Victoria Wai selects her highlights of 2018!

Top gigs of 2018

Trying to split my gigs of the year to gig-photos of the year was pretty difficult I’ve gone with my gigs of the year with my favourite photos of those gigs (in order of performance).

BRYDE – O’MEARA, LONDON (1st May)

Bryde headlined London’s O’Meara back in May. It slowly filled up but by the time Bryde and her band took to the stage there was hardly any room to move. Fans were out in full force and the ones at the front were singing along admiringly to every word. It was a hot and sweaty affair and the atmosphere was more than perfect.

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ANNA CALVI – BOILER SHOP, NEWCASTLE (3rd Oct)

As lights went down, I dreaded this gig as a photographer, as red light filled the room as did a lot of smoke. For many photographers this is their worst nightmare. I actually love red light but certain reds are not great with photographic technology but the buzz in the room or something clicked and it ended up being one of the best gigs I’ve photographed. Just wish I could have captured the whole night as Anna OWNED that stage outright.

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ARCANE ROOTS with Bryde – THINK TANK, NEWCASTLE (22nd Oct)

I have photographed this venue a few times but when Arcane Roots headlined in October there was something different. They brought in their own lighting rig which definitely gave the venue an extra edge. This was the penultimate night to Arcane Roots farewell gig and many AR friends had gathered. There was something special in the air and even the support act Bryde was given a special reception from the crowd. By the time AR came to the stage the atmosphere was like nothing I had experienced in this venue. Smoke and blue lights were the main effects and we were all in awe of the performance we were given.

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LORD HURON with Malena Zavala – SAGE, GATESHEAD (28th Oct)

Lord Huron only came to my attention because I was familiar with the support act Malena Zavala and it was a blessing to see not only her on that stage as both acts were magical on that stage. The acoustics, the lights, the smoke, the crowd – everything that happened under that roof that night was pure magic and it is hard to describe. It was a case of ‘you had to be there.’

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ESTRONS – THINK TANK, NEWCASTLE (3rd Nov)

When hype is so big before I get myself familiar with musicians I generally shy away for a bit and let the dust settle a bit but something told me I had to see what Estrons were about and all I can say of this is do BELIEVE THE HYPE. There was so much energy from the get-go and the crowd fed off it and sometimes being amongst a crowd ready to mosh can be a scary experience (especially with camera kit) but I wanted to be amongst it on this night. Seriously, if you are not familiar with Estrons either it could be one of the best things you witness live.

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PAUL SMITH – MOTH CLUB, LONDON  (28th Nov)

I wasn’t meant to be at this gig but the other gig I was meant to attend fell through but it was the best thing that could have happened. I’ve heard of Maximo Park, the band that Paul Smith headlines, and have seen them a few times but nothing quite prepared me for this. Fans had gathered in high spirits and we were even treated to a lovely support slot by Kathryn Williams. Paul Smith and his band ran through songs from all of Smith’s solo material and we were even treated to Maximo Park songs in the encore. I went in with an open mind and left more than impressed as that was a stellar performance that it didn’t matter I was cutting it close for the last tube!

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THE WANDERING HEARTS – RIVERSIDE, NEWCASTLE (3rd Dec)

There was a different vibe at the Riverside that I have not felt for a while and it was definitely down to The Wandering Hearts. A few familiar faces were in the crowd from a previous festival performance in the area and other friends had gathered as they had recently heard them harmonise on the radio. Spirits were high – singalongs in the right places and silence as the harmonies washed over us and warmed the venue and the dreary night up outside. I saw ‘part one’ of the Wild Silence tour back in March in London. The difference in a few months is that the backing band had been stripped down and if I am honest it actually worked a lot better. I have witnessed The Wandering Hearts in student bars, at festivals and a few other amazing venues in England and they can set any venue alight with their harmonies and personalities.

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SNOW PATROL – METRO ARENA, NEWCASTLE (5th Dec)

Lights, lights and lights. That is all you need to know about a Snow Patrol gig. Showtime came and the Arena was fuelled in excitement. The visuals that appeared on the screen, stage and around the Arena was a spectacle and the band fronted by Gary Lightbody gave their all. You could feel the excitement from the five piece and the crowd sang back the big anthems giving you goosebumps. Nothing could be faulted even when Gary’s falsetto couldn’t quite be reached – in fact it made it more of a show.

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CLOVES –  ISLINGTON ASSEMBLY HALL, LONDON (11th Dec)

There is something spectacular about Islington Assembly Hall and it suited Cloves to a tee! Thankfully the acoustics in this beautiful venue were amazing and the sound engineers were on form as a few people were a bit too highly intoxicated. I’ve got nothing against people having a good time, that’s why I go to gigs and besides ‘niggles’ on reflection this was one of the best gigs I have ever attended. Wherever you stood, if you had Cloves in your view you could feel the emotion in her voice. If you didn’t have her in your view you could feel the emotion. It was a simple set but it was a stunning set.

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ALL SAINTS – O2 ACADEMY, NEWCASTLE (12th Dec)

A night of nostalgia is what this night was. Memories of my late teen years and a university exchange that took me to San Francisco came flooding back. You definitely need the right crowd and the right sound under the rood of the o2 in Newcastle and this night proved that most things were right with All Saints. Most of the back catalogue hits were performed as well as new ones. Even the cheesiest of crowd participation came with Never Ever but it worked. The staging was simple and the backing band were on point and Shaz, Nic, Nat and Mel had crowd interaction on point filling fans hearts with joy and a night to remember.

