Grassroots Music Venues Are Fighting To Stay Alive – It’s Time To Help Save Them

It’s estimated that 35% of grassroots music venues have closed between 2007 and 2015 and after recent news of yet another live music locale under threat of being shut down, it’s time to take a look at how the UK’s gig scene is being endangered and to explore how new bands can get a break in 2017. Here are the stories of some legendary spots and their struggles to survive.

The Roadhouse

The Roiadhouse

This one still tugs at my heart strings to this day. Another iconic venue, another site of many a legendary gig, including Ginger Wildheart’s stunning show a couple of years back, now sits derelict.

The Roadhouse played host to a number of massive bands over the years and in a “before they were famous” roll-call, Elbow, Coldplay, The White Stripes and Muse have all trodden these particular boards. But in 2015, the 200-capacity basement venue closed its doors, allegedly to make way for a restaurant run by Aumbry’s Mary-Ellen McTague. This never materialised, and despite other bars such as Jimmy’s and Sugar Rays springing up along Newton Street and increasing footfall, the venue remains boarded up and padlocked. The Roadhouse’s closure differs from the others on this list as it’s not necessarily down to development (owner Kate Mountain simply wanted to pursue new ventures), but it’s an absolute travesty that this venue hasn’t been snapped up to help out Manchester’s up and coming talent, although that might have something to do with the £46,000 a year lease that the landlord has placed on it. Hopefully there’s life in this particular old dog yet.

 

Sound Control

Sound Control

Not yet down and out, but on its way, former music shop Sound Control is set to be flattened to make way for yet more student accommodation. The three floor venue feels like it’s been around forever but has only been hosting gigs and club nights for the past eight years. Even so, in this time The 1975, Rita Ora, Helmet, Wu-Tang Clan and Manc sweethearts du jour Blossoms have all played there, showing the variety of talent the place can attract. Located on New Wakefield Street, it’s a great place for a gig venue with plenty of pre- and post-show eating and drinking establishments nearby, and as you’d expect with its moniker, the sound in the place has always been spot on. With three different size rooms it can host all manner of events and all-day festivals and being slap bang next to Oxford Road train station and a short trot from St Peter’s Square tram stop, it’s handy too, especially compared to the Academy whose distance often creates a mad dash for the last public transport home.

Fortunately the owners of Sound Control are vowing to press on with plans to relocate to a bigger and better venue, but you can’t help feel it just won’t be quite the same.

 

The Star And Garter

Star And Garter

One of the more protracted of all of these tales is that of The Star And Garter. Nestled behind Piccadilly Station in Manchester, The S&G is a traditional boozer built in the early 1800s and moved brick by brick down the road to make way for the expansion of the train station a few years after opening. The Grade II listed building has been the venue for the iconic Smiths Disco for a quarter of a century but recent plans to expand the station even further have seen Network Rail bid for the pub in order to knock it down and make room for additional platforms and a new viaduct. The venue’s owner has pretty much described the offer as derisory, especially considering the pub has living quarters and its own parking. Even more importantly, the place is a very convenient venue and one stacked with history that really shouldn’t just be bulldozed.

The area that The Star And Garter sits in isn’t exactly salubrious but recent events have seen the nearby Mayfield Depot re-open and proves the area has potential. If redevelopment could happen around the pub, it’d certainly suit travellers, boozers, foodies and gig goers and make the district a lot more up-market than it is currently, which can only be a good thing for that part of the City Centre.

 

The Fleece

The Fleece

Proving that struggles to keep live music venues open aren’t just isolated to the North West, Bristol has seen similar issues in recent years. The Fleece (formerly The Fleece & Firkin when I was much, much younger) has been in operation for 35 years and has seen bands such as Nirvana, Radiohead, Ash, Erasure and even Oasis set foot on its stage over the years. It’s another decent-sized venue (capacity is around the 450 mark) that gives young bands a decent shot at playing to a sizable crowd, but in 2014 it was threatened with closure due to the submission of plans to build flats opposite which would no doubt bring noise abatement orders shortly thereafter. After gaining support from Bristol’s mayor, as well as 30,000 signatures through an online petition, a compromise was reached; the flats would still be built but permission was only granted subject to noise insulation being installed on the apartments to ensure any threats to The Fleece are minimised.

An important test case, it’s good to see that sanity can prevail in these situations. After all, what use is a massive surge in accommodation without a decent amount of amenities such as pubs, shops and venues nearby to encourage people to move there?

