1600mm. That was fun, getting it upstairs!” says Terry, whose gallery is housed in a National Trust-owned 15th century building in Stonegate. “The painting has a real impact. If you know anyone with really big walls, it would be perfect for them!”

Nottingham artist Corrina favours mixed media and acrylic on canvas for the paintings, on show at Pyramid and online at pyramidgallery.com.

Not having a ball: Luke Dickson’s Brian Clough goes to hell and back in his 44 days in charge of Leeds United in Red Ladder Theatre Company’s The Damned United

Football, football, football, not on the box but in a theatre: Red Ladder Theatre Company in The Damned United, York Theatre Royal, June 16

THE choice is yours: Italy versus Switzerland at the Euro 2020 on ITV at 8pm or the inner workings of Brian Clough’s troubled mind at Elland Road in 1974 at York Theatre Royal, kick-off 7.30pm.

Adapted from Yorkshireman David Peace’s biographical novel by Anders Lustgarten, The Damned United is a psychodrama that deconstructs Old Big ‘Ead’s 44 days as manager of Leeds United, whose Don Revie-tutored players he despised as much as they loathed him.

The double act of Luke Dickson’s flawed Clough and David Chafer’s avuncular Peter Taylor are joined by Jamie Smelt as everyone else in a story of sweat and booze, fury and power struggles, demons and defeats.

That’s a good idea…

Festival of the month: York Festival of Ideas 2021, running until June 20

THIS year marks the tenth anniversary of York’s bright idea of a festival dedicated to educating, entertaining and inspiring.

Under the banner of Infinite Horizons to reflect the need to adapt to pandemic, the Festival of Ideas is presenting a diverse programme of more than 150 free online and in-person events.

The best idea, when needing more info on the world-class speakers, performances, family activities and walking trails, is to head to yorkfestivalofideas.com/2021/.

You kiss by the dock: Husband and wife Jordan Metcalfe and Laura Elsworthy as Romeo and Juliet in Hull Truck Theatre’s Romeo & Juliet at Hull’s former dry dock

Outdoor play outside York announcement of the month: Hull Truck Theatre in Romeo & Juliet, Stage@The Dock, Hull, July 15 to August 7

AFTER John Godber Company’s Moby Dick completes its run at the converted Hull dry dockyard this Saturday, next comes Hull Truck Theatre’s al-fresco staging of Shakespeare’s tragic love story.

The title roles in Romeo & Juliet will be played by Hull-born husband and wife Jordan Metcalfe and Laura Elsworthy, who appeared in The Hypocrite and The Last Testament Of Lillian Bilocca in 2017 as part of Hull’s year as UK City of Culture celebrations.

Metcalfe and Elsworthy, who married in the summer of 2018 after bonding when working on The Hypocrite, will play a stage couple for the first time, performing on a traverse stage to emphasise Verona’s divided society. Box office: hulltruck.co.uk.

Hitting the Heights: Lucy McCormick’s wild-haired Cathy in the Wise Children poster for Emma Rice’s adaptation of Wuthering Heights, bound for York Theatre Royal

Looking ahead to the autumn: Wise Children in Emma Rice’s Wuthering Heights, York Theatre Royal, November 8 to 20

EMMA Rice’s Wise Children company is teaming up with the National Theatre, York Theatre Royal and the Bristol Old Vic for her elemental stage adaptation of Emily Bronte’s Yorkshire moorland story of love, vengeance and redemption.

In an intoxicating revenge tragedy for our time shot through with music, dance, passion and hope, Rice’s company of performers and musicians will be led by Lucy McCormick’s Cathy.

“Emboldened and humbled by the enforced break, I feel truly lucky,” says Rice. “I cannot wait to get back to doing what I love most and to share this thrilling and important piece with the world. It’s time.”

