I just love live music, whether it be in a small pub or in the largest arena in England, the buzz you get from hearing someone live is something very special.
As time's gone on (as I've got older, that means) I find myself more inclined to go to gigs rather than sit at home and watch the telly, or even at the expense of a fishing session. Each gig is so unique, even if you're seeing the same artist for the fourth, fifth or fiftieth time.
So here are some reviews of gigs I've been to recently, and also an idea of what's coming up - maybe you might fancy popping along as well.
Beth Hart (18/11/2013 at Roundhouse London)
I'd seen Beth Hart three times prior to this show, and each one has been stunning in it's power and beauty. This one, at the Roundhouse was, if anything, just a continuation of that wonderful quality.
Beth's voice is a marvelous combination of Janis Joplin, Tina Turner and Etta James and when she is belting out those lovely blues/soul songs that seem to be her forte, the power of her voice is incredible. At times she was holding the mic as far as possible from her mouth and her voice was still almost deafening. But it's not all power and when she takes to the keyboard and sings a melancholy ballad it is almost hearbreakingly beautiful.
Her opener of 'Setting Me Free' was new to the audience, but by the end of it you could have heard a pin drop, or more likely a teardrop.
The set was a mix of her own tunes, like LA Song, Bang Bang Boom Boom and the beautiful Sister Heroine, and also her collaborations with Joe Bonamassa, and of those there was no doubt that the audience had been hoping for 'I'd Rather Go Blind'. It was not only a stunning display of vocal dexterity but also equally fine guitar work. Having seen Joe Bonamassa duet this song with Beth a few months ago, I knew the guitarist was going to struggle to duplicate that. Having said that, he gave it a bloody good go, and for the many in attendance who hadn't seen Joe's version, it was a rip-roaring success.
The show closed with Beth and the keyboard, alone, and pleading for us to 'Take it easy on me' - anything you say Beth.
Five stars, all the way. Go and see her when she's next over here - you will not be disappointed.
Chantel McGregor (08/03/2013 at Boom Boom Club Sutton)
An unexpected bonus last Friday when I heard that Chantel McGregor was performing at the Boom Boom Club in Sutton. It's a great little venue that holds no more than about 300, and it was pretty packed when we got there.
Chantel is a diminutive Yorkshire lass but what she lacks in staure she makes up for in energy and amazing musical talent. When I first saw her a couple of years ago she absolutely blew me away with her guitar playing, and this time was no different. Last time she played mostly covers - Hendrix, Bonamassa, SRV etc, but since then she's brought out her own album with mostly new songs on it, and so the bulk of the gig was showcasing these. This mattered little because there are some great songs there, but the highlights were still some of the covers that she did. Voodoo Chile suffered from a broken guitar string, which sort of lost the flow, but the rest was extraordinary.
An acoustic 'set' of four songs highlighted what a great voice she has, and Rhianon by Fleetwood Mac, and Metallica's Nothing Else Matters were huge highlights. But, as previously, the stand out part of the show was her 12 minute version of Robin Trower's Daydream. It is impossible to descibe how magnificent this is; check it out on her website or on You Tube, then go and get a ticket to see her in concert - you will not be disappointed.
Joe and Beth (24/6/2013 at Hampton Court Palace)
Ever since I heard these two perform on Don't Explain, a year or so ago, I've anticipated a live performance. When this one came up I abandoned 2 ZZ Top tickets for them, but oh what a fine decision that turned out to be.
I've seen both artists as soloists, but never the two together, and the combination proved to be everything I'd hoped for. The setting, in one of the courtyards of Hampton Court Palace, was one I'm sure I'll never experience again, and went a long way to enhancing the whole experience, but that can take nothing away from the brilliant 90 minutes that followed.
In her own band, Beth Hart is definitely the front person, but still with half a mind to being the leader of the band. Here, though, with Joe Bonamassa leading the seven-piece band like a modern day Glenn Miller, she was free to do what she does so very, very well, and that is entertain.
Her voice is a blend of Billie Holiday, Janis Joplin, Bonnie Raitt and Tina Turner, and she delivers it with equal amounts of power and grace. At times it felt like the ancient walls might crumble on her delivery, at others her soft, simpering tones brought tears to the driest of eyes.
The songs ranged from both albums; from soulful blues to raunchy rock, and at every turn Beth used her sexuality like an instrument - first sexy, then mournful; harlot then maiden. Joe, meantime, led the band with steady rhythm, but when it was time, he tore the air asunder with one of his trademark solos.
The encore, for me, epitomised the range that they have. With the first notes of 'Id Rather go Blind' I knew that the money had been well spent. The verison on the album has me regularly in tears, and this was no different. Beth, sitting on the floor as if discarded by a lover, wrung every note out as if it was torn from her heart, and when Joe moved into the guitar solo in the middle it was as if he were playing it on an angel's wing, so movingly beautiful was it.
The final curtain fell with a a raucous, rasping version of 'Nutbush City Limits', and Tina Turner couldn't have ever performed it better. A brilliant, brilliant concert, and on my return home I went straight online and ordered tickets for Beth Hart at the Roundhouse in November - can't wait.
