As the saying goes, “You can’t download a live musical experience” which goes some way to explaining why many of us spend an unhealthy amount of time packed into small sweatboxes or have our nether regions pressed against crash barriers or just stand in a rain-drenched field with mud up to our armpits. There is nothing, literally nothing, to replicate the electricity which courses through every sinew when we witness something truly magical and unique on stage. Here at GIITTV, we have all made long journeys, had ludicrously late nights and sunk way too much over-priced and tepid Tuborg but we do it because it’s part of our DNA. As the ghastly 2016 finally shuffles off like an unwelcome Uncle on Boxing Day, our editorial team and key writers have temporarily put aside the egg nog in order to share their live highlights of the previous 12 months. If the list below demonstrates anything, it’s that we’ve all been pretty damn fortunate.
Bill Cummings, Editor
Islet – Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff
Invading the stage through the crowd looking like extras from an episode of Mork and Mindy bedecked in silver smocks, and wielding wind chimes, for two hours Islet are an idiosyncratic joy to behold, simultaneously challenging and propulsive, dizzying and affecting, brutal and boldly brilliant. Anchored by brothers Mark (tonight on keys and sparring vocals) and John Thomas (drums/bass), Alex Williams (bass/guitar) joined by Emma Daman (on vocals and drums tonight), they are a revolving group of players and vocals with no fixed role. The sheer gleeful way they attacked each song allows space and imaginations free reign, from the way they break free from any role: breaking down any barrier between themselves and the crowd to constantly switching instruments and chanting vocal sparring duty. . Their songs vividly depict why Islet are possessors of a boundless excitement and magical transportation, as Islet pushed their boundaries of sound yet further and invade our minds teleporting us to another place.
John Cale – Festival of Voice, Cardiff
This wasn’t an evening of hits, but a special occasion and a memorable performance because of it. Save for a rendition of ‘Sunday Morning’ tonight John Cale doesn’t give us what we want but what he thinks we need. You wouldn’t expect anything else from the man who left Wales for the US in the 1960s, joined avant-garde art rock legends The Velvet Underground and became a figure whose musical and artistic influence would last in his homeland.
Now dipping into his 70s, decked in black, his angular withered features like the jagged edges of the black forest mountain bordered by hawkish grey hair. John Cale is like an anchor in an ever-revolving cast. He was framed and backlit by a screen that emerges from endless darkness of the background, depicting appropriate snippets and video montages, flanked by choirs, string quartets and his own band who fracture his solo work and represent it in modern, ominous, masterful tones. He ends the night stood shoulder to shoulder with his entire cast of players and performers, with a Welsh sheep clutched in one hand patting his heart with the other. Nobody who left was in any doubt that they’d witnessed one of Wales’s most unique, challenging, elemental and enduring voices.
Happy Meals – From Now On, Cardiff
Glasgow couple Happy Meals were the unexpected show-stealers at From Now On festival early in the year, lighting up Chapter’s theatre space in a whirl of rave pumping beats colliding with the sweetly unique Franco-Scots melodies. Their surprising notes scaled the register in a manner reminiscent of early Bjork and Kate Bush. Singer Suzanne Rodden was a true star. She started off behind the decks and danced down to the front of the stage, invading the crowd for dance-offs on excellent cuts like ‘Electronic Disco’ and the enrapturing ‘Le Voyage’. A collision of heady melodies, Happy Meals hit the sweet spot between dance four-to-the-floor beats, infectious samples and artfully seductive melodies that intrigued and enticed. An absolute marvel to watch.
Simon Godley, Deputy Editor
Daniel Romano & The Trilliums – The Crescent, York
Daniel Romano may well sing knowingly about the staple diet of many a top country tune – relationship breakdown, heartache and trauma – but backed here tonight by his stellar band he proved exactly why his music cannot just be pigeon-holed as mere modern country. Traversing a range of influences from The Rolling Stones to Lou Reed and George Jones to Gram Parsons, Romano showed just why he will never be a part of what he refers to as the “soft generation”, an age in which art is routinely diluted to a point where it runs the risk of being homogenised. Daniel Romano lives in another musical world altogether. It was an absolute honour and privilege to be part of it tonight.
Souad Massi – Howard Assembly Room, Leeds
This was the only UK date the celebrated Algerian musician Souad Massi – often cited as one of North Africa’s greatest female singers – played outside of London on her then tour. Performing alongside her fellow countryman, the incredible percussionist Rabah Khalfa, the musical connection between the two was nothing short of telepathic as they effortlessly merged traditional Algerian folk influences with a far more contemporary Western sound. Massi’s songs are imbued with love, bravery and protest against the savage intolerance that she sees all around her in the world today. Through the eloquent beauty of her voice she reminded us of the creativity and acceptance that was prevalent in previous Muslim generations.
