Review: The Howl & The Hum Christmas Show, The Crescent, York, December 15

The Howl & The Hum: “What better way to end a really weird year”

IF you could put together one York double bill for Christmas, this would surely be the one.

Headliners, for art rock with a heart and anthemic choruses? The Howl & The Hum. Tick. Late addition, as party poppers, not party poopers? Bull. Tick. Definitely, not probably, “the greatest band in the world”, according to Sam Griffiths in his thanks, as if he were only here for the Beers, frontman Tom and festive sister Holly on keyboards.

History will record that both bands had the misfortune to release their big-label debut albums in the mire of lockdown: first, The Howl & The Hum’s presciently titled Human Contact on AWAL in May 2020; then Bull, snapped up by EMI after a decade’s toil, with their March 2021 invitation to Discover Effortless Living: a state denied us by the silent, stealthy creep of shape-shifting Covid.

This, however, was a night to reinforce just how much those contrasting albums have mattered in these inhibited times, prompting busy trading at the merchandise desk.

Bull entered, not quite like the proverbial bovine in the porcelain department, but certainly with bags of pent-up energy, Tom seemingly sporting a makeshift Santa white beard for the occasion (unless the lighting was playing tricks).

This was impromptu Bull, not only sister Holly for Christmas, but Jack Woods guesting on guitar and Joe Lancaster, on secondment from the New York Brass Band, on trumpet. Later, Tom would join in on trombone in a clash for top of the brass class.

Discover Effortless Living’s perfectly formed guitar pop nuggets featured prominently, from Eugene to Perfect Teeth to Disco Living – but not Green surprisingly – and Bull even stepped into Christmas territory with a delightfully messy but merry number that may or may not have been called I’m Coming Home For Christmas.

When we last gathered for a Howl & The Hum alternative carol concert in 2019, Sam Griffiths raided the Nativity Play cupboard for angel’s wings. This time, at 9.35pm precisely, he lit up the stage dressed as a decorated Christmas tree, giving him the shape of a block of Toblerone, but with the specs and cherubic look of a choir boy.

Sam revealed he had been in a grumpy mood before the gig, blaming his cat for persistently hiding, but as soon as he put on that shiny tree ready to come on stage with “these three idiots”, he felt much better.

Bull: Perfectly formed guitar pop nuggets

One of the joys of Christmas is meeting up with old friends again, never more so than at this gig. “Ladies and gentlemen, Bradley Blackwell is back,” said Sam, to the biggest cheer of the night, and there he was, back among “the idiots” on bass after time away from the band.

The fab four was restored: Blackwell’s bass ballast; Griffiths, out front on rhythm guitar and ever more transcendent vocals as York’s answer to Thom Yorke; Conor Hirons, on eclectic guitar, and Jack Williams as “the clock at the back”, as Sam has called him, on drums.

Human Contact addresses the absence of such tactile relations, the withdrawal to liaising online, choosing the bedroom over the dancefloor. Yet here, at last, after the band’s livestreamed concert from York Minster in May, was life with the human touch, that togetherness restored.

Band and audience alike loved it, so many songs turning into singalongs, from “our greatest hit”, Godmanchester Chinese Bridge – played early rather than held back till the home straight – to Sweet Fading Silver; from The Only Boy Racer Left On The Island, now usurping ‘Bridge’ as the climax, to first encore Hostages.

Death and vulnerability, modern masculinity and mental health have come to the fore in Sam’s songwriting, but at least he could celebrate outliving the sentiment of last year’s 27. More poignant still was this year’s new recording, Thumbs Up, a confessional about “men not knowing how to talk to other men about important stuff”, so he wrote a song about it instead.

Nick Drake and Ian Curtis did not survive such candour in their songwriting; hopefully, in 2021, we can now both talk more freely and listen too.

“Thank you, I couldn’t think of a better end to a really weird year,” said Sam, before taking Hostages to new heights.

Christmas tree fancy-dress back on, he welcomed back Bull for a full team line-up for THE Christmas cover version, playing Kirsty to Tom’s Shane in a rumbustious rendition of The Pogues’ Fairytale Of New York, bolstered further by Tom’s accordion and Joe’s trumpet as the bells were ringing out for Christmas.

What could possibly spoil the memory of such a special York night and its Fairytale Of Old York finale? Being pinged on Sunday to say “you were in close contact with someone with Covid-19” on December 15. Happy Christmas, my a**e, I pray God it’s our last with this accursed plague causing such misery. Thankfully, the PCR test was negative.

More Things To Do in York and beyond as panto takes over an airfield car park. List No. 61, courtesy of The Press, York

Finding his feet: Jared More’s Fizzy Finn with Meg Blowey’s Tink the Cobbler in Riding Lights Theatre Company’s “crackling new Christmas adventure”

PLAN B may need its own Plan B amid the Omicron surge, but Charles Hutchinson seeks to be positive – in Christmas spirit only – until otherwise informed.

Children’s show of the week: Riding Lights Theatre Company in Fizzy Finn Finds His Feet, Friargate Theatre, York, today to December 23

JON Boustead’s “crackling new Christmas adventure” addresses children’s mental health problems arising from lockdowns and separation from family and friends.

