More Things To Do in and around York when not banished to ‘see you later, self-isolator’. List No. 41, courtesy of The Press, York

Rick Astley: Soul favourite’s post-racing show is a definite runner at York Racecourse tomorrow evening

IT ain’t worth a thing if it got that confounded ping, but let’s hope this NHS Covid app hazard does not apply to any of Charles Hutchinson’s suggestions as Step 4 starts to kick in.

Outdoor concerts of the week in York: York Racecourse Music Showcase Weekend, Rick Astley, Friday evening; McFly, Saturday late-afternoon

YORK Racecourse was never gonna give up on Rick Astley performing on a race day, even if the original show had to fall by the wayside last summer. Sure enough, the Newton-le-Willows soul crooner, 55, has been re-booked for tomorrow for a post-racing live set.

McFly: Promising Young Dumb Thrills at York Racecourse on Saturday

After Saturday afternoon’s race card, the re-formed McFly will combine such favourites as All About You, Obviously and 5 Colours In Her Hair with songs from their 2020 return, Young Dumb Thrills, such as Happiness, Tonight Is The Night and You’re Not Special. The County Stand has reached capacity for Saturday already.

Friday’s racing starts at 6pm; Saturday, at 2.05pm. For tickets, go to: yorkracecourse.co.uk.

Rachel Podger: The violinist plays, after self-isolation, for online viewing from the York Early Music Festival. Picture: Theresa Pewal

Online concert home entertainment of the week: Rachel Podger, The Violinist Speaks, York Early Music Festival

WHEN Baroque violinist Rachel Podger fell victim to the dreaded “pingdemic”, she had to forego her July 13 concert performance, condemned to self-isolate instead.

In stepped Florilegium violinist Bojan Cicic to play the very same Bach, Tartini and Biber repertoire at St Lawrence Church, Hull Road, at only three hours’ notice.

Rachel, however, subsequently recorded The Violinist Speaks without an audience at the NCEM for a digital livestream premiere at 7.30pm last Saturday. This online concert is now available on demand until August 13; on sale until August 9 at:  ncem.co.uk/events/rachel-podger-online/ncem.co.uk

Twinnie: Twinning with Velma Celli for tomorrow’s double bill at Impossible York

York’s queen of vocal drag meets York’s country queen: The Velma Celli Show with special guest Twinnie, Impossible York, St Helen’s Square, York, tomorrow, 7pm, doors; show, 8pm

YORK’S international drag diva deluxe, Velma Celli, will be joined by country singer Twinnie at The Velma Celli Show at Impossible York on her return home from recording sessions for her second album in Nashville.

“My mate and fellow Yorky the awesome Twinny is my v. special guest tomorrow night at Impossible – York,” says Velma, the cabaret creation of Ian Stroughair, on Instagram. Like Ian, Twinnie has starred in West End musicals, most notably in Chicago, under her stage name Twinnie-Lee Moore.

Tickets cost £15, £20 for VIP stage seating, at ticketweb.uk.

Michael Lambourne: Fenland storyteller at Theatre At The Mill, Stillington, this weekend

Storytellers of the week: Michael Lambourne and Shona Cowie, Theatre At The Mill, Stillington, near York, Saturday and Sunday

NOT that long ago a familiar bearded face and booming voice on the York stage before heading south, Michael Lambourne will return north on Saturday to present the 7.30pm premiere of Black Shuck, a “responsive storytelling experience” based on the legend of the Demon Dog of East Anglia.

Penned and performed by Lambourne, Black Shuck is the tale of a hound of unnatural size, an omen of misfortune to those who see its eyes, wherein he explores the enduring effect it has on Fenland folklore in a personal account of how a rural myth can become a chilling part of the present day.

Scottish storyteller and physical performer Shona Cowie will open the evening with her Celtic tale of the dreamer and visionary Bruadarach and then present Beware The Beasts, a show for families (age five upwards), at 2pm on Sunday. 

Shona will provide case studies from leading monster evaders and offer instruction on the most effective ways to avoid being squashed, eaten or turned into a nugget. Box office: tickettailor.com/events/atthemill/. 

Ralph Fiennes in TS Eliot’s Four Quartets, on tour at York Theatre Royal next week

First full-capacity shows at York Theatre Royal since mid-March 2020: Ralph Fiennes in T S Eliot’s Four Quartets, July 26 to 31

YORK Theatre Royal will return to full-capacity audiences with effect from Monday’s performance of T S Eliot’s Four Quarters, performed and directed by Ralph Fiennes.

Good news for those who had missed out on tickets for the most in-demand production of the reopening Love Season when it was first put on sale with social distancing in place. This week’s unlocking of Step 4 frees up the sudden availability of seats aplenty.

Please note, however, the wearing of face coverings will be strongly encouraged; some safety measures will continue too, but not temperature checks on the door.

Wall art: The poster for Miles And The Chain Gang’s first gig in York in 18 months. Picture: Jim Poyner

Back on the Chain Gang: Miles And The Chain Gang, supported by King Courgette, The Fulford Arms, York, July 29, 8pm

AFTER an 18-month hiatus. York band Miles And The Chain Gang will return to the concert platform next week, tooled up with new material.

In the line-up are singer, songwriter, storyteller, published poet and radio presenter Miles Salter, on guitar and vocals, Billy Hickling, drums and percussion, Tim Bruce, bass, and Alan Dawson, lead guitar, augmented for this gig by Fay Donaldson’s flute and saxophone.

The Gang have been working on a debut album, recording with producer Jonny Hooker at Young Thugs Studios in York. Tickets cost £7 at thefulfordarms.co.uk or £8 on the door. 

Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company’s poster for next week’s brace of Gilbert and Sullivan shows

Fundraiser of the week ahead: Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company Does Gilbert And Sullivan, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, HMS Pinafore, July 29, 7.30pm, and July 31, 2.30pm; The Mikado, July 30 and 31, 7.30pm

THE Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company, the JoRo’s in-house performing troupe, are producing concert versions of Gilbert and Sullivan’s biggest light opera hits, HMS Pinafore and The Mikado, next week.

The shows will be brimful of popular tunes and brilliant characters, with all profits from this topsy-turvy musical madness going straight back to the Haxby Road community theatre.

Rachel Croft: Cafe concert at Forty Five, with Reap What You Sow EP to follow in September

Music Café society gig of the week ahead: Rachel Croft, Forty Five Vinyl Café, Micklegate, York, July 31, 7.30m

NEXT Saturday at Forty Five, York singer-songwriter Rachel Croft will showcase tomorrow’s release of Reap What You Sow, a cinematic, moody taster for her four-track EP of the same name on September 9.

Exploring a more potent, bluesy style throughout, further tracks will be second single Time Waits For No Man, Roots and Chasing Time.  

Rachel will be supported by Kell Chambers and Evie Barrand. Tickets cost £10 via fortyfiveuk.com/whatson.

The Trials Of Cato: Tomos Williams and Rob Jones with new trio member Polly Bolton, playing Primrose Wood Acoustics in early August

Going down in the woods next month: The Trials Of Cato, Primrose Wood Acoustics, Pocklington, August 5, 7pm

BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winners The Trials Of Cato will headline the third Primrose Wood Acoustics session in Pocklington on August 5.

Organised by Pocklington Arts Centre, the outdoor concert series will complete its summer hattrick by popular demand after sold-out sylvan shows on July 1 and 8.

Leamington Spa singer-songwriter Polly Bolton joins co-founders Tomos Williams and Rob Jones for the showcase of imminent second album Gog Magog. Tickets cost £14 on 01759 301547 or at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

Pocklington Arts Centre confirms July 21 reopening and first film show in 491 days

Open welcome: Pocklington Arts Centre director Janet Farmer looks forward to reopening on July 20

POCKLINGTON Arts Centre will reopen to the public on July 20 and film screenings will re-start on July 23, 491 days since the last performance.

Director Janet Farmer and venue manager James Duffy have chosen this date to ensure the safety of customers and volunteers.

“Over the past few months, our main focus has been planning the safe reopening of the building, ensuring all staff are trained appropriately and making sure the venue has all its new systems, resources and processes in place and working well,” says Janet. 

“We have sought feedback from staff, volunteers and customers and this will be vital to the success of this process. Our main aim is to ensure the visitor experience at Pocklington Arts Centre (PAC) is safe, secure and enjoyable.”

In late-March 2020, the East Yorkshire venue launched a crowdfunding page, raising more than £18,000 in under a month, followed by successful funding applications to the Smile Foundation’s I Am Fund and the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund. 

Spiers & Boden: October 20 booking at Pocklington Arts Centre

Janet says: “I would like to thank our customers, in addition to Pocklington Town Council, the Friends of PAC, the Smile Foundation, Arts Council England and the Music Venue Trust for their collective support over the past year. 

“It has been a very difficult time for everyone, but their kind words, financial support and continued interest in all things PAC has meant a great deal and helped carry the venue through these extraordinary times.”

Staff have rescheduled forthcoming events for the autumn and winter, transferring more than 4,000 tickets and refunding customers for 20-plus cancelled events. 

“Throughout the closure period, we have stated our determination to emerge from the situation more vibrant than ever and our autumn and winter programme is a testament to that,” says Janet. 

“2021/22 will see a fantastic range of live events being staged here, alongside our trademark diverse mix of film screenings, live broadcasts, exhibitions, community events and private hires.” 

Velma Celli: York’s queen of vocal drag will make Pocklington debut on December 3. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

In the diary are Grammy Award winner Loudon Wainwright III, September 24; Northumberland Theatre Company (NTC) in Oscar Wilde’s “trivial comedy for serious people”, The Importance Of Being Earnest, September 30; North Eastern gypsy folk-rockers Holy Moly & The Crackers, October 16; Oxford singer-songwriter Thea Gilmore, October 7, and Irish jazz/blues chanteuse Mary Coughlan, October 19.

Bellowhead alumni and BBC Radio Folk Award winners Spiers & Boden are booked in for October 20; Red Ladder Theatre Company, from Leeds, in Nana-Kofi Kufuor’s My Voice Was Heard But Was Ignored, for November 25; television and radio broadcaster and author Jeremy Vine, November 26; Welsh singer-songwriter Martyn Joseph, December 2, and York drag diva deluxe Velma Celli, December 3.

Confirmed for 2022 are An Evening With Julian Norton, from Channel 5’s The Yorkshire Vet, January 18; singer-songwriter Teddy Thompson, January 22;Welsh guitarist, songwriter, vocalist and former Amen Corner cornerstone Andy Fairweather Low, February 11, and Eighties’ pop singer and actress Toyah Willcox, March 3.

PAC’s two open-air acoustic concerts in Primrose Wood, Pocklington, with Martin Simpson and Katie Spencer on July 1 and The Dunwells and Rachel Croft on July 8 will go ahead despite the Government’s Step 4 roadmap delay, but now under social-distancing restrictions. Both 7pm shows have sold out.

Janet says: “We always knew this was a possibility when the shows were first planned and there’s sufficient space for people to enjoy the event safely, while experiencing the atmospheric setting of Primrose Wood.”

Martin Simpson: Headlining at a sold-out Primrose Woods on July 1

PAC increased its online artistic output during the pandemic, staging 18 events to more than 9,000 audience members. 

