Quirky Choir

Photography: James Mulkeen

Words: Eileen Caiger Gray

Now let’s raise the rafters with a rousing, harmonious chorus of Happy Birthday To You to Doncaster’s Quirky Choir, a choir that’s forever creating new eras. Thanks to the endless enthusiasm, creativity and, yes, quirkiness of founder Janet Wood, the choir is now a vibrant twenty years old, and after two decades of richly entertaining the good folk of Donny with quirky musical fun, they’re going stronger than ever with almost fifty mix ‘n’ match members turning up solidly or dipping in and out as life dictates.

So how quirky is this choir? And what do they mean by quirky? Unconventional, off-beat, unique, bizarre, perhaps? Well, you judge. Is it maybe a tad bizarre to have potted plants and pieces of fruit wired up to sing back snatches of the choir’s recorded voices when touched? And what about songs featuring aspidistras, a wonky donkey, the entire contents of a kitchen drawer and a lament on the absence of biscuits, all composed in offbeat collaboration with half barmy Barnsley Bard, Ian McMillan. Quirky and fun, too! Yet these recent musical offerings but scratch the surface, for there’s always something new on the quirky horizon.

Over the years, flexible groups of enthusiastic singers have popped up here, there and just about everywhere with their exciting, eclectic blends of worldwide music and genres. Sometimes it’s for special celebrations, commemorations or commissions; sometimes they’re just keen to spread cheer.

Rousing choruses ring out as singers give their all at a shopping centre, bar, care home, refugee or homeless centre, library, foyer or bus station, summer fete, marriage proposal, Steampunk event, the cheering on of an Olympic Torch or in a major collaboration at Mansion House, Corn Exchange, Dome, CAST theatre or Sheffield Manor Castle.

Mining songs rang out at the National Mining Museum celebrations in 2016. In Shake the Shackles in 2007, they celebrated the bi-centenary of the abolition of transatlantic slavery in grand style in a big collaboration with local Gospel choir, musicians, clog dancers, a vigorous group of South African drummers, and welly-dancing performers. This year, they sang a specially composed song at Doncaster’s Suffrage celebrations. In a major collaboration with English Touring Opera in 2005, the choir took part, along with hundreds of children and adults, in a fabulous fully staged, full-length opera, One Breath. In 2015, they performed a scintillating new composition for Radio 3, specially written for them by visiting composer Anna Braithwaite all about Donny Market, beginning with loud bell-ringing and colossal shouts of ‘Oyez! Oyez!’ from the town crier.

Funding from the Arts’ Council this year is a much appreciated birthday present that’s enabled local and national artists to collaborate with Janet and the entire choir on grand-scale projects, resulting in a whole new repertoire of hugely diverse compositions, with a special exhibition in the New Year, and all to be jubilantly celebrated at The Dome on March 10th 2019. Hayley Youell’s singing fruit and McMillan’s missing biscuits are part of it, as are heartfelt compositions from musician and accordionist Luke Carver Goss, and joyous harmonies in praise of worldwide friendship from Zimbabwean Lucky Moyo, sung at November’s Museum of the Moon at Doncaster Minster. These new compositions and recordings add to an already wide-ranging global repertoire of songs and styles from folk and pop to the experimental and innovative, with a particularly robust catalogue of exhilarating African rhythms.

Founder Janet believes everyone has the right to sing, even those who think or have been told, they really, really can’t. There are no auditions, members choose whichever voice-part they prefer and, with songs learnt by ear, there’s no need to read music. People of any age, gender, vocal ability, size, shape, background and interest are welcome to join the therapeutic, energising, quirky singing at 6.45pm on term-time Wednesday evenings at The Point on South Parade, which is the home of Doncaster Community Arts or Darts, who have inspired, enabled and hosted the choir since the launch of The Point in 1998. After informal vocal and physical warm-ups, a new song can be thrilling ears and vocal chords in a matter of minutes, hands clapping, feet dancing to the surround-sound fun of an uplifting 4-part harmony, generally unaccompanied. Fortnightly singing sessions, tea and biscuits included, are also held on Monday afternoons for those living with dementia and their carers. Indeed, for making new friends and for enhancing the mental and physical well being of us all, a bit of quirky singing is definitely just what the doctor ordered. So here’s to many more happy birthdays.

