Ritual Union Festival – O2 Academy, Oxford

Saturday 20th October, 2018

Another chance to see Gaz Coombes, plus Nadine Shah and Ghostpoet. Well, I wasn’t going to turn that down was I? In lovely Oxford, at the O2 on the Cowley Road. Yes please.

I was supposed to be photographing again, but in a spectacular fail, I left the camera battery in Bristol and didn’t realise until 20 minutes before I was about to start. Despite all the other photographers being really kind, no-one had a spare that would fit my Nikon. I vainly went into the pit for Nadine Shah with my phone, figured I had nothing to lose in trying!

I had to watch the rest of her set from right at the back as the place was packed (being a Mercury nominee clearly makes you a draw) and the sound wasn’t great. This venue has odd acoustics and sound (it’s a chain place, they are more interested in making you pay over the odds for a beer) which is a shame as I really like Nadine’s stuff. It was hard to make a judgement on her performance when I couldn’t hear her well and could barely see the stage. I could make out the passion in her voice, I respect this woman and what she stands for.

I then lost my jacket. The recently purchased, vintage satin bomber jacket with the beaded sleeves that I love. So I wasn’t having a great night. I made my way to the front for Ghostpoet anyway, hoping to stay there for Gaz and salvage something of the night. I’m glad I did because I really liked his set. It got stronger as it went on and the later tracks were better for me (again, the sound wasn’t great) and a tipsy Nadine Shah came into the photo pit right in front of me and we had a chat. She took a selfie with me, which I am sure she will be bemused by now! It was so lovely to see her being a fan. To see an artist you admire loving the music as much as you. Pretty ace.

Julia Happy Cakes came to find me between sets and it was really lovely to see her. Enthusiastic, passionate people are always welcome to be my friend. Plus she makes awesome cakes. Who wouldn’t want know someone like that?

The major benefit of forgetting the battery was that I got to purely be a fan for tonight’s Gaz gig. I got to stand in the front row and simply get lost in the music and nothing else. I got to actually enjoy Hot Fruit, instead of chasing the lighting and photo opportunity and it’s a corker of a tune. Filthy mind, but a cracking song. The sound was much better for Gaz, this is a difficult venue to get good sound in, so well done crew.

It was a similar set to the night before, with the addition of The Oaks, which is another one that usually makes me cry. The plaintive howling of the chorus is beautiful. I don’t mention how good Gaz’s voice is often enough, he is a great singer on top of everything else.

Nadine was still there in front of me, along with some mates and one of the festival organisers who had tried to help me rescue the camera situation earlier on. She asked how I was doing and I said I was sad but still having a great time, as I am such a huge fan of Gaz’s music, “oh, I’m so pleased you are having a good time. You can watch from the pit if you would like” which is how I ended up watching the end of Gaz’s set sat in the press pit with Nadine Shah! Which is one of those moments I will never forget. It was surreal and thrilling. To be so close, no barrier, and have the music drive through me like a wild horse was just incredible. I may have been sat down but there was no way I wasn’t going to move and dance like a possessed banshee. There may have been air drumming, shoulder shimmies and what I was doing to make my neck hurt this much I do not know. Frankly I don’t fucking care. I got to be a fan and then I got to be in that amazing, fantastic and brilliant position at the end.

There was no way it could have been as good as Cardiff had been, but it was a memorable night all the same.

Thank you Ritual Union for a well put together event, run by people who clearly care. Thank you Gaz, band and crew once again for making my little holiday from real life so special.

 

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Gaz Coombes – Tramshed, Cardiff

Friday 20th October, 2018

What a day this was! I spent the morning walking and paddling on Brighton beach. Then I spent a very long time on a lot of trains that went wrong. I was later than planned, leaving me stuck on a heaving commuter train to Cardiff from Bristol. It wasn’t fun and I had to use every technique in my armoury to prevent panic. Somehow I managed it and arrived at the venue with plenty of time.

I’ve been to Tramshed only once before and loved it. That was to photograph Starsailor a couple of years ago, when I saw them 3 nights on the bounce and fell in love with music all over again. That had been a special night, the crowd were well up for it and I had sobbed my heart out to Good Souls.

