REVIEW: Steve Crowther’s verdict on Ensemble Intercontemporain, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, York, April 17

Ensemble Intercontemporain: “The Rolls-Royce of contemporary music performers

YorkConcerts presents Ensemble Intercontemporain, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, April 17

ON Wednesday evening, the Rolls-Royce of contemporary music performers, Ensemble Intercontemporain, performed an extraordinary programme of music by Martin Suckling, Thomas Simaku and Olivier Messiaen.

The concert opened with Martin Suckling’s Visiones (after Goya), an inspired response to a specific drawing from Goya’s unique, if somewhat unsettling, Witches and Old Women Album. The Visiones depicts an intimate dance between a possibly inebriated old couple with another chap looking on, or rather on the floor looking up. The image seems to have an uncomfortable erotic edge, perhaps sex in old age.

Anyway, to Mr Suckling’s work. In response to the Goya sketch, Visiones (after Goya) has three instrumentalists, cello, clarinet and piano, and three sections. In the first part, the clarinet and cello dance, serenade each other in ‘repeated microtonal lyrics’.

The percussive piano creates distance and commentary. The effect is very distinct, haunting and not a little spooky. Yet there is intimacy and it is this, as well as the superb playing by Martin Adámek (clarinet) and Renaud Déjardin (cello), that draws you into this sound world.

There is also a genuine warmth of engagement. This is particularly obvious in the second section ‘lullaby’ before the dance becomes ritualistic. The third section is a kind of distorted recapitulation; a memory, a nightmare. Maybe.

The piano (the imperious Dimitri Vassilakis) now sings the song, the clarinet has the role of ‘soft multiphonics’ commentary whilst the cello lets rip to very dramatic effect. The dance returns but now transformed. To be sure the piece was, like the Goya, unsettling. But it was true to the artist’s multi-layered complexity, and beauty. The performance was illuminating.

I had a bit of an issue with a2(b) for violin and cello by Thomas Simaku; not with the forceful piece itself, nor with the thrilling performance by soloists Jeanne-Marie Conquer (violin) and Renaud Déjardin (cello), but with the extensive programme note.

OK, the instrumental explanation of a2 (a due) was fine; it made perfect sense. However, the dramatisation of opposites – a response to the ‘remnants of the wall in Bernauer Strasse’, a tale of contrasting cities, of brutally conflicting ideologies representing oppression and freedom in 1945 Berlin – did not.

To be fair to the composer, he clearly stated that the musical and extramusical could not be separated; they are two aspects of the same song. But for me the piece did not (and could not) deliver an image of complete opposites: because the most striking and distinguished aspect of Simaku’s music is its mastery of an organic, cellular and uniform musical language. The uncompromising, almost violent, gestures and mood swings worked perfectly well on and in their own terms.

However, the piece was jaw-droppingly good and technically seriously accomplished. I thought the fast, driving conclusion with its spent, exhausted epilogue was very effective indeed. The performers were on top of their game, and they needed to be.

Just one minor whinge before the interval: what was it with the photographer taking shots from the back of the auditorium? It was distracting and utterly unnecessary.

After the interval we were treated to the most illuminating performance of Messiaen’s Quartet For The End Of Time. For what it’s worth, the balance of the opening Crystal liturgy didn’t seem quite even, but given the quality of performers and the excellent acoustic, this is more likely due to my ears waking up again after the 20-minute break.

The second movement Vocalise, for the Angel who announces the end of time, was sublime. The control needed and delivered by clarinettist Martin Adámek was extraordinary. The effect was otherworldly, visionary; beautiful, delicate but definitely bleak.

The Interlude was an utter, quirky delight. Were there echoes of Shostakovich? I thought so. Possibly. Renaud Déjardin and Dimitri Vassilakis’s performance of Praise To The Eternity Of Jesus was the best live version I have heard.