If you are interested in joining Quirky Choir, or have been before and want to come back, all are welcome. Just come along to The Point, South Parade, Wednesdays 6.45 – 8.45pm.

Follow Quirky Choir on Facebook HERE.

Animal Liberation Lunch (One from the Archives for Veganuary)

Our Leo talks about Vintage the much loved live music venue on Silver Street.

Photography: Warren Draper

Words: Leonardo Antonio Van Helden

Vintage is a small, family-run business in the centre of Doncaster. The cosy atmosphere and friendly bar staff are unrivalled. Often a visit for a drink can turn into an evening of live music, whether it’s Thursday’s open mic night or one of the various bands they host. During the day you can satisfy any and all of your musical desires with their state-of-the-art jukebox. I’m particularly partial to the Disney soundtrack. “I’ll Make A Man Out of You” from Mulan is an indisputable banger.

Music is not the only reason to visit Vintage. Finding good grub in Donny can be a herculean task, especially if you’re vegan, but the guys have your back. They’ve got an extensive and customizable menu ensuring you could eat there every day without having the same thing twice. From breakfasts to burgers, sharing platters to jacket potatoes, you’re sure to find something you’ll enjoy.

Like the B.Y.O.B (Build Your Own Burger), you can customise your burger like it’s a Sims character, making it as big or as little as you like. You can choose between a soy burger, falafel patty or grilled halloumi (not vegan but I won’t judge) and have as many fillings as your overdraft will allow. Not content with just one burger? Have two. In fact, have three. Throw a hash brown on there, some onions, a few mushrooms-perfect for those with a bottomless gut.

My personal favourite, you ask? The Sweet Cajun Medley–A vegan soy burger with a sweet potato fritter, guacamole, vegan cheese, topped with a Cajun mushroom & onion medley, served on a floured bun with fries.

Not too hungry? Did you really think Vintage wouldn’t have a solution? Light bites are the answer. You can choose a baguette, wrap, salad or jacket potato, all with a filling of your choice and served with a side salad and fries. Or go with a big ol’ pile of nachos with homemade chilli, topped with vegan cheese and a side of guacamole and salsa

Of all the great choices, there’s one in particular that I can’t rate enough:the Rockers VeganPoutine–A large portion of skin-on fries, topped with jalapenos, fried onion & mushrooms, gravy and vegan cheese. Simple but beautiful. Tell me, how can 36.3 million Canadians be wrong?

And if you’re visiting with a group, you should go for a vegan sharing platter–Vegan sausage, falafel balls, hummus-filled roast pepper, Cajun corn on the cob, sun-dried tomatoes, mixed olives, breaded garlic mushrooms, garlic bread, homemade slaw, onion rings, carrot sticks, celery & cucumber served with a large portion of skin-on fries. I could personally destroy all of that in a one’er, but I’m a greedy little piggy.

If you’re a carnivore, you can flip the vegan menu for plenty of meaty options. But hey, let’s talk cruelty free. Good for the piggies, good for you. You’ll be pleasantly surprised. Speaking of piggies, if you’re not interested in abstaining from the unnecessary deaths of animals that didn’t want to die, even if it is just for one meal, then flip the vegan menu over and you’ll find plenty of options for your everyday carnist. But I would definitely recommend giving the cruelty-free option a go

So, whether you’re out shopping, on a date, treating the family or just lining the stomach before you get absolutely steamin’, Vintage is the ideal place to grab some grub. You’ll be made to feel welcome from the moment you enter until the moment you leave.


Doncaster born now Nottingham resident Scarlett Lee shares her journey into veganism. 

Words: Scarlett Lee

Food love. South Yorkshire Pride. Vegans. 

‘Peckish’ was how a friend’s mum described me as a child and I’m still getting over it. I think she meant ‘greedy’. I was always into food. I still love food. Eating out or in. Being creative. Showing love. Exploring a place when I visit for the first time. I always remember what I ate.