In addition, a series of outdoor exhibitions has been held by PAC across the region. York artists Sue Clayton and Karen Winship have shown work at All Saints’ Church, Pocklington, and Sue will be following Karen into Hull Waterside and Marina. Those attending the York Vaccination Centre at Askham Bar can see her Down Syndrome portraits in the Tent of Hope. 

“We felt it was vitally important to have continued customer engagement throughout the prolonged closure period and the public response to these events and exhibitions has been very positive,” says Janet. 

“We’re also very much aware there’s no substitute to watching a live performance, in person, and sharing this experience with fellow audience members. 

“Everyone at PAC is now counting down the days until the doors can reopen and we can welcome customers back. It’s been a very long interval and we can’t wait for the second half to begin.”

For full event listings and ticket details, go to: pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

York artist Karen Winship at the launch of her NHS Heroes exhibition at Hull Waterside and Marina

Can’t see the wood for the bricks? Then head to Chalmers & Hutch’s podcast

Ah, but they’re not bricks, as tree-hugger Hutch discovers close up. These wood blocks form part of Karin Van Der Molen’s sculpture, Shield, at the Himalayan Gardens, Grewelthorpe, near Ripon

BE pepped up by the one and only arts club badinage from Two Big Egos In A Small car podcasters Chalmers & Hutch, as they discuss Grewelthorpe’s jewel, the Himalayan Gardens; Velma Celli’s Drag Brunch; Metronomy’s English Riviera landmark; the “Top 20 Most Inspirational Novels”; York’s strange version of The Masked Singer and Cruella & Disney reboots.

Head to: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1187561/8674205

REVIEW: Drag diva Velmi Celli at York Theatre Royal and Impossible, York

Velma Celli: York’s queen of vocal drag in the age of RuPaul’s Drag Race. PIcture: Kirkpatrick Photography

Velma Celli, Love Is Love: A Brief History Of Drag, The Love Season, York Theatre Royal, 29/5/2021; Velma Celli’s Impossible Drag Brunch, Impossible Wonderbar, Impossible, York, 5/6/2021

IT takes balls to be a drag act.

Velma Celli knows it, shows it and indeed sometimes them too in a leg-crossing, leg-uncrossing, let’s-sit-and-chat-on-the-stage-lip moment at York Theatre Royal.

In York drag diva deluxe Velma’s case, it takes more than balls, however. Pointedly, the fabulous, fruity, funny creation of musical actor Ian Stroughair bills herself as “the queen of vocal drag”.

“I can sing,” says Velma, throwing a ta-da shoulder shrug as she calls out the parade of kitch’n’synch acts that strut and pout on RuPaul’s Drag Race conveyor belt.

Velma Celli’s regular poster for international hit A Brief History Of Drag

Velma, or rather Ian, first sang on his home-city Theatre Royal stage in a musical version of Kes – that sounds camp!  – at the age of 14. Twenty-four years later, coinciding with theatre’s return from a long Covid quarantine, Ian/Velma is back on this stage at last, and not before time, bitches, as Velma is wont to address the throng.

“Can I just say, it must be such a privilege for you to be here tonight,” says Velma, who has wrapped a clingy, plunging little black number over his very tall, leggy frame. Although this night is not all glamour: off come the false eyelashes when they start playing up in the stinging heat.

The drag persona of Velma Celli emerged 13 years ago when Ian was playing Mary Sunshine in Chicago in the West End. Wednesday was meet-up night for the boys from Chicago, Priscilla etc at Madame Jojo’s, the legendary Soho home of burlesque and cabaret, dressing up glam to sing.

Ian went as Chicago’s nightclub star and murderess Velma Kelly, slurped on his vermacilli dish, and took to the stage. Velma Celli was born, or rather, “unleashed”, as Ian puts it.

“When you’re good to Velma, Velma’s good to you,” promises Velma Celli in her signature showstopper

This is but one story from A Brief History Of Drag, a show that Ian put together when stuck in Tanzania and has since taken to Australia and the USA, as he celebrates “burlesque, debauchery, defiance and…shoes”. Velma duly points to a silvery pair that glisten even more than Dorothy’s heel-clickers in The Wizard Of Oz.

“Unleashed” is exactly the right word for a Velma Celli performance: a tornado, a toreador in vocal form, here stirred to ever greater heights by super-talented musical director Ben Papworth, high-heeled boots tucked beneath his keyboards.

This is a proper, proper show: Velma, up front and out there; three-piece band (Papworth, keys, Clark Howard, drums and gold lamé jacket; Al Morrison, guitar); two backing singers, Kimberley Ensor and rising York talent Grace Lancaster; two guests, soul queen Jessica Steel, York partner in lockdown streamed concerts, and musical actor Jordan Fox, partner in pantomime for York Stage’s Jack And The Beanstalk.

When Velma takes the stand beneath a rockabilly quiff, she can not only sing the sing and dance the dance, she can talk the talk too, witty and waspish, as we learn of drag’s history, Velma and Ian’s past, her staging posts, the abiding influence of unloving mothers and the importance of the Stonewall riots in Greenwich Village, New York in 1969 and the Stonewall LGBT charity over here.

The poster for the first Impossible Drag Brunch on a York Saturday afternoon

For the Theatre Royal’s Love Season, love is in the air and in the one-off prefix to the show title: Love Is Love. Omnipresent is the love of song and those who take risks: for example, Tim Curry (The Rocky Horror Show’s Sweet Transvestite); Freddie Mercury and David Bowie – the latter, Velma’s astute choice for her next show – for a spectacular Under Pressure and La Cage Aux Folles’ Albin for the climactic I Am What I Am.

Mind you, Velma can be picky, not liking Culture Club’s hits, but loving Boy George’s musical, Taboo, and its signature number, Stranger In This World. Gorgeous, Georgeous.

