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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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!

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Danzig + Black Spiders @ Manchester Academy – 19th June 2013

Danzig @ Manchester Academy

Glenn Danzig – Evil Elvis Lives

This may be controversial to some, but personally, I can’t really blame artists for exploiting their more popular back catalogue in the live arena; after all, if it’s not something the fans want to see, they wouldn’t pay for it. So as yet another anniversary tour rolls into Manchester, I’m intrigued and hopeful of witnessing something fun and just a little bit special.

This time around it’s the turn of Glenn Danzig, bringing his namesake band out on the road to celebrate 25 years of darkness, and combining it with a mini-set of Misfits songs with guitarist Doyle.

I must admit that after recent gig-going exploits I was wary of another 90s nostalgia fest, but upon reaching the Academy it’s pretty clear that organisationally at least things are already looking better than the Megadeth debacle.

Even more promisingly, Danzig has chosen to get Sheffield’s finest rock and rollers, Black Spiders to open for him. Prepping for the release of second record ‘This Savage Land’ via a Pledge Music campaign, the ‘Spiders grasp the opportunity to play to such a big crowd firmly and shake it around until its ears are pricked up like a horny hyena.

Black Spiders @ Manchester Academy

Black Spiders – Proving a rock is a fat lot of use without a roll.

‘Kiss Tried To Kill Me’ sounds as monumental as ever and ‘Stay Down’ with its magnificent ‘Fuck You Black Spiders’ interlude is both brilliantly funny and raucous. New track ‘Creatures’ is already shaping up to be a live pleasure, whilst ‘Just Like A Woman’ sticks around in your head just as much as it did on that very first listen. Maybe this isn’t quite your typical Black Spiders crowd but they’re intelligent enough to know a good thing when they hear it, showing a decent amount of appreciation for the gurning sluggers.

As the length of time between support and headliner approaches the 45 minute mark, thoughts of Dave Mustaine’s diva-like behaviour creep into the mind, but the wait is soon forgotten when the room blackens and the Academy goes crazy to ‘SkinCarver’.

Chugging through classic Danzig fare such as ‘Hammer of the Gods’ and ‘Devil’s Plaything’, the now 57-year-old frontman is showing no sign of slowing down, prowling the stage with horns aloft and basking in the adulation he receives.

The fans are always going to lap this stuff up, but the fact that the band are such talented individuals really helps matters. Prong‘s Tommy Victor effortlessly shreds through the set, whilst Type O Negative‘s Johnny Kelly is always a percussive beast. As ‘Dirty Black Summer’ and ‘How The Gods Kill’ round off part one of the set, Danzig prove that they can still hang with anyone on the live circuit, even those half their age.

I was never really a huge Misfits fan, simply because their heyday was a little before my time, but I grew up listening to bands influenced by them and it’s only now I really appreciate why. As Glenn introduces his ‘man monster’, Doyle stomps onto the stage, ripped and ready for action. Hammering out power chords with his taped up fingers, a furious ‘Death Comes Ripping’ kicks things off, followed by ‘Vampira’ and the glorious slice of punk that is ‘I Turned Into A Martian’.

Without relenting, ‘Astro Zombies’ keeps things going at warp speed, followed by the classic pairing of ‘Skulls’ and ‘ Last Caress’ leaving few in the Academy without a smile on their sweaty faces.

The first encore pairs ‘Soul On Fire’ with defining Danzig breakthrough hit ‘Mother’ which invokes an absolutely glorious sing-along, and despite a slight strop from Glenn at one of the many concert filmers, he finishes things off brilliantly with ‘She Rides’ and an inimitable ‘Die, Die My Darling’ which belies its 29-year age.

On this joyously triumphant night, Evil Elvis reminds everyone just how many great songs he’s written over the years and simultaneously shows some of his old school contemporaries just how to put on a show. Absolutely stunning.

