York Early Music Festival rejoices in Connections in full return to live concerts

The Sixteen: Performing Hubert Parry’s Songs Of Farewell in York Minster. Picture: Firedog

THE 2022 York Early Music Festival takes the theme of Connections on its return to a full-scale event after the Covid restrictions of 2020 and 2021.

Taking place in glorious ecclesiastical buildings around the city from July 8 to 16, the festival celebrates the joy of music, fusing musicians and their stories across the ages.

“Concerts are linked together through a maze of interconnecting composers,” says festival administrative director Delma Tomlin. “We’re delighted to be able to shine a light on the many connections that hold us together in the past and into the future.”

At the heart of the 2022 festival will be concerts by three of the best-known Early Music ensembles in the resplendent York Minster, each starting at 7.30pm.

Directed by Harry Christophers, The Sixteen present a sublime programme of choral works focused around Hubert Parry’s Songs Of Farewell, complemented by mediaeval carols, works by poet and lutenist Thomas Campion, Howells and Parry and a new commission by Cecilia McDowall, on July 9 in the Nave. 

Profeti Della Quinta: Playing music to connect with the deepest of emotions, from love and delight to loss and despair, in Lamento D’Arianna

Under the title of Choral Connections, Peter Phillips directs The Tallis Scholars in the Chapter House in a sold-out July 11 programme of Josquin des Prez, Palestrina and Byrd works.

In the Nave, on July 13, Paul McCreesh directs the Gabrieli Consort & Players in A Venetian Coronation: a spectacular recreation of the 1595 Coronation Mass of the Venetian Doge Marina Grimani at St Mark’s, Venice.

“The Gabrielis are playing a remarkable piece on a scale that wholly suits York Minster,” says Delma. “It has that feeling of ‘We’re back’ writ large about it.

“This lavish sequence of festive music has become synonymous with these performers through recordings in 1989 and 2012 and combines brilliance and solemnity in a compelling and kaleidoscopic programme of masterpieces for combinations of voices, cornetts and sackbuts.

“A Venetian Coronation has been performed in many of the world’s greatest cathedrals and concert halls and is revived here in celebration of the Gabrielis’ 40th anniversary.”

Gonzaga Band: Making their York Early Music Festival debut

The festival’s opening concert, Heaven’s Joy: The World Of The Virtuoso Viol, will be given by the viola da gamba duo Paolo Pandolfo & Amélie Chemin at the National Centre for Early Music (NCEM), St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, on July 8 at 7.30pm.

Taking a trip through time and space, they find connections between the late-Elizabethan music of eccentric soldier Tobia Hume and the later improvisatory divisions of Christopher Simpson, through French baroque suites by the mysterious Mr de Ste. Colombe and the “devilish” Forqueray, to reach the classical calm of Christoph Schaffrath in Berlin via JS Bach.

On July 10, at 7.30pm, the Gonzaga Band make their festival debut at the NCEM with works from Venice 1629 by Claudio Monteverdi, Alessandro Grandi, wind player Dario Castello and violinist Biagio Marini, under director and cornett player Jamie Savan. In the ranks too is organist and harpsichord player Steven Devine, in his last year as a festival artistic advisor.

Further festival highlights will be The Rose Consort Of Viols’ Music For Severall Friends (NCEM, July 11, 1pm); festival debutants La Vaghezza – an EEEmerging+ ensemble from Italy – presenting Sculpting The Fabric (St Lawrence’s Church, Hull Road, July 12, 1pm), and another festival newcomer, theorbo specialist Ori Harmelin (Undercroft, Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, Fossgate, July 13, 9.45pm).

Profeti Della Quinta, 2011 winners of the York Early Music International Young Artists Competition, return to the NCEM on July 12 to perform Italian Renaissance music from Rore to Monteverdi at 7.30pm; The University of York Baroque Ensemble focus on Mannheim Travels To Fife (St Lawrence’s Church, July 13, 1pm); Peter Seymour directs festival regulars Yorkshire Baroque Soloists (St Lawrence’s Church, July 14, 7.30pm), and Ensemble Voces Suaves highlight Heinrich Schutz In Italy (St Lawrence’s Church, July 15, 7.30pm).

