REVIEW: Awaken, National Centre for Early Music online, York, March 27 and 28

Recorder virtuoso Olwen Foulkes at the recording of Ensemble Augelletti’s concert for Awaken. Picture: Ben Pugh

REVIEW: Awaken, National Centre for Early Music online, York, from various venues, March 27 and 28. Streaming until April 30 at www.ncem.co.uk/awaken

AWAKEN had all the right vibes. Five events over the weekend signalled the beginning of the end of our enforced hibernation. They also heralded the start of spring. As if in tune, the weather co-operated and turned warm and sunny.

All the concerts had been filmed in venues around York the previous week, but they had the feel of live events. We began with a peripatetic tour by the Gesualdo Six – a slight misnomer, since they are really seven with their director Owain Park, who also sings from time to time, though there are never more than six singers in action at once.

The group revelled in the free-wheeling motet style of four Englishmen by the name of John from the first half of the 15th century.  The rhythmic verve of John Pyamour was nicely contrasted with a smoother take on John Forest and tenderness from John Plummer; all these were trios. But John Dunstaple’s quartet Veni, Sancte Spiritus outdid them all, a step ahead of his compatriots.

In Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, three Frenchmen from later that century sounded more calculating, more predictable, though Josquin des Prez’s attention to words in Nymphes des Bois – the only secular piece in the programme – was exquisite. It was good to hear, this time in the Hall’s chapel, John Thorne’s Stella Caeli, with neat passing harmonies and major-chord cadences that doubtless were heard in York Minster during his time as Master of the Choristers (1542-73).

Extracts from Lamentations by another three Frenchmen prepared us for Holy Week, with Brumel’s warmly autumnal Good Friday lection, without countertenors, topping the bill and bringing comfort amongst the sorrow. Byrd’s incomparable Infelix Ego, reflecting our current sufferings and sung under the Minster’s Great East Window, made a transcendent finale, its coda deeply affecting. The Gesualdos could not have got Awaken off to a better start.

Ensemble Augelletti: Octet of players homed in on music connected with John Baptist Grano

At the National Centre, recorder virtuoso Olwen Foulkes led the splendid Ensemble Augelletti, an octet of players who homed in on music connected with John Baptist Grano. He was principal trumpeter in the orchestra at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket where he premiered several Handel operas. He was also an operator who had a finger in several pies, but thrived even when in prison for debt.

Given the company he was keeping here, Grano’s own Sonata in F for recorder and continuo was relatively run-of-the-mill, though its Spirituoso was indeed spirited and the succeeding Largo eloquently plaintive. Foulkes was on top of her game throughout, as also in a concerto by John Baston, where her soprano recorder danced wittily in its final Presto.

In Handel’s Trio Sonata Op 2 No 4, Foulkes worked effectively in tandem with Ellen Bundy’s violin and all five players relished its closing, very English, jig. A final word for the supremely attentive cellist Carina Drury, a player I’d be happy to have on my team any time.

Staying in St Margaret’s Church (alias the National Centre), the viol consort Fretwork was joined by York countertenor Iestyn Davies in a programme of 16th century North German music, spearheaded by two arrangements of Vaughan Williams songs. Silent Noon was an odd opener and not heat-hazy enough, but The Sky Above The Roof was much more telling, though Davies’s diction was woolly. (His Latin later was marginally better, but his German admirably clear.)

Davies’s other contributions all concerned music connected with Holy Week and proved that lockdown has in no way hurt his evocative powers, his countertenor gliding smoothly over even the most taxing challenges. In a Lamento by Johann Christoph Bach, often described as JSB’s most talented forebear, he was pleadingly penitential, amid textual floods of tears. Franz Tunder’s Salve Mi Jesu was appropriately prayerful, finding genuine serenity in its peaceful ending.

Most potent of all was Christian Geist’s reaction to Holy Saturday, with semi-recitative for the biblical narrative, culminating in an aria of considerable power, which benefited from Davies’s operatic experience.

Iestyn Davies: “Countertenor glided smoothly over even the most taxing challenges”

Fretwork alone was rhythmically lively in Schein’s Seventh Suite from Banchetto Musicale (1617), notably in the vigorous syncopation of its galliard. The rapidly changing variations in Scheidt’s Canzon Super O Nachbar Roland were brilliantly negotiated, tremolandos and all, though it was a pity we were not given a chance to hear the song by itself.

It took a while to adjust to the sound of period instruments in Schubert’s mighty String Quintet in C, played by the Consone Quartet with Alexander Rolton as second cellist, also at the National Centre.

Let us dispose of the reservations first. Balance was never quite right, though I channelled the sound through my best speakers: we needed more from the outer voices, first violin and second cello. This was almost certainly a problem of microphone setting. There was also a disparity of approach between the cellists, one using more vibrato than the other.

