Jailed Cells – Is It The End For Mobile Phones At Gigs?

Phones At A GigIt’s nothing new that people like to take photos and videos at gigs to remind them of the good times they’ve had. Often it’s simply an “I was there” willy wave but for some bands it’s a way of getting far cheaper publicity, promo shots and footage they can use to get themselves out to a wider audience. But is all that about to change? It’s been a rising trend in recent months, but as the debate has now reached these shores, it’s interesting to look at the increase in mobile phone bans at gigs.

Chris Rock and Jack White are proponents of the Yondr system for their shows in the UK this year. For those unaware, this sees punters give their phones over on the door to pouch-toting staff who gleefully pop your device in a lockable sleeve. Said sheath will only unlock after the show unless you take your device to a designated “phone zone” during the show. Obviously these artists are doing this to protect their material as well as everyone else’s experience but is this really the right way to go about ensuring a show is as enjoyable as possible?

I’ve posted a fair amount on Twitter about gig etiquette over the years; I’ve asked people to pipe down at acoustic shows a few times, much to their displeasure, for the crowd and the artists’ benefit and I’ve been stuck behind people who insist on filming pretty much a whole gig on their clapped out Nokia so they can be the first to put their fuzz-o-vision on YouTube afterwards. But really, locking a person’s phone away? I’m in no way a human rights activist but has it really come to this, that people need their phone to be physically prohibited for them to enjoy an outing? On the flip side, those protesting the ban by saying ‘what if there’s an emergency’ need to remember the early 90s when there weren’t any mobiles to take to gigs. And let’s face it, how many ACTUAL emergencies do you get on your mobile anyway? It’s like when people drop their phone down the khazi and go straight on Facebook to tell EVERYONE they can reach them on there if they need to. Anyone ever bothered? Nope. But I digress…

Yondr sleeve
The Yondr ‘solution’

I go to a fair few gigs by myself and I review them too. During the show I’ll take notes on my phone, always out of anyone’s line of distraction and always with brightness down to its lowest setting. No offence promoters, but if you start deciding I can’t take my phone in with me, and you want me to keep that much info in my brain after 39 years of muddlement, my reviews probably won’t be that thorough. I guess I could take a pen and notebook in but presumably ‘sharp’ objects would be frowned upon too. Also, in an age where we’re trying to reduce “drink culture” in the UK, is removing a slightly less harmful distraction between bands really going to help? Again, if you’re flying solo at a gig, what do you do with yourself in the 30-40 minutes in between sets other than a quick check of Twitter here, a move on Words With Friends there; probably better for you in the long run than a couple of extra pints.

So what is the solution? As ever it appears to be education. Schools and parents need to teach people from an early age that technology is a tool to take advantage of but also to respect. Encourage people to look up from their screens, and enjoy life through their own eyes and consider those around them, just like you would if puffing on an e-snout or dropping your litter in the street; there are much wider issues here around respect, dignity and common decency than just locking away a mobile for a couple of hours at a time. It might be slightly rose-tinted, but before the current boom, this worked for those who carried ‘compact’ cameras to shows with them; in typically British fashion a sign stage left or right simply stating “No Flash Photography” would be enough to put off even the most ardent of proto-David Baileys out of respect for the artists and fellow concert-goers.

To be fair, the current Yondr phase seems to mainly involve American acts and comedy ones at that and I’d say that theatre audiences in the UK are largely well-behaved when it comes to not recording shows. I saw staff at The Lowry Theatre tap a front row patron on the shoulder to remind them of the rules at a recent Bruce Dickinson spoken word show and that acted as enough of a deterrent to stop others following suit, but for how long will this be enough? And what about Smartwatches? I can do all my texting through that if I I like, do I need to take that off too? What if someone simply states they don’t have a mobile phone upon their person, will searches now class an iPhone in the same contraband category as booze and weaponry?

Needless to say, there are plenty of questions left unanswered around this topic, and we probably won’t find a one-size-fits-all solution. If I’ve got one thing to say to artists and gig promoters though, it’s to maybe focus on the real issues around rip off ticket resellers and snide merch hawkers before targeting actual fans who have paid with their hard-earned cash to do, within reason, whatever they see fit to do once they enter a live arena.

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.

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.

2012 – A Year In Live Music

Ginger and Friends – Wild and wonderful.