Joe Bonamassa (30.03.2013 at Royal Albert Hall)
Having seen Joe five times in the last three years, I knew what to expect to a certain extent, but what did I know?
With no support act, Joe started the show sitting with an acoustic guitar, and was soon joined by mandolin, eukele, washboard and spoons! It was a lovely, intimate set that lasted forty minutes and showcased not only Joe's versatility on the guitar, but also those of his fellow performers. It ended with a Mumford and Sons does bluegrass type affair that had every foot tapping in the Hall.
The start of the second set could not have been more different, with a heavy, fuzzed guitar leading into Slow Train. The bass seemed awfully loud, but I remember from other gigs when the first song always seems to be dissonant - it seems that they use it to set the levels, and the same seemed to be true of this gig, because after that everything seemed to settle down.
As usual, the set was totally different to anything that he's done before, as were the arrangements of most of the songs - I've probably heard it half a dozen times, but I don't think he's performed the same version of Sloe Gin twice. That's what's great about a Bonamassa concert, it's always different from the last. This time there was no Young Man Blues (sadly) but he played a powerful version of The Ballad of John Henry in its place. The homage to Gary Moore, Midnight Blues, is probably one of the few songs that he doesn't change, but then why would you need to. For me the highlight was, as usual, Mountain Time. It still takes my breath away and leaves me shivering.
The final pulsating, heavy version of Just Got Paid ended with the usual medley of Zeppelin riffs, culminating in an ear-shredding Dazed and Confused. The applause was deafening, and he collapsed to the floor, drained, after his four gigs in five days.
To be fair, this wasn't the best I'd seen Joe perform. He seemed to want to fill the Hall with sound, and at times that was too much, and made it sound like a rock concert rather than blues. But he is still the consummate guitarist and I can't wait to see him with Beth Hart in June at the Hampton Court Garden Party.
Many (5th - 7th July at Cornbury Festival)
This was our second year at the festival, and if anything it was better than last year. I think the weather helped as we experienced the start of a gorgeous summer, and the only dampness was down our necks!
Although there are about 20,000 people here, it doesn't feel crowded and it's a really friendly, family atmos. We met some guys we'd met the previous year, and next year we'll no doubt meet up with a few more.
As with most fetsivals like this, the music is pretty varied and to be honest not always the reason to go. That said, with acts like Squeeze, Van Morrison, Imelda May and Wilko Johnson, I knew my musical tastes would be well catered for. That said, the line up wasn't as strong as previously, but when you get maybe one last chance to see Wilko, then it's worth the trip. His set was just brilliant, and pretty emotional as well, as most people realised that he was actually on 'overtime', but he just kept smiling and playing and finished to a huge ovation.
Squeeze were a little self indulgent for most peoples liking, playing a lot of songs from their new album, but acts like Hugh Cornwell (ex-Stranglers) more than made up for that.
The surprise package, for me, was a guy called JJ Grey from Florida. He and his band were just brilliant, playing a blend of blues/soul/down south rock. I bought the album straightaway.
All in all a great weekend, and the campsite bar was a welcome addition in the evenings after the concerts finished. Good music and a good crack - can't wait 'til next year.
Mark Knopfler (25/05/2013 at Brighton Centre)
I love Mark Knopfler. I think his transition from screaming rock guitarist to poignant, sharp, witty lyricist has been almsot seamless. If you've heard any of his recent albums you'll realise that 'Sultan's of Swing' is a long time ago, as far as he's concerned, and it was perhaps poignant that that classic tune didn't feature in the set list. To be fair, only two Dire Straits songs did appear - Romeo and Juliet and Telegraph Road - but the absence of the old material was hardly noticed as he took us on a trip around his own back catalogue.
Privateering, his latest album, featured quite heavily, but then the material is so strong and varied that it was a joy to listen to live. He also delved back to Get Lucky, Shangri La, Sailing from Philadelphia and Ragpicker's Dream, and with the backing of an unbelievable array of talented musicians, the two hours or so just flew by.
There were probably a couple of highlights but, to be fair, whenever you listen to somebody like Mark live, then it's all a highlight. He has the ability to write songs about the ordinary bloke that are both witty and melancholy at the same time. And when he wants to go upbeat you cannot fail to tap your feet and clap along.
A very, very fine evening, that was climaxed when we went out onto the Brighton prom and saw a huge yellow moon hovering over the brightly lit pier. If only the strains of Tunnel of Love were still in the air.
Roger Waters - The Wall (14/09/2013 at Wembley Stadium)
It's difficult to find the words to describe this event. That in itself is one of the reasons - it wasn't just a 'gig', it was an 'event', and one the like of which we're unlikely to see for a very long time.
Musically it is obviously brilliant, no matter who plays the instruments, but having seen it at the O2 last year I just assumed it would be the same show, just with a bigger wall. Wrong! I would say that about 2/3rd of the show was new. Not musically, obviously (although there was one new song)but visually. The wall was used as a huge video screen, and the images were, with Waters in control, cutting and very poignant. B 52's dropping not bombs but Shell and Mercedes logos, the Star of David, dollar symbols, Hammer and Sickles. Then the whole wall was covered in images of people lost in conflict over the decades. There was so much going on that you had to have about three pairs of eyes. And all the while Waters growled those profound, mournful and oh so well known lyrics.
