I say the same about every year – it’s been brilliant. Because every year is briiliant. You read all this stuff about indie, for example, going through a rubbish time. But if you actually listen to it, listen to BBC 6 Music, or go down to Rough Trade records, or just check Spotify, you will know that the negative comments are absolute crap, unless you start with your conclusion and then look for examples that back up your assertion. And the same applies to every other type of music. Things go in and out of fashion. If something is out of fashion, journalists bewail its decline, but all that has happened is that they have decided it’s out of fashion. Everyone else carries on liking it, and, if they are so inclined, seeking out the bands that are always emerging.
So 2017 has been great!
There is something that has happened to me, though. I’ve gone completely out of synch with the publications that have informed me about so much of my music over the years, principally the NME and the Guardian. The NME today is largely just a free publicity sheet, but it still has its finger on the pulse; and the Guardian increasingly seems to be trying to get down with a combination of Shoreditch and Brixton hipsters. In both cases, I’ve only bought 2 of their top 10. It used to be as high as 8 in the past. So, have I changed, or is it them? Both probably. I’m still excited mainly by new music, but I guess most of it has an indie or folk base. The Guardian has joined the dance/pop/ R&B/rap movement in a big way. These things have all merged today, and I still like individual tracks from all those genres. But whole albums don’t often do it for me. I’m not sure they ever did, even when I was most interested in dance and rap, which was in the 80s and 90s.
I spent quite a lot of today listening to playlists on Spotify from various publications, including a Guardian/Observer top 100 tracks of 2017. (I had a nice, easy, minimal commitments day). Eventually it drove me bonkers. I was ranting (inwardly) – I’ve heard this all before; it’s so boring; yeah, OK, I’ve lost touch.
So then I went back to my own top ten (plus) compilation and said, yes! Love it! Been a great year.
So what has been great for me?
Well, for start, I’ve been to around 35 gigs, and three festivals. And that’s where I really get my inspiration.
The festivals are the centrepieces of the year, and they are, for obvious reasons, in the summer. Latitude, End of the Road, and, for the first time this year, Field Day. All with my good friend Jon G, plus some family and friends for Latitude. Field Day, in Victoria park, Hackney,was a one dayer. My highlights were Slowdive, Thee Oh Sees and Julia Jacklin, but there were some great rappers and dance acts, which I caught snippets of. Sadly, it was also the night that Islamist terrorists attacked London Bridge and Borough Market. End of the Road was fantastic for the Thursday night and Friday and Saturday. I had a back problem, which held me back a bit, but it was a real joy. Highlights included Car Seat Headrest, Jens Lekman, Slowdive (again!), Ryley Walker, Alvvays, Lowtide (an Aussie shoegaze band), Goat Girl and DUDS. We skipped Sunday, as torrential rain was forecast for the whole day.
Latitiude, of course, was the best. Partly because it’s where our kids and their friends come along too. I’ll always remember the wonderful moment on Sunday night/Monday morning, about 1.30am, when we sat outside the tents, sipping Jack Daniels, and sharing our experiences of the festival. Musical highlights were almost too many to be highlights. Honeyblood were the best, of course; but others included: Julia Jacklin, Catherine McGrath, Japanese House, Shame, Slotface, Forest Swords, Twin Peaks, Idles, Cabbage, BEAK>, Jack Garratt, Girl Ray, Jesus and Mary Chain and Magic Gang. I mean, really, it’s all fantastic! Takes you to a higher place.
Most of the concerts I saw through the year were in London, obviously, but I did venture out to Manchester and Nottingham – twice in both cases. In Manchester, at Gorilla, I saw Car Seat Headrest and Aldlous Harding. In different ways, both were amazing. If it wasn’t for Honeyblood, I might make the Car Seat Headrest gig the best of the year. It was so uplifting! Aldous Harding’s show was all fragile beauty, with a distinct hint of weirdness, and utterly captivating.
In Nottingham, I saw Duke Garwood at Bodega, and then, just recently, Honeyblood at the Rescue Rooms. Duke is an amazing bluesy, Troweresque guitarist I first saw at Latitude a few years ago. His music just glides and burns. And Honeyblood finished a sequence of four concerts for me this year, for my favourite new band. Koko in Camden, Latitude, supporting White Lies in Shoreditch, and then the Rescue Rooms. I just love them. That combination of punk, pop, celtic soul, melancholy, anger, beauty, is perfect.
