The Affs Awards 2012 – Album Of The Year

Following the difficult job of picking my live highlights of the past 12 months, choosing my top long players of 2012 was even more tricky. Nevertheless, I’ve struggled on like the brave soldier that I am, and here, for your delectation, are the top four (who said three or five were the best way to do these things?) including the winner of The Affs Award 2012 for Album Of The Year.

Therapy? 'A Brief Crack Of Light'4) Therapy? ‘A Brief Crack Of Light’

Therapy? Have been my favourite band for a hell of a long time, going all the way back to ’91/’92’s one-two punch of the seminal Babyteeth and Pleasure Death mini albums. But being someone’s favourite band arguably makes a band’s job harder with each new release. Therapy? have never really been a band to churn out the same old shtick time and time again, refusing to bow to current trends or producing obvious sequels to previous output, so buying a new T? record is always an exciting time.

Returning after a three-year touring spree off the back of the brilliant ‘Crooked Timber’, Therapy? posted a video for the track ‘Living In The Shadow of The Terrible Thing’ online in early 2012. Their trademark sound cut through the song with the underlying groove of bassist Michael McKeegan setting up an urgent, almost mechanical chorus. Definitely a good sign of what was to come, and when ‘A Brief Crack of Light’ was released in full the next month it completely lived up to expectations.

I still remember way back in 1995 when picking up my copy of ‘Infernal Love’ what a shock it was as the band moved into more epic, morose territory after the instant pop-punk hooks of their breakthrough ‘Troublegum’ CD. With ‘A Brief Crack of Light’, Therapy?’s sound is even more rounded and mature, but this isn’t a boring album by any stretch of the imagination. There are some really jarring, challenging tracks among the 10 on offer, with ‘Plague Bell’ and ‘The Buzzing’ offering staccato nails to the back of the neck whilst ‘Get Your Dead Hand Off My Shoulder’ mixes a bleak soundscape with forward-thinking lyrics about the need to break free from the norm. Something which Therapy? have consistently delivered upon over an impressive two decades.

‘A Brief Crack of Light’ is a hugely diverse album, mixing themes of bleak desolation and mental illness with the positivity of revolution to incredible effect. This isn’t a concept album by any stretch of the imagination, but the angular songs feel like brothers, birthed by a twin-headed mother of creation and death. Brilliant stuff from a band that show no signs of letting up from their trademark fiery spirit.

Fighting With Wire 'Colonel Blood'3) Fighting With Wire ‘Colonel Blood’

The mid-90s saw numerous brilliant bands emerge from nowhere, get decent record deals and then promptly become lost in the shuffle due to the insta-hit nature of the MTV generation’s musical swing-o-meter.

Bands such as Kerbdog and Baby Chaos struggled on for a couple of albums despite the flavour of the month attitudes of the record industry at the time, and luckily they left us with some classic songs and incendiary gigs to remember them by.

Fast forward nearly 20 years and we’re seeing another boom. Fan power has taken over and any band can get such a push through social media that they could see themselves playing to thousands within a few short months as word spreads across the country. Twin Atlantic have done just this, jumping from 500 capacity venues to nigh on 3000 person sell-outs in just over a year. But we’re not here to talk about Twin Atlantic, as good as they are. No, we’re here to talk about the next band who threaten to hit it big, Fighting With Wire.

If you’d asked me who the band were at the start of 2012, I probably would have responded with “who? Writing With Fire?” and laughed in your insistent face. But on one night, as I waited for the headliners at Sound Control in Manchester, I realised what the fuss was about.

Fighting With Wire have been around for ten years now, but despite getting decent slots at Download and Sonisphere and the backing of Zane Lowe, the band had been fighting for two years to get their second album, ‘Colonel Blood’ released. Finally, in 2012 they were ready, and to promote it, they toured the UK with hardcore godfathers Helmet. A decent enough crowd had assembled that night in Manchester by the time FWW took to the stage and as they kicked off with ‘Into The Ground’ I was taken straight back to the days of surprise package support acts.

The three piece are raw, energetic, passionate and catchy as hell, so I had no hesitation in getting my hands on said sophomore album after that one gig.

Tracks such as ‘Waiting On a Way To Believe’ show an instant pop rock hook, comparable to the much-missed Joyrider, whilst the title track pilfers the Kerbdog crown by doing what the Kilkenny three-piece did so well; writing crunchy, melodic hits, full of sing-along live potential.

Fighting With Wire aren’t content with just paying homage to such great acts though, and as ‘Erase You’, ‘Dead Memory’ and ‘Didn’t Wanna Come Back Home’ get your foot tapping with their soaring melodies you soon discover the band’s own sound.

