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

More Things To Do in York and beyond as Dickens tales, dames and Damon drop in. List No. 59, courtesy of The Press, York

What the Dickens? Yes, James Swanton is reviving his Ghost Stories For Christmas at York Medical Society

FROM boyish Boris to Dame Edna, Christmas concerts to panto dames, Dickensian ghost stories to solo Damon, Charles Hutchinson has highlights aplenty to recommend.   

Dickensian Christmas in York: James Swanton’s Ghost Stories For Christmas, York Medical Society, on various dates between December 2 and 13, 7pm

AFTER the silent nights of last December, York gothic actor supreme James Swanton is gleefully reviving his Ghost Stories For Christmas performances of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, The Haunted Man and The Chimes.

“I’ve scheduled extra performances of A Christmas Carol: the perfect cheering antidote, I feel, to the misery we’ve all been through,” says Swanton. “But the two lesser-known stories are also very relevant to our times.”

A reduced capacity is operating for Covid safety, meaning that tickets are at a premium on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Boris: World King, under debate at Theatre@41

Political debate of the week: Boris: World King, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, tonight, 7.30pm

THE year is 1985 and Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson has plenty going for him, being young, posh and really rather blond. However, his efforts to become President of the Oxford Union debating society have been thwarted.

Never fear. Boris always has a cunning plan up his sleeve. Cue time travel, classical allusions and good clean banter in Boris: World King, Tom Crawshaw’s comedic exploration of a young man’s ambition and humanity explored as a half-hour one-man show. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

Richard Kay: Co-directing York Philharmonic Male Voice Choir’s Christmas concerts

Harmony at Christmas: York Philharmonic Male Voice Choir and the Citadel Singers, Christmas Traditions 2021, The Citadel, Gillygate, York, Tuesday to Friday, doors 7pm

AFTER delivering an online Christmas concert via Zoom to an international audience in 2020, York Philharmonic Male Voice Choir return to live concerts for Christmas Traditions 2021.

The Citadel allows room for cabaret seating downstairs and balcony seating that can ensure safe distancing is maintained, while the show retains its format of carols old and new, Christmas songs, festive readings and sketches. Box office: arkevent.co.uk/christmastraditions2021.

The poster for Damon Albarn’s night at the double at York Minster

York gig(s) of the week: Damon Albarn, York Minster, Thursday, 6.30pm and 8.30pm

DAMON Albarn quickly added a second special intimate album-launch show at York Minster after the first was fully booked in a flash.

The Blur, Gorillaz and The Good, The Bad & The Queen leader now plays two sold-out concerts in one night in his first ever York performances, marking the November 12 release of his solo studio recording The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows.

Albarn, 53, has been on a “dark journey” making this album in lockdown, exploring themes of fragility, loss, emergence and rebirth.

Martyn Joseph: Lockdown reflections on landmark birthday on new album, showcased in concert at Pocklington Arts Centre concert

Gig of the week outside York: Martyn Joseph, Pocklington Arts Centre, Thursday, 8pm

“THE Welsh Springsteen”, singer-songwriter Martyn Joseph, will be showcasing his 23rd studio album, 1960, a “coming of age” record with a difference, in Pocklington.

Last year, amid the isolation of the pandemic, Penarth-born Joseph turned 60 on July 15, a landmark birthday, a time of self-reflection, that shaped his songs of despair and sadness, gratitude and wonder, and gave the album its title. Box office: 01759 301547 or at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

Alistair Griffin: Series of Big Christmas Concerts in York

Alistair Griffin’s Big Christmas Concert, St Michael-le-Belfrey, York, December 3 (sold out) and December 10, 8pm; Alistair Griffin’s Candlelit Christmas, Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate, York, December 11, 8pm

ON December 3 and 10, a brass band greets revellers, then York singer-songwriter Alistair Griffin’s Big Christmas Concert takes a musical journey from acoustic traditional carols to Wizzard, Slade and The Pogues. “Sing along and sip mulled wine while enjoying the fairytale of old York,” says Griffin’s invitation.

On December 11, he switches from St Michael-le-Belfrey to a candle-lit Holy Trinity Church. “Take a seat, or in this case, a medieval pew and soak in the festive atmosphere,” he says. Cue mulled wine, Christmas tunes, acoustic festive numbers and a Christmas carol singalong. Box office: alistairgriffin.com.

York playwright Mike Kenny: New production of The Railway Children with his award-winning script at Hull Truck

On the right track show of the week outside York: The Railway Children, Hull Truck Theatre, running until January 2

YORK playwright Mike Kenny has revisited his award-winning adaptation of E Nesbit’s The Railway Children – first staged so memorably by York Theatre Royal at the National Railway Museum – for Hull Truck’s Christmas musical.

