As jubilee bunting fluttered in the gales and litter became mashed up underfoot on the rainy streets of Manchester, it could only mean one thing; we were into summer festival warm-up season and what better way to get started than by popping down to the Student Union to check out erstwhile Wildheart and certified Geordie legend, Ginger.
Seemingly forever in a cycle of touring and recording, I was as excited as ever to see the flame-haired one tear up the stage, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years from Ginger and Wildhearts gigs, it’s that you should get down early to catch some hidden gem support acts, and this night was no different.
Kicking off proceedings were Baby Godzilla, taking the show quite literally to the crowd in a ferocious display of thrashy punky hardcore. These guys are obviously unhinged in a very, very good way and they’re surely going to be tearing up bigger venues in the not too distant future. Get them out with someone like Feed The Rhino and crazy times cannot fail to be far behind. Following the ‘zilla were South Wales mob The Guns who did a great job of encouraging the masses to get involved with some decent riffs and growing hooks. Again, a tasty little prospect, and it’s always great to see some hard-working bands being given an opportunity by some of the genre’s older hands.
Both support slots were suitably successful at warming us all up, but time still seemed to fly by, probably due to the excitement of the arrival of the main man. The guy who had spent the earlier part of the night checking out both supports from the side of stage sound booth, showing his love and appreciation for all things ‘music’; Sir Ginger of Wildheart.
Accompanied by Chris Catalyst, ‘Random’ Jon Poole, Victoria Liedtke, Denzel and Rich Jones, Ginger stormed the stage and blasted straight into the yet-to-be-released-on-a-physical-shiny-disc-of-joy ‘Another Spinning Fucking Rainbow’ from the forthcoming Pledge Music triple album, 555%. Amazingly, the song was treated like an old friend and got the show off to an energetic start.
A bouncy Girls Are Better Than Boys and Mazel Tov Cocktail made sure the momentum stayed high and when Anyway But Maybe arrived, the crowd were as deafening as the riffs. Sonic Shake reminded everyone how much they wanted another Silver Ginger 5 record, whilst Taste Aversion and Confusion showed a huge amount of promise as future live favourites despite, again, being taken from Ginger’s future 555% release.
I’m always a sucker for You Took The Sunshine From New York which saw the band as harmonious as ever, and by slotting Do The Channel Bop into the encore, the smiles across the room were growing by the second.
Rounding things off with Inglorious (despite requests for yet another newie, Westward Ho!) the crowd took one last opportunity to go suitably apeshit, at THAT classic, timeless riff.
I saw Ginger at Ashton’s Witchwood last year on his acoustic tour, as well as at the back-end of 2011 at Moho Live and in all honesty, the shows just get better and better. The band seemed even tighter than ever, and Ginger has always been a pro at connecting with the crowd, as proven by the banter on his Grievous Acoustic Behaviour CD and as witnessed by anyone who’s been to see him live.
This time out, Ginger seemed even more engaging, laughing and joking throughout the show and happily responding to questions and other heckles. He seems to be a refreshingly down to earth guy, even broaching the question as to why he hadn’t played in his hometown on this tour, firmly blaming clueless promoters who don’t know a good thing when they see one. After this show, I can honestly say that their loss was our gain.
The rest of the band also kept the crowd going with excitable performances, beer provision (thanks for the Stella, Chris!) and suitably madcap antics (Random Jon) to make the show a brilliant all-round night.
Surprisingly though, the set list didn’t feature anything from P.H.U.Q. (still a favourite album of mine), and only one track from Earth Vs, but maybe that’s the point of these ‘solo’ shows; they really do prove what a weighty set of songwriting bollocks Ginger has outside of the band in which he first found fame.
He quite rightly throws a few (mainly later era) Wildhearts tunes into the set, but the majority of tracks that are hammered out are taken from Ginger’s equally impressive, and actually quite musically diverse solo/collaboration discography.
Overall, the night was a great success. A largely knobhead-free crowd (always a bonus), some energising support and a typically strident effort from Ginger’s entire band ensured that a bunch of people who were probably old enough to know better traipsed home in the rain sweaty and with a big grin on their suckerpunched faces.
