2015 In Review–Part 1, The Gigs

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.

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Lifesigns–Fibbers, 12/12/15

Aside from the whole live experience there are a number of things that make me happy at gigs, and two of them happened tonight – hearing somebody new to a band that I already like proclaim that they had enjoyed the set and a band getting a bigger crowd than last time they played the same venue.

You would think, by now, that I would be totally familiar with Cloud Atlas as a live act. After all, they only have one album from which to draw their set and I have already seen them a number of times. However, they never fail to make their set sound fresh and, to me, as though the songs are being played with new arrangements. Maybe it’s just that I don’t pay enough attention to the music to remember it from one gig to the next but, for example, Dave Randall’s deep, almost rumbling keyboards, which seemed to fill the venue as he opened proceedings, leading into Heidi Widdop’s low whistle and an atmospheric ebow section from Martin Ledger, didn’t sound familiar. The riff opening of Searchlight, that it all built to, however, was unmistakeable. A small army of photographers made their way closer to the stage, cameras mainly pointed at Heidi as she gave her usual strong vocal performance, especially during the long held “forever…” that ended one line. Martin’s playing somehow seems to get better every time I see the band and he appeared to be lost in the music during the extended instrumental section. The acoustic guitar opening to Falling slowed things down considerably as, once again, Martin built from gentle guitar and what I thought was a new arrangement to the much more recognisable tune. The Grieving was more keyboard led, Dave playing a piano section before the drums signalled the start of the track proper, and more of Heidi’s superb vocals. There was another piano solo in the middle, this one much more fleet-fingered, before the piano faded away to bring the track to a lovely end. In comparison to what had gone before Soul In A Jar – the only song not to come from the Beyond The Vale album, being instead a Stolen Earth song – seemed musically uncomplicated, and yet still built to a stunning climax. And then the set itself was brought to a close by Stars, my favourite song from the album. This time Martin seemed to tease a faux medieval sound from his guitar while, during one impressive section Dave was on his feet, playing the top piece in his keyboard stack, sometimes gently, sometimes more brutally. As the audience applauded the band at the end of their set I heard one person behind me exclaim, “They were good!”

A seemingly frantic stage clearance was followed by a more sedate set-up for tonight’s headliners. For a prog band, the stage almost looked sparsely populated. John Young’s keyboard stack comprised of just two pieces, once again set back from the from of the stage. I was slightly surprised to see Lifesigns back in York so soon after they played here back in February (I think this gig was announced within weeks of that performance), especially given that gig didn’t draw a particularly big crowd. However, back they are and this time they have enticed many more people in, a fact alluded to by Young during one of his amiable between song chats. Like Cloud Atlas, Lifesigns have only released one studio album so far, but they have been working on new material for a while now (the February gig contained songs apparently destined for the next album) and also have songs from The John Young Band to fill out the set.

With the band having almost snuck onto the stage, Young encouraged the audience to come forward, clap and dance, warned us to beware of the bouncing bass player that is John Poole and asked who already had the album. Most did and, off microphone, he entreated the band to “play something I know” before they launched into Lighthouse. Poole and guitarist Niko Tsonev were indeed lively across the front of the stage. Initially Young’s vocals were swamped by the music, that was soon sorted but I couldn’t help but think that the guitar was slightly too loud in the mix all through the set. On the night I noted that the lyric “As the Winter brings the rain” was very appropriate, little knowing that, just a few days later, it would almost be prophetic. With barely a pause the band moved on to Telephone, Young encouraging a clap-along as Poole and drummer Frosty Beedle opened the track. As with Cloud Atlas, the set had opened in epic fashion, with a gentler track following. With the first two songs taking twenty-five minutes, it would have been obvious to anybody that this was no pop concert. Voice In My Head, one of those new songs, however, had a much slower opening and lasted just five minutes. By the time of Different it had become apparent that Poole was no “standard” bass-player, in that he barely stood still for a few seconds at a time. Impossible was, according to Young, “a bit more single-y” and was for anybody who had been dragged to the gig kicking and screaming (as he would be, he explained, to anything in the top forty…) I guess it was a bit more mainstream, but not too much so. It was still well over five minutes in length and featured an impressive guitar section, although the track’s abrupt ending seemed to catch the audience out slightly. In fact the audience, although full of applause for the songs, seemed strangely muted between them, especially when Young asked if there were any football fans in, because the next song – Open Skies, a John Young Band track – was to be about aliens from another planet and Manchester United. It was more rocky than prog-gy, if anything shorter than Impossible and, although I picked out references to planetary destruction and saving mankind, I didn’t hear anything about football.

Returning to the band’s eponymous album, Young asked whether we liked the artwork and dedicated the next song to Brett Wilde, the artist, who he said is the only person on the planet who has a Fridge Full Of Stars. I love this track. I love the breathiness of the keyboards. The live version is even more epic than the album version, with Tsonev switching to acoustic guitar for the opening section and a backing track being used to fill in for the track’s guest player on the album (Thijs van Leer on flute, I believe). Next came At The End Of The World, “a happy song about the end of the world” and another favourite of mine. According to setlist.fm, the next track was Kings, another JYB cover, described as “a violent little number”. An instrumental, it was punctuated by crashing cymbals and often frantic drumming above screaming guitar. The set and the evening was brought to a close with a return to the album and Carousel, for me the track that really shows off Young’s keyboard playing. Like the album tonight’s set started strongly and got better as it went along. Hopefully that second album will be along in the near future and Lifesigns will be back to promote it.

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Matt Berry & The Maypoles–Fibbers, 05/12/15

Truth be told, I wasn’t sure what to expect tonight. I had seen Matt Berry listed as playing in York before, but hadn’t yet ventured out. Whether that was because I hadn’t seen his music described as “prog” before, or whether previous listings had emphasised the comedy aspect of his career too much, I couldn’t say. Tonight’s gig, however, had caught my eye when I first saw it on Fibbers’ website and the fact that a colleague had also pointed it out to me as something I would enjoy was enough to tempt me out.

Xylaroo, Berry’s opening act on this tour, seemed to be a study in contrasts. London sisters Coco and Holly had a look that was slightly hip-hop and a logo – the band name inside the wide-open mouth of a cartoon face – that I found slightly off-putting, if not a little disturbing  but, armed with just an acoustic guitar, dual vocals and tight harmonies, they provided a short set of pop-folk that was entrancing. They were quiet at times, lively at others and verging on angry in some moments, with the unexpected and sole drop of an f-bomb drawing a cry of mock indignation from one audience member near me. Not so much looking nervous as uncertain at the reception they would get from a mostly attentive crowd, they greeted each bout of applause and cheers with smiles. The set was mostly their own material – the likes of Sunshine and Money Is Burning (the latter seemingly about the influence of TV on our lives – but there was one cover, a glorious version of Arctic Monkeys’ I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor – during which one audience member, perhaps slightly under the influence of alcohol didn’t, but still managed to raise a few smiles from the stage and laughs from the crowd – slowed down and feminised and gradually building in pace. Between songs the chat was so quiet I could barely hear it, hence the lack of song titles. During songs the lyrics were mostly drowned out by one audience member’s chat – if he’s reading this he will know who he is and should be made aware that I don’t expect everybody to stand in silence, but to talk constantly through a set is disrespectful to those on stage  and annoying to those standing around – but the overall tone was lovely.