Ensemble Voces Suaves: Italian madrigal magic at St Lawrence’s Church

Delma is delighted by the resumption of Minster Minstrels, the NCEM’s youth instrumental ensemble, who will be performing late 17th century theatre, court and household music in Fairest Isle at the Unitarian Chapel, St Saviourgate, on July 10 at 4.45pm.

“Given the pressure on young people’s studies over the past two years, director Ailsa Batters has done really well in bringing them back together again,” she says.

The York Early Music International Young Artists Competition 2022 provides the grand festival finale on July 16 from 10am to 5.30pm at the NCEM, preceded by informal NCEM recitals by the ten pan-European ensembles on July 14 and 15 at 10.30am.

The winners will receive a professional CD recording contract from Linn Records, a £1,000 cheque and opportunities to work with BBC Radio 3 and the National Centre for Early Music.

“We’re delighted to be presenting a nine-day festival of music in our beautiful city, after we were caught last year in Boris Johnson’s indecision about whether venues could open or not,” says Delma.

Delighted to be connecting and reconnecting: York Early Music Festival administrative director Delma Tomlin

“We were, however, able to stream the 2021 festival, drawing new audiences online, but it’s lovely to see our patrons return because that’s what festivals are all about: a celebration of being together.

“Some of this year’s artists were meant to be with us two years ago; some of them, last year. The Young Artists should have been with us last year, and it’s wonderful that we’ll have 43 young musicians coming to York for the competition. It’s amazing that these young groups have been able to keep going, to keep their spirits up, and to still be coming to York a year later than first planned.”

Delma concludes: “This year’s theme is Connections, connecting and indeed reconnecting music, artists and, of course, our audiences. As always, we’ll be celebrating the glorious music of the past but also looking forward, as we’re able, at last, to stage the International Young Artists Competition, showcasing and nurturing the performers of the future.

“We’re so pleased to be back at full strength for what promises to be one of the most exciting festivals to date.”

For the full programme, head to: ncem.co.uk/whats-on/york-early-music-festival/. Box office: 01904 658338 or ncem.co.uk.

BBC Radio 3 will be recording the concerts by Paolo Pandolfo & Amélie Chemin, The Sixteen, the Gonzaga Band and Gabrieli Consort & Players for broadcast, along with the  York Early Music International Young Artists Competition 2022. The Early Music Show will be broadcast live from the festival on July 10 at 2pm.

NCEM launches ambitious Alignment online festival packed with highlights from 2022

Cantoria: Three concerts from the Spanish ensemble’s York residency will feature in Alignment online

THE National Centre of Early Music, York, is to celebrate the array of music staged in York and Beverley this year by presenting Alignment, its most ambitious online festival yet. 

Highlights of the packed NCEM musical calendar will be available to download from August 1 to 30 and are on sale now.

The festival features 14 concerts from the 2022 spring season, recorded by the NCEM’s specialist digital team in glorious historic buildings.

“There’s a chance to enjoy music from the Renaissance through to the Baroque with a nod to the contemporary just to keep us on our toes,” says Delma Tomlin, the NCEM’s director .

The Alignment recordings includes Spanish vocal group Cantoria in a film made during their spring residency at the NCEM. Their vocal and instrumental programme encompasses the lives of Tudor Queens Catherine of Aragon and Mary, married to Philip of Spain, in St Mary’s Church, Bishophill, the NCEM’s home at St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, and the mediaeval Merchant Adventurers Hall, Fossgate.

Florilegium: JS Bach concert, recorded at Beverley Minster

Further highlights include the music of JS Bach presented by Florilegium, recorded in Beverley Minster; two festival favourites, EEEmerging ensembles Prisma and Sarbacanes, and Ensemble Molière, the first BBC Radio 3 New Generation Baroque Ensemble.

The featured ensembles are:

Cantoría; Prisma; Ensemble Molière; Profeti della Quinta; Florilegium; Rose Consort Of Viols; Gonzaga Band; Sarbacanes; La Vaghezza; University of York Baroque Ensemble; Orí Harmelin; Ensemble Voces Suaves; Paolo Pandolfo & Amélie Chemin and Yorkshire Baroque Soloists.

Four different online packages are available:

Complete Box Set, £70, including all 14 concerts.

Platform Artists, £30, focusing on emerging talent with Cantoría, La Vaghezza, Prisma and Sarbacanes.