The album contains brilliantly crafted, modern rock anthems throughout, and you can bet that with a few more high-profile live support slots, these guys are going to be huge.

Black Moth 'The Killing Jar'2) Black Moth ‘The Killing Jar’

The beauty of the modern-day musical landscape is that you can stumble upon bands like Fighting With Wire by pure accident and suddenly they become your band of the year. But 2012 didn’t just throw up one surprise package, oh no. Another bunch of young upstarts threw me a bunch of dirty riffs and I was only too happy to respond with a trip to the merch stand to get that music into my ears permanently, and that band were Black Moth.

Before my trip to Nottingham to see Turbowolf, a friend had mentioned the ‘Moth were worth checking out after hearing them on 6 Music, so I made sure I got down there early to see what the fuss was about.

Black Moth are a multi-limbed beast of a groove machine and this is brilliantly personified in live opener ‘Blackbirds Fall’. The opening riff strikes you square in the mouth, embedding itself there like a fuzzy facehugger before Harriet Bevan’s vocals arrive to kiss you better with their seductive tone.

This is a band once again not taking themselves too seriously but playing for the fun of it. Yes, they’re a serious band but they get up on stages of all shapes and sizes to throw down some riffs and make sure everyone has a damn good time, an ethic that is reflected throughout the whole of ‘The Killing Jar’.

The doomy, stoner tone of the album references so many varied influences from QOTSA to Kyuss, mixing in the rock and roll swagger of Black Spiders, the hypnotic sludge of Sabbath, an almost occult 60s/70s tone akin to Blood Ceremony and plenty more all the way through to the modern metal of recent tourmates Turbowolf.

The Leeds five-piece show some serious songwriting chops too, particularly with ‘Land of the Sky”s buzzy, head-thumping groove, ‘Chicken Shit’ throwing its bile all over the carpet and ‘Spit Out Your Teeth”s runaway locomotive crescendo.

What you have here is a band who sound just as good in your bedroom as they do live, and by throwing in five decades worth of inspiration, Black Moth have emerged from their chrysalis with wings full of doomy glory.

Ginger Wildheart '555%'1) Ginger Wildheart ‘555%’

There can be only one.

Over the past couple of years one man has gently been reminding us that he never really went away and that for over 20 years he’s been working his backside off for the love of music with true empathy for the people who make it all happen, the fans. That man is Ginger.

Yes I’ve been a fan of the guy’s various musical output since the early 90s, but these are not the views of a sycophantic fanboy, what Ginger is doing these days is entirely on another level.

Back in August 2011, Ginger announced that he was to make a fan-funded 30 track album based on years of unfinished, unrecorded work. Going via the route of Pledge Music, a fledgling concept in independent music production, the project hit 100% of its target within six hours and it was from there that the album took on a whole new meaning.

With a range of vinyl and CD versions available to pledgers, Ginger eventually announced that once the campaign hit ‘555%’ the physical copies of the album would be withdrawn from sale. Achieving this feat within the next three days, an expectant 5,000 or so pledgers sat with bated breath and when the downloadable versions of the tracks were released, those who had already paid up were awarded the privilege of being able to choose which 12 tracks should make up ‘100%’, the commercially available version of the record.

But what about the music itself? One worry could have been that these off-cuts were unreleased for a reason. Others may have been concerned that without the focus of nailing a lower number of tracks, Ginger’s usually spot-on quality control might waver and that standards may suffer.

All I can say is, don’t be so bloody silly. My beautifully packaged physical copy of ‘555%’ landed on my doormat one Saturday morning in May 2012, and I have not stopped listening to it since.

‘555%’ truly has something for everyone ensconced within its poppy/rocky/punky/trashy/groovy/ballady (note: some of these may not be real words) interior. Kicking off with the trademark, swaggering ‘Forget About It’ which wouldn’t be out-of-place on the greatest of Wildhearts records, the record throws instant classics at you like a particularly angry Donkey Kong. ‘I-N-T-E-R-N-A-L Radio’ is a catchy little oik, fusing together some soaring pop-rock melodies, whilst ‘Incidental Noises’ takes a little more of a psychedelic route into your inner ear.

‘Deep In The Arms Of Morpheus’ has been knocking around in unrecorded form for years, with Ginger previously mentioning he wrote it when he was only 19, and on ‘555%’ the track becomes an absolutely epic slab of modern rock balladry. The similarly monumental ‘Time’ rounds off the first CD with a perfect seven and a half minutes of clock chimes, Beatles-tinged melody and furious riffy idiosyncrasy.