 

The Thekla

The Thekla

Most recently, HMS Thekla, again in Bristol has come under threat of extinction. As a kid growing up in the South West, there was little more exciting than going to a gig, but what was more exciting was going to a gig on a boat. Yes, that’s right, The Thekla is a floating funhouse originally brought to Bristol in 1983 to showcase music, comedy, plays and poetry.

The former cargo ship helped put Portishead, Roni Size and Massive Attack on the map and features artwork from Banksy over its bulkheads, but this month it’s seen its future threatened, again by property development with nearby Redcliffe Wharf set to be turned into “affordable housing, offices and leisure space”.

Hopefully Bristol City Council will take the same stance as with The Fleece and save this unique venue from closure, because if it doesn’t it would be a sad, sad day for the West Country’s music scene.

 

So, what can we do about this issue? I’m not naïve enough to think that progress doesn’t need to happen, otherwise we wouldn’t have moved from wooden clubs to fire to the wheel, to skyscrapers and back down again to Donald Trump. But progress should mean that there is something better for all of us as a result and quite simply that’s not the case with many of these venues that have now gone or are under threat. Instead, we’re left with more students in cities with less to entertain them, bands with nowhere to play and eyesore derelict buildings that encourage graffiti and public urination against their doors.

Night & Day Café in Manchester, no stranger to noise complaints previously could soon be challenged by its next door neighbour Dry Bar being converted to a hotel, and as much as the odd new venue does open to pick up some of the slack, they’re not large enough in number to offer a stage to everyone who needs a creative outlet. Time will tell, especially for The Thekla, but hopefully we won’t be left in a decade’s time with only a slew of faceless sports halls and bland world-renowned acts churning out the same old turgid nonsense.

Don’t Stop Loving The Music.

You can follow The Thekla on Twitter to hear the latest on their case, or search for the hashtag #savethekla

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Mutation / The Empty Page @ The Deaf Institute, Manchester – 29th October 2017

Mutation

It takes a brave soul to venture out on the first Sunday after the clocks go back. Every instinct tells you to stay indoors, safe from the dark, the cold and the explosion of pre-emptive fireworks. Some may say it takes an even braver soul to leave the house to go and get pummelled by a band promising to make your ears bleed with their racket, but when it’s a trio as intriguing as Mutation, it’s one of those journeys that simply has to be made.

The Empty PageThe calm before the storm at Manchester’s appropriately-named Deaf Institute comes tonight from The Empty Page. Recent winners of Indie Week UK, if you went solely off the band’s debut record, you’d maybe think they were a bit of a “lighter” choice to open up for the brutality of Mutation, but in the live arena the band are surprisingly heavy. Drummer Jim, for the first time front and centre, is an absolute beast behind the kit, keeping things tighter than Scrooge McDuck, while Kel and Giz seem even more animated than usual, putting extra effort into teasing out the power and emotion from songs like Deeply Unlovable and Wardrobe Malfunction. Always engaging and entertaining in equal measure, The Empty Page have been going from strength to strength in recent weeks and are hitting top form as their micro-tour of Canada approaches.

As Mutation prepare to unleash their cacophony, the crowd seem wary of getting too close to the stage for a few reasons: a) It’s pretty high b) the drumkit is precariously placed right at the very front of it and c) Mutation make so much noise they’d get a dead elephant bouncing. In three albums, Ginger Wildheart and his merry band of miscreants (live, this means Scott Lee Andrews of Exit_International on bass and longtime Ginger collaborator Denzel pounding the skins) have created a wall of discordance so dense and arrhythmic that it was certainly an eyebrow-raiser to see a tour announced. 

How on Earth would three people recreate such a sonic maelstrom? Almost effortlessly is the answer to that. Openers Authenticity and Toxins from latest album Dark Black marry a Ministry-sized amount of bile with a strangely cathartic dose of euphoria while Friday Night Drugs and Carrion Blue throw that little Endless Nameless hook at you repeatedly until you nibble.

Arguably the star of the show is Vennart/Young Legionnaire drummer Denzel. Acting as ringleader, his position front of stage makes perfect sense, nodding at both Ginger and Scott to ensure they’re ready for the next onslaught before each and every song. As soon as he brings the guitarists in he transforms into a furious animal, pounding his kit so ferociously that cymbals start to escape from him, only to be brought back under control as white noise washes over us in between each song. Closing on an absolutely punishing Deterioration, there is a suitable finality to proceedings – no encore, no banter, we’re left with just the darkness and our ringing ears.