Doncaster Market, 1990. The fishmongers bit. I’m there with my brother and my dad. Cute little plates on the counter. Cockles with vinegar. Happiness. I’m standing up like you do to eat there. Mind the gritty bits.

Conisbrough, 1997. School dinners. Margarita pizza every day (in) or chips and curry (out). Mr Lau’s polystyrene cones of goodness. Always exactly one ladle of curry. Never more. I always hoped. Lots of vinegar. Sometimes ham, finely sliced by the machine, on white from the bread shop. One time I got the end of the ham and it reminded me of a little hamster carcass and I couldn’t eat it. Slowly things changed.

Doncaster town centre, c. 1998. A wallpaper table set up in the high street with that awful poster of the cat with the bolt through its skull. The animal rights people have interesting hair. I’m there in my army surplus camo combats my dad bought me from the shop near the market. Felt super cool. Spice Girls and All Saints.

2009. Commuting in the car. There’s a news item on the radio about dairy calves. This is the reason many of us vegans are vegan. To get milk you have to have a recently pregnant cow. Enter the baby. Useful? Not really, so off to the slaughter he goes. Sitting in the car,I know this and I’ve known it for ages. I am a hypocrite. I’ve been a vegetarian for years by now yet I know I’m contributing to misery and death. I stop. I do research. I watch films online but stop short of Earthlings. It feels exciting and right eating new types of foods. My diet expands. I can still eat cake. I’m glad.

I’m not the first vegan in the village. We have a star of the vegan hall of fame to call our own – Donald Watson, founder of the Vegan Society, no less. Donald was born in Mexborough in 1910. He was the son of the headmaster of Denaby Main School. He had an epiphany at 14 and stopped eating meat. He didn’t do badly on his innings, living to old bones of 95.

Back when Donald was young, things were different. In fact, Donald and his gang were so radical they had to decide how they were going to describe this new, compassionate lifestyle. According to the Vegan Society,I could well be calling myself a ‘benevore’ or a ‘vitan’ had  they opted for one of the other suggestions. The latter sounds to me like a person from the planet Health. To be fair, ‘vegan’ is a funny word and has always made me think of Spock and Vulcans. Live long and prosper, and eat cruelty free.

Aged 92, Donald was interviewed in 2002, still going strong and with a lot to say (the transcript is 34 pages long) – remembering childhood, sowing seeds in the yard of his South Yorkshire “row house”. He became a carpenter by trade and wrote the Vegan News, a hand – printed early ‘zine predating the Vegan Society (est. 1944). He gave his thoughts on everything from political activism (direct action: “I’ve respect for all the people who do it, but my own personal feeling is that I wouldn’t do it…”)to being a conscientious objector in World War 2 (“Suppose they sent me to a slaughterhouse? Or anywhere elsewhere I’m expected to conform to orders from above?”).I wonder what he would make of Donny and all the good stuff that’s happening there now.

Back to 2015. I live in Nottingham now. Not far, but I’m proud to be from South Yorkshire.I miss our green hills and woods sometimes. Tyrion Lannister, aka the actor Peter Dinklage, Woody Harrelson and Russell Brand are famous vegans. It’s not really ‘outsider’ any more.It’s accessible.Food bloggerJack Monroe is posting vegan recipes. She’s not vegan but she likes them. My friends (not vegan) have me over for dinner. No, it’s ok ,I don’t need to bring my own food, they tell me. They are good friends, kind and inclusive, but mainly they are just familiar by now with what I don’t eat. They don’t have to think about it so it’s no bother, and their food is often vegan anyway. It’s cheap–see Jack Monroe’s recipes–healthy and local. My mum, unsolicited, recently produced a surprise Pyrex filled with a favourite childhood stew and dumplings. She used vegetable suet in the dumplings. It’s a winter cuddle straight from the 80s.

So thanks Donald Watson. We have a proud food heritage in South Yorkshire. We also have a proud activism heritage. We stand up for what we believe in and it feels good-the miners, the unions, the women, the workers and the vegans.I’m proud.


Recipes. Information. Campaigning. Shop.


Resources, free talks and cookery demos to schools.