Finn is a fidget whose brain is ablaze with an unbreakable buzz that fizzes to his fingers and tickles his toes, or it would do if he could only find his feet in a 50-minute story of fear and bravery suitable for children aged five to 11.

The show’s magical blend of vivid storytelling, original music by Patrick Burbridge and creative puppetry is presented by Jared More’s Fizzy Finn and Meg Blowey’s Tink the Cobbler. Box office: 01904 613000 or at ridinglights.org/fizzy-finn.

Christmas Eve would not be complete in York without…City Screen showing It’s A Wonderful Life

Christmas film tradition of the week: It’s A Wonderful Life (U) at City Screen, York, today, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Christmas Eve

AN elderly angel is sent from Heaven to help desperately frustrated businessman George Bailey (James Stewart) as he contemplates suicide.

Taking George back through his life to point out what good he has done, the angel shows him what life would have been like if he had never existed.

Frank Capra’s classic from 1946 is a Christmas Eve big-screen staple: City Screen has shows that day at 3pm and 6pm. Box office: 0871 902 5747 or at picturehouses.com.

Joe Alexander Shepherd: York pianist returns to the NCEM tonight

Pianist of the week: Joe Alexander Shepherd, National Centre for Early Music, York, tonight, 7.30pm

YORK pianist and composer Joe Alexander Shepherd combines beautiful contemporary and classical music with a Christmas ambience tonight, complemented by special guest appearances by singer-songwriter Wounded Bear and singer Amelia Saleh on his return to the NCEM. Expect new compositions, by the way.

Shepherd composed the music for UEFA’s First World War Truce video, starring footballers Sir Bobby Charlton, Wayne Rooney and Gareth Bale, and for a UK Women’s Rugby Football Union advert.

Concert proceeds will go to the Charlie Gard Foundation to support families affected by mitochondrial disease. Box office: 01904 658338 or at ncem.co.uk.

Art attack: Replete’s mural Shark at Piccadilly Pop Up, Piccadilly, York

Finale of the week: Uthink Piccadilly Pop Up art studios and gallery, 23 Piccadilly, York,  today and tomorrow

THE Uthink Piccadilly Pop Up art studios and gallery must vacate their temporary premises by the end of the month after being served notice by the re-developers.

Since August 2020, the studios opened to the public on Saturdays to showcase work by 15 artists, ranging from painting, drawing, abstract art and collages to photography, sculpture, installation and poetry.

Today, public opening will be from 12 noon to 6pm; on Sunday, a festive market and extended art exhibition will run from 11am. Admission is free.

Shed Seven: Two “Shedcember” nights in Leeds on the Another Night, Another Town tour

Gigs of the week outside York: Shed Seven, Another Night, Another Town – Greatest Hits Live Tour, Leeds O2 Academy, Monday and Tuesday

SHED Seven have restarted their Covid-stalled tour after calling off December 10 to 16’s run of shows to next March when a member of the touring party tested positive.

Earlier this week, the York band tweeted: “Excited to confirm that the tour will resume this Friday [December 17] in London – let’s finish what we started!! New dates for the shows that were postponed will be announced next week. Shed Seven ride again. See you down the front. X.”

Tickets are still available for both Leeds gigs at ticketmaster.co.uk/shed-seven-leeds. Doors open at 7pm each night.

Head’s up: Michael Head to play The Crescent on Tuesday

Cult gig of the week:  Michael Head & The Red Elastic Band, The Crescent, York, Tuesday, 7.30pm

IN the wake of Adios Señor Pussycat in 2017, Michael Head & The Red Elastic Band are working on a new album, nearing completion.

Devotees of the 60-year-old Liverpudlian’s gilded songwriting brio can expect to hear new songs as well as much-loved nuggets from his days in Shack and The Pale Fountains. Pet Snakes support at this standing-only gig. Box office: thecrescentyork.seetickets.com/event/michael-head

Car Park Panto’s Horrible Christmas: Parking up at Elvington Airfield on January 2

Pantomime in a car park? Oh yes it is, in Car Park Panto’s Horrible Christmas, Elvington Airfield, near York, January 2, 11am, 2pm and 5pm

BIRMINGHAM Stage Company’s Horrible Histories franchise teams up with Coalition Presents for Car Park Panto’s 14-date tour of Horrible Christmas to racecourses, airfields, stadiums and a motor-racing circuit.

In writer-director Neal Foster’s adaptation of Terry Deary’s story, when Christmas comes under threat from a jolly man dressed in red, one young boy must save the day as a cast of eight sets off on a hair-raising adventure through the history of Christmas.

At this car-centred, Covid-secure experience, children and adults can jump up and down in their car seats and make as much noise as they like, tuning in to the live show on stage and screen. Box office: carparkparty.com.

Rachel and Becky Unthank: York Barbican concert on Sorrows Away tour

Looking ahead to 2022: The Unthanks, Sorrows Away, York Barbican, May 31; doors 7pm

NORTHUMBRIAN folk sisters Rachel and Becky Unthank will perform forthcoming new album Sorrows Away and Unthanks favourites with an 11-piece ensemble in a co-promotion by York’s Please Please You, The Crescent and Black Swan Folk Club and Brudenell Presents from Leeds.