The second disc begins with possibly the finest moment of the whole package, ‘Another Spinning Fucking Rainbow’. This megaphone screeching, bleep-a-thon of a funker throws in some truly bonkers noise before veering towards country and western territory. Not to be outdone, following track ‘Westward Ho! (A New Reputation)’ does little to quell the nerves of traditionalists with its calypso metal mash-up.

The challengingly-titled ‘Do The Lonely Suffer More, Or Less, Or Just The Same At The Point Of Death?’ brings an 80s New Order/Depeche Mode feel to begin with, before dropping some Beach Boys crooning and trad-Ginger riffs along a rollercoaster four minutes. ‘The Other Side’ is a beautiful little number showing just why Ginger decided to do a whole album featuring just himself and vocalist Victoria Liedtke (on the upcoming Hey! Hello! Pledge Music album), whilst ‘Lover, It’ll All Work Out’ is a brilliantly catchy love song, possibly even one of Ginger’s all-time best.

‘Taste Aversion’, already a live favourite, is pure, twisted musical genius. No doubt thanks to some Random Jon Poole-influenced eccentricity, the song’s seemingly drug-referencing lyrics spiral into a mellow false sense of security before a furious dive into a death metal blast followed by a calming lift muzak escape.

The third CD is no way the lesser of the whole package as the electronic stomper ‘Confusion’ and the riffy ‘Beautifully, Blissfully Unsettled’ attest. Oddball track ‘Very, Very Slow’ proves that all the punk ferocity is still alive and well in Ginger’s merry band of hugely talented musical allies, whilst ‘Just Another Song About Someone’ is a swaying piece of beautiful melody, composed perfectly for some brilliant future acoustic performances.

Campfire singalong “We’ve Been Expecting You My Dear’ coupled with the no-brainer album closer ‘The End’ keep the sky-high levels of quality going right up until the lead-out groove, and despite the whole package being so massive an undertaking, your first urge is to go right back to the start immediately for round two. There’s no question whatsoever that this is an absolutely enthralling, phenomenal, must-buy musical journey that blows pretty much every other release of the past year, possibly the decade, so clean out of the water there’s not even a skidmark remaining.

It isn’t too bold a statement to suggest that what Ginger has done with ‘555%’ is game-changing. It’s a whole new musical model fit just as much for old school values as it is for modern buying habits. He may not have invented the concept, but by packing the album with so much value and incredible music, Ginger has put a marker down for others to either follow or find themselves coming up very short indeed.

The Affs Awards 2012 – Gig of the Year

Therapy?’s Andy Cairns – Going nowhere.

Regular readers may remember that last year saw the inaugural Affs Awards for services to music in the shape of Gig and Album of the Year, won by Terrorvision and Black Spiders respectively.

After the pretty mammoth write up of the year in live music that’s just gone up on this very blog, it’s time for the real big hitters to battle it out for a second set of prestigious gongs as I take a look at who shone from the stage in 2012.

This time round, I’ve picked seven gigs which really stood out to talk about in a bit more detail. This in itself was a tough task as I don’t think I saw a poor performance from anyone at any of the 28 shows I attended in 2012 so I’m certainly not going to try and pick between too many of the runners up as they’re all worthy of a special mention.

Bush have long been a band who I could listen to whatever mood I’m in. Their debut album, Sixteen Stone is still one of my favourite ever CDs, and although I lost touch with their output at around four albums in, I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to go and see them for the first time in nearly two decades. I wrote up my experiences of that night immediately after and reading it back now, I think that the only bad thing about the show was the lack of initial excitement from a disappointing crowd. Gavin Rossdale and co should be congratulated for overcoming this and laying down a marker for younger bands as to how to stay relevant and energised over the years.

Another show I wrote up earlier in the year was Chris Cornell’s astonishing solo gig at the Lowry Theatre. Not being a fan of festivals or massive arena gigs, I honestly didn’t think I’d ever see Cornell live, and to finally be able to do so, seeing him enjoy an intimate time with the audience made for one of those occasions that was an honour to be a part of. It also once again proved just what a talented songwriter the guy is, combing Soundgarden, Temple Of The Dog, Audioslave and solo work with a selection of covers that beautifully complemented his unmistakeable style. During a mesmerising Hunger Strike I even felt a tear or two in my usually cold, calculating peepers; stunning stuff indeed.

Chris Cornell Live at The Lowry Theatre
Chris Cornell – Show me the power child.

