2016 – A Year In Review Part One: Album Of The Year

empty-pageNo sooner have the Creme Eggs gone from the shelves it seems it’s year end and time for the writer’s favourite, the annual album of the year bonanza. You’ll remember (because of your loyalty to both myself and this very intermittent blog) that 2015 was a very close-run contest indeed, with the inimitable Ghost scooping the gong on countback.

2016 has been a different kind of year in music with a load of new kids on the block all fighting it out to be crowned King Dong of the rock and roll world. And oh there is a winner. But as is tradition, let’s first take a look at some of the records that came close but no cigar, and what a strong year it’s been.

Pledge Music has certainly become the record releasing channel du jour with great new independent outings from Wildhearts bassist Scott Sorry, Blacklist Saints and Role Models while erstwhile Terrorvision vocalist Tony Wright ramped things up with his first solo electric outing, the brilliant Walnut Dash.

Of course there were a few Ginger Wildheart collaborators knocking about and doing their own thing too and The Dowling Poole unleashed the viciously satirical One Hyde Park which sounds even better live than on record, whilst The Empty Page‘s grunge throwback Unfolding helped to produce a gig of the year candidate for its launch show.

Former Wildhearts drummer Stidi also banged out a great debut with new band Drama Club Rejects as did former bassist Danny with The Main Grains. A pair of throwback records, both showed enough punky vigour to warrant repeat listens rather than just being nostalgic novelties and proved that the spirit of The Wildhearts lives on in many shapes and forms.

metallicaAs an “Event” with a capital E, you can’t get much bigger than a new release from Metallica and 2016 saw just that. As the band have grown older, we’ve seen a bit more of a, shall we say, self-indulgent theme to their music but in 2016, to keep pace with the young ‘uns, Hetfield and co well and truly upped their game.

With Metallica‘s Hardwired…To Self Destruct spreading itself over two discs, it took patience to get to grips with, but the thrashy power of the band’s latest saw a return to form that no-one expected. Not to be outdone, Megadeth snuck out their best record for a decade with Dystopia, proving Dave Mustaine still has bite, but both bands must be glancing over their shoulders at the upstarts in Gojira who produced yet another modern classic in Magma.

A new Volbeat record is always a bit of a big deal too and although Seal The Deal & Let’s Boogie didn’t set anything alight, it was still a solid outing as was the sophomore outing from Scot rockers The Amorettes, White Hot Heat.

A few eagerly awaited debuts also landed in 2016 with Love Zombies, Tax The Heat, Black Peaks, Vodun and the workaholic Heck finally all finding time from their mammoth touring schedules to unleash prime cuts of studio-based bliss. Heck in particular did something nobody expected with a 16 minute album-closer that proved the boys have the songs to back up what they do on (and mainly off) stage.

asylumsThe surprise debut success of 2016 however has to go to Asylums. Nobody expected such a gloriously passion-filled record to hit in 2016 but Killer Brain Waves proved that a 90s alt-rock influenced sound could be modernised to such an extent it would blow much of the more established competition out of the water. Keep an eye on this lot, they’re heading straight for the top.

 

Up next – the winners…

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.

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.

4=
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.

3
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.

2
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

1
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!

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!