2016 in Gigs

Sunflower Bean

Time for my traditional round-up of the gigs I saw in the previous year.

According to Songkick, I saw 39 gigs in 2016. That’s the lowest number since 2012 (when I saw 36 – but had the excuse that my leg was in plaster for six weeks and I didn’t get out much).

Let’s start with the disappointments. I left two gigs at the interval. I had wanted to see Marc Almond for a long time, but when it finally happened it was all just too torch song for my tastes. I’m told the second half was much better.

Then there was Barclay James Harvest (or rather, John Lees’ Barclay James Harvest – the two surviving members of BJH both have their own touring version of the band). Sometimes going to see an act for the first time for thirty-five years isn’t a good idea. They just didn’t hold my interest the way they did back in the early 80s. When they took an early interval (after only half an hour on stage) I ducked out. I hope the second half was longer.

I didn’t leave, but I thought the Björk show at the Hammersmith Odeon was pretty disappointing too. I think I’m in a minority there though.

I only saw two bands twice – Sunflower Bean and the Magnetic North. And this might be the first year in living memory that I didn’t see any members of the Carthy clan playing.

I ticked off four more acts in my “acts from my youth that I never got round to seeing” list – Toyah, ELO, ABC and the Human League. I already have a ticket to see ABC again.

Usually, Amanda Palmer gets a free pass onto the top ten list, but in 2016 I only saw her as a special guest at a Jherek Bischoff show that didn’t quite make the cut.

Here, in chronological order, are the ten best gigs I saw in 2016.

  • Sunflower Bean – the first show (at the Dome) just trumps the second (at the Scala) proving once again that smaller venues are better. I reckon 2017 will be your last chance to see them in a smallish venue. That’s them in the photo.
  • SOAK – I’ve loved SOAK since I first saw her support Chvrches a couple of years ago. And live, she gets better and better.
  • ELO – Yes, incredibly cheesy, of course. But great fun. They have so many fabulous songs.
  • Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – This was the night they played Architecture & Morality and Dazzle Ships. Not really their best-known material – but the fans loved it.
  • Laura Marling – You can’t go wrong seeing Laura Marling play whenever possible and this show was no exception. I already have a ticket to see her in a couple of months time when she launches her new album.
  • Belle and Sebastian – Only the second time I’ve seen them, but they are now a must-see. This show had them playing all of Tigermilk. I’m seeing them again in 2017.
  • The Orb – The Orb playing all of Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld. What’s not to like?
  • The Magnetic North – The show at RIBA was the second time I saw them in 2016. Their new album, Prospect of Skelmersdale is even better than their debut and I highly recommend seeing them live.
  • ABC – In the first half, they played random hits along with selections from The Lexicon of Love II. But in the second half, they played all of The Lexicon of Love. Everyone in the audience knew every lyric and sang along with gusto. It was sublime.
  • Christine and the Queens – What an awesome act. One of the best live performances I’ve seen for a very long time.

I’ve just deleted Marianne Faithful and The Staves from this list as it was too long. Other shows bubbling outside the top ten include Barenaked LadiesSt. Etienne and Hannah Peel. It’s mark of the quality of the shows I’ve seen this year that I haven’t found space for SavagesPixies or Billy Bragg.

And let’s spare a thought for acts we’ll never see performing again. I will alway regret never seeing Prince live and it’s over twenty years since I saw David Bowie play. But of all the talented musicians who died in 2016 I think it’s the two Leonard Cohen shows I saw (in 1993 and 2013) that I will treasure the most.

There are “year in gigs” posts for every year since 2011.

2015 in Gigs

Chvrches - Tufnell Park Dome

As has become traditional round these parts, it’s time for my annual review of the gigs I saw last year.

I saw 48 gigs in 2015. That’s up on 2014’s 45, but still short of my all time high of 60 in 2013. I saw Chvrches, Stealing Sheep and Paper Aeroplanes twice. I was supposed to see a couple of other artists twice, but Natalie Prass cancelled the second show and I couldn’t get to the second Soak show as I was ill.

As always, there were some disappointments. Renaissance really weren’t very good (I waited to hear “Northern Lights” and then buggered off) and Elbow weren’t as good as I’d seen them before. But the biggest disappointment this year has to be Bob Dylan. He was terrible. I left at the interval.

About half-way through the year, I stopped writing reviews on my gig site. I’ve put up posts with just the data about the shows and I hope to back-fill some of the reviews at some point, but I can’t see it happening soon. Hopefully I’ll keep the site more up to date this year.