By the time Matt Berry and his band took to the stage, to increasingly loud cheers, the already large crowd had swelled considerably, to an almost full house and I couldn’t help but wonder, given its size compared to some other prog gigs, whether some/most of the people there had come out knowing him more from his comedy. From my point of view I was only aware of him from his appearances in The IT Crowd but, because of its prominence in the what’s on listings, I think I was probably expecting some sort of comedy music act, I couldn’t have been much more wrong. It wasn’t all staid and serious – an early, good-natured mickey-take about the Yorkshire accent and Strictly Come Dancing drew laughs, as did mentions of Magic Mike and Clem Fandango, both of which went right over my head.

His music though… If I had to describe or pigeonhole “prog rock” I doubt I could, but I know what I believe fits into the genre and this was definitely it. Perhaps not as sweeping and grand as some of the more well-known entries, Berry’s music is more pastoral, more folk-y, in places more genteel but throughout definitely listenable. Opener October Sun, with its three part harmonies, from Berry, Mark Morris (The Bluetones) and folk singer Cecilia Fage brought forth another big cheer from the crowd, while the “seasonal rock opera” – which was, perhaps, shorter than that description merited – that followed saw Berry’s Korg (synthesizer, I assume) duelling with the band’s keyboard player. The sound of Devil Inside Me varied between a deep-voiced Western soundtrack and something much more light-hearted. The next track wasn’t named but Berry advised us to “grab hold of your nether-regions, because that’s what I’m aiming for.” An instrumental during which Korg and Fage’s clarinet built quickly, then merged with the trombone that the keyboard player had taken up, leading to a track that was “parp-y” in the background and almost space-y in the fore, a wall of sound that may not have reached those nether regions, but certainly had my trouser legs twitching before it faded away, leaving just the clarinet to bring it to a close.

In comparison Medicine seemed more mainstream, a slice of guitar-pop with a keyboard backing. Berry switched to lead guitar, partnering with the trombone for a brief burst of La Bamba before the atmospheric opening of Solstice built slowly into a powerful guitar-led track, with occasional wordless vocals from Fage, that lasted for the shortest nine minutes I can remember experiencing. The piano driven Take My Hand was followed by a magical instrumental from Music For Insomniacs, which convinced me that I would be buying that album on my way out of the venue. An album comprising just two twenty-three minute instrumental tracks… just how much more prog could it be?? “Stay back,” Berry quipped as he struggled to get the Korg stand to stay securely in place at the denouement of the track. The trombone/guitar duel during Snuff Box was bizarre but strangely satisfying and it was followed by a spotlight section for each band member, starting with a bass solo that started out as funky as you like and ended up as far from funky as you could get, the bassist wandering backwards and forwards to his pedals, then a drum solo with added cow-bell and ending with a fleet-fingered keyboard/synthesizer duet and vocal section that was heavy on the reverb. Each section seemed to bring forth louder appreciation from the audience.

Woman had a hint of sixties pop crooner to its sound, apart from a guitar solo, with Berry jokingly introducing the guitarist as Eric Clapton. (If the members of the band, apart from Morris and Fage, were introduced, it must have been too quickly for me to note down their names – apologies to them). The set was brought to a finale by So Low, with its bass opening and it wasn’t long before the band were back on for an encore of The Pheasant, the announcement of which was greeted by another cheer. Its short lyrical opening section led into another instrumental, slow then lively and incredibly changeable throughout. Finally, the whole evening was brought to a close by Morris on vocals – “Two gigs for the price of one,” explained Berry – for a rendition of perhaps that most mainstream of prog tracks, Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer.

As much as I like prog in general, Berry’s music is just different enough to be a breathe of fresh air in a genre that continues to surprise me and I will definitely be looking out for him appearing in York again.

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Go West & Nik Kershaw – The Grand Opera House, 14/11/15

Given the number of gigs I go to, along with the fact that I started properly listening to music, buying albums and going to gigs in the eighties, it seems strange that I don’t think I have seen a single eighties band since I started this sustained period of live music appreciation a few years back. There’s probably two reasons for that. Despite eighties revival gigs being big business, I can’t think of many iconic bands from that decade that have ventured into York. I think Erasure were here relatively recently and Adam Ant, but neither of them interested me. (Having said that, I am thinking of seeing Adam Ant next year.) The second reason is that much of the eighties music wasn’t too my taste. I remember a conversation I had with gig buddies a few years ago in which they decided that eighties music, as a whole, wasn’t very good. Checking my CD collection afterwards, I found that I had few albums by bands that formed (or found fame) in the eighties and most of my CDs from the period were from bands who had stared out earlier.

Having said that, when a friend’s Facebook post alerted me to this gig, I knew I had to be there. After all, you can’t dismiss an entire decade’s worth of music just because it saw the birth of Culture Club, The Pet Shop Boys and Soft Cell. In the end, I went with the family – Debbie keen and a not-so-well (and quite tired) Elizabeth being dragged along to her second gig in as many days.

I remember being very excited on hearing Heart And Soul, T’Pau’s debut single, for the first time. I played Bridge Of Spies (and subsequent albums) to near destruction and saw them live in the now levelled – but still my favourite venue – Queen’s Hall in Leeds. And, let’s face it, Carol Decker… I always preferred Nik Kershaw to Duran Duran, thought his Human Racing was superb, The Riddle even better – I still remember the near constant attempts to work out what the title track was actually about – and even bought Radio Musicola, which prompted an uncle of mine to ask whether Kershaw had written to personally thank me for doing so… I also saw him live, at the Birmingham Odeon. I also owned a copy of Go West’s self-titled debut album back in the day but, until tonight, I had never seen them live.

With the band already having taken their places on stage the announcer asked us to welcome Carol Decker onto the stage and she kicked things off with Sex Talk. Her hair might now be a few shades less red and tonight’s red leather coat may contain more material than her entire outfit the last time I saw her on stage but there was little doubt that she still had the vocal power and a willingness to entertain. Thinly veiled, yet humorously delivered, adverts for her new album and an anniversary box set of Bridge Of Spies mixed with quips to the audience and a brilliantly told story about how T’Pau were Nik Kershaw’s support act back in the eighties – “He didn’t like it, but his management thought it was a good idea…” – and here she was, twenty eight years later, still his support act. As such, she delivered a short set but covered a fair bit of T’Pau history. Secret Garden and Valentine book-ended two tracks from this year’s Pleasure And Pain. Read My Mind opened slowly but built quickly when the full band came in. It was, perhaps, more ballad-like than most of T’Pau’s output. Misbelieving, on the other hand, had that more familiar sound. Still slow, it featured a nice instrumental section which saw Carol hidden from view as guitarists Ronnie Rogers and Deeral took centre stage. “I’m in that guitar sandwich every night and it’s a very nice place to be,” she quipped at the end of the song. Almost inevitably the set ended with T’Pau’s two best known tracks, Heart And Soul and China In Your Hand. There were groans from the audience when the latter was announced, but only because it was the final song. Invited to sing along, the crowd did so, with gusto, arms waving during the reprise. “They’re a much better than the Butlins lot last week,” confided Carol to the band, just before leaving the stage to loud cheers, lots of applause and a few shouts for more. It was definitely too short a set.