The work got off to a cautious start, as if every effect was being over-calculated. Spontaneity began to surface with the repeat of the exposition. The second movement hovered to the point of stasis, with definition undermined by the second cello’s over-restrained pizzicato (probably microphones again).

Thereafter things changed very much for the better. The players began to enjoy themselves in a robust Scherzo. There was a slight loss of focus in the Trio, but caution was finally thrown to the winds when the Scherzo returned with even more verve. A strong, confident finale did much to compensate for the earlier diffidence and the acceleration towards the tape was neatly managed. I also enjoyed the encore, a sensitive setting of the song Frühlingsglaube (Faith In Spring), with cello to the fore.

Awaken’s finale shifted to St Lawrence Church, where Robert Hollingworth directed his vocal ensemble I Fagiolini (with some stiffening from former members of The 24) and the English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble. The evening was entitled Super-Excellent, a word taken from the travel writer Thomas Coryat, preaching the wonders of Venetian music in 1608. Naturally, the programme was largely Italian or Italianate.

The Gesualdo Six with director Owain Park, back, centre: “Revelled in the free-wheeling motet style of four Englishmen by the name of John”

Hollingworth himself expounded on each piece in advance. He was most informative, but his enthusiasm sometimes led him to raise expectations unreasonably. Polychoral effects that were undoubtedly stunning in St Mark’s, Venice, were not quite so impressive in the less rewarding acoustic of St Lawrence.

Music by Giovanni Gabrieli appropriately framed the programme. With voices and instruments used interchangeably, Buccinate featured thrilling fanfares. No less stirring were the recurring Alleluyas in the multi-choir In Ecclesiis at the close, in a clever reconstruction by Hugh Keyte.

There were mass extracts from the Catalan composer Joan Cererols with three choirs overlapping, almost conversationally. Juan de Araujo, Spanish-born but working in South America, gave us an exciting Dixit Dominus, with jazzy rhythms heightened by strumming theorbo and guitar.

Solo tenor and bass respectively (no individual performers’ names were available) offered tastefully decorated motets by Grandi and Schütz, the latter an angry and sorrowful lament by David for Absalom, attended by four mournful sackbuts.

A florid cornett lit up a madrigal-style arrangement of a Palestrina ‘Ave Verum Corpus’. But for me the greatest surprise was Edmund Hooper’s verse anthem ‘O God Of Gods’, in a frankly superb reconstruction by William Hunt (who issued a recording of the work only last June). It proved that an Englishman could do it too.

Streaming of concerts is notoriously difficult, a path littered with potholes. Awaken was not perfect: there were occasional breaks in the sound and the odd unintended freeze-frame. Sometimes the camera lingered too long on an individual when what you wanted was to see the whole ensemble interacting. But it still served a vital role, reminding us how valuable live concerts are and renewing hope that they will soon return.

Above all, these events showed faith in musicians, many of them young, that despite everything we treasure their talents and will welcome them back with open arms (or the socially distanced alternative) just as soon as we are allowed. You have the rest of April to catch up with all these brave souls. I heartily recommend them.

Martin Dreyer

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

What’s in store for 2021? “Aliens, man, definitely aliens,” warns York Open Studios artist and B-movie buff Lincoln Lightfoot

Day Of The Dinosaurs, oil painting, work in progress, by Lincoln Lightfoot

INFLUENCED by the gloriously ridiculous B-movie imagery of the Fifties and Sixties, York artist Lincoln Lightfoot questions what might be in store for 2021.

You can see his humorously absurdist answers when 28-year-old Lincoln makes his York Open Studios debut this summer, after the 20th anniversary show was moved from April to July 10/11 and 17/18.

His digital-print images and oil paintings take the broad theme of surreal encounters with beasts that appear in recognisable locations: not so much King Kong climbing the Empire State Building in New York as a tentacled dayglo Creature From The Bottom Of The Ouse attacking a bridge in York.

Born in Hartlepool in 1992, the son of a school head of art & design, Lincoln was always fascinated by art, heading to York St John University to study Fine Art, whereupon the city became the centre of his work for those three years.

It continues to occupy that top spot in his art chart, his digital prints and paintings stalking York’s streets and passageways, our heritage resonating in the present.

Here, Lincoln discusses his name, his art, B-movies, 21st century Surrealism and his love of York with CharlesHutchPress.

York artist Lincoln Lightfoot: Making his York Open Studios debut in July

How did your wonderfully alliterative name Lincoln Lightfoot come about?
I have an American mother from Chicago, which people are often quick to assume is the reason for my name (Abe Lincoln). However, it was my father who came up with it.

“‘Lincoln’ is Old English, meaning ‘the place by the pool’, and I was born in Hartlepool, which has the same meaning. My Dad loves to explain this…and gets an eye roll from me!”

