Live music

Indietracks 2014

Indietracks 2014 8tracksSo Indietracks has come and gone for another year, and the 2014 edition was certainly my favourite of those I’ve been to. It was my first for a couple of years, the weather was fantastic and the line-up was impressive – it was particularly good to have three such strong, but very different, headline acts.

This post is a one-stop-shop for photos, videos and music from the weekend, or at least the bits of it I saw. Most is embedded below, but here are the links to go direct:

I’m not writing a big long review, but there’s bits and pieces in the captions on Flickr (go to fullscreen and click ‘show info’), and I’ll jot down a few favourite memories at the end…


Stand-out moments for me were:
  • The Spook School running onstage in capes, and generally being around and active all weekend, including having a hand in organising the football at the campsite (not that I played, but it was nice to see something like that happening); also check out Nye’s performance of Something on the main stage (it’s in the video playlist above) – you could hear a pin drop.
  • Gruff Rhys interrupting his set to announce there was a search on for a missing child… who immediately turned out to be down the front, watching the show.
  • The last post being played on the bugle after the bar closed and the indie disco finished in the shed on Sunday night.
  • Allo Darlin’ and their Just Joans / Emma Kupa guest slots, and their segue into Call Me Al in their last song, and generally all of their set come to think of it.
  • The announcement after the Hidden Cameras that we’d won the quiz! It was a very generous goodie bag of prizes (CDs, vinyl and some other odds and ends… including a stylophone and a unique song by the Thyme Machine written specifically for the winners), and it was a surprise to beat a team containing uber-quizzer Rachael Neiman.
At the indie disco
It’s a semi-serious gripe that every Indietracks disco ends up playing Babies by Pulp (which I don’t mind at all, to be honest), so we decided to keep track of how many times we heard it. This turned out to be… none! Instead, the ubiquitous indie disco numbers seemed to be:
  • The Spook School – I’ll Be Honest (4)
  • Pulp – Do You Remember the First Time? (3)
  • Le Tigre – Deceptacon (3)
  • Kenickie – Come Out 2Nite (3)

It was also good to hear quite a bit of Hefner (Hymn for the Cigarettes twice, plus a few others) and some other Kenickie tracks (Punka and I Would Fix You). Props in particular to Sean Fortuna Pop who DJed at the campsite on Saturday and basically showed everyone else how to do it, and Katie from the Just Joans and her pals, who did a great job of following him on the Sunday.

Inevitably, there were clashes in the schedule, so I was sorry to miss Cosines, the Thyme Machine, Mega Emotion, Sweet Baboo and all sorts of good stuff in the merch tent.For me, Indietracks runs from the build-up (say from when the schedule is published) to the job of sorting out photos and so on afterwards. Looking up the bands I’ve not heard and figuring out who to see is all part of it for me. But as soon as I hit ‘publish’ on this it’s over for another year. Good work team, and bring on 2015!
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2013 gigs

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Bob from Shrag, at their last ever show

2013 was my 15th year of going to gigs, and at some point in the year I went to my 400th. I couldn’t tell you which one it was though, as I was only able to fill out my gigography on Songkick to within about five gigs – for a handful of shows back in the day, I simply couldn’t identify the date to put it on the site.

Still, Songkick lets me compare years, so before I get to some of the gigs, a little bit of statporn: I went to 33 gigs in total this year, the lowest number since 2010 (30 gigs) and down from 41 last year and 59 in 2011 (all excluding festivals). Since I moved to London at the start of 2005 I’ve been to 310 gigs in total (strictly speaking I moved at the end of 2004 and saw one London show between then and the end of the year, but I’m ignoring that for ease), giving a mean average of 34.4 gigs per annum and a median of 30. So it’s been a pretty average year – which is odd, as it’s felt like I’ve been going to gigs only a bit less often than in 2011 and 2012. Why, I wonder?

Perhaps I’m getting old and it just feels like more of an effort these days, or perhaps it’s due to a strange gap from the end of July to the end of October when I went to none at all, for no very clear reason – so outside that, the shows occurred in a similar concentration to previous years, and even allowing for the fact that one of those three months sans gigs was August, without that gap the total would be in the low 40s. One further substantial difference from recent years has been the absence of MJ Hibbett’s regular Totally Acoustic nights, which must have bumped up the tally by at least half a dozen shows per annum in most of the previous years.

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Final moments of The Crimea

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Shrag leave the stage for the last time

Still, enough of that – what about the actual gigs? The first thing that stands out from this year is that several of my favourite bands split up, and I had the doubtful pleasure of attending two last-ever shows: The Crimea at the Jazz Cafe in (>spit!<) Camden on July 30th (the last show before the aforementioned three-month gap) and Shrag at the Lexington on March 15th. Both were splendid laps of honour, the Crimea show very much in line with their tenth anniversary celebration at the Union Chapel last year, and Shrag’s probably the best of the ten times I saw them live. Both in March and at Shrag’s January show as part of the Fortuna Pop Winter Sprinter, mere days after they’d announced live on Marc Riley’s show that they were calling it a day, Helen seemed more at ease and commanding than I’d ever seen before – maybe a release brought by the split, or maybe my imagination.

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Withered Hand at the Winter Sprinter

The Winter Sprinter show also featured Darren Hayman and the Long Parliament, excellent as ever, and as part of the same run Withered Hand played one of a few early-year London shows. For someone based in Edinburgh, his London shows don’t quite have the rarity value you’d expect, but I’m not complaining – I look forward to seeing a (semi-official?) launch show for the new Withered Hand album as part of the 2014 Winter Sprinter.

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Sylvie Lewis

The year did bring a few genuinely rare treats, however, with two artists who don’t often play on these shores: Erin McKeown at the Wilmington Arms on February 4th, the first time I’d seen her since 2006 and yet more proof that she’s among the very best songwriters in terms of her ability to put her material across live and solo; and the Italy-based Sylvie Lewis at the Water Rats on June 28th, the first show of hers I’ve caught since 2007, and still delivering her beautifully crafted songs with captivating vocal delivery of the songs and a peppering of wry humour in between.

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Born jangly: The Understudies at the Bull and Gate

Sticking with the slightly unusual, the excellent Daylight Music shows at the Union Chapel continued to provide an opportunity for bands to showcase their music in a different setting, and sometimes different arrangements. The second of Withered Hand’s early-year shows was here on February 16th, while A Little Orchestra popped up on June 8th both to play a set of their own and to contribute to sets by Model Village and Gordon McIntyre. But probably my very favourite Daylight Music set came from Victoria and Jacob, showcasing their indie-electro album with the unusual but surprisingly successful addition of a string trio. The February show also introduced me to The Understudies, who the following month became the last band I ever saw at the Bull and Gate.