I was photographing again tonight and the atmosphere in Tramshed was equally as charged. Gaz was the opening act for the Swn Festival and I was therefore expecting a smaller and quieter crowd. Oh no. It was busy and there were plenty of Gaz fans in the audience.

This time, after my 2 songs in the pit, and what a privilege it is to be able to photograph a band I love, I was able to get back to the crowd and find a little spot at the end of the front row. I could see and hear the band and be part of it all, move seamlessly into being a fan again.

Words aren’t really going to do what happened next justice. It was the best I’ve seen Gaz play. It was extraordinary, powerful, emotional and overwhelming. There were times when I felt like I was flying, I closed my eyes and saw stars spinning off into the universe. I danced, sang and cried out all the emotions that have been building up inside me. Music is release, live it is everything, it just unlocks rivers and seams of emotion and allows them to roam freely.

The Girl Who Fell To Earth touches my heart in ways I cannot easily explain. Tonight I wept, tears fell and fell. It was written with a fathers love for his daughter, but tonight I felt it was being sung just for me. I saw and heard my life being reflected back to me. I was met with understanding, acceptance and love. You have no idea how powerful and precious that is. We went from that to the driving beat of Wounded Egos and Deep Pockets; my hips were moving me, I have no choice when music is this good. It’s a primeval response. We are hardwired to create music and move to it. Music is unique in lighting up every area of the brain at once. With my neurology that is a powerful force. 20/20 was astonishing. Detroit ditto. The only way I can think to explain what live music, played like this, feels like for me is this. You know when Doctor Who regenerates and all the molten force of the universe courses through their veins and fire shoots out their fingers? It’s like that. I wish I could share how that feels. It is life force, it is life giving, it is pure love and passion and heat and fire and it makes me feel more alive than anything else on earth. I tingle. I see stars and I fly. I soar. It is the most incredible feeling.

There have been moments in other gigs when I have felt all the above. Moments. From start to end this gig was emotional, powerful, life affirming, incredible stuff. There are goosebumps upon goosebumps thinking about it. Every time I think about it I start to cry.

Gaz, you made me feel that way. You have put together a special band of people and I cannot thank you all enough. It really isn’t often that I feel accepted, that I have a family or a home. Your music gives me that and it is the greatest gift.

There is an intellectual plain to Gaz’s music that moves me just as much. World’s Strongest Man is an album about what it means to be a man in 2018’s world. Inspired in part by Grayson Perry, an artist I really love, whose work explores the same areas. Both play with notions of masculinity, its crises and try to formulate some sort of response. One of the things I love about Gaz are the Roxies, female vocalists without whom the songs would be lacking. He is a creative, polymath of a musician, writing  great bass and drum rhythms. He is a man playing a guitar, not a boy and he isn’t afraid to show vulnerability or write a song like Vanishing Act about what it feels like to have a panic attack. These aren’t simple rock songs about girls (well, not all of them), they are complex, dense and layered with meaning. It has taken me months of listening and a dozen gigs to begin to get some of those. I like that very, very much indeed. Any music that can hit me in the heart as strongly as this does is exceptional, music that can hit me in the head too, well it’s not an everyday occurence.

I think one day I’d quite like to see a Grayson Perry exhibition scored by Gaz. Or a Gaz gig in the exhibition. Perhaps both. Can you imagine how fantastic that would be?! Art and music are my great passions, bringing them together. Wow.

The last time I has been at the Tramshed was a special night. Tonight was that with sprinkles, bells and whistles. It was a very special gig and one I shall hold in the memory treasure box very tightly.

 

Gaz Coombes – Concorde 2, Brighton

Thursday 18th October, 2018

It’s been a very long time since I went to Brighton, 19 years in fact. I have completely fallen in love with Gaz’s music this year. After first seeing him play live in March I just haven’t been able to get enough. Hence a Thursday night jaunt along the South Coast.

Concorde 2 is a strange place, which I mean as a compliment. I felt like I was entering a Victorian tea rooms, which had a stage at the end! Beautiful ironwork and sympathetic conversion has left this as a little gem of a venue. If you are tall. I do wish we could find a solution for short arses like me, so that we can see at gigs.