It’s certainly a divisive sound (interestingly there are only single figures of women in tonight; quite unlike your average Wildhearts-related show), but Mutation really gives Ginger an outlet to experiment and try new things even after 30-odd years in the business. For fans new, old, or of something else entirely, this is an absolute beast of a show that really has to be seen to be believed.

This Is Manchester – We Do Things Differently Here

I’ve just walked through Manchester Piccadilly Station and there’s a sombre mood hanging over us all this morning, armed police at each entrance and on every concourse reminding us of the seriousness of what’s happened.

Exactly two weeks ago, I was at Manchester Arena seeing Iron Maiden. After the gig I remember being herded down long concrete corridors for what seemed an age as everyone shuffled along with Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life ringing out from the Arena speakers. I can only imagine how different a scene it was last night.

When the news came through last night we all thought, maybe hoped, that it was a false alarm. A blown speaker or some balloons popping alongside other social media reports of stampedes. It’s only upon waking this morning that the full horror is apparent.

After the Bataclan I raised a defiant middle finger in support of live music. I may have been horribly nervous going back into a crowded public event but I did what we all have to do again now, put our faith in those who protect us and in the vast majority of the human race. A lot will be asked again about how these acts can keep happening, how people’s minds work but there’s important things to remember, Live music will win. Manchester will win. Terror won’t.

At this truth we have arrived, God damn it’s great to be alive.

Greater Manchester Police has established an emergency telephone number in response to the attack. It is: 0161 856 9400.

Peace, Love, Death Metal – How Live Music Can Live On

EODM - Jesse Hughes

Eagles Of Death Metal’s Jesse Hughes @ The Ritz, Manchester, 7th November 2015

It’s taken me a few days to come to terms with what’s happened in Paris. And when I say ‘come to terms’ I don’t think it will ever be the case that I’ll feel in any way accepting of the tragedy that has unfolded.

I can’t help but think about the fact that I’d been at exactly the same gig only six days previously. Eagles Of Death Metal were playing the Ritz in Manchester, and it was sold out to the tune of 1500 fans in attendance. As similarities go, it all still feels a little bit too close to home.

The show itself was one of the most enjoyable I’d ever seen in over 20 years of gig-going. I’d never seen EODM live before and I really wasn’t prepared for how much pure fun they brought to the live arena. Frontman Jesse Hughes in particular was instantly likeable and endlessly funny, the embodiment of hip-swaying, tache-curling boogie for a good two hours of incredible rock and roll.

The show culminated in a light-hearted duel between Hughes and guitarist Dave Catching that saw the frontman emerge from the Ritz’s balconies to throw down riffs at his partner in crime. The crowd lapped it up too, kids, adults, skinheads and folk on the hairier side of the spectrum all cheering each comedic battle with grins as wide as the stage.

Then only six days later, the Bataclan in Paris sees the most awful tragedy that live music has ever had to witness. It doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things which band was involved, but there’s something about the fact that it was such a good-time group like EODM and their fans that were caught up in all this that makes it seem all the more awful. I haven’t been able to listen to any EODM songs since, quickly skipping tracks if anything’s been coming up on shuffle. I’m not trying to ignore what’s happened, it just doesn’t seem right at the moment to try to get enjoyment from their music.

But life does go on. On Saturday I was fortunate enough to go over to Huddersfield to see Eureka Machines and Tropical Contact play at The Parish. I’d been looking forward to this one for a while, despite having seen both bands loads of times before. I knew that in attendance would be all the like-minded folk I see at so many gigs across the country and that if any combination of bands and crowd were going to help each other get over what had happened the night before it was these.

What ensued was every bit the group therapy that was required. From staff at the venue through to the bands, punters, even other people milling around in the pub out front, there was a good time vibe in that leaky room that simply would not be quelled by recent world events. Even when an obviously emotional Chris Catalyst (the Eureka Machines frontman) took to his mic to pay tribute to his friend who had died at the Bataclan (EODM’s merch man Nick Alexander) it wasn’t with a sense of revenge or anger, it was to encourage and enlighten, ensuring that the show went on and that expression didn’t die along with all of those who lost their lives in the French capital. Needless to say, that outpouring provided some of the biggest bouncing of the night as we all joined together in thanks that we were able to enjoy live music, freely and without fear of judgement or censure.

I’m not going to get into the politics of it all, as far as I’m concerned, killing innocent people anywhere in the world is wrong, tragic and heartbreaking. What I will say is that I hope live music somehow comes out of this stronger. It’s always been a place where people from all different backgrounds and of all shapes and sizes can come and forget all of their troubles for a couple of hours, united in a shared joy and euphoria that’s difficult to match and without these little pockets of escapism, the world would be a far, far poorer place.

