Winter Mountain. The Canteen, Bristol.

Band who I discovered as gig 13 of 40 gigs. Venue that’s a bar/restaurant/puts on free live music that I’ve not been to for ages, in a part of town I rarely venture to.

Winter Mountain were the not at all unlucky 13th gig of this whole thing, I picked them because I liked their name. By the end of the gig I firmly liked their music too. So I was excited about seeing them again. When I saw that the tour included a stop at Bristol, albeit in a very different venue to last time I knew I would have to be there.

The last time I was at The Canteen was for an evening of music upstairs where we were laying on the floor on giant cushions, about 7 years ago. Stokes Croft is not my part of town. I find it edgy and unwelcoming. I feel so utterly out of place there that I just don’t venture anywhere near it. The Canteen itself is a bar/restaurant/live venue/pilates & adult ballet class venue/home of Bristol Bike Project/about 85 other things.  It is far too confusing for my brain to work with all its possibilities and the signs are so poor (and its so badly lit) that I cannot orient myself within its space.

Stupidly I was early and as I walked in to try to work out what the fuck was happening I bumped into about 5 people (somehow, all my fault despite not having eyes in the back of my head and when my apologies fell on deaf ears I felt tears prick). I felt the panic starting to rise and I walked out. It took me half an hour of walking down a quiet side street to feel calm enough to go back in.

I outline all this to show how much the music means to me. I dislike crowds. I find low ceilings, lots of conflicting noises, low light and environments I don’t know really hard to deal with. So for me to go anywhere like that for music, to put myself through layers of discomfort, shows you what it means. It is also some sort of attempt to ask you all to be a little kinder to people. You don’t know what’s going on inside them. They might be freaking out silently. If someone bumps you accidentaly, perhaps they have trouble orientiating themselves in space. Smile, say “hey, that’s ok” instead of being aggro with them. Accessibility is about a lot more than having a wheelchair ramp.

Once my gig friend, Janine was there and some friendly folk offered us space at their table I felt a lot happier. I was also relieved to see Joe and the rest of the band bringing in their instruments and setting up. Phew, I wasn’t in the wrong place on the wrong day!

We were lucky and some people sat at a table at the front left about halfway through the first song, so I was able to move right to the front and get the sounds of the music in my ears loud enough to drown out the background chatting. This was a huge bonus as I love Joe’s voice, its warm and comfortable like a favourite blanket. They played my favourite tracks in the first half, Open Heart and Stronger When You Hold Me. Open Heart has become a sort of anthem for me over 40 gigs, living life in an open and loving way has been such a part of this year. It has been my only human response to all the tragedy and discord around us. Politically things have been the worst of times and I don’t mean to diminish this in any way, just to say that the only way I feel I have been able to react and respond to the hatrid I have seen around me is with love. To draw together with kindness. And I have been met with so much love and kindness in return, strangers have become friends and I have allowed myself to be open to wonderful possibilities.

The first time I saw Winter Mountain I was still closed and a bit lost. So the themes of I Swear I  Flew resonated in a different way than they did tonight. This was also a very different type of gig. In a crowded and noisy bar with punters not paying attention to the band. Which is a real shame, cos they can play and deserve to be heard. It must be frustrating as a musician putting your heart and soul into your music to have it ignored in such an obvious way. All I can say to that is that I really enjoyed hearing a band I like play live again and that whoever wasn’t paying attention are the ones missing out. Missing out on open and honest music, tinged with folk, blues and country influences, talking about universal themes of love and lost possibilities.

Lucky Ones is a song about Joe’s little sister, and as a little sister recently reunited with her estranged big brother (partly through music) I can only say thank you. There really aren’t a lot of songs about sisters and this is a beaut.

I put myself through the discomfort of crowds and noise for music I love because music has given me everything. It continued to give to me tonight, and I am sure it will whenever I next get to see Winter Mountain.

Thank you Joe and the rest of the band. Thank you Janine for going to yet another gig with me, you have been the most frequent companion on this journey!

40+8 done. Another 4 gigs await before the end of my gig year.




Marika Hackman. Thekla, Bristol.

I’d heard Marika on 6 Music but only knew a couple of her tracks. Venue that I love, on a boat on the floating harbour.

