Yorkshire Times
A Voice of the Free Press
Graham Clark
Music Features Writer
10:43 AM 30th November 2023

November Gig Round Up

In this new feature Graham Clark writes about his monthly travels across the north to hear the eclectic music that takes place at different venues from York to Harrogate and Leeds to Manchester. Here is his roundup of events.

Jools Holland
Photo: Graham Clark
Jools Holland Photo: Graham Clark
Jools Holland arrived at the Harrogate Conference Centre with his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra, a place he has been visiting every autumn for over twenty years.
There are few concerts that include the Blues, Boogie Woogie, jazz, pop, r&b, and ska. Holland’s wit and charm added to the atmosphere. While mostly associated with the piano, Holland is a mean guitarist and vocalist.

The highlight of any of his concerts is hearing his guest vocalists, Louise Marshall, Pauline Black, and Arthur 'Gaps' Hendrickson from the Two-Tone Ska band, The Selecter. As the duo performed Too Much Pressure and On My Radio, the concert turned what had been a mostly sedate affair into an energetic ska-infested feast.

Only soul singer extraordinaire Ruby Turner could have followed this riotous romp. Her version of That’s All I Gotta Do was dynamic and delightful, with a touch of gospel and a lot of gravity. Turner turned the song into an uplifting and joyful ode.

Further dates in the north:

29th November – Sheffield City Hall

30th November – Newcastle City Hall

17th December – Leeds Arena

20th December – York Barbican

22nd December – Manchester Apollo

Photo: Graham Clark
McFly Photo: Graham Clark
It was a wet and windy, miserable Monday night in Leeds when McFly perfectly washed any blues away. McFly gave many reasons to be cheerful at the O2 Arena. From the pop innocence of their earlier recordings, McFly has developed into an accomplished rock band, so not surprisingly, before they arrived on stage, tracks by Queen, Bon Jovi, and others were played, which explains the influences heard on McFly’s new album, Power to Play. Where Did All the Guitars Go? seemed like an appropriate question when rock bands appear to be out of fashion as far as radio is concerned. Rather than sound jaded after having performed some of the tracks for nearly twenty years, tracks such as Star Girl and Obviously were re-ignited with enthusiasm and energy. In the past, the band has surprised fans by offering the ones on the front row a slice of pizza. On this occasion, a fan from Mexico was invited on stage to play a cowbell. While it may all sound abstract, it fits in comfortably with the fun and unexpected vibe that ran throughout the show. Closing the set with the hit, 5 Colours in Her Hair the group cheerfully brought the evening to a thrilling climax. There had been no special effects tonight, just good tunes delivered in a fun and friendly fashion where the music said all that needed to be said.

The Brand New Heavies
Photo: Graham Clark
The Brand New Heavies Photo: Graham Clark
Travelling over to Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall, The Brand New Heavies brought their brand of jazz, funk, and disco along with the London Concert Orchestra. Over the years, the line-up has been fluid, with founder members Andrew Levy and Simon Barthowolmew being the mainstays, along with vocalist Angela Ricci coming into the fold in 2018. The Heavies are not one of the names that would spring to mind when performing a concert alongside an orchestra; the pairing worked to an extent. Stay This Way was turned into a lustful and moving number when performed with a string section, and their cover of the Maria Muldaur song, Midnight at the Oasis, also benefited from a new arrangement. The disco beats of Spend Some Time and Dream Come True, however, did not work so well. The second half of the evening concentrated on the more commercial aspects of their repertoire: Dream Come True and You Are the Universe are still fine examples of the jazz/funk genre.

(R-L)John and Henry Tydeman
Photo: Graham Clark
(R-L)John and Henry Tydeman Photo: Graham Clark
In York, Haircut 100 proved they were a cut above the rest. The support group Barbara,built around brothers Henry and John, took the appreciative audience on a journey along a selection of some glorious, fizzy, and addictive pop songs with the titles Rainy Days in June and Don’t Send Me Messages.