Baroque In A Box, £40: Ensemble Molière, Florilegium, Gonzaga Band, Paolo Pandolfo & Amélie Chemin, University of York Baroque Ensemble and Yorkshire Baroque Soloists.

Renaissance Revels, £30:  Rose Consort Of Viols, Orí Harmelin, Profeti della Quinta and Ensemble Voces Suaves.

All individual concerts are priced at £10.

Delma says: “it’s been an action-packed year so for the NCEM with the Beverley and East Riding Early Music Festival, an outstanding York residency with young Spanish ensemble Cantoria, and now the upcoming York Early Music Festival.

“We wanted to share this wonderful music far and wide, so we’ve put together a programme of many of this year’s highlights for this online celebration. We hope that those of you who couldn’t attend the concerts, or indeed those of you who did and want to enjoy the concerts again, will join us for some musical magic this summer.”

Full details can be found at: ncem.co.uk/whats-on/alignment/

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on York Musical Society’s Mozart Requiem

Bass-baritone soloist Alex Ashworth. Picture: Debbie Scanlan

Mozart Requiem, York Musical Society, at York Minster, June 18

THERE was plenty of early evidence that the York Musical Society chorus was in excellent health despite the pandemic, in an evening mainly involving two works Mozart wrote in his last two months. Evidence, too, that its conductor David Pipe has acquired a more confident stance.

In the Requiem, heads were well out of copies for the Kyrie’s double fugue, which held no terrors for the choir, so that the succeeding Dies Irae, where the strings also had to be on their mettle, was stirringly crisp.

The soprano soloist Anita Watson had interjected her ‘Te Decet Hymnus’ very smoothly at the start and it was no surprise that she remained the most relaxed member of the solo quartet.

The bass-baritone Alex Ashworth opened the Tuba Mirum forthrightly enough but lacked real heft at the bottom of his range. Nevertheless, the quartet made a well-blended entity, all four minimising their vibrato: the Recordare was persuasively prayerful; the Benedictus almost as satisfying if more operatic.

The quartet’s inner voices were Kate Symonds-Joy and Peter Davoren. The choir meanwhile was going from strength to strength, with the sopranos benefiting from a white-hot engine-room of keen voices at its core. This paid special dividends whenever they had high entries, notably in the Domine Jesu.

There had been a notably transparent texture when sopranos and altos were duetting in the Confutatis; tenors and basses were marginally less effective, though as ‘lost souls’ they had some excuse. That, and the following Lacrimosa, which had an intoxicating lilt, proved to be the heart of the work, which ended serenely.

The orchestra had its moments too. Throughout the work, the bass line – cellos and double basses – gave the firmest possible foundation, always a bonus for a choir. The trombones had a field day, at once funereal and majestic. The violins, so often hard-worked but under-recognised in Viennese masses, were splendidly attentive, led by Nicola Rainger.

The evening had opened with Haydn’s motet Insanae et Vanae Curae, his late adaptation of a storm chorus from an oratorio on Tobias. It was good to hear its orchestral version, when so often in cathedrals it is organ-accompanied. In truth it got off to a bumpy start but was much more incisive on its repeat, with its gentler F major section bringing tears to the eyes, as it promised balm after woe.

In between the choral works, Jonathan Sage was the highly effective soloist in Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto. His runs were steady, his trills tight, and he offered plenty of light and shade. Playing a basset clarinet – an A clarinet with extension that enlarges the lowest, chalumeau register – he managed a movingly intimate ending to the slow movement. He also injected little touches of ornamentation into repeats during the closing rondo, which positively danced.

David Pipe’s orchestra was with him every step of the way. Indeed, Pipe remained cool and controlled all evening.

Review by Martin Dreyer

York Musical Society to perform at York Minster after two-year hiatus on June 18

Bass-baritone soloist Alex Ashworth: Picture: Debbie Scanlan

YORK Musical Society (YMS) will return to York Minster for the first time in two years in its summer concert on June 18.

The 150-strong choir will be joined by York Musical Society Orchestra and four soloists, together with York clarinettist Jonathan Sage, to perform a 7.30pm programme of Mozart and Haydn works.

Musical director David Pipe says: “It’s a long-awaited thrill for York Musical Society to return to York Minster – our first concert there since November 2019 – performing one of the choir’s favourite works, Mozart’s Requiem.