Enter your location–anywhere in the world–and you’re given veg friendly cafes, restaurants and hotels. The first thing I look at when travelling anywhere.


Post Punk Kitchen. For the attitude and food porn. Isa is American.There are plenty of UK blogs,but this is worth a look.


Leeds – based mother and daughter. More on the health angle.


Not vegan, but anti-poverty and feminist campaigner, and Best Blog winner. Lots here for anyone wanting to leave out the animal products.

Skinny Dipping

Craig talks about the rising musician, Skinny Pelembe. Skinny will be performing at CAST this year on the 23rd of January so make sure to book tickets on the website HERE.

Words: Craig manga

Fade in.

I’m a man on a mission, a detective piecing together parts of a puzzle.


A sense of mystery surrounds the young man known as Skinny Pelembe. In the past few days, I’ve attempted to seek out this living conundrum who hails from my hometown, but his presence remains elusive. In a sense, I’m relieved. I want to retain that star mythos that surrounds him.


Just who is Skinny Pelembe?

What are his origins, his touch-stones, his motivations? I have no answer. But read on, to join me on a quest to find out and discover one of the freshest new talents in the known universe (let alone Northern England).


Donning my Sherlock cap (and headphones), I have immersed myself in the man’s modest but formidable back catalogue, whilst simultaneously scouring the net and music mags for interviews, reviews and bios, to flesh out the man behind the music.


Several objective facts surface. I do know that Skinny Pelembe was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, moved to the UK, then grew up in my own humble town of Doncaster, South Yorkshire. Presently, he is based in London. He describes himself, if pushed,  as “grumpy” and “secretly funky”. He is an avid fan of old-school hiphop and many of its mutant offshoots, triphop and illbient. He plays sun-dappled guitar (and jazz-infused keys), sings in the sweetest swoon-inducing falsetto, has a magpie-like propensity towards samples, programs, produces and MCs. His sound is – oxymoronically – both huge yet intimate. The man has recently signed to Brownswood Recordings, releasing a brand new track ‘I’ll Be On Your Mind’, having already released wonderful output for the London imprint. He has received much-welcomed support from Doncaster-based Higher Rhythm studios and BBC 6 Music DJ Gilles Peterson. ’Should You Go’ was premiered on Peterson’s radio show, and features on the latest edition of the Brownswood Bubblers compilations. Skinny Pelembe is also part of the Future Bubblers collective, the Arts Council England-funded programme led by Peterson, for developing new, unsigned acts.


I pondered several key questions (of personal interest): What are his influences? What other artists inform his work?


Skinny, in some previous interview, admitted to some eclectic guilty pleasures amongst the usual suspects, “Wu-Tang, Erykah Badu, Johnny Cash… Roots Manuva, The Jam, Gil Scott Heron, Blur, Nina Simone, Daedelus…Van Halen…The Smiths, Fela Kuti, Mos Def…The Fall, DJ Shadow, Portishead. Whatever was on that months Mixmag CD and way too many cheesy mod compilations.”


Skinny started his fledgling musical efforts on acoustic guitar around the age of eight. A year later, in the UK, McDonalds project Our Town Story had kids recount their town’s history through music/dance at the former Millennium Dome. As a footnote, Skinny accidentally enrolled in the dance section and endured a week’s worth of freestyle and Bollywood classes because he was too shy to say he was in the wrong group. This probably informs the eclecticism of his music and his willingness to explore.


He asserts, ”I don’t know how you can think it’s okay to still carry on doing carbon copies of whatever has already happened, especially after hearing something like DJ Shadow, or Portishead… there’s something beautiful about tradition, heritage and purism but it’s artists like these that really stand true to what I love about hip-hop and music in general; sounding out your own unique voice.”


Then came the switch to electric when Skinny’s dad started buying tapes at car boot sales.


“(Dad) popped in ‘Baker Street’, and I knew, whatever happened from then on, I was either gonna have to learn how to play guitar solos or sax riffs. Guitar had more street cred in Donny, so that was it.”