So here (in chronological order) are my favourite gigs of the year:

  • Stealing Sheep – It’s been far too long since I saw Stealing Sheep, but the release of a new album brought them to London a couple of times. I’m going to do with the Chat’s Palace show as my favourite as I like smaller venues.
  • Laura Marling – This was simply astonishing in every way. I was completely spellbound thoughout this show. Almost certainly gig of the year.
  • Soak – If there’s any justice in the world, Soak is going to be huge. See her in intimate venues while you can.
  • Amanda Palmer – There always has to be an Amanda Palmer gig on the list. It’s the law.
  • Chvrches – Another act I saw twice. The small album launch show at the Tufnell Park Dome just pipped the huge extravaganza at Alexandra Palace.
  • Heaven 17 – Another band I’ve started seeing whenever I can.
  • Garbage – Sometimes, seeing bands decades after their peak can be a little disappointing. That certainly wasn’t the case for Garbage.
  • John Grant – First time I’d seen John Grant. I hope it won’t be the last.
  • Fuzzbox – Another act from my youth who made an impressive return.
  • The Unthanks – I’ve been meaning to get round to see the Unthanks for years. I’m glad I did. I’ll be seeing them again as soon as possible.

Gigs that fell just outside of the top ten included Julian Cope, Suzanne Vega, Paper Aeroplanes and Smoke Fairies. Oh, and the Indie Daze Festival was great too.

I already have tickets for a dozen shows in 2016. I’m particularly looking forward to ELO in April and seeing the Cure for the first time for far too many years in December.

2014 in Gigs

Slightly later than usual, here’s my overview of the gigs I saw in 2014.

I saw 45 gigs in 2014. That’s 25% down on 2013’s 60 (which is my current record). Letting it drop below an average of one a week is disappointing. I’ll have to try harder this year.

I saw both Martin Carthy and Chvrches three times in 2014 and Annie Eve twice. Martin Carthy is definitely the artist I’ve seem most since I’ve been keeping track of such things. And it’s the first time for many years that I haven’t seen Amanda Palmer. But that’s only because she didn’t play London in 2014 (well, she played one small gig at the British Library, but I didn’t hear about it until it was far too late to get tickets).

What was less than impressive. Well, my review of Yes at the Albert Hall upset a couple of Yes fans. And Eddi Reader wasn’t as good as the previous time I saw her. But, in general, the quality of things I saw was pretty high. Perhaps I was being more picky and that’s why I saw fewer shows.

Anyway, here (in chronological order) are my ten favourite gigs of the year:

  • Haim – Haimwere on my top ten list from 2013. I saw them again early in 2014 and they were just as good.
  • Chvrches – I saw Churches three times. I’m going to choose the Somerset House show as my favourite. Because I was standing about five rows away from the stage.
  • Annie Eve – I saw Annie Eve twice. I think the first show (at the Lexington) was just better, but only because the Lexington is a much better venue than the Borderline. I’d love to see her play somewhere like the Union Chapel.
  • Rick Wakeman – Something a bit different here. Rick Wakeman playing all of Journey to the Centre of the Earth. Very cheesy. Very pompus. Very wonderful.
  • Lorde – Lorde couldn’t be more different than Rick Wakeman! But this was probably my favourite gig of the year. I can see myself enjoying Lorde shows for many years to come. Coincidentally, Lorde was also the support at the next gig on the list.
  • Arcade Fire – I had wanted to see Arcade Fire for a few years. This show was every bit as overblown and wonderful as I hoped it would be.
  • Hazel O’Connor – Another complete contrast. 80s legend playing a low-key show in the pub at the end of my road. Wonderful stuff.
  • Kate Bush – Probably on everyone’s list. For all the obvious reasons.
  • Tunng – Always love seeing Tunng. And this career retrospective show was great.
  • Peter Gabriel – And another stadium show to close with. I was astonished to find out that it was twenty years since I saw Peter Gabriel. It certainly won’t be another twenty until I see him again.

As always, there were shows that were unlucky to fall just outside the top ten list. Special mentions should go to Paper Aeroplanes, Neutral Milk Hotel, Lisa Knapp and Banks.

Right, so what’s happening this year?

2013 in Gigs

According to Songkick, I saw 60 gigs in 2013. That’s quite an improvement on my previous record of 50 in 2011 and well past 2012’s rather disappointing 36. Songkick have stopped doing their excellent “My Year” feature, so I don’t have quite as many facts and figures at my fingertips. If they don’t do something similar next year, I might need to reimplement it myself.

