2014: My Top 50 gigs

CarterUSMFCNov22sideon

I didn’t see 50 gigs this year. I saw one. It was one of the all-time greats, though, so that counts for a lot. It has been some years since going to music gigs was a regular outing for me. Let’s be honest: a large percentage of the music gigs I have been to since 2007 have been Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine at Brixton Academy. But this one, on November 22, was the Final Comedown, that is, their actual farewell, on home turf, to a home crowd. I was proud to have been among the 5,000 who communed there, some of them (not me) in original Carter shirts, many more (not me) in reproductions, more still in brand new ones for the occasion. (For the record, I wore my only band t-shirt, the Space Cudette one that Cud gave me two years ago when I played the drums with them, when they supported Carter at Brixton.)

I have written before about the almost metaphysical experience of seeing two men fill a 5,000-capacity amphitheatre using only their still fairly skinny bodies, a couple of guitars and some backing tapes, but whatever works. Carter USM have the hits, and a fanbase to sing them back at them at the tops of their ageing lungs. They used to have Jon Beast, whose passing was one of the sadder bits of news in 2014, but whose memory lives on in the chant of “You fat bastard!” We’re all fat bastards now. In tribute. The Final Comedown was less of a gig, more of a loud vigil. It allowed me to queue up for what might have been my last time down the side of the Academy, collect my pass from the little window, and stumble up the stairs in the dark to the “VIP bar”, where bottles of Carslberg or Tuborg sell for £3.80, but where you might, as I did, bump happily into Michael Legge, Danielle Ward and Simon Evans, not to mention Adrian, Carter’s old manager in the days when I was a cub reporter for the NME. I saw the gig itself from the right hand side of the front (where the exit from the backstage bit comes out). I am definitely getting too old for this shit, though, as even amid the unfettered joy and untrammelled shouting and air-pointing, I found myself slightly irritated by people blocking my view and filming everything on phones. But the magic was not destroyed.

CarterUSMFCNov22Beasts CarterUSMFCNov22brightlights CarterUSMFCNov22brightlights2 CarterUSMFCNov22crowd CarterUSMFCNov22crowdclose

So, that was my gig of the year. I await the official DVD with anticipation. You can pre-order it here, and the company that lovingly make it, Nyquest, kindly supplied all the photos, via Carter’s manager Marc.

CARTER_3D_PACK_SHOT

As for other live gigs, well, I went all the way to the Edinburgh Festival for three days but I was working, so I only saw one comedy gig. It is, by definition, the best comedy gig I saw in 2014: Josie Long’s groundbreaking Josie Long show Cara Josephine, which I highly recommend, especially if you think you’ve got her sussed. Depths of honesty and autobiography are revealed in this show which makes it one of her very best, I think. I am glad to say that I saw my only comedy gig of the year at The Stand in Edinburgh, one of the greatest venues in the world.

JosieLong

I saw two plays in 2014. Do they count at gigs? They are live entertainment. One was Daytona at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, in London’s busy West End, courtesy of my friend Harry Shearer, who’s in it. As a very infrequent theatregoer – mainly due to price – I must say I love every minute of any play. Daytona, written by Oliver Cotton, who also stars in it, is set in Brooklyn in 1986 and, through two estranged brothers (wayward visitor Cotton and Shearer, who’s happily married to ballroom-dancing Maureen Lipman), it examines Jewishness down the ages, from the Holocaust to that which exercises modern Jewry. Having met Harry through 6 Music and relaxed into his company ever since, it was a joy to see him act, which is what he does, in such exalted company, and in such an unfamiliar milieu.

Daytona

As I always say, I see too little theatre to judge with precision, but I know I enjoyed watching these three superb actors lead me through a story whose outcome was unknown to me.