With barely a pause, and only two changes of personnel in the band, the evening continued and I was surprised to find that Go West and Nik Kershaw were performing together, not as separate acts as I had assumed they would. Admittedly, there were comings and goings from the stage as one act left to let the other perform one of his/their own songs but, for the most part, this was a sort of eighties “supergroup”. Another surprise was that they weren’t just doing their own material.

“You bought a ticket for us and Carol. You’re probably not expecting to hear this,” said Kershaw and the band started playing Everybody Wants To Rule The World, to which he and Go West’s Peter Cox provided shared vocals. It might have been unexpected but t didn’t seem to bother the audience, who were already lively and loud. “There he goes. He can only do one song,” said Cox, joking that we should have read the poster carefully, as Kershaw left the stage before Go West performed Call Me, the audience readily joining in with the chorus, and Faithful. There was another swap as Cox and Richard Drummie left the stage and Kershaw re-appeared to a big cheer and played Wide Boy, during which he played an extended guitar piece, and then dedicated Don Quixote to his wife – “She f***ing hates this one…” – his vocals during it sounding slightly more nasal than I remembered them. The Nik Kershaw that I remembered seeing live all those years ago used a head-mic and traversed the stage, playing most of the instruments on it. The 2015 version stayed behind his mic stand and just played guitar. The on-stage banter continued as Go West returned. “Sssh, they’re back,” Kershaw announced, before telling us, “I wrote this one in 1989 and then shelved it until some geezer called Chesney Hawkes did me a massive favour.” I’m not sure I knew that he had written The One And Only, nor that I would ever enjoy hearing it played live. “Now that we’ve got you moist and gagging for it, we are going to take a break. We need our medication,” he said, just six songs into the set. It seemed a strange way to structure a gig to me.

After that break, the trio (and band) returned for another song outside of their canon, a rendition of Seal’s Crazy after which Kershaw once more left the stage and Cox told us to fee free to get out of our seats. One group in the middle of our row had been on their feet for most of the set thus far and there had been rumblings from the other side of us about getting the entire row up and dancing, so little encouragement was needed and we joined many more in the audience dancing along to Don’t Look Down. The next surprise was the next song of the set – Sam Sparro’s Black And Gold is from nowhere near the eighties… Then it was back to Kershaw’s catalogue for Dancing Girls and When A Heart Beats. With the between song chat there was a nice feeling coming from the stage. References to a thirty year career carried an undertone that the acts acknowledged that they had reached and passed the peak of fame some time ago but were now going through an enjoyable renaissance. “I know what you’re thinking, ladies. You still would, wouldn’t you?” joked Kershaw and, despite the fact he is no longer the fresh-faced heartthrob and, these days, sports more of a widow’s peak than the quiff of his heyday, you got the impression he was right.

“This one’s not from the eighties,” said Cox before a cover of Birdy’s Wings. “There’s two reasons we are playing it – we like it and we can…” It was the only track of the evening that I didn’t recognise, but they managed to give it an almost anthemic sound that seemed somehow ill-fitting with the rest of the set. Go West’s Goodbye Girl was followed by them performing Nobody Knows from Kershaw’s Radio Musicola album. In my head I could hear my uncle twisting the title to “Nobody’s Heard It” but it still brought back memories for me. Kershaw then returned the favour by playing Go West’s Missing Persons, a track I only vaguely remembered, despite it (like all but one of the Go West tracks tonight) being from the album that once graced my collection, perhaps because it was given a Kershaw makeover tonight. He followed it with, arguably, his most famous track and the biggest surprise, given the history of The Riddle, might have been that nobody shouted out to ask what it was about.

There was another cover, this time The Eurythmics Would I Lie To You? before Cox started some vocal gymnastics that heralded the start of We Close Our Eyes, Go West’s biggest single, which received a huge cheer from the audience as it finished. Kershaw returned again for Wouldn’t It Be Good and the audience were already singing the chorus during its introduction and shouting for more as it finished, even though everybody was still on stage. “OK, we’ll carry on,” smiled Cox as the band started playing King Of Wishful Thinking. Memory is a strange thing – I can’t have heard this track since its release twenty five years ago, yet every lyric came flooding back to me as I joined in the sing-along. That memory deserted me during the next track, though – despite knowing every word as it was sung, I couldn’t bring to mind the title of Won’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me until Kershaw reached it. It ended up being another familiar song given a live twist as Kershaw played a short, blues-like section within it.

That was to be the final song of the set and, while the audience clapped and shouted for more, I racked my brain but I couldn’t think of anything left that would be suitable for an encore – all the best known songs had gone, hadn’t they. I was proved right when, returning to the stage, Cox announced, “We have one more naughty little thing to play for you.” It turned out to be another cover, and another not from the eighties. Most of the audience seemed to love the performance of Sex On Fire but I thought it was a poor choice for an encore and would have preferred a two-song encore of, perhaps, The Riddle and We Close Our Eyes.

I went to this gig expecting two headline sets. The joint performance worked and I have no problem with that but the inclusion of covers, especially the non-eighties ones that bore no relation to the acts’ output, was less welcome. Not that they were performed badly, just that I would have preferred to hear more from the acts I went to see. Kershaw once had enough material for a headline set of his own. I assume so did Go West and many in the audience would have been familiar with album tracks as well as more well known singles, so why not throw some more of them in as well? Having said that, it was a great night and a brilliant opportunity to hear some of my favourite music from the past. Much of the older music I listen to these days is stuff I am discovering now. With these three acts, I was there at the beginning.

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Mostly Autumn–The Grand Opera House, 13/11/15

Photos provided by and © Marc McGarraghy, whose work can be found on Facebook or the Yellow Mustang website. Thanks, as always, go to him for allowing me to use them.

It seems that even traditions can be broken. Last year was the first since 2008 that I didn’t attend Mostly Autumn’s Christmas gig at the Grand Opera House. Of course, that was because it didn’t happen due to no appropriate date being available. This year they are back, six days ahead of the earliest date the gig had been scheduled in any of those previous years, but the Christmas element had been discarded in favour of the first of four special gigs – two in the UK and two on the continent – which would also see the band perform the music of Pink Floyd, a formative influence on Bryan Josh’s music. I assume it was no coincidence that this year is also the fortieth anniversary of the release of Wish You Were Here. One tradition did continue, though. Despite recently labelling the music I listen to as “old”, Elizabeth decided she did want to go to this gig – her fourth time seeing Mostly Autumn and the first gig as a teenager.

DSC_6620When we made our way to our seats the cover to Dressed In Voices was already projected onto the back of the stage which itself was bathed in Autumnal lighting. Bryan Josh walked on stage before the house lights had even gone down and explained that the band would be playing their latest – and first concept – album in its entirety, explaining the story it tells, that of a dying man relating the story of his life to the person who has shot him. “It’s a cheery old thing,” he quipped. As the rest of the band came on stage for the opening of Saturday Night, the backdrop changed to a version of Bryan’s quote from the CD booklet and Livvy commenced what was to be an increasingly stunning vocal performance. As the opening track continued I realised early on that the sound tonight was being brilliantly handled – Chris Johnson’s acoustic guitar was coming through clearly as, later on, would Angela Gordon’s backing vocals. Most impressive of all, though, was Alex Cromarty’s drumming. Despite him playing frantically at times, the sound was subdued, removing the oft-heard scenario where the drum line dominates a band’s live sound. The band moved through songs from Dressed In Voices with barely a pause between tracks, recreating the feel of listening to the album. The pictures on the backdrop changed with each track, the images, again taken from the CD booklet, reflecting the lyrics – a shrouded face and a line of falling dominoes for Not Yours To Take, a small boy being menaced by a growing hand for First Day At School, a campfire for Down By The River and books for The Library.