Marika is played on reasonably heavy rotation on 6 so I’d come to really like her singles and given that the ticket for tonight was a whopping £11 I thought she would be worth the chance. Clearly the rest of Bristol thought so too (it is a listener hotspot after all) as tonight’s gig was a sell out. Thekla is one of Bristol’s brilliant little venues. Onboard a moored ship on the floating harbour they put on excellent gigs and club nights so you can dance the night away in the bowels of a boat. It is quirky, fun, hot and sticky. Just what you want a venue to be.

I decided to head up to the balcony tonight, rather than risk the front row as I knew it would be a busy one and my experience last time at this venue of being at the front had shaken my confidence a little. Other than getting lost finding the balcony (hey, its dark and I’ve not been up there for a while) it proved a perfect move. There was a spot, just big enough for one in the middle and the view and sound were excellent from there.

Support came from Our Girl who were really good and worth checking out. 2/3 female (I do love it when there is a token bloke in a band, just evens the score that tiny bit), playing decent tunes that did the perfect job of warming the crowd up. Their music fitted nicely alongside that of Marika’s and to be honest I’d have happily paid the £11 just for them. I think they are playing a headline show in Bristol next March, I hope it is on a date I can get to.

Marika came on stage to the Sex & The City theme music so I already adored her before she picked up her guitar and started to play. She is charismatic and talented with a great voice. She also had a token bloke in her band (she even made him wiggle his arse for us. Feminist rock is freaking awesome).  Female drummer and bass player (yassss) made up the rest of the band and as a rhythm section they were really good. Despite being almost at the end of the tour and singing with a “voice that sounds like a mouse” making her lose her place early on (the crowd helped out and sang on for her) she was in fine form. I wish I could squeak half as well as that at my best, let alone with tired vocal chords. I’ve no idea what most of the songs were called, only that I liked them all. There were a couple of quieter ones, some sad ones, some really rocky ones, all of them worth listening too. Get her album.

It was loud.  There were guitars, drums and a bass. Sometimes that is all you need for a good time and tonight was one of those times.

Thank you Marika and band.

40+6 was full of rocking women and I liked it.


Daylight Music Hosts. Union Chapel, London.

Matthew Bourne & Kit Downes, Nik Bartcsch, The Hermes Experiment. All hosted by Daylight Music who put on pay as you like lunchtime gigs at Union Chapel. I came for Matthew Bourne, who I had heard of and for the venue, famous for its stunning acoustics.

Somehow I’ve never been to this iconic London music venue. So when I realised there was an opportunity to see Matthew play there it felt too good to turn down. I managed to get return coach for £4.80 and there is an excellent gluten free cafe right nearby. What wasn’t to love about this gig before it even started?

It turned out that one of my 6 Music mates was also in London and wasn’t travelling home until after this gig, so I invited Kev along. He is one of my Mary Anne mates, and Matthew is an artist I knew because she played him. Bad for my bank balance, good for my soul is Mary Anne.

After a hearty double breakfast of savoury and sweet danishes at Beyond Bread me n Kev went to queue in the rain. Union Chapel is one of those venues you’ve heard loads about, how its acoustics are stunning and you wonder if there is a degree of hyperbole involved. As I walked in it took my breath away, it is every bit as beautiful as everyone says. Just stunning. We managed to find our way down to seats in the second row and tried to take in all of the gorgeous views. The octagonal, wooden ceiling is miles high, the stained glass (in repeating patterns of 8) lovely, the pews spreading out seemingly in every direction behind us.

Our first of our trio of acts were Hermes Experiment, a young and very talented bunch of musicians who play a mixture of arrangements, some reworkings of classic songs (Big Yellow Taxi and Got Rhythm) and original classical/jazz compositions written for them. A clarinet, a harp, a double bass and a voice all blended together to make unique sounds. They were creative and witty and I liked them very much.

Nik Bartsch was next up. A pianist, composer and zen master apparently. His music certainly put me into a deep meditative state. It was rhythmic, inventive and awesome. Wow was about all I could say after he performed. Just wow. What a fabulous treat to have heard him play. I thought he was amazing. The way he used repetitive note patterns and motifs to build and layer the music was almost trance like. It was hypnotic. I adored it.

Matthew and Kit were the final of our trip of acts and they were to play complementary solo pieces on the incredible church organ (Kit) and piano (Matthew). Both gave masterclasses in what their instrument could do. It was a duet, they played one after another, stretching and reaching but never quite touching or overlapping. It worked so well. The rich warmth and range of sounds the organ could produce was met by the starker and more thoughtful playing of the piano. Matthew really plays each note, allowing them to fully end before picking the next. His movements carefully chosen and fingers placed with exactitude. He played with such intensity and passion, resting his head on the piano and the emotions were written all over his taut face. It was so very different from Nik or Bing or any other pianist I’ve seen. Kit, hidden away inside the organ was barely visible but the sounds he produced were wonderful. Needless to say I loved them also.