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Victoria and Jacob plus string trio

From the archetypal back-room venue to one of the big places: I went to the Royal Albert Hall twice this year, in consecutive weeks. The first time was to see Mark Knopfler, who I’ve passed up plenty of chances to see before despite having liked Dire Straits a lot when I was too young to know any better. It struck me I shouldn’t assume the chances would keep coming, but I didn’t hold out great hopes for the quality of the show; in fact I was very pleasantly surprised, and it was a great reminder of why I liked Knopfler guitar playing so much to begin with.

On rather more of a whim I got a last-minute ticket for Elvis Costello’s Spinning Songbook show the following week. I’d seen the same show last year, which had been great, albeit a bit over-burdened by special guests and slightly pushing Costello’s voice a bit further than it could really go on the night. If anything, this time had the edge: no special guests, and Costello’s voice held up throughout a set drawing widely on his back catalogue.

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Caitlin Rose at Dingwalls

I wonder if Caitlin Rose will end up playing venues like the RAH. With her second album The Stand-In her star is firmly on the rise, although much as I’m open to a smoother production when it’s done well, my abiding feeling was that the sheen on the record got in the way of the songs somewhat, or at best didn’t add anything. She played the Shepherd’s Bush Empire later in the year, but back in February played a sold-out show at Dingwalls, where the new songs were more than able to stand on their own two feet in their live form. It takes a lot to tempt me into Camden these days – if it’s a gig by an artist who regularly plays in London I’ll probably catch them the next time – but that was well worth the trip.

I feel similarly about Heaven as a venue to be honest, but I made a couple of trips there this year: firstly to see a pleasant but somewhat subdued set by Camera Obscura, and secondly to catch a band who had eluded me for far too long: I always regretted not seeing McLusky live, so I shouldn’t have left it so long to see Future of the Left, who were awesome. It’s a ferocious bombardment of noise, but very pointed and precise. And I hadn’t known they did the odd McLusky cover, so hearing To Hell With Good Intentions was a treat. Showmanship-wise, the highlight was the guitarist inviting members of the audience on-stage, gaffer-taping an open can of lager to their forehead, then picking them up bodily and holding them upside-down so the beer poured into the mouths of the crowd below.

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Laid back: Duncan Tigercats

Among my 33 gigs were of course many of the reliable favourites – or perhaps, in light of this year’s splits, it would be better to call them survivors. Tigercats showcased new material while headlining a rewardingly diverse Oddbox Weekender on April 5th, which seemed to signal a more laid-back direction, but we’ll see what the album holds in 2014… Allo Darlin’s Halloween set at Islington Assembly Hall (the end of my odd three-month gig drought) also had lots of good new material, while sensibly avoiding all bar the choicest few cuts from their second album – I hope they’ll be headlining Indietracks next year, as after that they’ll be three albums into their career and we shouldn’t take it for granted they’ll be around to do it the year after.

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I ruddy love the Just Joans

Two Scottish bands I always see when they’re in town were among the predictable highlights of the year: Bis showcased on July 25th a 7-months pregnant Manda Rin and their first ever live performance of the Powerpuff Girls theme in a warm-up show for their Indietracks headlining slot the following day. On December 7th the Just Joans played a typically delightful show in Dalston, including all the live favourites, promising new song Johnny Have You Come Lately and a superb version of Card From A Multipack.

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Ready Art Brut!

Finally among the old favourites, Art Brut played a couple of par-for-the-course excellent London shows: in May at the Scala to celebrate their tenth anniversary and launch their best-of, and at Village Underground in November with their new line-up.

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Raevennan Husbandes

Another act punctuating the year for me was the frighteningly talented Raevennan Husbandes, who provides a delicate take on folk that I find rather more palatable than a lot of other folk-ish acts for some reason. In May she played the first Collisions gig night at the Albany pub (intended to showcase contrasting genres alongside each other, the series opened by partnering Raevennan with some jazz, which I think I’m glad I saw but beyond that cannot sensibly express an opinion on), while in June and December she was supporting and playing dobro for Adrian Roye and the Exiles, first at their album launch show at the Borderline and latterly at their Music for a Winter’s Night Christmas show. The latter event returned for a third year after taking a break in 2012, and I was very glad to see it back – the line-up of acoustic-ish acts and Christmas theme together always seem to suit the church venue (St Pancras Old Church this year), and it’s a reliably lovely event. It usually throws up some unique collaborations and cover versions too, and this year Adrian’s inspired – and, from the look on his face, unexpected even to him – call to segue a singalong version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen into Free Nelson Mandela was a moment of genius.

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Music for a Winter’s Night III: Adrian Roye and the Exiles at St Pancras Old Church

That show was the middle one of three Christmas shows in four days, which together wrapped up the year in gigs. This time last year I commented that the new songs showcased at Slow Club’s annual Christmas show sounded excellent and the album was sure to be a highlight of 2013; in fact it hasn’t yet emerged, but there was abundant new material at this year’s show – including some of the previous year’s songs in strikingly different arrangements – and surely to goodness the album’s going to be one of the highlights of 2014.

The year ended as it began, with a Darren Hayman show (ish… that was the second Winter Sprinter evening I went to, in truth) – specifically the latest in his themed Occupation series of shows at the Vortext in Dalston, this one both supported and backed by the Wave Pictures. It was definitely a good way to round the year off. I already know that 2014 heralds Withered Hand, Evans the Death and others at the Winter Sprinter, and a small-ish show from the Hidden Cameras at Bush Hall. So I look forward to another average year’s gig-going, which if its anything like this year should have plenty of great evenings in it.

2012 Gigs

After last year’s deliberate – and successful – attempt to average over a gig a week, I made a bit less of a point of seeing live music at every opportunity this year. According to Songkick I made it to 41 or so shows, plus Indietracks of course (and very few in the last few months of the year, so I was probably maintaining the average up until then). At some point in 2013 I’ll go to my 400th gig – unfortunately my Songkick gigography isn’t quite accurate enough to let me identify which it’ll be, as the mists of time have claimed a few details… But that’s enough about 2013 – what about the year just gone?

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Moustache of Insanity

It started, as is now more or less a tradition, with the Fortuna Pop Winter Sprinter at the Lexington. I went to all three nights, and though I saw some great stuff every evening ultimately found it a bit of a slog; the event’s expanded to four nights for 2013… I’ll be going to two. Highlights in 2012 included one of the last ever sets by Moustache of Insanity and a great set from the Singing Adams, with whom I book-ended the year a bit: my penultimate gig of the year was their album launch show at the Vortex Jazz Club in December.