Tindersticks – Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
Formed in Nottingham almost a quarter of a century ago, Tindersticks have travelled a considerable artistic distance since that time. In the first half of the show the quintet took us on a mesmerising eight-song journey past some of their key staging posts, whilst after the interval against a backdrop of specially commissioned, art house films they performed their 10th album The Waiting Room in its complete and wonderful entirety. A compelling three-song encore of ‘Show Me Everything’, ‘This Fire of Autumn’ and ‘A Night So Still’ – also drawn from their illustrious back catalogue – concluded what was a thrilling odyssey powered by great creative vision and a huge imaginative freedom.
Eugenie Johnson, News Editor
Kamasi Washington – Green Man, Wales
Being 20 minutes late to the stage due to technical issues did nothing to dampen the intensely positive spirit that jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington brought to Green Man 2016. The soulful tunes from his aptly-titled album The Epic brought people closer together with their rip-roaring good vibes, and pretty much everyone was blown away by the performance of Washington’s dad. It was a family affair, with Washington dedicating one track to his late grandmother, preaching her simple message of togetherness. In an ultimately divisive year, his powerful ode to unity through music and words was the perfect antidote.
PJ Harvey – SECC, Glasgow
Sometimes the simplest of ideas can be the most powerful. Alongside one of the tightest bands you’re ever likely to hear, PJ Harvey’s gig in Glasgow wasn’t filled with flashing lights or fancy effects. Just a wall that slowly ascended at the start and came tumbling down symbolically at the end. In-between those times, it was ultimately about the music, and the intense statements that accompany her last two albums, Let England Shake and this year’s The Hope Six Demolition Project. Hearing Harvey pour all her ire into ‘Last Living Rose’ at the encore’s end proved to be deeply poignant.
Father John Misty – Sage Gateshead
Father John Misty is a showman. He throws himself around the stage, keeps falling to his knees and sings to the sky dramatically. He also likes a bit of sarcasm and irony, so it was no surprise that he backed some of the more country-leaning tracks from I Love You, Honeybear with red, white and blue spotlights and a bit of razzle-dazzle. But that he can move from wink-wink nudge-nudge references to the strange flashiness of country to a pitch-perfect rendition of Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Closer’ is a testament to his talent as a performer. Besides, anyone who leaves the stage to the tune of Drake is, in my book, an instant winner.
Toni-Michelle Spencer, New Music Editor
Counterfeit – King Tut’s, Glasgow
Counterfeit – fronted by Jamie Campbell Bower – are the embodiment of the very thing rock music has been sorely lacking in recently: fire, passion, and grit. Counterfeit have an abundance of all of them. They care about what they do and how they do it – and it shows. Their gigs are always sweaty, loud and ballsy but with a touch or two of real heartfelt sweetness. Easily one of the most exciting bands around.
Single By Sunday – King Tut’s, Glasgow
In short, Single By Sunday are a band that fun things were made for. Sure, they wear their influences on their sleeves, but they still manage to create something bigger and better than the sum of its parts. They take the very best elements of pop – the stuff that makes pop music so great – and combine them with a touch of punk. They look like they’re having a whale of a time and have the crowd eating out of their hands.
Yashin – G2, Glasgow
Yashin began the year with a new album, a short UK tour, and a renewed sense of life and fight in them. They’d been signed and all was good. Fast-forward to the end of the year, barely six months later, and Yashin are no more. This was their last ever gig and it was the perfect send-off. They were livelier than they’ve ever been and they took far too many heart-stopping safety risks; but as final gigs go, it was one that will be remembered by their army of fans.
Anastasia Connor, Festivals Editor
Meilyr Jones – Mountain Stage, Green Man, Wales
By August 2016 I’d seen Meilyr Jones a few times. I knew he was an exceptional showman. I knew part of his live appeal was rooted in his ability to use each venue space in a totally unique way. Each show wasn’t just a gig. It was theatre: every song was an act of a play, with Meilyr as the main protagonist of his own musical drama. However,it was his main stage performance at Green Man that finally convinced me of the scope of his ambition and the scale of his artistic charisma. It wasn’t just the brighter and more obvious tracks. Even the quieter, introspective songs projected the power that captured everyone’s attention within a few bars. Thousands of people were hanging onto his every word and gesture, totally smitten and bewildered. Delivered in a gentle and playful manner, his stage banter was fresh and sharply subversive. He was the centre of gravity, with all eyes set on him. A true pop messiah.
