It’s not news that the past year saw me take a massive step back from my (admittedly somewhat minor) involvement in York’s music scene, taking the decision to stop writing up each and every gig I went to. The time and effort involved were proving to be too much for the limited engagement those blog posts were getting and I was getting tired of being “expected” to go to gigs. I did eventually reach the three-hundredth “review” that I promised when I announced my impending retirement and, but it wasn’t the gig number three hundred chronologically, nor did it instil in me a desire to start again on either a full or part time basis. Since then I have dabbled with small snippets of writing, mere teasers of what could have been full articles, posted directly to my Facebook page as and when the words came to me while at gigs and, if anything, they have cemented my own opinion that what I had been writing wasn’t that good and that there were much better wordsmiths out there. Those snippets are, in my opinion, much better than anything I ever wrote in longer form and I know that I could never maintain that quality over a longer piece. I will continue to post them as and when my muse strikes me, but few people will see them. Certainly fewer than would have done a year ago, as I also took the opportunity to have a Facebook friends cull, removing most of the musicians who had, I assume, sent me friend requests simply because I had written about them and stopping accepting such requests. If I haven’t interacted with you in real life…
But all that, obviously, hasn’t stopped me attending gigs and I always intended to continue with these year-end summaries. After all, I’ve got to justify paying for the domain name somehow.
Let’s start, as always, with the statistics – 2016 saw me attend 36 gigs (2015 – 41, 2014 – 38) and seeing 85 performances from 81 individual acts (2015 – 96/88, 2014 – 119/96). The gigs took place in 7 venues (2015 – 8, 2014 – 11), all in York and including 2 that I hadn’t been to before. As usual, Fibbers was my most-attended venue, with 19. The Duchess and The Basement saw me 5 times each, The Crescent 3 times, The Cottage Inn in Haxby twice and The Post Office Club and The Little Festival Of Live Music in Parliament Street once each. As always, there were gigs I didn’t manage to get to for various reasons (cancellations, family events, clashes and the dreaded “not being able to swap an on-call night – the latter particularly annoying as it meant I missed Hope & Social for the first time in years…)
A quick word about the main venues. This year saw the inevitable closure of The Duchess as it, along with all other businesses there, were forced out of the Stonebow building due to its impending renovation. It’s a shame – even though I didn’t see as many gigs there as at Fibbers, it did put on some crackers and there seemed to be acts that had been “exclusive” to that venue. Blackbeard’s Tea Party have already played in York at a different venue but I wonder whether acts such as Von Hertzen Brothers, Nerina Pallot, Hayseed Dixie and Aynsley Lister (just four off the top of my head) will be seen in these parts again. The Crescent probably didn’t set out to be a replacement for The Duchess, but it has filled a gap left by the closure. It’s very similar to The Post Office Club, in that it is located in an old (possibly still going, I’m not sure) Working Mens Club and your walk through the main bar to get to the back performance room. It can be fitted out with chairs and tables, or left open for well-attended “dancing” gigs. Its main downside, however, is the temperature – it can be very cold, which can’t be much fun on stage. I don’t think it’s any secret that Fibbers sometimes has an issue with noise bleeding through from the Bier Keller next door. I’ve heard enough audience members moan about it and seen acts rearrange their sets, dropping quieter songs. There has been a mostly successful attempt to counter this, with one door being blocked off and the last few times I have been there it hasn’t been an issue. It’s worth pointing out, though, that the Keller almost certainly helps Fibbers keep going financially (as does the early curfew to allow the venue to change to a club later in the evening), although whether it also ends up being one of the nails in its coffin remains to be seen. The Basement remains a steady venue with perhaps its only downsides being its size and the price of drinks.
As to the music, well this year seemed to be in part dominated by classic rock, with FM, Bernie Marsden (ex-Whitesnake), Heaven and Hell (Dio tribute), Diamond Head, Praying Mantis and Y&T all putting in appearances. Once again, I was surprised (and slightly annoyed for them) that York-based band Morpheus Rising couldn’t pull a larger crowd in their hometown. On the heavier side, the annual event to mark the end of the Viking Festival saw Týr come down from the Faroe Islands with support from slight more local Aloeswood and Darkest Era – all, possibly, too heavy for my music collection but well worth seeing live.
There was blues rock in the form of Stevie Nimmo, Ben Poole, Band of Friends (Rory Gallagher tribute), Federal Charm, Aaron Keylock and the annual appearance of Chantel McGregor. But it was Nashville trio Simo who stole the show in this genre, with an explosive live performance which included instrumentals of prog-proportions.