Saying that the Cornell gig was the peak of grunge hero worship for 2012 would do disservice to another legend of that era. Eddie Vedder produced a remarkable, standout show at the Manchester Apollo enjoying banter with the crowd which brought some light into what is a pretty melancholic audio output. The only thing this show may have benefitted from was a change of venue as the setup of the place did little to discourage what can only be classed as ‘knobheads’ from chattering and disrupting the flow of the acoustic set. Tickets weren’t cheap so it was a surprise to see so many people not paying full attention. Nevertheless, Vedder and a courageous Glen Hansard supporting (who at one point unplugged his guitar to FORCE everyone to shut up and pay attention) were on top form.

Terrorvision – Always welcome in my house.

Last year’s Gig of the Year award winners, Terrorvision toured again in 2012, and this was a show I was itching to get involved in. Last time round I hadn’t heard their brilliant new album Super Delux, but now fully prepped with all the lyrics ensconced in my music mind, I was all set to holler along for 90 minutes of pure pop rock fun. As with last year, T’vision put on the bounciest of shows, plastering grins on the faces of the most long in the tooth fans in attendance, with a 24-song annihilation of rainy Manchester misery.

Time for the big three, and it’s here where I start to feel really spoilt for choice. The last four years of me returning to regular gig-going has coincided with some of my all time favourite bands playing live, arguably at the peak of their powers, and it was one such band, Therapy? Who got me back into the world of gigs that short while ago.

Throughout my youth, Therapy? were the one band that myself and most of my friends all adored. We saw them in the most bizarre of settings, supporting Metallica at Donington in 1995 as well as at various shows in Bristol, Newport, Sheffield, and now in Manchester and following the release of the excellent A Brief Crack Of Light, Therapy? finally tore up stages across the country towards the end of 2012.

The beauty of seeing bands that have been knocking around for 20-odd years is that you’re guaranteed a fair few of your favourites from the greatest hits. Admittedly, this must be a nightmare for the bands themselves to try and balance alongside promoting their latest material, but nevertheless, you’re going to please most of the people most of the time, and it was incredible to witness Therapy? kick off their set with their cover of ‘Isolation’ by Manchester’s most miserable monkeys, Joy Division.

As they worked their way through pretty much every classic you’d want to hear as well as stunning renditions of their latest tracks, the show was another great example of bands seeming more relaxed these days with less pressure from record labels and industry idiots forcing them to work against their will. That’s not to say that the set wasn’t challenging and provocative, with a stark ‘The Buzzing’ providing a real stand-and-watch moment, the likes of which we hadn’t seen since the band first played ‘Diane’ live. But when Therapy? have raucous tunes like ‘Knives’ and the still box-fresh ‘Screamager’, you know you’re going to have a damn good night.

Therapy? – Unbeliever-ble

Another not dissimilar night makes my number two selection; the Jagermeister Tour at Bristol Academy. With tickets only £5, the show sold out with only headliners Skindred and support (yes, them again) Therapy? announced for the bill. Fortunately, I had locked in my tickets despite not even liking the ragga-metal headliners, and so when Black Spiders and Turbowolf were named as the other supports I was grinning like a Cheshire Cat chomping on a particularly tasty piece of cheese.

The ‘Wolf on this night, playing their hometown, really threw down the gauntlet for all that followed with a mesmerising show of eccentricity and musical genius. It’s still astonishing to think where these guys have got to in a relatively short period of time, and it’s a credit to them that their single album (and couple of EPs) are still so listen-able after a few hundred spins.

Black Spiders hadn’t let me down in 2011, and as this tour was a bit of a one off for them in 2012 other than a handful of festival appearances, they really seemed to turn it up to 11, if that’s even possible after some incredible shows the previous year. Slaying the crowd with as much guitar-aloft fun as anyone could really handle, the Spiders got the place jumping at a pretty early hour, proving that the crowd didn’t need copious shots of the sponsor’s finest beverage to get themselves moving.

It’s tricky to choose between Therapy?’s two shows I saw this year but as this one was the first time I’d seen them in about three years, plus the fact the previous two bands were so strong, this one nicks it. Right down the front with many like-minded long-term fans, the new material on display was perfectly played and appreciated. ‘Teethgrinder’ and ‘Die Laughing’ are utterly timeless tracks, whilst ‘Get Your Dead Hand Off My Shoulder’ felt like it was an old buddy of ‘Exiles’ with the two intertwining brilliantly mid-set.

The Radio Nasties
The Radio Nasties – Wireless wonders.