As the album title suggests, Sorrows Away promises to be a blues-belter and a step into the light for sisters known more for melancholia and, well, sorrow. For tickets for The Unthanks’ return to touring after a two-year hiatus, go to: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

REVIEW: Paul Rhodes’s verdict on Steve Mason and Wolf Solent, Stockton on the Forest Village Hall, near York, December 14

Fairy lights and a lamp for Steve Mason’s Christmas-season solo show at Stockton on the Forest Village Hall. All pictures: Paul Rhodes

THIS seemingly incongruous venue turned out to be a smart choice. “I have no idea where I am,” Mason joked.

Yet this North Yorkshire village hall clearly put the Scotsman at ease. The former chief of the Beta Band has been enjoying a long solo revival since Boys Outside was released in 2010. His last album, 2019’s About The Light, was a wonderfully accessible collection of pop rock songs, while 2013’s Monkey Minds In The Devil’s Time fulfilled all The Beta Band’s unspent promise.

Seated alone by a lamp, amid twinkling fairy lights and a Christmas tree to the side in this beautifully maintained hall, Mason would be an unlikely choice for a Christmas party. It turns out that while his songs can be downbeat and deal with serious themes, he is great company, full of stories and funny lines. He also commands your attention on stage.

Tuesday’s audience and a village-hall Christmas tree at Steve Mason’s gig

Hopefully support act Wolf Solent (Yor- based Danny Trew Barton) was taking notes, as he was the opposite. He’s in good company – think Nick Drake’s disastrous tour of working men’s clubs.

Solent’s material feels steeped in lo-fi bands such as Acetone and Sparklehorse, which is a tough act to take to a live audience, but in the mix there were songs of quiet beauty.

Even his most ardent admirers might admit that Mason’s songs tend to sound alike, but he has an unerring knack of finding a way to bring both depth and melody. A new number, accompanied by stomping and clapping, was a prime example – with a timely message about needing light.

“I have no idea where I am,” admitted Scotsman Steve Mason at his Stockton on the Forest concert

In lockdown, Mason has become, in his words and at least partly tongue in cheek, a rampant capitalist – and he was looking fetching in one of his sweatshirts. This side of him must sit uneasily with the part that “won’t follow fools”, which was a biting line in another new composition.

His faithful cover of Roger Waters’ Mother (from The Wall) felt like a natural choice, better than his expected finale of Dry The Rain, which never quite took off. The Beta Band’s signature song works better with a band, as evidenced from his Crescent show in 2019 or his star turn on the Deer Shed Festival main stage at Baldersby Park, Topcliffe, that same year.

At his best, Mason is a bona-fide member of music’s business class and he certainly lit up a pitch-black December night.

Review by Paul Rhodes

Seth Lakeman makes his mark at The Crescent tonight while celebrating 15 years of award-winning Freedom Fields

Seth Lakeman: Themes of love and death, the environment and self-belief are to the fore on new album Make Your Mark. Picture: Tom Griffiths

WEST Country folk singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Seth Lakeman plays The Crescent, in York, tonight when both old and new will be to the fore.

Performing an intimate set in a duo with Plymouth vocalist Alex Hart to a seated audience, Lakeman’s focus will fall on both his new album, Make Your Mark, and on the 15th anniversary of the gold-selling Freedom Fields.

Newly reissued in a deluxe edition on CD and double vinyl in coloured and black limited editions, Freedom Fields comes with exclusive bonus content, such as unreleased tracks and rare demos and with a signed art print from selected stores.

“This is my debut at The Crescent,” says Devonian Seth. “I’ve previously played the NCEM and Fibbers, and I love playing York as there’s a great music scene in the city.

“It’ll be me playing with Alex Hart, and Joe Francis, from Winter Mountain, who’s from Cornwall – over the border – will be supporting. I’ve worked with him a few times before and he’ll probably join us on harmonium.”

Reflecting on playing in this format, Seth says: “I’ll be honest, all the creative industries are struggling with the need to control costs at this time, so you use less of your ‘cast’, but you still get out there and there’s a magic in the duo format.

“It allows you to play different songs and you can move things around in the set list more than you can with a five-piece – and it’s nice to go out and concentrate on the voices.”

Seth is overjoyed to be playing with fellow musicians to live audiences once more on a 14-date tour that began on November 2. “I always think it’s important if you can get people into a room to perform music together,” he says. “Connecting through technology can work but playing in a room is the best way of connecting.”

Make Your Mark, released on Seth’s label Honour Oak Records on CD and digital formats on November 18 and on vinyl on December 10, was written during his Covid-enforced 18 months off the road.

Seth Lakeman’s album artwork for Make Your Mark

Fourteen songs were recorded at Middle Farm Studios in Devon earlier this year as restrictions eased, with Seth producing his 11th studio album himself.

“The pandemic gave me a real determination to come out musically stronger and I really dug deep into myself,” he says. “Being able to record and play with the band again was really quite spiritual.”