DSC_6745As usual, members of the band came and went from the stage as and when they were needed and Andy Smith prowled backwards and forwards, at times taking his bass to the front, at others staying at the back. A few bursts of rumbling distortion spoiled the quiet opening of Home, but it was soon forgotten as those who had left returned to the stage, getting livelier as the song built to a climax that saw the first real chance for applause. By the time of First Day At School, Alex had discarded his jacket. The thunder effect was almost deafening in comparison to the track’s simple keys and vocals opening. Iain Jenning’s keyboards were superb throughout and the track drew more sustained applause. It was during Skin On Skin that Angela’s backing vocals became most noticeable and when violinist Anna Phoebe walked on stage. In the first appreciable departure from the album, Alex launched into a drum solo, to shouts of encouragement from the audience. That lead into Anna’s violin section, her body language seeming to almost challenge Bryan to take her on musically and led, in turn, to a stunning guitar and violin section, almost a duel, with Alex’s drums providing the backdrop, which was greeted by huge applause.

DSC_6496It might be said that Anna won the duel as Bryan left the stage as she provided violin accompaniment to Livvy’s vocals during The House On The Hill, the pair hugging at the end of the track before Anna left the stage. Strangely for a live performance, I found that some lyrics were falling into place for me more than they had been while I listened to the album, especially during The Last Day, whose “Easter egg” lyrics and guitar riff are what had always seemed to be prominent in previous listenings. Livvy’s performance of the track was expressive and emotional and it also saw Angela’s first foray out from behind her keyboards, taking centre stage for a flute section that was another Easter egg for long term fans. The emotion grew as the first half of the gig drew to a close through The Library, Dressed In Voices and Box Of Tears, which saw Angela provide another flute section, although my memories are sketchy of that section. (One woman in the audience had taken exception to me making notes on my phone, despite other people filming and taking photos on theirs. At least I turned up on time and didn’t disrupt a number of people while getting to my seat two or three songs into the set… Thankfully, she decided to relocate for the second half of the gig.)

After a twenty minute break, the band came back on for that second half, this one mostly dedicated to the music of Pink Floyd. The backdrop had changed to a snow-covered mountain and during this set, it was mostly a series of random moving images. Livvy, much like the woman above, had relocated, taking up the position at the back of the stage that she had occupied while still a backing singer for the band and being joined by Hannah Hird, although a section of the audience probably couldn’t see she was there.

DSC_6529Before the Pink Floyd tracks, we were taken back in time to the band’s debut album for a version of The Night Sky that included more stunning violin from Anna and built through a brilliant instrumental section. The rest of the set could easily have been labelled the Best Of Floyd. The instrumental opening to Shine On You Crazy Diamond was instantly recognisable, even if it had been given a Mostly Autumn makeover. In fact, that was the impression throughout this set. The band weren’t trying to reproduce the music in the way a tribute band would, the overall impression was one of  homage rather than copy. This version featured a dreamy instrumental section and another guest appearance, this time by Chris Backhouse on saxophone. Back at the front of the stage, Livvy’s wordless backing vocals during The Great Gig In The Sky brought forth perhaps the biggest cheer of appreciation of the night so far, but there was better to come. The sound of sheep introduced the track of the same name and a chance for us to hear Chris Johnson’s distinctive vocals as he took the lead for a quite different, more rocky version compared to the original which saw him and Andy literally in the spotlight. It was a brilliant version which received two thumbs-up from Bryan at the end. On The Turning Away seemed to be equally as good, but Bryan only flashed one thumb at the audience this time.

There was more of Chris Backhouse’s saxophone during Us And Them and then Chris Johnson’s acoustic guitar kicked off Wish You Were Here, with Bryan saying the audience should feel free to sing along. The ending of tonight’s version of Comfortably Numb seemed to be very “Mostly Autumn” and brought some of the audience to their feet in appreciation, leading to a clap-along during the beginning of See Emily Play, during which Iain faithfully reproduced the sixties keyboard sound, while Alex’s drumming was more pounding than the original. This set was brought to a superb close by a version of You Better Run which saw Livvy and Hannah chanting, “Run, run, run,” in almost militaristic fashion while Bryan and Chris Johnson performed alternate vocal sections.

DSC_6756With the band off stage once again, a roadie moved Livvy’s microphone front and central once again, dispelling any doubts (as if they would have existed…) that there would be an encore and it wasn’t long before the opening notes of The Gap Is Too Wide were heard, Iain. Chris Johnson and Anna having come back on stage to precede Livvy’s best performance of the evening, her jaw-dropping vocal section standing in superbly for the recorded track’s choral section, with backing from Hannah, Angela and Chris Johnson. For me, the evening could have ended there. That has always been my favourite Mostly Autumn track, in some ways the track that got me into the band, and yet this was the first time I had heard them play it live. There was to be two more tracks, though. Evergreen, a track that Livvy has now made her own, brought forth a grin from Elizabeth, who loves it, and then the evening was brought to its inevitable rousing close by Heroes Never Die, once again (and as always) dedicated to Robbie Josh.

DSC_6792With the music over the whole band congregated at the front of the stage, taking in the extended applause and standing ovation from the audience before taking their final bow. It might have been strange not to finish with Christmas songs but this gig would put to bed any criticisms that the band relied too much on stales from their back catalogue. Yes, the last two tracks are usually played, but others haven’t been heard in York for some time and the inclusion of a nearly full set of “covers” mixed things up immensely over the three hours of superb music we were treated to.

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King King–Fibbers, 01/11/15

Photos provided by and © Marc McGarraghy, whose work can be found on Facebook or the Yellow Mustang website. Thanks, as always, go to him for allowing me to use them.

DSC_5707Once again a lack of pre-gig research led to me being surprised by a support act. Given she was touring with King King, I assumed Rebecca Downes would be a blues artist in the style of Chantel McGregor or Joanne Shaw Taylor – my only other exposures to female blues – and would front a trio, guitar in hand. Instead she stood in front of a five-piece band, providing just vocals. Except there was nothing “just” about those vocals. They were powerful, passionate and, at times, soulful and, because Downes had breaks in her vocals, where McGregor or Taylor would be playing guitar, she was able to show a different type of expression, almost using her mic stand as a prop. The look of the band – the five musicians all in white shirt and all but one in black tie, Downes herself starting off in a soon-discarded leopard print jacket – perhaps suggested a “classier” venue than Fibbers, but the audience lapped up the performance. After a pop-blues opener, Fever In The Night gave us the first evidence of the power of Downes’ vocals, along with a nice guitar and keyboards mix, and it received a great reception from the crowd. Another Piece Of My Heart – “The only cover we do.” – was followed by Basement Of My Heart, with a faster, train-like rhythm to its drum line, while Walking With Shadows, introduced as, “A bit of an emotional song,” contained the first guitar line that, if I had heard it blind, would have brought to mind what I personally (with my still limited knowledge) would recognise as the blues. It also showed that Downes can do subtle as well as powerful. DSC_5775Taken from an upcoming second album, Night Train showcased the more soulful side of her vocals, while Back To The Start, the title track of her debut album, returned to a more pop-blues style. The set was brought to a close by A Thousand Years, with a simple piano and vocals opening and an ending which saw Downes, thanking the crowd, leaving the stage while her band performed a short instrumental.