Therapy? @ Manchester Academy 2 – 18th April 2015

Therapy? @ Manchester Academy

Therapy? – Hopefully going nowhere.

To get it out of the way up front, Therapy? are my favourite band. I’ve been listening to them on record and bouncing around to them in various states of inebriation live for over 20 years now, whether at Donington, at home in Bristol, at Uni in Sheffield or most recently in Manchester, but as with any band or review, I’ll always call a spade a spade and be brutally honest about any live performance or record.

Many bands that have been around as long as Therapy? will have a hardcore of fans who blindly go along with all that it is put before them but with this particular bunch you’re always challenged. After being at the forefront of the mid-90s rock resurgence, the band made albums that were raw, catchy, bleak and drug-addled with one simple consistency; fight. Therapy? wouldn’t lie down. They wouldn’t compromise. And they’ve certainly never been in the business of bowing to commercial pressures.

So here we are in 2015. Therapy? have recently released album number 12, Disquiet and they’re all set to lay waste to Manchester’s Academy 2 on a sunny Spring evening. Before tonight’s gig, I’m asked in the pub who I’m off to see and my reply is met with the usual “Christ, are they still going?” The answer to that is a resounding ‘yes’ and by not realising that, you’ve been missing out on some of the most brilliant music and consistently enjoyable live shows in modern rock.

The venue isn’t sold out tonight as it was for last year’s 20th anniversary Troublegum show, but the crowd is healthy and ready for the first live outing of tracks from T?‘s latest opus. Meeting that need with a snarling ‘Still Hurts’, Therapy? hit the ground running; frontman Andy Cairns is as wide-eyed and psychotically brilliant as ever whilst Michael McKeegan pogoes around, showing no less enthusiasm than the very first time he set foot on stage. The Manc-pleasing ‘Isolation’ is up next followed by Troublegum partner in crime ‘Die Laughing’ and despite many in attendance having heard these songs countless times, every word is still belted back joyously at a grinning Cairns. Even tracks like ‘Vulgar Display Of Powder’ and ‘Idiot Cousin’ are surprisingly well-known despite only being a month or so old, proving that T? can still drive a hook into your long-term memory after only a couple of listens.

With so many tracks to choose between from their long career, there were always going to be some major omissions (namely everything from 1998 to 2012), but Therapy? can’t get away with ignoring their classics and they simply have too many of them these days. ‘A Moment Of Clarity’ gets more harrowingly beautiful with every listen, raising goosebumps throughout a captivating six minutes, whilst ‘Turn’, ‘Stories’ and ‘Nausea’ are anthemic to the ears of the adoring pit.

Therapy? @ Manchester Academy

Andy Cairns – Evil Elvis on top.

If Therapy? were to have a theme tune it’d be a toss-up between ‘Screamager’ and ‘Teethgrinder’ as both songs encapsulate what the band have always stood for; the former being the catchiest thing since a particularly hook-loving sea bass whilst the latter will forever stand as a proclamation of the dawning of a new era of heavy music, both danceable yet angular and twisted. So by pairing the two together in the live setting, Therapy? nail a euphoric high you’d struggle to get from sticking a skag jabber directly into your eyeball.

After such a crescendo you’d be disappointed to see on paper the set closing with ‘Deathstimate’ and ‘Diane’ but this comedown simply doesn’t materialise. ‘Deathstimate’ is monolithic in riff whilst allowing a chance for us to cool down and ‘Diane’ is given such a powerfully upbeat reworking compared to the version on Infernal Love that you’d almost be forgiven for glossing over the subject matter.

It only takes a short break for T? to re-emerge and hammer into a violent ‘Knives’, a rare outing for ‘Skinning Pit’ and the familiar ‘Potato Junkie’ and ‘Nowhere’. All four sound as fresh as they did two decades earlier and screaming about Irish novelists having carnal relations with your siblings has never been more fun.

What we’ve had tonight are 22 songs of brilliance, variety, passion and integrity. I’ve yet to find a band who can equal such consistency and I challenge you to find a show packed with more quality than tonight. Quite simply, Therapy? ooze excellence and long may it continue.

Death From Above 1979 + Turbowolf @ The Ritz, Manchester – 24th February 2015

Death From Above 1979 @ The Ritz, Manchester

Death From Above 1979 – trunk punks.

A few weeks back I’d never heard Death From Above 1979. Great name for a band as it was, I’d missed their first foray into this world a decade ago and I admit their second record last year had also passed me by.