Not that this is a problem from the photograhers pit in the front of the stage of course. Thank you for allowing me to come and photograph you again, Gaz, it is my only way to be creative around the music I love and it is always a gift when I am able to do so.

After my allocated 2 songs I was kicked out, which left me backstage and having to leave the venue. Only way back in being via the front door. Leaving me to either fight through the crowd or to stay in the bar at the back watching the gig on a TV screen. You know I don’t like crowds, there was no way I was contemplating moving back through, so I took a seat and had a very different gig experience to usual. It is no bad thing to take a different perspective every now and again and although I couldn’t see much or hear as clearly I still had a great time. I got to review my shots as the band played for a start and see the happiness on the patrons around me. Usually I am immersed in my own world, so to watch it through the eyes of others was actually really nice.

At the end, as the crowd exited the venue, there were a lot of happy faces. I needed to see them. I needed to remember what a community music can be.

As a creative, as a photographer, this was a great gig.

 

 

Glasvegas – Thekla, Bristol

Wednesday 17th October, 2018

Glasvegas should be a huge band. Anthemic songs, thumping drums, loud guitars and a moving back story. Their self titled debut album is a decade old this autumn, hence the tour. If you don’t own a copy, buy it. It’s an album I’ve loved since I first heard it. So I was understandably excited when the tour was announced and the Bristol date was one I could make, on the good ship Thekla. A more perfect combination of band and venue I don’t think I’ve found. Theirs is exactly the sort of loud, in your face music Thekla is good at.

I was way later arriving at this gig than usual, and than I would have planned. For a good reason. I was attending the Sepsis Trust’s Bristol support group meeting. If you have been affected by sepsis in any way then please get in touch with them. Meeting other survivors and those who have been bereaved has helped me come to terms with what happened to me 3 years ago. I was lucky, the A&E nurse thought sepsis and started treatment immediately, my battered immune system responded to the antibiotics and I was well cared for by the amazing NHS staff of the hospital I now work at. But there were of course scars, both physical and mental. PTSD is common in sepsis survivors and I do occasionally get flashbacks myself. Physically I am left with scar tissue internally (yes this can be painful) as well as aching joints and my asthma may or may not have gotten worse as a result. Being with others who understand and with whom you can share freely is a real gift.

Music is partly what saved me. With antibiotic drips in both arms, feeling very ill from the powerful drugs with side effects that included nausea, dizziness, all sorts of bowel issues and a feeling like there were insects crawling inside my veins, I couldn’t read, use a screen or watch TV. About all I could manage was listening to music. So when I say music is my everything, I do really mean it.

What I have taken from surviving sepsis is the strength and courage to find who I am. To engage in my passions and to embrace the world in a way I wouldn’t otherwise. 40 gigs was a reaction to many life altering things, it was also a tale of survival.

Glasvegas. A band of survivors. Using creativity (loud rock n roll) to share and heal their own pain. To help others in theirs. You want songs about missing fathers, social workers, depression, drug use, gangs, knife crime and surviving all that? Then you come to Glasvegas. There is a lot of howling pain on this record. A lot of crashing, driving drums and wailing guitars. But there is so much hope and redemption in it too. They survived. And so did I.

So despite arriving barely 5 minutes before Glasvegas took to the stage and struggling to find a spot to enjoy the gig from, and needing liberal use of my asthma inhaler during the gig, this will be a gig I treasure.

I wound up at the top, on the balcony, overlooking the stage. Ah who cares about the netting I could at least see the band from here and had some space to cut loose. Which I did to Go Square Go which was fucking awesome. Those drums. To be able to jump and bounce and sing loudly and lustily along to the almost football terrace chant of the refrain gave me life.

I wound up having to leave during the encore as my asthma was getting worse and I needed cooler air and the safety of home.

If last week shook my confidence and faith in people, tonight restored it. Turns out all I needed was a little kindness, a cuddle, and some boys with very loud guitars.

 

 

The one I wasn’t going to write

This should have been a review of a gig I went to last week. But it isn’t. I left before the main act set foot on the stage. I had too. The venue felt unsafe and overcrowded to the point of danger.