As winter drags on and the high street becomes as empty as a Celebrity Big Brother contestant’s skull, it’s about time we all got a little reminder of some of the nicer things in life. One such treasure is the power that live music has to spellbind and dazzle, and so, a little later than planned, it’s time to dip back into the past 12 months and look at who took the spotlight in 2012.

Last year actually saw a bit of a slow start to my live music outings. Fortunately I had some unfinished business with a certain Mr Mark Lanegan following the rather premature end to his last gig, so I didn’t hesitate to go and check out his dusky blues once more. A croaky groove-laden set was a direct contrast to his previous show with the angelic Isobel Campbell, but an raw, intense show was perfect to get 2012 up and running.

Livening things up later that same week were Black Stone Cherry and Rival Sons at the main Manchester Academy. Being a relatively new fan of BSC, I was pretty unaware of the level of following they had, but a hot, sold-out gig put paid to that. Some may criticise BSC for mawkishness and clichéd lyrics, but the band certainly know how to throw together a catchy tune and tore up the Academy, rightly receiving a lot of love from the crowd in the process. Even support stars Rival Sons were a nice surprise, bringing a Led Zep aura to proceedings. If you want to know more about their output, you may just want to read my traditional Album of the Year blog, coming soon to an Internet near you…

Anyway, continuing the year in gigs, my next stop was more bluesy rock and roll by another band I’d only recently come across; Graveyard. Sometimes you just can’t beat a bunch of hairy Scandinavians in a sweaty Manchester Roadhouse and throughout a set mainly comprised of tracks from their recent ‘Hisingen Blues’ release, hair and leather went flying in appreciation.

One gig that I was really looking forward to in 2012 was Helmet. MTV darlings of, ooh, 20-odd years ago, Page Hamilton and crew reminded me of some great times in my life watching loops of Beavis & Butt-head and Rock Am Ring (when decent bands used to play it) and rocking out to what was deemed to be hardcore in those days (emo kids take note). Although only Hamilton remained from the band’s classic line-up, the opportunity to witness the legendary album ‘Meantime’ in its entirety (albeit backwards) was too good to turn down, especially in an intimate venue like Sound Control. A typically ‘Manchester’ crowd took a while to get into it, presumably struggling to recall the intricacies of each song through some early-90s brain fug, but as the favourites started to flow, the venue began to shake and reaching a pre-encore crescendo of In The Meantime, everyone was grinning with joy. Special mention at this one should go to Fighting With Wire, a support band who made people take notice and may also feature in another award I’ll be writing about soon…

From the more current metal scene, my next foray out to deaf school was to catch Parkway Drive. I’m not going to pretend I’m fully involved in their scene and seeing the amount of 14 year olds outside the gig, I really didn’t want to start, but I was a big proponent of ‘Deep Blue’ so I thought I’d see what the band were like live. Strangely, it was the older, less familiar songs that I enjoyed more and although I did a bit of a ‘stand at the back like Dad’ at this one, it was fun to see the surfer Aussie guys in Parkway get so vigorously involved in their performance.

Andrew WK
Andrew WK getting wet.

Next up was Andrew WK. I must admit I had wondered what on Earth was ruining the entire music scene when his party ‘classic’ ‘I Get Wet’ landed back in 2001, but I was lured along to the gig solely because my old muckers Turbowolf were supporting. It was great to see the ‘Wolf on a stage the size of the Academy’s and they never fail to turn a few heads even in the most stubborn of crowds.

When Andrew WK arrived on stage I really couldn’t believe the response that greeted him. Originally planned to be playing the 500 capacity Club Academy, ticket demand had ensured a sell-out in the near 2500 person main Academy and EVERY SINGLE ONE of them was there to party until their head fell off. Joyous, utterly ridiculous scenes could be witnessed throughout what was one of the more bizarre gigs I attended in 2012.

By this point, I had seen Twin Atlantic a fair few times. Rising stars on BBC 6 Music, the Scots had travelled the well-worn road of tiny pubs and clubs and this time were hitting one of my favourite venues in Manchester, The Ritz. As with Andrew WK, this was a show that proved just how passionate a North West crowd could be, every word being sung by the audience in a copycat ScotManc brogue.

New Order
New Order – back home.