Jeff Hanneman 1964-2013

Jeff Hanneman

Jeff Hanneman – Headbanging In Heaven

On 10th November 1994 my friends and I crossed the border from Bristol into deepest, darkest Wales as we headed out to only our fourth or fifth ever gig.

Bristol at the time had no large music venues, so Newport Centre tended to be the nearest location for any of the bigger bands of the time. After booking our gig tickets and coach travel at Our Price in The Galleries shopping centre, we finished school that Thursday and got our parents to drop us into town.

The short trip to Wales was always exciting, like going on a Heavy Metal Holiday. Having seen Pantera at the same venue two months previously, we knew we’d be in for a treat. The gig we were heading to was Slayer on their Divine Intervention tour and the band were to be supported by some young up and comers called Machine Head, so the bill promised to be as heavy as hell.

As we arrived, we used various IDs and our deepest 15 year old voices to buy a pint (Foster’s) in the bar that bizarrely overlooked the swimming pool where OAPs would be engrossed in Thursday night aquarobics.

I’ve probably never seen as much leather, denim and hair as I did that night, and it seemed that half of the UK’s metal fans were in attendance.

The show we witnessed that night was nothing short of incredible. Despite Divine Intervention being much-maligned by the press and the hardcore fans, the band had seen fit to adapt their sound, a wise strategy, proven by a stunning rendition of Davidian that had threatened to blow the headliners off the stage before they even got there.

Slayer Setlist

That 1994 setlist in full.

Of course, Slayer went on to play a shedload of classics too and it was enthralling to see such a technically accomplished band play with such speed and power. The pit was something else entirely and I don’t think it’s been matched in my 19 years of gig-going since.

Of course the man who was mostly responsible for those classics was Jeff Hanneman, an astounding guitarist and songwriter who defined a genre with his songs. His and Kerry King’s partnership will probably never be bettered and when I heard the news about Jeff’s passing I was utterly distraught.

Slayer have remained hugely relevant to this day as proven by the outpouring of condolences from musicians in all kinds of bands and as one of the ‘Big Four’, Slayer redefined modern heavy music. The destructive power of their sound never waned and fans new and old could always be guaranteed a clutch of mind-blowing songs with every new release.

So, as I sit here thinking back, I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without Jeff Hanneman. We all used to rib each other at school for the lighter music we were into, but one thing that united me and some of my best friends still to this day was a love and appreciation for all things heavy. Whether we’ve joined bands ourselves, jetted off to the other side of the world or started our own businesses, we’re all still head banging away to some happy, happy times.

Rest in peace Jeff, you gave so much to so many that you may never have realised the full impact of your work.

The Wildhearts + Eureka Machines + Baby Godzilla @ Manchester Academy – 5th April 2013

The Wildhearts @ Manchester Academy

Greetings From Hitsville

In the past two years, I’ve seen Ginger Wildheart live six times. I’ve watched him perform everywhere, from a tiny acoustic show in Ashton-under-Lyne and a support slot with The Darkness all the way up to his celebratory London birthday show where he even supported himself (does that make it seven times?) and a raucous couple of nights in larger Manchester venues. But when it was announced that The Wildhearts would be hitting the road to perform the nailed-on classic Earth Vs The Wildhearts album in full to celebrate its 20th anniversary, I felt a) very, very old and b) so excited I could actually have a bit of a cry.

To make me even more giddy with joy, Ginger and co once again proved how in touch with the fans they were by delivering some amazing value for money, announcing that both Eureka Machines and Baby Godzilla would feature on the bill.

Baby Godzilla @ Manchester Academy

Cutting their Baby teeth in Manchester Academy

I’d seen Baby Godzilla playing with Ginger in the tiny Club Academy, on a night where they completely blew second support act The Guns off the stage. The Welsh crew didn’t stand a chance following the ‘Zillas, as both Matt and Jonny took the show into the crowd, literally, and threw themselves around like demented wildebeest. So, faced with the daunting prospect of the near 2,500 capacity Academy 1, what would the band do? Exactly what they do best. It takes about 15 seconds for the band to lob guitars and mic stands into the crowd and perform most of their punky hardcore psychoblues set WITH the people.