“It will be preceded by Joseph Haydn’s stormy Insanae Et Vanae Curae and Mozart’s much-loved Clarinet Concerto. We hope audiences will enjoy listening to this fantastic music in such an awe-inspiring setting.”

YMS’s returning soloists will be soprano Anita Watson, mezzo-soprano Kate Symonds-Joy, tenor Peter Davoren and bass-baritone Alex Ashworth, as well as Sage.

Haydn’s Insanae Et Vanae Curae is thought to be a reworking of the chorus Svanisce In Un Momento from his oratorio Il Ritorno Di Tobia, first published in 1809.

Sage’s performance of the Clarinet Concerto will be given on a basset clarinet: an extra third lower than the standard instrument and the clarinet envisaged by Mozart for this concerto.

The climax will be Mozart’s Requiem, the work he was composing at the time of his death in 1791 at the age of 35 and long regarded a masterpiece of Western classical music.

Tickets cost £25, £20, £12 or £6 (student/under-18s) on 01904 623568, at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or on the door. Admission is free for children aged under 13 if accompanied by an adult.

When an artist called Lincoln puts the fear of alien invasion and dinosaur destruction into York’s historic/hysterical streets

Swapping New York for York: King Kong climbs York Minster, by Lincoln Lightfoot

SOUTH Bank surrealist Lincoln Lightfoot is letting his gloriously ridiculous B-movie nightmares loose on unsuspecting York at the Micklegate Social and Fossgate Social cafe bars from this weekend.

For two months, past meets present and a forewarned future both in retro art style and subject matter in Revelation, his humorously absurdist depictions of surreal encounters with beasts and creatures as they take over landmark locations.

On show in Micklegate Social from Saturday’s 6pm to 10pm launch will be the first release of Lincoln’s larger, compelling paintings, 150 by 100cm in size, complemented by giclee prints of those new works at Fossgate Social. All works are for sale.

Born in Hartlepool in 1992, Lincoln developed his love of York, its heritage, buildings and culture, when studying Fine Art and Contemporary Practice at York St John University and first exhibited prints at Fossgate Social in 2018.

Now comes Revelation’s exploration of surreal happenings in compositions that echo the B-movie poster art of the 1950s and ’60s. “During that time, the Cold War kept us in perpetual fear of extinction from nuclear Armageddon until the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet bloc,” says Lincoln.

Isolation, by Lincoln Lightfoot

“Today we have growing similarities re-emerging due to the conflict in the Ukraine, which threatens to spill over into the wider world.”

Through engagement with art, we can deal with these nightmares, argues Lincoln, who says children confront and make sense of a dangerous world through stories and rhymes and are taught of danger through the safe spaces of literature and illustration that deal with anecdote and myth.

Revelation taps into our present condition of fear that news media and politicians perpetuate in our post Covid-19 world, suggests Lincoln. “This show, with its threatening visitations of beasts and creatures, attempts to highlight these fears through a safe and comical lens,” he says.

“Juxtaposed with local scenes of our story-book city, it’s not hard to imagine incredible things happening in this part of the world because they already have. Walking through York’s streets and passageways, our heritage resonates in the present. Popular with shoppers and scholars alike, high art co-exists with popular culture.”

Further work by Lincoln this year will see this 2021 and 2022 York Open Studios artist branching out to recognisable global locations as he pursues his passion for art full time after leaving his post as a secondary school head of art in County Durham.

Artist Lincoln Lightfoot at work on the day the aliens came to York

Here CharlesHutchPress discusses art, heritage, York, history’s yoke, night terrors and teaching with artist Lincoln Lightfoot.

Explain the Revelation exhibition title, Lincoln.

“Revelation is an appropriate title hinting at things supernatural. It’s no coincidence that it suggests happenings of biblical significance as it refers to the last book of the Bible and a second coming. It’s also apt as the word literally means ‘a revealing’.”

“Living with history” weighs heavy on York’s shoulders. In your case, you imagine the worst nightmare of living with that history, or living with forces other than tourists taking over the city, be they dinosaurs or aliens. Discuss….

“So many significant events have already taken place; one is in a perpetual state of anticipation as to what the next will be! After the massacre of Jews in Clifford’s Tower, war with Scots, sieges in the English Civil War, lightning striking the Minster on the eve of the ordination of a controversial bishop, York is expectant with ghost hunters and sci-fi buffs.

