2017 was a bumper year in terms of my attending live music events; having totted them up, I find that I went to nearly twenty gigs, concerts, radio recordings, etc. There was opera, there was prog; there was classical and there was pop; there was stuff I adored, and there was stuff I tolerated; there were shows I paid quite a lot to see, and there were shows that were free.
In my younger days I was lucky enough to see some really big bands; the first concert I ever saw, in the 1970's, was Genesis at Earls Court, which rather set the tone for seeing big acts in big venues, like Yes at Wembley Arena, 10cc at the same venue, Genesis at Wembley Stadium, Dire Straits at the Hammersmith Odeon, those sorts of artists and venues. But between 1992 (Genesis at Earls Court, again) and 2008 (Porcupine Tree at indigO2) I saw nothing, partly because my musical tastes had ossified and the bands I had always liked had stopped touring, or if they were still playing, were nigh on impossible to get tickets to see.
|Genesis recorded their best-selling live album, Seconds Out, during the tour I first saw them on.|
From the mid-2000's onwards, however, I have found a whole new raft of bands to enjoy, driven largely by my discovering a whole new generation of bands playing prog rock, that much maligned, much misunderstood, but still hugely popular musical genre. And swept along and buoyed up by the new wave of prog bands and artists like Big Big Train, and Steven Wilson, there has been a resurgence in the popularity of artists such as Steve Hackett and bands like Yes. And so in 2017, I found that there was an abundance of artists that I wanted to see, and remarkably, despite the difficulty that many people - myself included, on occasions - have in getting tickets without having to resort to using secondary sites charging extortionate prices, I managed to get tickets for everything that I wanted to see.
At this point I could launch into a review of all of the shows I saw in 2017 - but I won't because that would be almost as tedious to write as it would be for you to read, so instead, here's some edited highlights.
Well, at the start of the year I expected that the much anticipated Big Big Train gig at Cadogan Hall would be a shoo-in for this, but the first night -which I attended - had a few technical issues in the first half, and although I enjoyed the show immensely, it perhaps suffered from the weight of expectation. ABC, performing the whole of their glorious Lexicon Of Love album (up there in my favourite five albums of all time) at the Royal Albert Hall was a real highlight of the year; similarly, Fish doing the whole of Marillion's Clutching At Straws was marvellous. But the show that stood out, head and shoulders above all others was Frost* at Dingwalls. Playing most of their third album - Falling Satellites - and selections from Milliontown and Experiments In Mass Appeal, they were superb, and the highlight of my year. An honourable mention has to go to Tubular Bells For Two, however. Billed as " One album, two men, too many instruments…" this comprises two Australian multi-instrumentalists playing Mike Oldfield's classic album live and in its entirety; the show that I saw in October was stunning and at times, bonkers.
|Frost* at Dingwalls.|
I have always been a great fan of the Hammersmith Odeon (or whatever they are calling it this week), and I saw Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman (now known as Yes featuring Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman) there last March, and still love the place.
|Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman at Hammersmith Odeon.|
The London Palladium, where I saw Steve Hackett is a great venue too; the Royal Albert Hall is simply marvellous, as is the Royal Opera House (I saw Rigoletto in December), but my favourite venue of the year - and I had not been there before last May - is the Islington Assembly Hall. Opened in 1930, this Grade Two listed building closed in the 1980's and lay unused for thirty years.
|Steve Hackett at the London Palladium.|
There are original art deco style interiors and staircases to admire at the Assembly Hall, and the concert hall - while being admittedly quite plain - affords a great view from wherever you stand, and although there is balcony seating - and some on the floor - it is a venue best enjoyed standing in my view; in fact I have discovered this last year that given the choice, I'd stand rather than sit at shows these days. From a purely aesthetic point of view, the Union Chapel in Islington takes some beating; an absolutely stunning venue.
|Riverside at Islington Assembly Hall|
|The fabulous Union Chapel|
In truth, there were no bad shows in the roster of events that I saw last year, but there was one that I endured rather than enjoyed - well, two actually, the same artist twice. Headlining one of the free events that I saw - The Roundhouse Music Festival in Dagenham's Central Park - were Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel, not an act I am a big fan of. My wife, on the other hand really likes them, so when she saw that they were playing at Nells Jazz and Blues Club in Kensington, she was keen to go, but not so keen to go alone, so as a dutiful husband, I went too.
|Steve Harley, not my favourite, but at least we had good seats.|
Last May, I saw three great gigs in a week: Steve Hackett at the London Palladium, Riverside at the Islington Assembly Hall, and then Blackfield at the same venue. A musical collaboration between Steven Wilson - a man whose musical influence has spread far and wide, and further it seems with each passing month - and Aviv Geffen, Blackfield were outstanding, surpassing my expectations. And, as a bonus, Wilson - who was not slated to appear on the tour (tickets were sold with that expressly stated) came on stage for three songs. A great night, better than I expected.
|Steve Wilson (centre) on stage with Aviv Geffen (right) at Islington Assembly Hall with Blackfield.|
Best Support Act
Only four gigs that I saw had support (I'm excluding the two outdoor events that I saw that featured multiple performers). My experience of support acts is that they are either terrible or surprisingly brilliant (many years ago I saw Bryan Ferry - he was awful, the support act, Londonbeat, were superb). Of the few that I saw in 2017, the best was undoubtedly Doris Brendel, who supported Fish. So good was she that I bought three of her albums from the merchandise stand, and they certainly stand up to scrutiny, with Upside Down World being especially worth a spin (it's available on Amazon and Spotify).
|Doris Brendel - best support of the year, I'd happily go see her and her band again.|
I have a weakness for buying t-shirts at gigs (see Quirks and Idiosyncrasies), and I have lost count of the number of them that I have; I added eight to the collection in 2017. As for the best of those, it's a toss-up between Frost* and Fish, with the latter just edging it.
This year promises to be a slightly less frantic one for music - just five gigs in the diary (so far, anyway) - with Lifesigns at the Half Moon, Putney and Steven Wilson at the Royal Albert Hall particularly anticipated. There are plenty of bands and artists I'd still like to see though, and one who has been inserted firmly on my bucket list after seeing a documentary about him, and then seeing him live on TV with Chic ringing in the New Year, is Nile Rodgers. It's quite possible I'll never get the chance to see him, but I live in hope.
2017's Full List
1. Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman at Eventim Apollo (aka Hammersmith Odeon)
2. ABC at the Royal Albert Hall
3. Steve Hackett at the London Palladium
4. Riverside at Islington Assembly Hall
5. Blackfield at Islington Assembly Hall - Support from Pat Dam Smyth
6. Rick Wakeman - Piano Pieces at Cadogan Hall
7. Big Big Train at Cadogan Hall
8. Tubular Bells For Two at Union Chapel - Support from Gypsy Fingers
9. Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel at Nells Jazz & Blues Club, Kensington
10. Frost* at Dingwalls - Support from Romain Thorel
11. Fish at Islington Assembly Hall - Support from Doris Brendel
12. Rigoletto at Royal Opera House
13. An American In Paris at Dominion, Tottenham Court Road
14. BBC Singers at Temple Church Winter Festival
15. In Tune - BBC Proms at Imperial College Union
16. David Live (David Bowie Tribute) at RUSS Club, Romford
17. David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac and Aerosmith tribute acts at Central Park, Dagenham
18. Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel at Central Park, Dagenham
19. Elvis Fest (Elvis Presley tribute acts) at Central Park, Dagenham
20. The Blockheads at the Havering Show, Harrow Lodge Park
21. Ray Lewis Still Drifting at the Havering Show, Harrow Lodge Park