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Withered Hand battling illness at the Bull and Gate

Also on at the Winter Sprinter were the Wave Pictures, who were tremendous; so much so that I booked more or less immediately for one of their three-night run at the Old Blue Last in Shoreditch in April, supported by Withered Hand. The latter was back in London, this time in full band mode, for a memorable gig with Darren Hayman at the Bull and Gate in September. This time Dan Withered Hand was battling the lurgy that would force him to cancel the rest of the tour, but adrenaline and a hugely warm reception from the audience buoyed him through what turned into an utterly triumphant set, performing most of the first album and ending with an unexpected encore of Heart Heart.

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Darren Hayman, also at the Bull and Gate show

Darren Hayman’s solo slot was also terrific: his wry between-songs observations is now finely honed (it seems a bit wrong to call it banter; it’s more a set of observations on the world of gigs, and beyond). Having had a moment of realisation about not taking Hayman for granted during his excellent Indietracks set, I ended up seeing him four more times during the year – meaning I’ve seen him more times in 2012 than during the rest of his career, solo and Hefner combined. In full band mode he’s particularly impressive: the Long Parliament, as they’re now called, are a bit of a supergroup, featuring members of Allo Darlin’, Tigercats, Owl and Mouse and one or two others. Together they can floor the pedal on the more up numbers, but also deal sensitively with the more restrained and delicate material – it’s almost certainly the best line-up to have backed him. The other gigs were the launch show for The Violence at the Vortex on Bonfire Night, the launch show for Lido at the Lexington in August and, rather pleasingly, round the corner from where I now live, at the Rose and Crown in Walthamstow.

Robert Ellis

Robert Ellis

Staying in the realm of male solo artists for a moment, one of the year’s great finds for me was Robert Ellis who, in addition to putting out my favourite record of the year, also played a couple of my favourite shows. He did a lot of UK performances this year, but both I caught were at the Windmill in Brixton (the second being the last show I’ll attend there, as the reports of the landlord hassling female performers have become a bit too much of a pattern for my liking), the first solo and the second with a small backing ensemble (guitar and pedal steel, I think). Ellis can hold a room, and the top quality songs just keep coming and coming. A particular highlight was a spellbinding rendition of the seven-minute song Cemetery, backed by guitarist Kelly “the Tele” Doyle, who had never played on the song before but improvised a beautiful, note-perfect guitar part to accompany it throughout. It was the sort of performance you watch live music to see.

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Cornshed Sisters

I owe my discovery of Robert Ellis to another gig at the Windmill. He wasn’t playing; rather his album, released that very day, was played between acts. I remembered the song What’s In It For Me so clearly that I googled it when I got home, and was surprised to find it wasn’t an old country standard. Anyway, the gig in question was the first of three times I saw the Cornshed Sisters – and the only one where they all sat down, seemingly preferring to stand from then on. Their unusual line-up allows them to reproduce their recorded output more or less note for note, complemented by a warm and at times excitable line of banter – well, Marie did used to be in Kenickie, you know. In fact it was nice to see a few die-hard Kenickie fans turning up for their shows – the third being a really delightful set at St Pancras Old Church – and a mini-reunion at the Brixton show, with Dr (as show now is) Emmy-Kate Montrose (as she used to be) in attendance.

The Futureheads

The Futureheads

The middle of the three Cornsheds shows was at the Union Chapel, supporting the Futureheads. In touring Rant, they offered a lot of a capella numbers, but also some more acoustic numbers; they absolutely commanded the audience, making for a really impressive show (even if it did just sound a bit like skiffle in a few places). As ever, the Union Chapel was also the venue for numerous other really memorable performances: Ron Sexsmith solo in January; Piney Gir and Mara Carlyle at one of the Daylight Music shows in February (I also caught Piney again later in the year, still promoting her Geronimo! Album to great effect); and a tenth anniversary show for the Crimea in May, which represented a modest but well-earned triumph.

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The Crimea

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The Just Joans

If there’s a band who would do well at the Union Chapel, I feel sure the Just Joans would be one – someone put them on please! Still, I saw them twice this year, which on its own makes it a good year for live music. Their set at Indietracks was a predictable highlight of the weekend, and probably my favourite moment of the whole thing (they opened with Come Out 2Nite – the Kenickie thing never goes away, does it?). In February they ventured south for a rare London show at the Lexington, which was packed out with devotees eager to catch some rare Just Joans action. Quite brilliant it was, too – funny, moving, tuneful, everything you want; with plenty of singalong potential to boot. I daresay it’ll be a good while before I get to see them again. Bah.

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Shrag at the Shacklewell Arms

A rival to the Just Joans for position as my favourite live indie band were Shrag, who had plenty of shows around London this year… I feel a bit sad that they don’t really seem to be playing any bigger venues than two years ago – granted they’re a spiky and idiosyncratic proposition, but it should be able to find a bit of a bigger audience, I’d have thought. Fun though their set at the Shacklewell Arms in July was, for instance, it seemed a bit of a shame that one of the best bands in the country was plying their trade on a Sunday afternoon in the back room of an obscure East End pub. I know that’s the deal with indie music, but sometimes it does break through a bit – I hope it happens for Shrag at some point. They did play the London Palladium, mind – well, one of the side-rooms there, supporting the Lovely Eggs, who were also great fun. Extensive previewing at live shows meant that much of the new album was pleasingly familiar by the time I heard it, although I’m still a bit sad that it seems to have pushed the haunting The Habit Creep out of the live set.

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Bis

The weekend immediately before Indietracks brought a couple of unofficial warm-up shows of sorts, when Bis played their two reunion gigs in London. I ended up getting hold of tickets for both… perhaps it was a bit of an extravagance, I thought as I ambled into the first of them. As I emerged sweatily from it, I was extremely glad I’d done so – they were great! Less hair than in the past, but no less energy. And even one or two new songs, which were sounding pretty good to me. I’ve no problem with bands doing reunion shows like this for the enjoyment of it, and Manda’s health may unfortunately mean that they’re not able to keep doing shows over the long term (though I hope it doesn’t) – catch them when they’re next around.

Not Totally Acoustic, but the excellent launch show for Dinosaur Planet: MJ Hibbett, Validators and friends

Not Totally Acoustic, but the excellent launch show for Dinosaur Planet: MJ Hibbett, Validators and friends

Staying with indie heros, MJ Hibbett’s long-running Totally Acoustic gigs wound down, for at least the next couple of years, with a strong run of monthly shows at the King and Queen. You can listen to it all on podcast, but highlights particularly included Elizabeth Allo Darlin’ in January (honestly, you could hear a pin drop), Peter Buckley-Hill in March, Frankie Machine and Gavin Osborn in May, and Pete Green at the final show. I’ve been going to these shows since they got going in earnest in late 2007, so it’s rather the end of an era. That said, Hibbett and Steve are back with a new Edinburgh show – Total Hero Team, which from the work-in-progress preview I’ve seen looks every bit as good as Moon Horse and Dinosaur Planet – so there’s more in a similar vein to come.

