Towards the end of 2012 and during the beginning of 2013, as I was scanning the various What’s On listings, I was bemoaning the fact that there was very little catching my eye and worrying that 2013 was going to be a very poor year for gig attendance on my part.
So it came as a bit of a surprise, as the year progressed and the listings expanded, that I found myself at more and more gigs. Eventually I managed to take in more live music in 2013 than any year since I started keeping count and ended up with forty-eight gigs made up of one hundred and twenty performances by ninety-seven individual acts – previous highest, coincidentally from 2012, were forty, one hundred and four and eighty-nine – and those totals could have been so much higher if I had seen everybody I wanted to. Family illness, clashes (either with bands playing the same evening or other plans), financial constraints and, sadly, a couple of nights when I simply couldn’t be bothered to go out all reduced the number of gigs I went to. Most appearances went to Boss Caine, whose work is now so familiar that I could have sworn I had seen him more than the four times I actually did.
In terms of venues, Fibbers came out on top with 25 gigs with The Duchess second (14). The Basement Bar (2) was the only other venue I attended more than once and I also saw gigs at The Cock And Bottle, The Last Drop Inn, Gibsons and The Grand Opera House. As well as those, for the first time in years, I travelled out of York, going to The Sheffield Motorpoint Arena to see Meatloaf’s farewell tour and Harrogate’s Blues Bar for Dream Of Apollo (because I hadn’t been able to see them play York the week before).
One of the highlights of the year, though, was my first ever trip to both Sheffield City Hall and a festival. The Tramlines festival basically takes over Sheffield city centre for a weekend, using many of the live music venues and open spaces and providing something for everybody. This was the first year they had charged an entry fee but at £15 for a weekend pass I doubt anybody was complaining. I didn’t do the full weekend, nor did I wander around other venues as there was a Prog Rock orientated day at the City Hall – seven bands, four of which I hadn’t seen before (and two who are unlikely to appear in York) for £6. It ended up being a great day out at a pretty good venue, although it also cost me a fortune in CD purchases.
Hawkwind fans were well-served this year, with ex-members showing up in two appearances from The Psychedelic Warlords as they ran through the classic live album Space Ritual on the fortieth anniversary of its release and Hawklords, when they returned to Fibbers to promote their second (or is that third?) album, Dream, giving us a performance that was better, if less intense, than that of 2012. Two of those gigs included support slots for York’s own Hawkwind tribute act Do Not Panic who, while I can’t comment on how accurate their performance is, are well worth seeing in their own right.
Some bands travelled far and wide to appear in York (or at least add the city to their schedule). Although not truly international, Scotland was represented by the superb Blues of King King, the Celtic Prog-rock of Iona and a revived Big Country (with the Alarm’s Mike Peters standing in for, rather than replacing, the late Stuart Adamson) while Wales gave us Panic Room for probably the last time as attendances, or lack thereof, in York mean that it is no longer feasible for them to appear here. They still managed a bigger crowd than their fellow country-folk Ryan James, Noterminus and Sankara who, touring together and appearing in York on the evening of a very sunny Father’s Day, were seen by just four people, one of whom had travelled from Leeds. Up-and-coming Kodaline came over from Dublin and their Coldplay-inspired brand of Indie-rock filled Fibbers almost to bursting, as did the USA’s Heavy Metal legends Skid Row. Also from across the Atlantic, Hayseed Dixie and Y&T both pulled larger than average crowds into The Duchess and Fibbers respectively. Finland was also well-represented with the brilliant Von Hertzen Brothers, touring with Touchstone and taking headline spot at the tour’s Duchess gig providing a high-energy and exciting performance, and “Sleaze”-rockers Santa Cruz, doing their best to forget the nineties had ever ended, performing to a smaller crowd at Fibbers as though it was a full stadium. Headliners that night were Canada’s Kobra And The Lotus, a Heavy Metal band, fronted by classically trained Kobra Paige, who reminded me a lot of Evanescence. The best international act, though, was New Yorker Willie Nile – I had no expectations when I turned up at the gig and only went in part to see one of the support acts and in part to catch up with a friend who was attending, yet it turned out to be my favourite gig of the year, energetic, passionate and full of great music from a performer (and his band) who was also a very nice guy.
Obviously I’m not going to list everybody I saw during the year but other highlights for me included:
A local band night back in March during which three good bands supported the very promising “youngsters” of Four Stones Deeper who, in turn, played to a great crowd. I missed their second headline appearance of the year but saw them support Kobra And The Lotus, where they continued to impress. Other local acts who impressed included Zak Ford, Andy Doonan, Pelico, The Valmores, Faraday Concept (who were badly served by the sound during their performance), Hobo Joe & The Dead Cats and perennial favourites Dream Of Apollo.
Two appearances by modern-folkers Blackbeard’s Tea Party, filling The Duchess and being very entertaining on both occasions.
Siblings (not the band from Derbyshire who put in a good performance in February) of arguably more famous acts popped up a couple of times in the forms of David Knopfler, who managed to just about avoid coming across as bitter during his gentle rock performance, and Deborah Bonham, whose Blues Rock should really have been appreciated by more people.
I was advised to see The Temperance Movement by somebody whose musical judgment I trust and, once again, I wasn’t disappointed, There may not be much new in the style of their music (some people are comparing them to The Black Crowes and The Rolling Stones) but they may just be bringing Rock and Roll to a whole new generation. Their superb performance at Fibbers was seen by another capacity crowd, leading me to once again wonder how people get to know about these bands, while their debut album, released shortly afterwards, deservedly entered the official BBC midweek chart at number nine.
I saw Mostly Autumn three times in 2013 and, while their Christmas gig at the Grand Opera House wasn’t particularly outstanding, their appearance at the Duchess the day after Bryan and Livvy’s wedding, with fans travelling from all over to help them celebrate (and, perhaps, pay for the honeymoon) was superb while the more relaxed semi-acoustic gig the day before the Christmas gig allowed us to see the band in a different light.
Also drawing a big crowd was ex-Superbikes champion James Toseland who showed us that he isn’t just an incredibly good-looking speed demon but can also rock with the best of them.
Acoustic guitarist and musical magician Jon Gomm managed to both baffle and impress me, finally putting to rest my irrational feeling that those people who appear to play drums and bass on their guitar were using some sort of pedal-trickery by not only explaining how it is done but also by doing it in the middle of the audience, completely unplugged.
There were, of course many more, including a couple of bands who failed to impress, perhaps simply because I didn’t “get” their music rather than anything bad on their part.
I ended last year’s equivalent post to this one by saying “2012 was a great year for live music in York. I doubt 2013 will beat it, but you never know.” It turns out that 2013 was even better. Unfortunately, with York’s two “proper” venues potentially under threat (by how much seems to depend on how much inside information you have on the circumstances surrounding Stonebow House and I don’t pretend to have any at all) York’s place on the touring map also seems, to me, to be heading into difficulties. That, together with my own circumstances potentially meaning that I will have to pick and choose my gigs a bit more carefully means that, from a purely personal point of view, things can only go downhill from here.