Following on from my Album of the Year Award, and keeping to the musical theme, next up is the Affs Gig of the Year Award for the best acts to tread the boards throughout the past 12 months. As a 2011 resolution, getting out and about to see more live bands was always going to be an enjoyable one, so it came as a pleasant surprise that so many amazing groups chose to tour in recent months. It truly was an eclectic mix of old favourites that I hadn’t seen in years, bucketlist bands who I was watching for the first time, groups suggested to me by friends, and a few local and random acts thrown in for good measure.
I’ve always been a huge fan of live music so trying to see as wide a variety as possible in 2011 was always the plan. My first ever gig was way back in January 1994. The band? Manic Street Preachers at Bristol Anson Rooms, at a time when the group were nothing short of dangerous but imperious and Richey James was fortunately still with us. I think this event also saw me consume my first ever pint (Fosters, natch) and this double virginity loss really did have a massive impact on my life.
In the years that followed, my friends and I would be ferried about by our parents to venues across the South West, and sometimes we’d brave crossing the Welsh border to Newport Centre, or go on a field trip to Donington to scoff death burgers and get in on some metal festival action. Gigs were cheap (Ash for £5 just as they were on the cusp of greatness) and so was transport (the parents seemed to enjoy it. Maybe).
Eventually though, we went our separate ways to University and I didn’t really hook up with that similar a crowd taste-wise whilst there, so I missed out on a good few years of gigging.
When I then moved to the North West, I didn’t really know too many folk who wanted to attend gigs that veered towards the heavier side of the musical spectrum so I became content in CDs, cinema-going and video games.
Then something just changed. A couple of friends started playing in bands and as soon as I went to various venues to cheer them on, the bug bit back. I loved the mustiness of old man boozers, the creaking, sticky floorboards of venues that should probably be condemned. The whole friendly atmosphere of the scene hadn’t changed that much since I’d been away, only this time, I was hearing this stuff with musically mature ears.
And so here we are taking a look back on 2011, a golden year for live music, and one so crammed full of top quality concerts, it seems churlish not to give a few shout outs. First off I thought I’d throw in a couple of surprise packages. I’m so grateful and lucky to have friends willing to invite me along to new gig experiences, and through them I caught both My Morning Jacket and Twin Atlantic in 2011.
I didn’t really have any idea how big the ‘Jacket were around the globe, but I was truly impressed with their show. Despite some lengthy tunes, they kept an obviously very knowledgeable crowd entertained throughout, and have some serious songwriting skills on display.
Twin Atlantic were pitched to me as “an indie gig” so I was a little surprised at how heavy these guys can get. Both the ‘Jacket and Twin Atlantic seem to have massively strong and supportive fanbases and it reminds me of how things were 20-odd years ago, with perennial live favourites just failing to make it into the mainstream British consciousness. Nevertheless, TA pulled out a stormingly energetic set and I’m going to be looking out for them next time they swing by.
I also got to see some bands in 2011 that I’ve loved for years but never got round to seeing when I was still able to jump around properly, namely Kyuss, Queens of the Stone Age, The Lemonheads, My Dying Bride and The Smashing Pumpkins. The Lemonheads in particular, through being down the front on the barrier and watching them plough through the whole of It’s A Shame About Ray was a true 2011 privilege. Kyuss, QOTSA and the Pumpkins all also proved, despite the line-up changes, that they can still throw down with the best of them and produced three great nights out which left me exhilarated and smiling all the way home.
As far as guilty pleasures go I also managed to nail down two childhood faves this year; Kylie (look, I got some free tickets!) and Roxette. I’d recommend anyone goes to see Kylie simply for the camp spectacle. The little minx put on a great show and I may even have sung along a couple of times. No sequins were harmed in the writing of this blog.
I loved Roxette when I was approaching my teenage years and I will unashamedly say that I also loved every minute of their show at Wembley Arena in 2011. It was great to have them back after a few difficult years, proving beyond doubt that they’ve written some of the greatest pop songs of the past couple of decades.
Special mention should also go to three bands I saw this year (on more than one occasion) who feature among their ranks some good friends of mine. First of all, Latitudes are a great post, well, everything band, with some spiralling sonicscapes that take on more and more meaning as they burrow deeper into your brain. Even in small venues with slightly ropey sound, Latitudes can really crush with their masterful riffing and technique. Definitely one to watch, and a new album in 2012 should see them get the recognition they deserve.