Many stand on, enthralled (if a little scared) as the band tear through a storming clutch of songs, and lets be honest here, these boys know how to write a tune. Tracks such as Powerboat Disaster and A Good Idea Realised are not just mental slabs of rock and roll, they’re quality tracks which can spur any size crowd into having a good time. One thing’s for sure, Baby Godzilla aren’t a gimmicky, comedy band, they’re a quality group laying down some awe-inspiring sounds and they’ve only got bigger and better things in their future. And to the 10 year old kid handed a ‘Zilla guitar mid-set; yes, this lot will be your favourite band for years to come.

Eureka Machines @ Manchester Academy

A Eureka moment.

Following Baby Godzilla is never an easy task, but if anyone’s up to it, it’s Ginger-collaborator Chris Catalyst and his Eureka Machines. Another band who put on a great show no matter the venue, EM gurn and dance their way through catchy tune after catchy tune, their hardcore and loyal fan base loving every minute of their hugely enjoyable set. It might be an all too brief appearance for many (full tour coming soon, kids) but EM still pick out the best tracks from their three albums, so there’s something for everyone. Champion The Underdog is a great pop rock opener whilst Pop Star is brilliantly written, funny, and an absolute joy live. This Is The Story Of My Life and Affluenza get the crowd bopping like they’ve been close personal friends with the band for years, and None Of The Above and Zero Hero close things off magnificently, setting the scene perfectly for what is to follow. EM are another band at the peak of their powers, having as they do three albums worth of ridiculously good songs up their black sleeves, and it’s a shame they can’t play the whole ruddy lot.

After a short wait, the sense of anticipation is absolutely crazy. The crowd ranges from eight year olds to octogenarians, fans new and old all in attendance with one common goal; dancing like absolute lunatics to an album seen more as a life-changing moment in time than a simple shiny disc purchase. As Ginger, CJ, Random and Ritch take to the stage, you can’t spot a miserable British mug for miles; this isn’t a gig, this is a lock in with all your mates in the best sound-systemed pub in the world.

I probably don’t need to run through every song here, as you can guess what the band play (hint: check the Earth Vs… tracklisting for details), but if there is a better live opening salvo than Greetings From Shitsville, TV Tan and Everlone, I’ll eat my not inconsideable collection of headwear. My Baby Is A Headfuck rocks the crowd from front to back, and even though I’ve heard Suckerpunch so many times live over the years, the two decade-old song sounds even better once again, losing none of its whirling punkish attitude.

As for the encores, there had been talk pre-gig of the fans being able to pick the songs, and this does ring true as long-standing roadies Dunc and Stevie wield giant boards plastered with various songs from the entire Wildhearts back catalogue, with the louder cheer signifying which would be played.

Trickier than it sounds, the crowd seem genuinely pained to pick between Caffeine Bomb and Sick Of Drugs, but one thing this scheme does lend itself to is the opportunity to hear some songs that haven’t been played that much over the years. TV EP track Dangerlust beats Naivety Play to the punch, whilst a close call sees Geordie In Wonderland edge out Nothing Ever Changes But The Shoes and a similarly tight decision ensures 29 x The Pain gets heard over usual show-closer I Wanna Go Where The People Go.

As the band exit the stage for the final time, the shared joy in the venue is truly palpable. The Wildhearts seem just as proud as the audience in being part of such an astoundingly happy night, where songs that have meant so much to so many for so many years get the airing they deserve. Some might see anniversary tours as a faddy, cynical cash-in, but if anyone would begrudge us of this amazing night, they need to grow a new soul. Magical stuff.

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.