We had been treated, for the price of a donation, to 3 amazing acts. Each on their own would have been worth showing up for, but all of them made for a special and unique lunchtime. I hope to find myself again sitting in the Union Chapel someday. It is the most beautiful venue I’ve been too so far. With stunning acoustics. Every minute of this gig was worth the hours of coach travel.

Thank you Daylight Music. Thank you all the musicians. Thank you Kev, it was ace to share another gig with you and who knows when and where we will get to do so again.

40+6 was an inspiration.


40 + 5

Bing & Ruth, The Lantern, Colston Hall, Bristol.

Modern classical piano at what has been the most visited and beloved venue of this year.

Mary Anne Hobbs (yes her again) had played one of Bing’s new tracks on her Recommends show a couple of weeks back. I loved it so much that when she said he was playing Bristol I immediately bought a ticket. Not a one of the gigs I have been to on Mary Anne’s recommendation has been anything other than superb so I had high hopes for this.

Robert Plant was playing in the main hall. I’ve a confession to make. I’ve never liked Led Zep. There, I feel better getting that off my chest. So I am firmly blaming him for the over the top security employed at this gig. I’ve been to Colston Hall a lot this year and clearly a lot of other gigs. I have never been so aggressively searched as I was tonight. The guy had his hands right inside my handbag, even when I had clearly shown him the contents and moved things around. It made me feel quite uncomfortable and a little shaky. Colston Hall is usually such an open and welcoming place that I feel comfortable in it. I didn’t tonight. Which is a real shame because I have seen so many wonderful and brilliant gigs there and I am now left feeling unsure about returning.

I was a little apprehensive before the show started as a result. Which wasn’t helped by it being a) freezing cold and b) pitch black throughout the performance. Honestly, Lantern, what were you playing at tonight?!

The stage was empty bar the piano which was positioned so that the player would be facing away from us. Perhaps he is very shy I thought, or he wants us to concentrate solely on the sounds he makes and not how. There was no support act. Bing (and I’m going to call him that because its cute and I like it) came out, sat down and simply played. No introductions. No chat. No space even between pieces. He played, and he played and he played until an hour had passed. In that time I wept with the exquisite beauty of his playing. Sweeping, intimate, grand, emotional, stunning.

He mainly played from his latest release, although I am certain there was some improvising and embellishing going on. The record is with other musicians as well, so hearing it performed solo was even more special. The notes, resonance and atmosphere of a piano climb inside you. Well they do the way Bing plays. Soft, loud, juxtaposed, nerve jangling and emotionally heavy all at once. Building to resolution and crescendo and yet also not. Leaving you filled and empty all at once. Filled with wonder and joy and empty with sadness and pain. Like the exquisite pain of love and longing that is in my heart.

This was a gig that helped me make sense of tangled emotions. Thank you Bing.

40+5 was a softer, quieter and more intimate gig than many.



Ride. SWX, Bristol.

Band I was vaguely aware of. Venue I knew of as a meat market nightclub, hadn’t realised they also did live music.

I’ll confess right at the start I didn’t know any of Ride’s music. I was going into this gig with very little prior knowledge. I was only here because of Tom. He is a huge Ride fan and was planning to come over from the States for most of the tour. But not Bristol. I gently teased him and with pretty much zero persuasion he added it to the tour list, on the proviso that I go too. We had met through Mary Anne Hobbs’ 6 Music breakfast show and then in person at the Colin Stetson gig in July. Having stayed in touch and become close friends it seemed like a good idea to enjoy this gig together. Knowing we had enough cross over taste in music in common I was reasonably confident that I would like Ride. I walked into Bristol Ticket Shop and asked for a ticket to Ride (ah come on, it’s a great line) and was hoping to be taken on an awesome ride at the gig.

I was pleasantly surprised in the venue. It’s one of those city centre 70’s shopping development places that had a nightclub and cinema so I wasn’t expecting much of it. Inside though, really nice. Good vantage points all round and friendly enough staff. Small enough to feel exciting, but big enough not to feel hemmed in. I’ll add it to the list of venues I check the listings of for sure.