Joining Seth on the recording sessions were long-time bassist Ben Nicholls, who has toured the world with Seth since his early days; Benji Kirkpatrick, from Bellowhead and Faustus, on bouzouki, banjo and mandolin; Alex Hart on backing vocals and Toby Kearney, principal percussionist at the Birmingham Conservatoire, on drums.

Reflecting on how his song-writing has progressed since landmark indie-folk album Freedom Fields brought him the Folk Singer of the Year and Album Of The Year awards at the 2007 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, Seth says: “I’ve branched out more [from violin] onto guitars and banjos that I now see as a tool for writing songs.

“I’ve always been interested in lyrics and the process of putting together a song, and maybe as you get to middle-aged life [Seth is 44], you feel more in tune with who you are and what you feel – and that comes with wisdom.

“I’m now looking at a more personal journey in song-writing. When I made Freedom Fields, it was more a case of writing in the tradition but with a modern context to it. I was in the depths of that as a writer for a good few years as I loved intertwining the old and the new.”

Themes on Make Your Mark range from the environment to love, self-belief to death. “They are songs about the bigger things: life and death, but also they’re celebrating lives lived, and I can see  why that is challenging, because such subjects are heart-breaking, but that’s why sea shanties are so popular now because they’re so powerful in their emotional impact,” says Seth.

Living amid the beauty of Devon, he has felt the need to express his thoughts on the environment. “Around the coast, it’s getting swallowed up by second-home owners, but the argument goes that without the tourism industry there wouldn’t be the building industry, and you need to keep them both going.

“Here on Dartmoor, a lot of land is being sold off and it becomes a constant thing for us to moan about, when green land is getting sold. I certainly touch on it with my farmer mates, and it is a concern.

The 15th anniversary edition of Seth Lakeman’s award-winning Freedom Fields album

“I have three children – twins aged eight and a five year old – and climate change is right there as the biggest thing to be worrying about for their future.”

Writing about love, the most commonplace theme of all since song-writing began, Seth notes a change in his focus: “In your 40s, you start thinking about your parents and those things you have maybe taken for granted and really should cherish,” he says.

“Then, at this age, thinking about death, it’s about understanding your mortality and coming to terms with it, like losing my best friend suddenly. There’s a lot of his presence and personality on this album.

“I found it like therapy, expressing myself in song, paying some sort of homage to him. I felt his presence as I recorded it.”

Self-belief may seem an unexpected subject for Seth, but he says: “I’ve always had a problem with self-belief and security and confidence, being the third child, with my two brothers [fellow musicians Sean and Sam] being the flag-bearers and me being the black sheep.

“That feeling still exists and it’s probably part of the fuel that keeps me going. Regardless of money, that’s probably at the root of who I am and why I keep doing it. There’s not a lot of money in this line of work. I should have been a chef or a comedian!”

Self-belief, says Seth, is something he returns to time and time again. “I’m never happy with an album, never completely content, because contentment is a dangerous thing. You can be proud of what you’ve done, but you must keep your feet on the ground and keep pushing yourself,” he concludes.

Seth Lakeman plays The Crescent, York, tonight, supported by Joe Francis, at 7.30pm. Tickets cost £20 from seetickets.com/tour/seth-lakeman; more on the door. Please note, seating is unreserved.

The track listing for Make Your Mark is:

Hollow; The Giant; Love Will Still Remain; Bound To Someone; Make Your Mark; Coming For You Soon; the first single, Higher We Aspire; The Lark; Side By Side; Fallen Friend; Shoals To Turn; Underground; Change and Constantly.

More Things To Do in York and beyond as Plan B doesn’t stop the Christmas buzz. List No. 60, courtesy of The Press, York

CHRISTMAS shows, Christmas concerts, Christmas plays, ‘tis the season for Charles Hutchinson’s diary to be jolly full.  

Jason Manford: “Exercising the old chuckle muscle”

Busy week for comedy: Jason Manford: Like Me, York Barbican, Thursday and Friday, 7.30pm.

SALFORD’S Jason Manford revives his funny-bloke-next-door schtick for Like Me, his follow-up to “the fun we had on my last tour”, Muddle Class, a show about turning from working class to middle class that played York Barbican in February and October 2018.

“In these trying times, it’s always important to be able to get away for a couple of hours and exercise the old chuckle muscle,” reckons Manford, 40, who has tickets available for both nights at yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Meanwhile, Jack Dee’s Off The Telly gig, moved from April 25 2020 to tomorrow night, has sold out. So too have Alan Carr’s Regional Trinket shows on December 18 and 19.

Filey Brigg, seascape, by Rosie Dean at Village Gallery, York

Exhibition of the week: Rosie Dean, Seascapes, Village Gallery, Castlegate, York, until January 22, open 10am to 4pm, Tuesday to Saturday.

SEASCAPE artist Rosie Dean has taken part in York Open Studios for the past ten years. Now she is exhibiting at Simon Main’s Village Gallery through the winter months.

“I feel total peace breathing the ozone, staring out to sea and focusing on the horizon line, sensing all around me and feeling the elements around me, the sights and sounds, the salt in the air. Pure contentment,” says Rosie.

Levellers: Part of York Barbican’s busy week for concerts. Picture: Steve Gullick

Curiosity concert of the week: The Magical Music Of Harry Potter Live In Concert With The Weasleys, York Barbican, Monday 8pm.