What were your first artistic steps?
“When I was very young, as a family we would go to the beach and this would normally mean one thing: sandcastle building. We would build these embarrassingly big sandcastles with huge trenches around them.

“I was always fascinated by art. I loved to create and still do. My Dad was the head of art & design at my secondary school in Middlesbrough. This often meant staying late in the art department with my younger brother, creating and developing our GCSE and A-level Fine Art coursework. We’d make fantasy towers and giant killer plants. Exciting topics devised by my father.”

Describe those facilities…

“It was a large art department with four purpose-built art classrooms and a vast variety of exciting materials with exciting visual stimuli. There were masks from different cultures, stained-glass panels, tapestries, machine bits, musical instruments, giant shells, tropical plants and stuffed animals. No wall was left bare.”

“I’m in awe of York Minster, the intricate beauty of the architecture and our overwhelming insignificance next to it,” says Lincoln Lightfoot. This work is entitled Minster Flypast

What was your first experience of York?
“My grandparents used to take me and my brother on caravan trips. I remember staying at Rowntree Park a number of times. I loved the untouched feel of the city, the idea that things within the city had been there for hundreds of years. I still can’t get enough of it.

“Every time I’m in town, I see something new, something that fascinates me. I’m often left saying, ‘How come I haven’t seen that before?’.

“I’m in awe of York Minster, the intricate beauty of the architecture and our overwhelming insignificance next to it.”


Why did you choose to study at York St John University?

“I initially applied to Edinburgh School of Art and Glasgow School of Art. At the age of 18, I was quite confident in my artistic ability. Probably too confident, seeing as I had decided there was no need to do a foundation year prior to applying. I didn’t put enough effort into my art portfolio and didn’t make the cut.

“The idea was to poke fun at the absurdity of mankind,” says Lincoln Lightfoot, explaining why he dressed as a ringmaster at the York Wheel . “I held a hamster cage with a hamster in it and talked nonsense to anyone who asked me what I was doing”

“My next choice was York St John. I’d chosen the university because I loved the city and I knew they offered a Fine Art course. Other than this, I didn’t know too much about the university itself, but I quickly realised I’d made a great decision and what followed were some of the best years of my life.

“York St John was a second home and a uniquely tightly-knit community. I joined the YSJ Basketball Club. I grew socially more than anything else, while falling more in love with the city. I enjoyed its history, its beautiful quad and ‘Archie’s days’ [a YSJ tradition at the end of every semester].”

When and where did you first exhibit in the city?
“After initial exhibitions at York St John’s gallery spaces in my first year, inspired by the art of Futurist Performance, I dressed as a ringmaster in front of the Yorkshire Wheel: a giant Ferris wheel located in front of the Principal York hotel (from 2011 to 2013).

“The idea was to poke fun at the absurdity of mankind. I held a hamster cage with a hamster in it and talked nonsense to anyone who asked me what I was doing.”

 
What medium did you choose for your final project at York St John?

“Performance Art. In my final year, the York St John basketball team, a bunch of 6ft-plus young men, including myself, dressed up in black suits, with bowler hats and briefcases.

Towards The Metaphysical, a performance art piece by Lincoln Lightfoot, for his final-year project at York St John University

“We covered our faces with women’s black tights and did a ‘work commute’ at 7am. Flooding the city with faceless businessmen and getting escorted out of York railway station by the police for obvious reasons.

“This happening was documented and used for my 3rd Year degree show. My businessmen flooded the opening night, to the annoyance of my other peers.”


Where and when did you last exhibit in the city?
“In Summer 2019, I exhibited a series of surreal prints at Spark:York. Prior to that, the work had made a debut at the Fossgate Social.

“I currently have the series of prints adorning the walls of Rehab Piccadilly and a giant Godzilla painting over the top of a Tour de Yorkshire poster in Micklegate Social.”

What does the city of York conjure in your mind, if you had to sum it up?
“It’s a story-book city, conjuring up tales of the past. Walking through its streets, your creative mind can just let loose and go to work. It’s not hard to imagine incredible things happening there because they already have.”

They say that if you don’t leave York after three years, the city will have you in its grip and you will never say goodbye! True or a load of jackson pollocks?

“Completely true. I am testament to the statement.”

Artist Lincoln Lightfoot with his Tour de Yorkshire artwork, Godzilla, at Micklegate Social, York

York has to live with the chain of history around its neck: your work makes us look at it in a different way in the tradition of artists being outsiders. Discuss…

“Lots of artists are drawn to the city as a subject because of its historical architecture and picturesque views. It’s a path well-trodden. I’m currently playing around with a series of giant oil paintings that would strive to be similar to the style of [English Romantic painter, illustrator and engraver] John Martin’s biblical end-of-the-world scenes. I guess in some ways, if executed with a high enough level of skill, they could be seen to poke fun at high art.

