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 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.

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.

More Things To Do in York and beyond in the months ahead and while staying home, List No. 28, courtesy of The Press, York

Bethany, from York artist Sue Clayton’s exhibition for World Down Syndrome Day, on show outside All Saints Church, Pocklington

THE diary is beginning to turn from blank to much more promising, even if online and home entertainment is still the order of the day, but Charles Hutchinson is feeling positive and so are event organisers.

Outdoor exhibition for World Down Syndrome Day: Sue Clayton, 21, All Saints Church, Pocklington, March 19 to April 19

YORK portrait artist Sue Clayton will celebrate World Down Syndrome Day (WDSD) on March 21 with a month-long open-air exhibition on the railings of All Saints Church in Pocklington.

Self Portrait, by York artist Sue Clayton

Her collection of 21 portraits is inspired by children and adults with Down Syndrome, especially Sue’s energetic son James. She has chosen the theme of 21 both to mark the date of WDSD and to symbolise the extra 21st chromosome that people with Down Syndrome have.

This is the second outdoor display to be staged by Pocklington Arts Centre (PAC) in lockdown at this location after fellow York artist Karen Winship’s NHS Heroes exhibition from late November to early January.

Iestyn Davies: York countertenor will perform at the NCEM’s Awaken online concert series

Springtime celebration of music online: Awaken, National Centre for Early Music, York, March 27 and 28

THE NCEM’s Awaken weekend will feature York countertenor Iestyn Davies and Fretwork, the all-male vocal group The Gesualdo Six, I Fagiolini and the English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble, Ensemble Augelletti and The Consone Quartet.

The online festivities will celebrate the sublime sounds of spring in a range of historic venues to mark “the unique association between the City of York and the exquisite beauty of the music of the past”. Among the architectural gems will be Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate, St Olave’s Church, Marygate, the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall and the NCEM. Full details can be found at ncem.co.uk/awaken.

The Minster men: The Howl & The Hum promote their livestreamed concert at York Minster in the ultimate publicity shot for any York band

“Unique” livestreamed concert: The Howl & The Hum, York Minster, May 25

YORK alternative rock band The Howl & The Hum will perform a “unique set to compliment the unique venue” of the Nave of York Minster in a one-off 8.15pm concert livestreamed via ticket.co.

Singer, songwriter and guitarist Sam Griffiths, bassist Brad Blackwell, guitarist Conor Hirons and drummer Jack Williams will combine selections from last May’s prescient album Human Contact with fan favourites and new material recorded in lockdown.

The Howl & The Hum will be the first rock act to play York Minster since York singer-songwriter Benjamin Francis Leftwich on March 29 2019. Tickets are on sale via thehowlandthehum.com/.

Wynne win situation: Castle Howard Proms will go ahead this summer with tenor soloist Wynne Evans

Confirmed for the summertime: Castle Howard Concerts Weekend, August 20 to 22

CASTLE Howard has announced this summer’s concerts weekend will go ahead, in light of the Government’s roadmap rollout.

First up, in the open air at the North Yorkshire country house, will be house music brand Café Mambo Ibiza on August 20, presenting Roger Sanchez, Judge Jules, Julie McKnight (live PA), Ridney and Robin S (live PA), with more big names still to be announced for the Ibiza Classics at the Castle celebration.

Welsh tenor Wynne Evans, from the Go Compare adverts, will be joined by soprano Victoria Joyce and the London Gala Orchestra for the al fresco Castle Howard Proms on August 21.

Four vocalists from We Will Rock You, a five-piece rock band and The Elysium Orchestra will combine for Queen Symphonic on August 22. Box office: castlehoward.co.uk.

Piece in our time at last: Shed Seven move all-Yorkshire bill at The Piece Hall yet again, now in the diary for August 28

Sheds on the move: Shed Seven, The Piece Hall, Halifax, August 28

YORK heroes Shed Seven’s all-Yorkshire bill at The Piece Hall, Halifax, is being rescheduled for a third time, now booked in for August 28.

Joining the Sheds that West Yorkshire day will be Leeds bands The Pigeon Detectives and The Wedding Present and Leeds United-supporting York group Skylights, plus the Brighton Beach DJs.

August 28? Doesn’t that clash with Leeds Festival, co-headlined that day by Stormzy and Catfish And The Bottlemen? Indeed so, but “let’s just say our fans are not their demographic,” quips lead singer Rick Witter.

