Sunday 16th January: …and so to my final roundup of 2010 – the live bands that I saw during the year.
This year saw somewhat of a shake-up in the venues of the city. The controversial takeover and subsequent refurbishment of Fibbers by a company perhaps better known for their nightclubs than for live music divided opinion, caused the cancellation of at least one gig (with some fairly vitriolic comments for the band’s spokesman on the night) and led to some arguably enforced changes in some of the familiar faces within its staff. I still don’t like the interior (or the bar prices and choice – I’ve yet to actually buy a drink in there since the refurb) but they do seem to be getting more of the sorts of acts that I like again. The Duchess, on the other hand, seems to have gone a little downhill, which may or may not have been tied in with staff changes there. Despite rumours that they were about to start hosting local acts with cheap entry, they haven’t actually had anybody I’ve been tempted to see since the middle of the year.
On the other hand, from my point of view, Stereo has come more to the fore as a venue. In the past the acts appearing there haven’t appealed to me because of the seeming darkness and punk links. Recently, however, it has hosted some old favourites and, in some ways, proves to be the best venue in York.
Perhaps the biggest news of the year was the fact that the long-empty Barbican Centre is to be refurbished and reopened in 2011. The venue will be operated by SMG Europe, who currently run Manchester’s MEN Arena and will be running the new Leeds Arena (among others). In the past the Barbican attracted some reasonably big (for York) names and, despite the potential impact on my wallet, I hope that I can start to do so again.
Anyway, onto what I actually saw in 2010. It is perhaps indicative of the fact that I kept bemoaning the dearth of what I considered good music that I only went to thirty-four gigs in 2010 (down from thirty-seven in 2009). However, I did see seventy-three individual acts in a total of eighty-eight performances (up from sixty-five and seventy-two respectively). The venue split was – Fibbers: 11 (9 before the refurb); Duchess and Stereo: 6 each; Basement and Roman Bath: 4 each; Punchbowl, Royal Oak and Grand Opera House: 1 each.
Last year, I decided not to choose a “best” gig due to to the difficulty of picking one from such a list of different items. This year, however, despite the list perhaps being even more eclectic, I definitely have a favourite. There was only one band that I could say I wouldn’t cross the street to see again. Or, the words of my Dad, “If they were playing in my back garden, I’d close the curtains.” A few more bands didn’t do much for me on the night, but I wouldn’t be put off seeing them as support acts in future. One or two others were slightly disappointing, for various reasons – Nick Harper was one of my 2009 highlights but I wasn’t as impressed with his performance this year and Heavens Basement came highly recommended and didn’t quite perform to my expectations. On the other hand, a few bands surprised me into enjoying them more than I expected (if, indeed, I expected anything) – new band Boys Off The Bench showed great potential while a reduced line-up Eureka Machines were superb.
In terms of highlights, I seem to have picked old favourites. Gun and Morpheus Rising, this time supported by Scream Arena, once again rocked the Duchess, shortly before Toby Jepson left Gun to go back to a solo career. April’s Hope & Social gig (with support from Robert Loxley Hughes, the full version of Dave Woodcock and the Dead Comedians and the always excellent GT Turbo) was, as expected, the most fun gig of the year, mixing superb music with great personalities to produce yet another memorable show. I thoroughly enjoyed the final of York’s Battle of the Bands, even if I didn’t agree with the outcome. Acoustically, Fish (supported by Marbled) and Otis Gibbs (supported by Joe Solo and the ubiquitous GT Turbo) were revelations. More fun was to be had with the founders (and possibly only proponents) of the Rockgrass style of music, Hayseed Dixie and from the second time I saw Adam Dawson – something about the atmosphere and clientele at the Royal Oak that night turned an already enjoyable gig into something a bit more special.
Long-time performers in new bands were represented by The Union (with Ricky Warwick and, you guessed it, GT) and Stringer Bessant (with Patchwork Grace, Boys Off The Bench and Eureka Machines) provided two of the best, if completely different gigs of the year, while line-up changes for Mostly Autumn and Breathing Space both garnered good reviews of their live gigs, but different fortunes for the bands – the Mostlies seen to have grown in stature, while December’s Breathing Space gig turned out to be their last as it was announced this week that the band had breathed its last.
My favourite gig of the year was back in April, when Morpheus Rising supported The Reasoning at Fibbers. I had seen Morpheus Rising a few times by then but there was something about there performance that night that pushed all the right buttons for me. The vocals were superb, the music brilliant and the crowd appreciative. The band has been on hiatus for a few months now, due to the vocalist’s posting overseas, but this gig showed just how strong they can be as a live act. British heavy metal is definitely alive, well and in good hands and I, for one, can’t wait to hear the new material. Putting them on the same bill as The Reasoning was a stroke of near genius. Two very different, yet complimentary, bands whose respective audiences could, therefore, appreciate both. The headliners were also brilliant that night. It was the first time I had seen them perform (indeed, I didn’t even own any of their albums until I found out they were playing York) but I hope it isn’t the last. Their slightly dark, slightly heavy brand of progressive rock is just different enough from other stuff of that ilk to make it interesting and, while the seven-piece (at the time) may have struggled to fit on Fibber’s stage, they performed superbly. Overall, a near perfect gig.