“In the present-day, it is becoming easier to distrust politicians, large company executives and the media. It seems to me that the world has become laughably money driven with hidden initiatives. When you can’t believe reality, it makes my artwork more relatable.”   

A bridge too far? Creature From The Bottom Of The Ouse, by Lincoln Lightfoot


Do you have night terrors or is there more of the B-movie humorist about your imagery and how you see life in York?

“I definitely find life amusing, I think in the hardest times it’s the best way to deal with it. I’m a big Monty Python fan. My work at degree level was described as ‘very Monty Python’. One of my favourite sketches has to be the crucifixion scene in The Life Of Brian. I would hope that my work can offer something similar in the way of humour.”

How has your own life influenced such a disposition?
“When I was 22, my aortic artery dissected in the gym due to a large aneurysm in the aortic arch. Fortunately, I don’t remember much of the initial incident and unbelievably awoke from an induced coma three days later.

“I now live with a pacemaker, metal heart valve and numerous aortic stints and grafts. Before this I was a healthy, athletic, basketball-playing young man and there is no clear diagnosis for my weak connective tissue.

“Following this incident, I find it incredibly difficult to get angry. I considered myself ‘the unluckiest luckiest man’. I conclude that life can be so laughably unbearable. Imagine living in one of my paintings or a terrible B-movie. I recall returning home from my stint in hospital and drowning under the weight of my duvet. I lay there laughing at myself. Can’t remember how it ended; I probably had to call for help once I stopped laughing.”    

“At such times of crisis when the population lives in fear, art mirrors these fears,” says Lincoln Lightfoot, creator of Minster UFO

Fear is ramping up. Covid. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Oppressive, 24-hour rolling media coverage and cynical, manipulative politicians play their part in spreading that fear. Cue your worst nightmare artworks. Discuss…

At such times of crisis when the population lives in fear, art mirrors these fears. A Cold War fear of nuclear Armageddon has now returned with Putin threatening to nuke us daily because of continuing support for the Ukrainians.

“When I was younger, I took no interest in the news. I was told by my father that ‘you need to take an interest in what is going on in the world! You are part of it after all’! I probably thought it was ‘boring’; these days I wonder if my generation is trying to make it more interesting and has turned to unbelievable plots lines, twists and unrealistic personalities.

“I question the stupidity of it all and then realise it is naive to believe that the world has never been this annoyingly worrying before. The work aims to echo the zeitgeist of our times.  

“From the Brothers Grimm to Disney movies, we are taught to deal with difficult real-life scenarios. My disbelief for current world events cushions my conscience. As touched on before, I hope that my artwork is a humorous release from the real world.

“I find it increasingly reminiscent of the creation of Godzilla in 1954. Godzilla being a Hollywood-whitewashed Hiroshima metaphor. The ‘King of Monsters!’ is a reminder of past atrocities in the hope that they are never to be repeated.” 

“I hope that my artwork is a humorous release from the real world,” says Lincoln Lightfoot. Fear not, York, here comes his vision of a city under Mars Attack.

What are the essential differences between your larger works and smaller pieces?

“My larger pieces allude to history painting as opposed to easel painting. Traditionally, history paintings have a greater importance not just due to their size, but the implied narratives they espouse too.

“I’m compelled by the work of John Martin and his romantic, large, biblical, end-of-the-world paintings. It is said that Victorian audiences would await viewing his works in anticipation like a modern audience about to view Roland Emmerich’s films 2012 or The Day After Tomorrow.

“Additional effects would be employed, lights of the gallery would flicker and ghastly thundering noises would be heard; this would trigger an emotive response from the audience, many releasing great gasps and screams.

“There’s also a link to his work in the exhibition title, Revelation, as many of his works depict frightening biblical and end-of-the-world scenes. 

“Generations now are disaffected by such static imagery. Applying comic relief ironically flips the emotive response and appeals to the emerging NFT [non-fungible token] culture.” 

“York isn’t just a pretty face. It has compelling history to accompany its looks,” says Lincoln, here depicting The Day Of The Dinosaurs as they tower over Northern Europe’s largest Gothic cathedral


What makes York such a wonderful city to depict in art?

“York is a picture-book city. Its beauty and architecture is reason enough to visit but don’t be fooled; York isn’t just a pretty face. It has compelling history to accompany its looks, whatever your favourite period in time.