Comfortably Numb, obviously, left not a dry eye in the house, especially after the video that preceded it, and all the while, 70,000 people sang along to every word 'Is there anybody out there?' we chorused. Oh yes, there were plenty out there. It would take pages to try to describe what we saw, but how do words describe yellow to a blind man? If you weren't there then all I can suggest is that you buy the inevitable DVD, turn the lights off, the sound up and strap yourself in. It's an unbelievable ride which will linger long in the memory.
Steve Hackett (10/5/2013 at Hammersmith Apollo)
I've made no secret of the fact that I absolutely love early Gabriel-era Genesis. For me it epitomises everything I love about prog rock. The invention, the soaring epic music, and that classic English whimsy.
I was lucky enough to see them twice in that period; the second time, at the old Rainbow during the Selling England by the Pound tour, still stands as one of the highlights of my long, musical journey.
Steve Hackett has brought out a couple of Genesis Revisited albums over the past decade, the latest just last year, and as much as they are what you want to hear, I still hanker for the swagger of Peter Gabriel on vocals. Having said that, when I heard he was doing a tour of just early Genesis material, there was no doubt Lin and I would be in attandance.
The musical smorgasbord stretched a couple of albums beyond Gabriel's involvement, with Trick of the Tail and Wind and Wuthering both being visited, but I love both of those albums as well, so was quietly anticipating the gig.
So, to the gig.
They started with Watcher of the Skies! The place went mental! 5000 people, all pretty close to collecting their bus passes, all on their feet and in raptures. That was the way it went for most of the evening. 5000 people singing the opening acappela to Selling England .. 'Can you tell me where my country lies..' Then on the their feet roaring 'Now! Now! Now! at the end of The Musical Box. There were some nice sedate periods in amongst these bouts of excess, but obviously it all came to a head when the 23 epic minutes of Supper's Ready tinkled into view. Every word, sung by almost everybody.
Lin and I left, like everybody else, with a huge smile on our face, knowing that it was just a Peter Gabriel away from perfection, but damn close anyway. Damn close. Mum diddely washing...
The Prognosis (7/5/2014 at Inn on the Green, Ockley)
I'd first heard this band on a Prog Rock sampler CD a few months ago and was so impressed I bought the EP. They started out as prog-rock tribute band, but have recently been writing their own stuff, and mighty impressive it is as well.
These guys have been round the block a few times, that's for sure, and are very accomplished musicians, and that is evident from the very start when they embark on a wonderful 10 minute version of Camel's 'Lady Fantasy'. With the scene set we are then treated to such delights as 'School', 'Bloody Well Right' and 'Crime of the Century, followed by a bit of 'The Lamb...' and, as they said on stage, probably the only time you'll hear 'Schooldays' by Stanley Clarke in a pub.
Jethro Tull and more Camel followed, interspersed by two or three original compositions which were by no means out of place, 'The Legend of Parker Baul' and 'Topsy Turvy' being the highlights for me.
The set ended with Floyd's 'Learning to Fly' and 'Us and Them', that theme carrying on in the encore with excellent renditions of 'Wish you were here' and 'Comfortably Numb'.
I'd looked forward to seeing these guys since first hearing them on CD and really wasn't let down.
I'm seeing them again at Trading Boundaries in July where they promise me they will perform 'Can-utility and the Coastliners' - can't wait.
The Union (21/02/2013 at O2 Academy)
Sadly, after a bit of a wait, The Union came on at about 9.30 but it didn't take long to realise that something was not quite right and after the second song Luke Morley explained that vocalist Pete Phoulder was suffering from flu, and was finding it hard to sing. He tried to sing the next song but after about 30 seconds had to croak out an apology and left the stage, visibly pissed off. The band said that they would reschedule the gig as soon as possible and, good to their word, have announced the new date as March 28th. Hopefully everybody will be fit and well by then.
We Will Rock You (23/02/2013 at Dominion Theatre, London)
I've been meaning to see this show for the past decade, but have just never got round to it. But this year Lin got us tickets to see it on my birthday weekend, and boy was it worth the wait.
I suppose I should have realised, with Ben Elton being one of the writers, but I didn't know it was going to be as amusing as it was. Not all the way through, but there were enough topical references to the fame culture that seems to be everywhere to keep you giggling. But, of course, the main reason for being there was to listen to the wonderful music of Queen.
I think it testament to the brilliance of Freddie Mercury that there are six lead vocalists in the show, all showcasing not only Freddie's range, but also there own incredible vocals.
It's impossible to pick out any particular song, although when they start the title song for the first time it sends a shiver up your spine, but with 25 - 30 songs, it is a real Best of Queen-fest.
It is without doubt a show that you could quite easily see again and again, and each time you will come out smiling, and I have little doubt that I will be returning in the not too distant future.