Neil Ainger selects his top 15 albums of 2018 – FEATURE

Neil Ainger selects his top 15 albums of 2018 – FEATURE

Neil Ainger selects his top 15 albums of 2018!

#15 Judas Priest – Firepower

I would never have imagined that this would make it on to any end of year list, nevermind my own. Why should it? Why should the 18th studio album from a band formed in 1970 have any place on an end of year list in 2018? I would expect it from only the laziest of reviewers.

I heard the rumblings before I experienced them for myself. I heard the talk of the new Judas Priest record and how good it was. I was recommended it once or twice. I didn’t particularly take much notice. I mean, by ‘good’ they mean it wasn’t as bad as they thought it would be or it was acceptable for an 18th run around the block. I had no reason to believe otherwise.

Firepower was unexpected and unprecedented. There is a passion and a fire in Rob Halford’s voice that has no business still being there but it is oh so impressive that it is. The impact really is immediate and the title track is fresh, it’s exciting and it’s invigorating.

There’s not a lot that even needs to be said about this record. If you know Priest then you know what it sounds like and if you don’t then I’d say that ship has long sailed. However please do not underestimate this record. Glenn Tipton and Richie Faulkners guitars sound slick and untamed, Halford’s vocals are as potent as they have ever been and I say with a completely straight face that Firepower stands shoulder to shoulder with any and every album Judas Priest have ever recorded.

#14 Winterfylleth – The Hallowing of Heirdom

While it is most certainly a significant departure, UK black metal heavyweights Winterfylleths sidestep into acoustic folk also doesn’t feel like much of a surprise.

The Manchester band have always incorporated folk elements into their atmospheric and melodic brand of black metal and, with the release of the debut album from guitarist Dan Capps folk project Wolcensmen in 2016, this was perhaps the next logical step.

The transition is just seamless. The acoustic guitars are crisp and clean, the strings are heart-wrenching and divine and the moody, chanting vocals cloak everything in a surreal and warm glow. I can speak from experience when I tell you that there is no better companion than this album full of songs about English folklore for travelling through this beautiful country with the landscape falling past the window.

#13 Conjurer – Mire

“Brady Deeprose (guitars/vocals) has been quoted as saying, of their approach to making the record “Once you start thinking about songwriting in terms of genre, you’re automatically setting up barriers between parts” and this outlook is really laid bare. The band visit death, doom, sludge, black and beyond while some post-rock-style sections blend the frequent and abrupt mood swings of the record together seamlessly. At times the resulting sonic assault sparkles in an atmospheric glow, while always being destined to viscously return to depths of misanthropic bleakness and Converge-like violence.

Believe the acclaim and embrace the hype because Conjurer have created a debut album way beyond their years and the scary thing is that this band is only going to grow stronger with every show they play, and unless they show any signs of slowing down then the sky could really be the limit in the coming months and years.”

Read my full review here

#12 – Geomancer – Khatt Al-Raml

“The Geordie doom trio does not exactly shatter genre limitations entirely nor provide the most diversified and complex record you are likely to ever hear, but they do refuse to be labelled easily or at least accurately without doing them something of a disservice. Plenty of fans of stoner rock, post-rock, doom and sludge will find more than enough to hold their interest here and if we can put genres and labels to one side for a moment, hopefully most of them will be able to agree on one thing, and that is that with a debut album such as this, Geomancer may just be a band worthy of paying close attention to in the coming months and years.”

Read my full review here

#11 Desert Storm – Sentinels

“The growth in the band can be measured mostly by the track Kingdom of Horns. Beginning delicately with clean, ethereal vocals, the near 8 minutes that follow are an epic, melodic journey to every corner of the band’s musical make-up and back again, a journey the likes of which Desert Storm has never truly taken before.

Sentinels is the bands most accomplished, most skilled and, simply put, best record to date.”

Read my full review here

#10 Weedpecker – III

Polish band Weedpecker may, on the surface, appear to be a predictable outfit but in reality, their third album has proven to have depths that may be somewhat unexpected.