A slightly more random one popped up next when an old friend asked me if I wanted to go and see one of his favourite bands, New Order. Again, I’d never really been a huge fan, but who DOESN’T know Blue Monday (and World in Motion, but despite my wishes, they were never going to wheel that one out). It was a great show, if missing a certain Peter Hook, with the band seeming tight and well-connected with their home-town crowd of people old enough to know better.

Heading back towards my bread and butter, the next show I saw came courtesy of perennial gloomsters Paradise Lost. The Yorkshire miserablists had recently churned out the crunching ‘Tragic Idol’ album which I immediately became a huge fan of, and having not seen the band live for a good 10 or 15 years, I wasted little time in getting involved with new material and old alike. Again, the crowd was disappointingly stand-offish at first, but after a few sardonic quips from Nick Holmes, it started to feel like a big doom party with old friends.

Baby Godzilla
Baby Godzilla – ruddy well dangerous.

Last year saw one man really take the music industry bull by the horns, flip it around and give it a damn good rodgering and that man was Ginger. As you may recall, I mentioned last year that the Wildhearts frontman’s fan-funded Pledge Music triple album was due in 2012, (and more of that in a future blog), but that didn’t stop him from touring his backside off in the past two years as well. The first occasion I saw him in 2012 (with the maniacally brilliant Baby Godzilla in support) was another great party atmosphere as his reliable supporting troupe of hugely talented musicians, and, more importantly, friends, were as witty and musically excitable as ever. A great show, and it is testament to Ginger himself that people were disappointed with the lack of some songs which weren’t even out on CD at that point.

Another more left-field musical venture came in the summer when a certain Mr Hugh Laurie played a select few shows and I was lucky enough to get very decent tickets. Playing songs from his blues album ‘Let Them Talk’, Laurie was mesmerising to watch, not just with his obvious self-taught musical skill but also because his between-song japes reminded you of that loveable fool from the Blackadder and Fry & Laurie days. Great fun, hampered only by a weird crackling noise that reared its head a few too many times.

Ministry – Let Uncle Al tell you a little story.

The next show to report on comes with a tinge of sadness as it was the last time I’ll ever see metal guitarist virtuoso Mike Scaccia live after he sadly passed away in December, but as a tribute, his performance with Ministry was nigh-on perfect. My ears were well and truly destroyed by a the industrial legend’s finest material collated from the past 20 years, and although frontman Al Jourgensen seems to have an air of Ozzy about him these days following years of drink and drug abuse (plus the small matter of being clinically dead on more than one occasion), Uncle Al still turned out a malevolently delightful performance.

Off to Bristol next, as I made a special trip to the fatherland to go power metal crazy to DragonForce. I’d been a bit disappointed with the departure of old vocalist ZP, and the new album hadn’t grabbed me as immediately as I’d hoped but the show at the Academy was still such good fun, it really didn’t matter. New singer Marc Hudson threw himself in at the deep end and made a good fist of things, and as the beer flowed (helped by a comedy support slot from pirate metallers Alestorm) the guitar wizardry became ever more impressive. DragonForce can also be commended for well and truly drinking everyone under the table in the boozer post-gig.

I had bought tickets to see Trivium following a storming showing at the Metal Hammer tour in 2011, so due to a date clash, I decided to travel further afield to catch Turbowolf on their first headline tour. It also gave me an opportunity to visit one of the homes of metal, Nottingham Rock City and so I hopped aboard the rock and roll express straight from work one night, full of excitement and train station lager. Quickly checking in to the hotel round the corner from the venue, I got to Rock City in time to see support act Black Moth, and I was so, so glad I did. These guys are going to be BIG. Fusing female vocals with some downright filthy riffs, the Moth are already quite rightly getting some mainstream airplay and I can’t wait to see them on their own tour. Not only that but they’re bloody nice people too as I found out when chatting to them at the merch stand post-gig.

Turbowolf & Black Moth
Turbowolf & Black Moth – Animal antics.

Soon it was time for the ‘Wolf, and oh how these guys go from strength to strength. Not only does every single track off their debut album sound as incredible live as it does on shiny disc, the performances they throw together every night can’t help but get a happy crowd launching themselves about the place like demented rubber bands. They’ve got all the tools, great musicianship, banter, their own genre, a rack of excellent cover songs, stage prop stolen straight from Spinal Tap, check, check, check, check, check. In no way were Turbowolf over-awed by headlining their own tour either and I had such a good time watching both bands that night I sold my Trivium tickets for the following Monday just so I could go and do it all over again in Manchester.