Also getting a commendation for services to live music are Hopes. They’ve only been around for about a year, but they worked their backsides off in 2011, playing all sorts of venues to get their ‘core songs out to the masses, and they were rewarded with a support slot for Feed The Rhino and a glowing mention in Kerrang! because of it. These lads will really shine more and more when given opportunities and they always throw every last ounce of energy and passion into each of their performances. A festival or two in 2012? Here’s Hopes-ing.
Also in this category are Turbowolf. I’ve written before about how brilliant these Bristol good-timers are and through a selection of 2011 gigs they grew in stature before my eyes, culminating in a superb headlining set at Alter Ego. Their album is one of my top picks of last year and surely they must also be en route to a storming 2012.
Three gigs that came very close to breaking into my chart toppers of the year came courtesy of Ash, Trivium and Mark Lanegan & Isobel Campbell. It seemed to be a bit of a 2011 trend that bands were getting back together to perform classic albums in their entirety, and Ash decided to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Free All Angels. It’s not actually an album of theirs that I own but the prospect of seeing the guys again after what must be 16-odd years spurred me on to pop down to the Ritz. I certainly wasn’t disappointed, especially when they banged out an awesome Kung Fu encore. As close to an Affs Happy Place that you can get.
Mark Lanegan & Isobel Campbell would definitely have been in my top three were it not for the venue spoiling things a little. Playing in Manchester Cathedral suited their soulful duets beautifully, but unfortunately, towards the end of the gig a fire alarm was set off by some tramps with a toaster in the Cathedral’s homeless project area. The show was abruptly halted mid-song much to the bemusement of Lanegan, but never restarted and it made for a disappointing trip home. Tickets for Mark and his band are already on the 2012 noticeboard so we’ll see if he can make next year’s podium instead.
Finishing off the chasing pack, and this one was definitely a strong fifth place for the year, came a surprisingly excellent Defenders of the Faith tour. Set up by Metal Hammer as a showcase for the brightest and best in metal both new and old, the gig saw Rise To Remain prove a few points to the masses whilst both Trivium and In Flames showed me what I’d been missing out on by only casting a brief ear to their output in recent years. But it was Ghost who really stole the show for me. Having already heard their incantations on disc, they were even more brilliant, spooky, funny, and, overall, massively entertaining live. Playing the majority of their album helped as each song was so familiar, but even so, as a new band in a big venue, to a big crowd, they performed with absolute skill. I can’t wait for a headline tour from these ghouls in the next 12 months.
Okay, it’s top four time and this has probably been harder to pick than my album of 2011.
Volbeat are a surprise inclusion in this list but a deserved one. The Danish crew have been around for a while, and in all honesty I only bought a ticket for their show because Black Spiders were supporting. Whilst the Spiders were typically brilliant despite a condensed set after some major sound issues, it was Volbeat who really converted me that night. Their latest album, Beyond Hell/Above Heaven is a complex concept CD but still hugely accessible and the amount of clued up fans that night really surprised me but also added massively to the vibe and enjoyment of the show. Volbeat play with a smile on their faces and passion in their sweat-drenched brows which meant they tore out everything that any fan could’ve wished for and more.
There’s a tie for third place, with Affs Album of the Year Award winners Black Spiders drawing with, er, themselves. I really can’t choose between their sets at Bristol and Manchester on their tour with Viking Skull (legends themselves) and Turbowolf. Imagining that this time last year I had never heard anything by Black Spiders seems absolutely alien to me when I think of where these boys are in my life now. The Croft gig in Bristol was sweaty and jam-packed, and the Spiders threw everything into it. When we got home that night, we probably played the album back to back at least three times, reliving the experience over a few beers. Knowing what to expect when they hit Manchester only meant that I enjoyed it even more. I was screaming along with the best of them to Kiss Tried To Kill Me and the Spiders are not going to be playing small-ish venues like the Roadhouse again, believe me.