I wasn’t going to write about it. I certainly wasn’t going to mention the venue, band or event organisers by name publicly. I was going to pretend it hadn’t happened and move on. But the more I’ve thought about it, the more upset I’ve become and the more I’ve felt the need to try to understand it.

I emailed Colston Hall, who had organised the show, last Friday. They have not yet replied. I feel deeply hurt by that. I’ve been a very loyal patron of Colston Hall. Many, many times I have sung their praises here.

The venue they chose to use for this gig was The Fiddlers. I shall not go there again. It was hot with horrible acoustics, appalling layout and staff that were at best invisible. It also smelt of damp. If you were to design me a nightmare venue this would pretty much be it. Cramped, crowded, fire exits not kept accessible and far too many people in too small a space. It felt dangerous and unsafe. I am fairly convinced they had sold more than the official capacity in terms of ticket numbers.

I had stayed through the support act, although I already felt very uncomfortable and despite trying to find any tiny sliver of space in a variety of spots I felt trapped, hemmed in and in danger. I left crying and shaking.

At the time I was in a state of high anxiety and I was visibly distressed. I could not see any members of staff to signal for help. Not a single person noticed or offered to help. I was on my own, in a state of distress and no-one noticed or offered to help. Let that sink in. In a crowded room of hundreds of others no-one helped me. Not one person thought to themselves “maybe I’ll just ask her if she is alright.” That hurts. I feel let down. By music. By the one thing that has held me up and held me together and given me a community.

My confidence has gone.  I had been looking forward to seeing Hypnotic Brass Band for months. I’d had a complete ball at Youngblood Brass on Thekla only recently and I felt this would be another great gig. Except it wasn’t. It was memorable for all the wrong reasons.

My plea to those who design venues, to those who promote and put on gigs is this; don’t ignore the needs of those with different needs to yours. Access isn’t just about wheelchair ramps and toilets with grab handles. It’s about making ALL your patrons and potential patrons feel safe and included. It’s about having enough visible staff in a venue, it’s about keeping exit ways clear, it’s about designing the acoustics of your venue to be the best they can, it’s about having clear well designed spaces that allow for the flow of people and it’s about listening to all feedback. Then acting on it.

I felt scared last Thursday night. Now I feel let down, disappointed and lost. I am supposed to be seeing Glasvegas this week aboard Thekla. And Gaz Coombes in Brighton, Cardiff and Oxford. And modern classical at St George’s. Right now I am not sure if I can face going to any of them, let alone all of them.

Live music has been everything to me. The only way I can feel a sense of connection and community. I often go weeks without meaningful adult company. Going to gigs, meeting people there who are passionate about music, including the artists that make it all happen, its my world. Take that away and I am lost. Bereft. Stumbling in an alleyway, crying and hyperventilating like I was last Thursday night.

The trouble with big emotions is how deep and powerful they are. There is no off switch.

 

Anna Calvi – SWX, Bristol

Saturday 6th October, 2018

This gig was incredible. It was intense. I loved it.

From the first moment I heard Don’t Beat The Girl Out Of My Boy on BBC6 Music I was hooked. Feminist rock music, oh yes. As a single mother to a son this song really resonates with me. I’d bought a ticket to this gig off the strength of that one track and the more I heard the gladder I was that I had. I got the album it’s from, Hunter, and loved every track on that too.

Come the night. I’m feeling pretty low. Lots happening all at once for me right now. I was not in the mood for going out. Alone. Dealing with people, lights, noise. No. Maybe I’ll skip this one I thought.

SWX is an odd venue, but I like it. When I got inside there was a catwalk extending out into the crowd. Hmmmmm. No space at the front, but one little Emma sized spot right at the end of the catwalk. There was no support act as such, unseen DJ’s span tunes instead. I felt a little uncomfortable with this, no support act to focus on meant an hours wait and dealing with all the chatter around me. Luckily, the Anna uber fan who was stood next to me, Tanya was friendly and talking with her really helped. As did being in a crowd of many more women than usual, it really does make a difference.

