The Affs Awards 2013 – Gig of the Year

As is now customary, as well as my reviews that I post here and the missives I’ve been filing this year to Daily Dischord, I like to do what every other magazine/blog/back of a fag packet writer likes to do and tie up the previous year in some sort of ‘Top 5’ style bonanza. Fortunately for you, you’ve stumbled across the latest one, as I embark on the 2013 Affs Award for Gig Of The Year.

Andy Cairns
Acoustic therapy.

I’m going to cheat a bit with number four and combine two gigs into one. They’re my awards, I can do that, and the tenuous link is that they were both acoustic and saw frontmen more renowned for their band’s work than their solo stuff putting on remarkable intimate shows.

First up, Andy Cairns. If you know me or read this blog with any amount of regularity (my full review of the show is here), you’ll know that on balance, Therapy? are my favourite band of all time and I’ve been following their adventures since I was just a youngling. One thing I hadn’t seen though was this amount of T? songs in an acoustic format. Yes, there were a selection of stripped down Therapy? hits on the b-sides of the ‘Diane’ singles and the title track was given a suitably raw treatment when I saw them at Sheffield’s Leadmill in around 1998, but this was the first time that frontman Cairns had gone out on the road by himself. Perched on the stage in the small Ruby Lounge, Cairns combined well-known classics, hilarious banter and alternative versions of more familiar songs and gave us a night we really didn’t want to end.

The crowd was completely on point and although some of the singalongs may have wavered the more beer was drunk, the love of Therapy?‘s entire canon was more than evident.

Tony Wright
Tone alone.

The other acoustic show that deserves a place here came courtesy of Terrorvision frontman Tony Wright and Almighty/Thin Lizzy/Black Star Riders leader Ricky Warwick. Putting on a tour in-between other assignments, the opportunity to see the two play in such a way, in a small venue was again a delight. Tony showed some guitar playing skills as he banged out numerous Terrorvision classics, whilst Warwick delivered a blisteringly heartfelt but joyous set of everything he’s ever been involved with. Two great guys having as much fun as the crowd led to one of the definitive live experiences of the year.

Top three time and this one should be no surprise, it’s the 5th annual Ginger Wildheart Birthday Show. Last year, the equivalent show made it to number one in my list, and although once again proving to be an amazing experience, the gig was pipped to the post this time around.

Hey! Hello!
Well Hello there.

But before we move on, let’s look at just how it all went down at the mainman’s celebratory shindig. First and foremost this was a whole different set up to 2012’s show. The change of venue to London’s Koko made the night more intimate and the elaborate decor was fitting, but whereas last year was focused around the reformation of The Wildhearts, this year was all about Ginger’s many influences, friends and contemporaries. Around 30 guests appeared alongside Ginger, from members of Snow Patrol to The Damned, through to faces new to many, the ever-rotating line up brought some incredible moments. Frank Turner nailing ‘I Wanna Go Where The People Go’ and a cover of ‘Baby Blue’ featuring Yolanda from Phantom Limb which left even co-vocalist Victoria Liedtke in awe, this night was full of variety and pure unadulterated joy. Maybe not as much of a crowd pleaser as 2012 but personally I found the surprises hugely refreshing.

Number two in my list is an interesting one as I’d seen this person previously with mixed results. On one occasion I’d witnessed a mute but haunting show in a cathedral which was ended prematurely by tramps with a toaster. The second time was one of the most intense dirges I’ve seen live. The third time though was different. The artist in question was Mark Lanegan and this time he meant business.

Mark Lanegan
Red and alert.

For such a seemingly reluctant frontman, Lanegan is hugely prolific whether he’s churning out records with his own band or with long-term collaborator Isobel Campbell. You’ll find a new record of his in the shops every year, but what made 2013 a bit different was that Lanegan had chosen to release a covers album featuring stripped down, bleak versions of 60s and 70s songs that he grew up listening to. Touring the record, Lanegan chose the Royal Northern College of Music for the Manchester date, and the best acoustics in townTM, didn’t let him down. Seemingly at home in the all-seater venue, Lanegan mixed up old hits with the aforementioned new covers and backed by a hugely talented band, he was utterly mesmerising for the whole set, almost bringing you to tears with his covers of ‘Solitaire’ and (in tribute to the recently deceased Lou Reed) ‘Satellite of Love’. Another one of those nights where everything simply fell into place, this was utterly brilliant stuff.

Manic Street Preachers @ Manchester Ritz
James Dean Bradfield – Everlasting

And so to the best gig of 2013, and this was a complete surprise to me; it’s the return of the Manic Street Preachers. When I bought the tickets for this one I was expecting a bit of a nostalgia hit and some time to get the beers in when the band played their newer stuff. But just how wrong was I? Wrong diddly wrong wrong, that’s how wrong. What I got that night was a reminder of why I got into rock and roll in the first place. Not only did the Manics tear a new one into a sold out Ritz, everyone in there sang every word and suddenly I found myself enjoying their previously more alien latter-day material. As incendiary as when I first saw them nearly two decades previously, this was a special, special night that is unlikely to be repeated.