“I love the stories of John Martin’s work; for contemporaries it would be like a modern-day visit to the cinema, maybe even more emotive. People would scream before them in horror. (Ironically his brother, ‘Mad Martin’, was a non-conformist who set fire to York Minster on February 1 1829). 

“People often go in search of escapism, fascinated by unconventional ideas or elaborate fantasy worlds. That’s what makes B-movie poster art so attractive. To strip it back to a recognisable location can only make it more appealing.” 


Is that what drew you to your distinctive subject matter of imposing B-movie imagery on familiar York landmarks?

“The city of York has such impressive views to inspire thousands of artists already. I’m fascinated by myths, legends, UFOs and other sightings of strange creatures; with these unlikely creatures in mind, I became consumed with surreal thoughts.

Minster Crafts, as depicted by B-movie enthusiast Lincoln Lightfoot

“My friends galvanised my thinking and would message me, ‘Hey, have you thought of this, what if….?!’. It ultimately brings you back to this child-like state of excitement and wonder.

“I find what makes it enjoyable for the public is if both landmark and mythical creature are well-known. I love it when my art gives people that moment of ‘closure’. In particular, when kids drag their parents over, pointing, ‘Look! Look!’. I sometimes think they get it more than the adults.” 

Which Fifties and Sixties’ B-movies have inspired you and why?

“My home in York’s South Bank is full of key inspirations to my work. The first B-movie poster to grab my attention was Attack Of The 50ft Woman by Reynold Brown. I saw it in a vintage shop when I was in London. It was an A1 copy. My Attack Of The 50ft Rubber Ducky! paid homage to that.

“I love most of them, though my girlfriend has put a limit on the amount I’m allowed to hang around our house!

“I have Invasion Of The Saucer-Men and La Terra Contro I Dischi Volanti, which translates as something like The Earth Against Flying Saucers. These have inspired my own versions of Alien-style invasions.

Inspired by Reynold Brown: Attack Of The 50ft Rubber Ducky, by Lincoln Lightfoot

“I also love the 1996 film Mars Attacks! I have an It Came From Beneath The Sea poster, which inspired my Creature From The Bottom Of The Ouse! and The Corn Exchange Creature!, a giant coiling, twisting centipede.

“Then, of course I have the Attack Of The 50ft Woman poster, so I have now reached the limit of wall-space.”

What else is filling that space?

“David Blaine’s Beneath The Below poster; a Chicago World’s Fair from 1933, and an antique original tourist poster from 1907, Healthy Hartlepool, which reminds me of the golden age of North Eastern Railways.

“I love the poster for From Hell It Came, a movie about a giant killer tree. The movie trailer is hilarious. As Art & Design department lead at a school in Sunderland, it links to a GCSE project I do called Beware Of The Plants. A design entertainment crafts style project that ends with an installation of terrifying, organic, plant-like creatures in the school’s greenhouses.”

The Corn Exchange Creature!, wherein a centipede goes on the rampage in Leeds, by Lincoln Lightfoot

Far too many happenings/events/experiences are described as surreal but your work absolutely fits the description. How would you define surreal/surrealism today?

“Contemporary Surrealism addresses people’s worries and stresses and provides an escape into an alternative world and helps us cope with anxiety in safe and sometimes humorous ways in these times of isolation and stress.

“It differs from the pioneers of the 1920s and 1930s with the advances in film and graphic media. We have the tools to blur reality with fantasy even more convincingly.

“Freudian psychology, Giorgio de Chirico and Romanticism originally fed the ideas of the Surrealist movement, but the real spark to the zeitgeist seems to have been the horrors of World War One and born out of Italian Futurism.”

You create art of the absurd, the ridiculous, your art being playful yet playing on our worst nightmares too. Discuss…

“I’ve always believed that through the consumption of art, we can deal with nightmares and perceived dangers safely. As children, we confront and make sense of a dangerous world through fairy stories and nursery rhymes.

“Young people wish to be told of danger through anecdote and myth in a safe space. I attempt to continue this addiction and appeal to adults too.”

A spaceman adrift in York: Land Of The Lost, by Lincoln Lightfoot

You say “high art co-exists with popular culture” in your work. Does that make it 21st century Pop Art? It certainly makes it eye-catching to shoppers…

“Yes, it sits within the definition of Pop Art traditions, which, of course, began in London 1957, before New York. Ultimately, the smaller works use the ideas and graphicacy of Pop, though without advertising.

“I’m moving into more traditional techniques with oil on canvas that seek to blur the boundaries.”

How have you coped with life in Lockdown x 3? Has it had an impact on your work in these fear-filled times?

“Life in lockdown has been kind when contrasting with others. It has afforded me time to reflectand take stock of where I might be going as an artist and art educator.