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Top albums of 2018

I left my Albums of 2018 to the last minute as I wanted to let the year run its course rather than a surprise addition in the week before Christmas as you just never know what surprises may crop up. Most of the albums that stood out to me this year were debut albums – so much talent creeping through giving the ‘big names’ a run for their money.

It was hard selecting who would take the top spot, so the best way for me to do this is to list them in order of their release:

THE WANDERING HEARTS – WILD SILENCE:

A whirlwind of a story of how Tim, Tara, AJ and Chess came to be The Wandering Hearts and the story led to this fine debut of an album back in February. Compared to Fleetwood Mac and The Civil Wars and dubbed into the Americana genre, this foursome bring harmonies that tug on the heartstrings and lyrics of love to ‘chasing down the thunder…trying to find a spark.’ Wild Silence is a fine debut album that has seen them wow crowds in the UK to Nashville and Memphis and winning the The Americana Music Association UK ‘Bob Harris Emerging Artist Award.’ Look out 2019 The Wandering Hearts are ready for the world.

MARTHA FFION – SUNDAY BEST:

Her dreamy vocals and poetic lyrics for this release in March lived up to the 2016 release of Wallflower that first got me hooked on Martha Ffion. I had literally turned on the radio and was hunting down who Martha was and have followed her music closely. I admitted to her that ‘her music wasn’t something that I normally listen to but there was something that drew me to her.’ Sunday Best revisits some of her early stuff and some of it like No Applause is heavier in sound but it works. Two years after discovering Martha and listening to the album for the hundredth or so time something clicked in my brain that makes me feel her vocals are on the level of Nina Persson of The Cardigans whether that will swing it for you or not as this album still is amazing because of Martha Ffion.

BRYDE – LIKE AN ISLAND:

Bryde missed my radar until her second release EP2 in 2016 and as soon as heard Wait I was hooked. I then got to see her live in November of that year in a basement bar. Just a girl with a guitar and an attentive crowd. I got to see and hear the mellow tracks to the full-blown angst. Her debut album Like An Island is this with added band on most tracks, which is how she performs now and then too. Like An Island is raw and emotional with lyrics that can cut deep, like a friend giving you a reality check.  Play the album anywhere and go see some of the tracks performed live. Just get some of Bryde’s music in your life as it ‘feels like euphoria.’

MALENA ZAVALA – ALISO:

Dreamy and mellow is how I would describe Malena Zavala’s debut. One to put on your ultimate chill-out lists but it is more complex than that. It captures and hypnotises your soul as delicate vocals pull you into the lush melodies of a dreamscape. Aliso as an album is somewhat psychedelic in places and is only a taster of what Malena can do and seeing her live a few times over this past year and a half there is definitely more to come but until then loop this as many times as you can and lose yourself.

LAUREL – DOGVIOLET:

That streaming site put Laurel on my radar. I finally caught her live as a support act then on her second Newcastle visit, which is where I picked up her debut Dogviolet – so not only did I get to see the album performed before my very eyes but I ended up taking the album home with me and it stayed with me and in the car for some time. It is the perfect driving soundtrack. We were coming into the dark autumn nights by the time Dogviolet came into my hands but it felt like I could have been driving along the West Coast of California as it has that California sound to me and her vocals definitely lend itself to that.

LYLA FOY – BIGGER BRIGHTER:

I was surprised when Lyla Foy brought out Bigger Brighter as I kept seeing her as part of other bands so when I saw this released I knew it had to be put in my record collection and my only non-debut album of 2018 to make this list! There is something about the way she harmonises with her delicate touch over the lyrics that are somewhat in the mystical fantasy world almost Stevie Nicks like. Over the few years I’ve been following Lyla’s work it has ever occurred to me until this album, or maybe it is just in this album, that she has elements of Kate Bush in her music too. But strip away these comparisons and make room for this in your collection especially We’re Different, Bigger Brighter, With The Night and thumping Try My Heart.

CLOVES – ONE BIG NOTHING:

Everybody’s Son was released in 2015 on the EP XIII. It is one of my all-time fave songs. It is minimalistic and shows off Cloves vocal ability. Cloves has been making her name quietly – a few showcases here and there and a tour with Michael Kiwanuka in the States then her album was released – in the UK it came on the 28th September. This was probably my most anticipated album of the year and it was a wait worth waiting for. When I first heard California Numb I was a little disappointed as it didn’t have that XIII feel that I totally fell for so on hearing California Numb for the first time it took me by surprise. I then started from scratch and it made me realise that having Don’t You Wait and Frail Love alongside these harder hitting tracks just shows how versatile Cloves can be and she does it with so much conviction. One Big Nothing is an emotional rollercoaster of an album. Her vocals add that extra bonus to what is being delivered. There is something in her voice that I cannot really describe but it is SOMETHING. I recently saw her headline and of that show I wrote, ‘it is REAL, it is LIFE.’ This is the album too. This is what makes it the stand out ‘album of the year,’ for me but all the other albums in my list are so strong too that now and then I let it become ‘best with the best.’

MIDDLE KIDS – LOST FRIENDS:

Middle Kids came out of nowhere for me. They were put on a list of gigs we could photograph/review. I had already had a lot on so needed a break then someone I followed since last summer was billed as a support act so days before the gig I got back on the list to photograph and review the show and listened to their music on that streaming site and kicked myself for not getting to hear of Middle Kids sooner. Lost Friends has a deeper feel to the sounds that has your feet tapping. In fact, those lyrics are deep and if you let yourself open to listening to the lyrics and then feel the emotions with the music on top you realise the true potential of Middle Kids. Lost Friends feels classic and timeless too and a top addition into my Best Of 2018.

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