I’ve had a genuinely amazing 2019 having attended some of the best gigs of my life.
It’s not that there are suddenly lots of new bands around, most of my best gigs were bands that have been around for a while. The difference is that I’ve made more effort to go to gigs, even when they are in Manchester.
The Liverpool to Manchester railway was the first inter-city passenger railway in the world, opened back in 1830. Unfortunately it’s not been upgraded much since then 😉
Many a post-gig glow has been dented by my train home being up to an hour late, but the joy of the gig lives on in the memory once the nightmare journey home is (almost) forgotten, so it’s well worth the effort. After all, an easy life is rarely a fulfilled one!
Too many people say they are too old to go to gigs, or there’s no good music being made any more, but they are wrong on both counts – there has never been so much great music around, waiting to be discovered, you’ve just got to put in a bit of effort to discover music you like instead of being drip-fed it by the radio like we were in the old days, take a chance, accept a bit of inconvenience. If you go and see a band and they are rubbish, so what? What would you have been doing instead? Watching Gogglebox? You can always set it to record, if you must 🙂 But if you choose wisely, you can see some absolutely amazing acts. I’ve seen around 200 bands this year, and I can count on one hand those that disappointed.
I’ve always gone to gigs for the music. I don’t care about the gender, sexuality, race or any other arbitrary detail of the people making it. So long as the music touches me in some way, that’s all I’m interested in.
As Lauren from Hands Off Gretel said “Female Fronted is not a genre”. Quite right!
But you may notice that of my Top 10 gigs of the year, only 2 are male fronted.
Simpletons may think it’s some kind of mid-life crisis, but it’s definitely not that, and please don’t insult all these hugely talented women by suggesting the only thing a bloke could possibly be interested in is how they look!
There really is no mystery, It’s quite simple. From 19 year old Kelli Mayo from Skating Polly who recently celebrated her bands tenth anniversary, having released 5 stunning albums and 31 incredible singles/videos to date that would be impressive for any artist regardless of age, and mind blowing that they’ve produced them so young – to 72 year old Grace Jones who can still do an energetic set, with costume changes on every song, and hoola-hoop her way through the last song of her set – they are all on this list because they fucking rock!
Sadly there are still idiots who think that if a woman dresses a certain way, that it entitles them to do what they like. Dolly Daggerz of Tokyo Taboo is the latest in a long line of women who’s experiences make grim reading. What the hell is wrong with people?
My Top 10 Live Performances of the Year
Ok, here’s my 10 best live performances of the year – rated purely on how big a natural-high I had when I left the gig. I can’t help thinking about the Father Ted “2nd best priest” sketch – I don’t like ranking bands, but rest assured all the gigs on this list were amazing nights. Just those at the #1 end of the list had something extra.
To put it into perspective, I’ve seen around 200 bands this year. I was a massive Cure fan back in the day, and I finally saw them live for the first time this year. They were faultless, yet still not in my Top 10 – the standard this year is that high!
#10 The Nude Party
@ Soup Kitchen, Manchester
|The Nude Party certainly wear their influences on their sleeves – with songs that sound like Dylan, The Stones, Pink Floyd and so on. But there is absolutely nothing wrong with that! They put on a lively, energetic show, and the audience absolutely loved them. Read my review here.|
#9 The Catenary Wires
@ Gullivers NQ, Manchester
|Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey need no introduction to anyone into Indie in the late 80s and 90s. I turned up to the gig early during the soundchecks and Rob started chatting to me like we’d known each other forever. Such a lovely, down-to-earth couple, and it felt more like a social gathering than a gig as most people seemed to know each other. Great music and a really special vibe. Read my review here.|
#8 The Coathangers
@ Arts Club, Liverpool
|The Coathangers are one of those bands where you hear one of their singles for the the first time, and you think WOW, but you think it’s probably the exception rather than the rule. But then you listen to more and more of their songs, and realise they are consistently excellent! Read my review here.|
@ Gullivers NQ, Manchester
|Seattle’s Tacocat, recently signed to Sub Pop records are a band whom as soon as you start to listen to them, you know you’re going to like them. Read my review here.|
#6 The White Ribbons
@ Butlins, Skegness
|Hearing The White Ribbons at Butlins Great British Alternative Music Festival in Skengess on their amazing Introducing Stage, I instantly warmed to them.
Their song “Greatest Man” is my 10th most listened to of the year according to Spotify. Whilst listening to my Top 100 of the year, Verity asked who they were as they stood out as a band she really likes.
