My Top Ten Gigs/Sets Of The Year
I have been thinking for a while about compiling this list.
For the first time since 2008 I didn’t go to Jazz Fest in New Orleans. In the past the seven day festival and side gigs in April and May have provided me with such a rich vein of live music it has provided a solid base for the year. Instead of going to Jazz Fest I decided to try Fairport’s Cropredy Convention in Oxfordshire, given the fact it was the band’s fortieth anniversary and there was a tour organised with a group of friendly fellow music hard heads. So I had that and Blues Fest in Byron Bay Australia, the latter producing 5 packed days of a cracker array of artists.
So here they are.
10 Bellowhead – Fairport’s Cropredy Convention Oxfordshire
As previously reported on this site, Bellowhead is an eleven-strong collective mixing a number of styles – jazz, classical, driving sea shanties about fair maidens, all over a firm base of English traditional music. Lead singer Jon Boden has a significant presence on stage. They shook me up alright. Just when you thought you had them pegged, they would turn it on its head. Abrasively riveting.
9. Dougie Maclean – Queens Hall Edinburgh
From abrasive to gentle then. Having been on a music tour around Cropredy with many seasoned heads present who know a lot of Dougie, I went along not sure what to expect having only previously heard a couple of his more well known songs – ‘Ready For The Storm’ and ‘Calidonia’. It was a delightful experience – there is beauty in simplicity and heartfelt emotion.
8. Suzannah Espie – Thornbury Theatre Melbourne
With a new, beautiful album to showcase Sea Of Lights, what struck me about the night was the talent of the Melbourne roots royalty present who had a hand in the making of the album. Liz Stringer and Chris Altmann in the backing band, Charles Jenkins supporting and Van Walker in the crowd – what a confluence. And Suzannah’s voice even with a head cold sounded perfect.
7. Sal Kimber and the Rollin’ Wheel – Mossvale Festival Regional Victoria
A very relaxing event this. A single stage, deck chairs, lovely weather, a beautiful setting amongst giant trees and a babbling brook. Sal Kimber and the band performed one of my favourite albums of 2011. Exquisite.
6. Fairport Convention – Woodford Halse Social Club Oxfordshire
Where you may ask? I’m not sure if I could find it again. Just out of Banbury and a warm up gig for the band and friends just before Cropredy. Starting with the current lineup of Fairport and joined by many past members such as Richard Thompson, Dave Mattacks, Ashley Hutchings, Jerry Donahue and Maartin Allcock, guests the Larkin Poe sisters and English singer/actor Blair Dunlop. The band’s repertoire as you would imagine is extensive – songs like ‘Matty Groves’, ‘Come All Ye’, ‘Crazy Man Michael’, ‘Fotheringay’, ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’, ‘Tam Lin’ and ‘The Deserter’ were all on offer. And all this in a small hall filled with hard-core Fairport fans and locals there just for a night out.
5. Dawes – Blues Fest Byron Bay Australia
My favourite set from anyone at Blues Fest 2012. A young band with a second album out Nothing Is Wrong, and with impressive connections with Jackson Browne and Jonathan Wilson. Led by the brothers Goldsmith, they played their heart out. The song ‘A Little Bit Of Everything” should be a classic.
4 Richard Thompson – Fairport’s Cropredy Convention
My first experience of Richard playing electric live. His solo set on Day Two showed his ability to play fast and slow, exquisite and blistering guitar pieces in turn. ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightning’ and ‘Saving The Good Stuff For You’ were my highlights. Now I fully understand why he is one of the top 20 guitarists according to Rolling Stone magazine.
3. Ryan Adams – Regent Theatre Melbourne
The enfant terrible of the alt. country scene – renowned to be “difficult”. Even Steve Earle gave him a whack on stage at Blues Fest this year. But this March night, he was polite, respectful and in great humour. Just him and his guitar, he showcased his first release in three years Ashes & Fire and seemed refreshed and in command. Oh and Jason Isbell as the support act.
2. Steve Earle – Meeniyan Town Hall Regional Victoria
Speaking of Steve Earle, I saw him three times during the year, not to mention at a book launch. The Meeniyan venue is an old-fashioned hall in a small town where you take your own food and drink and sit at tables. Steve took a little while to warm up but he ended with a long impressive set in front of one of the most appreciative audiences you could imagine. A legend.
1. PJ Harvey – Regent Theatre Melbourne
Audacious. Colourful. Stunning. Brilliant. The landmark and acclaimed Let England Shake album was on display here. Mark Harvey in charge of the arrangements. Numero uno gigio.
Seasick Steve at Blues Fest Byron Bay with John Paul Jones and Wolfmother – humour and energy.
Nick Lowe with Geraint Watkins at the Forum Theatre Melbourne – graceful.
Fairport Convention at Cropredy – almost four hours long, nuff said.
The Church at Bazz and Sue’s house – the hottest, sweatiest and most intimate event of the year.
Now to 2013…no Jazz Fest again but I look forward to Blues Fest in Byron Bay, the Americana Music Awards in Nashville, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in San Francisco and maybe Trans Pecos in Marfa Texas. Bring it on.
Happy New Year.
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