This was the year that I started a separate blog about the gigs I go to. I started it early in June, but I’ve also added stub entries for a number of earlier shows.

As always, there were a few unimpressive shows. In particular, two old prog rock bands – Caravan and Camel – were both rather dull. And both MGMT and Manfred Mann’s Earth Band were massive disappointments.

So what did I like? Here, in chronological order, are ten gigs that I really enjoyed.

  1. My Bloody Valentine – I had never seen them before and had given up on ever seeing them. But, suddenly, they were back with a new album and a tour. I’m proud to say that I got through the whole show without resorting to ear-plugs.
  2. James – I bought a ticket for this largely because Echo and the Bunnymen were supporting and I had never seen them. They were great, but I’d forgotten what a fantasitc live band James are. It’s got to be twenty years since I saw them. I won’t be leaving it so long next time.
  3. Billy Bragg – I saw Billy Bragg twice this year. Both shows were great, but I think the atmosphere was better in the Union Chapel. This was also the show where he played all of Life’s A Riot as a second encore.
  4. Leonard Cohen – There are very few people who can tempt me to the O2 arena (probably London’s most soulless venue). But Leonard Cohen is one of them. Any year with a Leonard Cohen gig in it is a very good year.
  5. Amanda Palmer – Amanda Palmer is the only person who has been on all my annual top gigs lists. And if you’ve seen her live, you’ll know why. She always puts on a sensational show.
  6. David Byrne & St Vincent – As soon as I heard that David Byrne and St Vincent were making a record together, I knew that the tour was going to be unmissable. And I was right.
  7. Annie Eve – Annie Eve was  the only person I saw three times this year. And I hope to see her many more times in 2014. My favourite show was her EP launch show at Old St Pancras Church. But she’s always well worth seeing.
  8. Tunng – I saw Tunng twice this year. They were on top form both times, but I think I just preferred the second show when I saw them at Heaven.
  9. Heaven 17 – I thought this was just going to be a standard Heaven 17 show, but two things made it stand out. Firstly, the support was Scritti Politti. And secondly, Heaven 17 started by playing forty minutes of old Human League songs. It was a fantastic night.
  10. Haim – Something new to end with. I’ve been playing Haim’s first album pretty much non-stop since it was released. And they were even better live. I’ve already bought a ticket to see them again next year.

It was really hard to choose just ten gigs for this list. There were plenty of others that were just outside the list. So here’s an honourable mention for Sinéad O’Connor, Serafina Steer, Sigur Rós, Edwyn Collins and The Polyphonic Spree.

It was a great year for gigs. And next year is already shaping up to be just as good. I already have tickets to see Haim, Arcade Fire, Chvrches and a dozen other shows.

What great live music did I miss this year? What do you recommend for next year?

2012 in Gigs

Here’s an overview of the gigs I saw in 2012. I saw 36 gigs during the year. That’s quite a lot down on 2011, but that’s partly because I broke my leg and didn’t go to gigs for six weeks.

I saw some larger gigs than in the previous year. I saw Radiohead, The Killers and Elbow all at the O2. In all cases the bands were great, but the venue is horrible. I also went to Hyde Park to see Paul Simon, which was definitely one of the highlights of the year.

I think that I didn’t see anyone more than twice last year. But there were at least four acts that I saw twice – Antonio Lulić, Alessi’s Ark, Tegan and Sara and Suzanne Vega. I saw Tegan and Sara on two consecutive nights – their own headlining gig at the Forum and then supporting The Killers the following night.

I saw more than my fair share of unimpressive gigs. In particular, Dexys and Sparks (both, coincidentally at the Barbican) were two hugely disappointing shows.

Here, in purely chronological order, are the gigs I enjoyed the most in 2012. I wanted to list a top ten, but I couldn’t get the list smaller than twelve.