The Affs Awards 2011 – Gig of the Year

The Lemonheads @ Manchester Ritz 2011

Evan Dando and Meredith Sheldon

Following on from my Album of the Year Award, and keeping to the musical theme, next up is the Affs Gig of the Year Award for the best acts to tread the boards throughout the past 12 months. As a 2011 resolution, getting out and about to see more live bands was always going to be an enjoyable one, so it came as a pleasant surprise that so many amazing groups chose to tour in recent months. It truly was an eclectic mix of old favourites that I hadn’t seen in years, bucketlist bands who I was watching for the first time, groups suggested to me by friends, and a few local and random acts thrown in for good measure.

I’ve always been a huge fan of live music so trying to see as wide a variety as possible in 2011 was always the plan. My first ever gig was way back in January 1994. The band? Manic Street Preachers at Bristol Anson Rooms, at a time when the group were nothing short of dangerous but imperious and Richey James was fortunately still with us. I think this event also saw me consume my first ever pint (Fosters, natch) and this double virginity loss really did have a massive impact on my life.

In the years that followed, my friends and I would be ferried about by our parents to venues across the South West, and sometimes we’d brave crossing the Welsh border to Newport Centre, or go on a field trip to Donington to scoff death burgers and get in on some metal festival action. Gigs were cheap (Ash for £5 just as they were on the cusp of greatness) and so was transport (the parents seemed to enjoy it. Maybe).

Eventually though, we went our separate ways to University and I didn’t really hook up with that similar a crowd taste-wise whilst there, so I missed out on a good few years of gigging.

When I then moved to the North West, I didn’t really know too many folk who wanted to attend gigs that veered towards the heavier side of the musical spectrum so I became content in CDs, cinema-going and video games.

Then something just changed. A couple of friends started playing in bands and as soon as I went to various venues to cheer them on, the bug bit back. I loved the mustiness of old man boozers, the creaking, sticky floorboards of venues that should probably be condemned. The whole friendly atmosphere of the scene hadn’t changed that much since I’d been away, only this time, I was hearing this stuff with musically mature ears.

And so here we are taking a look back on 2011, a golden year for live music, and one so crammed full of top quality concerts, it seems churlish not to give a few shout outs. First off I thought I’d throw in a couple of surprise packages. I’m so grateful and lucky to have friends willing to invite me along to new gig experiences, and through them I caught both My Morning Jacket and Twin Atlantic in 2011.

I didn’t really have any idea how big the ‘Jacket were around the globe, but I was truly impressed with their show. Despite some lengthy tunes, they kept an obviously very knowledgeable crowd entertained throughout, and have some serious songwriting skills on display.

Twin Atlantic were pitched to me as “an indie gig” so I was a little surprised at how heavy these guys can get. Both the ‘Jacket and Twin Atlantic seem to have massively strong and supportive fanbases and it reminds me of how things were 20-odd years ago, with perennial live favourites just failing to make it into the mainstream British consciousness. Nevertheless, TA pulled out a stormingly energetic set and I’m going to be looking out for them next time they swing by.

I also got to see some bands in 2011 that I’ve loved for years but never got round to seeing when I was still able to jump around properly, namely Kyuss, Queens of the Stone Age, The Lemonheads, My Dying Bride and The Smashing Pumpkins. The Lemonheads in particular, through being down the front on the barrier and watching them plough through the whole of It’s A Shame About Ray was a true 2011 privilege. Kyuss, QOTSA and the Pumpkins all also proved, despite the line-up changes, that they can still throw down with the best of them and produced three great nights out which left me exhilarated and smiling all the way home.

As far as guilty pleasures go I also managed to nail down two childhood faves this year; Kylie (look, I got some free tickets!) and Roxette. I’d recommend anyone goes to see Kylie simply for the camp spectacle. The little minx put on a great show and I may even have sung along a couple of times. No sequins were harmed in the writing of this blog.

I loved Roxette when I was approaching my teenage years and I will unashamedly say that I also loved every minute of their show at Wembley Arena in 2011. It was great to have them back after a few difficult years, proving beyond doubt that they’ve written some of the greatest pop songs of the past couple of decades.