Directed by artistic director Mark Babych in the manner of his Oliver Twist and Peter Pan shows of Christmases past, original music and dance routines complement Kenny’s storytelling in this warm-hearted, uplifting tale of hope, friendship and family, set in Yorkshire. Box office: 01482 323638 or at hulltruck.co.uk.

Faye Campbell: Brushing up on playing Cinderella in York Theatre Royal’s pantomime, opening on Friday

Evolution, not revolution, in pantoland: Cinderella, York Theatre Royal, December 3 to January 2

YORK Theatre Royal’s post-Berwick era began last year with the Travelling Pantomime, establishing the partnership of Evolution Pantomimes’ man with the Midas touch, Paul Hendy, as writer and Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster as director.

After the 2020 road show, here comes the full-scale return to the main house for Cinderella, starring CBeebies’ Andy Day (Dandini), last winter’s stars Faye Campbell (Cinderella) and Robin Simpson (Sister), Paul Hawkyard (the other Sister), ventriloquist comedian Max Fulham (Buttons), Benjamin Lafayette (Prince Charming) and Sarah Leatherbarrow (Fairy Godmother). Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Unmasked: Barry Humphries tells all at the Grand Opera House, York next April

Hottest ticket launch of the week: Barry Humphries, The Man Behind The Mask, Grand Opera House, York, April 13 2022

AUSTRALIAN actor, comedian, satirist, artist, author and national treasure Barry Humphries will play only one Yorkshire show on his 2022 tour, here in York.

Set to turn 88 on February 17, he will take a revelatory trip through his colourful life and theatrical career in an intimate, confessional evening, seasoned with highly personal, sometimes startling and occasionally outrageous stories of alter egos Dame Edna Everage, Sir Les Patterson and Sandy Stone. Hurry, hurry, for tickets on 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/york.

More Things To Do in and around York as pioneering dating show is game for laughs and love. List No. 57, courtesy of The Press

Seasick Steve: Just him, his home-made guitar and you at York Barbican tonight

CHARLES Hutchinson recommends veteran blues at the double, quilts, a dating show, chaotic Hitchcockian comedy capers, a Brahms Requiem and a Geordie comic out to dazzle.

Solo show of the week: Seasick Steve, Just Steve, A Guitar And Your Tour, York Barbican, tonight, 8pm

LAST year, American DIY blues veteran Seasick Steve released two albums, July’s Love & Peace and November’s Blues In Mono, his tribute to trad acoustic country blues recorded with a microphone from the 1940s as Steve performed the songs direct to an old tape machine. 

Now, York-bound Steve says: “I‘m lookin’ forward to coming and playing for y’all. Just gonna be me, you and my guitar. A few songs and a few stories, kinda like we just hangin’ out together! Gonna be fun. See ya there.” Tickets update: limited availability at yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Sanna Buck, Stephen Wright and Aran MacRae look on as a prone Daniel Boyle takes centre stage in rehearsal for York Settlement Community Players’ The 39 Steps. Picture: John Saunders

Play of the week: York Settlement Community Players in The 39 Steps, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, tonight until Sunday

PATRICK Barlow’s riotous West End comedy hit marks the Settlement Players’ return to live performance for the first time since March 2020.

Harri Marshall’s cast of eight takes on the challenge of combining John Buchan’s 1915 novel with Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film scenes in a blend of virtuoso performance and wildly inventive stagecraft, playing 150 characters between them as the mysterious 39 Steps chase Aran MacRae’s Richard Hannay’s on a nationwide manhunt. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

Hey, it’s The Manfreds: Playing the Grand Opera House, York, tonight

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be? It’s even better at Maximum Rhythm N’ Blues with The Manfreds and Georgie Fame, Grand Opera House, York, tonight, 7.30pm

THE Manfreds and Georgie Fame team up for a celebration of Sixties rhythm & blues in an all-star line-up with hits galore to match.

Original Manfred Mann members Paul Jones, Mike Hugg and Tom McGuinness are joined by Family’s Rob Townsend on drums, Marcus Cliffe on bass and Simon Currie on saxophone and flute, plus former member Mike D’Abo to share lead vocals, and Blue Flames leader Fame on keyboards. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.