Shoe-in: Julie Hesmondhalgh in The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…, playing the SJT this spring

The Greatest News In The History Of The World…The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…tour to open in Scarborough from May 18 to 22

THE Stephen Joseph Theatre’s Covid-safe reopening show will be the first tour dates of The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…, the hit one-woman play that Ian Kershaw wrote for his wife, Coronation Street alumnus Julie Hesmondhalgh.

Directed by Raz Shaw, it heads out on a heartfelt journey that starts and ends in a small, unassuming house on a quiet suburban road, as Hesmondhalgh narrates the story of two neighbours and the people on their street, navigating the audience through the nuances of life, the possibilities of science and the meaning of love. 

Hesmondhalgh says: “It’s a beautiful play, a love story, but a universal one about learning in time what matters in the end, about leaving a mark on the world – and maybe beyond – that shows us, the human race, in all its glorious messiness, confusion and joy.”

The Shires: Crissie Rhodes and Ben Earle move York Barbican gig from 2021 to 2022

York-Shires: The Shires, York Barbican, put back by 12 months

BRITAIN’S biggest-selling country act, The Shires, are rescheduling their May 23 show at York Barbican for May 6 2022.

York is the only Yorkshire venue of their rearranged 25-date tour, when Crissie Rhodes and Ben Earle are billed to be joined by Texan country singer and songwriter Eric Paslay. 

“The songs mean so much to us personally, but there really is nothing like looking out at our fans in the crowd and seeing how much of an impact they can have in someone else’s life,” say The Shires. “It’s truly a very special thing”.

And what about?

STILL stuck at home, check out Mindhunter on Netflix, Unforgotten on ITV and Sophia Loren’s Desert Island Discs on BBC Sounds. Seek out Nick Cave & Warren Ellis’s new lockdown album, Carnage.

Cave in: Nick Cave & Warren Ellis create Carnage, available digitally now and on CD and vinyl from May 28

The Howl & The Hum turn into the Minster men for live-streamed concert on May 25

The Minster men: The Howl & The Hum pose for “the ultimate York band press shot”

AFTER a year of living under the pandemic cloud, The Howl & The Hum’s Sam Griffiths is judging his mood by a combination of his mental health and what TV programme is catching his eye.

“So, at the moment, I’m very well, and I’m watching Gordon Ramsay, and it does seem that everyone is feeling a little more positive,” says Sam, who will be feeling all the better for the announcement that his ground-breaking York band will play a live-stream concert at York Minster on May 25 from 8pm to 9.30pm.

The last time he graced a York stage with The Howl & The Hum, he was wearing angel wings with a nod to Christmas and Nativity plays at The Crescent in December 2019.

Might we see those wings again in the Nave of northern Europe’s largest medieval Gothic cathedral? “I feel like that’s been done,” says frontman Sam, whose show announcement promises “a unique set to compliment the unique venue”.

“We’re thinking about a different way to approach it because it’s probably the most important gig we’ve done. Definitely no animal sacrifices and no indoor fireworks! But we do have a lot of exciting plans, though some of them I can’t tell you!”

York’s long-standing independent promoters Please Please You, independent York grassroots venue The Crescent and legendary Leeds venue and promoters The Brudenell [Social Club] are teaming up with the Chapter of York to present this one-off live performance by the York alternative rock outfit.

Confirmed at the fourth attempt of settling on a date, the show will be live-streamed at 20:15 (GMT) via ticket.co, and depending on Covid-19 restrictions at the time, a “very limited socially distanced audience may be able to attend”.

“We’re thinking about a different way to approach it because it’s probably the most important gig we’ve done,” says The Howl & The Hum’s Sam Griffiths, front, as he contemplates their York Minster concert

Indoor performances with reduced capacities could re-start from May 17 under the Government’s four-step roadmap, and so updates on this possibility will be delivered exclusively via the band’s mailing list.

What’s more, this concert could turn into the first in a series of York Minster shows promoted by Joe Coates (Please Please You) and Nathan Clark (manager of The Brudenell), “though they will first see how this one goes,” says Sam. Watch this space.

So much happened for The Howl & The Hum last year, headlined by the May release of their debut album, Human Contact, but so much more should have happened until the pandemic tore up their diary.

“All the post-album tour plans were scrapped, hundreds of shows; that all got decapitated. Our jobs were deemed ‘unviable’ by the Government, and so many friends, musicians, technicians, sound engineers, are still not working, so we’ve got friends involved in our show,” says Sam.

“Joe and Nathan, and friends who are musicians, will help on the day, so this our attempt at rebirth and rejuvenating our corner of the music world, and we’ll be able to pay them properly and fairly.”