Special mention should also go to three bands I saw this year (on more than one occasion) who feature among their ranks some good friends of mine. First of all, Latitudes are a great post, well, everything band, with some spiralling sonicscapes that take on more and more meaning as they burrow deeper into your brain. Even in small venues with slightly ropey sound, Latitudes can really crush with their masterful riffing and technique. Definitely one to watch, and a new album in 2012 should see them get the recognition they deserve.

Also getting a commendation for services to live music are Hopes. They’ve only been around for about a year, but they worked their backsides off in 2011, playing all sorts of venues to get their ‘core songs out to the masses, and they were rewarded with a support slot for Feed The Rhino and a glowing mention in Kerrang! because of it. These lads will really shine more and more when given opportunities and they always throw every last ounce of energy and passion into each of their performances. A festival or two in 2012? Here’s Hopes-ing.

Also in this category are Turbowolf. I’ve written before about how brilliant these Bristol good-timers are and through a selection of 2011 gigs they grew in stature before my eyes, culminating in a superb headlining set at Alter Ego. Their album is one of my top picks of last year and surely they must also be en route to a storming 2012.

Three gigs that came very close to breaking into my chart toppers of the year came courtesy of Ash, Trivium and Mark Lanegan & Isobel Campbell. It seemed to be a bit of a 2011 trend that bands were getting back together to perform classic albums in their entirety, and Ash decided to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Free All Angels. It’s not actually an album of theirs that I own but the prospect of seeing the guys again after what must be 16-odd years spurred me on to pop down to the Ritz. I certainly wasn’t disappointed, especially when they banged out an awesome Kung Fu encore. As close to an Affs Happy Place that you can get.

Mark Lanegan & Isobel Campbell would definitely have been in my top three were it not for the venue spoiling things a little. Playing in Manchester Cathedral suited their soulful duets beautifully, but unfortunately, towards the end of the gig a fire alarm was set off by some tramps with a toaster in the Cathedral’s homeless project area. The show was abruptly halted mid-song much to the bemusement of Lanegan, but never restarted and it made for a disappointing trip home. Tickets for Mark and his band are already on the 2012 noticeboard so we’ll see if he can make next year’s podium instead.

Finishing off the chasing pack, and this one was definitely a strong fifth place for the year, came a surprisingly excellent Defenders of the Faith tour. Set up by Metal Hammer as a showcase for the brightest and best in metal both new and old, the gig saw Rise To Remain prove a few points to the masses whilst both Trivium and In Flames showed me what I’d been missing out on by only casting a brief ear to their output in recent years. But it was Ghost who really stole the show for me. Having already heard their incantations on disc, they were even more brilliant, spooky, funny, and, overall, massively entertaining live. Playing the majority of their album helped as each song was so familiar, but even so, as a new band in a big venue, to a big crowd, they performed with absolute skill. I can’t wait for a headline tour from these ghouls in the next 12 months.

Okay, it’s top four time and this has probably been harder to pick than my album of 2011.

Volbeat are a surprise inclusion in this list but a deserved one. The Danish crew have been around for a while, and in all honesty I only bought a ticket for their show because Black Spiders were supporting. Whilst the Spiders were typically brilliant despite a condensed set after some major sound issues, it was Volbeat who really converted me that night. Their latest album, Beyond Hell/Above Heaven is a complex concept CD but still hugely accessible and the amount of clued up fans that night really surprised me but also added massively to the vibe and enjoyment of the show. Volbeat play with a smile on their faces and passion in their sweat-drenched brows which meant they tore out everything that any fan could’ve wished for and more.