Later on in the year, with no new album in sight, Twin Atlantic played another show in Manchester, this time selling out the main Academy. This seemed absolutely incredible, if deserved for a band who I first saw in Club Academy maybe 18 months ago, and seeing the impressive sight of the fans knowing all the lyrics at the Ritz was nothing compared to 2,500 screaming along on this night, and God only knows where these guys will end up next.

A night at the Apollo on a cold November evening soon followed as I ventured out in my thermals to see Nightwish. I’d loved the band since Oceanborn back in 1998, and I’d never got round to seeing them with vocalist Tarja, but two albums in, their new singer Anette Olzon was really impressing. I was more than a little concerned, therefore, that a couple of weeks before the tour, she parted ways with the Finnish metallers. Fortunately, in the shape of the statuesque Floor Jansen, the group had a more than able replacement, and the beauty of Slow, Love, Slow wasn’t lost one bit in a venue the size of the Apollo. the whole show was epically staged and also brilliantly supported by Peter Tagtgren’s Pain.

Last year, I’d seen Evan Dando lead The Lemonheads back out on the road to celebrate the anniversary of their seminal ‘It’s A Shame About Ray’ album. Thinking it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, I’d sold Machine Head tickets for the same night, so you could say I was surprised when I saw that he would be playing Manchester again, this time with former squeeze and frequent Lemonheads collaborator Juliana Hatfield in tow. With no support act, the two simply traded songs, duetted on others and once again gave us all a priceless, stripped down experience.

Turning it up a notch next were Rancid. I’m still pretty sure I saw Rancid either at Bristol Bierkeller or the Fleece following the release of ‘…And Out Come The Wolves’, but as this would’ve made it 17 years bereft, I thought it was time to go and see them again on their this-is-making-me-feel-old-now 20th anniversary tour. Supported by the legendary Anti-Nowhere League, the show was a worthy celebration of all that the US punks have achieved in the past two decades.

Fear Factory
Fear Factory – Rise of the old machines.

Last up, before we get to the real biggies of the year, was a joint effort by Devin Townsend and Fear Factory. I’d seen the latter, again, many many moons ago, but having never had the pleasure of mercurial metal mastermind Townsend in the flesh I couldn’t resist this one. The Factory were a tour de force of classic industrial metal, playing a long dual-headline set of many Demanufacture classics and a smattering of newer numbers. Townsend himself was an effortlessly charismatic frontman, bringing such good humour to some seriously heavy, crunching tracks culled from his diverse discography. The guy is a seemingly unstoppable musical maverick and the fact that he gets even better with age bodes well for the future of Martian puppet metal for years to come.

So that’s 2012 in live music. Well, not quite, as the eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed I’ve omitted some major shows from the past year. That can only mean one thing; it’s Affs Awards time…

Ticketing Websites – Creating A Racket From A Racket

This won’t be a surprise to anyone and it’s certainly nothing new, but it never fails to annoy and frustrate me when ticketing websites are less than clear and honest about just what we pay them our hard earned cash to do.

I used to buy gig tickets from the ticket counter of good old Our Price in Bristol. From there, you could not only get your ticket but have a chat with the staff about other upcoming local gigs and even buy coach travel to some of the further afield venues. It seemed to be a good, fair and relatively cheap experience and ensured that even as cash-strapped youngsters we could still get out to support live music. I remember specifically that a ticket to see Ash cost £5 with a 50p booking fee. A reasonable deal, I would say.

It appears that people do still go and buy tickets in person from ticket offices but only when the gig in question is likely to be a hotly sought after one. I’m guessing too that a fee is still charged to book tickets in this way, so for the sake of staying warm and dry and not having to queue for 12 hours, I don’t mind paying a bit more for the tickets to be bought online and posted to me, but some costs are just unfathomable.

The David Haye v Dereck Chisora fight at Upton Park is a current example. A top priced ticket is £220, in the block right next to the ring. This amount alone is staggering, but I guess that is down to the promoter to sort out. Standard post for this ticket is £2.75, but if you click on the expandable area next to the price, it informs you that of the £220, £20 is a “Service Charge.” Service Charge for what?!?! I’m not naive enough to think that a show doesn’t cost a lot to put on. There are a whole host of people who need paying from the performers, artists and sports stars all the way through to lighting technicians, stewards and drivers, but isn’t this covered in the ticket price? And if it is, are we paying £20 per ticket for someone to print a slip of cardboard (or sometimes just paper) and put it in an envelope with a label on it? Oh and don’t forget we’ll also be charged an additional £2.75 for a 60p First Class stamp.