An Evening With Julian Norton, vet, author and now show host, is booked in for Pocklington Arts Centre

Veterinary appointment in 2022: An Evening With Julian Norton, Pocklington Arts Centre, January 18

JULIAN Norton, author, veterinary surgeon and star of Channel 5’s The Yorkshire Vet, will share amusing anecdotes from his work with animals in North Yorkshire, bringing to life all the drama and humour in the daily routine of a rural vet.

Following in the footsteps of James Herriot author Alf Wight, Norton has spent most of his working life in Thirsk. His latest book, All Creatures: Heart-warming Tales From A Yorkshire Vet, was published in March. Box office: pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

More Things To Do in York and beyond and online as Step 3 tiptoes into the light. List No. 33, courtesy of The Press, York

Minster Men: The Howl & The Hum to play livestreamed concert at York Minster on Tuesday

THE Indian Variant may be dampening down hopes for June 21, but Charles Hutchinson’s diary is still filled with hope, concerts, festivals, exhibitions and a Minster livestreaming.

Livestreaming of the week ahead: The Howl & The Hum, Live At York Minster, Tuesday, 8pm   to 9.30pm

YORK rock band The Howl & The Hum are performing a one-off streamed concert in the Nave of York Minster on Tuesday, with tickets available via Brudenell.ticketco.events/.

The 8.15pm setlist will be built around last year’s debut album, Human Contact, whose prescient title chimed with pandemic times as such contact became more restricted, even barred. New material may well feature too. “I reckon it will,” says frontman Sam Griffiths.

Rachel Croft: York singer-songwriter to perform on Songs Under Skies acoustic double bill with Wounded Bear at the NCEM. Picture: Amy D’Agorne

A fistful of outdoor gigs: Songs Under Skies, National Centre for Early Music, York, in June  

SONGS Under Skies will return to the NCEM’s churchyard gardens at St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, York, next month.

Five outdoor acoustic double bills from 6.30pm to 8.30pm will comprise Wounded Bear and Rachel Croft on June 1; Kell Chambers and Nadedja, June 2; Katie Spencer and Joshua Burnell, June 14; Zak Ford and Alice Simmons, June 15, and Epilogues and Sunflower Thieves, June 16.

As with last September’s debut series, the socially distanced, Covid-safe season two will be presented in association with The Crescent community venue, The Fulford Arms and the Music Venues Alliance. Box office: at tickets.ncem.co.uk.

Hope Is The New Hero, by Jake T, from Rawcliffe and Clifton Without, for the Hope display at the According To McGee gallery in York

Children’s art show of the week in York: Hope projections, According To McGee, York, tonight, tomorrow, then Wednesday to Friday for the next two weeks, 6pm to 9pm nightly

HOPE springs nocturnal in a collaboration between primary school artists from York and around the world at York gallery According To McGee.

Under the title of Hope, the artwork will be on display in light projections in the window of the Tower Street gallery in a creative response to the pandemic.

Digital artists Nick Walters is overseeing evenings featuring projections of 350 artworks selected from 3,000 images from cities in 33 countries.

York artist Sue Clayton, second from right, with NHS York Vaccination Centre site manager Will McEvoy, Nimbuscare director of quality and patient experience Michelle Phillips and Pocklington Arts Centre director Janet Farmer at the unveiling – but not unmasking! – of the 21 exhibition at Askham Bar

Jab in the arm for art: Sue Clayton’s 21 exhibition, NHS York Vaccination Centre, Askham Bar, York, until June 13

WHAT a captive audience for Sue Clayton’s portrait exhibition of children and young adults with Down Syndrome, presented in association with Pocklington Arts Centre (PAC).

As many as 3,000 people a day are attending the Askham Bar vaccination centre to receive a jab in the “Tent Of Hope”, where biodegradable prints of Sue’s paintings are in place.

The theme of 21 symbolises the extra 21st chromosome that people with Down Syndrome have, Sue’s energetic son James among them. 

