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.

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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.