Nothing quite prepares you for this experience; it was so hypnotic, so compelling. I think this is due to the piano ‘accompaniment’ which came across so powerfully. At first, a pulse, a heartbeat, gradually driving the cello song with almost hammer-like intensity before they melt into ecstasy, resolution. Quite extraordinary.

The Dance Of Fury, for the seven trumpets, was technically perfect. It delivered a unity of purpose and energy. Edge-of-the-seat stuff. The penultimate Tangle Of Rainbows…was brimming with physicality. It both looked back, specifically to the second Vocalise, as well as to the future and the final movement in particular. The performance of Praise To The Immortality Of Jesus, was simply divine.

Review by Steve Crowther

Rick Astley and McFly on track to play York Racecourse Music Showcase Weekend

Rick Astley: Biggest favourite of the summer at York Racecourse this season

NEVER gonna give you up, never gonna let you down, and sure enough, Eighties’ pop icon Rick Astley will play the York Racecourse Music Showcase Weekend, albeit a year later than first planned.

Originally booked for July 25 last summer until Covid sent race days behind closed doors, Astley, 55, will take to the stage on July 23 after the Friday evening race card.

Less than 24 hours later, re-formed London boy band McFly will perform the second Music Showcase Weekend concert, post-afternoon racing, on their return to the racetrack where they first played in 2012. Like Astley, they had to forego a 2020 outdoor gig, in their case at Scarborough Open Air Theatre on July 21.

Newton-le-Willows crooner Astley is enjoying a career resurgence on the back of his 50th birthday-triggered album, the self-penned, chart-topping, platinum-selling 50 in 2016, after a decade-long hiatus, followed by Beautiful Life in 2018.

In 2019, he released a career-spanning compilation, The Best Of Me, a top-five success with 11 additional reimagined tracks and new single Every One Of Us. That year too, he undertook a 38-date stadium tour as special guest to Take That, playing to 500,000 people.

Showing his cross-genre appeal, Astley graced Reading Festival’s main stage to sing Never Gonna Give You Up with Dave Grohl’s rock band, Foo Fighters. Just before the pandemic, he toured Australia and New Zealand with a-ha.

Far from quiet during lockdown, he has amassed nearly two million YouTube followers with a series of Lockdown Covers from his home studio and become a major force on TikTok with 1.7 million followers, being selected as one of Louder’s top ten “must follow” artists on the digital platform.

During this time, he has supported the NHS publicly support and has organised free concerts for NHS staff at this October’s upcoming UK arena tour.

His July 23 set will be built around such Astley favourites as Never Gonna Give You Up, Whenever You Need Somebody, Together Forever, When I Fall in Love, She Wants To Dance With Me and Cry For Help. 

McFly: Back on track at York Racecourse this summer after first playing there in 2012

In their early-evening Saturday show, McFly will combine past and present, drawing on songs from their six studio albums.

Last year, after a ten-year gap and a detour into boy-band supergroup McBusted, the familiar McFly line-up of Tom Fletcher, Danny Jones, Dougie Poynter and Harry Judd returned with Young Dumb Thrills, charting at number two.

The singles Happiness, Tonight Is The Night and You’re Not Special received BBC Radio 2  airplay and the band played on Britain’s Got Talent, The Graham Norton Show and and Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, as well as making their own ITV1 documentary about their hiatus, All About Us.

Formed in 2003, McFly became the youngest ever band to have a debut album go straight to number one in the UK, when July 2004’s Room On The 3rd Floor beat The Beatles’ long-standing record, set with Please Please Me in March 1963.

McFly have chalked up seven number one singles and ten million album sales, and their high-energy York Racecourse set could parade 5 Colours In Their Hair, Obviously, That Girl, All About You, You’ve Got A Friend, I’ll Be OK, I Wanna Hold You, Don’t Stop Me Now,  Please, Please, Star Girl, Baby’s Coming Back, Transylvania and One For The Radio.

McFly last played live in November 2019 in a stand-alone show, One Night Only, at the London O2 Arena to mark their re-formation.

