My Top 5 Gigs of the Year

Instead of listing my top however many favourite songs or albums as I’ve done previously, I thought this year I’d write a little about five of my favourite gigs I’ve been to in 2017, some of which I’ve blogged about previously and some of which I haven’t…

  1. Spearmint
    15th November
    Support: Simon Love and the Old Romantics; Fever Dream
    Venue: The Water Rats, Kings Cross

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When you have such a good discography as Spearmint do, it must be hard to choose a setlist. So Shirley Lee and band decided to let the fans do it for them, via an online vote. What followed was a superb gig where we got all the favourites performed by the boys, with Shirley right in front of me.

As the band soundchecked and I nursed a pint of Carlsberg for about two hours as I read my Daily Mirror at the famous Water Rats venue, I mused (quite profanely on Twitter in fact…) over the sense of weirdness that I was smiling and nodding politely at the musicians who had played on one of my top 5 songs of all time, the mighty We’re Going Out.

Simon Love was a phenomenal opening act, Fever Dream not quite so much as main support. Spearmint dazzled. Lee updated the lyrics of some of his more topical songs, for some reason replacing references to Kevin Spacey and Woody Allen in Say Something Else and The Flaming Lips respectively…

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And it was The Flaming Lips that stole the show. It was just one of those perfect moments that stays with you, standing a foot away from Shirley as he perched on the edge of the stage belting it out, with the band in full flow behind him. Magic.

Ten hours later, I was back in Norwich, in a lecture. Ten hours (and probably a few minutes) later, Shirley Lee was turning up late for work. It didn’t matter much. I felt like I’d been part of a special communal experience more so than at any gig I’d ever been to, and no-one’s ever going to take that away from me.

Read my review here, and an article about the band for music website LFM here.

  1. Paul Weller
    4th September
    Support: Pictures
    Venue: München Technikum, Germany

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This year I’ve learned a lot about travelling to Germany on my own, having done so twice to see Paul Weller. In May I flew to Berlin to see him. Travelling abroad alone for the first time in a city as beautiful as Berlin, remembering to stamp my S-Bahn ticket, surviving the death (and subsequent resurrection) of my phone and meeting many of the band was an unforgettable experience, and yielded several blog posts! It was also superb to meet some fellow English Weller fans along the way. Of course, if Berlin hadn’t been good, I wouldn’t have gone to Munich, so the trip owes me a lot. But the gig wasn’t quite perfect in Berlin. Weller knew it, the band knew it, and if you know a bit about Weller’s current live show, you’d have known it.

That wasn’t the case in Munich.

Weller and band were on fire from the opening bars of He’s the Keeper to the final notes of a triumphant The Changingman. I even saw a few songs live for the first time, like Shout to the Top! and All I Wanna Do (Is Be With You).

Sadly I didn’t get to enjoy my absolute favourite The Weaver in person for the first time, but hopefully I’ll get the chance to next year. Its inclusion in a festival set two nights previously did, however, allow me the joy of pacing around my house, alone, about half a hour before the bus to the airport was due to leave, grinning like a Cheshire cat and whispering under my breath, in disbelief, “The Weaver… The fucking Weaver!” repeatedly.

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Munich itself was perhaps my favourite city I’ve visited so far. I realised a childhood dream by ticking another 2006 World Cup venue off my list, the mighty Allianz Arena, home of FC Bayern. It’s in a beautiful area which is well worth a morning exploring even if you don’t go inside the stadium. Don’t listen to the people who give it 1* reviews on TripAdvisor. And don’t get me started about the people who give it 1* reviews on TripAdvisor. I saw all the main sights and bought one of my favourite t-shirts from the lovely little boutique Phasenreich which will hopefully be the subject of a future post all of its own.

I’m still not used to German ticket inspectors. One came and kneeled in front of me on the way to the Allianz, and immediately flashed a badge. Turning from the window with a start, my first thought was: “shit! She’s from the German special branch and I’m going to be pulled in for something!” My second thought was: “shit! She’s trying to scam money off me by pretending to be an official!” My third thought was: “shit! I think I left the front door unlocked!” Anyway, turns out she was just a ticket inspector, and after an ice-cool “natürlich” I whipped out my ticket and all was well. There, there. Nothing to be scared of.

Before the gig, I finally managed to get the photo I’d wanted for years with Weller. Standing outside the venue, I heard his entire soundcheck and was also able to chat to members of the support band, Pictures, including one of my musical heroes Maze Exler, which was brilliant.

I loved Pictures, and Munich, so much in fact, that I’m going back to see them both again towards the end of January.

  1. Steve Pilgrim and Danny Thompson
    10th November
    No Support
    Venue: The Half Moon, Putney

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I haven’t been to many gigs where the venue has set out chairs and tables in front of the stage and more fans enjoy cups of tea than beers. To be completely honest, I don’t plan on attending too many more like that either.

But seeing Steve Pilgrim and Danny Thompson at the Half Moon was one exception I was happy to make. I ended up sitting next to a chap who’d seen all the greats I’d give a large portion of one of my limbs to have seen live: Dr Feelgood, Elvis Costello, The Style Council… some at the very same venue.

I still don’t know what happened to the famous sign. When Pilgrim tweeted a photo in the morning, it read “Steve Pilgrim and Danny Thompson” but by the time I arrived it said simply “Steve Pilgrim”. I was initially a bit concerned, something which was allayed when, after Owl On Roof, Thompson emerged. I’ve not seen many artists live with a proper double-bass, except Skinny Lister, so this was nice in itself, and no wonder that Pilgrim has gone for the acoustic guitar/double bass format even in the gigs he’s done since without Thompson – because it works.

