Last year was by far the best year for live music in York since I belatedly discovered the local scene some six or seven years ago. Well, it was in one respect. For me, one of the joys of going to gigs is discovering local (or not so local) bands that I haven’t come across before. As a group, we found going out on a Friday night to see three or four bands, usually for three or four quid, somewhat exciting, even if some of them weren’t that good. It has been said, sometimes you have to get through the dross to get to the good stuff.
At the back end of 2011, however, I was already getting excited by the number of prog-rock bands that were including York venues in their latest tours. It’s entirely possible that those local band nights were still around, but I was pretty much oblivious to them. Bands who featured in Prog magazine were coming. Some I had music by, some I had just heard of. 2012 was looking like a version of paradise to me. Having said that, the first two gigs I attended were local bands.
By the end of the year, I had attended forty gigs (two more than 2011) across ten venues (four less than 2011), seeing one hundred and four performances by eighty-nine individual bands or artistes (sixteen more than 2011 in both cases). Top venue in 2012 was The Duchess (20 gigs) followed by Fibbers (11, although I didn’t set foot in their until May). The only other venue I went to more than once was The Fulford Arms (2 gigs) and there was one attendance each at Stereo, The Basement, The Waggon and Horses, The Victoria Vaults, The Grand Opera House. Parliament Street in the heart of York and the MEN Arena in the heart of Manchester also saw me attend two very special gigs.
The first of these was a full day of live music, mostly local, organised by York’s music shop MOR Music as part of the year-long celebrations of York’s 800th anniversary of being a self-governing city. I had managed to convince Debbie and Elizabeth that a day outside was a good idea and, although we didn’t see all the bands (getting there just too late for the first, missing a couple in the middle due to needing food and leaving before the end) all three of us had a very pleasant entertaining day in the (not forecasted) sunshine, despite the best efforts of one person to spoil it later on. But that’s another story. The event was well organised, featured a nice mix of bands and, in terms of a city centre event that went on until after “closing time”, went off without a hitch. Hopefully, it will become a regular event.
I don’t often travel to gigs these days (and, arguably, this wasn’t a gig but there was live music, so I’m counting it…) but Elizabeth had joined the school choir in Year 5 and was taking part in one of the Young Voices shows held around the country. Her choir was joined by thousands of other children who filled all the seats behind the stage area in the MEN Arena and, as well as performing on their own as one huge choir, provided backing vocals for performers on the stage. I might not have heard of The High Kings or Randolp Matthews before and I might have scoffed at the fact that not-yet-teenaged Connie Talbot was runner up on Britain’s Got Talent in 2007, but the whole evening was brilliant – packed with emotion and, it has to be said, fantastic performances. I even changed my mind about Miss Talbot. I’m still never going to watch BGT, though.
Aside from those two gigs, which were definite highlights of my year, there were some excellent smaller events. I saw Stolen Earth five times – four as support slots to more well-established bands, building their fanbase before launching their debut album, the superb A Far Cry From Home, with a gig in June. Since that gig, bass-player Paul Teasdale has left and been replaced and guitarist Adam Dawson announced just yesterday that he was leaving. The band plan to continue, however, and are already working on their second album.
At the end of March, I took a punt on Touchstone – I had heard a couple of tracks at most on Prog magazine cover mount CDs but, being a femme-fronted prog band, there was a good chance I was going to like them. To be honest, they blew me away with a superb performance, one of the best I have seen in York and I was over-joyed when it was announced that they would be returning to York in October, as double-headliners with The Reasoning. Other similar, female-fronted, acts that I saw were the returning Panic Room, Mostly Autumn (in their regular Christmas gig), Curved Air and Karnataka, who I had near-begged to play York and who I was glad to see get a reasonable audience when they added the city to near the end of their tour. Anneke Van Giersbergen used to front Dutch proggers The Reasoning and the audience for her solo appearance at Fibbers reflected both that fact, in the number of prog and European symphonic metal bands on the T-shirts worn and the number of people who had travelled to see her, some of whom seemed a little bemused that she gave a much more pop-orientated (but still very good) performance.
More (though not necessarily exclusively) male-orientated prog bands included Martin Turner’s Wishbone Ash, Ozric Tentacles, It Bites (with Calling All The Heroes nowhere to be seen), Focus, DeeExpus, Manning, …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead and Hawklords. The last two on that list took being loud to the extremes, while the Ozrics managed to play an engrossing two-hour, completely instrumental set, and still made every track sound different to the others.
There was a more folky influence from the likes of Jacqui McShee’s Pentangle, Stackridge and The Albion Band, while true rock was evident from Morpheus Rising, Vega, Nazareth and The Union. There was Blues representation as well, in the forms of Aynsley Lister and Chantel McGregor. In some ways, most impressive was Colin Blunstone, who performed solo in February and returned in October with The Zombies – there can’t be many acts who are celebrating fifty-one years in the business who can still perform a two-hour set and whose line-up still contains two-and-a-half(!) original members.
Charlotte Church included York in her mini tour and I decided to go along. Unfortunately, I spent the afternoon at a small beer festival (with live music, but I didn’t count it as a gig) and, after the evening found that I couldn’t remember too much about the music. She does have a fantastic smile and a great voice, though.
The always entertaining Hope & Social returned to York twice – once on their acoustic (i.e. pack as many instruments into the van, leave some of the brass section behind and try to get each member to play a different instrument on each song, even if it means having tape there to show where to put his fingers) tour and once to promote yet another new album. As usual, much hilarity ensued.
Charity and music were entwined both in Hazzard County’s get-together (all but one ex-members and a balloon) at the Fulford Arms and the launch gig for the Best Of York album at the Basement – both gigs and the album aiming to raise money for MacMillan Cancer Support. The latter was memorable for a performance by What The Cat Dragged In that grabbed me in a way that hasn’t happened since the first time I came across Dream Of Apollo. Sadly, I haven’t managed to catch them since and they have now metamorphosed into Magpie. Hopefully, they will be just as quirkly and entertaining and I’ll get a chance to see them soon.
Speaking of Dream Of Apollo, I saw them twice, including at their “farewell” gig in July. It wasn’t clear in the build-up whether this was farewell to Vicki, who was moving to London, or the band itself. Happily, while there is less chance of them playing live at the moment, the band seem determined to continue and are recording their debut album. I was privileged to be invited to sit in on one of the recording sessions, which was fascinating, and loved what I heard.
…and that’s nearly the end of the round-up of the year. Most of the bands I’ve mentioned above were headliners. There was, also, of course a number of good support acts (as well as one or two that I hope never to come across again). Among others, I would like to mention: Rugosa, The Faraday Concept (who headlined a night of rock at The Duchess), Heather Findlay and Chris Johnson, Four Stones Deeper, Skam, Death Letters, Marc Atkinson and Stout Boots.
2012 was a great year for live music in York. I doubt 2013 will beat it, but you never know.