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.

The York Phil and Malton’s Ryedale Voices go virtual for concert with 360 recordings

York Philharmonic Male Voice Choir and Ryedale Voices members recording Keep Singing via Zoom

YORK Philharmonic Male Voice Choir and Malton’s Ryedale Voices are uniting for a Virtual Summer Concert online on July 25.

Raising funds for the Trussell Trust through donations, the 7.30pm concert will be live-streamed on YouTube, hosted by Richard Kay, who has been leading rehearsals over Zoom since lockdown began.

“It will feature around 20 choral pieces and smaller collaborations, compiled from around 350 individual recordings made by 60 members of the two choirs,” says Richard, the Phil’s assistant musical director and Ryedale choir’s conductor.

Richard Kay: Leading rehearsals on Zoom

“Several songs have been learned during lockdown and so have never before been performed by these choirs, including three brand new compositions that have never yet been performed by singers in the same room!”

Already in lockdown, the Phil and Ryedale Voices have made a virtual choir recording of Keep Singing, attracting more than 1,200 views online.

The July 25 concert is free to view at https://youtu.be/WPU7l5yzgEw; voluntary contributions to the Trussell Trust can be made at https://tinyurl.com/y8tkeuet

York Philharmonic Male Voice Choir and Ryedale Voices keep singing in virtual world

Making room for Zoom: York Philharmonic Male Voice Choir and Ryedale Voices singers gather remotely to record their parts for the Keep Singing video

MAY was supposed to be an exciting month for the York Philharmonic Male Voice Choir and the Ryedale Voices.

“The Phil” were due to travel to Germany and Holland, as part of the choir’s 95th anniversary celebrations, to sing alongside choirs and singers with whom they have a friendship that spans more than 50 years.

On the other hand, Malton’s Ryedale Voices, led by Alison Davis, have only just passed their first anniversary. This month should have entailed performing their first full concert with Alison’s other choir, Harmonia, and Richard Kay’s small ensemble The Sound Fellows.

In the Coronavirus clampdown, these events, like so many, have had to be cancelled for now. However, this does not mean the choirs have suspended all activity.

Richard Kay, the Phil’s assistant musical director and Ryedale choir’s conductor, took it upon himself to keep the two choirs going through the lockdown period, helped enormously by Alison Davis and Helen Smith, the Phil’s accompanist, as rehearsals by Covid-19 2020’s de rigueur modus operandi, Zoom, started six weeks ago.

“The primary purpose was to tackle any potential feelings of isolation by keeping the choir members connected, but I was also keen to keep us all singing and to keep repertoire fresh,” says Richard. “That’s why, inspired by many other choir leaders across the country, I began to lead rehearsals for the two choirs over Zoom.”

The “virtual choir” experience is very different to normal rehearsals. The time lag between different internet connections “doesn’t allow you to sing together” and so Richard has been recording the separate parts for each of the songs, combining them in Audacity, and using these to sing along to over Zoom.

Although many of the singers are not particularly tech savvy, these boundaries have been overcome, and regularly 40 to 55 singers have been taking part at the Monday and Tuesday virtual rehearsals.

Aware that choral singers gain the greatest satisfaction from hearing themselves singing together, Richard initially invited the members of each choir to send him audio recordings of their individual parts for songs with which they were familiar.

“Encouraged by the positive responses from the singers and followers of the two choirs, and by a very positive reaction on social media, I decided that the next challenge should be to write, learn and record a video of a brand new song relevant to the current situation we find ourselves in,” Richard says.

“I wanted to keep the feeling of this song positive and so I composed a piece called Keep Singing. Over the next few rehearsals, we learned this song and were joined by singers from other choirs to make this a joint York-Malton collaboration between singers from the Ryedale Voices, the Phil, Harmonia, The Sound Fellows and the Scarcroft Parents’ Choir.”

For a direct link to the Keep Singing recording, follow this link: youtube.com/watch?v=318cfczHMIk&feature=emb_title.

“Whatever trials we will continue to face through 2020 and beyond, I would encourage everybody to Keep Singing,” urges Richard.

Richard Kay: advocate of the Keep Singing philosophy in these Covic-19 times

Six key questions for Richard Kay, set by Charles Hutchinson

Everywhere you look, singers have been quick to adapt to lockdown days by going digital for Zoom sessions etc. What would you put that down to, Richard?

“I can’t speak for everyone but one of my first thoughts was to try to continue rehearsals online for the choirs that I am involved with.

“It just so happened that both Ryedale Voices and York Phil were coming out of a period of learning new music and coming up to some big events: a festival in Whitby and a tour to Holland and Germany for the Phil and the first ever concert for Ryedale Voices.

“Both choirs were, therefore, in pretty good shape and very excited at the prospect of sharing our music when lockdown began. It would have seemed a great shame to lose the ‘match fitness’ over the prolonged lockdown and so we were keen to find alternative methods of keeping ourselves singing and keeping new repertoire fresh.

“However, there was a more important reason for me to look into this. For me, singing is a physical activity that greatly improves mental health. This, combined with the sense of togetherness that you get from being a member of a choir or group, was in danger of being severely impacted.

