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 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!

Ginger @ Club Academy, Manchester – 2nd June 2012

Ginger, Random and Victoria
Ginger and friends creating their own purple haze.

As jubilee bunting fluttered in the gales and litter became mashed up underfoot on the rainy streets of Manchester, it could only mean one thing; we were into summer festival warm-up season and what better way to get started than by popping down to the Student Union to check out erstwhile Wildheart and certified Geordie legend, Ginger.

Seemingly forever in a cycle of touring and recording, I was as excited as ever to see the flame-haired one tear up the stage, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years from Ginger and Wildhearts gigs, it’s that you should get down early to catch some hidden gem support acts, and this night was no different.

Baby Godzilla @ Club Academy, Manchester.
Baby Godzilla: chomping up the competition.

Kicking off proceedings were Baby Godzilla, taking the show quite literally to the crowd in a ferocious display of thrashy punky hardcore. These guys are obviously unhinged in a very, very good way and they’re surely going to be tearing up bigger venues in the not too distant future. Get them out with someone like Feed The Rhino and crazy times cannot fail to be far behind. Following the ‘zilla were South Wales mob The Guns who did a great job of encouraging the masses to get involved with some decent riffs and growing hooks. Again, a tasty little prospect, and it’s always great to see some hard-working bands being given an opportunity by some of the genre’s older hands.

Both support slots were suitably successful at warming us all up, but time still seemed to fly by, probably due to the excitement of the arrival of the main man. The guy who had spent the earlier part of the night checking out both supports from the side of stage sound booth, showing his love and appreciation for all things ‘music’; Sir Ginger of Wildheart.

Accompanied by Chris Catalyst, ‘Random’ Jon Poole, Victoria Liedtke, Denzel and Rich Jones, Ginger stormed the stage and blasted straight into the yet-to-be-released-on-a-physical-shiny-disc-of-joy ‘Another Spinning Fucking Rainbow’ from the forthcoming Pledge Music triple album, 555%. Amazingly, the song was treated like an old friend and got the show off to an energetic start.

A bouncy Girls Are Better Than Boys and Mazel Tov Cocktail made sure the momentum stayed high and when Anyway But Maybe arrived, the crowd were as deafening as the riffs. Sonic Shake reminded everyone how much they wanted another Silver Ginger 5 record, whilst Taste Aversion and Confusion showed a huge amount of promise as future live favourites despite, again, being taken from Ginger’s future 555% release.

I’m always a sucker for You Took The Sunshine From New York which saw the band as harmonious as ever, and by slotting Do The Channel Bop into the encore, the smiles across the room were growing by the second.

Rounding things off with Inglorious (despite requests for yet another newie, Westward Ho!) the crowd took one last opportunity to go suitably apeshit, at THAT classic, timeless riff.

Ginger: Going solo.

I saw Ginger at Ashton’s Witchwood last year on his acoustic tour, as well as at the back-end of 2011 at Moho Live and in all honesty, the shows just get better and better. The band seemed even tighter than ever, and Ginger has always been a pro at connecting with the crowd, as proven by the banter on his Grievous Acoustic Behaviour CD and as witnessed by anyone who’s been to see him live.

This time out, Ginger seemed even more engaging, laughing and joking throughout the show and happily responding to questions and other heckles. He seems to be a refreshingly down to earth guy, even broaching the question as to why he hadn’t played in his hometown on this tour, firmly blaming clueless promoters who don’t know a good thing when they see one. After this show, I can honestly say that their loss was our gain.

The rest of the band also kept the crowd going with excitable performances, beer provision (thanks for the Stella, Chris!) and suitably madcap antics (Random Jon) to make the show a brilliant all-round night.

Surprisingly though, the set list didn’t feature anything from P.H.U.Q. (still a favourite album of mine), and only one track from Earth Vs, but maybe that’s the point of these ‘solo’ shows; they really do prove what a weighty set of songwriting bollocks Ginger has outside of the band in which he first found fame.

He quite rightly throws a few (mainly later era) Wildhearts tunes into the set, but the majority of tracks that are hammered out are taken from Ginger’s equally impressive, and actually quite musically diverse solo/collaboration discography.

Overall, the night was a great success. A largely knobhead-free crowd (always a bonus), some energising support and a typically strident effort from Ginger’s entire band ensured that a bunch of people who were probably old enough to know better traipsed home in the rain sweaty and with a big grin on their suckerpunched faces.