Wednesday 10th December: With just three weeks of 2008 left it seems that it's the time to reflect back on the past year. It's this coming Sunday that the BBC will announce its Sports Personality of the Year (and the field for this year is, in my opinion, wide open thanks, in part at least, to the excellent showing during this Summer's Olympics. I just hope the award doesn't go to that car driver...) Seldom Seen of Strensall has already posted his top five gigs of the year here and very soon the TV channels will be filled with looks back.
And so I'm going to take this opportunity to announce the inaugural Dr'ids, a series of awards which will reflect the highs of my 2008. With golden envelopes at the ready, here we go...
First up and, perhaps, easiest to award is Best Film. It's just over a year now since I stopped going to the cinema regularly but I managed to see a handful of films this year. The return to York of my cinema-buddy a couple of weeks ago resulted in an unplanned visit to see the latest Bond film which, while not as tense as Casino Royale, is a worthy addition to the Bond canon. The producers may be turning the veteran spy into a version of another agent with the initials JB but it's probably true to say that the change is necessary if the franchise is going to continue. A Quantum of Solace is my film of 2008.
Best Original Gig took me a bit by surprise. I bought a ticket to see Mostly Autumn at the Grand Opera House just after the gig was announced and had been looking forward to it for months. However, it was a much older band that left me stunned at the end of their concert. I own two tracks by Uriah Heep, both on rock compilation albums, and if I were honest, I doubt I would have recognised either of them. So, I took a bit of a gamble when I went to see them at The Duchess (17/11). Not only were they excellent but they also had a superb support band in Maccara. Overall, this was an excellent gig and easily the best of the year. Honorable mentions go to Mostly Autumn (The Grand Opera House, 28/11) and Breathing Space (The Roman Bath, 22/11).
Best Covers Gig was another easy one. Way back in June we saw The Chantel McGregor Band in the Roman Bath for the first time. I was immediately in awe of the young, diminutive, barefoot guitarist as she charmed the audience with a varied set of blues and rock covers. When she returned to the Bath on the 6th of September, there was no way I was going to miss the gig. Good job as well, as it turned out to be, somehow, even better than the first time.
Most Consistently Entertaining Original Live Act is a bit of a mouthful but it's a category I have added so that Hope and Social can win an award. I first saw them when they were still Four Day Hombre and was immediately enamoured by both their music and their easy going style on stage. I saw them twice in 2008 and, up until November, they were in line for the Best Original Gig award.
Best CD Release should have been another certainty, with Mostly Autumn releasing Glass Shadows in 2008. In fact, however, my favourite album of the relatively few I bought in 2008 has changed. When I reviewed Elliot Minor's debut album I was proud to proclaim it the best of the year so far. Then I went to see them live and realised that, good as it is, it is possibly over-produced and is quite a bit different from their live sound. In fact, I am going to plump for an earlier purchase (and another debut) as I declare Panic Room's Visionary Position to be my album of 2008. Its progressive rock background mingled with Eastern promise, jazz and straightforward ballad utilises Anne-Marie Helder's voice to haunting/powerful/sentimental effect and is currently my most played CD. Apart from the two already mentioned, honourables also go to Bryan Josh's first solo album, Through These Eyes.
Best New Book is a little different from the other awards. I am so far behind in my reading that I don't think I read a single 2008-released book during the year. So, for this award only, "new" refers to new to me. This was the year that I discovered Alastair Reynolds and found that, while not quick reads, his novels were truly satisfying. It's also the year that I started (but have yet to finish due to missing pages) George Stewart's Earth Abides and really enjoyed Lady of the Forest, Jennifer Robeson's romantic retelling of the Robin Hood legend. However, for sheer readability, (almost) believability and in some ways audacity, this year's award goes to Return to Mars by Ben Bova. It definitely has its faults but Bova weaves an interesting tale which goes some way to resolve the cliffhanger left in the prequel.
And that's it. 2008 in a few lines. Not a full review. In many ways not a review at all. I doubt many people will agree with my choices and I doubt that I would agree with those of many other people. There is a slight chance things will change over the next three weeks, but I doubt it. Overall, in terms of music and books, it's been a very good year. Yes, I've seen a couple of bands I wouldn't contemplate seeing again and read a couple of books that will be boxed away when I get round to sorting the shelves out, but that is to be expected.
I do miss my almost weekly visits to the cinema but it's my choice - I'd rather go to a gig every couple of weeks with friends than sit watching most films on my own - and, eventually, the visits will pick up again.
In the meantime let's hope that 2009 continues the standard set by 2008.