Right on time, out came Anna. Smouldering Anna. Red lips, boots and leather crop top. She plays the best rock guitar I’ve heard. Her voice is amazing.  She is one heck of a performer too. She spoke barely a word, she didn’t need to, the songs did all the talking. She prowled the stage, hunting for her prey and when she found it she played and toyed with the boys and she was always the winner. She was aggressive, snarling and damn sexy. I want to be Anna Calvi when I grow up. She is everything I wanted to be but never had the courage or talent to become.

Anna strutted down the catwalk with all the confidence and charisma of a rock goddess, making intense eye contact. She made me feel as if she was singing just to me. It was very, very cool. Swimming Pool was one of the best tracks, I had to close my eyes and felt my body floating away. That gentler track was followed by Chain, which I also loved. Oh and Alpha. Well. Let’s just say that did things to me.

The lighting was superb, dramatic and moody, enhancing the music. It was so good to see a performer taking lighting seriously. Anna really is the whole package.

“Thank you very much, goodnight” wait, how, no way, we can’t be at the end, this has gone by far too fast. Of course there was an encore, but the whole gig felt like it only lasted 20 minutes, not 90 and that is a sign of a high quality gig.

I hung about with Tanya and her friends for a little while, I didn’t feel like I wanted to leave the world of this gig. Anna graciously came out to say hello and I was shocked to discover she is as tiny as I, we even have the same ridiculously small feet! Anna if you ever want to swap shoes……..

This was an intense gig, an incredible gig and I am just a little bit in love with Anna Calvi as a result.

Olafur Arnalds – The Forum, Bath

Thursday 27th September, 2018

I can’t even remember how long ago I booked these tickets, I just know it was AGES and that I’ve been looking forward to this gig for a long time. It was also an opportunity to take my 2 gig buddies to a gig together, Janine and Tom have been my most frequent gig companions but they hadn’t met until tonight.

I’ve never been to the Forum before and all 3 of us went “wow” as we walked in. Beautiful art deco architecture and interior with painted emblems and chandeliers. It was certainly a pretty venue. I’m guessing a former cinema, lovely big space full of faded glamour.

There was to be no support, just Olafur playing for 90 minutes. Much like a classical concert, which this was of sorts. Modern classical always seems like an oxymoron, but it is probably the only way to describe the kind of music Olafur Arnalds composes. He calls them songs, rather than pieces, and there are electronic elements, but essentially this is classical music with piano, strings and percussion.

I have been listening to Olafur’s latest album a lot while I work and have fallen in love with its calm, quiet reflectiveness. I was slightly worried that wouldn’t translate into a large concert venue, but it did. The lighting was fabulous and helped with the overall mood and tone a great deal. Shafts of light illuminating the violin and cello players to perfection. It was ethereal and ghostly, matching the mournful and sorrowful music. Later the lighting was reminiscent of trees, or poles of bamboo, working with the natural beauty of the music.

Brot and re:member, both from the new album, sounded amazing. Both light yet heavy. Filled with an aching and a longing. I may have had moist eyes. Soaring upwards, the notes reaching higher, like birds taking flight on the wing, wrestling with strong winds before finding solace in landing points unknown at journeys outset.

The musicians sharing the stage with him were all fabulous, violin, viola, cello and drums. Their playing understated and haunting. When Olafur played his “piano machine” the timbre and tone was luscious, there is something in those that resonates in the most beautiful way. I have no understanding of the electronic gadgetry involved or what the cellist and violinist were plugged into via their chairs, nor how the recording and looping worked, I just know I liked the sounds I was hearing from the stage. That time seemed to float for a while, bend into a new shape and change consciousness.

I find it staggering that Olafur was a punk before turning to composition. We have his Grandma to thank, and the final song he played was written in her honour. As the echos of the violins faded away, growing ever more quiet, slipping away into the darkness, you couldn’t help but feel the love they shared being poured into every note. Olafur seemed genuinely humbled by the response to his music and thankful that we as an audience were there on the journey with him. It was a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours on a Thursday evening.

Sam Carter – The Folk House, Bristol

Sunday 23rd September, 2018

I’ve gone on about how much I love the Folk House loads of times before, but I will reiterate that any gig venue that sells tea, cake, is warm, welcoming and has crystal clear sound is a winner in my book. Tonight I got to share it with Tom for the first time who enjoyed the local beers as well as an Anzac biscuit.

