Gigs Of The Year – 2018 – My Top 3

I have never seen so much live music in a single year. In fact, I saw more live music in 2018 than I have seen previously in all my adult life.

The year started with a album launch “all ages” show by Franz Ferdinand in Kingston-upon-Thames in early February, and was quickly followed by FOUR Simple Minds Walk Between Worlds showcase gigs, and continued on through the year, traversing the length and breadth of the UK and hopping across the English Channel into mainland europe and ending in Northampton seeing Blancmange. From Glasgow and Newcastle, to Leeds, Manchester and westwards to the Brecon Beacons, back over to Bristol, and many trips to London. A trip to Paris and the French Alps via Switzerland. I even managed a local gig! Luton isn’t usually known for its amazing live music scene, it has to be said.

I have no idea how many miles I’ve covered in all this crisscrossing of countries and continents. Thousands, I’m sure! And…I don’t want to think about what it did to the purse strings…but budgeting and shoestring travel makes it doable – trust me! You don’t have to be lavish to do this. Winning free weekend tickets for a festival also helps! 😁

And all absolutely worth it for some of the best live music the UK and the world has to offer.

Now, before I award my Top 3 gigs of 2018, let me recap (and try to remember!) just who and what I saw this year.

February: Franz Ferdinand and Simple Minds x4
March: Art Of Noise and Ruts DC
May: Warm Digits and Vessels, Simple Minds
June: Warm Digits x2, Manic Street Preachers and The Anchoress at Meldown Festival
July: Muilac Festival, Aix-Les-Bains. Caezar x2
August: Thumpasaurus, Green Man Festival, Simple Minds x3
September: Franz Fedinand
October: John Grant
November: Blancmange

All the acts I saw were fabulous…part of the reason I wanted to see them all. There were also a few standout support acts too.

Some worthy contenders for gig of the year, then? Manic Street Preachers…that was a real “love for the fans” gig. The guys were great and the crowd loved them. Franz Ferdinand – at both shows – just great. Make it look so effortless and Alex Kapranos is one of my favourite frontmen, currently. Ruts DC – don’t underestimate the power of ska/punk to be making an impact some 40 years down the road. These guys are great live. The Lemon Twigs – my live music find of 2018 – all thanks to winning a free weekend camping pass to the Green Man festival in the Brecon Beacons in Wales. Another act very worthy of note – Caezar. Joe Donnelly and JJ Gilmour have released one of the standouts of 2018, for me. And JJ is a phenomenal singer. An amazing voice. I hope to catch them again this coming February at Oran Mor in Glasgow.

At three: Art Of Noise – British Library – March 9th
An unusual setting for a gig – inside the library entrance, on the mezzanine. It made for a great atmosphere. I’m not an uber fan of theirs, but I just really enjoyed the atmosphere of the gig – there was a great rapport between the group and the fans. The acoutics were great and, yeah…can’t really pinpoint it…I just really enjoyed it a lot.

At two: John Grant – Green Man Festival – August 18th
John was the headline act on day three (Saturday) of the festival and he was just fabulous, and brought me to tears. It was a beautiful night and a wonderful setting.

At one: (who else but!) Simple Minds – Manchester Albert Hall – February 14th
For some it’ll be other shows. It SHOULD be Barrowland Ballroom – and it would be, if my choice was based beyond sheer performance. But I have seen SM nine times this year…and I could choose others. The Leeds grandslam gig was amazing. All three of the grandslam gigs were. But for majesty and sheer performance and for the concept of it, it goes to their Manchester WbW showcase gig. Whereas I thought palpable nerves at Barrowland led to some performance…inconsistancies. The next night at Manchester, they truly had it licked and were PHENOMINAL! They were just FLAWLESS by comparison to the night before. Amazing. absolutely amazing gig. Of the February WbW gigs, it was by far my favourite. It also wins out amongst the rest of the SM gigs I saw this year, purely for that full set of the complete Walk Between Worlds album performed live. Any band wanting to do that – to showcase a complete new package like that has the absolute courage of their convictions.

Congrats to Jim, Charlie, Gordy, Ged, Sarah and Cherisse (and to Catherine AD) for executing a truly amazing showcase of new matieral and killer setlist of hits. You guys f***ing rock the world…my world…the whole world! Thank you!

Art Of Noise – British Library, March 9th, 2018 – Review

How does one go about reviewing something they have very little knowledge of? Well, research, for one helps. But it would feel a cheat to do that…so I will review it with a novice approach.

We queued for an hour. Quite WHY we queued, I’m unsure. Just, well, because the sign was there, a guy was there that we spoke briefly to, and then…there was little else to do to bide the time away. And Brits “do” queuing SO WELL! It’s somehow ingrained in the psyche of every Brit, I think. It’s in the DNA. If no queue is formed, a Brit will form one…and others will join uniformly and with a minimum of fuss. And it somehow fitted in to the style of the music we were about to have performed in front of us. Almost as if Paul Morley’s voice spoke from somewhere just out of earshot, “You are about to watch The Art Of Noise, please form an orderly queue.”

Once inside, the music played pre-gig showcased lots of the music of label stable mates from the ZTT days, producers like Trevor Horn and Stephen Lipson (who the Other Half reliably informed me was there watching last night) as well as collaborations with other acts. A veritable “smorgasbord” of the pop art music world.

And as Dudley, Jeczalik and Langan walked on stage, there was a wonderful warm round of applause. The kind of applause that you would expect old friends to receive (if we gave out rounds of applause to each other when we greeted each other).

Their music is familiar to me, but not overtly so. And I knew more than I imagined. It has seeped its way in over the years.

Highlights for me:

A Time For Fear (Who’s Afraid) – including the refrain that Anne played as a separate piece later.
Beatbox
Eye Of A Needle
Moments In Love
Paranoimia (which made me think of the Simple Minds “Don’t You” mash up also)
Legs
Close To The Edit (how could you NOT include it? It was the only thing I really knew them for for YEARS)

As a novice to their music…on the edges of my musical knowledge, it really was the most enjoyable of gigs. Sound levels and acoustics were great, and we were to the extreme left of stage (their left, as viewed from the stage). Explanations and talk of tracks from JJ and Anne. A great rapport with the crowd. Lasting rounds of applause between tracks. Loving and appreciative fans. A really good feel to the gig. The setlist flowed well. I would DEFINITELY see them again. If there is ever a next time. They don’t tour extensively but if there is a chance of seeing them again in future, I’m there!

Below, a YouTube clip of highlights from the show…