From the smallest gigs of the year to the biggest I went to (I think): Elvis Costello and the Imposters at the Royal Albert Hall. Costello has resurrected his Spinning Songbook show from the mid-80s, in which audience members select the next song from a big spinning wheel. It added a great new dimension to what would otherwise still have been a great canter through the back catalogue (not just the obvious stuff either – a couple of cuts from Imperial Bedroom cropped up, which I’d never seen him do before). Perhaps a bit more Spinning Songbook and a bit less encore would have been preferable – finale (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding lasted about ten minute (it seemed) with a dozen or more musicians on-stage; fun, but a bit more weight than the song could really bear. Earlier, he’d announced a very special guest… Russell Crowe! Very droll, I thought; I wonder who the special guest really is? No – it actually was Russell Crowe! Not quite in the same league of awfulness as Old Crow Medicine Show introducing Mumford and Sons for an encore, but still pretty bizarre! It was a long old show, and Costello was getting a bit croaky by the end, but all told it was great to see him doing such a fun, distinctive show with the back catalogue.

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Slow Club

As last year, the final gig of the year was Slow Club’s annual Christmas show, transplanted now from the Union Chapel to Koko, and perhaps falling very very slightly short in the atmosphere stakes for that reason. But it was still an impressive triumph for a band who haven’t had a record out this year, and who continue to dazzle live – they’re heading into the studio now to do the new album, and on the evidence of the new tracks previewed that night it looks sure to be one of the highlights of 2013. No doubt I’ll be seeing them again in the year ahead.

Also on the horizon is another Winter Sprinter (Withered Hand and Herman Dune on the same night! Shrag and Darren Hayman also sharing a bill!); shows by Old Crow Medicine Show and Erin McKeown (both on February 4th – how annoying!); and another visit to these shores by Caitlin Rose as she releases her new album. And that’s just the stuff I already know about – I can’t wait to see what else 2013 has in store.

Indietracks 8tracks mix

I’ve compiled a mix on 8tracks of the bands I particularly enjoyed at Indietracks  – just click on the picture.

Unfortunately 8tracks seems to be having problems at the moment and refusing to play the tracks in the order I specified – but that might be specific to me, so see what you make of it.

Here’s the order they should appear in…

1. The School – Where Does Your Heart Belong?
2. Darren Hayman and the Secondary Modern – Art and Design
3. The 10p Mixes – Have You Met My Monster?
4. Young Romance – Follow On Your Own
5. The Birthday Kiss – Starting to Come Back to Life
6. Evans the Death – Wet Blanket
7. Colour Me Wednesday – Holiday from Your Life
8. Tender Trap – Memorabilia
9. Liechtenstein – Passion for Water
10. Tigercats – Limehouse Nights
11. The Just Joans – What Do We Do Now?
12. Standard Fare – Suitcase
13. Robberie – Academical High
14. The Spook School – Are You Who You Think You Are?
15. September Girls – Hells Bells
16. Love Dance – Bergen, Again
17. Rose Melberg – Truly
18. The Vaselines – Sex with an X

Indietracks 2012 – video and photos

I have a couple more Indietracks items to share: above is a montage of the odds and ends of video clips I took over the weekend (not terribly well-edited, but gives an idea); and here is a slideshow of my photos on Flickr (WordPress isn’t letting me embed it for some reason) – click ‘show info’ for captions. The full-song videos I took are embedded in the review of Saturday.

I have an 8tracks mix in the pipeline as well, but unfortunately 8tracks seem to have broken their website by putting a terrible content-drowning ad on it – as soon as they’ve sorted it I’ll put the mix online.

Indietracks 2012 review – Sunday

P1030917 Just like on Saturday, I wanted to catch the first band on the train, Robberie, who were great! Strong tunes, and actually quite long songs with lots of words in them – plus they timed the last song perfectly to finish just as we arrived back at Swanwick Junction. Throw in a glockenspiel-powered Gina G cover and you’ve got an exemplary Indietracks set.

The Spook School were first up on the main stage, and served to reinforce that the bands are just going to keep getting younger as the years go by. Conversely, a nice thing about Indietracks is it shows there’s nothing to be afraid of in getting (a bit) older, as at 30 I suspect I’m still below the average age of attendees (if you exclude the kids brought by their parents, anyway).

P1030925 But back to the Spook School, who were great. The music is pretty exemplary indie pop / rock stuff, and I’d have been happy with that on its own, but their drummer added a whole new dimension to the performance through his cheerfully rubbish banter. The other three are all relatively small in stature, while he’s a big guy with long hair and a handlebar moustache – basically it looks like they’ve formed a group with the BFG. My favourite bit of his schtick was the most twee rabble rousing it’s possible to imagine: “when I say ‘uke’, you say ‘lele’! Uke! Lele!” Genius. At the end he came down the front with free CDs to give away, and there was a right old scrum to get hold of them, as everyone had so clearly enjoyed the set. Damn their young, talented eyes.

Miniature railway at Swanwick Junction After that a few of us went for a good ol’ wander round the railway site. The exhibition hall and West Shed are much the same as in previous years, but always worth a good nose around. Surprisingly, the railway’s mainline locomotive Duchess of Sutherland was in the West Shed for maintenance, rather than out working railtours – less than twelve months earlier it had been in pieces being overhauled, so it was impressive to see it fully assembled and already work-stained. I also gathered from a map in a display that the campsite where we stay is on the site of an old coal mine (I think – I’ll check it against Google maps some time…). Best of all though was the miniature railway, which I hadn’t been on in two previous visits but which we got a ride on this year. I’d not been on one of those this century…

P1030945 But back to the festival. Next on my to-see list were September Girls in the church – indeed, I made it my strategy to park myself in the church for the rest of the day, partly to keep out of the rain but mainly to ensure I was in it for Rose Melberg. September Girls were worth seeing though, purveying 60s garage rock and taking no nonsense (though this was another set slightly marred by the twat with the camera at the front for the whole thing).

P1030949 Berlin’s Love Dance were up next, and brought a twist of eurodisco to the festival, but still through the purest pop – a bit of a departure relative to all the other bands playing the festival, and an enjoyable palate-cleanser for that reason.

The penultimate act on this stage were the ABC Club, who musically remind me a bit of the Maccabees – whether they’ve got the career connections to go on to similar success I’ve no idea, but I was impressed. The dimension they have that the Maccabees perhaps don’t is a more classic-sounding singer, so the set was a bit of a winner. The only slight drawback was a total lack of stagecraft at all, but it seems a small complaint.

