The Bootleg Beatles. Colston Hall, Bristol.

Sort of explains itself, main hall of my beloved and most visited venue of this year.

I can’t usually get out to Tuesday night gigs, so when the unexpected opportunity came up to go out tonight, I went searching for a gig. I found this one, with only one seat left in the back corner of the stalls. It was meant to be I thought and purchased the ticket. I’ve never seen a tribute band before. The Spiceish Girls doesn’t count. I saw them by mistake. I was drunk. And if you are gonna see a tribute band, you might as well start with the best. The Beatles were one of the greatest bands of all time. They changed the face of rock n roll with seminal album after seminal album.

This would be my last gig of 2017 and I wanted to see it out in style. The best band, the alleged best tribute band, the last gig of the year. Would expectations be too high, or exceeded?

I couldn’t help myself, I was excited about this gig. It was an impulse purchase at the last minute and it felt a bit wild and decadent to be heading out, near Christmas, on my own. The atmosphere in the Hall was already bristling, the crowd full of young and old alike, many clearly multi generational trips were being taken to this gig. The seats next to me were filled by two young Beatles fans, early 20’s at most, and their energy was fantastic. Being right at the back of the stalls meant I could see over the rest of the audience and feed off their excitement too.

There was no support and the fake Fab Four came on promptly at 7.30pm for a whistle-stop tour of the early years. They put on a damn good show, video and light shows building the picture of the era. They began, at the beginning, all mop top and I Wanna Hold Your Hand and it was ace. Then we were in Shea Stadium for a few numbers before, amazingly, ending up in St Peppers. The costumes were spot on, and the addition of the strings and brass section added to the visceral thrill of hearing music played live, knowing the original artists had never toured this particular record. A Day In The Life is such a perfect song that it feels impossible to follow. Smartly they didn’t, as this was were we broke for the interval. St Peppers did show the flaws, it probably is impossible to actually play fully live and make it sound exactly like the record. Its far too complex and multi layered, but this was a damn fine attempt.

For all the jokes about Ringo being a shite drummer, he shone tonight, a drummers job, with the bassist, is to hold the thing together, and he did that so well. It might not be the most complex or showy drumming, but it sits there, keeping time and allowing the others to show off. Which they did. John, possibly the weakest fake Beatle (although how you would capture Lennon’s charisma and legend now I don’t really know), Paul nailed the chirpy everybloke personality perfectly and George, who despite looking more like Dave Grohl, was probably the closest to the real thing of the four.  They peppered the chat with a mixture of actual Beatles one liners and more modern references, tongue firmly in cheek throughout.

Some numbers had the oldies up and dancing, jiving and twisting for all they were worth. With their Grandkids too! That was joyous to see. And also sad, for Twist & Shout bought back memories of my Mum teaching me to dance when I was a kid “pretend you are stubbing a fag out with your foot, Ems” was her twist lesson. It made me think about how much she would have loved this gig. How she would have been up and dancing, with a huge smile on her face, how we used to love to dance together. How I wish she was still here, with me, and able to enjoy an experience like this together. Grief is such a tricksy, mercurial bastard like that. You can be having a wonderful time, and then get broadsworded by tears. Even years after the death.

That is also the amazing thing about music. How it just unlocks emotions when you least expect. I could see a young man a few rows in front being comforted during Penny Lane, his Dad rubbing his back as he heaved sobs.

After the interval we got the later years, which I hadn’t realised to be my favourite era Beatles, but clearly is. Get Back was fucking incredible. I was grooving like a good un to that. It was amazing. I found the Ballard of John & Yoko to be really poignant, the line “gonna crucify me” given Lennon’s assignation struck me. Here Comes The Sun was so beautiful, and if you can’t smile while singing Hey Jude in a room full of people then you have no soul. The encore was “a cover of that Elbow song that’s on the John Lewis ad” and it was stunning. I was in tears.  I’ve never had a reaction like that to the Beatles records, you have to hear music live for it to really connect. And with a band long since defunct and only half alive, that’s not usually possible. It becomes so with a Tribute Band, especially one like this, so faithful to both the music and the spirit of the original.

I thoroughly enjoyed my first foray into the world of tribute bands, the Bootleg Beatles can certainly play, and there was an honesty to what they were doing that I liked.  It wasn’t the Beatles, but no-one ever could be. It was enjoyable and emotional, everything I want in a gig.

At the start of 2017 I did not think I would have gone to so many gigs. 51. 51. That is utter madness. Sheer recklessness. It has proved the making of me in so many ways, though.

Thank you Bootleg Beatles, I loved tonight. Gig 40+11. I still can’t believe that I have done this. It has been the most amazing and incredible musical adventure. It has been so full of love. All You Need Is Love after all.


Ella Fitzgerald Centenary Concert with Claire Martin & The BBC Big Band. St George’s Hall, Bristol.

One of the finest jazz singers being commemorated by a Big Band Orchestra at the best sounding venue in the City. Yes please.