  • Sinead O’Connor – Haven’t seen her live since a Finsbury Park Fleadh about twenty years ago and I was worried that she’d be a bit rubbish. But she was so good that I’ve already booked to see her twice this year. Her latest album is really good too.
  • Suzanne Vega – As I mentioned above, I saw her twice during the year. I think the first one (playing acoustic in the Union Chapel) was just better than the other (with a band, playing the whole of Solitude Standing at the Barbican). But they were both great nights. She’s definitely now on my list of people to see whenever I can.
  • Amanda Palmer – An Amanda Palmer gig is always awesome. This gig at Village Underground was no exception. Her new band, The Grand Theft Orchestra, is great. It’s a shame that she has cancelled her 2013 tour because a close friend is really ill – but I completely understand why she did  it.
  • Paul Simon – It was the 25th anniversary of the Graceland tour and Simon got together as many of the original band as possible. This was a fantastic evening.
  • Kathryn Tickell – Something a bit different. Kathryn Tickell’s show pulls together lots of music and talk from her native Northumbria. It’s low key, but enthralling.
  • Kate Rusby – How has Kate Rusby been making records for twenty years? This show, celebrating that fact, was all kinds of amazing.
  • Amy Macdonald – This was a bit of a surprise. I knew I quite liked Macdonald. I’d bought her first two albums. I’d even listened to them a few times. So I bought a ticket on a whim. I’m glad I did, because this was a great night. I’m going to see her again at the Palladium later this year.
  • The Divine Comedy – The day after the Amy Macdonald gig I was back in the same venue for Neil Hannon’s 42nd birthday party. This was the second Divine Comedy gig I’ve seen and they’ve both been fabulous. I must really start listening to more of their records.
  • The Magnetic North – I saw Hannah Peel playing as part of two bands this year. She’s in John Foxx’s new band The Maths, but I much prefer The Magnetic North. I don’t know if this is a permanent band. So far they’ve recorded one album, inspired by Orkney, which they played at this gig.
  • Beth Orton – Since I got back into going to gigs a few years ago, Beth Orton has been top of my list of people to see. And to finally see her in a venue as lovely as the Union Chapel was incredible. This is probably my gig of the year.
  • Stealing Sheep – I saw Stealing Sheep four times in 2011 but for various reasons I missed most of their London gigs in 2012. So I was really determined to get to this gig at the Bush Hall in December. It was a year (almost to the day) since I had last seen them and it was really interesting to see how much they had improved in that time. I mean they were great to start with, but now they are phenomenal.
  • Antonio Lulić – Yes, Antonio is a friend, but even if he wasn’t I’m sure I’d still consider him one of the best live acts currently playing the circuit. At my local pub (which is also one of my favourite venues) he put on a great end of year show where he played for an hour. And the whole set is available to stream from SoundCloud.

See Tickets

Anyone who buys tickets for gigs, plays or sporting events will have horror stories about how a reasonably priced ticket suddenly became a lot less reasonably priced once booking fees, transaction fees and postage fees had been added on. I’ve often wondered why the face value of tickets doesn’t just include a fixed amount that goes to the ticket agency as their cut rather than them being left to make up figures themselves.

Today I found out why the booking agencies like things how they are.

A month ago I bought a ticket for a Kathryn Williams gig at the Union Chapel. I bought it from See Tickets. It cost me £24.70. That figure was apparently made up of the following:

  • £19.50 – Ticket price
  • £1.95 – Booking fee
  • £2.25 – Transaction fee
  • £1.00 – Insurance (I think I forgot to uncheck a check box there)

The show was supposed to take place next Tuesday. But today I got an email from See telling me that the show had been postponed until 8th October. That’s a slight problem as I already have a ticket to see Radiohead that night. So, reluctantly I am going to have to return the Kathryn Williams ticket for a refund.

The email contained details of how to claim my refund. I had to post the ticket back to them (“by secure mail”) and they would refund the face value of the ticket.

Yes, just the face value. That’s £19.50. The rest of it – their fees – they want to hold on to. And they want me to post it using recorded delivery. That’s going to cost about £1.50.

I emailed their customer service to confirm this. It seemed really unlikely that I would lose about 25% of the money I’d paid just because I couldn’t get to the rearranged date. But their customer support confirmed that as they had done their part (by sending me the ticket) they had earned their money and weren’t going to give it back to me.

I discussed this a bit on Twitter and someone pointed out that I could probably get the money back from the Visa card that I used to buy the tickets (as I understand it, Visa can then claw the money back from the vendor). I’ve sent a message to First Direct to see how that might work. I also asked See Tickets to confirm exactly how much they planned to refund me and mentioned that I planned to see if I could get the rest back from Visa.

I got an email back from the confirming that they plan to refund me £19.50 and that they wouldn’t refund the postage. The email then finished with this:

If you proceed to claim the money back from your card provider you’ll be banned from using See or any of our affiliates in the future.

Up to that point I was happy to debate the finer points of the transaction and try to persuade them that their T&Cs were unfair. But I can’t really see the point now. They obviously aren’t reasonable people. I tell them that I’m planning to use legal methods to recover as much of the money as possible and they respond with threats.