Black Spiders @ Manchester Academy 2011

A triumphant Black Spiders

There’s a tie for third place, with Affs Album of the Year Award winners Black Spiders drawing with, er, themselves. I really can’t choose between their sets at Bristol and Manchester on their tour with Viking Skull (legends themselves) and Turbowolf. Imagining that this time last year I had never heard anything by Black Spiders seems absolutely alien to me when I think of where these boys are in my life now. The Croft gig in Bristol was sweaty and jam-packed, and the Spiders threw everything into it. When we got home that night, we probably played the album back to back at least three times, reliving the experience over a few beers. Knowing what to expect when they hit Manchester only meant that I enjoyed it even more. I was screaming along with the best of them to Kiss Tried To Kill Me and the Spiders are not going to be playing small-ish venues like the Roadhouse again, believe me.

Not so surprisingly being given the runner-up award is Ginger. I’ve seen the guy on numerous occasions over the years and he never fails to show his love for live music and his fans each and every time. I’m cheating a little as I saw Ginger do both acoustic and electric sets this year but I really can’t choose between them, so I’m going to class them both together as one super set of true awesomeness, and give him the runner-up in Gig of the Year. It’s my Awards, I can do what the hell I like.

Ginger, for those who aren’t aware, is/was the lead singer and guitarist for The Wildhearts, a mid to late 90s band who could often be seen rocking Top Of The Pops when they snuck into the Top 40 by some sort of pop-rock-punk back door. Ginger has put together numerous side-projects over the years and never stops churning out amazingly catchy, quality music supported by a tremendous gaggle of associates. 2012 will also see him release an ambitious Pledge Music project, a triple CD set funded by fans, in aid of both the joy of music but also for Save The Children who will benefit from 10% of funds made. The project is currently over 450% of its target, showing the love people have for this man.

Anyway, let’s talk about Ginger’s live activities. First off, his acoustic show is probably one of the more raucous “stripped down” gigs you’re ever likely to attend. A true singalong with loads of audience banter and an atmosphere more akin to a gathering of friends than a gig. Ginger has the choruses to keep up with the best of them, from the anthemic Geordie In Wonderland through to the classic Loveshit, all of which sounded amazing in an acoustic setting.

As for his Moho Live electric gig, Ginger seemed on even better form, with a huge band and a set list for the ages. The place went absolutely crazy for I Wanna Go Where The People Go, just as they did for Cheers. Who’d have thought that an 80s TV theme tune would’ve featured at my second favourite gig of the year? That’s the power that Ginger possesses, and he thankfully shows few signs of slowing down any time soon.

Terrorvision @ Manchester Academy 2011

Terrorvision proving they’ve still got it

But this year’s winners are Terrorvision. I probably saw these Bradford oiks more times than I’d care to remember between 1994 and 1997, but they always had a special place in my heart. I spotted they were playing Manchester Academy in 2011 and so grabbed the opportunity to go, hoping they weren’t going to play much beyond their first three records, and that it’d be a pleasant enough trip down memory lane. As the gig got closer, I heard about a new CD they’d just put out, but I didn’t buy it in case it was more akin to their later output, of which I was never the biggest of fans.

When I got to the venue, I was glad to see a good selection of old(er) fans, all of whom probably never dreamed they’d be watching the ‘Vision whilst holding down a steady job, but here we all were, ready to neck a few pints and sing along to the classics.

I was also pleased to see that Gentlemans Pistols were supporting. They weren’t a band that I’d heard before, but I knew ex-Carcass legend Bill Steer was spanking his plank for them, so I got down the front early on. And what a great noise those boys made. Tossing out retro-tinged riffs like Sabbath had never gone away, the Pistols made a lot of new fans that night and were the perfect set up for what was to follow.

When Terrorvision hit the stage, grown men were hugging and practically crying with joy at the prospect of these boys strutting their stuff again after all these years. In fact, I dare anyone not to smile when Tony Wright pops on stage and grins like a Cheshire cat eating a particularly enormous piece of cheese, his boyish charm still prevailing in the face of (admittedly not that much more than my) age. Even with Shutty off enjoying his drummer retirement home and new sticksman Cam Greenwood being young enough for the rest of the band to have birthed him themselves, this was a group 157% at the top of their game.