Tickets for the Music Showcase Weekend combined racing-and-concert events are on sale at As well as free car parking, no booking fees apply, but please note, admission is not available on a concert-only basis; the gates will be closed at the time of the last race.

The dates in late-July fall well after the scheduled “Step 4 of the roadmap” on June 21, so York Racecourse is taking a “positive approach to the occasion”.

However, “given both the circumstances and that operating details for large venues are still awaited from Government, racegoers are offered a guaranteed refund in the event of Covid-related alterations, as well as the reassurance that all Covid-19 protocols that are applicable at the time of the event, will be followed,” York Racecourse states.

James Brennan, head of marketing and sponsorship, says: “Everyone at the course is really excited that these magical racing and music events are scheduled to return. With a northern boy set to play, then a band that bring a smile to many faces, add in the spectacle of the racing itself and we hope it will prove a summer weekend to savour.”

Ronan Keating moves Twenty Twenty tour date at York Barbican from 2021 to 2022

RONAN Keating is rearranging his Twenty Twenty UK tour date at York Barbican for a second time, but the title will not change to Twenty Twenty Two.

First moved from June 19 2020 to July 6 2021, the show has been rescheduled to January 23 2022.

A statement on the York Barbican website explains: “It was very much hoped that following the Government’s roadmap-to-lockdown-easing announcement, Ronan’s Twenty Twenty UK tour could take place as scheduled in the summer of 2021.  

“Despite efforts by Ronan’s team working closely with the venues, sadly it will not be possible for these tour dates to take place at this time, and as such the date has been rescheduled to January 23 2022. 

“Ticket holders should hold onto their tickets as they will remain valid for the rescheduled date.”  

The Twenty Twenty tour takes its title from the Twenty Twenty album that Irish boy band graduate Keating released in May 2020 on Decca Records to mark the 20th anniversary of his chart-topping solo debut, Ronan.

Twenty Twenty vision: Ronan Keating wanted to make “a greatest hits of brand new music”

“There’s not a lot of artists that have been lucky enough to do 20 years and still be here,” he said at the time,” appreciative too of sustaining solo and band careers. “I’m very honoured to have had that, so I wanted to mark it with an album like this.”

Dubliner Keating, who turned 44 on March 3, describes Twenty Twenty as “a greatest hits of brand new music”To help his 20th anniversary celebrations, he made two inspired choices: to dive into his back catalogue to revisit three of his biggest hits and, for some new numbers, to call in some friends.

First single One Of A Kind, despite its title, is a duet, wherein the Irishman is joined by Emeli Sandé. “I guess I’ve been known for those first dance songs at weddings and this has me written all over it,” says Keating. “It’s all about the night before the wedding, the day of the wedding and spending the rest of your life together.”

He decided the song demanded a duet partner, and for Keating there was only one choice: the Sunderland-born, Scottish-raised Sandé.“I was completely honoured when Emeli said she’d love to do it,” he says. “I was just blown away by her vocal. She’s obviously got a brilliant voice, and she’s a lovely, warm person, so the personality she’s brought to the song is just incredible.”

For Twenty Twenty, Keating had production assistance from his longstanding wingman, Steve Lipson, who has worked with such big hitters as Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Annie Lennox, Simple Minds, and Whitney Houston.

Among further collaborations were Love Will Remain with Clare Bowen, The One with Nina Nesbitt, The Big Goodbye with Robbie Williams, Forever And Ever, Amen, with Shania Twain and a 2020 version of When You Say Nothing At All with Alison Krauss.

Ronan Keating last played a York concert in July 2018 with Boyzone at the York Racecourse Music Showcase Weekend

Over the past 21 years, Keating has chalked up 30 consecutive Top Ten solo singles, 11 studio albums, multiple tours and 20 million records sales, on top of 25 million sold with Boyzone, as well as judging on The X Factor and The Voice in Australia; acting in television drama and film; playing Guy in the romantic Irish hit, Once The Musical, in the West End and co-hosting Magic FM’s breakfast show.