“With many members of our choirs needing to self-isolate and living in more remote areas, I wanted to get the choirs together to tackle those inevitable feelings of isolation and loneliness.

“Following on from that, I realised how many music groups were doing the same and I have thoroughly enjoyed watching the ‘virtual’ musical performances that so many have put together, so I thought, ‘why don’t we try one ourselves’. It has given us something to work towards and something to feel proud of.”

What challenges has it thrown up for you personally, creatively, technically, emotionally?

“I am no Luddite but equally I am not hugely knowledgeable when it comes to technical matters. The practicalities of running a choir rehearsal over Zoom were initially very daunting.

“I followed the recommendations of other choir leaders and sought advice from Jessa Liversidge but ultimately you’ve just got to give it a go yourself. I have been learning as I go along, but I have had the support of choir members who have also been grappling with new technology.

“The need to support others to join in with Zoom and, further down the line, to record and share their videos, has been quite time consuming. Then there has been the learning of the software for recording and compiling different tracks. I now have a new-found respect for the work of sound engineers in recording studios. #

“All of this has taken time, which in turn has impacted on home educating and childcare responsibilities, but I think it has been worth it. At a time when all my other work came to a stop it has been a good creative project to focus on.

“The strange thing about Zoom is that the choirs cannot all sing together. The time lag means that they can only listen and sing along at home. This does make it something of a one-man show for the choir leader but it has been a nice way to utilise my performance skills!  For me personally, it has also been lovely to try out a spot of composition after many years.”

What repertoire has been rehearsed over the past six weeks? 

“Rehearsals for the Phil take place on Mondays; Tuesdays for Ryedale Voices. Both run from 7.30pm to 9pm, with a Facebook live “social” for the following half hour on Monday nights for the Phil.

“We have managed a mixture of learning new songs, practising songs that were new to us to keep them fresh and singing through old favourites for the sheer enjoyment.

“For the Phil, this has included singing along to some of our CD tracks. For Ryedale Voices, I have been recording each part and combining them so that we have recordings to sing along to and singers are encouraged to highlight tricky bits for their sections – as  well as pointing out bits that I have got wrong in my recordings!

“I have been lucky to be able to use the recorded piano parts sent to me by two very capable pianists in Alison Davis and Helen Smith, as well as asking Helen to play certain lines on her piano during the Zoom sessions.

“We have also had some time for chat and to sing a few renditions of Happy Birthday. For this alone, I have left all the members’ mics on but with the different time lags, the cacophony of many different versions of the song make it pretty entertaining.

“Repertoire for both choirs includes some sacred music, some arrangements of pop songs, songs from musicals and some rousing spirituals and freedom songs. As well as the Keep Singing track, look out for the Phil’s Lily Of The Valley and Ryedale Voices’ Siyahamba, also compiled during lockdown, on our Facebook pages.”

Why is singing such a positive thing to do, both individually and collectively?

Singing is generally a joyful thing to do, and we need that kind of positivity at the moment. I am aware that singing regularly around the house is usually an indicator that I am in a happier place.

“Similarly, if we make ourselves sing, even singing along to the radio, it tends to make us feel better. We can’t sing collectively at the moment, but it lifts the heart to see everybody singing during the Zoom rehearsals.

“We were still missing out on hearing ourselves singing together so a virtual track like Keep Singing has enabled us to hear ourselves together once again.”

Keep Singing, as a title, sounds like it does exactly what it says on the tin: perfect for positivity in such strange times. Discuss…

“Yes! I wanted to ensure that we all kept singing first and foremost but this then inspired the writing of the song. There will be many creative people making artistic responses to the Coronavirus pandemic and while I wanted to write a song inspired by the current situation, I didn’t want to make it downbeat.

“As I say, singing is a joyful experience and so I wanted to make it a joyful song. The fact that we have made it a collaboration between different choirs is also very appropriate.

“The Ryedale Voices were due to perform a joint concert in May with Harmonia and a small ensemble I run called The Sound Fellows. While this didn’t happen, I realised that anybody from any choir could join the Zoom rehearsals – one of the advantages of being stuck in your own living room – and so why not open it out to more singers?

“I have been helped hugely by Alison Davis, who runs Harmonia, and the Ryedale Voices, Helen Smith (accompanist of The Phil), and Dave Todd from the Phil, who managed to compile all the separate videos into a Zoom-like grid for me.”

What would the singing groups be doing in the summer ahead, were it not for the Covid-19 pandemic?

“The Phil were due to be in Germany and Holland in May and then had a number of concerts lined up before their summer recess, including their ever-popular Summer Concert at the York Citadel. It seems strange that instead our minds are now turning to Christmas!

“The Ryedale Voices were hoping to capitalise on their first concert at the end of May with a recruitment drive – especially for any Malton-based men – and then who knows!

“To be honest, we just can’t wait to get back into a rehearsal room together but we are concerned about how long it may be before a large group of singers – many of whom fall into vulnerable categories – can all get together again.”