Manic Street Preachers: New tour, new album…oh, and a new single called…Orwellian

Gig announcement of the week in York: Manic Street Preachers, York Barbican, October 4

WELSH rock band Manic Street Preachers’ 14-date autumn itinerary will showcase the September 3 release of their 14th studio album, The Ultra Vivid Lament, on Columbia/Sony.

In a departure from 2018’s Resistance Is Futile, the new record is the first Manics’ studio set to be conceived initially on piano rather than guitar.

James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wire and Sean Moore last played York Barbican in May 2019. Their support will be The Anchoress, the Welsh-born multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and author Catherine Anne Davies. Tickets sales go live tomorrow (21/5/2021) at 10am at yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Mad about the Boy: Boy George and Culture Club perennial members Roy Hay and Mikey Craig are off to the Yorkshire seaside

Gig announcement of the week outside York: Culture Club, Scarborough Open Air Theatre, August 14

EIGHTIES’ icon Boy George and Culture Club are off to the Yorkshire seaside in a new addition to the packed Scarborough Open Air Theatre programme.

Bexleyheath-born frontman and fashion innovator George O’Dowd, who turns 60 on June 14, will perform alongside original band members Roy Hay and Mikey Craig in a “stunning live band”. Tickets go on sale for the 8,000-capacity show via scarboroughopenairtheatre.com tomorrow (21/5/2021) at 9am.

Rachel Podger: The Violinist Speaks concert at York Early Music Festival 2021. Picture: Theresa Pewal

Festival launch of the week: York Early Music Festival 2021, July 12 to 16

PRESENTED by the National Centre of Early Music, the classical York Early Music Festival 2021 will have the theme of Encounters, most vitally between audience and artists after lockdown loosening.

Among the guest artists will be violinist Rachel Podger; lutenist Jacob Heringman; bass Matthew Brook; the Monteverdi String Band; harpsichordist Steven Devine; The Society Of Strange & Ancient Instruments; La Vaghezza and Ensemble Clement Janequin.

Taking part too will be vocal ensemble Stile Antico and Spanish Baroque ensemble L’Apothéose. Tickets are on sale at ncem.co.uk. Upcoming too will be YEMF 21 Online, from July 15 to 18, featuring festival concerts and commissioned highlights.

Bull in a field: York alt.rock band booked for Deer Shed: Base Camp Plus festival

No Deer Shed 11 festival, but here comes Deer Shed: Base Camp Plus, Baldersby Park, Topcliffe, Thirsk, July 30 to August 1

AFTER last summer’s Base Camp, Deer Shed Festival co-directors Oliver Jones and Kate Webster have created Base Camp Plus with a female-headlined main stage, live music, DJ sets, comedy and shows. As with last year’s event, each camping pitch will contain its own Portaloo and washing facilities.

Jane Weaver, Dream Wife and Porridge Radio are the headliners; York bands Bull and New York Brass Band will be playing too; John Shuttleworth, Mark Watson and Angelos Epithemiou lead the comedy.

The organisers will adhere to the Step 3 restrictions in place since Monday, limiting the capacity, with social distancing and face coverings in covered areas. For tickets, go to: deershedfestival.com/basecampplus.

And what about?

Brief encounter: York drag diva Velma Celli in Love Is Love: A Brief History Of Drag at York Theatre Royal

Velma Celli in Love Is Love: A Brief History Of Drag, York Theatre Royal, May 29, 8pm

YORK drag diva deluxe Velma Celli’s fabulous contribution to York Theatre Royal’s reopening Love Season will be one of Velma’s regular cabaret shows, re-titled Love Is Love: A Brief Of History Of Drag specially to meet the love brief.

Joining Velma – the creation of York musical actor Ian Stroughair – will be two guest acts, Jordan Fox, Ian’s co-star in Jack And The Beanstalk, and Jessica Steel, together with backing singers Kimberley Ensor and Grace Lancaster, musical director Ben Papworth, drummer Clark Howard and guitarist Al Morrison.

Ian last appeared on the Theatre Royal in Kes at the age of 14, all of 24 years ago.

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.