Another life-shaper involved a complete stranger on Instagram. As a result of the advice he was offered, Skinny now writes down details of all his dreams in a notebook as inspiration for his lyrics, yielding results that are equally surreal and startlingly direct. These night scribbles are then woven into loose, textured rhythms and brightly tinted melodies. His songs exist in the wonderfully fuzzy margins of hook-laden dreampop (has there ever been a more apt and literal description?) skirting hazy, translucent psyche-jazz. The perfect overlapping centre of this crazed Venn diagram? Whoah.


So, those expecting Skinny’s output to be pure unadulterated pop might be disappointed. However, if pop means wide-ranging, anything goes sonic assemblages cut with a maverick sensibility, this might truly suit: It’s a cohesive body of work, closer in spirit to those multiple-genre, multi-tasking acts such as Beck, Bjork and Sufjan Stevens, although he sounds like none of these. This fleeting, flitting spirit crops up on recent single ‘Spit / Swallow’ which weaves and wefts cavernous dub textures, gauzy pastoral guitar loops, sampladelic textures and cut-and-pasted steel-tipped hip-hop beats (which intersplice samples/found sounds with real organic drum breaks to superb organic effect) into this fine-detailed sonic tapestry. It all hangs together perfectly with not a thread out of place. Beyond the superficial production sheen, there is a true talent for melody and true songcraft, every tune is an earworm. I’m rendered helpless. Melting in deepest Afro-psychedelic soulspace. ‘Toy Shooter’ follows in similar fashion, bridging psych-pop hooklines with beat-centric, electro-jamming freedom.


Maybe, I’m no closer to discovering who Skinny Pelembe is. But maybe this is the point. We should never pin down and dissect the butterfly. It should remain brimming with its own beauty and life. One thing is clear, Skinny Pelembe is a clarion voice, a unique talent, so let Skinny be.

Destination Doncaster: The Shoe Room

Warren Draper looks at the exciting businesses which are making Doncaster a premium town for destination shopping. First up, The Shoe Room, 8 Priory Walk, Doncaster DN1 1TS 

Words: Warren Draper

Photography: Warren Draper

Thanks largely to the vision and drive of some amazing independent retailers, Doncaster is rapidly becoming a destination shopping hot spot. Destination shopping is where people travel miles to visit a specific store and the patrons of Doncaster’s The Shoe Room come from all over the country — sometimes from other countries — to visit one of the best shoe shops in the country. Which just happens to be run by one of the nicest couples in the country. We have featured The Shoe Room‘s Richard and Michelle a number of times over the years. First mentioning Richard back in May 2015, as part of our Slow issue (see Be More Tortoise on page 6)

Richard and Michelle offer a level of quality, knowledge and service which is hard to match. They sell the finest quality shoes in a relaxed and welcoming environment. In a world where ‘pressure selling’ is the norm, it is a pleasure to be treated with warmth and humanity by people who have a passion for what they do. They also have a passion for Doncaster, which is one of the reasons, I suspect, that they give so much care and attention to their shop window.

Richard and Michelle’s window displays are always stunning. They have the beauty and attention to detail of classic mid 20th Century department stores. 

National chains try their best and are very strict with their staff about how their store-fronts should look, but this works against them because the real secret to beautiful design is creativity and love.

The Shoe Room window isn’t just about enticing people in to buy their wares. Their last display was created in remembrance to the fallen and it didn’t feature a single product from their shop. This was duly noted by an ex-serviceman I spoke to outside when I was photographing the shop back in November. He said he had felt truly moved by it.  

The Shoe Room is as beautiful inside as it is out. Not only is the décor superb, the shoes are amazing.

With some of the world’s finest manufacturers, including Barker, Tricker’s, Loake and Fairfax & Favor, there is no compromise on quality and there is style to suit every taste. 

As well as shoes, there are accessories, coats, hats, belts and socks. With masculine and feminine tastes duly catered for.

Banter is always thrown in for good measure at no extra cost… as is fine whisky when the mood presents itself.

You only get service like this in independent stores. It takes care an commitment to create this kind of retail experience.

Check them out for yourself. And if anyone fancies getting me a Christmas present, you could do a lot worse than buying me a pair of Barker’s double monks 😉

The Shoe Room, 8 Priory Walk, Doncaster DN1 1TS