But of course you’ll all know how much I love Turbowolf. Shining, eccentric lights in a sea of mediocrity, the Wolf consistently bang out un-categorisable tunes so effortlessly it makes Jeff Lynne look like a struggling amateur.

So when the two bands joined forces for a UK tour I saw it as a great opportunity; support one of my favourite modern bands at the same time as seeing something new. I’m not sure I quite expected what followed.

Turbowolf tonight are of course as imperious as ever. Mixing a smattering of new material such as the radio-bothering ‘Rabbit’s Foot’ with a greatest hits tour-de-force, they’re always going to struggle to do any wrong, and a makeshift pit for the closing ‘Let’s Die’ proves how effortlessly likeable they are. When that second album hits, things are going stratospheric.

The main event though are such a sonically similar but strangely different beast. The two-piece set up is almost de rigueur these days thanks to Royal Blood’s success, but Death From Above 1979 were there first and tonight they set out to prove it.

Walking unassumingly on stage, DFA launch into a noisy, fast paced set under subdued lighting with ‘Turn It Out’ and ‘Right On, Frankenstein’ hitting us in the face like a particularly angry Mike Tyson.

The band don’t pause for breath until necessity dictates when drummer/vocalist Sebastien Grainger makes running repairs to a kick pedal three songs in and already sweat and beer are dripping from the roof. Not ones for huge amounts of crowd banter (although when they do engage with the audience there are some golden moments such as suggesting a world record 69 attempt) it’s not long before the duo are back up to full tilt and hammering out modern day classics like ‘Trainwreck 1979’ and ‘Crystal Ball’. Closing with the storming couplet of ‘Romantic Rights’ and ‘The Physical World’, Death From Above 1979 leave the crowd baying for more.

With only two albums worth of material to work from it’s not too surprising when the lights go up only 70 minutes after the opening chords, but what we’ve seen tonight is enough to prove DFA should never have gone away in the first place. An invigorating experience.

Marmozets + Steak Number Eight + Thought Forms @ Manchester Academy 3 – 23rd February 2015

Marmozets @ Manchester Academy 3

Marmozets – a family affair.

As short straw gigs go, Monday in rainy Manchester often takes the biscuit, but anticipation for Marmozets’ arrival dries the most moist of denims as we approach showtime in Academy 3.

Only catching the end of drone-core trio Thought Forms’set, it would be rude to judge too much but it’s still questionable whether a Monday-headed crowd is ready for seven minute Eastern-inspired wig-outs.

Steak Number Eight @ Manchester Academy 3

Steak Number Eight – meaty.

Gawping faces are soon slapped about though by Steak Number Eight, with the Belgian crew blasting through a schizo set of mind-bending absurdity. Not quite doomy enough to take Iron Monkey‘s place, SN8 still throw down a sludgy set of riff-bothering beauty, punctuated by a wonderfully vicious ‘Dickhead’. On the up for a few years now, with suitable exposure, this lot could be huge.

And so to Marmozets. Touted as The Best British Band Out There(TM) by quarters of the rock press, this show was booked to sell out and so it has, a gaggle of check-shirted under-agers visibly giddy at the prospect as a single rose is carefully entwined into Becca Macintyre’s mic stand before the Yorkshire mob even appear to a serenade of Arctic Monkeys and Morrissey’s finest odes to melancholy.

And they don’t disappoint. A spiky, punky antidote to what’s already been and gone this evening, an hour long set is hailed like the second coming.

As anthems go, ‘Weird and Wonderful’ couldn’t be closer to the truth, as although Marmozets could easily be tarred with the ‘too much too young’ brush due to their Roadrunner deal and PR push to the stars, what we have before us are still five kids full of sheer vigour which sets them apart from the vast majority of bands on the club circuit today.

A couple of unnecessary top-knots aside, Marmozets are faultless tonight. Even gobshite guitarist Sam Macintyre is annoyingly likeable with his passion for each and every song and although sister Becca might curtail his stints on the mic between tracks, the band remain Chancellor of the Exchequer-tight during an incendiary ‘Born Young And Free’.

Will this lot be just as important in bigger venues? Only time will tell, but as Marmozets close with 2015’s anthem for the disaffected ‘Why Do You Hate Me?’ it’s hard to see how they can fail.

This year may have already been full of pleasant surprises but two months in it’s still delivering plenty more. Stunning stuff.

Hawk Eyes + God Damn + Bad Grammar @ Sound Control, Manchester – 18th February 2015

Hawk Eyes @ Sound Control, Manchester

Hawk Eyes – everything’s lovely, thanks for asking.