“Walking around York, seeing the streets and alleyways otherwise populated with people, now deserted, has reinforced my practice in a profound way. Many of the documented photographs I took could lead to future ideas.

“Initially, it’s a time where the word ‘surreal’ may be justified. I’m still expecting to wake up in March 2020.”

You have been told: The Truth Is Out There!, by Lincoln Lightfoot

Does your own artwork influence your teaching of Art & Design in Sunderland?

“I’m creating art as much as possible and often use it to inspire my students, developing exciting and enriching programmes of study.”

Why did you want to take part in York Open Studios? What opportunities does it present to you?

“I’ve wanted to do it for a long time. It’s a fantastic opportunity to platform artwork and to meet new people. Only now am I happy with a body of exciting work and have space to exhibit it.” 

More than 140 artists and craft-makers will be opening their doors for York Open Studios. How do you rate the York art scene?

“York’s art scene is forever growing, with an increasing number of creative spaces and events across the city. It’s alive, vibrant and has everything for anyone, regardless of age, background and appetite.”

“Watch out for more fantastical beings invading York’s ancient places,” warns Lincoln Lightfoot, creator of Micklegate Mayhem, Christmas

What’s coming next for you in the art world?

“Watch out for more fantastical beings invading York’s ancient places.

I’m now working on larger-scale oil paintings that use chiaroscuro not associated with Pop Art, but use blending and glazing. The best of these will be made into Giclee limited-edition prints.”

One final question: your York Open Studios profile says you “question what might be in store for 2021?”. So, Lincoln, what exactly is in store for 2021 for you and the rest of us?
“Aliens, man, definitely aliens. There are more influential individuals making statements and releasing information by the day.” 

Lincoln Lightfoot will be opening his doors at 118 Brunswick Street, South Bank, York, for York Open Studios 2021 on July 10/11 and July 17/18, 10am to 5pm. For more information on Lincoln, go to lincolnlightfoot.co.uk; for details of all York Open Studios artists, visit yorkopenstudios.co.uk.

Bridge attack: The Creature From The Bottom Of The Ouse!, by Lincoln Lightfoot


New partnership to mount Easter open-air production of The York Passion in April

New partnership: York Festival Trust, York Minster and York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust to present The York Passion at Easter

YORK’S new theatre partnership is seeking a director for The York Passion, an outdoor staging planned for Easter Saturday and Monday.

For the first time, York Festival Trust, York Minster and York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust are working together to present an Easter production, performed on two or possibly three static pageant waggons on the hard standing in front of the Minster School, opposite York Minster.

Three performances per day will be staged on April 2 and 4; tickets will be sold for a nominal charge to ensure appropriate Covid-secure distancing arrangements are applied.

The director will be required to create a single play – no more than 70 minutes straight through – from the pageants in the original York Mystery Plays.

The director’s vision must embrace elements from the Crucifixion, the Death of Christ and the Resurrection, possibly starting with the Road to Calvary and ending with the Appearance of Christ to Mary Magdalene.

Tom Straszewski, artistic director of the 2018 York Mystery Plays’ waggon production and 2022 Lincoln Mystery Plays, has produced a working script that can be adapted to meet the director’s requirements, including cutting and modernising the original text.

Cast and crew will be drawn from open auditions from the York community: a tradition of the York Mystery Plays since mediaeval times. Auditions and rehearsals will be conducted virtually, in accordance with Government Coronavirus measures.

Tom Straszewski: Working script that can be adapted to meet the director’s requirements

Linda Terry, chair of York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust, says: “Despite the current dark times, we felt that it was right to look forward and create an opportunity for people to participate in, and enjoy, a theatrical production that fulfilled our aim of keeping York’s Medieval Mystery Play heritage alive in a format that could be enjoyed safely.

“With the country now in its third lockdown, it is unclear what public health measures will be in place during the rehearsal phase and indeed it is quite possible that we may have to cancel or postpone the production, but any such decision will be taken jointly by the partnership and the director.”

For the Easter production, The Passion Trust – a charity focused on performances of Passion plays, including community events, around Britain – has provided funding specifically for live screening a performance to be uploaded subsequently to YouTube.

Roger Lee, York Festival Trust’s chair, highlights the new partnership’s extensive experience: “All three partners have mounted productions of the York Mystery Plays over the past five to 30 years,” he says.

“With the exception of York Minster, the organisations are not exclusively Christian, but the Festival Trust has directed community groups in producing sections of the cycle on waggons every four years since 2002, but this will be the first time the Crucifixion and Resurrection pageants are staged together as a single play.”

Applicants for the director’s role should provide a CV and a proposal for their vision for the open-air production on one side of A4 by midnight on January 30 2021.

