2015 saw me fully back in the saddle in terms of attending gigs, although as the year progressed it seemed that I wasn’t getting to as many as I usually did and I fully expected, when putting the final figures together, that I would actually have been to less than I did in 2014, despite the first six months of that year being a barren wasteland for me personally.
Here are the figures – skip further down if you just want the highlights.
In fact, I ended up going to 41 gigs (up 3 on 2014, but down 7 on 2013), seeing 96 performances from 88 individual acts (119 & 96 in 2014 and 120 & 97 in 2013). Those gigs were held in just 8 venues (11 in 2014, 10 in 2013), with just one of those venues being outside of York. By far the biggest number were held at Fibbers (30), with only The Barbican (3), The Duchess (2), The Basement (2) and The Grand Opera House (2) drawing me in more than once. The remaining venues were The Black Swan and Leeds Cathedral.
As usual, there were gigs I had planned to go to that I ended up not attending. An ill thought out decision to take a holiday at Easter meant that I missed Robin Trower and Ben Poole (I even had a ticket for the latter). At other times, clashes meant I had to choose one band over another – although I was grateful to Mr H, who managed to rearrange one Fibbers gig after I pointed out that it clashed with another that had a potential crossover audience. There was, inevitably, disappointment when I realised that perhaps my only chance to see veteran rockers UFO was on the same evening that I had already bought tickets for the whole family to go to another venue. At other times, a simple “can’t be bothered to head out” feeling, meant that I missed bands such as Hayseed Dixie.
But this is supposed to be about the stuff I did see, not what I didn’t…
At times it seemed as though York had slipped back into the Seventies, with prog-rock stalwarts from that decade appearing throughout the year. Uriah Heep returned to York after too long and packed out Fibbers, bringing with them one of my favourite new discoveries of the year in the form of Blurred Vision. Here And Now, a band unknown to me prior to their gig, played the same venue and drew another big crowd, as did Wishbone Ash. Camel and Steve Hackett both played The Barbican, both pulling from a huge back catalogue for unsupported gigs. Not quite as old (and not quite as prog), Mike & The Mechanics also played The Barbican. Also not prog, but with definite roots in the seventies, if not earlier, the legendary Glenn Hughes performed tracks from his time with Deep Purple, as well as material from his solo career and other bands. There was more nostalgia at The Grand Opera House when it hosted one of those eighties revival gigs, featuring T’Pau, Go West and Nik Kershaw in a slightly unexpected format which saw the latter two onstage together (mainly) performing each other’s songs.
Modern prog-rock was very well represented, with headline appearances in York from the likes of Lifesigns, who played here at both ends of the year, Mostly Autumn – again two performances, one at Fibbers and another at The Grand Opera House – Panic Room, Knifeworld, Halo Blind, Idle Jack & The Big Sleep (I’d class them as prog anyway), who delighted fans with the news of new music on the way), Celestial Fire, Hawklords and Matt Berry & The Maypoles. They were ably supported along the way by band such as Cloud Atlas (who also had a headline gig that I couldn’t get to), Soma Crew and Beastfish. There could be an argument that local bands Asio’s Eyes and La Petite Mort had at least a sprinkling of prog in their music as well.
Blues rock was my next most represented genre. Larry Miller played Fibbers just a few weeks before being put out of action (temporarily, hopefully) by a stroke, as did South African Dan Patlansky, who was venturing further North than he had ever been before, which might go some way to explaining the smallest crowd for a blues gig this year. Chantel McGregor returned for her annual appearance in York, ahead of releasing her second album, while fellow female purveyor of the blues Joanne Shaw Taylor shocked me by pretty much selling out Fibbers, despite it being her first headline appearance in York (she had supported Robin Trower earlier in the year). Her performance, though, showed why so many people had ventured out. My favourite modern blues band, King King, also returned to Fibbers and had the satisfaction of being seen by a much bigger crowd than for their previous appearances. My only complaint about the blues gigs was the price of CDs on the merchandise tables – often being more expensive than buying direct from the bands’ websites.
Although I enjoyed the majority of local bands that I saw this year and there were reappearances from some favourites, there was little new that really made me stand up and notice. Perhaps the only band that did so was soft rock trio Little Resistance, who I saw in a support slot. Unfortunately I haven’t managed to catch them again since. Elsewhere, The Rodeo Falls started the year off in style, with a headline gig, before personal issues meant a subsequent lack of live performances. Everlate also had a headline gig, to coincide with the release of their latest EP (my only disappointment was that it wasn’t a full album). I felt completely out of place at The Filthy Piece’s gig, but enjoyed the music, although I’m not sure what their future holds as, I believe, at least some of the band have subsequently moved down South. Blackbeard’s Tea Party had The Duchess folk-rocking once again as they launched their latest album.
All the above gigs, and others that I haven’t mentioned, were entertaining – regular readers will know that I rarely don’t enjoy a gig – and I have, in the past, selected just one or two highlights of the year. This time, though, I have (with just slight difficulty) been able to rank a top five (performances, if not full gigs), and they are… :
5 – The return of Emma Stevens to York. Emma’s first headline gig in York was a definite highlight of my year but, I noted in last year’s review, that the small crowd probably meant it wouldn’t be financially viable to play here again. I was wrong, as she returned to Fibbers as one half of a dual-headline gig, alongside Blair Dunlop, and with a second album under her belt. This time round the crowd was much bigger and the impression I got was that most people seemed to have come to see her. She gave another smiling, charismatic performance of her brand of folk-pop and, afterwards at the merchandise table, showed just what a lovely person she is.
4 – The Last Internationale. Fitting in an appearance in York between the Leeds and Reading festivals, there was something almost subversive about this trio’s music, which could be best described as protest-rock. Slightly political, very powerful and highly entertaining, there was something about the music that evoked earlier times (although, to be honest, I’m not sure what I mean by that).
3 – Moonsorrow. I went to this gig, which coincided with York’s Viking Festival, just to find out what “heathen metal” meant and left it having been blown away by the energy, the music and the sheer theatricality of the whole thing. Loud, heavy and covered in fake blood, Moonsorrow gave a performance that, while not necessarily enticing me to start buying their albums, means I will almost certainly attend the equivalent gig in 2016, if only to see whether whoever is headlining that one can be anywhere near as entertaining.
2 – Anathema. If you had asked me after this gig, I would probably have said that it would end up being my favourite of the year. I love Anathema’s music and, while I am unlikely to see them perform as a full band, this was the second time I had seen them perform acoustically, this time in the lovely surroundings of Leeds Cathedral, a venue that was brought to life by the spectacular light show later in the gig. Add in a superb support slot by violinist Anna Phoebe and this was, overall, a magical gig that would have topped any other year. It was only beaten by…
1 – Hope And Social. I have seen and been entertained by this Leeds band so many times that I have lost count. They are always a highlight of my year and never fail to raise your mood, with both their music and what goes on between their songs, which is often “unscripted” and, at times, hilariously funny. This time, though, they seemed to perform in a sort of “perfect storm” of entertainment – the music was, as ever, flawless, and the crowd worked perfectly during the evening, joining in in everything that they should have joined in with and doing it with gusto. As ever, there was mickey-taking, reminiscences and laughter, and even a lump-in-the-throat-tear-in-the-eye moment when a fan was invited on stage to carry out a perfectly planned and executed marriage proposal (she said yes). It was an evening with a cracking atmosphere that was reflected in my write-up (which I think was the best piece I have ever written and doubt I will ever beat it. Not just the best gig of 2015, but one of the best gigs I have ever been to.