“There is architecture from every age, stepping into an architectural time machine, from the lonely Roman column next to the Minster to the mediaeval Clifford’s Tower. Painting its complex architecture keeps you looking and the eye never tires at nuances of light and shadow raking across buttresses, ramparts, arches and chimneys.

“With banal street names such as Mad Alice Lane and Whipmawhopmagate, you can easily be left questioning whether or not this is a real place. One can see why the city has been captured by so many artists over the centuries.”

How would you describe York to someone who has never been here?

“If you are visiting the city for the first time, you can simply find your way into the centre by heading for York’s iconic Minster. A planning law means that no other structure can be built higher than this magnificent Gothic construction.

Lincoln Lightfoot’s poster artwork for his Revelation exhibition at Micklegate Social and Fossgate Social

“The city is beautiful, yes, but it is unique and intricate. I’m bedazzled by the stone masonry, not only on York Minster but across the city too.

“Life can be stressful at times, but a walk amongst the elaborate architectural beauty forces you out of yourself.  Every venture into the city, one notices something new like a quaint passageway to hidden dwellings, or ornamentation such as gargoyles and unique roof features.

“Looking upwards, you discover perspectives that are surely wrong, such as bending verticals and sloping horizontals.

“As a student living in the city, I was over the moon to discover York’s many snickelways and to gain knowledge and mastery over the medieval street plan.  I would recommend a journey out in early morning or twilight as the light rakes across surfaces and there are not many people around. This is when the city is at its most expectant.”

Not York, but the other York, New York as Lincoln Lightfoot goes global in his B-movie visions for Damsel In Distress

What’s coming next for you beyond Revelation?

“At the moment I have a number of pieces in the pipeline that focus on more world-renowned landmarks. Once the current exhibition is under way, I intend to start another body of work in readiness for exhibition. I’m hoping to further develop my skills as a painter and also have some new exploits in the form of large-scale mural commissions.” 

You have followed your father – a school head of art & design – into teaching that very same subject, with considerable prowess, but you decided to leave your full-time teaching post at Easter. Why?

“I developed an inherent love for teaching having worked five consecutive summers at Brant Lake Camp in the Adirondacks. It has been a hard decision to make after teaching for eight years and leading the art, craft & design department for six of those.

“I concocted thrilling projects such as ‘Beware of the Plants’ and ‘Impossible Worlds’, and ran trips and workshops not only to educate but to fuel creative thought too. After developing key cognitive skills, I would encourage students to develop ideas and create on a large scale in a variety of exciting materials.

“I remember being told that I should stick to small-scale ‘secondary school art’ to make things easier. The pandemic took the wind out of my sails and I was forced to think creatively and had to leave a lot of the materiality behind.

Fallen Angel, as the anger of the north takes over, by Lincoln Lightfoot

“After reading a lot of Ken Robinson [director of the Arts in Schools Project], and with an ever-increasing love for my own subject, I became frustrated with the one-size-fits-all approach. The irony is that the leadership of and in schools isn’t in the hands of educators but merely business execs whose sole aim is to produce the best high-performing products.

“After much discussion with my fiancé, close friends and relatives, I’ve decided to focus on fully practising what I was preaching full time. Although I’m incredibly excited about changing my career path, I’m still worried and angered by the ever-increasing cuts to funding in art and design education.

“That’s paired with an overwhelming increase in mental and consequently physical health problems in the teaching profession and a mass feeling of under-appreciation, which was documented in recent Times Educational Supplements.”

Might you do some freelance teaching?

“I don’t think I will ever rule out a return to teaching if an exciting opportunity arises. In January, I was invited to Hempland Primary School, in Heworth, to deliver an artist talk and workshop to Year 4 students. It was great to see the students so excited by my unusual works of art.

“I incredibly enjoyed the event and the work produced by students was fantastic! In the past I’ve run adult classes, which I have also greatly enjoyed, and I always consider returning to Brant Lake Camp each summer, where my love for teaching began.” 

Micklegate Social and Fossgate Social, York, present Lincoln Lightfoot’s exhibition Revelation from May 7 to July 7. 