We were nice and early and at the front (Tom is very much an old hand at this, as am I) so we were off to a good start. A very excited and bouncy young person was to my right and I fell in love with them from the start, their enthusiasm was infectious. I was in good company then, I liked the venue. Would I also like the music? I felt sort of nervous and joked with Tom that our beautiful friendship would all be over if I didn’t like Ride!

The support band were lit like an experimental art film. Usually I’m wishing I could be photographing a gig but for this I’m glad I wasn’t, would have been nigh on impossible. They used way too much strobe for my liking and they had more guitarists than you could shake a stick at. They were good, but not entirely my thing.

We had a long wait for Ride, the road crew were kept very busy indeed changing the entire set over.

When Ride came on my first impression was oh boy I’m going to like them based entirely on the fact they were playing a Gretsch and a Rickenbacker. Such beautiful instruments in the hands of people who can really play them is a wonderful thing to experience. I have to mention the gorgeous red Rickenbacker that came out for a few tracks. So lush.

About 3 tracks in I was completely sold on the music. It was loud, it was visceral and I loved it. The  new single, Pulsar, was one of the best tracks they played and it was at this point that I started to let go and really enjoy myself. My only complaint was that the sound mix on the vocals was too low so I couldn’t hear the lyrics clearly. I was responding almost entirely to music. It was good. The drummer is fucking fabulous, there was one track that almost sounded Cuban in rhythm pattern (no idea what it was called, sorry) and another where the bass drum kicked me firmly in the chest. It was awesome. The bass player played pick, something I’ve not seen on 40 gigs (but I have just about been taught to play) and one of his basses is the same as my Tina so of course I found it easy to love him too 🙂 These guys can play. I allowed myself to get lost in the music and simply enjoy. I was smiling almost all the way through. The crowd (until right at the end) was good natured and full of high spirits, making for an electrifying atmosphere. Sharing those emotions with Tom to my left and Noah to my right made this a very special gig indeed. The smile hasn’t really left my face since and the gig was 48 hours ago!

Even though I have a picture of the set list I couldn’t tell you which tracks I liked as I couldn’t hear the lyrics or the introductions given by the band. There was one towards the end that both Noah and Tom confidently predicted I would like. They were both right.

I have gone to a lot of gigs by myself, the advantage of that is in being able to be completely free to express whatever emotions I experience without fear of looking silly or being judged. This gig was shared in the best way with people I felt comfortable and at ease with and who I knew shared the level of passion I had. That is a powerful and special thing to share. Music has given me so much; been my therapist, nursemaid, lover, best friend, home and family for so many years. Tonight it cemented a special friendship and hopefully helped forge a new one. I told Noah at the end not to ever hide the light, not to lose the wonderful sense of excitement and wonder. Looking at Noah was like looking at a younger version of myself, but one who had the confidence and self awareness to be themself. I’m only just learning that now. Music is freedom.

Thank you Tom for flying half way round the world to share this gig with me. Thank you Noah, keep being bright and shining. Thank you Ride, I sincerely hope this is not the last time I hear you play live.

40+4 was one of my favourites.




Trio Palladio. St George’s Hall, Bristol.

Latvian classical trio. The best acoustics in the City.

A cellist, a violinist and pianist walk into a concert hall. They play Beethoven & Mendelssohn. In the most beautiful venue with the best sound you could find. The result? Beauty. And emotion. And peace. It was wonderful. Simply wonderful.

I had picked up the ticket for this in the flash sale, making in less than a tenner to go. That’s about the cost of a cinema ticket. Or a round of drinks. I was slightly late (thanks , First Bus) and so missed the first part of the first piano trio. Nae bother, I could hear it through the door we waited at. As it wasn’t sold out I was directed to the front row, rather than my third row seat, by the usher and who was I to complain at that? The volunteers who help keep St George’s running deserve a compliment here, they are always very welcoming and tonight was no exception. I didn’t grow up with classical music, I have been to only a few classical concerts before, but St George’s is far from stuffy. It is an open and inviting space, they want everyone to come in and listen. So, Bristol, if you spot a concert on at St George’s on a night you have no plans, go. Whatever it is. Try something. I can recommend going on voyages of sonic discovery.

The opening piece was Beethoven, a piano trio. The two parts I heard played in the hall were brilliant. The warmth and passion with which the three musicians played with was evident throughout and I responded emotionally. The second piece, Plainscapes by a Latvian composer, Vasks, was beautifully moving. I found myself leaning in, straining to get even closer to the deep warmth of the sounds of the cello and violin. I was in tears. Floods and floods of tears. My glasses became covered in mascara and salt. The music opened up the door marked grief that I have been holding closed all week and allowed the emotions to come out. Catharsis achieved.

