Yes, it’s time for my annual look back over the shoulder at the previous year; and a bit of a good one it was too.
In terms of gigs, things got underway slightly late; in February; but what a treat it was; my first chance to see Oli Brown in RavenEye mode. Oli has always had the gift of taking to a stage and lighting the room up, but with band mates Aaron & Kev he may as well have been on fire; amazing energy and a “must-see” for 2017. Then at Darlington, it was the Manhaton double-header of Stevie Nimmo & Ben Poole; one of the best value shows of the year - so good it was worth catching again in May when the tour hit Hartlepool.
March saw the welcome return of Albany Down to Sedgefield, one of the first English Blues Clubs to give them a headline, and they just took the place apart.
April came round and gave a first opportunity for Federal Charm to show that they are more than capable of headlining rather than being the perennial support band, and they took the stage at The Cluny and owned it; another band that just crackle with energy and fine rockin’ Blues. The next gig, took things down a little as I was treated to veterans The Hollies at Gateshead Sage; 50+ years on stage has added more than it’s share of polish, but they can still push the boundaries, and Tony Hicks is a much overlooked guitar master. Joel Fisk & the Breakdown took the stage at Sedgefield and delivered a top class set, a band well worth catching, and it opened the door for his return in early 2017 with his “day-job” LaVendore Rogue. To end April, firstly was a return visit to The Cluny of Laurence Jones & his band; the form Laurence is playing, it won’t be too many times before he’s outgrown this venue, but he still keeps it real. And to end the month, Rebecca Downes brought her band to The Cluny for a powerhouse session of proper R’n'B.
In May, the Ben & Stevie tour hit The Cluny - these lads were leaving no venue unscorched by their tour. Joel Fisk & The Breakdown swung by Darlington Forum for another superbly measured show and young scamps The Mentulls were also given the run of The Forum and built on their dynamic set at Darlington’s Market Place Festival the previous summer; so good they’ve been asked back again for what will one of their few “local” shows.
June saw Hartlepool play host to The Della Grants but for my money, the band of the night was The Rainbreakers; very confident & classy set - a young band to watch.
The summer was quiet from my perspective, but August saw The Producers swing by Darlington as part of their 25th Anniversary tour. Again, 25 years on the road shows in the polish and class of their performance, but Harry & the gang still play like its only been 5 years. Somebody really should leave the gate from Wales open more often. Last year it was Mark Pontin & Troy Redfern who caused a stir; this year Buck & Evans hit The Cluny and Chris’s guitar & Sally-Ann’s voice were a stunning combination. Another hot recommend; to catch or book, whoever is reading (or get in a studio for a full album!).
At the start of the year, I made a resolution, No Americans; to see if it could be done. That went out the window as soon as I heard that Anderson East had booked Gateshead of September. If Joe Cocker and Aretha Franklin had a love-child, he’d sound like this guy; and backed by a hot Southern rock band - an almighty combination. Then, in a change of plans, another American, Sari Schorr unleashed one of the most powerful voices I’ve ever heard - truly a Force of Nature, and aided & abetted by a blazing Innes Siburn on guitar
October was virtually a re-run of last year; Erja Lyytinen re-visited Darlington, and once again the Finnish firecracker took the place apart; Whie back up at The Cluny, Wille & The Bandits whipped up a storming set for the start of their Thief tour. October also saw one of my favourite venues closing; Guisborough R’n'B Club, but they did it with class - Aynsley. As I understand, Kath has stepped down but there’s no one to pick up the torch; however, there MAY be some one-offs.
November was given over to yet another exception to my “No Americans”, the mighty SIMO came by and made more than a few jaws drop. What made this tour even more amazing was that it also included Federal Charm who energised the crowd and my first chance to check out young blood Aaron Keylock, since Virgil McMahon gave the lad a nod; a very worth recommendation.
And then 2016 drew to a gig close for me with a double-dose of “the Capt’n”; Aynsley doing his near traditional pre-Christmas at The Cluny and then his first visit to Darlington R’n'B club in almost a decade and I bet guaranteeing a quick return.
Not the biggest tally of gigs, but ech one quality. So what to look forward to in 2017? Well, I’ll be kicking off with the legend that is Martin Barre and one or two other gigs filling the diary. I’ve heard that there’s a whisper Davy Knowles may head back for a UK tour, and I’d like to see Philip Sayce head over again; no Matt Schofied once again but biggest miss this year, NO VATA! At the end of 2015, things went bad for the lads and VATA folded. I’m not speculating who, what or why just to stir rumour mills; but Virgil & Gabriel have been a big miss, so here’s hoping that 2017 sees their return with one bag full of new material and one bag full of attitude.
I wonder if T2 will be as big a disappointment as the original Trainspotting was to the railway enthusiast.