Paris meets its match: Le Blob consumes the Eiffel Tower, as forewarned by Lincoln Lightfoot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bull: Perfectly formed guitar pop nuggets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Carols By Candlelight, Chapter House Choir, York Minster, December 15

Chapter House Choir musical director Benjamin Morris

WITHDRAWAL symptoms were widespread last year when Carols By Candlelight succumbed to Covid. For it has become a tradition without which no York Yuletide is complete.

This year it was back with a vengeance, transplanted from the Chapter House to the Nave of the Minster to allow a larger audience. Even if the candles did not flicker quite so intimately, the move was a resounding success: the building’s wide-open spaces were encouraged to co-operate.

Musical director Benjamin Morris had chosen a typically eclectic programme. Admirably, more than half of the 18 choral pieces were either composed or arranged by living musicians. In addition to the main choir, we enjoyed the Chapter House Youth Choir, conducted by Charlie Gowers-Smith, the traditional Handbell Ringers and three organ interludes from Asher Oliver.

The combined choirs opened with Andrew Carter’s tasteful arrangement of the Advent plainsong hymn, Veni Emmanuel, sung in procession. The Advent responsory that followed featured a beautifully crystalline soprano soloist (unnamed). Muscular contrasts came with Joubert’s Torches and in the crisp syncopation of Matthias’s arrangement of Sir Christèmas, the oldest carol here and reaching back to the 15th century.

At the other end of the spectrum, we had Master of the Queen’s Music Judith Weir’s setting of William Blake’s My Guardian Angel, with its cleverly repeating Alleluia, sung by the combined choirs. Even more atmospheric was Holst’s In The Bleak Midwinter, with the alternating choirs widely spaced. The sweet harmonies of Sally Beamish’s In The Stillness stood up well alongside Warlock’s tasty Bethlehem Down.

The choir’s final group was the best of all. After tenderly caressing The Shepherds’ Farewell, from Berlioz’s ‘L’enfance du Christ’, there was a lovely calm in Nicola LeFanu’s Saint Ita’s Lullaby and much feeling in Rutter’s melodious Candlelight Carol. We finished as we began, with founder-director Andrew Carter’s Make We Merry, spirited and heart-warming.

Along the way, the Handbell Ringers brought their mystifying skills to bear on four numbers, with Carter’s arrangement of Good King Wenceslas and John Hastie’s of We Wish You A Merry Christmas drawing especially warm applause.

The Youth Choir launched into the Vaughan Williams arrangement of the Yorkshire Wassail with special vigour. Oliver’s three contributions were gracefully restrained – we might have had a little more in the way of fireworks – although he had to do battle with a reed stop on the newly-restored organ speaking rather less than cleanly.

At ten minutes less than two hours despite no interval, the concert might have been a touch shorter for audience comfort in the chill, but it was wonderfully energising to have this great tradition back where it belonged.

Review by Martin Dreyer

Next performance by Chapter House Choir: Festival of Carols, St Michael-le-Belfrey, York, December 18, 7.30pm.

What are the albums of the year? We decide…

Will The War On Drugs feature in Graham Chalmers or Charles Hutchinson’s list?

YORKSHIRE culture podcasters Chalmers & Hutch pick their Top Tens in Episode 68 of Two Big Egos In A Small Car.

Under discussion too are Damon Albarn’s bleakly beautiful concerts at York Minster; the tidal wave of streaming; and who will be number one at Christmas? Elton & Ed? Gary & Sheridan? Adele & yet more Adele? The sausage roll enthusiast?

To listen, head to: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1187561/9700461

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

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

Jason Manford: “Exercising the old chuckle muscle”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter House Choir’s carol concert at York Minster sells out. Prompt booking advised for St Michael-le-Belfrey on December 18

St Michael-le-Belfrey: Playing host to the Chapter House Choir on December 18

THE Chapter House Choir’s ever-popular Carols by Candlelight at York Minster has once again sold out, two weeks before the 7.30pm performance on December 15.

 “However, if you have missed out on obtaining a ticket for this wonderful occasion, you have a second chance to hear the choir and the bell ringers of the choir,” says honorary secretary David Frith.

The second concert , a Festival of Carols with the Chapter House Choir, will take place at St Michael-le-Belfrey, York, on December 18 at 7.30pm. Tickets are available via Eventbrite,   “but hurry because they are limited in number and selling fast,” advises David.