This wasn’t a bad opening to the evening but, from a personal point of view, it was confusing as a blues performance. It was the first time I’ve seen a blues band whose leader didn’t play an instrument and that seemed to lead to the vocals being the most important part of the performance. What instrumental sections we heard were short, with none of the extended guitar or keyboard solos of other blues acts I’ve seen. It might just have been my lack of experience with the genre but, somehow, it felt… just a bit wrong. The music, however, was good and, given the plaudits being bandied around by those more knowledgeable than me, maybe it’s a format that I need to get used to.

“It’s very warm in here,” commented Alan Nimmo, partway through King King’s set, “and I’m wearing a skirt…” Yes, the jovial Glaswegian was back, once again kilted and fronting DSC_5944my favourite male blues outfit. And one of the reasons it was so warm was that this was the second blues gig at Fibbers this year that had drawn in a bigger-than-usual crowd. Even Nimmo seemed surprised by – and grateful for – the turnout. “The last time we were in York there were about thirty people watching,” he quipped before thanking us for coming out and supporting live music. In actual fact, the last time they played York was in support of John Mayall and there were a few hundred in the audience, but I knew what he meant and I’m not going to argue with the big Scotsman, jovial or not.

Earlier he had walked, almost unobtrusively, on stage, acknowledging the applause from the crowd and the bigger cheer when he was ready to start. “I was just negotiating my way through that tiny wee gap,” he said before starting proceedings with Lose Control and a guitar line that, to me, was more instantly recognisable as blues than anything in the earlier set. Already this was what I had come to expect from a blues act – guitar interludes, a certain vocal style and, in the case of King King, Bob Fridzema’s Hammond organ weaving lovely sounds through the tracks. The crowd had stepped up their enthusiasm and the end of the second track was greeted with almost deafening applause and cheers. The beginning of Waking Up saw a seemingly spontaneous clap-along being encouraged by Nimmo while during Rush Hour, taken from Reaching For The Light, released just a few months ago, I spotted one woman on the front row dancing and singing along to every lyric, something she continued to do throughout the set. (Look closely and you can see the lady in question in the photo below.)

More Than I Can Take saw a change of tone and pace. We were only five tracks in and yet the band weren’t holding back, performing a much rockier version that I remembered and one that could easily have been a set ender and which was greeted by another huge DSC_6010roar from the crowd. After a piano opening, Lay With Me built in volume and moved to that Hammond Organ sound, perhaps inevitably bringing to mind Procul Harum’s Whiter Shade Of Pale. Nimmo moved to the front of stage for a subtle and yet growing guitar section, with his trademark accompanying facial expressions. Hurricane, recently added to Planet Rock’s playlist, was short and sharp in comparison. Before You Stopped The Rain, Nimmo explained that it was dedicated to, “…anybody who has struggled with health. It’s about strength and resolve and dealing with an horrendous illness without complaining.” There was applause and a shout of, “Stevie” from the audience – presumably that is Nimmo’s brother, who had an operation for cancer a few years ago, when the lyrics were written. The screaming guitar was backed by a prominent and yet not intrusive bass from Lindsay Coulson.

“I suppose some of you know that I’m a Scotsman,” joked Nimmo before telling us about childhood musical heroes and how one of them, Frankie Miller, had said, in typical Scottish style, that Jealousy was, “A f**king belter!” I find it hard to disagree. Another track from the new album was followed by a journey back to the first and All Your Life saw the crowd engaged in another clap-along to the almost funky keyboard opening and another potential set-ending instrumental section. Nimmo then explained that blues will never die, as long as it is played from the heart and that Stranger To Love is played exactly that way. With A DSC_5821Long History Of Love dropped from the live set, it was this track that featured my favourite guitar section of the night. Subtle and perhaps not as intricate as earlier ones, it left space for the notes to breathe and was no less impressive for it. With almost precision timing a Fibbers staff member turned off that infamous aircon unit during the quiet section, just as it seemed as though Nimmo had turned off all amplification and all we could hear was the sound of bare strings being plucked before the volume was increased once more, and more cheers rang out from the crowd. This, it seemed, was the set ender.

It wasn’t long, however, before the band were back on stage, Nimmo returning with arms held aloft before thanking us again for supporting live music and warning us that if we didn’t join in with Let Love In he would show us what was under his kilt. Inevitably, threat or no, the audience rounded out the evening with an enthusiastic sing-along.

This was the third time I’ve seen King King and they have got better every time. My worry is that if their audiences keep getting bigger, York’s venues aren’t going to be able to hold them. My only complaint, as with another blues gig earlier this year, was the pricing structure for CDs on sale at the gig. I had every intention of buying Reaching For The Light tonight but, at £15 on the merchandise table, it is cheaper, even including postage, to buy it from the band’s website and I’m certain I didn’t pay that amount for the previous albums at an earlier gig.

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Glenn Hughes–Fibbers, 28/10/15

I was recently chided by promoter Mr H for not going to a series of punk gigs hosted by Fibbers over the Summer, in particular an appearance by John Lydon and Public Image Ltd. “There are some gigs you have to go to just to say you were there,” he told me. The thing is, I’ve never “got” punk in any way shape or form (apart from, maybe, a handful of the more well-known and, to my mind, less punk-y tracks). Your more generic “rock” however, is what drew me to music in a serious way. So, when a well-known proponent of that genre rocks up at Fibbers, you can bet anything that I will be there, even if my knowledge of whoever it is isn’t what it could be. I think I would have bought my first Deep Purple album – Stormbringer, if I recall correctly, although it could have been the Deepest Purple compilation – over thirty years ago and, while they have never really been a band that I have actively sought out, I have slowly increased the number of their albums in my collection over the years. I don’t think I could have told you before tonight, but that means Glenn Hughes was the vocalist on the first Deep Purple studio album I owned.

Support came in the form of James Jared Nichols. As usual I hadn’t done any research before the gig and was expecting a solo artist, probably with acoustic guitar and possibly somebody local that I hadn’t come across before. What we got, was a blues-rock trio based out of Los Angeles (by way of East Troy, Wisconsin). Some in the audience seemed to have come across Nichols before, shouting his name as he walked on stage – commenting on how many pubs York has – and during the set, which he kicked off with the screaming guitar of Blackfoot, whose pounding drum line was provided by Dennis Holm. Crazy had more of a Southern blues sound and by the time the band got to Haywire heads in the crowd were nodding and at least one fist was pumping the air near the stage. On stage there was plenty of hair flying, from Nichols and bass player Erik Sandin, as the former continually ventured to the front of stage for his instrumental sections. After a version of Johnny Winter’s Rock And Roll Hootchie Koo, introduced as “an oldie but a goodie”, Nichols asked whether there were any blues lovers in the house, entertaining the crowd with a version of Robert Johnson’s Come On In My Kitchen, whose bottle-neck guitar and slower pace was a distinct change from the set so far. The track grew in volume and power, yet still gave Holm a rest after his earlier exertions and the end was greeted with a huge cheer. Can You Feel It changed the style again, with a fast paced rock and roll sound and audience sing-along. Playing For Keeps was memorable for Sandin’s only venture to the front of stage, for a lengthy guitar/bass duet opening, and its ever-changing extended instrumental section. As the track ended Nichols asked, off mic, whether we wanted one more. The crowd did and the set was brought to an end by another cover, this time Mountain’s Mississippi Queen.