P1030953 And so to Rose Melberg, who I opted to watch instead of Allo Darlin’. It was an agonising clash – I took the view that I live in London, I’ve seen Allo Darlin’ twice already this year and will see them again soon no doubt, whereas the chance to see Rose Melberg might not come again for years. But even so, I was aware I was missing one of the highlight sets of the weekend – why Allo Darlin’ weren’t given one of the headline slots is a total mystery to me. That said, they played so loud they were pretty audible in the church, to the extent that Rose abandoned an idea to do her opening song without amplification. It didn’t matter though – the entire set was intimate, delicate and undeniably something a bit special, with just Rose’s clear, pure voice and picked guitar holding up an entire range of melodies and emotions. The crowd gave her a standing ovation at the end – a beautiful set.

P1030957 It was a slight culture shock, therefore, to wander out to see the Vaselines and be greeted by what can only be described as a barrage of filth in the between-songs banter – there’s clearly a no-holds-barred dynamic between Frances and Eugene borne of years of familiarity. It proved to be a strong headline set, with the new and old songs mixing fairly seamlessly and both being well-received – a good end to the festival, in terms of bands.

Still, that left potentially five hours of dancing to come… And at this point I’m afraid I’ve got to have a bit of a Finchley Ted moment. This is a bit of a Goldilocks complaint, but playing in the shed Music for Girls went, I felt, a bit too mainstream for an indie disco, while over at the campsite Another Sunny Day went far too obscure. I’ve no problem with either extreme of itself, but for the Sunday night slots they struck the wrong balance – rather than providing the finales to the weekend, they ended up alienating chunks of their audience.

For my money, Music for Girls crossed a line with Steal My Sunshine, while I can never forgive Stay by East 17 as the closing number. Then again, lots of people loved it. And it’s not (entirely) a matter of me being a terrible indie snob: other discos over the weekend ventured into the mainstream and Dan Pop-o-matic’s choice of Go You Own Way by Fleetwood Mac was one of my favourite bits. But I felt the balance was a bit off.

Similarly at the campsite disco, while I can normally recognise maybe three songs in four at a typical Indietracks disco, I never recognised more than two in a row from Another Sunny Day. A lot of them sounded great, but dancing to songs you don’t know becomes a bit of a trial after a while, however good, and while the DJs’ refusal to play anything approaching a crowd-pleasing set clearly went down well with the (rather small) crowd in the marquee, it left the end of the festival feeling like a bit of a damp squib for the rest of us.

Still, no matter – apart from that slightly self-inflicted wound, Indietracks survived gloomy times and even gloomier weather with triumphant aplomb this year. Thirteen months to the next one, though – sodding Olympics.

Indietracks 2012 review – Saturday

P1030868 I took my stroll along Indietracks lane to the site at the obscenely early hour of 12 noon on Saturday, for the annual Anorak forum meet-up at which mainly shy indie types who normally communicate online try talking to each other in real life. Actually it’s always very enjoyable to put faces to usernames, and renew acquaintances (though I’m terrible for assuming people have forgotten me and therefore giving the impression I’ve forgotten them…), and an enjoyable half-hour joking about Finchley Ted and the aborted CD swap was had.

It had to be cut slightly short, however, as unlike last year the first band on the train was on at 12:30 (indeed, there seemed to be more bands generally this year, with earlier start times – a good sign!), and it was the 10p Mixes. They were great! Twee certainly, but acutely-observed and funny at the same time, and exactly what you want from an Indietracks band. Only slight flaw was that they mistimed the set slightly, and had only just started a song when the train rolled back into Swanwick Junction – I therefore had to squeeze off the train and make my planned dash to the church for the next band.

Young Romance are probably the band I was most excited to discover through the line-up for Indietracks – I hadn’t known them previously, but have been well impressed by their driving, emotional songs, that verge on the epic. And I seem not to be alone – there’s a bit of a buzz around them, and I’m a bit paranoid about not being able to get into the church to see them. In the event I’m in plenty of time, and they don’t disappoint – the stripped-down live lineup leaves the songs more raw than on their recordings, but Claire’s mazing voice binds it all together. One slight flaw is that they have drawn up a set-list too short for their slot – see the video for the moment of realisation.

At this stage, a slight moan about this and several other sets in the chuch being slightly spoiled by a bloke sitting at the front photographing and videoing for nearly the whole set. Now, I like to take pictures and maybe video the odd song of an Indietracks set, but I try to do it briefly and then get the camera out of the way. A tall man sitting at the front holding up a camera for the whole set is downright bad form – he clearly had a photographer pass despite having no more sophisticated equipment than mine from what I could see, and you’d hope someone with a pass would either have the nous, or be briefed, not to spoil it for the audience. This joker meant I got no pics of Claire as she’s only little! He left just before the final track, so he’s not in the video clip… And while I’m on the subject, my pictures of the steam train departing Swanwick Junction got spoiled by fools standing in the way as well – steam railway etiquette is to be mindful that there may be people wanting to photograph the trains, and to give them a chance. OK, I feel better now – moan over.

The bands I was very specifically keen to see all seemed to be clustered on the Saturday, often clashing horribly. This meant a dash out of the church after Young Romance to catch the last two thirds of The Birthday Kiss on the main stage (so it’s maybe not so bad that Young Romance finished early). Both bands have a lot in common, actually: both write very strong songs, both have lead singers with superb voices, and both put on engaging sets resting on these strengths rather than any attempt to introduce unnecessary showmanship into it. Neither seems especially close to having an album out, though they appear to have the songs – I’ll be buying them when they’re ready though.

P1030758 It was another dash to another stage straight after The Birthday Kiss – this time to the shed for Vacaciones, who were good fun. I briefly had time after them to pop out to catch a few songs by Evans the Death on the main stage. I’ve long been ambivalent about this band, and unable to decide whether I like them or not – but with good sound on the main stage, the sun shining and the band playing much harder and tighter than when I last saw them, I’m finally converted.

With the sun still out it seems a bit of a shame to head into the shed again, but it’s worth it as Colour Me Wednesday are another of the great discoveries of the festival for me. They’ve got attitude, dense and playful lyrics and a heavy ska twist – a great combination, and it works really well. Another eventual album purchase when they get one out.

Another clash demanded another dash to the main stage for Tender Trap, who were already well into their set. Are they now the longest-running of Amelia Fletcher’s bands? Close to it, I think – certainly they’ve built up a great back catalogue and the set was more or less hit after hit after hit. The clouds had gathered however, and a few songs from the end the rain finally started. It got heavy for Oh Katrina – and at the same time I discovered my camera’s memory card would accommodate rather less in the way of video than I’d reckoned, so all my videos of complete songs are from Saturday. For the final song, Amelia brought out her daughters for backing vocals, and unfortunately the rain got heavier and heavier. Reader, I failed: it was chucking it down, and I fled for a burrito and some loitering in the merch tent.

P1030863A quick sit in the shed later (it amazes me more people don’t bring dadstools to Indietracks, they’re invaluable), and there was finally some sunshine after the rain. Well, sunshine and rain in truth, but not as torrential as it had been so I braved it to see a chunk of Liechtenstein, who I probably would have got more out of if I’d investigated their back catalogue properly. Still, they had the courage to play Passion for Water.