POTTY about Potter? Then exit those Shambles shops and head to York Barbican for a night of music from Harry’s films and the West End musical, performed by the London Symphonic & Philharmonic Film Orchestra with the Weasley brothers in tow.

Original actors, magic, star soloists, a choir and the orchestra combine in the debut European tour’s programme of John Williams, Patrick Doyle, Nicolas Hooper and Alexander Desplat’s soundtrack magical moments, plus selections from the Harry Potter And The Cursed Child score. 

More music in York Barbican’s crammed pre-Christmas diary comes from Levellers, Brighton’s folk-rock stalwarts, tonight and Steve Steinman’s tribute show, Anything For Love: The Meat Loaf Story, on Wednesday, both at 7.30pm. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Steve Mason: Solo gig at Stockton on the Forest Village Hall

If you seek out one gig, make it: Steve Mason, Stockton on the Forest Village Hall, near York, Tuesday, doors, 8pm; start, 8.30pm.

STEVE Mason was the frontman of The Beta Band, cult Scottish exponents of folktronica, a blend of folk, psychedelia, electronica, experimental rock and trip hop.

He first dipped his toe into solo work on Black Gold, his mournful 2006 album under the guise of the short-lived King Biscuit Time and has since released Boys Outside in 2010, Ghosts Outside with Dennis Bovell in 2011, Monkey Minds In The Devil’s Time in 2013, Meet The Humans in 2016 and About The Light in 2019.

Presented by All Off The Beaten Track, Mason will play solo on Tuesday. Box office: seetickets.com/event/steve-mason/stockton-on-the-forest-village-hall.

The poster for The Arts Barge Christmas Party! at The Crescent, York

Christmas jamboree of the week: The Arts Barge Christmas Party!, The Crescent, York, Tuesday, 7.30pm.

THREE York community musical groups, Bargestra, The Stonegate Singers and The Blind Tiger Dance Band, unite for the Arts Barge Christmas bash.

Bargestra, the 20-piece Arts Barge band skippered by Christian Topman, play jazz, swing, Beatles, ska and more. The Stonegate Singers, a community choir open to anyone, is directed by Jon Hughes, who teaches the music by ear, one part at a time, so that anyone can do it.

The Blind Tiger Dance Band, Arts Barge’s 16-piece Lindy Hop swing band with Rinkadon Dukeboy up front, brings together seasoned professionals and rising young instrumentalists. All three groups will join together to make a 50-piece ensemble for the festive finale.

Recommended but alas sold out already at The Crescent are Christmas shows by Mostly Autumn on Sunday and fellow York band The Howl & The Hum on Wednesday, both at 7.30pm.

Chapter House Choir at the double: Carols by Candlelight, York Minster, Wednesday; Festival of Carols, St Michael-le-Belfrey, York, December 18, both at 7.30pm.

THE Chapter House Choir’s Carols by Candlelight at York Minster has sold out, but a second chance to hear the York choir and its bell ringers comes at St Michael-le-Belfrey.

Tickets for a Festival of Carols are available via Eventbrite,  but do hurry because they are limited in number and selling fast.

Danny Mellor and Meg Matthews in Badapple Theatre Company’s The Snow Dancer. Picture: Karl Andre Photography

Global warming alert of the week: Badapple Theatre Company in The Snow Dancer, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, Thursday, 7pm; Green Hammerton Village Hall, December 20, 2pm

GREEN Hammerton’s Badapple Theatre Company has revived artistic director Kate Bramley’s magical eco-fable, The Snow Dancer, for its latest rural tour.

Bramley’s original story blends festive family entertainment with an important eco-message and an original score by Jez Lowe, as actors Meg Matthews and Danny Mellor tell the story of the animals of The Great Wood, who are desperate for a long sleep, but find it too warm because something is awry.

The intrepid heroes in this fairy tale with a furry tail must search for the mysterious Snow Dancer to make it snow if they are ever to sleep. Box office: York, 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk; Green Hammerton, 01423 339168.

York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust’s artwork for A Nativity For York…Out Of The Darkness

Christmas plays of the week: York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust in A Nativity For York…Out Of The Darkness, Spurriergate Centre, Spurriergate, York, December 17, 7pm; December 18, 2pm, 4pm, 6.30pm. A Christmas Carol, Mansion House, York, December 17 to 19, 7pm.

TERRY Ram directs the second York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust community production for Christmas, drawn from the York Cycle of Mystery Plays in the old church atmosphere of the Spurriergate Centre. Box office: ticketsource.co.uk/york-mystery-plays-supporters-trust.

The Penny Magpie Theatre Company, from York, have sold out all three Mansion House performances of director Samantha Hindman’s adaptation of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, a version seen through the eyes of modern-day schoolboy Jon, who is gradually welcomed into Scrooge’s redemptive tale. Carols, mince pies, mulled wine and a house tour complete the festive experience.

Freedom is…Johannes Radebe’s debut tour show at at the Grand Opera House, York, next spring

Leaping into 2022: Johannes Radebe, Freedom, Grand Opera House, York, April 12, 7.30pm.