Not only are they musically excellent, but they have a social conscious too.
The name comes from The White Ribbon campaign which aims to end male violence against women.
This song is about Sophie Lancaster. Some may say, well we all know about Sophie Lancaster (if you’re not from the UK, she was a young girl, sitting minding her own business with her boyfriend in a public park, and a gang of thugs kicked her to death, simply for dressing differently and being a girl. If you google the details, beware that it is very harrowing).
But to me, we need to be constantly reminded so that for example we monitor our own children’s behaviour, and if we see that they are developing irrational hatred of people because they are different, that we try to nip it in the bud before it ends in tragedy.
You can read my review of Butlins Great British Alternative Music Festival here, and my interview with lead singer Brian Mitchell here.
#5 Grace Jones
@ Downs Festival, Bristol
|Grace Jones is the most famous person on this list. What an absolute legend, a massive influence on later artists, great attitude, and great tunes. A real privilege to photograph too! She puts on a dazzling performance with amazing costume changes after every song, that would be impressive for an artist of any age, the fact that she is 72 is mind-blowing. Read my review of the excellent Downs Festival here|
#4 Vera Sola
@ Castle Hotel, Manchester
|Vera Sola put on an absolutely dazzling performance. When I posted up some shaky video from the gig on my personal FB page, several people told me that they listened to her album on repeat.
I later found out that her dad is famous, very famous, like A List famous – full marks to her for making it on her own, rather than using the family name to open doors.
Wikipedia is your friend if you’re bothered. Read my review here.
#3 Laura Gibson
@ Soup Kitchen, Manchester
|Laura Gibson was outstanding, and played a key part in making me travel to Manchester to see the gigs I wanted to see, rather than worry about trains being late and so on. Her album Goners is a thing of beauty. I momentarily wondered why a guy at the gig bought a copy of the album which he already had, but was a different colour of vinyl – but then I realised that when an artist is this good a) you want to support them and b) it means something.|
#2 Kælan Mikla
@ Studio 2, Liverpool
|Kælan Mikla are a superb Darkwave band who count Robert Smith of The Cure amongst their fan base. They are from Iceland and sing in Icelandic – not ideal if you want to sing along and don’t speak icelandic, but if there is a band worth learning it for, it’s this one. Truly amazing performance.|
#1 (JOINT) Emika
@ Hare & Hounds, Birmingham
|Popping through to Manchester for a gig on a week night is one thing, Birmingham is quite another! But Emika is one of a handful of artists I would make the effort for. With a midnight coach getting me back to Liverpool after 3am, and having to be up at 6.30am to help get my son to school, the next day was a long one – but I was still on a high so it was worth it! She was my Glastonbury 2015 highlight of the weekend, and this gig was equally amazing.
It was a real priviledge to see her in such a small venue. Most artists start out playing small venues and long for the day when they can play big venues. Emika started out playing big venues, but was in her element having chosen to play small venues on this tour where she can meet her fans.
I struggled for a while to decide whether Emika or Skating Polly should be #1, in the end I thought the only solution was to have a joint #1! They are very different artists, but both amazing in their own ways, and I’d hate to have to choose one over the other!
#1 (JOINT) Skating Polly
@ Gullivers NQ, Manchester
|Anyone who reads this blog or my facebook page won’t be surprised to see Skating Polly riding high on this list, it’s fair to say that I rather like them 🙂
Although they’ve been going for 10 years, I only discovered them in May of this year. I receive lots of press releases about lots of bands, I don’t have time to read them all, so I could have very easily missed this band. Particularly as I saw the name and initially confused them with Flogging Molly (doh!). Fortunately it came from the same agency that lots of other great bands use, so I gave them a listen, and wow, just wow!
They’ve been a permanent fixture on my Spotify and YouTube ever since, and live they were just immense.
Such lovely people too, often when bands come off stage they are a bit grouchy – particularly if they’ve traveled a long way, having been stuck together on the road for several weeks, but not them.
They are quite unique in that sibling bands are often notorious for fighting all the time (Gallagher or Davis brothers for example) or end up a bit mad. But Skating Polly come off stage, cool as a cucumber, seemingly oblivious to just how amazing their performance was, and are really chilled and down-to-earth, and friendly.
I think one of the things that works really well is that Kelli and Peyton are very different people yet obviously have a very strong bond.