P1030888 No doubt this is getting predictable, but next I had to dash to the indoor stage owing to a clash. I’d really been looking forward to Tigercats as they’ve put out one of my favourite albums of the year, so I was a bit gutted to see the clash with Liechtenstein – I opted to see them and miss a bit of Tigercats as the latter play London more often, but still regret missing the full set as what I did see was brilliant. I turned up just in time to see them do all my favourite tracks on the album – Vapours, Limehouse Nights, Easter Island, Harper Lee and finally Banned at the Troxy – by which time the crowd were well warmed-up and bouncing with the band for every beat. Brilliant.

P1030898 The need for mad dashes between stages eased off a bit from this point, as Tigercats were the first in a bit of a run of bands in the shed. Next up were the band that I was most pleased to see on the line-up of all of them, and who did not disappoint for a moment: the Just Joans. There’s so much to like about this band, not least that they’re indie geeks of a similar vintage to me: Davey was wearing a Sleeper t-shirt and they started with hand-claps that sounded a lot like the ones at the start of Come Out 2Nite by Kenickie… that was because they were covering Come Out 2Nite by Kenickie! Perfect. Another great thing about this band is how well the songs come across live – the tunes are memorable, and the words both acute and funny, which means you can hear them once or twice and be able to sing them back to someone days later. New songs like Durex Puppy (debuted at the London show earlier in the year) therefore sit perfectly among the traditional favourites like Friday Afternoons Down the Union, If You Don’t Pull and the always-poignant What Do We Do Now? The highlight of the festival – I’m so glad they played.

P1030901 Standard Fare followed immediately, and while I struggled a bit with their new album at the time, I suddenly found that I recognised all the songs like old friends – it clearly lodged itself a bit deeper than I had realised! The band absolutely tear through the set – unfortunately I’m flagging a bit by this stage and need a sit down on the dadstool for big chunks of it, and it seemed to be over all too quickly.

Curiously, that really concluded the bands I specifically wanted to see, bar Robberie the following day; hereafter, things got a bit more suck-it-and-see (there were still some terrible clashes, though: Werewandas, Cosines, Joanna Gruesome, Gordon McIntyre and Allo Darlin all went unseen by me for that reason – Gordon McIntyre due to the queues for the church mainly, I suppose).

The day’s remaining three bands were therefore all sets I dipped into: Go Sailor clearly meant a lot to a lot of the audience, and I enjoyed the more punk side of Rose Melberg despite not knowing the records. I dropped in to see a bit of Summer Camp on a bit of a whim – Jeremy Warmsley was a figure on the scene when I was at uni, so it was interesting to see him pop up at Indietracks. Theirs was definitely the most Shoreditch set of the weekend, but the songs were strong and there was a lot of love in the room for them.

P1030914 And so to the headliners, Veronica Falls, who have leapfrogged their way to the top slot after their disastrous opening set on the Friday two years ago. They thanked people for coming, and professed worry that it would been raining – even as they spoke it was already spitting again, and soon the heavens opened. At which point I dicovered Veronica Falls are not a band I will stand in the rain for. Sorry guys. I got a pint and went to sit in the train bar instead. This led me to overhear a conversation about when Johnny Cash covered “that Six Inch Nails song”.

There’s something to be said for taking a bit of a breather though, as we were able to attack the campsite disco with abandon (well, those of us who hadn’t peaked too early and conked out…). Even Indietracks is a bit more of a slog when it’s wet, it turns out – the schlepping round takes it out of you, and you don’t do so much sitting down during the day because the grass is wet. Four or five hours’ dancing at the end of the day therefore becomes quite an endurance test…

Indietracks 2012 review – Friday

P1030864 Indietracks seemed to rush round quickly this year, not least because it was nearly a month earlier than its usual end-of-July slot thanks to the MegaCorp Sport-themed Trade Fair in London. We don’t yet know what the weather on the usual weekend will prove to be like, but this weekend was forecast to be a wet one, with flood warnings for the whole of central England – one more reason to hate the Olympics.

So this year’s Indietracks was to be the first properly wet one, with very heavy rainfall forecast for Friday in particular – and in Manchester, where I set out from, it was lashing it down all morning. This gave the organisers a bit of a dilemma: stick with the plan and keep the evening’s three bands on the main stage in the hope it eased off as predicted, or move it all into the shed to be on the safe side? In the end, by the time we all got to the site, the rain had slackened off and the sun was peeking out from behind the clouds, so the outdoor plan would have been fine – but the decision to move inside had already been made, and I wouldn’t have liked to have been the person to call it the other way.

Everything on the site, bar the puddles, was reassuringly familiar, as were the first couple of bands – the Smittens and the School. They both seem like bands full of really lovely people and make undeniably tuneful pop, so it’s odd that they divide opinion a little. I feel like a rat fink for saying it, but I don’t quite get the Smittens – for all that though, they went down well and I didn’t exactly mind catching the second half of their set. Though I might have slipped out before the end for my first Gopal’s curry of the weekend – it’s important to uphold these Indietracks traditions.

Liz from The School The School, similarly, do what they do – but I have a real soft spot for them, and always enjoy seeing them live, particularly now they have a second album out and more of a back catalogue to draw on. The sound men on the main stage appeared to be keeping a running tally of twee instruments – while I didn’t count the number of ukeleles, glockenspiels and melodicas I saw all weekend, this set provided the first recorder solo of the festival.

Darren Hayman Headlining on the first night was Darren Hayman, with his band. Long called the Secondary Modern, they are being renamed the Long Parliament as Darren is embarking on a period of exploring his interest in Civil War folk songs – it’s a bit unclear whether this was the final Secondary Modern gig or the first Long Parliament one, but either way Hayman has established a band both solid enough to rock out and sophisticated enough to give a richer backing when it’s needed.

Hayman himself showed that he is at the absolute top of his game, with a set ranging across all corners of his Hefner and solo back catalogues, including Hymn to the Postal Service, a track from his forthcoming instrumentals album (which worked much better than you’d expect in a festival set), a triumphant encore of Painting and Kissing and a beautifully-pitched love song from the point of view of King Charles I, singing to his queen, which must surely count as one of Hayman’s best songs to date. Between songs he was warm and charming (would it be controversial to suggest he can sometimes be a bit grumpy? No, it wouldn’t), while still making it clear he has firm ideas about how things should be done – he insisted on keeping his mac on throughout the set, on the basis that what you wear when you come on-stage you should wear throughout the set, however sweaty it makes you. He did however complain about having to go to the British Grand Prix with his dad rather than stick around at Indietracks for the weekend – it’s a bad clash, as I’d thought about going to the GP this year until the Indietracks date-change was announced (thanks again, Vanity Games!), but I wouldn’t object too much to having been at Silverstone. Darren, however, did find it objectionable – sucks to be you, Darren…

A fine DJ set from Pop-o-matic rounded things out on the festival site, then back to the campsite for yet more indie disco, including what seemed to be Jimmy from the Bobby McGees giving a line-dancing lesson to someone. Good work, Day One of Indietracks.