MAKING swish waves with baker John Whaite in Strictly Come Dancing’s first all-male coupling, South African dancer Johannes Radebe has announced his debut tour, Freedom.

Radebe will lead a company of dancers in classic Ballroom and Latin arrangements, scorching South African rhythms and huge party anthems, as he takes you on his journey from growing up in Zamdela, to travelling the world, winning competitions and becoming a Strictly professional.

Leave your inhibitions at the door and get ready for a night of energy, passion and freedom,” he says. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/York.

REVIEW: Paul Rhodes’s focus on “strange band” Focus, The Crescent, York, 11/11/2021

Focus leader Thijs van Leer: “Taking things at a steadier pace at 73” at The Crescent, York. Picture: Paul Rhodes

FOCUS were always a musical anomaly, hard to pin down in any particular scene. Fifty years on from their period as international rock stars, York was fortunate to have the chance to see a rejuvenated band.

Focus are a band that inspire either fervent admiration or mockery for their prog excesses. Thursday’s large crowd at The Crescent was firmly in the former camp.

“This strange band” is how Dutch founding member Thijs van Leer described them. Their creative collision of hard rock, jazz and classical is music long on ideas and short on words.

The set was great value, just shy of two hours, and the energy throughout was amazing. Drummer Pierre van der Linden was incredible, not letting up for an instant.

“Scene-stealing” guitarist Menno Gootjes at Thursday’s concert. Picture: Paul Rhodes

Thijs van Leer has to take things at a steadier pace. Mostly seated, he remained the centre of attention, despite scene-stealing guitarist Menno Gootjes, a leading figure in the Dutch metal scene, who has both the licks and the confidence for the role. Bassist Udo Pannekeet was quietly doing some amazing work on his six-string bass.

Van Leer is now 73 but his passion for the music appears undimmed. The first-ever knighted musician in Holland was also fulsome in praising the other musicians. 

Thursday’s show was essentially a ‘best of’ but included some less familiar numbers such as Birds Come Fly Over (Le Tango) from 2012’s Focus X.

York’s own Soma Crew provided support – and their set was intermittently excellent. Their music is a fusion of bands like the Velvet Underground and, by volume, My Bloody Valentine.

Focus playing their near two-hour set at The Crescent, York. Picture: Paul Rhodes

The unusual lap steel-meets-synthesiser lead of Joe Sellers lifted the music above a mire of guitars, and pick of the dark crop was Seven from their 2021 album Out Of Darkness And Into Light. The use of the 1973 French/Czech animation Fantastic Planet as a backdrop was a clever touch, care of The Crescent’s Harkirit Boparai.

It is Van Leer’s wordless vocals that distinguish Focus from the many other prog rock explorers. His yodelling, building to a crescendo, captured the attention of music fans when they played the Old Grey Whistle Test in December 1972. That song was Hocus Pocus, which along with Sylvia, is certainly their best known.

The yodel marks the song out as unique, but what really makes it stand out is Jan Akkerman’s absolutely stunning guitar riff – one of the very best in rock music. In concert, this one-time hit single gets stretched, and as an encore it went on for well over ten minutes. Taken full tilt, that riff and Gootjes’ solos worked their magic. Impressive but far too long was the drum solo that accounted for over half of that time.

Time has added the frisson of nostalgia for long-term fans, and consequently this was a concert that will live long in the memory.

Review by Paul Rhodes

More Things To Do in and around York as pioneering dating show is game for laughs and love. List No. 57, courtesy of The Press

Seasick Steve: Just him, his home-made guitar and you at York Barbican tonight

CHARLES Hutchinson recommends veteran blues at the double, quilts, a dating show, chaotic Hitchcockian comedy capers, a Brahms Requiem and a Geordie comic out to dazzle.

Solo show of the week: Seasick Steve, Just Steve, A Guitar And Your Tour, York Barbican, tonight, 8pm

LAST year, American DIY blues veteran Seasick Steve released two albums, July’s Love & Peace and November’s Blues In Mono, his tribute to trad acoustic country blues recorded with a microphone from the 1940s as Steve performed the songs direct to an old tape machine. 

Now, York-bound Steve says: “I‘m lookin’ forward to coming and playing for y’all. Just gonna be me, you and my guitar. A few songs and a few stories, kinda like we just hangin’ out together! Gonna be fun. See ya there.” Tickets update: limited availability at yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Sanna Buck, Stephen Wright and Aran MacRae look on as a prone Daniel Boyle takes centre stage in rehearsal for York Settlement Community Players’ The 39 Steps. Picture: John Saunders

Play of the week: York Settlement Community Players in The 39 Steps, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, tonight until Sunday

PATRICK Barlow’s riotous West End comedy hit marks the Settlement Players’ return to live performance for the first time since March 2020.

Harri Marshall’s cast of eight takes on the challenge of combining John Buchan’s 1915 novel with Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film scenes in a blend of virtuoso performance and wildly inventive stagecraft, playing 150 characters between them as the mysterious 39 Steps chase Aran MacRae’s Richard Hannay’s on a nationwide manhunt. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

Hey, it’s The Manfreds: Playing the Grand Opera House, York, tonight

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be? It’s even better at Maximum Rhythm N’ Blues with The Manfreds and Georgie Fame, Grand Opera House, York, tonight, 7.30pm

THE Manfreds and Georgie Fame team up for a celebration of Sixties rhythm & blues in an all-star line-up with hits galore to match.

