I really thought that 2023 would be the year I got back into the swing of seeing gigs. But, somehow I ended up seeing even fewer than I did in 2022 – 12, when I saw 16 the previous year. Sometimes, I look at Martin’s monthly gig round-ups and wonder what I’m doing with my life!
I normally list my ten favourite gigs of the year, but it would be rude to miss just two gigs from the list, so here are all twelve gigs I saw this year – in, as always, chronological order.
- John Grant (supported by The Faultress) at St. James’s Church
John Grant has become one of those artists I try to see whenever they pass through London. And this was a particularly special night as he was playing an acoustic set in one of the most atmospheric venues in London. The evening was only slightly marred by the fact I arrived too late to get a decent seat and ended up not being able to see anything.
- Hannah Peel at Kings Place
Hannah Peel was the artist in residence at Kings Place for a few months during the year and played three gigs during that time. This was the first of them – where she played her recent album, Fir Wave, in its entirety. A very laid-back and thoroughly enjoyable evening.
- Orbital at the Eventim Apollo
I’ve been meaning to get around to seeing Orbital for many years. This show was originally planned to be at the Brixton Academy but as that venue is currently closed, it was relocated to Hammersmith. To be honest, this evening was slightly hampered by the fact I don’t know as much of their work as I thought I did and it was all a bit samey. I ended up leaving before the encore.
- Duran Duran (supported by Jake Shears) at the O2 Arena
Continuing my quest to see all of the bands I was listening to in the 80s (and, simultaneously, ticking off the one visit to the O2 that I allow myself each year). I really enjoyed the nostalgia of seeing Duran Duran but, to be honest, I think I enjoyed Jake Shears more – and it was the Scissor Sisters I was listening to on the way home.
- Hannah Peel and Beibei Wang at Kings Place
Even in a year where I only see a few gigs, I still manage to see artists more than once. This was the second of Hannah Peel’s artist-in-residence shows. She appeared with Chinese percussionist Beibei Wang in a performance that was completely spontaneous and unrehearsed. Honestly, some parts were more successful than others, but it was certainly an interesting experience.
- Songs from Summerisle at the Barbican Hall
The Wicker Man is one of my favourite films, so I jumped at the chance to see the songs from the soundtrack performed live. But unfortunately, the evening was a massive disappointment. The band sounded like they had met just before the show and, while they all obviously knew the songs, they hadn’t rehearsed them together. Maybe they were going for a rustic feel – but, to me, it just sounded unprofessional.
- Belle and Sebastian at the Roundhouse
Another act that I try to see as often as possible. I know some people see Belle and Sebastian as the most Guardian-reader band ever – but I love them. This show saw them on top form.
- Jon Anderson and the Paul Green Rock Academy at the Shepherds Bush Empire
I’ve seen Yes play live a few times in the last ten years or so and, to be honest, it can sometimes be a bit over-serious and dull. In this show, Jon Anderson sang a load of old Yes songs with a group of teenagers from the Paul Green Rock Academy (the school that School of Rock was based on) and honestly, the teenagers brought such a feeling of fun to the occasion that it was probably the best Yes-related show that I’ve seen.
- John Grant and Richard Hawley at the Barbican Hall
Another repeated act – my second time seeing John Grant in a year. This was something different as he was playing a selection of Patsy Cline songs. I don’t listen to Patsy Cline much, but I knew a few more of the songs than I expected to. This was a bit lower-key than I was expecting.
- Peter Hook and the Light at the Eventim Apollo
I’ve been planning to see Peter Hook and the Light for a couple of years. There was a show I had tickets for in 2020, but it was postponed because of COVID and when it was rescheduled, I was unable to go, so I cancelled my ticket and got a refund. So I was pleased to get another chance. And this show had them playing both of the Substance albums (Joy Division and New Order). I know New Order still play some Joy Division songs in their sets, but this is probably the best chance I’ll have to see some deep Joy Division cuts played live. I really enjoyed this show.
- Heaven 17 at the Shepherds Bush Empire
It seems I see Heaven 17 live most years and they usually appear on my “best of” lists. This show was celebrating the fortieth anniversary of their album The Luxury Gap – so that got played in full, alongside many other Heaven 17 and Human League songs. A thoroughly enjoyable night.
- The Imagined Village and Afro-Celt Sound System at the Roundhouse
I’ve seen both The Imagined Village and the Afro-Celts live once before. And they were two of the best gigs I’ve ever seen. I pretty much assumed that the death of Simon Emmerson (who was an integral part of both bands) earlier in 2023 would mean that both bands would stop performing. But this show was a tribute to Emmerson and the bands both reformed to celebrate his work. This was probably my favourite gig of the year. That’s The Imagined Village (featuring two Carthys, dour Coppers and Billy Bragg) in the photo at the top of this post.
So, what’s going to happen in 2024. I wonder if I’ll get back into the habit of going to more shows. I only have a ticket for one gig next year – They Might Be Giants playing Flood in November (a show that was postponed from this year). I guess we’ll see. Tune in this time next year to see what happened.