So there we have it, a new name etched onto the trophy and a few surprises courtesy of the year that was 2013. Bring on 2014!

2013 – A Year In Review

Black Spiders Brewery Tour
Fuck You 2013

So there we have it kids, another year has been and gone. Was it just me or did 2013 seem to fly by? I honestly can’t believe that my Vegas trip was in 2012 or that it’s time to compile my annual awards for album and gig of the year already, but there we go.

I’m not usually one for resolutions as Big Ben chimes 12, but it’s always useful to look back over a year to put into perspective just what has gone down and to make yourself realise that you didn’t just sit around in your pants thrapping like a spider monkey for the entire year.

For me, 2013 was the year I got closer than ever to music. Since I resumed my gig-going in October 2009, I’ve found myself uncovering more and more music I like as well as re-appraising some old favourites, and 2013 gave me all that and more. Helped considerably by joining the team over at Daily Dischord, I found myself listening to all sorts of new CDs and hitting more gigs than ever.

I even got to interview up and comers TesseracT as well as old-stager (and one of my favourite frontmen) Ricky Warwick of The Almighty fame. It’s been a number of years since my journalism degree, but armed with my little notebook and a paranoia over whether my phone would record, both chats turned out well and it was good to appreciate music with those responsible for making it in the first place.

I also chatted to a few other musically-minded people this year, bumping into the incredibly friendly Baby Godzilla and Hawk Eyes boys on more than one occasion, seeing Napalm Death legend Shane Embury in a toilet and most importantly getting royally sauced with Black Spiders.

Black Spiders Table Football
In a non-World Cup year, there was only one tournament worth talking about.

As many of you will know, I’m rather partial to the ‘Spiders‘ brand of good old rock and roll and when one of the options with their Pledge Music campaign was to go on a brewery tour with the band, I couldn’t possibly turn it down. And what a day it was. Not only was the brewery tour great fun, (there was more beer than anyone in their right mind could wish for) the fun didn’t stop there, instead continuing round some of Sheffield’s finest watering holes until we were all in various states of disrepair. The band themselves were brilliant fun, utter gentlemen and it was a great way to not only support the recording of their new record but to participate in a true one-off experience. Thanks guys!

Ginger Wildheart
Greetings From Shitsville

As well as the above mentioned rock star hobnobbing my biggest achievement of 2013 was meeting three idols of mine. By chance I bumped into Ginger Wildheart before a …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead gig, chatting to him and my old Turbowolf muckers for some time. Unfortunately this did mean I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to grab a photo like a fanboy, but the shit-eating grin suggests I had few regrets.

Tony Wright
Pretend Best Friends

Around the same time I got into The Wildhearts, I was also massively enthusiastic about Terrorvision. The Bradford scoundrels produced the soundtrack to my youth, so when it was quite frankly scandalous to NOT buy lead singer Tony Wright a pint and thank him for his work over the years, I had no choice. Again, cue ridiculously happy photo opportunity.

Tony is not only a comedic mastermind in lyrics as well as on social media, he’s also a hilarious guy in ‘real life’ coming out with all sorts of anecdotes during our drunken natter. Once again it was great of him after a sweaty show to want to bother mixing with the likes of me for a pint or two and I can’t wait until T’vision hit the Northern realms again.

Andy Cairns
Bad Mothers

Last but by no means least, my favourite band of all time; Therapy? had a decent year, producing a career-spanning boxset of epic proportions, but no doubt lead singer Andy Cairns’ highlight was going on his first ever solo acoustic tour and getting to meet the adoring rabble including me…

As for the gigs themselves; wow. Without giving anything away ahead of my Gig of the Year award I can reveal that I’ve witnessed some amazing shows including an astonishing Manic Street Preachers comeback performance in a relatively intimate venue which really took my breath away, and other shows throughout 2013, both big and small were nothing short of incendiary.

I’m not just talking about metal either, as the always reliably leftfield Manchester International Festival out-did itself this year with an amazing line-up. The spellbinding Adam Curtis Vs Massive Attack event was nothing short of astounding, whilst Rocket Number 9 and a triumphantly returning Neneh Cherry produced a mesmeric show. The whole atmosphere of the festival made a strangely warm summer even more enjoyable and it’s always sad to see it go.

In the comedy world, I hit the Edinburgh Fringe and had some banter with QI’s John Lloyd and Mitch Benn as well as taking in shows by more performers than I can actually remember. Another crowning glory of 2013 was when I finally got to meet one of my childhood comedy heroes, Rob Newman, who was a truly lovely man. Humble about the success with David Baddiel that made him a megastar, deep down, Newman is still that shuffling, slightly bumbling comic that drew us all in with The Mary Whitehouse Experience.

More recently I achieved another childhood dream of performing magic with Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee, and I rounded off the year by hitting Ginger Wildheart‘s 5th Annual Birthday Bash which featured guest appearances by everyone from Snow Patrol to Starz.

All in all then, you’d say it was a pretty eventful 2013 and with trips to Edinburgh, Munich and Belgium planned for 2014, the new year’s off to a promising start too…

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…