First published Inpress (Issue # 1204), Melbourne on 14 December 2011, and in Drum Media (Issue # 1090), Sydney on 13 December 2011
NB: Each column has a name, but these do not appear in print; printed versions may differ slightly to those displayed here
I’m not sure if it’s just people I know, but at this time of year the interest in Top Ten lists feels like something that’s escaped from the pages of High Fidelity. These tend to make me reflect on the fact that music was a big factor in abandoning my native Melbourne for the comparative anonymity of London, and further realise that I haven’t really written much about it since returning from Primavera Sound back in May. This year it did feel that the festival was beginning to be a victim of its own success, but PJ Harvey still provided a captivating 75 minutes making the large expanses feel intimate, while the first public performance of the return of Pulp met and exceeded all reasonable expectations. Here also The National finally achieved what they’ve been on the verge of on so many occasions I’ve seen them over the years – finally capturing that heartbreaking melancholy and delivering a powerful and sustained emotional punch throughout their early evening set. A secret highlight was eschewing both The Walkmen and Grinderman to see Smoke Fairies deliver what could have been the performance of the festival to a small but gripped crowd.
The most enjoyable performances of this year’s Camden Crawl could be found in the front lounge of the Spread Eagle, where Andy Ross curated a wonderful two days of performances. The larger shows there were more of a mixed bag with S.C.U.M (supporting Killing Joke) a particular lowlight (strange as they’ve gone on to produce one of the best albums of the year), but my overall highlight was Mat Motte’s deranged take on pop. I caught the new expanded line-up of Spotlight Kid on various occasions, as the year progressed they became an ever-more cohesive live outfit. Seeing Veronica Falls play their upbeat pop on a Dalston rooftop made the August riots seem very far away while Still Corners only seemed to gain by losing a member as they became a more striking live proposition as a four piece. Elsewhere Esben & The Witch were remarkable for refusing to pander to the conventions of live performance. However my pub gig of the year would have to be The Horrors at The 100 Club; their star has now risen so high that shows of this small a scale are virtually unknown, and this night was allowed the rare pleasure of a close-up insight into how Skying was created. 2011 was a certainly a year for veterans, especially from Manchester. James toured the country with an orchestra, their set mostly kept away from the hits and concentrated on rarer album tracks and early numbers. Thankfully WU LYF showed that not everything in Manchester was about the past, which was just as well as The Stone Roses announced their reformation and most of New Order reassembled for live dates. Their contemporaries The Cure certainly had all made friends again as Lol Tolhurst joined them as they played their first three albums in their entirety at the Royal Albert Hall. I even saw Blancmange and Modern English this year, so it certainly sometimes felt like another decade. That said, Scritti Politti’s Christmas shows in Dalston proved that some sounds are indeed timeless.
But there’s been one artist who both live and on record has been the key player of 2011 and his name is Josh T Pearson. It saw him begin the year in the tiny environs of The Slaughtered Lamb and end at the prestigious Barbican Hall in November. His album Last Of The Country Gentlemen brought about this remarkable change in his fortunes, but its success was also a bind, as it saw him having to relive the disintegration of his marriage on stage night after night. Sometimes the shows felt like an elaborate game, as he challenged his audiences to be quiet enough to hear his near-whisper on stage, while the terrible jokes he told between songs served as some respite from the soul-baring examinations of his compositions. My hope for 2012 is that he will be able to put this elongated catharsis to rest and bring his new-found audience with him. Finally any discussion of live music in London this year must also mention the loss of its best live venue when The Luminaire closed its doors forever in March. Vale – you are still very much missed and I fear we shall not see your like again.
© James McGalliard 2011Inpress: Published on page 54
Drum: Published on page 52