In some ways my 2014 live music experiences were shaped by the gigs I didn’t attend. It’s no secret that, having lost my job at the beginning of the year, I took the decision to dramatically reduce the number of times I experienced live music. In fact, the original plan was to stop completely, apart from one “bucket-list” concert, the ticket for which I had bought in 2013. However, despite my usual stance of not accepting guest list offers, a handful of people (musicians and friends) pretty much insisted that I accept tickets and, in one case, a lift to Leeds as well, in order to stop me from missing out. Those people will always have my gratitude. I also managed to fit in one free-entry gig, meaning that I averaged one a month for the first few months of the year. It was hard, looking at the What’s On listings and realising what I was missing, but I survived. A new project that I started – with a lot of help from my friend Marc McGarraghy – to fill some free time was to interview some of York’s buskers, hopefully giving the (slightly) wider public an insight into what made them tick. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience that, unfortunately petered out after just two interviews and is something that I would love to return to in the future. One of the best days of my 2014, however, was the twentieth of June – a day that saw me both receive and accept a job offer in the afternoon and restart my regular attendances in the evening.
Last year (or, at least, the second half of it) also saw a number of gigs that I was planning to attend be cancelled, sometimes at very short notice. They may not be chart-botherers but it seems that relatively big names on the small circuit like Focus, Martin Barre and Toyah Willcox can’t generate enough ticket sales to make it worth their while playing in York. Having said that, I was quite surprised that one of those acts even chose to try to play here again, given his verdict on the venue last time and another was charging well over twenty pounds for a weekday appearance. I’m still of the mind, however, that the people of York could make more effort to support live music in the city. (And, yes, I appreciate the irony of saying that, given my first paragraph). There were more cancellations – John Etheridge, Imperia, Heaven and Earth and Ezio & Booga are all acts I would have gone to see. Indeed, I had a ticket for one of them. I would also have gone to see John Wheeler, frontman of Hayseed Dixie who pretty much sell out The Duchess when they play there. I only realised he had cancelled while arranging to meet a friend at the gig. Toby Jepson’s annual acoustic night at Fibbers also disappeared from the schedules – at least he, though, had the excuse that he had been made an offer of work that he just couldn’t refuse. Our loss but I’m fairly certain he’ll be back.
So, the inevitable (boring?) figures… I ended up attending 38 gigs (down 10 from 2013), and seeing 119 performances by 96 individual acts (both down 1 from last year) in 11 venues (up 1). Given that I was planning on going to nine cancelled gigs, another two clashed with ones I did attend and I ended up not going to one simply because it fell in a run of four in four days and I couldn’t justify it, 2014 could, in fact, have been a record breaking year, especially given the number I missed at the start of the year.
Most attended venue was Fibbers, with twelve, mostly at its new location (a move that one gig buddy and I had anticipated). I was impressed with the new location when if first opened, was even more impressed with when it reopened after a refurbishment and I have to say that it got even better as the weeks went on. It is now easily the best small venue (by national standards, medium by local) in York. Even the drinks prices don’t bother me as I rarely drink at gigs. Second place went to The Duchess (8), despite it seemingly trying to be more of a comedy venue than a live music venue these days, then Parliament Street (6 – thanks to the Summer’s week long festival organised by York’s Little Festival of Live Music and, ironically, something I wouldn’t have got to see as much of if I had been working), The Basement (4) and The Barbican (2). The Black Swan, The Fulford Arms, York Brewery, The National Railway Museum round of the list with one each.
The acts I saw most were Boss Caine (5), The Rodeo Falls and Unfinished Drawings (3 each). A number of acts popped up twice, mainly due to their appearances at the two festivals organised by the aforementioned Little Festival) and I saw a large number of acts for the first time, primarily for the same reason.
Anybody still reading and paying attention might have noticed that the venue totals above don’t add up to the 38 gigs I saw. That’s because they are all York venues and I actually travelled to two gigs last year, seeing The Temperance Movement at Leeds Metropolitan University and Yes at the Manchester Apollo. The latter was the bucket-list gig and, while it wasn’t perfect, it is one of my gigs of the year. Another favourite featured a second prog rock legend – Steve Hackett’s Genesis Revisited show at The Barbican was an absolute cracker.
In terms of smaller local concerts, though, nothing really stands out in my memory as a “great” gig. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed all the ones I went to (although, a couple weren’t as good as I expected), but I just can’t think of one that was outstanding. I guess the closest would be MOR Music’s Music On Rails festival – a near day-long event held at the National Railway Museum which brought together a number of diverse acts both in the main hall and on a moving train – and the annual Boss Caine Festive Fundraiser, which did the same in an evening that both raised money for a good cause and presented a potted history of the York music scene.
Elsewhere, it was more a case of coming across local bands for the first time and liking them enough to want to see them again. These And The Other Guy, The Rodeo Falls, Mulholland and Vesper Walk all fall into that category – very different acts whose music has impressed me in different ways, all are well worth seeing. I also came across Stu Freestone, an expressive spoken word poet whose work opened my eyes to a more modern type of poetry than that I was used to, even if it hasn’t (yet) enticed me to see any others.
Of course, there were also touring acts. Emma Stevens performed her brand of folk-pop to a smaller audience than she deserved. I’d love to see her again, but I doubt it’s financially viable for her to play York in the near future. Chantel McGregor is a regular in York and I was so glad it was her gig that it was here gig that coincided with my job offer. Dry The River, Bernie Torme, The Sluts, Winter In Eden, Carnabells and, inevitably Hope & Social all impressed when they played here as well, the latter once again proving that music and humour can go hand in hand.
To my genre of choice – ultimately, there wasn’t as much prog rock in York as was advertised but I still got my fix (on the basis that, if an act is mentioned in Prog magazine they must be playing prog rock, even if it doesn’t sound like anything I would link with the genre). Apart from Steve Hackett, we were treated to appearances from Leeds’ Black Moth, a third gig in three years from Hawklords, a triple-header from Maschine, Leprous and Haken (although a previous appointment in Nottingham meant that I missed Maschine) and two gigs from York’s own Cloud Atlas, the first of which launched their debut album.
Finally, two goodbyes. Long time readers (if there are any) will know how much I enjoyed the music and company of Dream of Apollo. Sadly, 2014 saw them decide to disband. No fall-outs, no musical differences, just the fact that the members are now spread too far apart geographically. They said goodbye to their fans, old and new, with an emotional gig in a packed room at the York Brewery. It would probably have been a highlight if it wasn’t a farewell gig. I’m still hoping the more-hinted-at-than-promised reunion comes to pass. There have been a few times when I’ve gone to see somebody, including people not normally on my musical radar, thinking that, due to their age, this could be my last chance. So far, though, there has always been that chance that they might come back – John Mayall surprised me by appearing back in York just before his eightieth birthday and looking more sprightly than ever. Last year, however, I saw British rock legend Ian McLagan and despite not being familiar with his music, either solo or with The Faces or The Small Faces I thoroughly enjoyed the gig and was incredibly saddened to read of his death a few months later.
In conclusion, for me 2014 was a good year for live music and had the potential to be a great year. The best news is that I am well and truly back in the game and already looking forward to what 2015 will bring.