It’s not much of a threat to be honest. After what has happened today, I’m not planning to use the company again. I’m sure my gig-going won’t be hampered too much if I stop buying tickets from See.

Perhaps you’d consider doing the same.

Update: Here’s are the details of the insurance that I inadvertently bought. Notice that there’s a list headed “we will not provide a refund where” which includes the item “the booked event is cancelled, abandoned, postponed, curtailed or relocated”.

Update: One nice thing to come out of this. Kathryn Williams heard about it on Twitter and was as appalled as any reasonable person would be. She has offered to send me a copy of her new CD to make amends (even though none of this is even slightly her fault). What a lovely person. You should all buy The Pond when it comes out next week.

[There are two follow-ups to this post. You might find those interesting too]

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?

Some Gigs

It’s been a busy few weeks for gigs. I thought you might be interested in a summary of what I’ve seen recently.

9 Oct: The Sixteen

Starting with something a bit different. A nice drop of Thomas Tallis (and a few other things) in a local church. The Sixteen are great – but I’m not sure why there were eighteen of them singing.

10 Oct: Kirsty MacColl Tribute

It seems amazing that it’s ten years since Kirsty MacColl died. This tribute concert brought together many famous names to sing Kirsty’s songs with her backing band. It was good to see that it wasn’t just old gits like Billy Bragg, Eddi Reader and Alison Moyet who wanted to play tribute to her. There were plenty of younger people like Amy MacDonald and Ellie Goulding there too. Shame Macgowan was supposed to be there but he was indisposed. No-one was surprised.

21 Oct: Hallogallo 2010

Michael Rother was one half of the German band Neu in the 1970s. Hallogallo is the name of the first track on Neu’s first album. Hallogallo 2010 is the name of a group that Rother has gathered together to play some Neu music along with other music in the same style. The style got a bit monotonous at first, but eventually monotonous turns into into hypnotic and I found myself being drawn in. I’m not sure I’d rush to see them again, but I’m glad I was there.

27 Oct: Norma Waterson and Eiiza Carthy

I’ve been listening to various combinations of the Waterson/Carthy family for decades. I’ve seen Eliza Carhy about four times this year already, but I hadn’t seen Norma Waterson for several years. They’re on tour together as they’ve just released their first album as a duo and very nice it is too. The Union Chapel was the perfect setting for this evening of two fabulous singers singing some great songs.

28 Oct: The Psychedelic Furs

This was postponed from last year for reasons that I never discovered. The first half was the album Talk Talk Talk played all the way through and then after a very short break the band came back and played pretty much every other Furs song that you wanted to hear. It’s always a bit worrying seeing old bands like this as there’s a strong likelihood that they’ve lost it. But, happily, that’s not true of the Furs. They put in a great performance.

2 Nov: Afro Celt Sound System

I love African music and I love Irish folk music – so what’s not to love about a band who fuse the two forms together and make irresistible dance music? This was their first time in London for something like seven years and they were very good. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much dancing in the Barbican Hall. Oh and a tip to other bands – the Afrocelts were selling t-shirts for a tenner. That’s how you get me to buy one.

3 Nov: Lloyd Cole

Another blast from the past and another “has he still got it?” moment. And he has. Rather than a band, Cole now plays with two other chaps and all three of them play acoustic guitars. This means that the old Commotions stuff needs to be drastically rearranged and some of the new versions work better than others. But I’d never seen Lloyd Cole play before and I’m glad that I have now. It made me think that maybe I should track down some gigs by Edwyn Collins or Roddy Frame.

6 Nov: Tunng

After a few oldies, Tunng brings us right up to date. I hadn’t even heard of Tunng until a friend recommended them to me about a year ago. Now I have all of their albums and, on the evidence of this gig, I’d definitely go and see them again. I think this was the end of the tour so there was a bit of a party atmosphere going on. There was also a special guest star – former member Sam Genders joined them on stage for a few numbers. It’s a modern kind of folk music with a bit of other bits and pieces thrown in. I like it a lot.

10 Nov: The Divine Comedy

Bringing us right up to date, last night I was at the Royal Festival Hall to see The Divine Comedy. Actually, these days that’s just Neil Hannon performing solo. It’s been over ten years since I listened to a new Divine Comedy album, but it was great to hear the songs live – mostly played on piano but occasionally on acoustic guitar. Hannon is a great entertainer and he loves to chat to the audience both between and during the songs. I’ll certainly be checking out some of his more recent work.

Gigs for Old Gits

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for gigs. On the assumption that at least some of my readers have similar tastes to me, here are brief reviews of the three gigs I’ve seen in the last couple of weeks.