Velma loves a duet too, taking a seat side by side with Jess for a stand-out Always Remember Us This Way (from Lady Gaga’s A Star Is Born), accompanied on guitar by Stuart Allan. Later, in the latest update to the show in a nod to the impact of Russell T Davies’s devastating series It’s A Sin, Velma is joined by Fox for the Pet Shop Boys’ anthem, poignant yet celebratory too.

Velma’s voice warms, expands, stretches and strengthens as the show progresses, shown off to the max in a set-piece send up of lip-synching acts on RuPaul’s Drag Race, mimicking their physical impersonations while accentuating the vocal tics and mannerisms of Britney, Bjork, Bassey, Gabrielle, Cher et al.

Ending with an encore medley from Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert, Velma/Ian will surely not have to wait for another 24 years to return to the Theatre Royal.

Fancy a Shambles Mule? The cocktails list at the Impossible Drag Brunch

In the meantime, Velma is bedding in a new monthly residency for The Velma Celli Show in the big-windowed first-floor Wonderbar at Impossible, York, and last Saturday afternoon Velma Celli’s Drag Brunch was launched there too. Covid-safe; socially distanced; no masks needed when seated, but yes if you want to stand to dance around.

Judging by the support for the two sittings at 12.30pm and 2.30pm, it is likely to become a monthly fixture too as part of Impossible’s cabaret and comedy portfolio.

The show is fast-moving, fizzy and fun, with “bottomless cocktails, small plates and a side order”  (Halloumi Bites and Truffle Chips for CH) and two sets by Velma, introduced by DJ Zoe on afternoon release from Funny Girls in Blackpool, armed with a potty mouth, party-igniting disco classics and the backing tracks for Velma’s vocal tour de force.

It may not surprise you to learn that, looking around, the debut Drag Brunch partygoers are predominantly female, but the smattering of men are having a fab time too (but need to be willing to be the butt of DJ Zoe’s bawdy humour).

York, 3.50pm, June 5: Velma Celli and her ladies at the climax to the Impossible Drag Brunch

The Wonderbar, with its profusion of plants, wood and glass, recalls the conservatories and cocktail bars of the 1930s and makes for a fabulous cabaret setting. The cocktails list embraces the classics and the up to date (Salted Caramel Espresso), the Mojito and the No-jito (for the mocktail option).

General manager Stephanie Powell’s staff are everywhere, busy, busy, busy with their table service of drinks and choice of Chicken Skewers/Halloumi Bites/Cauliflower Wings/Hotdog (mini-version) with Skinny Salted Fries/Truffle Chips/Salad.

Gliding down the stairs, Velma is in sparkly black and silver, topped off in the second set with a shimmering silvery bob wig, and as she promises: “When you’re good to Velma, Velma’s good to you”. From Feeling Good to the obligatory Divas-meets-Drag Acts setpiece, I Want To  Break Free to “torches out” for Bowie’s Starman and a ruder lyric for Queen’s Somebody To Love, Velma walks the room as she works the  crowd. Everything is drag, nothing drags.

Girls, and boys, make sure to be in Velma’s camp for your Saturday afternoon pleasure.

Cheers! Another “bottomless” cocktail hits the rocks at the Impossible Drag Brunch

Twenty four years after Kes, Ian Stroughair returns home to York Theatre Royal stage in guise of drag diva alter ego Velma Celli

“I feel over-excited! I cannot wait! Get me on that stage!” says Ian Stroughair/Velma Celli ahead of Saturday’s Love Is Love: A Brief History Of Drag show at York Theatre Royal. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

YORK musical actor Ian Stroughair will return to the York Theatre Royal stage for the first time in 24 years on Saturday, in the guise of his cabaret alter ego, drag diva deluxe Velma Celli.

“I last performed there in Kes, appearing in the ensemble, and sadly I’ve never been back,” says Ian, 38, who has settled back into his home city since Lockdown 1, leaving London behind.

“I’ve tried to do shows at the Theatre Royal but it’s never happened, so it’s great to be back now. I love what Tom [chief executive Tom Bird] is doing there.”

Love is the drag for Ian this weekend when Velma Cella takes part in the Theatre Royal’s spring-reawakening Love Season, performing one of Velma’s regular shows, re-titled Love Is Love: A Brief Of History Of Drag specially for the 8pm occasion.

Ian has taken A Brief History Of Drag to New York and Australia and on a British tour, as well as staging performances in London and York. “I’ve been doing it for four years now on and off, and I’m so glad the Theatre Royal wants the show,” he says. “I feel over-excited! I cannot wait! Get me on that stage!”

Ian created the show when he was in “stuck in Africa for a few weeks”. “I was in Dar Es Salam, in Tanzania,” he recalls. “I thought, ‘let’s write a show’ and it ended up being about how I got into drag and a celebration of the impact of drag in theatre, music, film and popular culture.

The regular poster for Velma Celli’s A Brief History Of Drag, retitled with the precursor Love Is Love for The Love Season at York Theatre Royal

“It’s part-story, but most definitely a celebration, and it’s an ever-changing show. I find new nuggets and add them in all the time. There’s so much stuff to cover in our story.”

Should you be wondering how and why the term “drag” was coined, let Ian explain: “Shakespeare! It’s a script/stage direction abbreviation. ‘Man enters stage dressed as a girl’. D.R.A.G.”

The drag persona of Velma Celli emerged 13 years ago when Ian was playing Mary Sunshine in the West End run of Chicago. Did she arrive fully fledged or bloom gradually?  “Progression. Like developing any role or idea, time is needed,” says Ian, who remembers exactly how he felt when he first took to the stage in drag. Confident? Nervous? Born to play the role? “Unleashed,” he says.