In York, Keating last performed with Boyzone at a York Racecourse Music Showcase post-racing show on July 28 2018 on their 25th anniversary tour. His last solo appearance in the city was at York Barbican on September 21 2016. In 2019,  the dangers posed by a massive thunderstorm led to his open-air solo concert at Castle Howard, near York, on August 4 being cut short.

To check on ticket availability for January 23 2022, go to:

IN a second change of date, York Rocks Against Cancer is moving from July 17 this summer to January 8 2022.

All tickets remain valid for the new show; please contact your point of purchase with any questions.

Raising vital funds for York Against Cancer, the 7.30pm concert will feature The Emmerdale Band, featuring cast members from the Yorkshire soap opera; singer-songwriter Chris Helme, the former Seahorses frontman; Sister Madly and “the best musicians and singers York has to offer”. Expect a party atmosphere and a fun night.

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, 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

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

The Gesualdo Six vocal consort to take up March residency in York for Early Music Day

At sixes and sevens: The Gesualdo Six…and director Owain Park (third from left, back row)

THE Gesualdo Six will lead the National Centre for Early Music’s celebrations for Early Music Day 2021 on March 21 by embarking on an online whistle-stop musical tour of York.

The Cambridge vocal consort’s concert will be a streamed at 3pm as part of a day when musical organisations throughout Europe will come together for a joyful programme of events to mark JS Bach’s birthday. 

During its residency – an alternative G6 summit – The Gesualdo Six will spend almost a week in York performing in a variety of locations on a musical trek around the city that will be filmed and shared in March.

The film is designed to celebrate the beauty of this historic city and its musical influences, showcasing many of York’s venues that have been unable to open their doors since last March. 

Directed by Owain Park, The Gesualdo Six brings together some of Britain’s finest young consort singers: countertenors Guy James and Andrew Leslie Cooper; tenors Josh Cooter and Joseph Wicks; baritone Michael Craddock and bass Sam Mitchell.

Formed in March 2014 for a performance of Gesualdo’s Tenebrae Responsories for Maundy Thursday in the chapel of Trinity College, Cambridge, the ensemble gave more than 150 performances at major festivals in the UK and abroad in its first five years.

The Gesualdo Six has been awarded the Choir of the Year prize at the Classical Music Digital Awards and its album Fading was awarded Vocal Recording of the Year by Limelight.

National Centre for Early Music director Delma Tomlin: Planning the programme for Early Music Day

Looking forward to the March residency, NCEM director Delma Tomlin says: “We are delighted to welcome our good friends The Gesualdo Six, who will be spending time in York, taking advantage of some of the atmospheric acoustics within the city walls and performing a concert, a very special treat for Early Music Day.

“The concert will be shared with our friends and colleagues in Europe and beyond, as we join together for this wonderful annual celebration.”

Against the backdrop of the Brexit severance from Europe, Delma says: “I’d also like to say a special thank-you to REMA, the Early Music Network in Europe, for their hard work helping to make sure the celebrations continue.”

She adds: “Other delights in store in March include performances by many artists who have supported us over this difficult year, recording behind closed doors at St Margaret’s Church [the NCEM’s home in Walmgate, York]. You might not be able to be with us in person, but we hope you can still join us for a feast of fabulous music.” 

Director Owain Park welcomes the chance for The Gesualdo Six to undertake a residency in York. “After a challenging year, it has been a delight to put our minds to this incredibly exciting project,” he says.

“We have long admired the work of the NCEM in York and so it has been an immense privilege to curate a musical journey that weaves through the city’s historic venues. Chiming with the NCEM’s spring celebrations, we aim to highlight the extraordinary power of collaboration and unity in a world where the seeds of division are increasingly sown.”

Delma concludes: “Venues for the filming in York will be confirmed very soon. Please check our website,, and social media platforms for regular updates and more details of this year’s programme of Early Music Day celebrations. 

“The NCEM has put in place many changes to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the artists, audience and staff. All performances and filming will take place following current Government Covid-19 guidelines.”