It’s not just pricey for such large-scale events either. For a medium-sized gig at Manchester Apollo, (in this case Blink 182, picked at random) the price is £37.75, £32.50 per ticket, plus £5.25 in magical “fees”, plus £3.25 standard post. Hang on, why is it a different price to post this one out? Does it come in a gold-plated envelope? Maybe it is sealed with the tear from a unicorn? Perhaps only Ticketmaster themselves know the answer.

There’s also the excellent idea (in theory) of being able to get your tickets almost immediately with the print your own TicketFast service, whereby an email is sent to you with your ticket as an attachment. But wait! This costs £3.25 too!!! £3.25 to send an email?!?! Plus, it then costs you in paper, ink and effort to print the thing yourself. I’m really not sure why anyone would bother? Surely the ethical thing for ticketing companies to do would be to make this delivery option free?

There are also, of course, the “optional” extras such as Mondial Assistance Missed Event insurance at  £2.99 per ticket, which is massively highlighted, and I’m pretty sure used to be pre-selected so you had to click to remove it from your order. A bit like how Payment Protection Insurance used to be sold, and we all know what happened on THAT front. This insurance covers you in case you can’t make the gig for whatever reason, because obviously nobody ever tries to just sell on their tickets if they can’t attend now do they?

For years now, re-selling tickets on eBay has been condoned as mindless profiteering but there are a couple of issues with this statement. Firstly, gig tickets are generally non-refundable, so if you genuinely cannot attend for whatever reason, you have little choice other than to sell the ticket on, unless you’re with good old Mondial Assistance of course. And if the show is sold out and attracting high bids on eBay, you would be a fool not to try and get as much as possible for it.

Secondly, deliberately buying sought after tickets solely to sell on eBay only happens because people are willing to pay ridiculous sums for them.

Thirdly, touts are allowed to operate outside pretty much every gig and show I’ve ever been to, and these people offer ridiculously small amounts of cash for spare tickets, only to sell them on for massive profits. Again, they only operate because people are willing to use them, and venues appear to be unwilling to do anything about a transaction which according to ticket Ts and Cs is illegal.

To counteract the eBay issue, Ticketmaster appear to be running their own demand-based pricing model. I recently attempted to get tickets to Lady Gaga’s show in Manchester (I know, but I just adore her stance on masculine empowerment), and after numerous attempts I was surprised to be let through to a screen where I could buy some. Looking a bit more closely, these were listed as “Ticketmaster Official Platinum Tickets.” I hadn’t heard of this before so I read on. Ticketmaster describe these as “premium tickets to concerts and other events made available by artists and event providers through Ticketmaster. They give fans fair and safe access to some of the best seats in the house.” Hmmm, sounds like any other ticket that goes on sale through a ticketing agency doesn’t it? Only these are Platinum (capital P). Meaning they cost around SIX TIMES MORE than normal tickets.

I was utterly shocked by this. It seems that Ticketmaster are sub-contracting to themselves to sell the better seats and areas to gigs at even more of a profit, justifying it by claiming “Ticketmaster’s Official Platinum Tickets program enables market-based pricing (adjusting prices according to supply and demand) for live event tickets, similar to how airline tickets and hotel rooms are sold.”

Ticketmaster continue “The goal is to give the most passionate fans fair and safe access to the best tickets, while enabling artists and other people involved in staging live events to price tickets closer to their true value.” This translates as “We aim to rip off the most desperate fans by holding back the best tickets so that we can keep an eye on eBay prices and make just as much ourselves.” What an absolutely outrageous thing for the biggest ticket seller in the UK to do. And the nerve of them to call it “fair and safe” when in reality they are just as bad as any tout in the game only serves to increase my contempt for them.

It wasn’t that long ago that the Government looked into ticket pricing and fees, but the only result of that enquiry was to make it clearer how much of the ticket price was taken in fees. Companies continue to screw over those who are keeping the live music industry alive, and unfortunately they’ll continue to do so for as long as gullible idiots pay such extortionate prices to get their musical fix.