When Verity first saw their videos she said Kelli is obviously American, and asked if Peyton is English? I presume the surname Bighorse is native American, albeit I noticed her middle name on song writing credits, McKenna which has Irish/Scottish origins, so she may have some ancestry from the UK, I don’t know.
But I see what she means – Kelli has a strong American accent, and leaps around the stage like an angry volcano, whilst Peyton is much more reserved, and I think that works really well. 2 Kelli’s leaping around the stage or 2 Peyton’s being relatively calm wouldn’t really work, but put them together, along with Kurtis’s drumming, and something wonderful happens!
Often band dynamics where the singer tends to get all the attention, can lead to tensions within a band. But when Peyton sings one of the songs she does lead vocals on, a glance at Kelli with her expressive face, it was clear how proud she is of her sister.
Indeed, when I was getting my album signed, Kelli and Kurtis had already signed it. Kelli was serving another customer and Peyton was chatting to someone so I was waiting patiently, then Kelli handed the pen to Peyton who signed my album, almost like they have a telepathic connection!
I think because all 3 members of the band have such a love of music and listen to all sorts of genres etc, living together since they are a family, and being young when they started, means that they’ve been able to experiment and hone their craft in a way that very few bands ever do, and pull off a sound which is both accessible and credible.
When I send a link of one of their videos to someone who hasn’t heard of them before, the typical response is along the lines of “wow” followed a few hours later by “I’ve been listening to them for the past few hours, they are great, why haven’t I heard of them before?”
And why we haven’t heard them before is a very good question indeed! Why is it for example that our state-owned broadcaster BBC 6 Music, only playlists bands from medium and major labels? Shouldn’t they leave that kind of behaviour to commercial broadcasters and use their unique funding model to take chances and play bands that are getting overlooked because they don’t have a big label who will gut them of everything that makes them unique in order to sanitise them for the masses to sell lots “units”? Surely they should have someone listening out for music this good, making sure that people get to hear it.
They posted on Instagram recently that they are returning to Europe earlier next year (they played in October this year) – take my advice and buy a ticket as soon as they are announced! They sold out Manchester and London, and very nearly sold out Birmingham and Glasgow on the 2019 tour. This band is going places, and you want to catch them in an intimate venue before the rest of the world catches up and they only play massive venues!
And if you’ve become a Skating Polly-holic, joing the Skating Polly Fans Group – where you will discover that we are not alone!
Ones to Watch
I’ve already mentioned The White Ribbons in my Top 10 (well 11 really, I cheated!) with an amazing EP already to their credit, and another one due for release soon. They are definitely a band I want to catch again in 2020.
Here are a few other bands I’m excited about.
Liverpool based Skinner’s Lane with their eccentric Californian front-man Zak Langford-Do were my highlight of this year’s Threshold Festival. Can’t wait to catch them again next year.
The Kecks have played twice in the UK this year, and on both dates I had unmovable family events so couldn’t go. Shreddy kindly offered to play in my living room next time they are over so that I don’t miss them, I might have to take them up on that 😉 But no, I will make a point of catching them next tour by hook or by crook as I’m really excited by what I’ve heard of them so far.
Dolly Daggerz combines her love for pole dancing and singing to stunning effect, creating something quite unique. I believe they one the daily vote on the Butlins Great British Alternative Music Festival Weekender Introducing Stage. Looking fwd to seeing them on the main stage next year!
Another stunning performance on the Butlins Great British Alternative Music Festival Introducing Stage, came from Nottingham’s Diablo Furs who I hope to catch again somewhere in the next year. My friends interviewed them for The Punk Site whilst we were having a pint, and they are really cool people too!
Hopes for 2020
In Previous Years, things I’ve hoped for in this section have actually come true! At the end of 2017 I said “I hope that Claudia Brucken performs live somewhere I can get to” and a few weeks later I received an email to say that her and Susanne were performing “A Secret Wish” as xPropaganda in London. What an amazing night that was!
At the end of 2018, I said that I hoped Emika would play in the UK again. Lo and behold, I saw her in December!
So now we are at the end of 2019, I need to wish wisely!
Obviously I’m hoping for 2020 UK tours from Skating Polly and Emika and Roots Manuva. Skating Polly have already said they are coming to Europe earlier next year (hopefully that will include the UK) and I believe Emika is hoping to come back too.
Also I really want Sade to tour again, and Cocteau Twins to reform. But then I say that every year.
Anyway, thanks for reading, and Merry Christmas & Happy New Year! See you all at a gig or 5!
Words + Pictures: John W. King