Velma Celli, who made a sassy cameo appearance in EastEnders, draws inspiration from “the greats”. “Lily Savage, Dame Edna Everage, Bowie, the movies, musicals and many unknown queens who blazed the trail,” he says.

Velma Celli in David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane trademark make-up

Now, he is planning a Velma Celli show built around David Bowie: singer, songwriter, actor, artist, cultural icon, iconoclast, fashion shaper and androgynous shape-shifter.

“I think Bowie is a master at illusion and character development but also reinvention. Something I completely relate to as an artist,” says Ian, whose “Irreplaceable. The Almighty Who Inspired Legends” show will “celebrate Bowie and the artists he inspired”.

Meanwhile, Velma Celli’s regular York residency is on the move. Out goes the Covid-suspended monthly camp cabaret Friday nights at The Basement, City Screen, York.

“Velma loves the limelight; Ian enjoys the anonymity,” says Ian Stroughair, who “repels fame”

In comes a resplendent residency from last Friday at Impossible, York, Tokyo Industries’ new tea-room, cocktail bar, restaurant and speakeasy enterprise in the old Terry’s café in St Helen’s Café, latterly home to Carluccio’s restaurant.

“The first show was incredible,” says Ian. “The atmosphere was electric. I’ll never forget it. The new venue is so plush and the staff are excellent.”

The Velma Celli Show residency will not be Velma’s only gig in the first-floor Impossible Wonderbar. “On June 5, we’ll be holding the first Drag Brunch, with Velma, surprise guest drag queens, bottomless cocktails and brunch,” says Ian, looking forward to hosting the “ultimate diva brunch in homage to all the queens”, from Whitney to Tina Turner plus many more besides.

That day, there will be two 90-minute sittings, the first from 12 noon, the second from 2.30pm. Tickets are on sale via info@impossibleyork.com or on 01904 864410.

Last year, Ian had to forego a long run in Funny Girls in Blackpool, thwarted by Killjoy Covid, and the pandemic strictures put paid to his international travels too.

Already he has had his two Covid-19 vaccine jabs to enable Ian to take a week’s travel to Mexico for a Velma Celli show in Cancun, however. “Thank god for that because the next cruise is not until October. I lost all the cruise-ship shows last year, and I’d already lost five cruise bookings this year, when in one day I lost three more cruise bookings,” he reveals.

Ian Stroughair on the balcony outside his new abode In York after moving back to his home city from London

The ships may be down, but Ian has shown resilience throughout the pandemic, streaming Velma Celli concerts, first from a Bishopthorpe kitchen and later from a riverside abode by the Ouse Bridge. Last December was spent playing the villainous Flesh Creep in York Stage’s debut pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk, at Theatre @41, Monkgate.

Just as this interview moves freely between Ian and Velma, where does Ian, son of Acomb, stop and Velma, drag diva alter ego, start? “She arrives during the make-up process and getting into costume. But human interaction is where it clicks in,” says Ian. “I need my audience.”

Repelling fame, Ian defines the distinction as “Velma loves the limelight; Ian enjoys the anonymity”. “Fame isn’t necessary for me,” he says. “In fact it makes me uncomfortable. I like my private life with my loved ones and I’m very protective of that and mostly them. A stage: that’s where I come alive.” 

Tickets for Velma Celli’s Love Is Love: A Brief History Of Drag can be booked at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or on 01904 623568. For the latest Velma Celli trailer, go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a005o6eGZWI. Hit it!

Just One More Thing…

What do you think of the RuPaul’s Drag Race TV shows? Good news for drag?
“It’s made it more mainstream but I don’t think it’s the essence of drag. Gentrification, for sure, but a celebration, of course. That can only be a good thing.”

Copyright of The Press, 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.

Mission Impossible! Velma Celli finds new wonderbar home for York drag residency

“It’s happening!” says Velma Celli as York cabaret star moves residency to Impossible, York, from May 21. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick, Kirkpatrick Photography

YORK’S drag diva deluxe Velma Celli is on the move.

Out goes the Covid-suspended monthly camp cabaret Friday nights at The Basement, City Screen, York.

In comes a resplendent residency from May 21 at Impossible, York, Tokyo Industries’ new tea-room, cocktail bar, restaurant and speakeasy enterprise in the old Terry’s café in St Helen’s Café, latterly home to Carluccio’s restaurant.

“It’s happening!” says an excited Velma Celli, the exotic international drag alter-ego of musical actor Ian Stroughair, last seen on a York stage in December as the villainous Fleshius Creepius in York Stage’s debut pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk, at Theatre @41, Monkgate.

How the other half lives: Exit alter-ego Velma Celli, enter Ian Stroughair, musical actor, playing Fleshius Creepius in York Stage’s pantomime Jack And The Beanstalk last winter. Picture: Kirkpatrick Photography

“Velma has a new residency!! My very first live gig at the utterly fabulous Impossible, York. May 21st.  Doors 7pm. Show 8pm! My very special guest is [York soul sister] Jessica Steel (obvs). More special West End guests to be announced! Grab those tickets as it will sell out!”

Tickets are on sale at https://www.ticketweb.uk/event/the-velma-celli-show-impossible-york-tickets/10900325, priced at £22 for VIP front cabaret table seats and £16.50 for reserved seating.

“Basically, it’s replacing the shows at The Basement, where we don’t know when it will reopen for shows under Covid guidance as it’s a small space,” says Ian, as he switches from the impossible to Impossible, York.

The debut poster for Velma Celli’s new residency

“I met the Impossible general manager, Stephanie [Powell], in December, meeting her between Jack And The Beanstalk shows, and then suddenly she knocked on the window saying, ‘I’ve been trying to contact you!’.