Fairport Convention, Union Chapel, 20th Feb
This is the second year running that I’ve seen Fairport Convention on their “Wintour” at the Union Chapel. Last year was the first time I had seen them (which is bizarre for a band I’ve been a fan of for over thirty years). I can’t quite put my finger on it, but this year’s show wasn’t as enjoyable as last year’s. I suspect it was down to the number of songs taken from later Fairport albums that I’m not at all familiar with. Oh, and the arrangement of Matty Groves was very strange. The long instrumental that ends the song was unrecognisable.

Thomas Dolby and Friends, Union Chapel, 28th Feb
Something a little more up to date. This was Thomas Dolby bringing back together the band who had recorded and toured his second album, The Flat Earth. As an extra twist, the band (who haven’t played together for over twenty-five years) didn’t rehearse at all. They met on stage and worked the songs out in a two-hour “live rehearsal”. They then went of for a brief break before returning to play a half-hour set.

The rehearsal was fun. And the band sounded great for a band eho hadn’t played together for so long. There were also a few guest stars – including Trevor Horn who played bass on “Airwaves”. The only slight disappointment was that the rehearsal overran so the final set had to be cut short.

John Cale, Royal Festival Hall, 5th March
I’m not a huge John Cale fan. I generally like the stuff of his that I hear, but I haven’t really heard much of it. This concert had him playing the whole of hist album “Paris 1919” (from 1973). This isn’t an album that I’d heard at all until I started to listen to it in preparation for this show and it’s really not that representative of the rest of his music. But it’s a great album and it was interesting to hear it all played live. It is, however, a rather short album (many were back in the early 70s) and that part of the show only lasted forty minutes. After a short break (and it was really short) the band returned to play another forty minutes of “the best of John Cale”. I was pretty surprised to realise that I recognised most of these songs. All in all, a great night out.

A Life Well Documented

Recently I realised that two seemingly completely different projects were, in fact, both facets of the same project. They both led me to putting more detail about my history into web sites and (once they are complete) this will mean that my life will become far better documented.

The first project started when I dug out an old box of photographs. I was relatively late into digital photography so I have huge numbers of photos which just linger in boxes and albums instead of being enjoyed on Flickr. Also in the box I found the negatives for most of the films so I decided to start getting the negatives scanned in and put on CDs (if anyone is interested, it looks like Boots are the cheapest place to get this done).

This scanning is still in progress, but when I got the first few CDs back I realised that there were lots of photos of holidays and that I only had the vaguest of ideas when some of these holidays took place. So over the last couple of weeks, I’ve done pretty much all I can to tie down the dates of all of the holidays I’ve taken in the last fifteen years. I’ve gone through old passports looking for stamps. I’ve searched for email confirmations of flight bookings. I’ve even gone through my invoicing records to see which days I didn’t invoice clients for (an unexpected advantage of being a freelancer). As I’ve been going through this process, I’ve been adding the trips to my Dopplr account.

The project has expanded from just covering holidays. I’ve been to a lot of conferences in that time and I’ve also added those details to Dopplr. I don’t think I’m very far from having a complete record of every conference and meeting that I’ve ever spoken at.

The other project which eventually led in the same direction was my discovery of Songkick. Songkick aims to produce a complete directory of gigs. Users can add details of gigs they attended and mark themselves as having been at gigs added by other people. Trying to track down the dates of obscure gigs you attended in the late 1980s turns out to be a surprisingly addictive pastime. I’m sure I’ll never get everything into my account, but it’s certainly fun trying. I don’t even mind that the first gig I ever attended was supremely embarrassing.

Songkick currently has one obvious omission. It would be great if they would publish a users list of gigs (or “gigography” as they call it) as an iCal feed so that I could subscribe to it in Google Calendar. I’m sure that something like that will be added to the site soon.

There’s an obvious crossover between these two projects of course. Some gigs (more usually, festivals) can also count as holidays. Every time I went to Glastonbury or the Cambridge Folk Festival, that’s going to need to be listed in both Dopplr and Songkick.

Two interesting projects. Neither of them will ever be 100% complete, but it’s fun trying to get as close as you can. Of course, they both appeal to the “High Fidelity” style list geek in me. If these tools had been available thirty years ago I would certainly have been using them. And that would have given me an incredibly rich set of data about how I spent my time. One that I’m now painfully trying to piece together a bit at a time.

I’m fast coming to the conclusion that you can’t ever have enough data about your life. I’m now looking for new data sets that I could add to my life history.