As December 30th became December 31st, we slipped into Ramones Night apparently, the seminal NYC punk outfit’s ’20-20-24 hours to go’ from 1978’s ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’ neatly reinterpreted. And that, subliminally – as is the case with a lot of stuff that ends up in my head – got me thinking about another classic track by Da Brudders.
Also released as a single in 1980 (although the two-year-old ‘Sedated’ was only a US 45 that year), the mighty ‘Do You Remember Rock’n’Roll Radio?’ channelled the spirit of Mott the Hoople and Wizzard as far as I’m concerned, mirroring their own tributes to so much great ‘50s and ‘60s rock’n’roll. Can it really be 40 years since that first burst out of the transistor radio under my pillow and my brother’s tape machine (not sure I was using the term ghetto-blaster then)?
It was shortly after that Stateside release, when I was 12, that I saw the first of my 450-plus live shows (and counting), catching Blank Expression (who later supported The Jam) a two-mile cycle ride away at Wonersh Youth Club, a precursor to seeing The Undertones at Guildford Civic Hall the following summer, my music life plan starting to fall into place. And as it happens, this coming February marks the 35th anniversary of my sole Ramones live show, a night to remember at the Lyceum Theatre, both of those tracks on the setlist, at a venue that’s solely hosted The Lion King‘s West End production since 1999.
I was aiming to get this end of 2019 live wrap-up online a day or so ago, but events overtook, a year starting with tributes to Buzzcocks’ frontman Pete Shelley, gone far too early at 63, ending with those to another genius words and tunesmith, 75-year-old Monty Python music maestro and Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band/Rutles supremo, Neil Innes.
I never got to interview Pete or Neil, just missing out in both cases in similar circumstances, but I got to see both perform, catching Shelley’s reformed Buzzcocks in 1991, 1993 and 2003, and finally witnessing Innes with The Rutles this May, a night at Preston’s Continental that will always stay with me, as will a post-gig chat with Neil and John ‘Barry Wom’ Halsey. Gentlemen, craftsmen and entertainers both.
My 2019 live outings started in Preston, Richard Jobson’s emotional ‘What Do I Get?’ a highlight of a highly-charged Skids mid-January set at the Guild Hall (now closed, at least for now), on a night when father and son guitarists Bruce and Jamie Watson delivered for both the headliners and support act Big Country, the Spirit of Dunfermline ’77 still intact. And then came Pete Shelley’s long-time friend Pauline Murray, peerless on further ‘Cocks covers ‘Nostalgia’ and ‘I Don’t Mind’ on a cracking night with Penetration at the Conti – with support from the eye-catching Mardigras Bombers and storming Vukovar – as we reached February.
I alluded there to The Clash (who played with Skids in their Fife hometown back in those heady days of punk) and this was my first year touting my biography of the Westway’s finest, giving interviews for various print and online publications and radio stations on my love for Strummer, Jones, Simonon and Headon’s game-changers – from Radio Scotland and Radio Newcastle down to Radio Guernsey, Radio Jersey and Talk Radio Europe. There were even contributions to Pete Mitchell’s Virgin Radio documentary on the band. And there are still a few copies left, folks, either from me (send us a message) or via Action Records, Preston, or Ben’s Collectors’ Records, Guildford.
So it made sense on a mid-February jaunt to my Surrey hometown, Guildford, to catch tribute band London Calling at the Boileroom, playing the entire double-LP that gave this acclaimed Bristol outfit their name. I’ve said it before. I don’t do tribute bands, but in this case, why not. What’s more, as a bonus, I found myself the following night in the presence of ‘60s soul royalty, catching Geno Washington and the Ram-Jam Band supported by my pals The Sha La Las at the nearby Holroyd Arms. That’s entertainment, cats.
Talking of born entertainers, Wilko Johnson’s stunning trio – supported by Glenn Tilbrook – had Warrington’s Parr Hall rocking, and I caught the latter Squeeze legend again under his own steam soon after at The Grand, Clitheroe, with the splendid Nine Below Zero contributor Charlie Austen, while making the first of two visits to the old railway station rebranded as The Platform, Morecambe to see beguiling North Cornish vocal group Fisherman’s Friends – with local shanty support from the Sunderland Crew – their story playing out at the flicks soon after, one of the year’s cinematic feelgood highlights. And success couldn’t come to a more down-to-earth group of fellas.
Another of my ‘70s heroes was next, Steve Harley’s leading his own trio on my Platform return, while in mid-April my youngest daughter and I saw a blistering short set from Dublin’s hot property Fontaines D.C., plugging a major contender for LP of the year in Dogrel for Action Records at Preston’s Blitz nightclub.
Back in the ‘70s legend stakes, I had the pleasure of seeing possibly one of the final outings for Mott the Hoople’s Class of ’74, Ian Hunter (and his Rant Band) joined by fellow old-stagers Ariel Bender and Morgan Fisher, the dynamic front-line trio’s combined age a staggering 223 by New Year’s Day, yet still able to run rings around many a younger performer. And their setlist? Solid gold.