Singer, songwriter and guitarist Sam, bassist Brad Blackwell, guitarist Conor Hirons and drummer Jack Williams have all supported themselves through the past year by returning to past jobs when Covid measures permitted: Sam as a barman at the Cardigan Arms in Leeds; Brad and Conor in the Rafi’s Spicebox warehouse and Jack at Bettys in York.

“It’s been a really strange in-and-out time, but we’ve been in the privileged position of being able to regain employment,” says Sam.

“We’re in the studio four or five days a week this year with no distractions because there’s nothing else to do,” says Sam, pictured with Jack Williams, Conor Hirons and Brad Blackwell in pre-Covid times

Meanwhile, The Howl & The Hum have not gone into hibernation. “We’re now at the stage of discussing second album deals, and giving ourselves a wage again, and we’ve got a lot done, which lends itself to our mental health being healthier,” says Sam.

“We’ve been lucky that we’ve had the opportunity to go to our studio because it’s our place of business, so we’ve been there over the past nine months, wearing masks and social distancing.

“We’re in the studio four or five days a week this year with no distractions because there’s nothing else to do.”

Sam anticipates The Howl & The Hum releasing two themed EPs “not too far away”, over the months ahead. Will Covid loom large in the subject matter? “It’s a fine line, because I don’t think you can ignore what’s been happening,” he says.

“There’s no way to pretend it’s not happening, but it’s a challenge to address it in an interesting way, though I’ve always written about isolation. Some songs do allude it, some don’t.”

New material may well feature in the May 25 live-stream. “I reckon it will,” says Sam. “We’re really proud of these songs. They’re sounding almost irritatingly good! We really like them; I’m 80 per cent sure some will be in the Minster setlist.”

That setlist will be built around debut album Human Contact, whose prescient title chimed with pandemic times as such contact became more restricted, even barred, through the alienating cycle of pandemic lockdowns.

The artwork for The Howl & The Hum’s 2020 debut album, Human Contact

“At the time it came out, the title was a good line for the press and the press release, though I was worried it was going to haunt us and it would be seen as a joke, a bit of a throwaway, a sly little reference point, but at the end of the day, we were calling it Human Contact because it was about distance in the digital age.

“We’ve had people finding us on social media and telling us about their experiences, about love at this time. It has hit home in more ways than we would have expected, when we suddenly have no idea how to behave as humans towards each other.

‘“Human Contact’ has now taken on such a meaning in itself that the songs seem to resonate even more.”

The Howl & The Hum will be the first rock act to play York Minster since York singer-songwriter Benjamin Francis Leftwich on March 29 2019. What advice on performing there would Ben pass on to Sam, who happened to be busy co-writing songs on Zoom on the day of this interview?

“If he asked me, I would say, ‘sing from your heart, perform like your life depends on it, though I would advise that for all gig nights, and pray in your own way, whether you’re religious or not; just surrender to it,” he suggests.

This will not be the first time Sam has sung in the Minster. “I went to one of the Easter services there, in the congregation, singing along…to very few people around me, if any were looking at me at all! This time they’ll all be looking at me!” he says.

York singer-songwriter Benjamin Francis Leftwich at York Minster, where he performed in March 2019

The cathedral setting will have an impact on The Howl & The Hum’s performance. “I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself to be religious, but there’s definitely a spiritual feeling to it, and the Minster is such an iconic representation of a city that has been so good to us: the city that gave me a fresh start ten years ago,” says Sam.

“Also, I think it was the week I moved to York that Laura Marling played the Minster, and I love the CD she released of that concert.”

A blue sky greeted The Howl & The Hum on the day they lined up for their Minster photoshoot. “It’s the press shot for a York band!” says Sam. “We were very aware we were there, standing outside the Minster, because we’re not comfortable as models…but it is one of my very favourite buildings.”

Looking ahead to the prospect of gigs resuming from the summer onwards with crowds, The Howl & The Hum have September shows in place for Paris, Milan, Zurich, Berlin, Amsterdam, Cologne and Antwerp, along with 13 British dates in October that will culminate in two nights at Leeds Brudenell Social Club, close to where Sam now lives, on October 30 and 31.

“It will be such a burst of joy to play to audiences again,” he says. “I think ‘overwhelming’ will be the word for how everyone will feel as we try to make our way through the first song.”

Live-stream tickets for May 25 are on sale via thehowlandthehum.com/.

Did you know?