Folk as a genre is one I’ve come to love for many of the reasons I love the Folk House. The people are warm and welcoming, there is usually tea and cake involved somewhere, and it is an inclusive music. All you need to play is a decent voice and a cheap acoustic guitar. There are many, many great women in folk. There is almost always a sing a long, where you are expected, nay encouraged to join in. Even if, like me, you cannot sing.

My flirtation with folk began with False Lights, of whom Sam Carter is a founding member. BBC 6 Music, via the Mark Radcliffe folk show recording at the 6 Music Festival in Bristol was were it started. The germ of the seed that became 40 gigs was formed there too, but that’s another tale. One that did lead me to seeing and loving False Lights last year as part of 40 gigs. They were one of the undoubted highlights of the whole thing. Jim and Sam are both solo artists, as well as being in the band, and I’ve wanted to see them both on their own but the timing has never fallen right. It did tonight and so I grabbed the chance to see Sam on his own.

Susie Dobson provided excellent support with her ukulele and lovely voice. She was backed by Ant on guitar just to fill out the sound a little, which worked perfectly. Standout song was one inspired by commuter love tales, telling the story of red dungarees girl and the boy in the scarf. I need to know what happens next, Susie, so can you write a sequel? Please.

Sam made a cracking start with 2 new songs, both of which were brilliant. Brexit, cast as an adrift ship with its flag flying, but for what? was a clever political statement. It also showed off what Sam is so good at (other than being an astonishing guitarist), using the tradition and historical narrative of folk to tell modern stories. Only someone who knows, loves and understands their genre so well can do that. Folk music has always been full of darkness, hangings, murders, betrayals, so Dark Days (another of Sam’s own songs) fitted perfectly. There is political anger and impotence in some of the songs, Grenfell, Brexit, the Tories, all got airings. As did love songs for friends weddings, sleep, loving, longing and break ups. All of life in other words. In a dozen or so songs. In In Waves, the song inspired by a scientific book about sleep, Sam showed off that virtuoso guitar playing. It was beautiful, the wave patterns he was playing mirroring the lyrics and theme.

From The South Bank to Soho made me well up. Some songs hit closer to home than you want them to. We Never Made It To The Lakes may be “the most middle class break up song of all time” (until someone writes one about quinoa) but the tenderness and love behind the sadness were very sweet. Missing not what you had, but what you could have had, it’s a particular kind of pain.

Sam is a brilliant guitar player and a great songwriter. Buy his albums, and False Lights ones. Go see him play live if you can.

 

 

Bill Ryder-Jones – Chapel Arts, Bath

Wednesday 20th September, 2018

A rainy Wednesday night, wind blowing a hoolie. I was not in the mood to go out, let alone as far as Bath, but  Bill Ryder Jones was tempting me out into the night.

I’ve only been to Bath for a gig once before, and never at Chapel Arts. What a smashing venue! Centrally located, great acoustics, lovely open main space, great lighting, I would very happily travel to see bands here again in the future.

Support was from Our Girl, who I had seen supporting Marika Hackman last year. Then they were a perfect fit then and they were again tonight. I Really Like It was the best track (or at least the only one I can remember the name of!) and their debut album is out, it’s worth picking up.

I last saw Bill as part of Richard Hawley’s 3 Ring Circus in Sheffield a couple of years ago and have wanted to see him again ever since. That was a pretty special night and one where Bill had to follow Richard Hawley and John Grant, which is no mean feat. That he managed it with aplomb (and a jelly snake) is why I was at this gig. There is always nervousness to going back, to seeing someone again, especially for me when they were an unknown quantity the first time. Would they be as good?

Bill was better than good and I hadn’t misremembered anything. The charisma, self-deprecating humour, beautiful voice and fragility were all there. He opened with some new songs, from an album that’s not yet out, and they were almost my favourites. Any man who can extrapolate an entire song of their own from There Are Worse Things I Could Do from Grease has got to be alright hasn’t he? Now obviously Grease 2 has the better songs (yes I’m in the 2 camp, Bill) but seeing as he picked the best one from Grease, I’ll let him off. Time Will Be The Only Saviour was quite emotional, so Bill telling us to”get your feelings ready” as he began Sea Birds was unnecessary. Mine had already started to be peeled from me with the previous track.