Original Manfred Mann members Paul Jones, Mike Hugg and Tom McGuinness are joined by Family’s Rob Townsend on drums, Marcus Cliffe on bass and Simon Currie on saxophone and flute, plus former member Mike D’Abo to share lead vocals, and Blue Flames leader Fame on keyboards. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.

Ready to dazzle: Sarah Millican kicks off a three-night run at York Barbican tomorrow

Three-night run of the week: Sarah Millican: Bobby Dazzler Tour, York Barbican, tomorrow to Sunday, 8pm

SOUTH Shields humorist Sarah Millican’s new show, Bobby Dazzler, is doing the rounds on her sixth international tour.

“You’ll learn about what happens when your mouth seals shut, trying to lose weight but only losing the tip of your finger, a surprisingly funny smear test, and how truly awful a floatation tank can actually be,” says Millican, who has “spent the last year writing jokes and growing her backside”. Tickets update: limited availability at yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Masks, of the non-Covid protection variety, will be worn by participants in ventriloquist Nina Conti’s dating show. Picture: Matt Crockett

Game show of the week: Nina Conti: The Dating Show, Grand Opera House, York, tomorrow, 7.30pm

FAST-TALKING, faster-thinking ventriloquist Nina Conti and her cheeky Monkey host a pioneering new dating show for participants picked from the York audience.

What’s in store for the chosen ones? Apparently “she’ll be like Cilla Black with masks. Derailed. Not so much a Blind Date as a re-voiced one.” In a nutshell, they wear masks, she/Monkey talks, with no promise that true love will be found. Box office: atgtickets.com/york. 

Matthew Miller’s Golden Bird quilt from his Cloth & Colour installation at York Theatre Royal from Saturday

Exhibition launch of the week: Matthew Miller’s Cloth & Colour quilts, York Theatre Royal foyer, from Saturday to November 30

BASED in London, but from York, multi-media artist Matthew Miller launches his debut quilt installation in the first Beyond The Gallery Walls pop-up project to be mounted by Lotte Inch Gallery.

Artist Matthew and curator Lotte will be hosting the launch from 11.30am to 1.30pm on Saturday, happy to discuss his Cloth & Colour quilt designs. Interested in the ecological use of fabric in quilting, Matthew has used end-of-roll and pre-worn fabrics throughout his series of vibrant collages in cloth.

Alex Ashworth: Baritone soloist for Brahms’s Ein Deutsches Requiem at Saturday’s concert by the Chapter House Choir. Picture: Debbie Scanlan

Classical choral concert of the week: Chapter House Choir, York Minster, Saturday, 7.30pm

THE Chapter House Choir performs Brahms’s Ein Deutsches Requiem at York Minster in a rare opportunity to hear Brahms’s own arrangement written for piano – more intimate and transparent – with baritone Alex Ashworth, soprano Susan Young and pianists Eleanor Kornas and Polly Sharpe as the soloists.

This will be complemented by the world premiere of Lillie Harris’s Comfort, specially commissioned for Saturday’s concert. Box office: 01904 557200 or at yorkminster.org.

Open on Saturday: Carolyn Coles’s studio at South Bank Studios

Christmas shopping? Present opportunity at South Bank Studios’ Art & Craft Winter Fair, Southlands Methodist Church, Bishopthorpe Road, York, Saturday, 10am to 5pm

THE South Bank Studios artists’ group open their doors and studios to the public this weekend, when 28 artists will be exhibiting jewellery, ceramics, lino prints, textile art and fine art paintings and prints, all available to buy, just in time for Christmas. Entry is free.

Among those taking part are Carolyn Coles, Caroline Utterson, Jane Dignum, Lincoln Lightfoot, Richard Whitelegg, Mandi Grant and Fiona Lane. York Music Centre’s Senior Concert Band, Guitar Ensemble, Senior Folkestra and Big Band will be playing, and the icing on the cake will be the church team’s homemade refreshments.

Voila! C’est La Voix

Most glamorous show of the weekend: La Voix, Grand Opera House, York, Saturday, 7.30pm

FEISTY, flame-haired Royal Family favourite La Voix – the drag artiste creation of Chris Dennis – takes on the big divas and makes them her own in her Grand Opera House debut in The UK’s Funniest Redhead.

Billed as her “most glamorous show yet”, the 2014 Britain’s Got Talent semi-finalist will be combining stellar songs and saucy gags, high energy and diva impersonations, glamour and gowns – eight of them – as she switches between the vocal tropes of Tina Turner, Shirley Bassey, Liza Minnelli, Judy Garland and Cher at the click of a finger. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.

Millie Manders and The Shutup: Definitely not shutting up at the Fulford Arms on Sunday night

Gig with attitude of the week: Millie Manders & The Shutup, Fulford Arms, York, Sunday, 8pm

MILLIE Manders & The Shutup spark up cross-genre punk with a lyricism that pokes fun, draws you in or leaves you questioning social norms, teamed to vocal dexterity, grinding guitars, irresistible horn hooks and a pumping rhythm section.