REVIEW: Damon Albarn, York Minster, December 2, 6.30pm

Window of opportunity: Damon Albarn played York at last. Picture: Daisy Rutledge

YORK Minster will always drive out demons but welcomed a Damon last night. Damon Albarn, leader of Blur, Gorillaz and The Good, The Bad And The Queen, no less.

Albarn would be playing two sets in one night, an 8.30pm performance being added pronto last month by Leeds co-promoters Crash Records and Brudenell Presents after the 6.30pm show sold out in five minutes.

The advice was to arrive by the door time, advice taken as the hats-and-scarves queue snaked towards Constantine the Great’s statue. Accommodating 600 in the Nave, it would be 7.22pm before Albarn took to his grand piano seat, in studious glasses, after an introduction by a member of the Minster clergy, just as had been the case when York band The Howl & The Hum played there on May 25.

Albarn was not alone, instead being accompanied by an all-female string quartet, who set the hushed, wintry mood with two instrumentals, the second a magical, frost-tipped rendition of In The Bleak Midwinter, with candlelight displaying glowing approval at either side.

The poster for Damon Albarn’s 6.30pm concert at York Minster

In the first ever York concert of his 32-year career, Albarn’s focus was to be on his November solo release, The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows – tickets had been sold in a bundle with a CD copy of the album – although Chris Sherrington, from the Fulford Arms, tipped off CharlesHutchPress to expect “an interesting set”, suggesting past as well as present might feature.

Albarn had first intended the album to be an orchestral piece inspired by the landscapes of Iceland. In lockdown, however, he returned to the music, resulting in 11 tracks rooted in themes of fragility, loss, emergence and rebirth.

Last night, those songs re-emerged with strings attached and in an atmosphere of contemplation, almost everyone in a mask as the new Omicron variant reintroduced caution and uncertainty: those feelings of fragility and loss rather dampening these past months’ sense of emergence and rebirth.

Taking the album’s title from the John Clare poem Love And Memory, Albarn had been on his “own dark journey while making the record”. Crucially, too it had led him to “believe that a pure source might still exist”. That pure source is not specified, but listening to these sombre songs in the stillness of the cathedral made you wonder whether divine intervention could play its part.

Damon Albarn: Played the church organ on Saturday mornings in his youth

That said, as Albarn recalled in his one humorous anecdote, in his youth he had been allowed to play his local church organ on Saturday mornings, until one day the vicar decided his rendition of The Stranglers’ Golden Brown was perhaps not appropriate.

As it happens, it would not have been appropriate on this night either, when melancholia and slow, serpentine songs of icy beauty and grave singing prevailed in a set played in album order (save for the omission of Combustion, Esja and Giraffe Trumpet Sea), climaxing with Polaris and Particles.

Given that the second concert would need to start on time, Albarn explained he had to keep strictly to 45 minutes – although he had wanted to play for longer – as he switched to performing a “few older songs now”.

Beetlebum sounded like it could have come from a George Martin recording session with The Beatles; Albarn aficionados would have recognised Lonely Press Play from 2014’s Everyday Robots, and if you would choose one Blur song to close a church concert…maybe Tender, but surely, The Universal? Yes! The Universal.

Damon Albarn’s artwork for his November solo album

“When the days they seem to fall through you/Well, just let them go,” he sang, with resonance anew after so much drifting through lockdown days. “Well, here’s your lucky day,” he sang too, and we were indeed lucky to be among the 600-strong congregation.

At one point, Albarn had stood up to thank his unnamed string players, so vital to the night’s mood. At another, he talked of the great honour of performing in York Minster and of the “wonderful surprise” of playing in such a vast space (much like York singer-songwriter Benjamin Francis Leftwich’s look of awe when he first took in the grandest of Gothic church designs after agreeing to play the Minster).

Albarn, now 53, once tearfully surveyed the masses at Glastonbury on Blur’s comeback, but now he was moved anew, arms aloft at 8.08pm, after making the Minster feel intimate: no mean feat at a serious, seriously good concert.

He would soon enough be doing it all again: the second queue waiting for the doors to open as we departed. Second time around, it turns out he had his wish, playing for longer, adding Blur’s My Terracotta Heart and Under The Westway to the finale before The Universal made 600 more feel so delighted that it really, really had happened: Damon Albarn’s belated first and second coming at York Minster.

Review by Charles Hutchinson