Seven pounds

As far as gig reviews go, this one’s pretty fucking straightforward. I went to Sound Control tonight and saw three shit hot British bands for seven pounds. Time of my life. About 30-40 people did the same.

To find out why more didn’t join in, I had a think about what else seven pounds can get you.

A cheap cocktail
That’s right kids, modern day culture dictates that one shot of cheap rum combined with two of your favourite fruit juice, tossed rapidly over the shoulder of your favourite low slung-jeaned, tattooed bar-keep can be garnered for the cost of two proper man pints. So when the A-board outside indicates a special offer, you’re all over it like a tramp on chips. Sadly you’re going to end up with teeth furrier than an Angora-fancying Dracula so if I were you I’d steer well clear of such sugary malevolence.

A baby
I’m no expert but from seeing work emails flying about over the years it appears seven pounds is some sort of reputable figure for a miniature human. Yes they scream (horns up) but little scientific evidence has discovered much else they’re good at. If you fancy getting one for yourself, I’ve heard rapid intercourse or too many seven pound cocktails can help. You can have that one on me.

A peak time ticket to work
It’s important to get a job, don’t get me wrong, but for those who aren’t aware, cheaper tickets are available. The next time you wrench your flipper from your pocket, have a think about a season ticket, freeing up funds for something far less banal.

So, you could get a crap drink, a lifetime of never seeing your friends or a rocky ride on a four mile rattler.

Tonight, I chose Hawk Eyes (riffs, stories, Yorkshire) plus God Damn (riffs, all of the hair, deafness) and Bad Grammar (riffs, guitar issues, humility).

I know where I’d rather have been, time to have a think about where you were.

The Affs Awards 2014 – Gig of the Year

Black Moth @ The Roadhouse

Black Moth – unflappable.

 

Lists. Everyone likes a list. Whether it’s the top ten chores you’re not very likely to complete this year or a batch of unachievable New Year resolutions, you’ve probably scribbled down a few words on the back of a fag packet as Big Ben struck midnight. And as critics around the world compile their lists to summarise the year that’s just passed, it’s time for the definitive catch up on 2014’s finest in live music from none other than yours truly with the Affs Award 2014 for Gig of the Year.

Sepultura @ The Ritz

Sepultura – Chaos 2014

First off, it’s the honourable mentions section, this year going to 2013’s winners, Manic Street Preachers who belted out a storming rendition of classic LP The Holy Bible in December. Stalwarts Sepultura also proved there’s plenty of life left in them yet with a furiously heavy outing back in February, whilst Volbeat sold out Manchester Academy once again and proved they’re one of the best bands on the planet for creating a party at any size gig. Towards the end of 2014 Mastodon, Machine Head and Behemoth all showed what it takes to be a big modern metal band with sets full of dizzying invention and showmanship, all three of whom should count themselves unlucky to just miss out on the very top of my list.

A few individuals and bands also deserve shout-outs simply for working their arses off in 2014. Turbowolf played two outstanding headline shows in Manchester alongside a triumphant set at Camden Rocks that saw the whole Electric Ballroom jumping. I can guarantee right now that 2015 will be their year. Chris Catalyst also toured his gig trousers off with Eureka Machines shows at Camden as well as their own headline run, with the frontman somehow also finding time to help out Ginger Wildheart and Tony Wright on numerous dates throughout the year and belting out a brilliant acoustic set of his own in a cramped and sweaty Brewdog Camden basement.

Tony Wright @ Gulliver's

Tony Wright – rock and sausage roll

Speaking of the erstwhile Terrorvision frontman, Tony Wright provided us with a few shows of absolute comedy and songwriting gold as he embarked on début solo outings in 2014, whilst dynamic duo The Dowling Poole served up glittering acoustic pop rock ahead of full-on electric shows in 2015. Therapy? frontman Andy Cairns followed up last year’s solo shows with an excellent new set, giving us 20 years worth of classics in a stupidly intimate environment, also taking his band out earlier in the year to celebrate two decades since the release of the seminal Troublegum LP.

God Damn also saw their stock rise with a couple of headline jaunts and a destructive support slot with Turbowolf, whilst Beastmilk brought some beautifully melancholic noise to these shores on a couple of occasions. UK music continued to rule the roost with Black Moth covering us in a shroud of wondrous doom off the back of their brilliant second opus and Tropical Contact fortunately deciding not to call it a day, whilst our US cousins threatened to upset the balance by sending Butcher Babies over to blow us away with crunchy riffs and some insanely catchy yet heavy tunes.