The Londoners will be airing songs from October 2020’s debut album, Telling Truths, Breaking Ties. Box office: seetickets.com/event/millie-manders.

Willy Mason: Nine-year gap after he made a record called Carry On, but carry on he does at last with Already Dead album and tour date in York. Picture: Ebru Wildiz

Overdue return of the week: Willy Mason, supported by Voka Gentle, The Crescent, York, Tuesday, 7.30pm; standing show

NEW York singer-songwriter and lovely chap Willy Mason returns with Already Dead, his fourth album of characterful, sharp left-field pop, folk and Americana but his first since 2012’s Carry On.

“Magic, miracles, ghosts, world leaders; these days it seems there’s little left to believe in,” says Mason. “Lies outweigh truth and even truth can be dangerous. 

“Already Dead explores honesty and deception, anonymity in the digital age, good intentions with unexpected consequences, freedom, colonialism, love, God and purpose, because now is the time to restore some much-needed faith.” Box office: thecrescentyork.seetickets.com/event/willy-mason.

Soft Cell: 40th anniversary home-coming concert in Leeds. Picture: Andrew Whitton

Oh, and amid all these York events, here is the gig of the week outside the city walls: Soft Cell, Leeds 02 Academy, Saturday, doors, 6pm

IN 1981, Leeds synth-pop pioneers Soft Cell topped the charts with their Northern Soul cover, Tainted Love. This weekend, they play a 40th anniversary home-coming gig with an early start, kicking off with a DJ from 6pm.

LGBTQ icon Marc Almond and producer/instrumentalist Dave Ball will play two sets: the first from 7pm embracing songs from their back catalogue and previewing their first album in 20 years, Happiness Not Included, out on BMG on February 25 2022.

In the second, from 8.20pm, they will perform 1981 debut album Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret in full for the first time. Cue Say Hello, Wave Goodbye, Bedsitter, Memorabilia et al. Box office: myticket.co.uk/artists/soft-cell

REVIEW: Paul Rhodes’s verdict on Richard Dawson/Gwenifer Raymond, 21/9/2021

Throwing a light on his guitar playing: Richard Dawson at The Crescent on Tuesday night. Pictures: Paul Rhodes

Richard Dawson and Gwenifer Raymonde, The Crescent, York, September 21

MANY were wearing a smile simply to be out enjoying live music again. Thanks to Please Please You, the musical calendar has been quietly hotting up and is now starting to hit its stride.

Support act Gwenifer Raymond is an interesting character, a Brighton-based tech director by day/guitar fiend by night. Sitting barefoot, Raymonde called her style “guitar abuse”. Others have called it “American primitive” or “old time folk”.

Pretty and delicate it wasn’t, nor was it the high and lonesome sound of one of her influences, Roscoe Holcomb. Raymond threw lots of drama into her set, running through compositions (these aren’t really songs) from her 2021 sophomore release Strange Lights Over Garth Mountain.

Barefoot guitar fiend: Gwenifer Raymond in her York debut at The Crescent

Talking afterwards, she describes how she plays from memory. It was certainly impressive, if a little samey, but an auspicious York debut performance nevertheless.

Richard Dawson was the cause of Tuesday’s show being sold out. He’s another unlikely character. His erudition might suggest a permanent chair on Loose Ends while his Bill Bailey airs, hair and comic timing could take him almost anywhere.

He is known as a formidable, uncompromising modern folk performer – like Raymonde, defiantly not pandering to a crowd. He underlined this by starting with a 12-minute a cappella account of the life of a 16th century quilt maker.  Later on, his first-hand telling of seeing a child off to university showed he has lost none of his power to stop his audience dead.

There have been many changes since this reviewer last saw Dawson play at the same venue while touring his Peasant album. Fortunately, the drone instrumentals he produced in lockdown stayed away. With his last long player, Dawson showcased a pronounced shift towards a more conventional rock sound, and the single from his forthcoming LP with Circle suggests more of the same.

Formidable modern folk performer Richard Dawson and polyrhythmic drummer Andy Cheetham performing at The Crescent

Dawson is, however, one of the fortunate few whose audience expects him to lead them on a merry dance, so there were no boos or “Judas” cries. Quite the opposite, despite some of this new material being frankly a bit forgettable, those lovely words muffled in bombast, it was all lapped up by young and old alike. The wonderfully polyrhythmic drumming of Andy Cheetham kept things from metal parody.

While Joe The Quilt Maker would never trouble even the most abstruse singles charts, Black Mark or the superb Jogging could easily find a larger audience, with actual riffs and choruses – all without sacrificing Dawson’s attention to detail and wit. Jogging’s focus on anxiety brought his music squarely up to date.

Dawson was never less than entertaining. At one point, he had a reading lamp brought on as he “couldn’t see his dots” on his guitar. He claimed that he would undercut any momentum in the set, but actually it all hung together well, with a powerful finish, coming full circle to end with the more folk-based Ogre.

The audience’s smiles were broader still as they left.

Review by Paul Rhodes

Support act Gwenifer Raymond called her playing style “guitar abuse” at Tuesday’s gig