Ready to dazzle: Sarah Millican kicks off a three-night run at York Barbican tomorrow

Three-night run of the week: Sarah Millican: Bobby Dazzler Tour, York Barbican, tomorrow to Sunday, 8pm

SOUTH Shields humorist Sarah Millican’s new show, Bobby Dazzler, is doing the rounds on her sixth international tour.

“You’ll learn about what happens when your mouth seals shut, trying to lose weight but only losing the tip of your finger, a surprisingly funny smear test, and how truly awful a floatation tank can actually be,” says Millican, who has “spent the last year writing jokes and growing her backside”. Tickets update: limited availability at yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Masks, of the non-Covid protection variety, will be worn by participants in ventriloquist Nina Conti’s dating show. Picture: Matt Crockett

Game show of the week: Nina Conti: The Dating Show, Grand Opera House, York, tomorrow, 7.30pm

FAST-TALKING, faster-thinking ventriloquist Nina Conti and her cheeky Monkey host a pioneering new dating show for participants picked from the York audience.

What’s in store for the chosen ones? Apparently “she’ll be like Cilla Black with masks. Derailed. Not so much a Blind Date as a re-voiced one.” In a nutshell, they wear masks, she/Monkey talks, with no promise that true love will be found. Box office: atgtickets.com/york. 

Matthew Miller’s Golden Bird quilt from his Cloth & Colour installation at York Theatre Royal from Saturday

Exhibition launch of the week: Matthew Miller’s Cloth & Colour quilts, York Theatre Royal foyer, from Saturday to November 30

BASED in London, but from York, multi-media artist Matthew Miller launches his debut quilt installation in the first Beyond The Gallery Walls pop-up project to be mounted by Lotte Inch Gallery.

Artist Matthew and curator Lotte will be hosting the launch from 11.30am to 1.30pm on Saturday, happy to discuss his Cloth & Colour quilt designs. Interested in the ecological use of fabric in quilting, Matthew has used end-of-roll and pre-worn fabrics throughout his series of vibrant collages in cloth.

Alex Ashworth: Baritone soloist for Brahms’s Ein Deutsches Requiem at Saturday’s concert by the Chapter House Choir. Picture: Debbie Scanlan

Classical choral concert of the week: Chapter House Choir, York Minster, Saturday, 7.30pm

THE Chapter House Choir performs Brahms’s Ein Deutsches Requiem at York Minster in a rare opportunity to hear Brahms’s own arrangement written for piano – more intimate and transparent – with baritone Alex Ashworth, soprano Susan Young and pianists Eleanor Kornas and Polly Sharpe as the soloists.

This will be complemented by the world premiere of Lillie Harris’s Comfort, specially commissioned for Saturday’s concert. Box office: 01904 557200 or at yorkminster.org.

Open on Saturday: Carolyn Coles’s studio at South Bank Studios

Christmas shopping? Present opportunity at South Bank Studios’ Art & Craft Winter Fair, Southlands Methodist Church, Bishopthorpe Road, York, Saturday, 10am to 5pm

THE South Bank Studios artists’ group open their doors and studios to the public this weekend, when 28 artists will be exhibiting jewellery, ceramics, lino prints, textile art and fine art paintings and prints, all available to buy, just in time for Christmas. Entry is free.

Among those taking part are Carolyn Coles, Caroline Utterson, Jane Dignum, Lincoln Lightfoot, Richard Whitelegg, Mandi Grant and Fiona Lane. York Music Centre’s Senior Concert Band, Guitar Ensemble, Senior Folkestra and Big Band will be playing, and the icing on the cake will be the church team’s homemade refreshments.

Voila! C’est La Voix

Most glamorous show of the weekend: La Voix, Grand Opera House, York, Saturday, 7.30pm

FEISTY, flame-haired Royal Family favourite La Voix – the drag artiste creation of Chris Dennis – takes on the big divas and makes them her own in her Grand Opera House debut in The UK’s Funniest Redhead.

Billed as her “most glamorous show yet”, the 2014 Britain’s Got Talent semi-finalist will be combining stellar songs and saucy gags, high energy and diva impersonations, glamour and gowns – eight of them – as she switches between the vocal tropes of Tina Turner, Shirley Bassey, Liza Minnelli, Judy Garland and Cher at the click of a finger. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.

Millie Manders and The Shutup: Definitely not shutting up at the Fulford Arms on Sunday night

Gig with attitude of the week: Millie Manders & The Shutup, Fulford Arms, York, Sunday, 8pm

MILLIE Manders & The Shutup spark up cross-genre punk with a lyricism that pokes fun, draws you in or leaves you questioning social norms, teamed to vocal dexterity, grinding guitars, irresistible horn hooks and a pumping rhythm section.