It wasn’t a year solely of metal either, with two gigs in particular standing out for their sheer camp spectacle. I usually avoid arena gigs like the plague but there was no denying Lady Gaga put on a mammoth performance and was note perfect alongside the dancing and costume changes, whilst Erasure rolled back the years with a succession of perfect pop classics.

But now, onto the top five…

Rival Sons @ Gorilla

Rival Sons – unrivalled.

4= Black Stone Cherry @ The Ritz and Rival Sons @ Gorilla

I’m putting these two shows together for a couple of reasons. Firstly, both bands have played far bigger shows in Manchester since, and I feel truly privileged to have snagged tickets to such intimate occasions. Secondly, the first time I saw both of these bands was when Rival Sons supported BSC at the Academy, so for me they’ll always be intertwined. BSC’s gig at The Ritz in 2014 felt like a fan club show where we got to sit in the band’s front room as 20-odd tracks were interspersed with banter and Q&As that you wouldn’t normally get from such a huge group, all inside a cosy 1,500-capacity venue. Not only did we get a one-off experience, BSC were also on fire, blitzing out old and new tracks alike with power and emotion that you couldn’t help but be taken in by.

Fellow Southern rockers Rival Sons played across the road on a different night at the even cosier Gorilla. Essentially a back-room-of-a-pub gig, seeing these guys so up close was an absolute honour and proved why they’ve rocketed in popularity so successfully over the past couple of years. As far as 70s-influenced bluesy riffing goes, Rival Sons are going to be tough to beat for the foreseeable future.

Kerbdog @ The Ritz

Cormac Battle – crushing dummies.

3 Kerbdog @ The Ritz

No write-up of 2014 would be complete without mentioning certain comebacks. Baby Chaos nearly made this list just from the pure euphoria of seeing them get back on stage and bang out half an hour of perfect pop rock, but the most welcome return has to have been Kerbdog. Not content with just playing a couple of club gigs to test the waters, they brought a load of old muckers along for the ride which saw Hawk Eyes, Nine Black Alps and Amplifier get us giddy with anticipation. But it was the Kilkenny four-piece who provided the biggest roar, making it hard to believe we’ve only ever had two albums from them, the latter of which emerged 17 years ago. Treated like returning heroes, Kerbdog had not lost a beat in the intervening years, nailing a high-octane masterclass and leaving a gleeful crowd relishing more new material in 2015.

Frank Turner - reach for the stars.

Frank Turner – reach for the stars.

2 Möngöl Hörde @ Academy 3

In between larger shows, Mr Frank Turner likes to get back to basics with the odd small and sweaty gig, and by taking his hardcore outfit Möngöl Hörde out on the road it was easy to fulfil such ambitions.  A dirty, punky and most importantly, fun show, this was a brilliant showcase of not just Turner‘s songwriting prowess but also an opportunity to pay homage to his influences. Covers of Rage Against The Machine‘s ‘Bulls On Parade’, Faith No More‘s ‘Epic’ and Sepultura‘s ‘Refuse/Resist’ all sat comfortably side-by-side with tracks off the Hörde‘s début album, and Turner himself surfed and threw himself all over the place in an energetic display of rock and roll splendour. It’s tough to beat a show that sees everyone in the room let themselves go with sheer enjoyment, but there can be only one winner…

Ginger @ The Roadhouse

Ginger Wildheart – father and son.

1 Ginger Wildheart @ The Roadhouse

I saw Ginger five times in 2014, once with The Wildhearts, once for his Halloween Hootenanny, once for his annual Birthday knees up, and once standing outside the packed Baby Godzilla show at Camden Rocks, but it was his gig at the smallest venue I’d seen him at since an acoustic show at Ashton-under-Lyne’s Witchwood in 2011 that really resonated with me.

After the hangovers had subsided from the aforementioned Halloween shindig, the relentless mainman took his merry band of cohorts as well as The Scaramanga Six and Eureka Machines on a jaunt North, and their first stop was Manchester’s Roadhouse. I was lucky enough to attend a pre-show meet and greet where Ginger seemed on excellent, relaxed form alongside his family and this atmosphere definitely seeped into the gig itself. Ginger smiled away throughout, Random Jon Poole and Kelli Compulsive bounced around like lunatics, and Chris Catalyst enhanced his pitch for Man of the Year with another show of double-duty perfection. The setlist was pitched brilliantly between classics and new songs that were only a few months old and for once the Manchester crowd did themselves proud, belting out each and every line. A family affair in the truest of senses, Ginger’s Roadhouse show was everything you’d want from an intimate gig with music, crowd and artist all simply falling into place, leaving the lucky punters who’d managed to grab a ticket grinning from ear to ear. Live music at its most joyous.

