Tuesday 29th December: I am going to have to split my review of the past year into at least two (and possibly three) installments this time. Happily, I received quite a few of 2009-released CDs for Christmas, including one that has a very good chance of making it into my top five, but have yet to find time to listen to any of them. So, rather than delay the whole thing, I'll start by covering the gigs I saw over the year.
First, the boring statistics. Apart from the fact that I know I didn't review Stealer at The Terrace on the 18th of December (it should have been Chantel at the Roman Bath, but bad weather caused the venue to suggest she cancel), I'm taking my blog entries as gospel so the following figures have been compiled from them.
Over the year, I...
Attended 37 gigs - I have counted trips to the Roman Bath after other gigs had finished as a full gig.
Saw 72 performances by 65 individual bands/artists - I have counted "lite" versions of Breathing Space and Parade as separate to the full band.
Visited 7 different venues (all in York) - The Duchess was in first place with 16, followed by The Roman Bath (11), Fibbers (4), The Grand Opera House and The Punchbowl (2 each) and The Terrace and The Basement Bar (1 each).
So, who did I see and what did I listen to? As usual, I managed to cover a wide variety of musical genres, from blues to pop, garage to heavy metal, prog to folk. I bands who looked as though they were still at school right through to septuagenarian performers. I even paid to see two tribute bands. This year was a little odd in that I seemed to go to more than the usual number of gigs on my own, without the rest (or any) of the Friday-nighters - there seemed to be a number of bands playing who I definitely wanted to see but didn't fit with the tastes of the others. I think that, if our tastes were to be represented as a Venn Diagram, we would each have large individual circles, with medium crossovers into each other. Fortunately, for me anyway, some of those gigs turned out to be some of the most entertaining of the year. Also fortunate was the fact that I liked the vast majority of the acts I saw. Indeed, there are very few that I wouldn't want to see again (although there are one of two), while there are others, mostly new discoveries, that I would make a point of seeing again.
From the list of gigs I've attended, it's difficult to pick the "best" - some of them were so different to others that it's not fair to compare them. Instead, I'm going to pick five of the most entertaining and explain my reasons. So, in no particular order...
Jan Akkerman and his band - The Duchess: The 62-year-old Dutch ex-Focus member wasn't the oldest person we saw this year but he did treat us to over an hour of superb guitar work. This was pretty much an on-spec attendance for me. I vaguely remembered Focus from back when I was at school but knew very little about them. This was the only concert I went to this year with no vocals but Mr Akkerman certainly knows how do make his guitar do the singing.
Parade and Josh & Co - The Duchess: Although I was looking forward to Bryan Josh's performance of his 2008 debut solo album, this gig was more notable for the support band. Parade are another in the ever-expanding family of groups related to Mostly Autumn, put together by ex-member Chris Johnson and including current members Gavin Griffiths and Anne-Marie Helder (also both from Panic Room), as well as two local musicians that Chris has played alongside for years. Their set (and album - bought without hesitation at the gig and strong contender for album of the year) shows what a talent Chris is and he has put together a band that I hope stay together for a long time.
Nick Harper - The Duchess: Another on-spec gig. I knew nothing of Mr Harper and attended purely on the basis of his write-up on The Duchess's whats-on listing. While not enjoying his first support act as much as I maybe should have done, second on stage was Anne-Marie Helder who showcased some of her own acoustic work. Nick himself was superb, both musically and comically, and managed to wow the audience by changing a broken string without stopping playing (something it is rumoured he does deliberately). A very entertaining gig.
Gun - The Duchess: Again, Gun had somehow bypassed me but their write-up suggested I would like them so off I toddled. This was an almost perfectly put together gig in that the three bands ($lash Vega$ and Morpheus Rising were in support) were just similar enough to fit together on the bill while being just different enough to provide some variety. While the now defunct $lash Vega$ weren't completely my cup of coffee (I don't drink tea), Morpheus Rising's set evoked memories of listening to the likes of Saxon and Iron Maiden during my school days and were, quite frankly, superb. (They only missed being my final gig of the year because I was too tired to go out that evening.) Gun apparently had not bypassed a lot of people as the Duchess was reasonably full of their fans. Overall, a very good gig which did more than a little to remind me of my early concert-going, when heavy metal was pretty much the only music I listened to.
A Night for Heroes - The Duchess: The tribute night to Howard Sparnenn, who passed away in 2008, a Night For Heroes was put together to raise money for the Andrea's Gift charity and consisted of a number of bands that he had personally been involved in. It might not have been the best gig musically, but emotions certainly ran high that night and once again proved that musicians and fans can, together, do a lot for any cause they choose.
There were, obviously, other highlights - Chantel McGregor trying to ride Andy's bike after one of her gigs springs to mind. There were also some fantastic new discoveries, like The Engineers, 98Pages and Ezio. For me, 2009 was a very good year for gigs and looking at the listings out already for 2010, it looks as though that level is at least going to be maintained.