A special director information pack is available. Shortlisted candidates will be invited for discussion by Zoom. Applications and enquiries should be emailed to: linda.terry@ympst.co.uk

Artistic director sought for York Mystery Plays’ spring Passion Play production

Tom Straszewski: Writing an hour-long script for this spring’s Passion Play, presented by the York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust, York Minster and York Festival Trust

AN artistic director is being sought for the York Mystery Plays’ outdoor community production of The Passion and Death of Christ at Easter.

The director will be expected to audition and rehearse in York, possibly virtually in the early stages, and then indoors and outdoors as Covid restrictions permit.

Applicants are asked to submit a one-page initial idea for the Passion Play production, along with a CV. Interest should be registered by emailing York Festival Trust chairman Roger Lee at: roger@yorkmysteryplays.co.uk. More details can be found at: bit.ly/YorkPassionPlay#yorkmysteryplays#york#theatre@YorkFestTrust

Tom Straszewski, director of the 2018 production on York’s streets, is developing an hour-long script for staging on waggons in the grounds of the Minster School, Minster Yard, Deangate, York.

Three performances a day will take place on Saturday, April 3 and Monday, April 5, mounted by a three-way partnership of York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust, York Minster and York Festival Trust.

Funding for the spring production will come from York Festival Trust and York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust, boosted by a £2,000 grant received already from The Passion Plays Trust. Audience members will pay a nominal sum for tickets to enable the organisers to safely manage numbers, access and distancing, if Covid restrictions still apply.

There will be opportunity for involvement in all aspects of the production. Watch this space for updates.

York stags and hens, racecourse revellers and gargoyles, all through the eye of Dan Cimmermann at Art Of Protest Gallery

Trout, by Dan Cimmermann, from his new Oy! Oy! collection at the Art Of Protest Gallery, York

POCKLINGTON School art master Dan Cimmermann will be painting live from 11am until darkness at tomorrow’s Art Of Protest Gallery launch of his Oy! Oy! solo show in York.

“Join us for a glass of festive fizz and check out this collection of originals based on the streets of York,” says gallery founder and owner Craig Humble, extending an invitation to a timely exhibition that merges York’s past and present.

Put bluntly, “St William’s Window versus Stags, Hens and Racecourse Revellers”. “This exhibition uses art’s first role – to make us look – as a means to encourage our thoughts about what’s important for the living vibrant reality of York today,” he contends.

“We can respect the layers of history that make our city so attractive, while embracing those who use our city for celebrating birthdays, hen dos and globally important sporting events.” 

Woo! Woo!, by Dan Cimmermann, newly on show at the Art Of Protest Gallery

Craig, who has re-located his ever-provocative gallery to No. 11, Walmgate, this autumn, continues: “Dan’s show is another example of the Art Of Protest showing the contemporary side of this ancient city. Dan is a Yorkshire artist whose work is predominantly shown in London and Tokyo, so, as an art master at the 16th century Pocklington School, it’s nice to be able to show his work a little nearer home.”

Dan’s Oy! Oy! collection has emerged from his countless visits to York. Living nearby, he enjoys the city’s shops and restaurants, making cultural visits and a day at the races. As a keen photographer as well as a painter, he often takes snaps of scenes and events that catch his eye.

Over the years, he has come to ask himself, “What is it about a city with such a heritage that attracts such gatherings of hedonism and partying?”.

“When I was looking through my photos and sketches, I was struck with the contrast between the stoic architecture, layers of history and the revellers that drive the city’s economy today,” Dan says. 

Dan Cimmermann’s studio with his works Woo! Woo! and Museum Gardens

“Whether they be the stags and hens meeting centrally from across the country, or the landed gentry celebrating a coup at the races, York is filled every weekend with drunken forms and faces finding their way around the streets and alleys.

“I kept imagining the Minster’s gargoyles looking down and wondering about how their world view had changed over the millennia”.

Reflecting on the exhibition’s timing in the shadow of the pestilent pandemic, Craig says: “To put on this show after York has seen the quietest year in its history, regarding visitor numbers at least, is the sort of juxtaposition that tweaks the interest of an artist and a gallery, now in a new location. 

“Many a local has lamented the city being overrun every weekend, but this staccato year has reminded us all that the city has the restaurants, museums, pubs and cultural investment because of the people attracted to come for whatever reason.”

To mark tomorrow’s exhibition launch, Dan will paint a mural in the backyard of Art Of Protest’s new Walmgate home. Oy! Oy! will then run until January 16 2021.

Dan Cimmermann, pictured when exhibiting at The Biscuit Factory in Newcastle

Chapter House Choir’s Carols By Candlelight goes online on December 16

Going virtual: Chapter House Choir members assembled via home recordings for the 2020 Carols By Candlelight concert. Picture: Kat Young

THE Chapter House Choir will release an online version of its ever-popular Carols By Candlelight concert as part of York Minster’s Christmas programme.