Haircut 100
Photo: Graham Clark
Haircut 100 Photo: Graham Clark
They popped the cork and made York rock, impressing many with a set that was worthy of headline status. The original members of the group, Nick Heyward, Les Nemes, and Graham Jones (drummer Blair Cunnigham was absent due to health reasons), looked almost as youthful as they did on the posters that adorned the bedroom walls of their fans back in 1982. While the hits Love Plus One and Fantastic Day sounded youthful and energetic, the lesser tracks Lemon Fire Brigade and Baked Bean sounded less so, having not worn as well. With only two albums to pick songs from, the inclusion of the Heyward solo single Blue Hat for a Blue Day was a welcome surprise and hinted at the direction Haircut 100 would have travelled had things not turned sour with the early break-up of the band. Favourite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl) benefitted from a second reprise as an elongated version for the encore on a nostalgic night.

Taylor McCall

Photo: Graham Clark
Taylor McCall Photo: Graham Clark
In Bradford, armed with only an acoustic guitar and kick drum—plus an incredible talent—Taylor McCall brought a fusion of deep south country blues to the fore when opening for rock legend Robert Plant. The South Carolina native had a strong set of songs at his disposal: Rest on Easy, and the Devil Wants to Dance Again, they were performed with a soulful integrity that came with years of experience. The stark and dim lighting throughout his thirty-minute set complemented the desolate nature of most of his songs with a finely executed brilliance of storytelling, musicianship, and engagement.

Robert Plant
Photo: Graham Clark
Robert Plant Photo: Graham Clark
The last time Robert Plant stood on the St George’s Hall stage was as a member of Led Zeppelin back in January 1973. With only a few Zeppelin tracks littered amongst a set that took influences from folk, blues, Americana, and country, this was an eclectic mixture, creating a high level of intensity and intimacy. While he could perform in huge arenas, the nature and, in some instances, simplicity of the songs would not have worked in a larger gathering. The co-operative that makes up Saving Grace is a hugely talented one: Suzi Dian on vocals, Oli Jefferson on percussion, Tony Kelsey on mandolin, baritone, and acoustic guitar, and Matt Worley on banjo, acoustic, baritone guitars, and cuatro. Throughout the mood was one of musical respect and camaraderie: Dian’s vocals and accordion playing made Zeppelin's tracks Friends and The Rain Song sound re-invented, almost new yet still emotionally intact. As Plant dropped in stories of visits to Bradford Park Avenue and the area, it brought a more personable touch to the evening. a joyful and uplifting occasion.

Sophie Ellis-Bextor
Photo: Graham Clark
Sophie Ellis-Bextor Photo: Graham Clark
I was back in Manchester at the beginning of the week to see Sophie Ellis-Bextor. With Christmas just around the corner, the singer has taken the next logical step by taking her Kitchen Disco theme on tour, albeit with a festive theme. While not quite pantomime, as the curtain dropped at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, she suddenly appeared on the back of a plastic horse as her band merrily played the Leroy Anderson festive hit, Sleigh Ride.

Mixing her own disco-tinged hits with well-known Christmas songs worked well, but by the time she got around to a rousing version of Shakin’ Stevens Merry Christmas Everyone, the question of why Ellis-Bextor has not recorded her own Christmas song became more pertinent. Looking comfortable and at ease, she gave the impression she did not want the night to end such was her energy and eagerness to entertain.

Murder on the Dancefloor, now over twenty years old, still sounded glorious and was the perfect end to a night where the music shone as brightly as her huge mirrorball. Appearing on the balcony with her violinists, the fans stood silently as she sang without a microphone, Have yourself a merry little Christmas.
The tour continues with further dates in the north:

Saturday, December 2: Liverpool Philharmonic

Sunday, December 3rd, Sheffield City Hall

Sunday, December 10th, York Barbican

Michael Schenker
Michael Schenker
Finally, I caught Michael Schenker Group in Sheffield.
There are few rock guitarists on who have had such a lasting influence on so many renowned musicians. With his outstandingly fluid style, inexhaustible wealth of ideas, and instinctive feel for hooks and melodies, the guitarist is one of the best in rock music. Celebrating fifty years in the music business, Schenker still continues to amaze and surprise. As the MSG arrived on stage at The Corporation in Sheffield, they were given a hero’s welcome and the audience were treated to a journey through Schenker’s musical past.

Lead singer Robin McAuley's skill as a consummate frontman and years of experience shone through. Why McAuley is not better known outside heavy rock circles? With the soul and blues of Paul Rodgers and the rock swagger of Robert Plant, McAuley still has a commanding and powerful voice.

Armed with his Flying V guitar, Schenker can still play with dexterity and ease. Saving Too Hot to Handle and Only You Can Rock Me for the encore was a masterpiece in staging.