I booked this ticket way back in the summer, thinking that giving myself something to look forward to in the dark winter months was a god idea. Which it was. And that a Big Band and a big voice would probably serve to lift winter blues. Which they sort of did.

I love St George’s, it has amazing acoustics and great volunteers. It’s not the most comfortable and the pricing can be a touch erratic but with great sound and atmosphere it is usually worth it.

I had been looking forward to this gig, as something to make me smile, for a while. Sadly I was feeling quite wonky going in. I gave thought to sitting this gig out altogether to be honest. Then I remembered why I’ve been to so many gigs. Because in music I have a place. And I fit. Not perfectly, but enough. Besides this was gig 50. A point so far ahead of original goal, significant enough a number, to merit dragging myself out.

I had booked a stalls seat, at the front but with restricted view. Makes no difference in St George’s where you sit, the sound is amazing throughout, although I did lose some of the ambience in not being able to see most of the band. There were a lot of them, mind, about 18 I think, plus conductor and guest singer.

They played a range of swing, big band standards and arrangements with and without Claire singing. Most of the band got to show off with a solo at some point, which is completely justified when you have a bunch of musicians this talented, would be a waste not to show them off. Highlights for me were Honeysuckle Rose and Sing, Sing, Sing, both of which were in the second half. I wasn’t fully engaged with a lot of this gig, and that’s me, rather than the band. Somehow it felt too slick, ever so slightly too polished. The track I really loved was the one described as “a bit wilder.” I guess I’ve gotten into, and seen, some pretty avant guard stuff this year, which made these standard tunes seem tame. Which, in their time, they were not. They just seem it to my ears now. And as much as Claire has an amazing, smoky, husky, jazz voice, I just didn’t feel it.

Jazz is black classical music. It is Nina. And Ella. And Duke. It isn’t polite, white middle class British people clapping gently in a former Church. Or maybe it is and I’m wrong about this too. All I know is I felt as out of place with this music, in this place, tonight, as I have with everything else around me lately.

The aim had been a winter warmer. It wasn’t. Maybe I’m too cold.

40+10 didn’t quite work but hey you can’t win them all.



Songhoy Blues. The Anson Rooms, Bristol.

Mali’s most famous band. Venue I’ve never been too, that’s part of Bristol University Students’ Union.

6 Music play Songhoy Blues all the time, that’s where I had heard of them. Everyone I know who has seen them live has said how great they were so way back in July I booked this ticket, hoping that it would be near the end of the 40 gigs challenge. Then I went to a lot more gigs and this became gig 49. I’ve never been to the Anson Rooms before. What a smashing venue. Great sound, lighting and space. I’d love to photograph there, the press pit is about a mile wide! The staff were helpful and friendly, the vibe was good and the ceiling was high. A big, open space that felt welcoming. I’ll happily go back.

I was sharing this gig with Janine, who has been my most frequent gig companion this year. Its so fab to have a friend with music taste as eclectic as mine to share gigs with. We were both really excited about this gig, and had been looking forward to it for some time. We arrived in time for most of the support act, who’s name I didn’t catch. He was a great blues guitarist is about all I can tell you. We secured a front row spot at the end of his set and waited with excitement for Songhoy Blues to come on.

From the moment Songhoy Blues came on I was smiling, and the smile did not leave my face until after they left the stage. This was such joy bringing and life affirming music. It was superb. I was struck by their youth and vitality. Vibrant, energetic and so much fun to watch play. Usually there are times at a gig when I want to close my eyes and absorb it all, but I couldn’t tonight. There was just too much to see on the stage. The gurning and grinning drummer, the lost in the moment guitarist, the cool as funk bass player and the frantic dancing of the singer. They were having so much fun up there on that stage that you couldn’t help but get swept up in it.

I was dancing, I was smiling and I was feeling so much love and energy from the band and crowd. This was a winter warmer of a gig. It was funky. It was loud. It was groovy. It was downright down and dirty in places. The bass and the drum vibrated my chest and the guitar left me in awe. Imagine if The Funk Brothers had gotten together with James Brown and Jimmy Hendrix to form a supergroup, but they had been raised in Africa and you might be approaching what Songhoy Blues play. Its funk, rock, blues with soul and ska, all backed with African rhythms. They are amazing.

Standout tracks would have to include their most well known, Bamako, Mali Nord and the track they made with Iggy Pop, Sahara, although to be honest they were all fabulous. There was a song dedicated to refugees, another One Colour about bringing us together. I don’t speak French, the language of the lyrics, but I speak bass and guitar and drums. We were united tonight by music. Music binds and draws us close. Through music we make friends. We sustain ourselves and each other. So much of 40 gigs was and is about exactly that. To have it made musical flesh tonight was special.

Janine and I had been talking about a top 10 gig list before tonight. This was a top 10 gig. It was within a few tracks. It was so joyous and happy and life affirming. On a dull, cold, winters night we were warmed physically and mentally by the music.

Thank you Songhoy Blues, this was a special gig. One I will treasure.

49 gigs. 9 more than target but 1 my heart will remember.