2015 – A Year In Review Part One: Album Of The Year

There’s definitely been something in the musical water in 2015. Not only have we seen astounding comebacks and long awaited débuts, there have been more surprises and leftfield brilliance this year than in any in recent memory.

As the media churns out list after list of 2015 retrospectives and 2016 Mystic Meg predictions, it’s time, dear reader, for your definitive guide to the best the past year has given us, with this, the build up to the Affs Award For Album Of The Year 2015.

God Damn - VulturesFirst up, as tradition dictates, are the honourable mentions and as far as débuts are concerned, 2015 was a hell of a year. God Damn have been touring constantly for the past few years and released a couple of EPs along the way, but their long-awaited first record proper, Vultures, finally materialised in 2015. A monstrously riffy animal, the album summed up everything that God Damn give so well to the live arena, namely incredible, distortion-fuelled filth with drums so loud you’d be forgiven for thinking the cast of Stomp were camped out in your brains.

A surprising success for such a new and young (they made me feel old anyway) band was False Advertising. I’d heard a bit about them on the Manchester scene (which itself is full of top quality up-and-comers who could well make 2016 a bit special) but I wasn’t quite prepared for their record which I was honoured to review for Daily Dischord. Grunge had been having a bit of a renaissance with bands like Kagoule also churning out 90s influenced slabs in 2015, but False Advertising took the basic dynamics of the genre and flipped them around as much as they do their instruments over 11 tracks of ear-wormingly good quality.

Biters were also making waves in 2015, signing with Earache and touring their backsides off to get their fun-time rock and roll out there to the masses. Filled with singalong insta-classics, Electric Blood treated the 21st Century with the contempt it deserves, taking us back to a 70s and 80s vibe full of party tunes and songwriting swagger.

Faith No More - Sol InvictusOf course the older hands in the business wouldn’t let these young upstarts take all the glory and second only to a new Tool record in the “Stuff we thought we’d never see” section of HMV came a new album by alt-rock godfathers Faith No More. Sol Invictus was typically eccentric and full of the staccato Mike Patton bile of yore, but somehow still came packaged with enough in the way of brilliant tunes to warrant its inclusion in many a “Best Of” list. Initially teasing the world with the oddball sounds of ‘Motherfucker’, FNM eventually let us have a listen to ‘Superhero’ and suddenly everything was right with the world once more. No mere nostalgia trip, Sol Invictus is Faith No More bang up to date and on utterly top form.

Eagles Of Death Metal also re-appeared to remind us just how to rock with a hip-wigglingly good batch of songs in the shape of latest opus Zipper Down. Jesse and Josh can write decent tunes with ease but their latest really showed the band at the peak of their powers, tightly structured yet loosely textured and chock full of bluesy dynamism.

More old stagers, Cradle Of Filth, saw a renaissance of sorts with Hammer Of The Witches. Filling out their sound once more after a couple of records of punky speed metal, Hammer… saw dark and light orchestration combining as well as it had on earlier outings such as Cruelty And The Beast, painting in the process a majestic canvas of devilish debauchery and addictive Maiden-esque guitar duels. Glorious modern metal from a band showing no signs of slowing down despite being on album number 11.

Ash - Kablammo!Old hands yet always young at heart, Ash also returned to former glory with their 2015 outing Kablammo! Initially launched as a Pledge Music campaign, it wasn’t long before the album was backed up by some impressive live shows where each pop punk anthem sounded full of sparky attitude. Opening gambit ‘Cocoon’ is a short blast of Tim Wheeler at his best whilst the lilting ‘Free’ is beautifully structured and fragile in a way Richey James used to make his forte. Admittedly Kablammo! is just pure unadulterated Ash but in what way is that ever a bad thing? Easily their best record since 1977 and a welcome addition to a great year for music.

The Scaramanga Six - The Terrifying DreamUnlucky not to make my Top 5 this year were The Scaramanga Six. This gang are consistently brilliant both live and on record and with 2015’s The Terrifying Dream they reached their absolute peak, writing Bond songs that will never be and sinister odes to just about everything under the sun whilst having their tongues firmly implanted in their cheeks. More people need to find out about this wonderful bunch of Machiavellian scamps and as soon as they do, things will take off in a big, big way. Until that time, check out their back catalogue and punch yourself repeatedly in the face for missing out for so long.

Ginger Wildhear - The Year Of The FanclubNo end of year round up is ever complete without him and it’s been a busy year once more for the workaholic Ginger Wildheart. Not only did he conclude his G-A-S-S fan club set, he also launched his Songs & Words book/DVD/tour, trotting round the country telling us all some classic rock and roll tales. Somehow he also found time to give us a Wildhearts PHUQ celebration tour, pull together a new Hey! Hello! record for release in 2016 AND produce tracks for other bands. Oh and then there was the small matter of picking out his preferred G-A-S-S tracks for the Year Of The Fanclub record. This was never going to be an easy task when there were 36 amazing songs to choose from, and the only reason this one didn’t quite make my Top 5 of the year is because a couple of my own favourites are missing. You’ve got to be ruthless doing this lark I’m afraid.

Nevertheless, what’s present  aboard this disc is a great summation of what Ginger is all about. There’s the folky ‘Pendine Incident’, the Courtney Love collaboration ‘Honour’ and the brassy ‘El Mundo (Slow Fatigue)’ not to mention a couple of personal ditties from his attempt to get in touch with Henry Rollins to some emotional thoughts about his relationship with his son. This is heart on sleeve stuff, as is always the case with Ginger, all wrapped up in a basket of absolute songwriting gold.

But there can be only, er, five…and for that, you’ve got to wait a little while longer…

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.