I needed the interval to compose myself. When they came back they played another modern piece, Between Tides, by Takemitsu which felt like waves of emotion and sound ebbing and flowing gently back and forth. It was lovely, and with each crescendo of wave crashing I felt the tears prick again. I was transfixed watching the passion and emotion with which each of the three master musicians played. They ended with another piano trio, this time from Mendelsson which had power and depth.

It was masterful and it was wonderful and despite the wells of emotion pouring out of me I felt peaceful at the end. There was resolution and gentility.

I shall keep my eyes and ears peeled for more opportunities like this at St George’s. It truly is one of Bristol’s cultural gems.

Thank you Trio Palladio for opening my ears to both baroque chamber music and modern composers. I would very much like to hear more of both.

40+3. The spirit of 40 gigs veers into new diections, yet again.



Andrea Belfi. The Old Church, St Pancras, London.

Amazing drummer/composer in a venue I hadn’t known to exist.

Mary Anne Hobbs had introduced me to Andrea’s music on her 6 Recommends show (goes down midnight to 1am every Wednesday – iplayer it). He is an amazingly talented drummer and when this album launch show was announced I thought I have to go, I’ll only regret it if I don’t. Which is why I sat on a coach, after work, for 3 hours. The venue is beautiful. Intimate with fabulous acoustics. If I lived in London still I would go there a lot.

I was feeling super nervous as I approached the venue. Probably because I was on my own, knew no-one who was going, had never been to the venue and had no clue what to expect in terms of photo set up. I dislike crowds and environments I don’t know and can’t control, which frankly makes the fact that I go to any gigs at all a huge achievement! It also tells you everything about how much the music means to me, that I will put myself through stress, anxiety and sometimes panic to be there. Music live is just everything.

Once in and secure in a front row seat I could relax a little. Meeting Sofia, who founded the Float label that Andrea’s album was the launch of, also made me feel at ease. I’ve been feeling a bit wobbly about my photography of late, so to know she was happy for me to shoot made all the difference.

The lighting was challenging in that there wasn’t much of it, but it was cleverly put together so once I’d taken a few test shots and adjusted I sort of knew things would be ok. The setting and lighting almost made it feel like we were in a Caravaggio painting, this single shaft of light illuminating the musician only.

Valiska provided excellent support. I’m not at all sure how I’d describe what he played, but with the smoke machine going and the atmospheric lighting, I can describe the way it felt, which was haunting.

There were people crammed in, standing along the sides and sitting on the floor, so moving between people to get photos was tricky. I’ve also never stood on a gravestone to shoot before! It was a unique and beautiful venue and I really hope that I’ve managed to do justice to Andrea with my photography.

Andrea is amazing. There really is no other way to describe him. He drums and plays/programs electronic soundscapes which in words sounds like an awful chaotic mess, but live is sublime. The drum beats are matched, married and contrasted with electronic melodies to produce the most amazing sounds. That he plays both live is fairly extraordinary. He partially improvised some of what he played, lifting the album even higher. Some of his music is hypnotic. Some of it jarring. All of it beautiful in its own way. When he got up to end at the end of the set I thought, no hang on, you’ve only been playing for 15 minutes. Turns out was 45. The time melted and flew and simply disappeared with his magical music. I had been completely lost in time and space thanks to him.

Mary Anne had come down from Manchester to introduce Andrea and recognised me, so came over to say hello. This in itself was amazing. My hero. My Peel. Standing chatting to me about music. She is such an incredible DJ and her weekend breakfast show on 6 works because of her, and the production team of Helen and Phoebe. They make it an inclusive and loving programme.

To have been able to get to this gig, to photograph it, to meet Mary Anne again, to be introduced to Andrea and Sofia, well, this was a special night indeed. 40 gigs itself may be over, but my musical journeying keeps apace.

It was worth the 5 and half hours I spent sat on coaches, it was worth getting home at 2.45am, knowing I would have to get up 5 hours later.

When you get the chance to see such talented musicians play, you take it. Grab opportunities to do the things you love with open arms. Meet your heroes.

Thank you Andrea for making such amazing music. Thank you Sofia for founding Float and bringing Andrea’s music to us. Thank you Mary Anne for introducing me to such amazing artists and for being you.

40 gigs lives on.