2011 Gigs

Towards the end of 2010 I increasingly felt I’d been missing out on a lot of live music in London. To a large extent I think it was a combination of Songkick and a massive indiepop relapse courtesy of Indietracks that year that made me more aware of what was going on (though a third factor is the strength in depth of the indie scene in the UK at the moment – it’s going through a particularly strong patch, and if you’re not acquainted with the many excellent and charming bands knocking around, sort it out before they have kids and split up!).

So I made a sort-of resolution that in 2011 I’d try to miss out on fewer gigs and go to a lot more; it crossed my mind that an average of one a week might be doable. A few months in and I was well on course for that, so I made it a firm goal for the year, and was successful: 54 gigs plus two festivals (Indietracks again and Glastonbury, filling a big gap in my gigography). I know people in bands who will have played more gigs than that and in the music industry who will go to that many every few months, but for someone in neither I thought it was quite respectable. And a bit of an effort, frankly – a few less in 2012 would be fine by me.

This post selects a dozen of the best gigs I went to. I had intended to do an overview post of my entire gig-going career, having just completed the data as far as I can on Songkick (I went over the 300 mark this year… not actually that much in 13 years, you could argue). But as soon as I’d completed my gigography, Songkick took down the handy tools for breaking it down, so I can’t easily extract my most-seen bands, most-visited venues and so on. Hopefully they’ll restore those geeky but handy features in a future redevelopment of the site. I also took my camera along to gigs when I remembered – a bog-standard £100 digital camera can get you some OK gig photos these days, so there’s a collection on Flickr.

A few honourable mentioned before we get into the shows. Shrag remain one of my favourite bands, and I’m maybe being a little harsh not including one of their shows here – I saw them three times this year, the latter two shows in particular being fabulously noisy and exciting (the first of them being a bit lower-key and a run-out for new material). On the evidence of the airings given to the new songs so far, their next album Canines looks set to be a highlight of 2012… so it’s pretty frustrating we have to wait until May for it! Shrag and I did seem cursed at one point though: I left a gig in February early after the first support act, as I suddenly felt really ill (so Songkick says I’ve seen them six times in all; it’s only five); and in January the band had to pull out of a show with the Loves when Helen was poorly.

Ah yes, the Loves. They were only around for the first six weeks or so of the year, retiring after a final show on February 13th, with an all-star indie supporting cast including Pocketbooks and the Lovely Eggs. It was a top-notch show to end on, with the full line-up and dancing girls; a stripped-down line-up had played the aforementioned Winter Sprinter show in January. It annoys me a bit when the band are written off as ‘merely’ 60s pastiche: there’s not much original to be done with guitar bands any more; what matters is doing something well, and the Loves did it with style. I’m looking forward to seeing their equally 60s, though seemingly more soul-influenced, successor band Knickers at the 2012 Winter Sprinter.

Finally before getting into specific shows, 2011 saw the final performances of Dinosaur Planet (for now, anyway – the album is now available and getting an official launch in 2012) and the arrival of Moon Horse, both from MJ Hibbett (and Steve). If anything, Moon Horse worked even better than Dinosaur Planet as a bit of performance: written specifically for Mark and Steve to do with hats, wigs and silly voices, it was a rollicking 57 minutes of comedy and song (see this podcast for the first ‘episode’). Hibbett’s Totally Acoustic shows migrated from The Lamb to The King And Queen mid-year, but unfortunately I missed the final two due to prior gig bookings – doubly gutting given they were the final London performance of Moon Horse and the show featuring Otway (who I saw for the first time at Glastonbury – I’m not going to delve into individual festival sets here, but he was brilliant and I Get It!).

So, let’s dive into the gigs. Only my third one of the year was Laura Cantrell at the Water Rats on January 26th, doing her first UK show for over five years. She returned in the spring for a short UK tour, playing the Union Chapel on May 8th. Somehow there were two free seats right at the front for the latter, so for me it was an up-close and intimate gig in an amazing venue, mostly just Laura plus her guitarist. It was a beautiful set, augmented at the end by some shabby-looking bloke with round glasses and a ponytail coming onstage, subsequently introduced as Tim Burgess of the Charlatans! If she hadn’t told us, I wouldn’t have believed it.

Also on a country tip, Caitlin Rose returned to the Windmill in Brixton on March 10th. She’s really too big for a venue of this size now, and seems to play it out of affection; this time round they had to schedule two shows, one early and one later, to cope with the demand. As ever it was an endearing set, not especially slick and all the better for it, and worth attending simply to hear Caitlin’s fabulous voice live, with the bonus of Jeremy Fetzer’s ever-listenable work on guitar – the same features made for a great set on the sunny Sunday at Glastonbury too. Because I was at the early show, I was able to nip across town for a free show by Thomas Tantrum in Islington the same evening, which was good fun but full of young-looking people – give me the mix of the young and the gnarled at a Caitlin Rose show any day.
From small venues now to one of the biggest: the O2 Arena on March 29th, for only my fourth ever arena show. Two of the previous three (Morrissey at the MEN Arena in 2004 and Pet Shop Boys at the O2 on a snowy night in 2009) have been released on DVD, and it rather looked as though this show would follow – but no sign so far. It takes a band I’m particularly keen to see (or a cheap / free ticket) to tempt me to the awful O2, and this time it was Elbow – ten years ago I’d have put them on a Band Least Likely To Play Arenas list… yet here they were. Could they make it work?

Blimey, could they ever: they totally owned the place. The mix of Guy Garvey’s down to earth humour and the scale of more recent Elbow material made for a pitch-perfect combination, with a modest stage show (some nice visuals and a catwalk out into the crowd) that did exactly the right amount to frame the performance. Better still, the band’s more recent material undoubtedly sounds better at full volume than on the overly politely-recorded albums. My only disappointment was the absence of any songs from the first album, but never mind really: the band have come a long way since then. If this does ever get a DVD release I will buy it like a shot.

It’s always a greater challenge to enjoy a live set when you don’t know the artist or their songs. This was the prospect facing me for long-time friend of Elbow Jesca Hoop at the Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen two days after the Elbow show. It’s a mark of a great live act if they can hold your interest even if you’re unfamiliar with them, and Jesca did it superbly. The newer material (I now realise) was perhaps more energetic and fun, and the items that really made the set work, though I did find plenty of the songs I’d enjoyed on her most recent album Hunting My Dress when I tracked it down subsequently. Jesca builds her songs round a distinctive fingerpicking style, often on the lower strings (her ensemble had no bass), and the band built a rich and lively backing in turn around that. Tremendous.