A couple of other artists matched Honeyblood for gigs viewed. I saw Julia Jacklin four times: at the Scala, Shepherd’s Bush Empire, Field Day and Latitude. Had Jon and I not skipped the last day of End of the Road because of the rain, it would have been five. I love her music – it’s a folk/Americana/pop mix which really scores for me. And Catherine McGrath, a young country singer from Northern Ireland, caught my attention at Latitude, and I’ve seen her twice more since. She is someone who I think will get bigger. She has a real pop sensibility – Taylor Swift springs to mind. And I think she is getting some backing.
Amongst the other concerts I went to, two I have to single out are Wolf Alice and London Grammar. Wolf Alice actually managed to command Alexandra Palace, which is a cavern of a place. They rock, and make epic, almost prog sounds at times. But they have an ear for a good melody too. Ellie Rowsell is a briiliant front person – singer and guitarist. London Grammar at Brixton Academy were so atmospheric: Hannah Reid must be the best singer anywhere. There is such beauty – and melancholy – in her voice. It is completely entrancing.
I had some awesome retro moments too. U2, playing the whole of the “Joshua Tree” and many other of the greatest songs, were just incredible, and might even win my vote as concert of the year. Bryan Ferry at Hampton Court Palace was timeless, and played a fantastic set of Roxy Music classics, going right back to the early days. Steely Dan were slick and tuneful, as you would expect, at the O2 Dome. And Steve van Zandt and his Disciples of Soul played a set of rock’n’roll and soul at the Roundhouse that was completely irresistible.
On a totally different level, I finally got to see one of my favourite artists of recent times, Daisy Vaughan, in a pub in Paddington. She hasn’t followed up her wonderful album, “Light on our Limbs”, and initially seemed very nervous. I spoke to her briefly after the gig, and she doesn’t seem to have any plans for new releases, although she had some lovely new songs. I hope she does get things together, because she is a real talent.
As is Faye Webster. What a delight to discover her – third on the bill to Julia Jacklin at Shepherd’s Bush. Her album “Faye Webster” is a wonderful concoction of country and 70s west coast pop – from Atlanta. If the music journos in this country were doing their job, rather than just trying to be in with the mainstream cool, they would surely have spotted this one.
I saw two great retrospectives this year in London. Pink Floyd at the Victoria and Albert Museum was really good. Some amazing sets of famous albums, loads of fascinating videos, and musical equipment for the geeks. You had these headphones which changed soundtrack as you walked around. Then Prince at the O2. Wasn’t quite as high-tech as Pink Floyd, but there were even more videos, which just reminded you what a great artist Prince was. A total celebration.
This is it. We can celebrate the past, enjoy the present and look forward to the future – the up and coming bands. Of the ones that I really like, I think the best chances are with Catherine McGrath, who may get some promoters behind her, and Pumarosa, who have a bit of an epic sound, which I think will win increasing numbers over. Honeyblood are the best, but with a traditional punky rock’n’pop sound, I suspect it will be a struggle to get the media to pay a lot of attention. So it will all be down to hard gigging – it can work. And maybe they’ll have to expand their sound by getting a bassist and even keyboard player in. It’s always going to be hard to cover all the bases with only two people. “Babes Never Die” is one of the greatest albums of all time for me, but I haven’t yet been able to persuade many other people about its brilliance. I wish Stina and Cat teh best of luck in 2018.
Looking ahead, I’ve already got quite a few concerts lined up. A couple of Catherine McGrath – headlining for the first time in London venues – Alvvays, Palace Winter, Mary Epworth and Aldous Harding. Ghengar are back too, armed with a new album, which I can’t wait to hear. Plus, in the summer, The National and War on Drugs are playing on the same bill at at Points East, which is replacing Field Day in Victoria Park. Seems a shame that Field Day is no more, but it was a competitive tender, apparently. Do we want economics to trump music? No. But I guess you give the new people the benefit of the doubt. They’ve lined up some decent bands in addition to the national and war on Drugs, including the XX and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.
Money, money, money. Occasionally I get asked if I want to go to some retro thing which is going to cost in the region of £70-100. Mostly I think, no thanks. (U2 was a lot more than that, but that was special.) So many of the great gigs I go to are in the £10-15 range. Bands making their way. Passionate, maybe not the finished article, but full of everything that is good about rock’n’roll, about music. I’m sure my 2018 will be mostly about them, especially once Latitude and End of the Road point me in some new directions. It’s the best music.
PS. If you’d like to read about my top albums of 2017 and hear my selection of favourite songs from the year, it’s all here.
You can read about all the concerts and festivals I have mentioned in this blog in my Music – concerts, lists, reflections section.