III is a space-rock record with laid-back and ethereal vocals that support some long psychedelic jams. Where the five tracks excel is in their patience and the space they are afforded in which to organically grow and expand. With such freedom to roam the band are able to expand, experiment and build. Every eruption of hazy, colourful, psychedelic fury is all the more impactful for its otherwise tempered pace that sets this band aside from some of stoner rocks more predictable and recyclable artists.

#9 Rolo Tomassi – Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It

Never a band to provide the expected or the straightforward, Rolo Tomassi have hopped between genres for over ten years now to the point where you never quite know what they have up their sleeves for their next outing. With their fifth full-length album, they have perhaps offered up their finest yet.

Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It begins with restful, uncomplicated melody. The vocals of Eva Spence are tender and warm. For those not familiar with the band’s history, all signs point to a lush, affectionate and toothless foray into some kind of dream-pop-tingled college rock record. By the third track, Rituals, however, the teeth are certainly baring with a guttural scream and a mathy, technical and ferocious clash of drums and guitars.

For the 53 minute duration, the album battles contrasting styles and takes unexpected and confusing turns through math-rock, prog-rock, hardcore, post-metal and punk and always finds a way to bring any violent momentum to a sudden halt as well as jolt an instrumental section back to life without a moments notice. Rolo Tomassi make gutsy and brave decisions and have the ability to ensure that every single one of them pays off.

#8 Midas Fall – Evaporate

Sometimes it takes a little while for a band to really find their feet and that’s how I feel about Edinburgh’s Midas Fall. There doesn’t need to be anything amiss with a bands output, it just takes that one record to exceed all expectations and make you realise what they were capable of all along. The bands 4th full-length record Evaporate makes such a statement and dropped with a rippling boom in April.

With its roots in ethereal post-rock and a backbone of synths-and-piano-laden progressive rock, Elizabeth Heaton’s voice is beautifully strewn amongst a delicate and graceful tide of elegant melodies and, at times, softly swirling guitars, that can lie dormant and peaceful whilst always feeling dangerously at risk of violently crashing ashore – yet never quite doing so.

#7 Floex and Tom Hodge – A Portrait of John Doe

There are collaborations that are driven by demand, others as a result of a lack of individual potency. Floex (a.k.a Tomáš Dvořák) and Tom Hodge however, are a partnership seemingly made in heaven and the result is a focused and effectual project that was three years in the making.

The piano-driven, inventive, glitchy electronic ambience is beautifully arranged with the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra and transformed into an avante-garde, orchestral, modern-classical crossover on a huge, soaring scale.

Very ambitious a project it may be but when crafted over time with such obvious care and consideration, A Portrait of John Doe is an endearing and hopeful record full of beautiful arrangements and compelling positivity.

#6 Jo Quail – Exsolve

Oh, Jo Quail. Do the words really exist to accurately describe her ingenuity? After witnessing her astonishing support set for Mono earlier in the year, I sat down to absorb her latest triumph, Exsolve.

Armed with a heavy-duty electric cello and an array of pedals, watching her loop and layer melodies and harmonies into gradually ascending, grander compositions is nothing short of transfixing and with her fifth album she has truly outdone herself.

Assisted with guest performances from guitarists Nik Sampson and Dan Capp as well as vocalist Lucie Dehli, Exsolve is possibly her most left-field and inventive work to date. Classically trained but anything but conventional, Jo explores epic, symphonic pomp with as much ease and expertise as minimal, downtrodden, depressive industrial and post-metal. This is a record that is perfectly accessible while being so intricate and demanding of close attention as to be extremely difficult to completely and appropriately absorb every vital and stunning moment.

#5 Khemmis – Desolation

Denver doom quartet Khemmis followed up 2016s Hunted in June with the aptly titled Desolation. While Hunted and its predecessor Absolution could arguably be more neatly filed away as doom metal, Desolation is not quite so easy to categorise. It is, at its core, still a riff-heavy traditional doom album but the band definitely take more of a shift toward conventional heavy metal.