THE Howl & The Hum’s guitarist, Conor Hirons, designs the band’s artwork. “He’s self-taught,” says Sam. “He basically got bored on tour, got himself an iPad to draw with, and now he’s so in demand he’s designing everyone’s posters and artwork.”

Band member Conor Hirons’ poster for The Howl & The Hum at York Minster

Green day for go for York rock band Bull as they sign record deal with major label EMI

Full of Bull: York band Bull after their signing by EMI

YORK band Bull are signing to record industry giants EMI, nine years after first forming.

They become the first York group to put pen to such a deal since Shed Seven rubber-stamped a six-album contract with Polydor Records in October 1993, going on to notch up 15 Top 40 hits from Dolphin in 1994 to Why Can’t I Be You? in 2003.

Songwriter and vocalist Tom Beer, co-founder and guitarist Dan Lucas, drummer Tom Gabbatiss and bass player and print-maker Kai West will be working in tandem with EMI alongside Young Thugs: the York indie label,  artist managers, recording studio and gig promoters, run by Dave Greenbrown and Jonny Hooker up the stairs at South Bank Social Club in the pioneering, underground spirit of Andy Warhol’s Factory in that other York, New York.

The first green shoots of what the EMI publicity campaign is calling “the start of a beautiful friendship” is the aptly named single Green, a crowd favourite with a history stretching back to 2012, released today.

Depending on which band member you ask, this blissful slice of jangle-pop with a pinch of psychedelia and a grating of scuzzy lead guitar is either a “melancholy rumination on decisions made and the grass always being greener”, or is all about “ripping bongs down at the basketball court when you really should be writing the next great American novel”.

“It feels surreal,” says frontman Tom Beer, breathing in the giddying fresh air of becoming a major label act. “I just didn’t really expect it, to be honest! Delighted as well…and really excited. Lucky too, as there are so many good bands out there.

“The way it worked for us was that we’d been doing a lot of gigs, touring so much, here, in the Netherlands, Germany, America, and when we released songs we had more plays because we’d played so many places.

Shed Seven: The Britpop luminaries that set the benchmark for York bands

“Young Thugs and Dave Greenbrown have been so supportive too, and then the MD [managing director] of EMI came to see us supporting Warmduscher at The Crescent.”

When? “I’m not good with dates,” says Tom. “Except in the future. I only remember them when I need to.”

Dave Greenbrown says: “We’ve been working on this for around 18 months.  The MD of EMI was looking around for groups and came across Young Thugs two years ago and we’ve been trying to figure out something ever since.

“Clearly, Bull were the ones with the songs and I said to them, ‘I think there’s a chance for you if you can work on your professionalism as you have to be good every night’, and they were up for that and did exactly that.

“I didn’t want the EMI MD to see them until it was the right time, as you have only one chance, don’t you, and Bull took it.

“They write great catchy pop songs; they’ve finished the album, and they’ve signed a one-year deal with EMI: three singles, one album, just royalties off the streams and the sales of their records.”

Bull charged on to the York music scene in 2011, led by Tom and Dan, both inspired by their 1990s’ alt. rock heroes, Pavement, Yo La Tengo and The Pixies.

The present line-up of four Yorkshiremen emerged through friendship and happenstance: drummer Tom joining after he and the other Tom jammed together in bars when backpacking around Thailand; Kai making the giant leap from persistently jumping up on stage to dance in the erratic, blissful manner of Happy Mondays’ Bez to  eventually being allowed to play bass.

“It feels surreal,” says Bull frontman Tom Beer. “Lucky too, as there are so many good bands out there.”

But 2011 to 2020, Tom, that is an unusually long gestation period for a band, isn’t it? “I would never not want to do this. I just can’t see myself not doing it. It’s how I operate. I’ve always busked…I’ve worked at the Golden Ball, where I put on open-mic nights on Mondays…and I’m good at living on chickpeas,” he says.

“I definitely feel that one of the best feeling you can have is playing music with another human being and I incorporate the crowd in that.”

Apparently, this is “the start of a beautiful friendship”, Tom? “I hope that’s true and I believe that to be true, because it’s always been based on friendships between us and promoters, travelling around and making it happen and it’s been rewarding.”

One such bond paid off, leading Bull indirectly to their Dutch record producer, Remko Schouten. “Whether it was blind faith or fate, we decided on a whim to go to Germany, just after Tom and Kai joined in 2018, and we were all feeling very serious about it, like when The Beatles played  Hamburg,” recalls Tom.