Leaky Headphones

Regular subscribers will know just how much other people get on my nerves, but when these same dullards fail to realise they are inflicting their misery on everyone else, it gets me even more riled.

One popular annoyance tactic amongst the mouthbreathing public transport population, seems to be either having awful headphones that pump more music into the air than into your ears, or to have the volume pumped up so high on your generic MP3 device that all and sundry can make out every lyric to your godawful dirge.

The latter is made even more odd considering recent campaigning from numerous musicians including Chris Martin, Gary Numan and Plan B to raise awareness of the dangers of loud music and the harsh reality that is tinnitus.

I admit that I like, on occasion, music to be loud. Sometimes ear-bleedingly so. But with headphones, I tend to not only get paranoid that others may not appreciate the latest Cannibal Corpse ditty, but also that my lug-holes may not be able to take such a consistent OTT battering.

From my first ever gig, I’ve gone through the whole temporary deafness thing on more occasions than I care to remember. For some reason I’ve mainly ended up on the left side of the venue at gigs and I will fully admit that the hearing in my left ear is probably a little worse than my right and that overall, my hearing is probably only 80% of optimum. Has it been fun getting to this point? Kind of. But I should definitely have done something about it before now.

I was bought some earplugs as a youngster by a concerned father but probably only used them once, thinking I was too cool to stand out there in a metal crowd with some pink nubs in my aural canals. Nowadays I see half the crowd (the old ones at the back, natch) wearing the things and maybe they realise too that the years of loudness are taking their toll.

Back on topic, I still fail to understand the mentality of the super loud “personal” music use on the bus, train and tram, as at those times of day I prefer to relax a little. It’s all well and good blocking out other people, but to have the music that loud must be deafening these people. Similarly, I think that I would be too paranoid about having my senses so impaired crossing roads if my music was up so loud. On a positive note, I have now concocted a way to amuse myself through these people; Leaky Headphone Shazam (TM). That’s right kids, you too can name and shame the particular generic R&B artists being belted out by simply letting Shazam do the identification work for you. It’s actually quite frightening that the music can be loud enough to make this possible from across a carriage, but thoughts of a worst offender league table have crossed my mind…and I’m looking at YOU Rihanna.

The old adage goes: “If it’s too loud, you’re too old.” This may be so, but I’d prefer to still be able to hear it at some volume rather than go deaf within the next ten years and hear nothing at all.

Too Old For This Shit? Gig going in 2012

In the past couple of weeks it’s all gone a bit crazy on the gig front again. There’s been a great set from Twin Atlantic, a classic nostalgia-fest from Helmet, another couple of shows from Turbowolf, including their hugely exciting Therapy? and Black Spiders shindig (a review of that one simply has to happen, so stay tuned), and a more modern metal experience with Parkway Drive.

It was probably at the Parkway Drive gig though that I realised just how times have changed, and maybe how old I feel. I’ve mentioned before that my first gig was the Manic Street Preachers back in 1994 and since then, I’ve taken in a couple of Doningtons as well as gigs from everyone as pop as Kylie to the indie rock of Ash all the way up to the sheer power and brute force of Pantera, Slayer and Deicide. Hundreds of gigs later, I couldn’t help look at the crowds of kids queuing outside the Academy for the 14+ Parkway Drive concert, with car-loads of dyed black hair and low slung trousers being dropped off by Dad outside and reminisce about the times when we would do the same.

We’d ask to be dropped off round the corner from the Bristol Bierkeller, but our parents seemed to take great pleasure in dropping us off right outside in front of the queue (I don’t blame them, call it payback for having to taxi us around). We’d then get in line, proudly showing off our latest band tees (usually a long sleeve under a short sleeve for extra warmth whilst queuing) and our tickets prepped for entry, ready to unleash some bouncing on an unsuspecting club floor. The next day at school, our necks and knees may have been in agony, but every bit of pain was worth it in order to fully enjoy some of the best bands of the era.

