2011 in Gigs

One of my pet hates is all that “review of the year” stuff that appears before the year is over. But I’m not planning to go to any gigs in the next three days, so I feel justified in reviewing the gigs I’ve seen this year before the end of the year.

According to Songkick I’ve seen exactly fifty gigs this year. That’s over twice as many as I saw in 2010.

There are two artists that I saw four times – Stealing Sheep and Martin Carthy, but as Carthy was a guest star on two of those appearances, I guess that Stealing Sheep are the band I saw most. Not bad for an act I first saw in August. There were two acts that I saw three times – Antonio Lulić and Ed Sheeran. I also saw Amanda Palmer twice – and as they were on a Friday and the following Monday, I expect she was the artist I saw with the shortest gap between performances.

I’ve seen gigs in rooms above pubs and one gig at Wembley Arena. Judging by my attendance at venues, my favourites are the Union Chapel and the Barbican Centre.

So what did I like? Actually let’s start with what I didn’t like. I walked out of two gigs halfway through the main act. I went to see Other Lives purely because Hannah Peel was supporting. She was great, as always, but they were terrible. Later in the year I decided to go to see Emmy the Great purely because lots of people I like say how she is. Unfortunately I chose her Christmas party gig with Tim Wheeler and it was horrible. I left after half an hour. In both cases I took a chance on liking an act and in both cases I was wrong. I suspect I’ll be doing a lot less of that next year.

There were a lot of nostalgic gigs on the list this year. Eddi Reader at the Union Chapel was great. Ian McCulloch a week later at the same venue was less great. I think I would have been better off seeing Echo and the Bunnymen instead. Later in the year I saw two great nostalgic gigs at the Bush Hall – Roddy Frame and Michelle Shocked.

I also saw some stuff from even earlier than that. Van der Graaf Generator were really good, but I didn’t really enjoy Yes that much. I even saw Hawkwind for the first time since 1982.

I’ve trying to work out what my favourite gigs were. But there such a wide range of stuff that it’s hard to compare them. Here, in purely chronological order, are ten highlights of my live music year.

  • Antonio Lulić, Jesper Ejrup, Trevor John, and Tess and Dibs at the Bedford. Didn’t see enough stuff at my local pub this year, but this was a brilliant night. All of the acts were top quality but the mad Danes in Jesper Ejrup’s band were particularly brilliant.
  • The Boothill Foot-tappers at the 100 Club. This was pure nostalgia. I’ve written before about what this band meant to me. It was great to have the chance to see them again.
  • Billy Bragg at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Hadn’t seen Bragg play for far too long. This gig proved he still has it.
  • Rain Dogs Revisited at the Barbican. Various artists playing songs from Tom Wait’s album “Rain Dogs”. I love these nights at the Barbican. There’s always someone fabulous playing that I’ve never heard of. On this occasion, that was St Vincent. As soon as I got home I bought both of her albums.
  • Pulp at Brixton Academy. I never saw Pulp in the 90s and I was seriously considering going to the Wired festival to see them in the summer. Glad I didn’t though as this gig in Brixton was very nearly perfect.
  • Amanda Palmer at Heaven. An Amanda Palmer gig is always a treat, and this was no exception. Certainly one of the maddest nights I’ve had this year. Saw her again (at the British Library of all places) three days later for a rather more subdued (but equally brilliant) night.
  • Kal Lavelle, Ryan Keen, and Antonio Lulić at the Bedford. Proof (I hope) that I don’t just enjoy seeing old farts play. Kal, Antonio and Ryan are part of an informal group of incredible singer-songwriters who are constantly playing around London (and further afield). At the time of this gig all three of them had recently supported Ed Sheeran at various gigs.
  • Roy Harper at the Royal Festival Hall. Someone else I should have seen years ago but never got round to. Plenty of interesting guest stars – including Jimmy Page.
  • Zappa Plays Zappa at the Barbican. Sadly, I’ll never get to see Frank Zappa play, but this is about as close as you can get. Dweezil Zappa plays note-perfect renditions of his father’s music. And at some points they had film of Frank playing which the live band jammed along to.
  • Stealing Sheep at the Old Blue Last. Must include Stealing Sheep on the list. This was probably the best I saw them play.

All in all it’s been a good year for live music. I’ve ticked off a few more old favourites that I hadn’t previously got round to seeing and I’ve seen a lot of new and interesting bands. I’m already booking tickets for next year and hopefully it’ll be just as interesting as this year was.

What did you see that you really enjoyed this year? Did I miss any absolutely essential shows? What’s going to be great next year?

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