Pocklington is a haven for musicians and artists


A traditional Yorkshire market town is a haven for musicians and artists as Chris Titley discovers Photographs by Joan Russell

East Yorkshire was largely overlooked by the rest of Britain when it came to the creative arts. Then that all changed last year with the blockbuster show A Bigger Picture at the Royal Academy of Arts, featuring David Hockney’s giant canvases of the Wolds landscape. Hockney may be East Yorkshire’s most high-profile artistic export, but he’s only one part of a much larger arts scene. Another example is a venue in the small market town of Pocklington which, over the years, has played host to an astonishing roll call of artists: musicians like Midge Ure, Richard Hawley and Kiki Dee, as well as comedians like Barry Cryer and Sandi Toksvig.

Pocklington Arts Centre has put the town on the creative map. It’s spring bookings showcase both the variety and quality of its bill of fare: politician turned TV presenter Michael Portillo, stand-ups Richard Herring and Jason Manford, and singers Ruby Turner and Edwyn Collins are all heading here in the next few weeks.

For one performer it will be a particularly special moment. Concert pianist Emmanuel Vass grew up a few miles from Pocklington and went to school at Woldgate College in the town.

On March 19th he returns, playing Pocklington Arts Centre to kick-off a national tour which culminates at London St James Piccadilly on May 4th. On the way he’ll play Leeds College Of Music on April 15th and St Saviourgate Unitarian Chapel, York, on May 3rd.

Alongside his deep love of classical music, Emmanuel has a broad range of musical influences, including bands like The Jam and The Clash. He has worked with Lulu, collaborated with Jimi Goodwin from the band Doves, and his remarkable James Bond Concert Etude For Solo Piano can be enjoyed on YouTube.

Born in the Philippines to a Filipino mother and a Yorkshire father, Emmanuel and his family moved to the village of Melbourne when he was three. Two years later his gift for music began to emerge.

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‘My parents bought me a Fisher Price toy which had bells on it. If you played the different bells you could make a tune. I don’t know what would have happened if my parents hadn’t bought that toy!’

He started learning the piano aged seven, and passed Grade 8 with distinction at 15. By 18 he had won a place at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester – but he believes his East Yorkshire upbringing played its part in his musical development.

‘My very first performance was in the Methodist church in my village, Melbourne,’ he said. ‘I won the Woldgate College talent show when I was 12. Some of my very first performances took place in local pubs, including The Feathers in Pocklington.

‘As a 13-year-old lad I used to play at the monthly arts centre acoustic evening, which was full of local musicians playing and having a jam. One of my first professional engagements as a pianist was at the Pocklington Arts Centre when I was 17. Whilst still at sixth form at Woldgate College I did an evening concert there.

‘The support of the Pocklington area, and the Wolds community in general, has been fantastic. If anything it’s what’s spurred me on to greater fame, to perform professionally, to broadcast on BBBBC radio – and now here I am organising a national tour debuting in London.’

To say thank you he’s donating ‘a big chunk’ of the profits from the Pocklington recital to the Friends of the Arts Centre which supports this amazing venue.

‘They get some fantastic international acts in. I’m really privileged to be a part of that.’ he added.

Also in March, the Pocklington Camera Club stage their first exhibition at the arts centre. For more than a month from March 5th, some of the members’ best photographs will be on display.

Judging by the quality of the club’s Flickr feed, it will be a treat for the eyes. ‘We’ve had short exhibitions in All Saints Church in Pocklington during the Flying Man festival and on late night shopping evenings at Christmas. We also have some of our pictures on display on the walls in the local doctors’ surgery,’ explained committee member Alex McGregor.

‘This is the first time we’ve had access to the arts centre. It’s normally quite a popular venue so it’s not easy to get time in there. It’s quite a long display as well so it’s a chance to get people in to have a look.

‘There’s no set theme: we’ve asked each of the members to submit one or two of their favourite pictures and the committee will make a selection.’

The camera club has about 30 members. ‘We’ve got quite a cross section of people, and varying skills as well, from beginners to people who’ve been doing it since they were in short trousers,’ Alex said.

‘Generally there’s a bit of an upsurge in photography – people have access to digital cameras which makes it a bit more accessible than it was in the past when you were faffing around with film and chemicals and things.’

The landscape which inspired Hockney helps. ‘You’re right on the doorstep of the Wolds. And we have quite a nice resource at Allerthorpe Common. You don’t have to go too far to get into the countryside.’

The town itself is conducive to creativity, Alex believes. ‘There’s a few decent restaurants in the town, so people can make a night of it – go and see a show, have a meal. They do seem to have a great knack in the arts centre of picking up some good acts that you wouldn’t necessarily expect to see in such a small venue. They seem to have all the right contacts.

‘There are a few small gallery-type shops in Pocklington as well which sell paintings. It does seem to have quite a lot of scope for that sort of thing.’

Getting there: Pocklington is between York and Beverley on the B1246, off the A1079. East Yorkshire Motor Services run regular bus services between York and Pocklington

Where to park: There are car parks off West Green and Station Road

What to do: Visit All Saints Parish Church, known as the Cathedral of the Wolds. A Grade I listed building, dating mainly between 1200 and 1450, it features fascinating carvings under the tower. Enjoy a show at Pocklington Arts Centre