“And so the first Velma Celli Show there will be on May 21, up the stairs, in the fabulous Impossible Wonderbar setting overlooking the square, with more monthly shows to be announced later. This one will be fun, comedic, with stand-up, impressions, the usual mix of rock, pop and the blues, plus Jess and guests.”

The Velma Celli Show residency will not be Velma’s only gig in the first-floor Impossible Wonderbar. “On June 5, we’ll be holding the first Drag Brunch, with Velma, surprise guest drag queens, bottomless cocktails and brunch,” says Ian, looking forward to hosting the “ultimate diva brunch in homage to all the queens”, from Whitney to Tina Turner plus many more besides.

Brunch date: Velma Celli will be joined by guest drag queens at Impossible, York, on June 5

That day, there will be two 90-minute sittings, the first from 12 noon, the second from 2.30pm. Tickets June 5 are on sale via info@impossibleyork.com or on 01904 864410.

After being London based for so long – like so many musical performers – Ian first moved back to York for Lockdown 1 when the pandemic sent him home from a Velma Celli Australian tour, and he plans to settle back in his home city permanently from May, travelling to London for three days a week when necessary.

Streamed concerts, first from a Bishopthorpe kitchen and latterly from a riverside abode by the Ouse Bridge, have kept Velma Celli’s voice in spectacular working order, sometimes accompanied by soul-singing York hairdresser Jessica Steel, leading light of Big Ian Donaghy’s fundraising A Night To Remember shows at York Barbican and salon owner of Rock The Barnet in Boroughbridge Road.

West End star Ian has appeared in such musicals as Cats, Fame, Chicago and Rent – not forgetting a sassy cameo for Velma Celli on EastEnders – but had to forego a long run in Funny Girls in Blackpool last year, thwarted by Killjoy Covid.

Ian Stroughair: Musical actor, drag queen , pantomime star

The pandemic strictures put paid to his international travels too, but already he has had two Covid-19 vaccine jabs to enable Ian to plan a week’s travel to Mexico for a Velma Celli show in Cancun.

“Thank god for that because the next cruise is not until October. I lost all the cruise-ship shows last year, and I’d already lost five cruise bookings this year, when in one day I lost three more cruise bookings,” he reveals.

In the diary too is Velma Celli’s participation in The Love Season at York Theatre Royal, performing one of Velma’s regular cabaret shows, re-titled Love Is Love: A Brief Of History Of Drag specially for the May 29 occasion.

Joining Velma that night will be two guest acts, Jordan Fox, Ian’s co-star in Jack And The Beanstalk, and Jessica Steel, backing singers Kimberley Ensor and Grace Lancaster, musical director Ben Papworth, drummer Clark Howard and guitarist Al Morrison.

“I last performed there in Kes, when I was 14, exactly 24 years ago, and sadly I’ve never been back,” says Ian. “I’ve tried to do shows there but it’s never happened, so it’s great to be back now. I love what Tom [chief executive Tom Bird] is doing there.”

When the ships are down: As it stands, Velma Celli will not do a cruise gig until October

Ian has taken A Brief History Of Drag to New York and Australia and on a British tour, as well as staging performances in London and York. “I’ve been doing it for four years now on and off, and I’m so glad the Theatre Royal wants the show,” he says.

“I wrote it when I was stuck in Africa for a few weeks. I thought, ‘let’s write a show’ and it ended up being about how I got into drag and a celebration of the impact of drag in theatre, music, film and popular culture.”

Yet for all the flamboyance of the imposingly tall Velma Celli, for all of Ian’s love of performing, he has a surprising admission to make: “I don’t like fame and celebrity,” he says. “I repel it!”

Tickets for Velma Celli’s 8pm show on May 29 at York Theatre Royal are on sale at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or on 01904 623568. For the latest Velma Celli trailer, go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a005o6eGZWI. Hit it!

Love is the drag: Velma Celli’s celebration of the art of the drag queen

Holy Moly! Here come The Crackers as Pocklington Arts Centre revs up to reopen

Holy Moly & The Crackers: “Always putting on such an energetic, vivacious show”

FIERY gypsy folk’n’rollers Holy Moly & The Crackers will return to Pocklington Arts Centre on October 16 as the East Yorkshire venue “excitedly resumes its live events”.

The North Yorkshire and Newcastle band are noted for sparking up a raucous, feelgood party atmosphere at their blazing live shows, built on soul, rock indie and Balkan folk.

Pocklington Arts Centre director Janet Farmer says: “Holy Moly & The Crackers always put on such an energetic, vivacious show, featuring their unique sound that has our audiences foot stomping and dancing in the aisles, so we can’t wait to welcome them back after their sold-out show back in February 2019.”

The band formed in 2011 almost by mistake, when singer, guitarist and trumpet player Conrad Bird, fellow singer and violinist Ruth Patterson and costume designer and accordion player Rosie Bristow met at a house party in Leamington Spa, of all places, in their late teens.

Enamoured by Rosie’s party-prop accordion, the three decided to start playing music together, mainly stomping Irish, American and Balkan folk and drinking songs at open mics and dive bars, as an alternative to Smack, Leamington’s main student club that provided the only other option for a night out.

After moving north, the founders were joined by jazz/funk bass player Jamie Shields and drummer Tommy Evans in 2015, when they released the single A Punk Called Peter, a “sort of New Orleans funeral march mixed with some fine and highly danceable reggae”.

Holy Moly & The Crackers’ artwork for Take A Bite, their 2019 album

Second album Salem marked the 2017 launch of their own label, Pink Lane Records, and a heightened profile for the band after lead single Cold Comfort Lane was picked up by Hollywood producers to turbo-boost the stick-it-to-the-man comedy crime caper Ocean’s 8 in 2018. 

Classically trained but psychedelic and DIY punk-inspired guitarist Nick Tyler came on board that year to add to The Crackers’ grunt and diesel power.