It was only about three years ago that I started up my gig-going again and realised how much I missed it. Hearing classic songs live with more mature (albeit slightly more deaf) ears is a joy, as is taking in new songs by old favourites and getting to see some exciting support bands (looking at you Gentlemens Pistols, Black Spiders, Rival Sons). So, while I’ve been away, have audiences and the overall gig-going experience changed? Yes and no.
Some gig prices actually don’t seem to be that different to how they were over a decade ago. Newport Centre gigs were always about £15 (from memory) and you can catch a decent band at the Academy nowadays for similar (if you ignore the Nazi Ticketmaster booking, handling, polishing and carrier pigeoning fees). Even better, the Jagermeister tour with Therapy? et al was deliberately pitched at retro prices (£5!) although fees still ramped up the actual price to nearer £8. Nevertheless, venues sold out, so the plan worked.

Crowds at gigs are also similar to how they were. I remember seeing Napalm Death and Carcass in about 1996, and you’d be able to spot the die-hard kids down the front, moshing away to their album du jour, whilst denim-clad 80s metallers towards the middle and back would clench a pint and nod along. All in all, the atmosphere was one of brotherhood and sheer unadulterated fun.

You’ll have to excuse me if I use the phrase “back in the day” at any point, but I can’t help but think that times have changed a little for the worst. Case in point number one: pint throwing. When I first went to gigs, pints came in glasses. Yes the odd one got smashed, but largely, there weren’t injuries due to idiotic behaviour, because people respected the person next to them, in front of them and behind them. Nowadays however, with the excuse that the pint pots are plastic, the things get lobbed about like nobody’s business and it’s rare to emerge from a gig without some suspicious sticky substance covering your shoulder. I’m not being over-sensitive about this, but Michael McKeegan from Therapy? narrowly avoided one (presumably thrown in good will?!?!?) and instead it coated loads of the band’s electrical equipment. Nice one. Well done mate. What do you get out of trying to ruin the gig for everyone by either taking out one of the band or their instruments? At a Volbeat gig I admonished someone for lobbing a plastic glass in between bands after it struck a lady square in the face. Over-reaction prompted by miss-placed chivalry? Maybe. But to me, it just seemed idiotic (what sort of heat of the moment excitement prompts you to do it in between bands?) and highlights the disregard that people have these days for manners. More importantly, pints cost a fortune at gigs nowadays, so it seems a hell of a waste.

Secondly; bags. Now I fully appreciate as I often go to gigs straight from work, I have on occasion had to take a bag to a gig with me. But once there, I’m either at the back out of the way or I make use of the cloakroom facility. This doesn’t seem to cross the mind of the hundreds of knapsack wearers constantly knocking me, my drinks and my acquaintances with their massive tortoise shells, with no apology. What on earth do they keep in there that is so precious they keep it on them, but not so valuable that they don’t think twice about risking its contents down the front? Idiots.

Thirdly, filming gigs. Although I felt the security staff at Bristol Academy were just on the wrong side of Hitler, I was amused by their efforts to stop one guy filming the Therapy? gig on his mobile. I kind of understand why people do this, it’s a similar “capture the moment” premise to taking a few snaps, but why do people insist on recording entire gigs? Not only is the sound and picture quality poor anyway, they also end up watching the gig themselves through a lens and annoying a hell of a lot of people behind them who can’t see through the sea of thrust-up camera phones.

Lastly, general violence. Yes I go to metal gigs, and yes I expect a bit of rough and tumble, but whatever happened to helping out your fellow mosher when he goes down and just having a bit of fun, rather than trying to flying karate kick everyone in sight or knock people out with flailing fists? I’ve probably seen more injuries at gigs in the past two years than I did at all the events I went to during the previous 15. Seemingly part-copycat and part macho competition, I wouldn’t mind it if those doing the ‘damage’ could actually see when their ‘opponent’ has obviously had enough. I’ve still gotten involved down the front in recent times, but only at gigs where people seemed of a similar mind-set (and okay, age) to me. But this was always how we made new friends back then, coming together for one thing; the joy of the music.

So, am I too old for all this? Should I just buy the tour DVD and shut the hell up? No. I appreciate that not every gig I used to go to featured fluffy bunnies being tickled in between songs, and I know times change with modern attitudes and trends very different to how they used to be. I just don’t think that we should completely ignore how things used to be and what made the rock and metal scene the one that could hold its head up high for its respect and unity.

Yes, I’ll continue to loiter more towards the middle these days (without the denim-wearing) to avoid most of the above problems with modern day gigs, but I just hope for the those in front of me that we’ll see a reversal of some of the negative attitudes that have crept into a genre that deserves far, far better.