It’s testament to Turbowolf, Black Spiders and Therapy? that this show can make number two in my list when I didn’t even stick around to see the headliners. As mentioned before, I’ve never really been a fan of Skindred so I decided to go on a double date with local rock urchins The Radio Nasties who were also playing that night. Supported by the great Calimocho Club, the second gig of the night was almost as good as the first, making that single time in Bristol one of the best nights of my life.

And so, onto number one. And it’s a late entry, albeit a completely warranted one.

Each year, Ginger, lead singer of The Wildhearts (along with numerous other side projects and experimental fuck arounds), plays a late-December Birthday show. Always in London, every year I can be found umm-ing and ah-ing about going, but the proximity to the festive season and the distance to travel usually prove prohibitive. Until this year. This year, Ginger was reforming The Wildhearts. No longer willing to miss out, I scarpered from work and headed down to the Big Smoke.

Getting to London and hot footing it across to Hampstead to check in to my hotel, the excitement was incredible. I probably hadn’t seen The Wildhearts since my Bristol years, when the band were working through the ‘phuq’ album with a certain amount of pop-punk swagger which saw them make numerous appearances on Top Of The Pops whilst bothering the midriff of the Top 40. Legging it across to the Kentish Town Forum, it hit me just how much of a draw Ginger and the band still were. The queue snaked for an eternity, and the prospect of waiting in it on a chilly London night wasn’t that enticing, but then something magical happened which summed up the whole night: A random guy further forward in the queue piped up with “do you want a beer mate, it’s a long queue.”

Taken aback, (this was in our faceless capital after all), I accepted the Red Stripe of Generosity and thought for a second it must have been some trick. Had he taken a shine to my tail and decided to break open the rohypnol early doors? No, the guy had spare beers and he was willing to dish them out knowing that at this particular gig, they were going to go to a good home.

Ginger Wildheart – Man of the Year?

It’s a massive credit to Ginger that despite us all living in a world of crusading keyboard warriors with a selfish blame culture, the guy can still create an on- and off-line community who exist solely for the pleasure of true, independent music. The Forum was completely sold out. People were actually joking in the queue rather than moaning about the weather, and during the gig, various strangers were going to the bar to get water for all and sundry, not just themselves. I don’t think I have ever experienced such a positive vibe from a scene that can on frequent occasions disappear up its own backside due to willy-waving bravado and drunken idiocy.

And then there was the music. As it was his birthday, Ginger saw fit to pull double duty and support himself. With a set culled from his brilliant solo output as well as the latest Hey, Hello! record, it was the perfect pre-celebration set up and the crowd were already getting well lubricated with the excitement of hearing ‘How I Survived The Punk Wars’ and ‘Swimwear’ live alongside the already-anthemic ‘Forget About It’ and a joyous cover of Cheap Trick’s ‘Surrender’.

And then onto the main event: The Wildhearts. It seems odd saying that the band were reforming, as CJ, Random Jon Poole and Ritch Battersby have all been playing with Ginger on his various electric and acoustic shows over the past couple of years. Nevertheless, this was still the first time the band had played under the moniker for a good three years and it seemed like they’d never been away as they hit an adoring crowd with ‘Nothing Ever Changes But The Shoes’,’TV Tan’, ‘Sick of Drugs’ and ‘Red Light Green Light’ without pausing for breath.

The blistering one-two of ‘Caffeine Bomb’ and ‘Suckerpunch’ still sound incredible live and guarantee a hell of a bouncy pit, whilst newer songs like Mazel Tov Cocktail are treated with just as much respect, proving just how consistent the band’s quality has been over the years.

An encore beginning with Nita Nitro can never be a bad thing, and after a break so that Ginger’s son Jake could present his old man with a cake and we could sing our best wishes to the frontman, it was time for a singalong-a-Vanilla Radio with the aforementioned Wildheart Jr strapping on a six string and playing along.

Continuing with the friends and family theme, a cover of The Cardiac’s ‘Is This The Life’ saw Ginger dabble behind the drums before resuming his rightful place front and centre for the closing salvo of Jason and the Scorchers’ ‘White Lies’, the timeless ‘My Baby Is A Headfuck’ and ideal finisher ‘I Wanna Go Where The People Go’.

As the confetti cannons exploded around us, we all knew we’d been a part of something pretty special. Ginger claims that 2012 was his year of recording and that 2013 will be his true year of touring but considering how much time I spent in the company of his recorded output as well as bopping around like a smacked up budgie at his shows in 2012, I’m going to be spoilt rotten this year, that’s for sure.

A fitting end to an incredible year of live music, and one that proved how much truly astounding new and live music there is out there if you just get off your backside and look for it.