Manic Street Preachers @ Albert Hall, Manchester – 11th December 2014

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This is really hard for me. Obviously it’s far harder for the three remaining members of the Manic Street Preachers, but since The Holy Bible has sat proudly atop my albums podium for the past two decades, anticipation doesn’t quite cover it. I’m feeling want. I’m feeling desire. I’m feeling despair. I’m feeling every emotion under the sun as the Manics return to Manchester for two intimate gigs at the city’s Albert Hall to play one of the most passionate albums ever committed to disc.

For context, my first ever girlfriend ADORED Nicky Wire. A gangly rock legend, Wire was the poster boy for awkwardness, constantly grinning away in outrageous outfits. Then there was Sean Moore. An unassuming drummer at the best of times, when THB was unleashed he became a gloved destroyer. Then there was James Dean Bradfield. Effortlessly dextrous, the frontman turned hugely challenging subject matter into vocal beauty and it touched a 14 year old me like no other record.

But the author of much of the despair, Richey James hasn’t been there for almost as long as The Holy Bible has. Back in 1995 I had a letter published in Kerrang! which stated my hope that by choosing to see Terrorvision live rather than the Manics my decision wouldn’t come back to bite me on the backside. And how it did. I’d seen the full four-way force of the Manics in 1994. My first ever gig and indeed my first pint, but then Richey was gone. What followed never truly seemed to capture that spirit and I moved on, away from my icons. Until 2013.

Last year, the Manics played a set of intimate shows, the Manchester leg of which I was privileged to attend. An absolute tour de force of their career, the set encompassed everything I loved alongside all that I didn’t, but that night made me realise the beauty in all of their work both new and old.

So here we are in 2014 and the Manics announce The Holy Bible shows. I wasn’t anorexic in 1994. I wasn’t suicidal. I wasn’t even that nihilistic, but the political and emotional chord of the record had struck a nerve and I’d been unwilling to ignore it since. Come hell or high water I would see the whole thing played live.

And now I have. There is no support tonight, merely a few 90s classics over the PA and an excitable throng, so when a militarily-garbed set of Manics emerge it’s with rapture and adoration quite befitting of such crossover legends.

As we hit The Holy Bible, the words to each and every song come flooding back into my mind no matter how political or complex. As chart-bothering records go, I’ve heard happier, so when ‘Yes’ and ‘Ifwhiteamerica’ spit their bile, it’s almost shocking that such singalong euphoria can greet them, but it does, and fortunately the bouncing hardcore remain down the front throughout.

This is probably one of the strangest celebrations of live music I’ve encountered. The subject matter of the holocaust, genocide and eating disorders wash over us, and as one we celebrate not only the record’s importance in musical history but also in its fight to put right the selfish attitudes of the majority. ‘Revol’ is still full of spiky punk attitude, ‘4st 7lbs’ is heartbreakingly beautiful and ‘Faster’ slaps us in the face like it only emerged yesterday.

‘Die In The Summertime’ raises pretty much every hand in the old Wesleyan chapel and after a mesmerising ‘The Intense Humming Of Evil’, ‘PCP’ sees a mini wall of death amongst us, all of whom are old enough to know better.

After a break, the Manics hit us with a second set quite rightly majoring on new material. Most recent record Futurology is full of innovative Euro rock and although they might not be overly familiar to many, songs like ‘Walk Me To The Bridge’ and the instrumental ‘Dreaming A City’ sit comfortably alongside the usual classics. ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ has been given a gradual makeover throughout the years and tonight becomes the fuller epic it’s always wanted to be, whilst ‘If You Tolerate This’ is suitably anthemic, and ‘You Love Us’ is as rabble rousingly frenetic as it was in 1992.

But then there’s the moment.

James Dean Bradfield purposefully moves his mic to stage right and into the previously empty Richey area and suddenly we’re cathartically feeling every joyous chord of ‘A Design For Life’.

This feels like closure. This feels like emotional outpouring. This feels like it. Richey has long been an anonymous part of Manics shows and in a way he always will, but for now he is gone. And we move on. But we celebrate every last second of life he shared with us and it feels incredible.

As the show ends we’ve got that usual sense of wanting more but we’re also happy that Richey’s most harrowing work has received the adulation it deserves. This might not be quite up there with last year’s show at The Ritz, but this is beautiful songwriting performed with dignity. And for that we salute you. All four of the Manic Street Preachers.