A further Buzzcocks tribute arrived in late April on my first visit to Gorilla, Manchester, Nouvelle Vague on inspired form from the moment Melanie Pain and Phoebe Killdeer threaded their way through the audience by torchlight to Visage’s ‘Fade to Grey’, our stylish French visitors topping up the emotion levels with ’Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve’) and Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. Another hlghlight that night was their laidback take on ’Teenage Kicks’, and we got the real deal on my next Oxford Road visit, this time across the road at Ritz, The Undertones and Neville Staple Band wowing us on a joint 40th anniversary gig celebrating two classic debut LPs that helped define my musical taste – The Undertones and Specials.
I missed out on seeing The Go-Betweens live, unfortunately, but in mid-May experienced my second Robert Forster show and my first at Manchester’s Band on the Wall, a venue I’d visit twice more before the year was out, my first Northern Quarter return a fortnight later – after that momentous Rutles outing in Preston – for another band who delivered a cracking debut LP in 2019, Dutch visitors Pip Blom a force to be reckoned with on this evidence – as were supports Talk Show and Jacob Slater – and judging by the truly water-tight Boat. Sail on, Pip and co.
While there were a fair few firsts, I’d caught my next act 24 times come November (and you can add four Cinerama shows to that tally, if we’re talking David Gedge gigs). The Wedding Present always impress, and I enjoyed support Vinny Peculiar at Blackpool’s Waterloo Bar (I should say ‘bowled over’, but can’t bring myself to it), belatedly catching up on his back-catalogue in the aftermath.
Next up was Scottish national treasure Edwyn Collins and his band. And what presence. That was at Gorilla again, on another emotional night, with support from another happening outfit making her breakthrough this year, Gabi Garbutt and her band. And back in Manchester soon after, another of those outfits inspired by Edwyn’s Orange Juice popped by in mid-September, The Chesterfields on a national one-week jaunt, Sheffield shoegaze wonders The Suncharms supporting at the Night and Day Cafe.
Talking of Sheffield, conversations with Jon McClure of Reverend & the Makers are always a blast, and he was joined by guitarist Ed Cosens at Action Records’ shop for an intimate set in late September, plugging a ‘best of’, while your scribe returned to Clitheroe Grand a few days later for a stonking Icicle Works set. That McNabb fella knows how to entertain. And four days later, eardrums working again, there was a night out with my better half to Liverpool’s Guild of Students for a sold-out top-notch performance by Richard Hawley and his band, 2019 LP Further (and all his others of course) getting plenty of plays in the preceding weeks.
Starting November in style, I finally got to see the soulful Stone Foundation, back at Gorilla, before a further Guildford trip, helping celebrate a couple of monumental birthdays with mates, my first G-Live visit – 38 years after that first Undertones experience at the Civic Hall on the same site – involving evergreen ska legends The Selecter, co-founders Pauline and Gaps seemingly younger by the year. And that was followed by another Wedding Present corker at the Boileroom, the last for guitarist Danielle and drummer Charlie, set to embark on a new life adventure, a baby on the way.
From there, my eldest daughter hopped over the Pennines from uni for a second gig that month, Erland Cooper and band plus support AVA transporting us to a whole ‘nother country, bringing a taste of Orkney to Manchester’s Band on the Wall on another magical night. And one more November show followed, my youngest joining me on a road-trip to Leeds for the return of North London indie near-legends BOB, like The Chesterfields back for one week only, more than 25 years after I last caught their entertaining live show, this time at characterful Wharf Chambers.
There was still time to fit in two more Gorilla visits, Steve Diggle and his regrouped Buzzcocks with ultimate Manchester tribute to Pete Shelley, but also a statement of intent for the band’s future. And that was followed four nights later by the new breed, Beabadoobee leading a Dirty Hit Records showcase also starring No Rome and Oscar Lang, providing a night of pure grunge/pop crossover joy. It was almost as if that depressing election result a few days before never happened.
This scribe and his beloved were back out one more time, gig-wise, a splendid year of gigs ending just up the road at a new location to us, a former library (and we need more of those of course) reborn as Penwortham’s community-run The Venue, the low-key setting spot on for WriteWyattUK favourites The Amber List, the support on the night – We Are Ben Newport – music students at college with my youngest. Yes, the future is bright, and good music is here to stay.
In fact I got to see 46 acts at 29 gigs playing 19 venues in 2019, my biggest haul in 30 years. Not quite as high as my late-‘80s spell, having caught 111 shows over the last two years of the ‘80s, when my Captains Log fanzine was going from strength to strength and I clearly had more money in my picket. But as I’ve now creaked into my early 50s, I’m fairly proud of that tally. It was also nice to have my girls join me for seven of those dates, not too embarrassed by being out on the town with their old man.
That all gives me the cue to say thanks for staying with us in 2019, as we move on into 2020. Cheers one and all, and as the line goes on the fade-out of that Phil Spector-produced Ramones hit mentioned at the top, ‘Stay tuned for more rock’n’roll’.