As the support band’s kit was removed from the stage, an impressive pair of speaker and amplifier stacks were revealed, Marshall on one side of the drum kit, Orange on the other. A voice over that I couldn’t make out over the crowd noise signalled the beginning of the headline set and Glenn Hughes walked on stage, grinning and flashing a peace sign at the crowd and opening with Stormbringer, instantly recognisable to me. Hughes, now in his sixties, was energetic and brought forth some impressive vocals. Those vocals, weren’t to me, quite as impressive during Orion, but that was probably because I didn’t know the song. He still, however, managed to provide some imposing screams. “I’m gonna take you back a bit,” he announced before playing Way Back To The Bone, a track from his first band, Trapeze. The bass Hughes played throughout the set looked so old and battered that it might also have begun its career with Trapeze. Hughes, along with guitarist Doug Aldrich, another LA native, faced each other for a duet, while the drums crashed behind them. Taking a brief break from the music, Hughes explained that this tour’s set would be a, “History of where I’ve been for the last four years,” and that Yorkshire was a special place for him because he went to school with somebody from York. First Step Of Love, written with Pat Thrall in 1982, “When I was seven years old…” opened with an unusual bass riff and cymbals and included more of those screams and ended with Hughes fist-bumping fans in the front row.

“I haven’t toured enough,” said Hughes before telling us that this tour would go right through 2016 and that he would be back, something that was greeted with a big cheer from one of the biggest crowds I’ve seen in Fibbers. “The music is no longer mine, it’s yours,” he said before Touch My Life, another Trapeze song. Drummer Pontus Engborg led an audience clap-along while Hughes provided almost Gospel-like vocals over Aldrich’s quiet guitar line. Back to Deep Purple for Sail Away and a story about recording Burn (an album not in my collection) in the dungeon of a haunted medieval castle. Aldrich’s guitar opened the track but, for the most part, he was out of the spotlight, quietly and with little fuss and extravagance providing guitar lines that varied between screaming and subtle or, in this case, bottle-neck. For Good To Be Bad, however, a Whitesnake track from the 2008 album of the same name on which Aldrich played guitar, he seemed to come alive, coming to the front of stage after prowling around before being acknowledged by Hughes, who described him as one of the best guitarists in the world today. Hughes then left the stage, leaving Aldrich fully in the spotlight for a fleet-fingered, whammy bar wobbling, guitar shaking solo which led into I’ve Been Mistreated, featuring another brilliant instrumental section. “Sing with us York. Sing the melody,” entreated Hughes before the track ended, almost twenty minutes later, in almost a capella style, with soulful vocals from Hughes.

A bit of a rant about how Earth is a dangerous planet – I clearly heard one woman exclaim, “On no!” in apparent exasperation during it – ended in Hughes telling us that only music can save us led into the three part set ender which included hard rocker Can’t Stop The Flood, One Last Soul (a Black Country Communion song) and Soul Mover, back to back but interspersed with a small jam session between Hughes and Aldrich and a drum solo from Engborg.

After the usual short break, the trio returned to stage for the almost inevitable and instantly recognisable riff of Burn, during which Aldrich, dancing around the stage, was the liveliest he had been all evening. Cheers rang out from the audience as the track ended and, as Aldrich and Engborg left the stage Hughes said, “Let me do this to you,” as he stood and applauded the crowd and once again told us he would be back next year.

Hughes might well be one of those, “living breathing personifications of British rock” whose career outside Deep Purple has almost completely bypassed me and I might have only recognised three tracks from tonight’s set but, you know, I was there when he played York in 2015 and I’ll probably be back, hopefully more knowledgeable about his music, if he does come back.

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Hawklords–The Duchess, 25/10/15

Having been to every gig that this version of Hawklords have played in York – an almost-to-the-day annual event that started exactly three years ago tonight but, for this year, has moved to The Duchess – I thought I knew what to expect from tonight’s gig. Driving rhythms from Dave Pearce and Tom Ashurst; coruscating soundscapes as Jerry Richards’ guitar and Harvey Bainbridge’s synthesizers combine; a lively, slightly punk-y vocal performance from Ron Tree; a dazzling, almost hypnotic lightshow at the back of the stage that you barely want to take your eye away from in case you miss some slight detail; and a small but dedicated crowd, dotted with familiar faces, dancing the night away in that strange, astronautical way that they do to space rock.

Being honest, all that was present. But it just felt a bit more subdued that the other three gigs, a bit… safer? That’s something that could also be said about R:Evolution, as well. I picked up the band’s latest album after the gig, getting it signed by a still slightly manic looking Tree, who was trying to get around everybody who wanted something signed while, at the same time, tracking down other band members to do the same. Playing it the next day, I was pleasantly surprised. While I’ve enjoyed all their gigs, Hawklords’ recorded output, for me, had been going down in quality, none of the albums reaching the standard of “debut” We Are One and I was actually beginning to think that I was buying the albums out of habit rather than desire. R:Evolution, however, could surpass We Are One as my favourite. Again, it could be described as “safer” than the others, perhaps an attempt to move a bit towards the mainstream (don’t worry, Hawk fans – there’s still a long way to go between it and the the true mainstream) and be a bit more accessible, while still revelling in the Hawklords sound.

So maybe the performance on this tour is meant to be a bit less “out there”. Perhaps a slightly safer performance will, through word of mouth, increase the fan base. Maybe it is all part of a master plan.

Bainbridge started things off by welcoming the audience, his, “Good evening to all of you,” sounding, to me, slightly more resentful of the small number in the venue than when Richards, at the end of the evening, thanked everybody for coming out to see them. The two hour set – no support. I believe the booked support band had to cancel and I know that a replacement, asked at short notice, weren’t able to get a full line-up together – seemed to fly by, even though most of the tracks were from the new album and therefore, as yet, unfamiliar to me. Tree was as expressive during his lyrics and as energetic between as ever and the dancers in the audience started to lose themselves in the music almost from the first chord. There was little on-stage chatter between songs. Even the spoken word sections between Tree and Richards seemed to have been scaled back – not necessarily a bad thing, given that it had always been nigh-on impossible to hear what they were saying – and the tracks seemed to flow into one another with barely a pause.

The instrumental soundscapes were still present, but the light show seemed to have been toned down as well. Gone, for the main part, were strange, Far Eastern images and snatches of science fiction films, the majority now being the repetitive, almost hypnotic random shapes and swirls, with a few appropriate images of monkeys thrown in during Space Monkey and the pink line from the cover of Dream, presumably during a song from that album that I had forgotten. Still interesting, just slightly less so.

The most interesting and impressive part of tonight’s set (and perhaps any Hawklords set) came just into the second half, when Tree, never one to shy away from using a prop, donned a blank mask for the mainly instrumental Shadow Of The Machines. Robot-like and bereft of all expression except through his eyes and hand movements, his actions seemed to indicate a desire to escape, but from what? Control, maybe. With the mask briefly lifted for one section, his actions seemed more free, but his eyes were still haunted. Then the mask was replaced to bring to an end what was a brilliant section both visually and musically.