The Londoners will be airing songs from October 2020’s debut album, Telling Truths, Breaking Ties. Box office: seetickets.com/event/millie-manders.

Willy Mason: Nine-year gap after he made a record called Carry On, but carry on he does at last with Already Dead album and tour date in York. Picture: Ebru Wildiz

Overdue return of the week: Willy Mason, supported by Voka Gentle, The Crescent, York, Tuesday, 7.30pm; standing show

NEW York singer-songwriter and lovely chap Willy Mason returns with Already Dead, his fourth album of characterful, sharp left-field pop, folk and Americana but his first since 2012’s Carry On.

“Magic, miracles, ghosts, world leaders; these days it seems there’s little left to believe in,” says Mason. “Lies outweigh truth and even truth can be dangerous. 

“Already Dead explores honesty and deception, anonymity in the digital age, good intentions with unexpected consequences, freedom, colonialism, love, God and purpose, because now is the time to restore some much-needed faith.” Box office: thecrescentyork.seetickets.com/event/willy-mason.

Soft Cell: 40th anniversary home-coming concert in Leeds. Picture: Andrew Whitton

Oh, and amid all these York events, here is the gig of the week outside the city walls: Soft Cell, Leeds 02 Academy, Saturday, doors, 6pm

IN 1981, Leeds synth-pop pioneers Soft Cell topped the charts with their Northern Soul cover, Tainted Love. This weekend, they play a 40th anniversary home-coming gig with an early start, kicking off with a DJ from 6pm.

LGBTQ icon Marc Almond and producer/instrumentalist Dave Ball will play two sets: the first from 7pm embracing songs from their back catalogue and previewing their first album in 20 years, Happiness Not Included, out on BMG on February 25 2022.

In the second, from 8.20pm, they will perform 1981 debut album Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret in full for the first time. Cue Say Hello, Wave Goodbye, Bedsitter, Memorabilia et al. Box office: myticket.co.uk/artists/soft-cell

Chapter House Choir to perform Brahms’s German Requiem and Lillie Harris world premiere at Saturday’s York Minster concert

Baritone Alex Ashworth: Soloist for Brahms’s Ein Deutsches. Picture: Debbie Scanlan

THE Chapter House Choir performs Brahms’s Ein Deutsches Requiem at York Minster on Saturday night.

This 7.30pm concert is a rare opportunity to hear Brahms’s own arrangement written for piano duet (the ‘London version’ premiered in 1873), revealing the work in a new light: more intimate and transparent, exposing a wider variety of choral timbres and textures.

Baritone Alex Ashworth, who also teaches singing at the Royal Academy of Music, joins soprano Susan Young, who has sung notable roles at English National Opera and Opera Holland Park, to perform the Brahms work alongside pianists Eleanor Kornas and Polly Sharpe.

Soprano Susan Young

“Hearing the Chapter House Choir is never just about the music; it’s about the whole experience,” says choir publicist Richard Long. “That’s why this performance of Brahms’s German Requiem promises to be a remarkable concert, combining one of the best-loved choral works of all time with the magical ambience of York Minster, four outstanding soloists – and a world premiere too.”

Musical director Benjamin Morris, York Minster’s assistant director of music, says: “The opportunity to explore this piece in its more intimate version for piano with four hands accompaniment has been really exciting for all of us.

“Together with the unique acoustics and incredibly grand architecture of York Minster’s Nave, this will offer an exhilarating and emotional experience of the German Requiem.”

Chapter House Choir musical director Benjamin Morris

The world premiere will be Comfort by award-winning emerging composer Lillie Harris, specially commissioned for Saturday’s concert.

Lillie says: “Reflecting the strong themes in Ein Deutsches Requiem of love, loss, acceptance, and human mortality, I have sought to bring these ideas together in Comfort: music to create an embrace of warmth, love and understanding, that acknowledges the sadness of loss but also celebrates the joy and memories in a life well lived, and that brings voices together to express support and comfort.”

This weekend’s concert will be dedicated to the victims of the Covid-19 pandemic. Tickets can booked on 01904 557200 or at yorkminster.org.

Composer Lillie Harris: Commission for Chapter House Choir

Who is composer Lillie Harris?

LILLIE graduated from the Royal College of Music in 2016, studying composition with Haris Kittos and winning the Elgar Memorial prize for her final portfolio.

Musical from a young age, her interest in composing grew out of learning instruments, a flair for languages and a love of creative writing. Narrative ideas and complex emotions are often a core element in her compositions, and perhaps explain her increasing interest in choral music.