Ballyturk

Later in the year, we paid good money to see Ballyturk at the National Theatre, inspired to do so, I must confess, by the pleasurable experience of meeting and interviewing Cillian Murphy for Radio Times in Dublin, by which time he had already premiered his longtime confidant Enda Walsh’s Ballyturk in Galway. By the time it arrived in London, we’d purchased tickets, in a moment of fiscal madness. Acting alongside the physically committed Mikel Murfi and – in an extended cameo – the great Stephen Rea, Murphy was a revelation to those of us who’d only seen him onscreen, in films or Peaky Blinders. This is a hard play to pin down, but it seemed to be part hallucination, part something else, set to the great tunes of 80s pop (Living On The Ceiling, The Look Of Love etc.), and set inside the mentally suspect head of one of the two characters, who may have been part of the same head. Murphy’s voice was ragged by the time we saw him (and for which Mike Leigh and Karl Johnson the actor were in separate attendance), but this screechy imperfection added to the dislocated verve of the piece.

That’s it for gigs. I like to see people performing, live, in front of me, but I see this less than I’d like, in a world where money is very much an object.

The drummer from Cud?

In may ways, I like the fact that the photographic evidence of what was, for me, an historic night, is all blurry and indistinct, as my memory of it will always remain vivid and forensic. On Saturday, November 10, 2012, at approximately 19:25, I drummed with a professional band, onstage at a famous rock venue, with a paying audience in attendance, for one song. The band was Cud; the venue was Brixton Academy (these days the O2 Academy); the song was Rich & Strange. It was an honour. It was a privilege. It was a treat. In the old days, we might have called it my Jim’ll Fix It moment, but that reference point has been all but erased from history. It did involve a flamboyant man from Leeds – or from a band formed in Leeds – who, with his three bandmates, fixed it for me, but there the similarities end.

The photo above, the first of many from the friendly world of citizen phone-journalism, was taken by Andy Goymer from what must have been “down the front.” In it, I am actually hitting some miked-up drums in public! This is massive for a failed musician! If you remember that the only other time I have played drums with a professional rock band was 20 years ago, in a club in Wakefield, soundcheck only, but the same song! (cue: well-worn but always good-value pictorial evidence, by Tim Paton) …

… you’ll understand the significance of this occasion. Cud were supporting Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, who were supporting my old pals Carter USM, for whom Brixton Academy is like a second home. It was, you’ll have spotted, an early 90s wet dream for indie fans of a certain age and temperament. I attended Carter’s first reunion show here, in November 2007, since which it’s been an annual fixture pretty much. Through thick and thin, I always seem to have been able to engineer crossing paths professionally with Jim Bob and Fruitbat, via 6 Music, Radio 2, or Word magazine, or, once, the Times, and the same is true with Cud, whose flamboyant oeuvre has become a byword for me whenever I fill in on 6 Music. I even managed to tie in one of my stints with an exclusive announcement of their summer dates. I had less of a concrete friendship with Ned’s, but spent a glorious day with them in Stourbridge about 20 years ago, and managed to engineer affable singer Jon Penney onto Roundtable along with Miles Hunt and Clint Mansell once, which was, again, for me, a little bit of history. As one hits one’s forties, such visitations to one’s twenties become swollen with significance, cultural weight and, well, larks.

Anyway, back to the present, and this side-of-stage shot – ah, the hallowed side of stage, where every music journalist who ever lived has always dreamed of being! – by John Bownas, who was far more “with the band” than I.

When you are the Drummer From Cud – and younger readers who don’t remember Cud won’t fully appreciate the significance of the band’s drummer – and you were added late to the bill, to open the show, you must arrive at Brixton Academy by 5.30 for soundcheck, and a very truncated soundcheck at that. (Oh, and you will play with the Ned’s backdrop; this is the fate of the first band on! It’s a great backdrop, mind you.) I must admit, I’d been nervous about my three minutes and 36 seconds in the spotlight all week. I am a drummer in my bones, but I don’t get to practise much, as I don’t have a kit, and haven’t had one since I left home in 1984. I’ve been lucky enough to have a crack in adult life when I’ve been recruited to the 6 Music band, but there are too many drummers at 6 Music, and they don’t need me any more. Thus, all practice of the fills, patterns, cymbal smashes and intricacies of Rich & Strange were done in my head, or, unobtrusively, on my bag on public transport. Luckily, they let me have a quick go around the kit during their short soundcheck, itself beset by problems with playback, so quite tense, even for a bunch this fun-filled.