The rhythm seemed to get more driving, slightly more intense as it moved towards the climax, although the set itself seemed to unexpectedly falter to an end, rather than go out with a bang. As the band left the stage – Tree taking longer than the rest to find his way off – the surprisingly noisy audience shouted for more, generally requesting Psi Power although one person wanted the more up to date We Are One. Back on stage Richards told us that they hadn’t had time to rehearse the seventies track and instead they brought the evening to an end with Urban Guerilla, an even earlier Hawkwind song.

It is unfortunate that Hawklords draw so few people in when they play York, although I have no idea how the numbers compare to other locations on their tours. Their music is, though, more niche than many other bands – you can see that from those familiar faces that have been at each and every gig – and it is to their credit that they continue to turn up and perform here. Once again Richards promised they would be back next year. I hope they are as this gig and the associated album has left me revitalised in my appreciation of the band and I want to see what happens next.

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Hope & Social–Fibbers, 23/10/15

With no more preamble than a quick, “Two, two” into his microphone, Boss Caine kicked off tonight’s proceedings with what I assume was a new song – I don’t remember hearing it before – singing about yearnings to return to the “town where good friends go to die”. It was another of the singer-songwriter’s melancholic tracks which, somehow, still seemed to celebrate the life he and the people he knows live. Perhaps another chapter in his autobiographical output and maybe that town is London. (Or I could be speculating wildly…) Whatever, as the track finished it got another good reception from an already busy and, for the most part, attentive crowd. Dean Street Devils and the sombre Lady MacBeth slowed the pace down slightly, and Dan’s vocals were as clear as ever, something that couldn’t really be said about the between songs chat, at least from where I was standing. Hope & Social’s James Hamilton made a brief, cheeky appearance on stage with his trumpet after one comment but I had no idea why. Kind Of Loving, as usual, lightened the mood, as did Dead Man’s Suit.  Then I did manage to hear that the set was going to close, all to soon, with a new song. Again it was slower, another character driven track featuring that entertaining melancholy that I have grown to love. Six songs wasn’t enough – this is only the second time I have seen Boss Caine this year  – but the quality, as ever, was high.

Every so often, a performance just clicks and a gig ends up even better than I expect it to be. I have never been disappointed after a Hope & Social gig. In a preview column I write elsewhere, I recently said, “There hasn’t been a Hope & Social gig that I haven’t laughed during, and sung-along to. Nor has there been one that I haven’t walked away from smiling.” There was something about tonight’s, though, that made it not only the best gig I can remember from them, but quite possibly my favourite gig of the year.

On their own website, the band state, “We like to involve people” and, “we create events to remember”. The latter might refer more to the more madcap stuff they do throughout the year, rather than the bread-and-butter live performances, there is little doubt in my mind that tonight’s audience – the biggest I can recall for a Hope & Social gig in York – will remember the evening for some time to come. As to involving people, the band, full of their own energy, also seem to feed off the energy of a good crowd (and vice versa). And tonight’s was a very good crowd. Audience participation at some bands’ gigs consists of a Lacklustre sing-along to a track or two, perhaps some reluctant hand-waving or clapping and maybe some moshing. With Hope & Social, the audience becomes part of the set for most of the songs and they seem pleased to be so. There’s none of that “we’re here to see you perform, not us” feeling that I have come across sometimes. Whether it’s jogging on the spot while James and Ed run around the stage during Pitching Far Too High or, arms in the air, waving their whole upper torsos during Red Red Rose, before crouching down and slowly rising as the song built to its climax, everybody seems to know just what to do and when. A relatively early, “Anybody feel like singing?” from Simon was greeted by what he described as an “alarming positive response” and he was soon frantically conducting the audience throughout One Way Home. An hour into the set, referring to the fantastic energy coming from the crowd, Simon told us, “I feel like I’ve been here all day. You lot must be exhausted…”

I recently, while searching for a joke I had heard, found a webpage that transcribes episodes of QI. I remembered it tonight, wishing that somebody would do the same for Hope & Social gigs although, much like the TV programme itself, it would lose something without the delivery. There’s too much that goes on between songs to take in, let alone to remember. Much of it tonight came from Simon as he told us he didn’t know their trombonist’s name, reminisced about the last time they played Fibbers, re-telling the story of Rich’s on-stage face-plant during that gig (“encore,” came a shout from the audience…) and announced, “I’m not playing that one, it’s too hard,” before even attempting a note of whatever track it was. “I don’t know what to play,” resulted in one audience member asking for “Ripples” (Rock Your Boat). He got his choice, he also got some good-natured abuse about his size. “If you get on stage and put your hands in the air, people might just be able to see you.” He duly did. That song even saw a return to a trope from Hope & Social gigs of the past when Simon declared, “This starts very quietly… which is sort of code for ‘shut the f**k up’” Those that were still talking did. Those that noticed the slight change of lyric to “I’m trying hard to believe in our one big hit” cheered.

And then there were the special moments during tonight’s set and it could well be these that help the gig stay lodged in memories. Simon, picking up an acoustic guitar, moved to the front of stage and the audience started shushing each other. Could it be an audience-pleasing track that we haven’t heard live for a while? One that used to be played in the middle of the audience? As the crowd became silent (and soundman Craig Rothery pointed out that Fibbers has “the world’s f***ing noisiest aircon unit” prompting somebody behind the bar to turn it off) he started playing the opening to Looking For Answers, suddenly looking down and, turning to Rich, saying, “This isn’t my guitar…” “It is now,” grinned Rich before pointing out to the audience that it had taken Simon three songs to notice. Somehow Rich had replaced the old, somewhat battered guitar with a new one, an early birthday present apparently, which led to some brotherly love on stage. Looking For Answers eventually re-started and the audience needed no prompting to join in, receiving much deserved applause from the band afterwards.

Later, after explaining that it was, in some ways, about York and moving on from the excesses of a rock and roll lifestyle, Simon invited, Dave, one of the band’s York friends onto the stage during Family Man. While the and played on Dave, through a series of message cards (in Bob Dylan, Don’t Look Back style) told how, at a Hope & Social gig back in 2012, he had met and asked out Natalie, how they were still together and had a beautiful son, and how it was her birthday today, wishing her a happy birthday. Each card drew a louder cheer from the crowd, especially “Oh, and one more thing…” and the inevitable “Will you marry me?” Natalie joined him on stage, with the band still playing, and, after a series of hugs, he turned that final card around to show “She said yes!” to more cheers from the crowd and congratulations from all on stage. A lovely moment.

I haven’t even mentioned that, like Boss Caine, they opened their set with a song I hadn’t heard before, presumably one from the forth-coming album. Or that new bass player Simon Fletcher, tucked away in a corner of the stage, looked like he was enjoying every minute as much as I was. Or the five-part harmony that replaced the full choir during Sleep Sound. Or the eventual speed of Pitching Far Too High, during which James coped admirably with the difficult task of playing a fold-up xylophone, despite Simon trying to make it hard for him. Or, based on a quick audience poll of who had ever eaten at a certain chicken restaurant, Simon declared that the band have more fans than Nandos. There was probably even more worth noting and I probably missed it.

All good things have to come to an end and, sadly, Simon announced the “fake last song” before explaining the encore process to anybody who hadn’t been to a gig before. Rolling Sideways, with its Blue Pearl Naked In The Rain interlude was that song and as the band made their way back to the green room Rich held up Dave’s “I love you” card to the audience. Of course, they weren’t off for long and returned for an encore which consisted of Saints Alive and A Darkness Now Is Coming.