John Cale – Pop Montreal, Canada
Having missed John Cale at the Festival of Voice in Cardiff, I was excited to discover he was playing Pop Montreal. As befitting an iconoclastic genius, he did what was not expected of him: bending and twisting, re-enacting familiar tracks into distant yet recognisable sonic shapes. ‘I’m waiting for the Man’ was injected with a doze of drone and woozy electronics. ‘Hanky Panky Nohow’ became an all-inclusive audience participation performance piece. Private, introspective trauma of ‘Thoughtless Kind’ turned into a defiant, determined march. But the show was also about his warmth and respect for the audience, an increasingly rare quality amongst younger generation of performers.
Anna Meredith – End of the Road, Dorset
Like a sudden gust of wind coming ashore from the ocean, Anna Meredith‘s set was a wild and exhilarating experience that left me breathless and elated. It was akin to peering into the future of music where genre seemed an embarrassingly retrograde concept. It was the sound of freedom and unity, bold and joyful. It was nothing short of revolutionary.
Andy Page, writer
Morrissey– Manchester Arena
The city’s favourite son rolled up in his hometown just under a year after claiming that the Hammersmith Apollo gigs would be his last on British soil. Morrissey devotees, however, weren’t worried about that u-turn, and were just happy that it turned out not to be the case as he rampaged through a triumphant set including favourites including ‘Suedehead’, ‘Every Day Is Like Sunday’ and ‘Irish Blood, English Heart’.‘Speedway’, meanwhile, had the band members swapping places for the last part of the song, Morrissey playing a tambourine while multi-instrumentalist Gustavo Manzur finished the vocals. The Smiths numbers were in scarce supply, but a couple from Meat Is Murder and ‘What She Said’ went down a storm.
Robert Forster – Manchester, Deaf Institute
Appearances from former Go-Between Robert Forster are few and far between these days, and this show was his first in Manchester since 2008. A packed Deaf Institute hung on Forster’s every word as he journeyed through tracks from his recent Songs To Play album, as well as choice cuts from both The Go-Betweens‘and his solo back catalogue. A poignant moment came at the end of the night, when Forster performed ‘Cattle & Cane’, a Go-Betweens song written by his much-missed foil Grant McLennan. “I didn’t write this next song. I wish I did” was Forster’s typically modest introduction to the song, which was performed to devastating effect.
Adam Green – Birmingham, Hare & Hounds
On the back of his newly-released Aladdin film and accompanying soundtrack that was crowdfunded and featured a set made entirely from papier-mâché, Adam Green arrived in Birmingham with a broken hand – this didn’t, however, prevent him from high-fiving the audience with the other one before performing a set made up of Aladdin songs (all new Green compositions) and old favourites such as ‘Gemstones’ and ‘Friends Of Mine’. Green was backed by the fantastic Coming Soon who also filled the support slot. His impressive lack of ego even led to him allowing the band to perform a song on their own mid-set while he sat on the edge of the stage. Another remarkable performance from the man who always sends his audience home sporting ear to ear smiles.
Scott Ramage, writer
Scooter – O2 Academy, Glasgow
It’s good to do things that challenge you. Certainly, getting a ticket to see Scooter was a step outside my own comfort zone: the Eurobosh outfit are tasteless beyond belief. But their KLF references and ability to turn the most unlikely of original sample material into stadium pop was too curious to dismiss. OK, they might just be taking Status Quo songs and putting a donk on them, but a few thousand people singing ‘The Logical Song’ while a pair of models dance beside exploding pyrotechnics and a guitar shooting fireworks was the best dumb fun I had all year.
All Saints – O2 Academy, Glasgow
A cynic might view the latest All Saints comeback as a mere attempt to show Nicole Appleton as a working woman so the divorce courts favour her. But Liam Gallagher’s loss is our gain: ‘Red Flag’ is a classy affair that sounds both contemporary and in character for the girls. If they hated each other last time around, it’s all water under the bridge (sorry), as they worked their way through new material with casual warmth. But it was the hits that showed why fans could look beyond the tabloid stories – and Shaznay Lewis’ face reacting to a word-perfect singalong of ‘Never Ever’ was nothing but sincere.
Lush – Camden Roundhouse, London
Twenty years ago, the drummer for shoegaze heroes Lush Chris Acland tragically committed suicide, and the group disbanded, seemingly against the idea of ever returning. But with Justin Welch (Elastica) to help, the remaining trio took a year out from real life to hit the nostalgia touring circuit. What could have been bittersweet turned into a poignant celebration, with singer Miki Berenyi dedicating the show to Acland. “Don’t think of him at the end. We remember him as he was.” It was the best tribute he could have deserved.
Loz Etheridge, Albums Editor
Future Of The Left – The Flapper, Birmingham
Sometimes, after a year of turmoil, you just want to be with like minded people. Like Future Of The Left. Andy Falkous is not one to pull any punches. The Brexit decision angered many of us. It certainly angered me. It REALLY fucking angered Falkous. An utterly ferocious set, littered with between song rants, mostly against the small minded delusion of that select group of who stood centre stage during the referendum run-up. Fiercely political, but conveyed with such humour that the audience at The Flapper were picking themselves off the floor for most of the evening. Beautiful.