After the Coronavirus pandemic snuffed out the usual Carols By Candlelight format, the chamber choir’s 30-minute video performance will be go live next Wednesday (16/12/2020) at 7.30pm, free to view via yorkminster.org./whats-on and on the choir’s social-media channels.

Created by choir members performing individually from home, the virtual recordings will be set against footage of York Minster’s 13th-century Chapter House in candlelight. Christmas carols both old and new will be complemented by festive music performed by the Handbell Ringers of the Chapter House Choir.

Highlights of Carols By Candlelight concerts from past years will feature too, taken from performances in 2012 under Stephen Williams and 1999 under Jane Sturmheit.

The choir’s musical director, Ben Morris, says: “Each year, people say to me that Christmas starts for them with Carols By Candlelight in York Minster’s atmospheric Chapter House. At the end of this year, which has seen so much hardship, when choirs have been silenced and singing has been so missed, we felt it was more important than ever to create a version of this special tradition, so that people far and wide could join us virtually and share in a few minutes of festive music in the run-up to Christmas.”

New footage of the York Minster Chapter House by David Rose will feature in the virtual Carols By Candlelight concert. Picture: David Rose

The film has been edited by audio and visual engineer Kat Young, at present a research associate at the University of York’s AudioLab, and includes new footage of the Chapter House by videographer and sound specialist David Rose. 

Formed in 1965 to raise funds for the York Minster Appeal, the Chapter House Choir is a progressive and dynamic ensemble that presents beautiful yet challenging programmes from the full range of the choral repertoire.

The chamber choir regularly commissions new music, such as Everyone Sang by Roderick Williams, premiered with The King’s Singers; Song Cycle: Vive la Vélorution by Alexander L’Estrange, for the Tour de France Grand Depart in Yorkshire, and Arcadia by Judith Bingham, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War.

New pieces by Gabriel Jackson, Bob Chilcott, Paul Mottram, Lillie Harris and the choir’s founder conductor, Andrew Carter, have been premiered too.

Coming next? Wait and see. The choir’s latest Coronavirus update, posted on its website on November 22, says: “We currently have no live concerts planned, but we look forward to returning to live performances as soon as we can.”

McGee responds to Lockdown 2 with Richard Barnes window shopping launch

York artist Richard Barnes making his socially distanced delivery of his new York and North York Moors works to According To McGee. Standing in the doorway is gallery co-director Ails McGee

ACCORDING To McGee is still putting art in the shop window despite the here-we-go-again impact of Lockdown 2.

“Culture is in quarantine, but collecting great art continues,” says Greg McGee, co-director of the distinctive yellow-fronted gallery in Tower Street, York.

”And if the doors have to close then we’ll use our window to sell our paintings. It’s opposite Clifford’s Tower – we get a lot of footfall – and it’s huge.”

Lockdown: The Sequel has prompted Greg and co-director Ails McGee to launch the Window Shopping series of exhibitions, kicking off with According To McGee’s biggest-selling artist, Richard Barnes, former head of art at Bootham School.

York Minster: A perennial subject matter for York artist Richard Barnes, featuring once more in his Window Shopping exhibition

“Famed for his man-sized portraits of York, Richard’s latest collection, York And God’s Own County, has some of the largest cityscapes and landmarks he has ever produced,” says a delighted Greg.

Window Shopping’s modus operandi addresses the necessity of locked-down galleries displaying their wares explicitly in the window space and making as much use of the wall space viewable from that vantage point as possible.

“I don’t think it’s a skill taught in curatorial lessons at art college, but these are strange times. ” says co-director Ails. “I organised with Richard a socially distanced drop-off of 15 new paintings, created at his garden studio.

“I was blown away by the quality of the new collection. He has always had a muscular, mischievous approach to composition and colour schemes, but these are stand-out works that show him at the top of his game.

According To McGee co-director Ails McGee with a panoply of new Richard Barnes paintings on display in the Tower Street gallery window opposite the reflected Clifford’s Tower, York

“I have filled the front gallery with his work, from floor to ceiling, and we have already made pre-exhibition sales. Not very minimal or a traditional art gallery approach, but the energy is unmistakable. Window shopping works.”

Richard, who lives in Huntington Road, had done some “window showmanship” of his own in the lead-up to this show. “The paintings I love most hit me in the gut and hit me in my soul,” he says.

“During [the first] lockdown, I exhibited the paintings I was making on the back of my studio, so people using the river path opposite could see them. Somehow the job of making paintings that might hit someone somewhere, or even just give them a bit of pleasure, seemed very worthwhile.

“The new set of paintings at According To McGee are those that people commented on most during those tense lockdown months.”