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The duo were excellent and it was great to hear stripped down versions of songs from throughout Pilgrim’s solo career. We also learned that Steve Pilgrim is a Xenial, and heard a new song which could potentially be his best yet.

Pilgrim’s solo material is criminally underrated, even among most Weller fans, something I, too, was guilty of until fairly recently. His Putney performance sparkled, bringing out the raw genius behind these songs. Long live Pilgrim!

Read my review here.

  1. Peach Club at Oxjam
    21st October
    Support: Various
    Venue: The Mash Tun, Norwich

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I’d wanted to see Peach Club for a long time live, and my chance finally came this year at Norwich’s Mash Tun as part of the Oxjam festival. Often attending gigs on my own these days (I have got friends, I promise), I’d been a bit nervous to go and see the riot grrrls, hardly falling in their target audience. But I’m so glad I made the effort.

The gig was everything I’d hoped for after enjoying their music for quite a while beforehand. This wasn’t a band I’d had to ‘cram’ the week before. I’ve been following them from a distance since around the time of the first EP (the difficult second one’s out in January), taking the necessary time to absorb each subsequent single. Conclusion? They’ve been getting better and better on record since Gr8.

For a garage punk band, everything about Peach Club is effortlessly slick and well planned, which I discussed on my blog at the time. It’s impossible to see Peach Club and not be swept along in magnetic frontwoman Katie Revell’s feminist proclamations. The spoken interlude in Mission Impossible forces you to stop what you’re doing and actually think. Their age is another point of contention. Revell sounded particularly jaded when explaining some of the influences behind Mission Impossible, perhaps the band’s best piece of writing to date.

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However, the serious message doesn’t mean the band don’t have fun on stage and we don’t have fun in the audience. For example, there’s a verse in Bad Bitch which I still laugh at (or at least breathe audibly through my nose at) every time I hear it. I’m definitely going to sing any future children of mine to sleep with alternative nursery rhymes. Peach Club are an incredibly tight and cohesive unit, too – you can’t manufacture the closeness they exhibit on stage overnight.

I really hope I get to see Peach Club again soon. I don’t think I’ll ever feel like I belong at one of their gigs (apart from when I become the co-frontman of a reformed Union Youth and we ask them to support us, obviously…), and nor should I – but Peach Club have made me realise that you don’t have to identify with something to appreciate it.

Oh, and baggy trousers are cool. If Katie and Amanda can rock them, then so can I.

I wrote a post about the gig shortly afterwards which still sums up most of my thoughts. You can read it here.

  1. Blossoms on The NME Awards Tour
    27th March
    Support: Rory Wynne; Cabbage
    Venue: The LCR, Norwich

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Offered the ticket that afternoon by a good friend, Hattie, who was reviewing the gig, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to be part of an exciting night in UEA gig history.

The first thing that struck me about the long queue snaking back past Congregation Hall was the sheer indie-ness of it. All the cool young people of Norwich had come out, migrating from the Sixth Form common rooms and St Benedicts for the evening, bringing with them their girl/boy friends with cracked, painted nails, stripy long-sleeved t-shirts, dungarees and a patch of carefully applied glitter on the cheekbones.

I laughed at the time, but I so wanted to be one of them.

Inside, the gig was brilliant. Rory Wynne was as pitifully boring as expected. He didn’t change my opinion or win me over in any way which is just what the sadistic journalist in me wanted. Cabbage (below), pre-controversy, were excellently raw. Blossoms, with the famous stage backdrop, filled the room with their elegantly crafted indie hooks.

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Standing on the LCR steps might never feel like a ‘normal’ way to watch a gig, but it does offer a superb view.

Afterwards, as Hattie introduced me to Nick Cave and Grinderman in my uni room, with my phone in a mug to amplify the sound because all my flatmates had left for Easter and taken their portable speakers with them, we poured all of our observations into a notebook and she wrote me a playlist of things I should check out, by hand, on my lecture notebook. I’ve still got it somewhere. Who needs Spotify when a pen and paper will suffice?

I didn’t have anything to do with it, but you can read Hattie’s superb review here.

2018…

I haven’t got too many gigs lined up for next year aside from Pictures in Munich and Paul Weller at the O2 Arena in March – but I’ll probably try to pick up a date or two more on his arena tour once the student loan comes in; Newcastle, Nottingham or Leeds are looking the most hopeful at the moment. I’m also seeing The Style Councillors when they bring one of my favourite albums Our Favourite Shop to Norwich in March and Liverpool blues singer-songwriter Raphael Callaghan in London over Easter… much more about that next year!

As I mentioned, I’d very much like to see Peach Club again and Simon Love and the Old Romantics headlining this time, and there are a few artists I’d love to see live for the first time should they decide to hit the road like the Moons, Nick Lowe, John Howard, Shirley Lee (solo), Geraint Watkins, Abay, Gregory Porter, Asa, Martha, the Steve Cradock Band, Ocean Colour Scene, Charli XCX and probably a load of bands I haven’t even heard of yet. And who knows, I might even make it to my first proper festival…

I hope you all have a lovely New Year’s celebration and thanks to everyone who has read even one of my posts or articles in 2017!

Published by

Tony Allen

20-year-old student from Norwich.

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