Her pieces have been workshopped and performed by ensembles such as York’s Ebor Singers, the Assembly Project, Florilegium and Ensemble Recherche, and she has participated in young composer schemes with Psappha, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, National Youth Choir of Great Britain and London Symphony Orchestra, who commissioned her to write new pieces for its Elmer’s Walk Under-5s concert.

In 2017, she was awarded the Tenso Young Composers Award for her song cycle setting poems by August Stramm; in 2019, she was the joint-winner of Echo Choir’s composition competition for her setting of an Alice Oswold poem; in 2020, two choral works written on the NYCGB’s Young Composer Scheme were released on NMC Recordings.

Damon Albarn’s dark journey to launch new album with intimate York Minster concert

The poster announcing Damon Albarn’s York Minster concert

DAMON Albarn will play York Minster in a special intimate album-launch show on December 2.

Yes, you read that right. Damon Albarn. York Minster. Intimate show. December 2.

Hurry, hurry: a gone-in-a-flash sell-out is expected when ticket bundles go on sale tomorrow morning at 10am for the Blur, Gorillaz and The Good, The Bad & The Queen leader’s concert to celebrate the November 12 release of his solo studio recording The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows.

Doors will open at 6.30pm for Albarn’s first-ever York gig, organised by Leeds promoters Brudenell Presents and Leeds record store Crash Records.

“Bit of a crazy announcement…we’re incredibly proud to be teaming up with @Crash_Records to host the legendary @Damonalbarn at York Minster this December!” reads Brudenell Presents’ tweet. “Album & Ticket bundles go on-sale tomorrow via the Crash website.”

That crashrecords.co.uk website advises: “Door times 6:30pm. There will be no support and Damon will go on as soon as everyone is inside, so please be prompt so you don’t miss anything (we suggest being there for doors).

The artwork for Damon Albarn’s November 12 album, The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows

“We have set up special bundles for this release where fans can purchase an album on a format of your choice and get a ticket for this exclusive show.

“There is a limited capacity for this (14+ ages) event so we would expect all the album and ticket bundles to sell out very quickly.”

The ticket and album bundles are: CD and one ticket, £23.99, limited to four per person; vinyl LP and one ticket, £34.99, limited to two per person; one ticket only, £20, limited to one per person.

Crash Records say: “We urge you to consider buying an album bundle rather than ticket only as they only cost £3.99 more to get a CD, plus this way you are helping the artist, and the more albums we sell, the more of these exciting album launch shows we are able to put on in the future.

“Full entry requirements from the venue will be sent via email around a week before the event, so please place your order using an email you check regularly and, if possible, add boss@crashrecords.co.uk to your safe/whitelist, so it doesn’t end up in your junk/spam folder.

“Shipping is the only option for this event. Tickets and albums will be shipped out together on or just before the release date of November 12, so please ensure the address details are correct. There is No Collect At Venue or Collect In Store option. All tickets and stock will be shipped out.”

“I have been on my own dark journey while making this record,” says Damon Albarn. Picture: Linda Brownlee

The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows is Albarn’s first release for his new label, Transgressive Records, with a track listing of The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows; The Cormorant; Royal Morning Blue; Combustion; Daft Wader; Darkness To Light; Esja; The Tower Of Montevideo; Giraffe Trumpet Sea; Polaris and Particles.

The CD edition will include a 20-minute “hidden” track of a new and original recording that inspired some of the record’s themes, not available on other formats.

The album originally was intended as an orchestral piece inspired by the landscapes of Iceland. This past year, however, has seen 53-year-old Albarn return to the music in lockdown to develop the work into 11 tracks that further explore themes of fragility, loss, emergence and rebirth.

The result is a panoramic collection of songs with Albarn as storyteller and an album title taken from a John Clare poem, Love And Memory. “I have been on my own dark journey while making this record and it led me to believe that a pure source might still exist,” he says.

The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows will be available in a digital format, on limited-edition white vinyl, plus CD and cassette. A deluxe edition will take the form of a case-bound book with additional photography, original scanned lyrics and artwork from Albarn, alongside a white vinyl album, a high-quality digital file and a bonus 7-inch featuring an exclusive song from the recording sessions.

UPDATE

TICKETS sold out in only five minutes for Damon Albarn’s 6.30pm concert on December 2, one Tweeter even saying all tickets had gone by the time she went online at 9.42am before officially going on sale at 10am on November 5 .

A second York Minster show was duly added for 8.30pm that night, with ticket bundles on sale from 9am on November 10. Whoosh, gone too.