What Terrorvision did that magical night was to throw in new songs alongside old hits like Pretend Best Friend as if all of them came from one SuperCD of pop-rock genius. People were hollering along to the choruses of the new songs like Pushover, embracing them like they were old friends. Sales of the new CD at that gig must have been massive, and I’m proud to say that the album I bought that night has barely left my stereo/generic digital music player since.

The fact that Discotheque Wreck on this night is my favourite single live performance of 2011 says a lot, especially when it had so many rivals for this accolade with Middleman, Enteralterego and Alice, What’s The Matter? all making an appearance during the show. It also says a lot for Terrorvision’s skill as entertainers that these songs sound as fresh and exciting as they did so many years ago.

So, a band that were a live favourite of mine nigh-on 20 years ago are my top tip of this millennia too. Not too surprising you might think? Well, Terrorvision had to work their socks off that night to get everyone, collectively, back into that unique mood, and that is exactly what they did. Well done Terrorvision, one of the great saviours of live music and my Gig of the Year 2011.

The Affs Awards 2011 – Album of the Year

Well, the year has now been and gone and it seems fitting, nay customary, to perform some sort of wrap up on the past 12 months. As one of my resolutions is to write even more this year, what better way to kick off 2012 with the first ever Affs Awards for services to popular culture?

First up is the Album of the Year Award. CD sales may be down year on year, but that hasn’t stopped some absolutely storming epics being committed to shiny disc during 2011. After all, what use is the music without the artwork, liner notes, lyrics, extra cardboard and free goblins? I’m a sucker for all that makes a first edition CD truly limited so here’s to the on-going survival of the format.

Anyway, I digress. Onto the important matter of which long players have been on repeat on the Affs death deck in 2011.

It’s been quite a surprisingly good year for tunes. I’ve heard some great new bands whilst some old favourites have churned out new crackers. Here are a few of the contenders who just missed out on the top places, starting with an intriguing album that came from none other than Mr Hugh Laurie.

I’m not usually a fan of blues, but anything that m’colleague does sparks an interest in me, so I was fascinated to hear his CD, Let Them Talk, and I wasn’t disappointed. Laurie has always been a super-talented, self-taught musician and there is obvious passion that prevails throughout his album. From soulful crooning to more up-tempo stomp-alongs, Laurie manages to get people listening to a genre when they wouldn’t normally give it the time of day and for that he should be commended.

A late entry into the Affs hit parade was the new Nightwish album. They’re a funny old band, not everyone’s cup of tea, but I’ve been into them for over a decade so I tend to buy all their output. After Tarja left the group, taking with her the more operatic vocals, I must admit that my interest in their symphonic bombast waned a little, but this year’s Imaginaerum pricked my ears up and got me all kinds of excited all over again. It’s a very textured album, featuring loads of different sounds, from the typical Euro metal of Storytime through to the husky jazz drawl of Slow, Love, Slow. It’s great to see Nightwish realising they can’t keep living on former glories and need to adapt to survive, and they’ve definitely done just that.

Another band that I tend to buy music from but fail to spend the quality time with that I should is Trivium. These young upstarts (still young despite having been around for a good while. Yes I’m jealous), were originally hailed as the new Metallica, and then the emo crowd hooked onto them, but now they’re producing an altogether more mature product. In Waves is full of crowd pleasers (and trust me, the title track and Dusk Dismantled are absolutely epic live), and throughout the pretty lengthy album I was pleasantly surprised with the catchiness and heaviness working so well together.

An honourable mention must also go to another band that I only encountered for the first time in 2011, Gentlemans Pistols. I saw the band supporting Terrorvision and was hugely happy to see Bill Steer, ex-Carcass, up on stage again, knocking out some semi-tongue-in-cheek rawk. Gentlemans Pistols combine a good time feeling with some catchy riffs and decent song writing chops and At Her Majesty’s Pleasure contains tunes that make you feel like you’ve been to bed with them previously on a debauched night involving a bottle of scotch, some dice and a unicorn. Managing to steer away from the obviousness of cheese like Steel Panther, Gentlemans Pistols transport you back to 70s/80s happy, carefree womanising metal and what’s not to like about that, eh girls?