Reuniting with Salem producer Matt Terry, they recorded swaggering third album Take A Bite in 2019, once again at Vada Studios, built in a 1260 chapel near Alcester on the Warwickshire /Worcestershire border.

“Apparently it’s called Vada Studios because the owner is obsessed with Star Wars’ Darth Vader,” says Conrad, whose band stayed in one of the outhouses.

Teaming up with Terry for a second time proved fruitful. “He’s worked with bands like The Prodigy and The Enemy and he has really good ideas for pop sensibilities,” says Conrad. “I was always against ‘pop’, but there’s a real skill to it. There was a chance for us to go with another producer, but we felt we could do more with Matt to develop our sound.”

Whereupon The Crackers hit the road in full throttle, joining shanty punks Skinny Lister on tour around Europe, before appearing at more than 30 festivals and undertaking a victorious headline lap of the UK, culminating in selling out their biggest show to date at Sage Gateshead on the banks of the Tyne. Ruth and Conrad tied the knot that busy year too.

2020 saw the band blasting out of the blocks with the single Road To You, “a shot of espresso that comes loaded and ready to work in a short, sharp shock”. Twenty-seven dates across ten countries should have added up to their biggest European tour to date, to go with support slots for fan Frank Turner across France and Germany and a return to Glastonbury for its 50th anniversary, but we all know what happened next.

Tickets for Holy Moly & The Crackers’ 8pm gig cost £20 at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

Tom Rosenthal: The last show at Pocklington Arts Centre before the first lockdown last March

POCKLINGTON Arts Centre (PAC) has been closed to the public since March 17 2020, curtailing that year’s 20th anniversary celebrations after comedian Tom Rosenthal’s Manhood show on March 14, but the venue will hopefully be re-opening our doors this summer”.

Watch this space for further updates, but already director Janet Farmer and venue manager James Duffy have confirmed that the PAC-programmed Platform Festival at the Old Station, Pocklington, has been called off for a second successive summer.

Festival shows by the likes of comedian Omid Djalili, Richard Thompson and Shed Seven duo Rick Witter and Paul Banks in acoustic mode initially had been moved from 2020 to 2021, although former Led Zeppelin lead singer Robert Plant’s Saving Grace acoustic gig with fellow vocalist Suzi Dian never had a new Platform date set in place.

“Robert hasn’t rescheduled any of his 2020 shows, originally because he was recording with Alison Krauss in Nashville,” says James.

“We looked into moving Richard Thompson’s date too, but he’s cancelled his plans because amid the continuing uncertainty over Covid, he’s not sure where he would stand, what with being based in the United States.”

More details are yet to be confirmed, but Pocklington Arts Centre is contemplating reopening with a film programme from July 2, followed by the full reopening in September, with greater clarity once the Government roadmap is rubber-stamped.

Velma Celli: Drag diva to play Pocklington Arts Centre in December

“It will be a slow re-start at first to restore audience confidence in coming to PAC, and film is a good way of doing that,” says Janet. “With films, you naturally socially distance to get the best view.

“But that’s why we couldn’t go ahead with the Platform Festival, because there are still uncertainties and it made sense to call it off.”

Plans are afoot instead for Primrose Wood Acoustic, a short series of outdoor shows in a 60 to 70-capacity woodland setting at Primrose Wood, Pocklington, in early July. Two shows are pencilled in for PAC in July too, subject to the Government’s Covid statements. Again, watch this space for more info as and when.

Within PAC, the lavatories have been refurbished and upgraded; air-purifying units to increase air flow are being installed around the building; a Covid-secure screen is in place at the box office, and such Covid measures as an app for ordering drinks, anti-bacteria spray “foggers” and hand-sanitising stations will be the way forward.

The frustrating year of lockdown x 3 has kept Janet and James busy rearranging concerts by, for example, The Felice Brothers and Courtney Marie Andrews three times and New Yorker Jesse Malin twice.

The management duo have been working their way through 20 years of paper work in the attics and have set up a beehive on the flat roof as part of a PAC environmentally friendly package.

So, now there is a buzz about the place in more ways than one, and on the Pocklington horizon is a theatrical ghost-walk promenade, commissioned from Magic Carpet Theatre founder Jon Marshall for the dark nights of November before the December dazzle of glam cabaret supreme in the company of York drag diva deluxe Velma Celli (date TBC).

Mission Impossible! Velma Celli finds new wonderbar home for York drag residency

“It’s happening!” says Velma Celli as York cabaret star moves residency to Impossible, York, from next month. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick, Kirkpatrick Photography

YORK’S drag diva deluxe Velma Celli is on the move.

Out goes the Covid-suspended monthly camp cabaret Friday nights at The Basement, City Screen, York.

In comes a resplendent residency from next month at Impossible, York, Tokyo Industries’ new tea-room, cocktail bar, restaurant and speakeasy enterprise in the old Terry’s café in St Helen’s Café, latterly home to Carluccio’s restaurant.

“It’s happening!” says an excited Velma Celli, the exotic international drag alter ego of musical actor Ian Stroughair, last seen on a York stage in December as the villainous Fleshius Creepius in York Stage’s debut pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk, at Theatre @41, Monkgate.

“Velma has a new residency!! My very first live gig at the utterly fabulous Impossible, York. May 21st.  Doors 7pm. Show 8pm! My very special guest is [York soul sister] Jessica Steel (obvs). More special West End guests to be announced! Grab those tickets as it will sell out!”

Take that advice, Velma insists. “50 per cent of tickets have gone! If you want to come to opening night, don’t wait to book! This baby is flying!!!!”

Tickets are on sale at https://www.ticketweb.uk/event/the-velma-celli-show-impossible-york-tickets/10900325, priced at £22 for VIP front cabaret table seats and £16.50 for reserved seating.