Let’s skip forward now to June, to Art Brut‘s five-night residency at the Lexington. I got a ticket for the fourth or fifth night, June 3rd, with Bearsuit providing the support. Quite how I managed this is beyond me: it sold out quickly, but I happened to re-check for tickets just when a few returns had been released, I’d guess (and only then because I’d previously been booked up that evening and suddenly became free). It was a storming show: probably exactly what you’d expect from Art Brut on top form, but the first time I’d seen them (very slow on the uptake here). It was also the show that finally convinced me I needed to start wearing some earplugs at gigs, after even the audience members shouting by my ear started to sound distorted.

Exactly three months later, Help Stamp Out Loneliness hit the Bull and Gate (a venue that seems to have had some business taken away from it by the more central Lexington?). They’d been one of the great highlights of Indietracks, with a keen crowd, a top album to showcase and hot air balloons drifting over the site during their set. Their Bull and Gate set was a joyous recreation of this with, frankly, a lot of the same people in the crowd (but minus the hot air balloons, obviously), transplanted into a joyfully sweaty room in London. If all gigs were like this, I wouldn’t complain.

A bit more melancholy, but ultimately uplifting, was the Bluetones‘ penultimate London show prior to their split, on September 16th at the Shepherds Bush Empire. I’d bought a ticket for this when they announced it would be their last tour, only for them to add a final extra London date a few weeks later. I was tempted to double-dip but ultimately opted not to, as the standing tickets had sold out and I was upstairs for the earlier set. It was still bloody brilliant though: all the hits plus some less obvious numbers, dipping into all parts of the back catalogue, including After Hours from their singles collection and one of my great favourites, Never Going Nowhere from 2003’s Luxembourg, to close the main set after Slight Return. Mark Morris reflected on their career throughout: Solomon Bites the Work was regarded as a flop after charting at number 8, he recalled; “we’ll show them a flop, we thought…” Slight Return, by contrast, “maybe sold a few too many.” After the split, he urged us, “go and tell your friends they missed a fucking… quite good band.” Indeed they did – I can understand the Bluetones feeling they couldn’t keep trolling round with lower album sales, as the old material would be too much of a millstone; but all the same, it’s sad to see them go.

Still at the Shepherds Bush Empire, and still in September, Slow Club hit town on on the 26th for a show delayed from May to promote their excellent album Paradise. It was an energetic show, with neither Rebecca nor Charles being excessively slick large-venue front-people for the band… and it was all the better for it. “Could you see my knickers?” Rebecca fretted after a song behind the drumkit wearing a Sheffield Wednesday dress. “Yes!” someone gleefully shouted back – the crowd was an odd mix of the genuinely young (ie younger than me) and men of a certain age (ie older then me) politely lusting after Ms Taylor. More importantly, Rebecca’s tremendous voice is a true focus for the sound live, more so than on record. The band returned to London on December 19th for their now-traditional Union Chapel Christmas show, which was also a brilliant, joyous evening and a fitting final gig of the year for me.

Still back in the autumn, Iron and Wine played two London shows in October: the second was a full band effort, louder and with all manner of trickery; the first, which I was at, was a more stripped-down show at the Hackney Empire with a slightly experimental ensemble. I’d not really been in the mood for heading out that evening, but it was well worth the trek: the whole set showcased the strength in depth of Sam Beam’s back catalogue, with many songs presented in unexpected arrangements but always to great effect. I’m rather glad I got a ticket for this more reflective set than the bells-and-whistles one, though I bet that was great too.

A gig that seems more recent than I now see it was: Misty’s Big Adventure, Upstairs at the Garage on November 17th. They were mysteriously scheduled at 9pm, and played their longest ever set (they claimed) at an hour and three quarters. I’ve taken every chance to see Misty’s this year, after their set at 93 Feet East on May 11th reminded me not to take such a great band for granted. Their live show offers a lot that’s not available in record, not least of course the crazy dancing of Erotic Volvo. During political satire I Want A Biscuit (You Can’t Have One), depicting the relationship between Nick Clegg and David Cameron (sic), he ambles through the crowd offering out a packet of biscuits (I got one at the Garage show – chocolate hobnob, if you’re wondering), before dangling one over the head of Grandmaster Gareth (portraying Clegg), crumbling it to dust before his eyes and cackling manically into the microphone. It’s worth seeing, as is their cover of the Tammys’ Egyptian Shumba, one of the most demented bits of pop music I’ve ever encountered (and only then on a rather costly 60s girl group box set). At both the Garage and Proud Camden shows (June 21st, a gig marred by the stupidest venue layout I’ve ever seen) Gareth kicked off proceedings with a minute’s noise; at 93 Feet East he took a register. He also created the innovative musical experiment of kung-ducting. My favourite Misty’s moment of the year, however, was Erotic Volvo dancing downstairs at the Garage, where apparently a Smiths tribute band were playing. Heaven knows what the Smiths crowd made of him, but he reappeared a few minutes later waving a bunch of gladioli stems. I’m already looking forward to their next London show, whenever that turns out to be.

Otway’s appearance at Totally Acoustic clashed with the first UK show for Wild Flag, on December 8th; what would otherwise have been a tough dilemma was settled by silly old Hibbett leaving it late to confirm the Totally Acoustic date, so I already had a ticket for the Wild Flag show… and it was quite a treat. They essentially did the album, which was fair enough, and reinforced just how good many of those songs are. They also verged into the kind of psychedelic jams that Sleater-Kinney flirted with on The Woods (and, for that matter, that Quasi have become prone to) – but it was a masterful bluff, as when they kicked back into the main riff of the closing number, they were as tight as I’ve ever seen a band finishing a song. Mary Timony in particular added a lot, acting as a compelling joint frontwoman with Carrie Brownstein, and seemingly bringing a more fixed and poppy sensibility. Meanwhile, it was great to see Carrie back on-stage – six years since I last saw her, I’d forgotten what a compelling, dynamic presence she is. I’d already bought a ticket for their February show, and am looking forward to it all the more now.

Finally for this selection, a gig I for some reason felt indifferent about beforehand: I’d seen Gillian Welch in 2004, so what could she add to that in the surely excessively large venue of the Hammersmith Apollo on November 23rd? Rather a lot was the answer: while it was a sparse and, though I hesitate to use the word, pure line-up of her and David Rawlings plus whatever else they could play, the quality and range of their material, her voice and his playing made every moment memorable. I heard on the evening that Patrick Stewart was in the audience, and to my astonishment later discovered David Cameron had been as well. But even that couldn’t sully the experience – what a chump I would have been to have missed it.