Bruce Springsteen – Ricoh Arena, Coventry
There’s something special about taking your son to his first gig, to see his favourite artist, and Bruce Springsteen, at the Ricoh Arena, did not disappoint. It was a marathon, of course, starting so early that we missed the first couple of songs, but The Boss and his E Streeters generated such radiant joy from the stage that it was impossible not to be infected. ‘Sherry Darling’ was prodigious, ‘Death To My Hometown’ poignantly anthemic, and ‘Born To Run’ a reminder that, well, he WAS. I went home with a very happy six year old.
The Wave Pictures / The Thyme Machine – Spanky Van Dykes, Nottingham
Some of the most memorable gigs, of course, border on surrealism, so a venue with a name like Spanky Van Dykes is always going to have a shot of making the cut. A pre-gig interview with the band at a favourite curry house, where the staff seemed desperate to get a signed photo despite never having heard of them, a hilarious support band, in the shape of The Thyme Machine, and The Wave Pictures, of course, who were thrilling, with David Tattersall’s truly spellbinding guitar licks at the forefront and some unbeatable hooks to boot.
Nick Roseblade, Features Editor
DJ Yoda Presents Stranger Things – Concorde 2, Brighton
DJ Yoda’s mix tapes are legendary. Each one not just showcases Yoda’s mixing dexterity, but also his ability at picking the right song/sample at the right time. So when he released his Stranger Things Mixtape it was a tour-de-force, when he announced he was taking it on the road it was a time for celebration. The evening was an extended version of this mixtape. But as with all Yoda AV sets the images were synched perfectly with the music, but when he started scratching Winona Ryder dialogue we were taking to the Upside Down
Sage Francis and B. Dolan– Together the People Festival, Brighton
The gist of the show was that Francis and Dolan would take turns performing songs, a capella, from their back catalogues until they either ran out of time or got bored and stopped. Luckily for us it was the former. Over the course of their 45 minute set they made us laugh, cry, questioned our place in society, and what that society should really be doing for us.
Morning Smoke\Lunar Quiet\Eyesaw\Beachtable – The Green Door Store, Brighton
This was the most emotional and raw gig of the year. In November, Lunar Quiet’s singer and guitarist Tom Knights died. To celebrate and commemorate his life a night of music was put on. The evening closed when Lunar Quiet, with Morning Smokes singer Milo McNulty, performing the last song the band had written with Knights. After McNulty had sung his verse the band played on with a vacant mic stand in the middle of the stage. Some people cried, some hug in groups, but most stood still and took everything in until the feedbacking amps were turned off and the house lights were turned on.
Dean Mason, Live Editor
The Wonder Stuff – O2 Forum, Kentish Town
Carlsberg don’t do birthdays, but if they ever diversify into the gift market then this is how I want to spend every March 18th please. The Wonder Stuff may be seen as a mere heritage act by some but the quality of their output shows little sign of diminishing and as a live act they remain as ferocious and witty as the first time I saw them back in ’88. Towards the end of the set there is a 20 minute segment of unrelenting hits which is in danger of causing serious structural damage as fellow overweight, bald men bounce for as long as their nicotine filled lungs allow them. The Wonder Stuff create an unapologetic sense of bonhomie, if only the world outside was as spiritually uplifting.
Skinny Lister – O2 Academy, Leicester
In a Venn diagram of musical acts mutually enjoyed by both my wife and myself there sits Skinny Lister. That’s about it. If you’re wondering why on earth a disparate band of folk-punks have made it into my list then clearly you haven’t experienced Skinny Lister live. It’s a raucous, rambunctious, tub-thumping communal gathering featuring love, loss and the occasional shanty all washed down with the ubiquitous flagon of rum. As the evening drew towards its conclusion with ‘Six Whiskies’ I was drunkenly bellowing my undying love for my wife in her ear long before we stumbled out, arm in arm, like newly weds.
Titus Andronicus – The Cookie, Leicester
Ah, the night I started to lose weight; not for any life-improving reason but simply because the basement of the truly wonderful Cookie is not a place to hang out on a hot Summer’s evening. During a blisteringly incendiary 45 minute set from New Jersey punks Titus Andronicus, I shed half my body weight in sweat alone. Small talk is kept to a minimum, the amps are turned up to eleventy-stupid and I am hit with a slab of raw energy, the likes of which I rarely get to witness these days. By the time I pour myself out of the venue I am desperate for a drink and a belt; I have to check the set list to see what songs they have covered as my ears have gone into hibernation. Savagely beautiful.
Photo credit: Paul Reno