With the house lights up and, after a gig during which I laughed and sang along, I left the venue with a smile on my face…

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Steve Hackett–The Barbican, 14/10/15

When I walked away from Steve Hackett’s superb gig at The Barbican last year, little did I realise that, just a few days short of exactly a year later, I would be seeing him again at the same venue. York, we must have done something good to entice him back so soon.

As I took my seat – central and just three rows back from the stage, close enough to realise that what I thought was a plectrum was, in fact, Hackett’s thumbnail but, perhaps, too close in terms of sound quality (the music sounded great all the way through, but the various vocals sometimes came through a bit indistinctly, something I couldn’t say about last year’s gig) – there was a low hum of conversation from the audience, people around me chatting about other gigs they had been to, notably David Gilmour and Steve Wilson (obviously I was in the company of fellow prog-fans, richer than I am). The anticipation was almost palpable, but the volume was respectful, none of the shouting you get at smaller venues – probably because of the lack of background music – and gentles hisses could be heard clearly as the smoke machine sent increasing clouds billowing through the beams of red light bathing the stage.

As the house lights went down, the audience broke into almost polite applause, getting louder as Hackett walked on, accompanied by Roger King (keyboards) and Gary O’Toole (drums), and kicked things off with an instrumental medley which included, I think, sections from Corycian Fire and Spectral Mornings, almost bookending his solo career. The rest of the band then came on stage for a rendition of Wolflight during which, for no reason that I can think of, I was slightly surprised that Hackett himself provided lead vocals. Perhaps, having seen the previous tour for which Nad Sylvan provided vocals, I just assumed that something similar was going to happen tonight. O’Toole brought forth some thunderous drumming, as well as providing backing vocals. At the end of the track Hackett, breaking into a huge grin, said how nice it was to be back in York, a comment which somehow led to a brief on –stage discussion on how to pronounce “scones”. If, by chance, you are reading this Steve, I’m with you… long “o” as in “low”. He introduced the band – Rob Townsend (all things blown and many other things) and, a second surprise, that familiar looking bass player was Roine Stolt, normally lead guitarist with The Flower Kings and other bands. I guess that’s the closest York will get to having Transatlantic playing here.

A very Genesis-like keyboard sound opened Every Day, Hackett making his guitar playing look effortless, the fingers of his left hand dancing up and down the frets while his right hand kept the whammy bar in near constant motion. Strangely for the opening to Love Song To A Vampire, the stage was bathed in an ethereal green, rather than the more appropriate red of earlier, although that was “rectified” later in the track. A short, yet almost orchestral, flute and keyboards section from Townsend and King led into the main instrumental section of the track. Funfair music announced the next track as The Wheel’s Turning, heralding a lighter and livelier tone and a track that was just a little bit deliberately chaotic. A switch to a twelve string acoustic for Loving Sea led Hackett to joke that his days with Genesis had led to him getting “twelve string damage”. I noted down that, during the chat, one audience member shouted out “Greg Lake” but can’t for the life of me remember why. During this track, O’Toole, clearly enjoying himself, came out from behind his drum kit to play shakers and provide more backing vocals. There was more acoustic guitar, this time of the six string variety, as Hackett, now seated, was joined by brother John, on some sort of vertical flute, for Jacuzzi. A false start was soon rectified by Richard the Roadie (probably more of a guitar tech, but that isn’t as alliterative), who received accolades from the audience for his brief appearance in the spotlight and the track was back-dropped by King’s keyboards.

Another “guest” made his way on stage to provide vocals for Icarus Ascending, the aforementioned Sylvan, a man so flamboyant that he raise an eyebrow with a flourish, providing a theatrical performance that instantly brought to mind the previous tour. He stayed on vocals for Star Of Sirius, a track Hackett explained was originally sung by Phil Collins at a time when he was still deciding on whether to be a vocalist or to stay behind the drum kit and “keep his head down”. Townsend was rarely still, waving about a shaker if he wasn’t playing one of his multitude of wind instruments or keyboards. In fact, there was so much going on during this track that I didn’t notice that Sylvan had left the stage until it ended. I failed to identify the set ender. Various set lists from other gigs (there isn’t one for York) posted on the internet seem to imply it might have been a medley. If it was I didn’t even spot the joins. It opened in slightly eccentric fashion, with Townsend’s flute and King’s keys accompanied by O’Toole playing a whistle and shaking chains into a microphone, at one point playing a cymbal while almost laying across it. During once section, I’m sure I saw him drop one drum stick, neatly catching it before it fell far and switching hands while doing so. He was rightfully acknowledged by Hackett and the crowd for his impressive work. At times Townsend was so busy that he had two instruments in his hands. The whole thing build to a rousing, raucous ending to the first half of the set, which covered highlights from Hackett’s forty-year solo career, from 1975’s Voyage of the Acolyte to this year’s superb Wolflight.

After a short break, during which I joined in the prog conversation, chatting to the person next to me about music in general and how nice it was to be able to see an original member of Genesis at such a reasonable price, the band took to the stage again for a section revisiting Hackett’s time in Genesis. Sylvan was back on vocals for this section, doing as commendable an interpretation (I don’t want to say “impression”) of Peter Gabriel. This set kicked off with Get ‘Em Out By Friday, Sylvan sharing vocals with O’Toole before a quick wave preceded the former’s exit from the stage prior to an impressive instrumental section, almost creeping back on, with a small bow, for the track’s ending. There was more from Foxtrot with Can Utility And The Coastliners, which saw Stolt moving from bass to second guitar and then, once again seated, Hackett returned to acoustic for After The Ordeal, his fleet-fingered opening preceding a four-count for King’s keyboards to come in and Stolt to take over on electric guitar, the track building towards a duet during which the two guitarists played off each other.

Stolt then took up a double-necked twelve-string and bass for Cinema Show, the announcement of which was greeted enthusiastically by the crowd. I have to admit, despite having all Genesis’ albums, this is more familiar to me from latter day live medleys and it was a pleasure to hear in in full. Townsend and King shone once again, with Hackett’s almost taking a back seat until the tracks’ climax. The much more familiar (to me) The Lam Lies Down On Broadway was followed by a version of The Musical Box that was much rockier than I remembered it and which saw the audience rise to their feet at the end, as the band took their bows.

We stayed on our feet, applauding for at least a couple of minutes before the band, all except Sylvan, came back to the stage for the inevitable encore, which started with a return to Hackett’s solo career, Clocks (Angel Of Mons) an instrumental that also included a drum solo from O’Toole. “Do you want another one?” asked Hackett when it finished. Of course we did and a piano opening heralded Firth Of Fifth, Sylvan returning once again to provide vocals, wearing a long-peaked hat which seemed to have a significance that I’m not aware of. Hackett, playing bottleneck guitar for part of the track, led an audience clap-along himself before King’s keyboard section led into a final showcase of guitar talent which brought the evening to a close and the audience to their feet once again, the band once again taking extended bows before leaving the stage for a final time.

Seeing Hackett live once was a joy, seeing him again so soon afterwards was an unexpected pleasure, especially as one tour was just(!) Genesis material. Is it too much to hope that he’ll be back in York sometime in the future. 

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