Speaking of prog… that was, of course, my main focus, with the now-defunct Messenger, the ever-energetic Von Hertzen Brothers, Halo Blind, Howard Sinclair, The Moulettes, Mostly Autumn, Celestial Fire and Soma Crew all putting in good Shifts. Stand-out performances, however, came from The Heather Findlay Band (who I saw three times) and Odin Dragonfly (a welcome return and a chance to see them twice) and Gong, a long-standing band who I knew very little about before seeing them in November. Their music was complex, confusing and challenging – just what prog should be.
It’s well known that I’m a sucker for a female voice, in almost any genre, so it was nice to be able to see some superb singer-songwriters from around the world or femme-fronted bands more local to home this year. Highlights were the alternative country of Canadian Lindi Ortega, Norwegian folk/pop singer Frøkedal, Brit Nerina Pallot, psych-pop from Merseyside’s She Drew The Gun, Hull’s Carrie Martin and the acoustic rock of young York trio Little Resistance, the final act to perform at The Duchess.
As usual, there were some relatively big names playing our smaller venues. I was impressed by Reef, who packed out Fibbers but The Coral (who did the same) had less of an impact on me. A surprise highlight were The Christians, and not only because I didn’t originally have a ticket for their gig. The eighties soul/pop group produced an entertaining set, featuring songs that were familiar as well as others I had forgotten about and and emotional tribute to the Liverpool 97, with frontman Garry also amusing the crowd with banter and wry observations on how fame is fleeting.
And then there were the local acts, some of which have already featured above. Alt-country duo Mulholland launched their album at the Basement with the help of a host of musicians who played on it and a couple of great support acts – The Bronze who I like more each time I see them and The Lungs who I saw for the first (and hopefully not the last time). Perennial mainstream favourites of mine also launched their album at the Basement with another brilliant performance. Blind Eye returned from Manchester for a headline gig at Fibbers which saw the place buzzing. I finally got a chance to see Joshua Burnell and his band and was extremely impressed with their mix of folk and prog. Sam Griffiths proved once again what a talent he is when he supported Eef Barzelay (who, I suspect, is an acquired taste) and York Music For Refugees put on a charity gig at the Crescent featuring Rachel Croft and The Dan Webster Band, who I had seen before, along with new-to-me acts Bramble Napskins, who had the crowd dancing, and Stillhouse who could well be my new favourite local band.
Of course, that’s just a taste and there were many more, headliners and support acts both, but, as is traditional in these posts, I have picked five favourite gigs.
5 – Vesper Walk @ The Basement 1/7/16. I love Vesper Walk so this was always going to be a candidate, but it was made special by a full line-up of truly alternative styles which also included York’s Flora Greysteel and Brighton’s Mishkin Fitzgerald. It was a brilliant night of thoughtful, slightly strange music and performances (and in no way hampered by the fact that I was also watching Wales play in the European Championships on my gig-buddy’s phone.
4 – John Otway and Wild Willy Barrett @ The Basement 2/4/16. I nearly didn’t get to this gig and it’s thanks to its promoter that I made it. These were names I was aware of, but that was all and I had no idea what was to come. A superb mix of music and hilarity from two veterans of music, one of them a one-hit wonder who also has an entry at number 7 on the BBC’s All Time Favourite Lyrics poll. This would have been my 300th write-up but there was no way I could have done it justice.
3 – Red Hot Chilli Pipers @ Fibbers 30/4/16. Another gig I nearly didn’t go to, until I was offered a couple of cheap tickets. This is not a tribute act but a fully-fledged bagpipe band who play “bag-rock”, covers of classic tracks from all sorts of genres, while (again) entertaining with humour. This was the first gig that my daughter attended with me and, having made me stand right at the front, she can now answer the age-old question about what a Scotsman wears under his kilt…
2 – Gong @ Fibbers 27/11/16. After a great support slot from psych-droners Soma Crew, the current line-up of Gong (urged to keep going by founder member Daevid Allen even as he was suffering a terminal illness) produced a brilliant set of prog rock. I can’t add much to what I’ve already said above, except to say that, prior to the gig, I was slightly worried that Gong’s music might have been too surreal for me (based on what, I don’t know). How wrong I was.
1 – The Heather Findlay Band @ The Post Office Club 25/7/16. I’ve chosen this as my number one for a number of reasons, not least of which was the company I was in. Not only were there a few regular gig-buddies, but I had convinced both my wife and daughter to attend (or, it might be said, to let me attend, given it was on my daughter’s birthday…) This was the first time I saw Odin Dragonfly this year and it was great to see them back and even better to hear they have new material planned. The Heather Findlay Band impressed with a set comprising Heather’s solo work along with songs from Mostly Autumn and Mantra Vega and Heather’s performance reminded me just how good a vocalist she is. It was a very similar gig to the December one at the Crescent and, while the latter was made more poignant by appearances by Heather’s sons and Angela Gordon’s daughter, this one was a lot warmer.