“We were playing dive bar gigs, and we went to this bar at three in the morning, where Tom was wearing my hat, and this guy came up and said, ‘Where did you get that hat?’.

“He turned out to be the drummer – and a golfing pro! – for Spiral Stairs and Remko was there on tour with them doing their sound. We put on this house party at a friend’s house in Berlin, in Schoneberg, the area where Bowie used to live, and the next thing we know, Spiral Stairs [alias Scott Kannberg of the aforementioned Pavement] was playing at our house party!

“That night Remko said, ‘if you ever want to record with me, let me know’, and we did, two months later.”

Over the next two years, Bull visited Schouten’s Amsterdam studio four or five times, recording songs over a few days each time, songs that will now form the album whose title and release date are yet to be confirmed (although Dave Greenbrown did mention January 29 2021, so watch this space).

The artwork for Green, Bull’s first single for EMI

“This was no ‘one weekend, bash it out’ recording session,” says Dave. “This was a proper job, working over a long time.”

The Coronavirus pandemic may have brought gigs to a stultifying halt, but Bull are coping with being a band in Covid-19 times in 2020, boosted by the momentum of signing a record company deal. “It feels OK for us right now because luckily we finished the album the day before we had to flee the Netherlands, returning home instead of playing with our favourite Dutch bands in Amsterdam, but we definitely made the right decision,” says York-born Tom, who now lives in Scarborough.

Green is the first fruit of that record deal. “That song is one of the oldest Bull songs, I wrote it in 2012, and it’s the only song on the upcoming album that was featured on She Looks Like Kim, our first album in 2014, which we self-released,” says Tom.

“We recorded it at the Melrose Yard Studios, the brilliant studio off Walmgate that sadly closed last year, and we launched it with a gig at Dusk, covering the cost of the recording that night.

“Green was the first song on there and the lead single back then too, and we just thought it’s a good song, it’s always been a favourite, so let’s give it a second shot at the big time.”

The accompanying video is the work of Bull too. “We’ve worked on a lot of music videos: the one for Green is the first time I’ve ever used movie software, with the help of Dan [Lucas],” says Tom. “We had a lot of footage from various things that we could use, and there’s even some footage on there from the original Green video, made by Rory Welbrock, our bassist before Kai joined.

“It also features some latex masks made by my sister, Holly, who’s been really interested in making masks for three years – and now masks are everywhere of course, aren’t they!”

Dave Greenbrown hopes Bull’s record deal will be a trigger for more York musicians to find favour with record labels. The Howl & The Hum set the bar high with Human Contact, their late-May album for our disconcerting, disconnected times, and the likes of Bonnie & The Bailers, Fat Spatula and Perspex should be on the radar too.

Fellow York band of the moment The Howl & The Hum, featuring drummer – and former big band trumpet player – Jack Williams, left

“I think it’s been really good to be a musician in York. As a child, there were amazing music services provided for you in the city,” says Tom. “I was in a big band, playing the trombone; there were loads of people doing that, like The Howl & The Hum drummer, Jack Williams. He played trumpet.

“I think that’s had a massive impact, because you can enjoy it when you’re little, and then your musicianship progresses and you start playing in bands. For me, it was places like The Woolpack Inn [in Fawcett Street], run by a guy called Sid, who had bands on every night. It made it feel like you owned it, and if you wanted to put on a gig, you could.”

Broadening his thought, Tom says: “I’d like to thank Young Thugs for their involvement; the MD of EMI got in touch with them because he was impressed with what Young Thugs bands, such as The Lungs (Theo Mason Wood and Bonnie Milnes) and …And The Hangnails, and Bonneville, were doing.

“And now, the great thing with the link-up between EMI and Young Thugs is that hopefully it’s going to benefit other York bands too.”

What makes Bull stand out, the way a bull does when frequenting a china shop? The infectious tunes, yes, but also the humour in Tom’s Yorkshire-frank lyrics. “I’m very glad you say that,” he says. “I definitely don’t want to be any one thing in my lyrics – a lot of the time I’m capturing a temporary feeling – but a lot of my favourite songwriters embrace humour…though sometimes it doesn’t want to be too funny, just for the sake of it.

“Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus, one of my favourites, likes to use humour, and Dylan, my hero, is full of it. He plays with words a lot. It’s that thing of, if you don’t cry, you’ll laugh.”

Right now, on Green day, Bull have every reason to be smiling.

To view Bull’s video for Green, go to: https://www.youtube.com/embed/Bs8dtx0bg4U