That’s a nice shot of the outside of the famous venue, from Ian Moulds. And this next one is the actual Drummer From Cud, Gogs Byrn, in situ. The original drummer, Steve, was with the band when they first reunited, but has had enough of touring now, so Gogs, a Leeds sticksman of some repute, stepped in. Or sat in. And it to him that I owe the greatest debt for my Cud’ll Fix It moment. Firstly, he had it foisted upon him a bit, as he’s never met me and has no history with me. Secondly, they only had an eight-song set, and he was willing to give up one of their most famous songs to an ex-journalist with a death wish. I thank Gogs for Saturday night. He’s bloody brilliant, by the way.

I took that shot, actually, from the stool of Ned’s drummer Dan’s kit, which Gogs’ was set up in front of. Again, the lot of the second support band! By the way, do not underestimate how awestruck I was, walking out onto that stage. Even with the venue empty, it was a head-spinner. I have been in the audience at Brixton so many times, in youth, and in adulthood (I rarely go to gigs now, but was here for Carter, Arcade Fire, Kasabian, Goldfrapp and Arctic Monkeys in recent memory), but never have I been out on that stage. What a pleasure.

Three in a row now, from Cormac, Julian (who runs 3Loop, who put out Cud’s lovely BBC Sessions box set, and have a Family Cat one imminent – order here), and Will Scott. Thanks to all for these. I might be a speck in them, and you’d need special Spooks-style scanning equipment to prove it was me behind the kit, but the context is important.

It was, inevitably, over very quickly. Three and a half minutes, in fact. We finished soundchecking about a minute before the doors opened, and had only about 15 minutes to get into character – and costume! – before going back out onstage. Carl, always a born frontman, changed into skin-tight tartan kecks and a frilly shirt sexily open at belt level to reveal a triangle of middle-years stomach. I had to make do with a new Cud t-shirt, as I hadn’t considered the showbiz element.

Here are the pros, relaxing backstage, after the gig.

And here’s the same three-quarters of Cud, with their temporary, one-song interloper.

And here is me and Gogs.

The latter two were taken by a professional photographer, Sara Bowrey, whose full set, which includes loads of superb action shots of Carter and Ned’s, is on Flickr here.

Needless to say, once I’d done my bit, and retired backstage to help Cud sup some of their rider before they headed off back up the M1 to get home before midnight, I morphed back into a happy punter, and … oh, I went to the upstairs “VIP Bar”, because I had an Access All Areas pass and it looks down on the auditorium. From here, like some tragic rock biz freeloader, I watched Ned’s tear up the house.

… And then I went into the venue for Carter, who were as magnificent as ever: just two old blokes with guitars and a backing tape, shrouded in dry ice, belting out hit after hit after hit, each one accompanied by people whose vivid, formative memories of the album 30 Something, means that they are closer to 50 Something. I wasn’t technically “down the front”, but I was to the side of the bit just behind down the front, and it was fabulous. The Impossible Dream a highlight, as it always was, and always will be.

Was it Carter’s last gig? Why would it be? Why would these bands whose heyday was 20 years ago stop doing it when there are enthusiastic punters who will happily pay good money to come and see them doing it? I had a nice chat with Jon, Rat and Alex from the Ned’s in the corridor, and in the VIP Bar, and they’re doing it for all the right reasons. They have day jobs. But when they play in Wolverhampton, as they are doing before Christmas, it’s like when Cud play in Leeds, or Carter play in Brixton.

I thank them all for proving that nostalgia need not be a disease. I can simply be a point around which like-minded souls can gather, and have a pint, and have a sing-song, and have a nod. A minor scuffle broke out in the mosh pit during Carter – just two lads with hot heads – and it was snuffed out so quickly, and the general feeling from those around it was, “Come on! We don’t do that sort of shit here.”

A big thanks to Cud, though: Carl, Will, Mike and Gogs, and their entourage, particularly Alaric, as he’s from Northampton, and brews real ale there. For Cud news, click here; for Carter, here; for Ned’s, here.

Ah. Stop press.