So, we’ve got four treats left at the top of the tree to choose between, and in all honesty it’s tough to pick between the three runners up.

Terrorvision are a band I once adored. They probably even overtook Therapy? at one point in being my favourite band EVER. Their first three albums were pop rock classics but I was turned away from them with their banal crowd pleaser Tequilla. Even so, when they announced a comeback tour, I gave it a go and picked up a copy of their new album Super Delux while I was there. Holy mother of all things that are holy, what a record! The 11 tracks contained within still feature that cheeky Yorkshire wit, but you can tell the band have also grown as songwriters. New drummer Cam Greenwood has somehow replaced the irreplaceable Shutty and with catchy numbers such as Rock Radio and All The Girls Wanna Dance, the band have put Bradford on the map once more.

Rhyming some obscure words, as is standard with any Terrorvision release, the boys came back with one almighty album/tour bang and also worth checking out is the video to Pushover which is delightfully touching and brilliantly funny. I’m already hoping they tour again next year and put out some more musical gems.

Ghost, as their name suggests, were a surprise. In many, many more ways than one. I’d read a bit about them and thought they were going to be gimmicky no-hopers, but thankfully they proved me very wrong indeed with their opus, er, Opus Eponymous. Their shtick, all about being sparkly Satanic bishops and hooded monky-types shouldn’t work, but it does, and it gels brilliantly with their retro, stripped-down early Sabbath-y sound. Elizabeth is mournful but tuneful, whilst Ritual threatens to transport the the Dark Lord right into your ears with its haunting melody. The whole CD simply works in an age when it really shouldn’t and I’m just hoping that the gimmick doesn’t fade before album number two.

Turbowolf are a relatively new band, and still largely unknown, but I’ve been following their progress since last year, after I caught them supporting Dinosaur Pile Up. Their un-categorisable music (PsychedelicSpaceFunkProgMetal?) and energetic live performances saw them garner some well-deserved mainstream music press attention and when their self-titled CD landed at the end of 2011, it really didn’t disappoint one bit.

Older songs such as Seven Severed Heads and Ancient Snake burrow into your brain with their punk attitude and rock and roll swagger, whilst the singles A Rose For The Crows and Read & Write are live classics already with their jagged soundscapes and insane raw intensity.

The Turbowolf CD is very nearly my album of the year simply due to how fresh and new the whole thing feels, but the award goes to someone who I only got to see as they were headlining over the ‘Wolf in Bristol…

And it’s Black Spiders who have won the day. Their album, Sons of the North absolutely blew me away when I first gave it a spin, and it still does the same now, months on. I saw the band live a good few times this year too, and each time they rocked and rolled their way to converting more and more new fans. I was pleased to discover that I wasn’t the only one in on the Spiders phenomenon, one of my friends was already a fan and came to a show with me along with a few others, and in the majority they looked pretty damn pleased to be there too.

The sign of a classic album is that you’re not scared to recommend, and even buy the thing for people to convince them to listen. I did just that with Black Spiders. I just had to get people to listen to this CD. Sons of the North features all manner of groove-ridden gems such as St Peter and the opening Stay Down will be a show opener for years to come. Kiss Tried To Kill Me never fails to raise a smile and Blood of The Kings is simply sublime in being a track for all seasons and moods.

The band combine all of their great musical talent with a gloriously happy attitude, meeting and greeting fans, working solidly to make sure that the whole Spiders experience is a great one and this band are only going to get bigger and better in 2012.

So there you have it, Affs Album of the Year award done and deservedly won by Black Spiders. They would probably even pop over to pick up the non-existent trophy, they’re that decent a bunch of chaps. Stay tuned for more scribblings, including my Gig of the Year, Videogame of the Year, and maybe even pig by-product of the decade. Yes, it’s been one of those years!