Year In Review: 2021

So here we are again. Another year down and plenty to look back on over twelve months that became so much more poignant considering 2020’s creative washout. Here’s my review of the highs and highers of York Calling in 2021.

By Graeme Smith

Feature photo: A welcome sight, music lovers at Leeds Festival, by John Hayhurst


2021 started where 2020 left off – stuck in lockdown, this time in the cold and dark of January. It’s fair to say we were all feeling a little despondent when it seemed that maybe this year we could be putting the pandemic behind us once and for all. Even so, every cloud has a silver lining and for me it was all the fantastic music being recorded and put out during, or even inspired by, quarantine.

We saw some incredible albums come out during the first three months of the year. Local band Bull landed their debut Discover Effortless Living to much praise. Canadian rockers Death From Above 1979 released new music for the first time in years, and my review of it certainly got the internet talking. One of my favourite discoveries at this time was Chay Snowdon and his breathless EP Are You Sitting Comfortably…

And there were too many single releases to talk about here but particular highlights were Marianne Dissard’s unique cover of Ritchie Valen’s Come On, Let’s Go, the folky, melancholic song writing of Jamie Rhodes and John Murry. Slowthai’s unapologetic return Cancelled and Bluebloods & Courtney Fox’s Spanish flu pandemic-inspired video Postcard From a Quarantined Miner in Flin Flon. It still gives me goose bumps.


Hope springs eternal and when festival announcements started to appear, we dared to dream of a normal summer. Add to that the reopening of York Theatre Royal and just like that we were out and about again, albeit tentatively. Our theatre reviewer Angie caught Theatre Royal’s Love Season – a series of shorts on the topic of love – as well as their production of Miss Julie.

And while we waited for gigs to start up again, there was still plenty of music to enjoy. Paris-based rapper Apocraphe delighted me with his album The Escapist Handbook, and I particularly loved his ode to ’90s PC gaming Mighty Like Guybrush. American indie pop outfit La Palma released their rich and captivating album Moonflower.

There were the haunting twin discoveries of Israel’s Daniel Netz and London’s Erawan. The soulful Kowloon put out the infectious and satirical Hollywood Is Underwater. Fast-rising RnB artist Duckwrth kept the hits coming. There was new music from ’00s starlet Ladyhawke. I was blown away by Rachelle Van Zanten’s Kelli Likes To Ride, and by Ink Sticks & Stones’ ambient neoclassical sound. My Spring video highlight has to go to Mflux’s Hello World! (beware contains strobe effects!)


At last! Bands were able to play live again and we wasted no time getting out and seeing them. Local singer songwriter Clive arranged a series of intimate shows at Stillington Mill north of York and we headed out to catch one of his sets.

Perhaps most excitingly, festivals were back on. After a successful test case at Download with ten thousand people, other local festivals were given the green light and we were present at Tramlines, Slam Dunk and Leeds Festival – the latter probably being my highlight of the year.

Of course, I can’t talk about this summer without bringing up the great job done by the England Men’s football team, who came within a penalty kick’s distance of winning their first major trophy since 1966. Krept & Konan did their bit to help with their own footy anthem Olé (We Are England ’21).


The last few months have been all about more gigs, more theatre and more music. At the Crescent Community Venue we caught Gary Stewart’s tribute to Paul Simon’s Graceland, Rachel Croft’s EP launch and up and comer Twinnie’s visit to York. Over in Leeds we enjoyed shows by Maisie Peters, Rag n Bone Man and Billie Marten. I also fondly remember the wonderful grassroots festival in Snaith – Snaithfest.

Angie was very busy with her theatre coverage but had particular praise for the inventiveness and ingenuity for shows at Theatre@41 Monkgate, whether is was black comedy in the form of The Killer Question or spy farce in the form of The 39 Steps.

And there’s just enough space left for some more musical shout-outs and particularly the fantastic albums I’ve been hearing over the past few months. Local lads Mood Organ released the fresh and witty EP Slightseeing. There was The Brendan Eder Ensemble’s wonderful jazz concept album Cape Cod Cottage, and stunning releases from Kafka, Emma Hamel, Hannah Scott, Breezy Love, Isa Somperé, Noralyn, Mari Dangerfield and Gillian Rae Perry.

My final video highlight goes to friend of the blog Gifts From Crows who allowed us to premiere the video of the Northern Film Orchestra’s enchanting live rendition of his piece But When You Sleep. It’s simply breath-taking.

Without wishing to tempt fate, 2021 seemed to mark a transition between an annus horribilis and a new chapter. I, for one, have rekindled my passion for live music after having it forcibly removed from my life. Long may the opportunities to enjoy it continue into 2020!