“Basically, it’s replacing the shows at The Basement, where we don’t know when it will reopen for shows under Covid guidance as it’s a small space,” says Ian, as he switches from the impossible to Impossible, York.

“I met the Impossible manager, Stephanie, in December, meeting her between Jack And The Beanstalk shows, and then five weeks ago she knocked on the window saying, ‘I’ve been trying to contact you!’.

How the other half lives: Exit alter ego Velma Celli, enter Ian Stroughair, musical actor, playing Fleshius Creepius in York Stage’s pantomime Jack And The Beanstalk

“And so the first Velma Celli Show there will be on May 21, up the stairs, in the fabulous Impossible Wonderbar setting overlooking the square, with more shows to be announced later. This one will be fun, comedic, with stand-up, impressions, the usual mix of rock, pop and the blues, plus Jess and guests.”

Ian first moved back to York for Lockdown 1 when the pandemic sent him home from a Velma Celli Australian tour and he plans to settle back in his home city permanently from May, travelling to London for three days a week when necessary.

Streamed concerts, first from a Bishopthorpe kitchen and latterly from a riverside abode by the Ouse Bridge, have kept Velma Celli’s voice in spectacular working order, sometimes accompanied by Jessica Steel, leading light of Big Ian Donaghy’s fundraising A Night To Remember shows at York Barbican.

“Jess is reopening her salon [Rock The Barnet in Boroughbridge Road] from Monday, so we did our last stream together last night, Last Online – A Grand Finale, that ticket holders can see until Sunday,” says West End star Ian, who has appeared in such musicals as Cats, Fame, Chicago and Rent, but had to forego a long run in Funny Girls in Blackpool last year, thwarted by Killjoy Covid.

For the latest Velma Celli trailer, go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a005o6eGZWI. Hit it!

Velma Celli and Jess Steel to serve up streamed show from Earl Grey Tea Rooms

LOCKDOWN cabaret streaming duo Velma Celli and Jess Steel are going on location to the Earl Grey Tea Rooms for their Showbizzy Shambles show in York tomorrow (5/2/2021).

After the camply nautical, naughty fun of their water-themed Fabulously Flooded online gig last week, they are vacating the riverside abode of Ian Stroughair, drag diva Velma’s creator, by Lendal Bridge for light relief and camp cabaret belting.

“We’re getting the keys to the Earl Grey Tea Rooms in Shambles and filming it there,” says Ian/Velma. “We’ll be going vintage, so join in with your apparel, peeps, if ya feel like it. Not essential but fun.”

Tickets for Showbizzy Shambles grant access to the streamed show any time from 5pm tomorrow to Sunday evening (7/2/2021). Go to http://bit.ly/3pAtBAF for all the details. “Please feel free to invite all your mates,” says Ian/Velma.

Here, everything stops for tea questions and more besides as Charles Hutchinson grills Ian Stroughair/Velma Celli.

How is your house now, post-flooding?  Fully recovered?

“Yes! Thank RuPaul (God)! It took a lot of scrubbing, but I got there!” 

Where did you end up recording your January 22 show when water had seeped in through the front door and back door?

“Still in the house. The kitchen is lower than the living room, so we were cool.” 

What songs on a water theme did you perform in last week’s Fabulously Flooded show? Something by The Waterboys?  Peter Gabriel’s Here Comes The Flood?  (Lendal) Bridge Over Troubled Water, maybe? So many possibilities!

“Ha ha, so many! It’s Raining Men (obvs). Waterloo. River Deep Mountain High. Cry Me A River. You get the drift.” 

No! No song by The Waterboys featured in Velma and Jess’s water-themed cabaret show

How has the streamed gig at the Earl Grey Tea Rooms come about?

“Clare and Howard [Proctor] are very good old friends and they’re fabulous supporters of all my Velma and Ian appearances.

“I adore this place as much as its owners and it’s been a real struggle over the past year, as you’d imagine, so I wanted to raise them up.

“Not only because it’s such a fabulous tea room – to get you all chomping at the bit to visit, as soon as we move tiers – but also to highlight just how hard it is right now, not just in my sector of live performance but in the hospitality industry too!

“Clare and Howard have worked so hard for years, so I wanted to use my platform to shine a spotlight on them.”

Velma Celli and Jess Steel’s social-media artwork for their Fabulously Flooded show last week

In which room will you record the show?

“Undecided. Each one is so quaint. Will depend on lighting, darling.”

Water theme last week.  Any tea and cake songs this week? Can’t think of a crumpet song….

“We are going vintage. From the 1940s, but all the way up to Lady Gaga and everything in between.

“Why not prepare yourself an afternoon tea with scones, finger sandwiches, tea pots filled with fizz, and let us entertain you, direct and safely in your own home.”

What is your perfect afternoon tea and where? 

“Earl Grey Tea Rooms of course! Best scones ever. I love their Coronation Chicken jacket, followed by a cream tea with English brekky! You must all go as soon as they reopen. Such quality and atmosphere.”

Jess Steel: Showbizzy Shambles will be the sensational singing hairdresser’s last streamed concert with Velma Celli “for a few weeks”

Earl Grey, Darjeeling or Lapsang Souchong?

“All. But my favourite is English Breakfast in the morning and Orange Pekoe on an afternoon.” 

Cream first or jam first on a scone?

“Cream!!!!!!!!” 

Favourite cake?

“Traditional Victoria Sponge.” 

Have you ever left a cake out in the rain, a la MacArthur Park?

“No. Come rain or shine, Velma never neglects confection.” 

What’s coming next?

“Tomorrow is the last show with Jess and me for a few weeks as I have some solo live- stream bookings to perform.”