Friday 30th December: I still haven’t managed to listen to all the 2011-released CDs that I added to my collection and the year isn’t over yet, so I haven’t finished reading books. That means that the first of my round-ups for 2011 concentrates on the live music I have experienced during the year.
After the turmoil seen by the local venues in 2010, this year was reasonably stable in terms of where to go if you wanted live music in York. The big news was, of course, the opening of the refurbished Barbican Centre, after sitting empty way too long. Inside the money touted as being spent on doing up the building seems to have been mainly allocated to the areas the public see in the light – the bar and restaurant, for example – while the auditorium itself still has the same seating and, as far as I could see, floor. There has been a pretty good mix of live acts appearing there but I only managed one gig, at least partly because of the ticket prices which, like the Grand Opera House (which also showcases some reasonably big names) are much higher than the other venues in the city. Being honest, in most cases I’d rather pay less and see more (and less well-known) bands.
Getting the boring stats out of the way first, I managed to attend thirty-eight gigs in 2011, the highest number (by one) since I started keeping records. Strangely, during those gigs, I saw the same number of individual acts and total performances – eighty-eight and seventy-three respectively. I guess that means that the average number of bands per gig was down this year. Most attended venue, by far, was Fibbers with eighteen, followed by The Duchess with five. The Basement Bar, The Golden Lion and Stereo all came in with two gigs and I attended one each at The Barbican, The Grand Opera House, The Post Office Club, The Red Lion, The Roman Bath, Rowntree Park, The Victoria Vaults, The White Swan and The Yorkshire Hussar. Venues highlighted in bold above are ones that I attended for the first time. I managed to see a wide variety of acts – ranging from heavy metal to a sixteen-year-old ukulele-player. There was a nice mix of local and touring acts, the latter including three international bands. Cover acts were down on previous years, with only four acts whose majority of songs were covers and one tribute band. As usual, most of the acts were good, a handful were superb and a few I won’t be bothering to see again.
While this year saw the three original gig-goers meeting up less often, I did get a new, irregular gig-buddy in the form of my nine-year-old daughter, Elizabeth. I had planned to take her to her first gig this year (assuming she wanted to go) but she ended up going to three “first” gigs (four by the “two venue” rule above). At the end of the Summer holidays we headed off to Rowntree Park for the York Peace Festival, not as hippies but to see a handful of bands in the open air and this also gave Elizabeth the chance to say “hello” to one of her favourite local acts, G. T. Turbo. We also spent a very pleasant afternoon in the October sunshine in the Red Lion’s beer garden and, later, Fibbers (where I seemed to have got special permission for Elizabeth to attend) for York’s Guitar Festival weekend, where she saw G. T. perform again and also experienced her first heavy metal gig with the mighty Morpheus Rising – earplugs were a must. Towards the end of the year, we both went to the Grand Opera House to see Mostly Autumn – no earplugs this time and Elizabeth actually struggled to stay awake for the entire set, twitching along to the music towards the end and only waking up to applaud along with the rest of us. I don’t think the sudden onset of narcolepsy was anything to do with the standard of music and, afterwards, she did tell me that she enjoyed the experience.
Before I bring forth my highlights of the year, I will take a few lines to bemoan the seemingly dwindling crowds seen in York. Some bands that deserve much bigger attendances seemed to be bringing in fewer people but the worst was the two gigs I saw at Stereo – in both cases I was the only person in the audience not connected to any of the bands performing, which I guess is about as bad as it gets for a band. In these cases kudos goes to Stirling’s Miniature Dinosaurs and their support acts – not only did all the acts stay around to watch each other (and make me feel a little less lonely) but the Dinosaurs themselves had the attitude that it didn’t matter whether the crowd was one person or one thousand, you still give it your best. On the other hand, a big thumbs down goes to Leeds’ Arthur Rigby and The Baskervylles who, in a similar situation stayed in whatever green room there is at Stereo until it was their turn to take to the stage, giving no support to any of their support acts. Personally, I think they got what they deserved as most people left when they took to the stage.
As with last year, I definitely have a favourite gig of the year but first, a few highlights. Panic Room played York twice this year supported firstly by York’s own Marbled and then by touring support David R. Black. Both were excellent gigs and Panic Room are definitely a band which deserves a bigger audience than they get. My worry is that, unless that audience comes forth, York may soon be dropped from future tours. Hope & Social also appeared twice, but the Fibbers gig in October was a definite highlight – not only was I right at the front but the whole atmosphere was brilliant, a fantastic mixture of music and laughs. Swedish band Jeniferever also popped into Fibbers and gave us a “wall of sound” performance of ambient rock that pretty much knocked the socks off both me and a newcomer to our band of gig-goers. I went to see Nils Lofgren at the Barbican simply because I knew his name and that he was a sometime member of the E-Street Band. I didn’t really know what to expect but was enthralled by the gig and surprised that the man himself came out after the the show to sign anything anybody wanted him to. Stolen Earth, the band risen from the ashes of Breathing Space so impressed us during their debut at the Post Office Club that even Andy bought advance tickets for their Christmas gig at Victoria Vaults, and this turned out to be one of the best pub gigs I can remember. Long-time live favourites Chantel McGregor and Morpheus Rising both released debut albums this year – Chantel’s tour to promote hers saw her pitch up at Fibbers for what I think is the best I have seen her play, while Morpheus Rising launched theirs at the same venue and gave one of their best performances as well. That gig also formed part of a mini prog explosion in November and December. I managed to see The Heather Findlay band not only perform tracks from The Phoenix Suite, and Odin Dragonfly’s Offerings but also revitalise some of the Mostly Autumn back catalogue that I doubt anybody realised needed revitalising. With the bar raised, the next night saw Mostly Autumn themselves with the best performance I have seen them give in York and then, in the space of a week, I saw Amplifier, The Pineapple Thief and Also Eden (the latter supporting Morpheus Rising). Fish also appeared that week, but clashed with Pineapple Thief and I opted for the latter. There were many more good performances but I suspect you are already getting bored.
…and so, to my favourite gig of the year…
One of the things I like about local gigs is that you can, occasionally, get something completely unexpected. That was to be the case in the Summer when, devoid of anything to see at our normal venues, if was suggested that we head to The Yorkshire Hussar to see something new. To be honest, I wasn’t going to go, but I gave MySpace a quick visit and, after listening to one track, changed my mind. We arrived at the Hussar, which I think had only started putting on live music recently, to find a small crowd which seemed to be made up of friends and family of the band. That band was Dream Of Apollo and, by the end of the night that had impressed us all. So much so that we saw them twice more in the space of just over five weeks, even paying for the last gig as they headlined Fibbers. More or less unique, they don’t seem to have a specific genre of music but, instead, perform a bit of everything, melding it all into one extremely likeable whole. The lovely dreaminess of Someday, the epic, near-prog of Free, the atmospheric Regrets Of The Devil and the rest of the set, including Sandman (the MySpace song that convinced me to go to the gig) and a handful of covers that included Depeche Mode, Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton, made for a totally unexpected but entirely stunning performance. I may have seen bigger names, at better venues, but for its sheer originality and surprise, this was the best gig of the year for me.