York artist Richard Barnes, caught up in a riot of colour in his paintings for an earlier show at According To McGee

Richard also became involved in a project to create a huge painting for the new mental health hospital for York being built a little further along the Foss river path [the now opened Foss Bank Hospital in Haxby Road].

“The smaller landscapes in the new exhibition are experiments with light and space that I used to inspire the largest landscape I have ever painted and am still working on,” he says.

Barnes’s work has been a building block of According To McGee ever since the gallery launched 16 years ago. “It is especially pertinent this winter,” says Greg. “I’m  honoured to act as the art advisor for the internationally well-regarded poetry zine,  Dream Catcher, whose December issue features the art of Richard Barnes exclusively, so this show chimes with that nicely.”

Casting an eye over the new works, Ails says: “Richard has always painted with the risk-taking energy of an excellent painter in his 20s, but there’s a stronger, fiercer element to this collection.

North Yorks Moors, as portrayed by Richard Barnes in his new God’s Own County series

“Maybe he has rediscovered a latent aggression, or mischief, or maybe it’s Lockdown. Either way, these paintings depict York as a modern city and the North York Moors as a location for contemporary landscapes better than any collection on the market. Come look through our gallery window and see for yourself.”

It is no secret that Richard, who has painted ceaselessly since the 1980s, will be bidding farewell York in the months ahead, selling both his studio and house. “Although I am leaving York and Yorkshire, I really hope I will continue my relationship with painting York and According To McGee,” he says.

“I want to thank Greg and Ails for supporting me and many other northern artists. What I have loved most about working with them is their attitude of ‘Why not?’.”

Watch out for news of his York Farewell Show at According To McGee in 2021. In the meantime, whether out exercising or shopping, take a breather in Tower Street to peruse Window Shopping: Richard Barnes, York and God’s Own County; expansive, bold and inviting eye contact behind glass until December 1.

More, more Moor: How do you like it? Another of Richard Barnes’s moorland Yorkshire paintings on sale in According To McGee’s debut Window Shopping show

REVIEW: Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Brass in Leeds…but brassed off in York

Conductor Simon Wright

REVIEW: Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Brass (and other thoughts), Leeds Town Hall, October 24

TWELVE heroes from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – ten brass players and two percussionists – travelled to Leeds on Saturday to play before an audience of around five dozen.

Simon Wright conducted them in a stimulating mixed bag of music from the last 130 years, plus an early interjection from Giovanni Gabrieli.

Harmless though this may sound, the event was hugely significant. Locally based groups, notably from Opera North, have been appearing at the Town Hall since late August. But this was the first time that a professional ensemble from further afield had appeared there since lockdown.

Later this week, there will be two lunchtime events and three evening lieder recitals, all given by musicians of international standing. And that’s just on the classical side. So, it can be done, all within the regulations: distanced seating, masks worn by the audience, no interval or refreshments. But these are small privations compared to the thrill of live music returning. Leeds Playhouse has been equally adventurous.

In other cities, the silence continues to be deafening. Take York, for example, normally a bastion of classical performance. The Minster, the Barbican, University of York’s Central Hall, all are large venues well suited to music and easily adaptable to the new conditions.

Smaller but equally adaptable is the National Centre for Early Music and the university’s Lyons Concert Hall. All remain resolutely shut. Why? Hasn’t government (our) money been made available to keep such venues open?

Back to the brass. They opened with an ingenious arrangement of Elgar’s Cockaigne (In London Town) by one of their own, trombonist Matthew Knight. Given its complexity, it was a surprising choice as opener and took a while to settle.

But the main theme emerged triumphant on the trombones just in time for the accelerando towards the close. With the Town Hall so empty, and therefore even more resonant than usual, Gabrieli’s Canzon on the seventh tone had a regal clarity, comparable surely to St Mark’s Venice itself, as the two quartets bounced off another; it might have made a better curtain-raiser.

Imogen Holst’s Leiston Suite (1967) delivered five neatly concentrated miniatures, including a sparkling fanfare, a balletic jig and several flashes of her father’s spare harmony, all tastefully interwoven.

Eric Crees’ skilful arrangements of three Spanish dances by Granados were enchantingly idiomatic, rays of mediterranean sunshine. The colours in Duke Ellington’s bluesy Chelsea Bridge were more muted.

Hartlepool-born Jim Parker’s name may not be on everyone’s lips, but most of us have heard his music through his soundtracks for Midsomer Murders, Foyle’s War, Moll Flanders and any number of films. Why he has four BAFTAS to his name became clear in A Londoner In New York (1987), five attractive cameos of the city’s buzz, including steam engines at Grand Central, a romantic walk in Central Park, and the can-can chorus line at Radio City.

London came to Leeds here and we may all be grateful for the glimpse of normality.

Review by Martin Dreyer