Not so surprisingly being given the runner-up award is Ginger. I’ve seen the guy on numerous occasions over the years and he never fails to show his love for live music and his fans each and every time. I’m cheating a little as I saw Ginger do both acoustic and electric sets this year but I really can’t choose between them, so I’m going to class them both together as one super set of true awesomeness, and give him the runner-up in Gig of the Year. It’s my Awards, I can do what the hell I like.
Ginger, for those who aren’t aware, is/was the lead singer and guitarist for The Wildhearts, a mid to late 90s band who could often be seen rocking Top Of The Pops when they snuck into the Top 40 by some sort of pop-rock-punk back door. Ginger has put together numerous side-projects over the years and never stops churning out amazingly catchy, quality music supported by a tremendous gaggle of associates. 2012 will also see him release an ambitious Pledge Music project, a triple CD set funded by fans, in aid of both the joy of music but also for Save The Children who will benefit from 10% of funds made. The project is currently over 450% of its target, showing the love people have for this man.
Anyway, let’s talk about Ginger’s live activities. First off, his acoustic show is probably one of the more raucous “stripped down” gigs you’re ever likely to attend. A true singalong with loads of audience banter and an atmosphere more akin to a gathering of friends than a gig. Ginger has the choruses to keep up with the best of them, from the anthemic Geordie In Wonderland through to the classic Loveshit, all of which sounded amazing in an acoustic setting.
As for his Moho Live electric gig, Ginger seemed on even better form, with a huge band and a set list for the ages. The place went absolutely crazy for I Wanna Go Where The People Go, just as they did for Cheers. Who’d have thought that an 80s TV theme tune would’ve featured at my second favourite gig of the year? That’s the power that Ginger possesses, and he thankfully shows few signs of slowing down any time soon.
But this year’s winners are Terrorvision. I probably saw these Bradford oiks more times than I’d care to remember between 1994 and 1997, but they always had a special place in my heart. I spotted they were playing Manchester Academy in 2011 and so grabbed the opportunity to go, hoping they weren’t going to play much beyond their first three records, and that it’d be a pleasant enough trip down memory lane. As the gig got closer, I heard about a new CD they’d just put out, but I didn’t buy it in case it was more akin to their later output, of which I was never the biggest of fans.
When I got to the venue, I was glad to see a good selection of old(er) fans, all of whom probably never dreamed they’d be watching the ‘Vision whilst holding down a steady job, but here we all were, ready to neck a few pints and sing along to the classics.
I was also pleased to see that Gentlemans Pistols were supporting. They weren’t a band that I’d heard before, but I knew ex-Carcass legend Bill Steer was spanking his plank for them, so I got down the front early on. And what a great noise those boys made. Tossing out retro-tinged riffs like Sabbath had never gone away, the Pistols made a lot of new fans that night and were the perfect set up for what was to follow.
When Terrorvision hit the stage, grown men were hugging and practically crying with joy at the prospect of these boys strutting their stuff again after all these years. In fact, I dare anyone not to smile when Tony Wright pops on stage and grins like a Cheshire cat eating a particularly enormous piece of cheese, his boyish charm still prevailing in the face of (admittedly not that much more than my) age. Even with Shutty off enjoying his drummer retirement home and new sticksman Cam Greenwood being young enough for the rest of the band to have birthed him themselves, this was a group 157% at the top of their game.
What Terrorvision did that magical night was to throw in new songs alongside old hits like Pretend Best Friend as if all of them came from one SuperCD of pop-rock genius. People were hollering along to the choruses of the new songs like Pushover, embracing them like they were old friends. Sales of the new CD at that gig must have been massive, and I’m proud to say that the album I bought that night has barely left my stereo/generic digital music player since.
The fact that Discotheque Wreck on this night is my favourite single live performance of 2011 says a lot, especially when it had so many rivals for this accolade with Middleman, Enteralterego and Alice, What’s The Matter? all making an appearance during the show. It also says a lot for Terrorvision’s skill as entertainers that these songs sound as fresh and exciting as they did so many years ago.
So, a band that were a live favourite of mine nigh-on 20 years ago are my top tip of this millennia too. Not too surprising you might think? Well, Terrorvision had to work their socks off that night to get everyone, collectively, back into that unique mood, and that is exactly what they did. Well done Terrorvision, one of the great saviours of live music and my Gig of the Year 2011.