This gig was a 3 act play. The opening section was all new material, played with a full band, followed by Bill acoustic and alone, then more well-known songs back with the full band. A little bit of everything, showing off all his talents. I’m really not sure which Bill I preferred you know, so I’m glad I got all the versions. With the band he could open up his guitar full throttle and that’s joyous. I may say I’m over boys with guitars, but you know what, I’m just over mediocre boys with guitars. When you are as good as Bill Ryder-Jones I shall continue to pay attention. On his own he could show off his voice, singing songs of loss, love and fragile emotions. Sometimes he does both and that is almost too much. He joked about being nervous, trying not to have a nervous breakdown on stage, but you can feel how much of his heart and soul he puts into his music. It’s almost a touch too much, too intimate at times, being so close to someone you don’t know opening themselves up to pain like that. I wanted to give him a cuddle! Perhaps I should have after the gig.

This was the gig I needed right now, one where it was safe to let some emotions out. I left this gig a little lighter. Music as safety valve is an under rated thing. Cheers Bill for helping calm life down for a couple of hours.

Dylan LeBlanc – The Exchange, Bristol

Wednesday 12th September, 2018

The Exchange is a cracking little venue at the end of Old Market Street and if you’ve not been, pay them a visit. They have a cafe, a record shop and do punk rock aerobics and yoga as well as gigs. They are also independent, Bristol is very lucky to have a fair few independent venues, but that’s not always the case across the country and as anyone who has been to an 02 knows, chain venues can suck the life out of a place. Save The Exchange is a campaign to do what it says on the tin. You can become an investor and help secure The Exchange’s future. They want to become Bristol’s first community owned venue. If you can buy in, do. If you can’t, spread the word. All music fans should support grass roots venues like this.

Speil out the way I’ll talk about the music.

The opening act were Mike Crawford and the Various Sorrows. They played to a small crowd, maybe 20 of us and I was acutely aware of being about the only one there who didn’t know Mike personally! I guess this wouldn’t have been a problem, other than that I didn’t like the band. The music was generic blues rock, delivered with macho swagger, and I am not the target market for that. I’ve had enough of boys playing guitars. They could play and Mike’s no spring chicken, so he knows how to present a performance. I do try to be positive in my writing and I know that the bands and artists are all putting themselves on the line to play. I also can’t lie though. This was not music that did anything for me.

Ordinarily I’d leave it at that and move on, but increasingly I am getting angry at how much of the live music circuit is dominated by white men. I try to see as many female artists as I can and I go to a lot of gigs, but there is no way I could hit a 50/50 gender ratio. Even a 70/30 split would be hard. Now that isn’t Mike Crawford and his band’s fault directly, but they are an example of how a perfectly average band of blokes get a booking. I bet a group of equally talented women would not be given such an opportunity.

Which made seeing Nicole Atkins bound on to the stage as the 2nd act all the more pleasing. She was backed by The Pollies who I liked the look of only because they included a cellist among their number and I do love a bit of strings. Nicole was brilliant. The highlight of the whole night as it turns out and the best thing on the stage by miles. She has on her a cracking set of pipes and uses them to sing blues/country nice and loud. I would be very happy to see her perform again, and have her album Goodnight Rhonda Lee downloaded.

Dylan LeBlanc was all floppy blonde hair, awww shucks me persona and guitar playing a bit like Jeff Beck. The Pollies, well instead of complimenting each other in playing, as they had done for Nicole, they all just blended together into a cacophony. That plus Dylan’s vocal being too quiet (not a mic issue as I could hear him talking fine) and I was not enjoying myself. I was tired and even contemplated going home before the end! I tried moving spots in the venue to help with the noise balance, to no avail. As the sound for both previous acts had been fine I can only conclude it was not the venues issue, but the bands. It was too much for me.

You can’t like everything and my tastes have become a lot less mainstream since I started going to so many gigs so perhaps this was just one not for me. The Exchange is still a vital venue and Nicole Atkins was worth discovering.