Dominated by crisp and clean emotional vocals, chugging, thunderous riffs and plenty of guitar solo’s the band channel the energy and flamboyance of NWOBHM-era bands while injecting blackened moments of aggressive growls and bleakness.

While certainly taking risks musically, Khemmis have managed to find a comfortable balance where Desolation seems to stay true enough to their two previous releases that garnered so much attention so as not to alienate, yet took enough strides forward as to keep things interesting.

#4 Bast – Nanoångström

2014s debut record, Spectres, from Londoners Bast, was a shot of adrenaline. It’s meaty, ugly doom/sludge was fresh and inventive and it was a record that really stood out that year. After a long four-year wait, during which time they would head out on the road with some of the genres big hitters such as Conan and Pallbearer, Bast returned with Nanoångström and in doing so became a heavyweight of the genre in their own right.

The record is divided into six chapters of long and experimental works that dance expertly between genres, from brooding doom, to fierce sludge, to atmospheric black metal. Never becoming tired or lazy, each sudden and explosive shift in direction and tempo feels essential and pivotal. The instrumentation, which is the albums greatest strength, is gleaming and shimmering and backs up every move it makes, no matter how optimistic or unexpected.

#3 Grave Lines – Fed Into the Nihilist Engine

“The record is sludge metal on a grander, Amenra-style scale. It is intelligent doom metal that is measured and never repetitive. It is dark neo-folk that probes at the most dismal of human emotions. It is bleak and misanthropic, it is cloaked in misery and yet it allows for brief but frequent moments of gleaming light. There can be beauty in darkness too, if you choose to look for it.”

Read my full review here

#2 Earthless – Black Heaven

“This is a very different Earthless and the changes are very welcome.

It certainly isn’t a case of out with the old and in with the new. Earthless, at their core, remain a tripped-out space rock band and Mitchell still wields his guitar with a swirling, abstract ferocity, however Black Heaven more clearly embraces a number of “classic” and blues rock influences and a more conventional approach with defined and organised choruses and verses.”

Read my full review here

#1 Jon Hopkins – Singularity

Enclosed in complete darkness, curtains drawn, alone and eyes closed I have pushed play on an album time and time again since its release and immediately felt at ease. From the very first beats of Singularity, time has seemingly slowed to the crawl of a much more manageable pace. I have been able to feel tension leaving my body and fears dissipate. It is a powerful sensation and something I experience less frequently as I age. That unique, emotional connection that I can make only to music. Music can make us happy, it can make us sad, it can inspire and motivate. It can heal and repair. It is the latter that has tied me to this record this year, as if I were desperately clinging to it like a life raft until the storm can be weathered. It is not just a record I have become a fan of but one I have depended on during the most stressful and traumatic year of my life.

From his humble beginnings playing keys for Imogen Heap in 1998, collaborating with Brian Eno and touring the world with Coldplay, Jon Hopkins journey to this, his fifth solo record, has been one of twists and turns. When it seemed as though his career as a solo artist may never truly get off the ground, Hopkins could have easily found himself earning a solid living as a producer. This could have even proven to be a fruitful path to take. Those first beats of Singularity therefore are an immediate relief.

Hopkins makes very grounding and human music, taking sharp turns from energetic techno and percussive IDM to joyful, gentle piano music. The lead single from the record, Emerald Rush, is a euphoric and sparkling floor-filler. Neon Pattern Drum is driven by ferocious, glitchy beats. The real beauty in Singularity however, is it’s rapid ascension followed by it’s gradual and steady decline into a minimal and transfixing state of beautiful solo piano, as contained in the unwinding Echo Dissolve and the perfectly tempered Recovery which plays out the record. This is a record that does not simply end but slowly winds down to a complete halt and, for me, the journey is one of tranquillity that is worth the ride time and time again.

Gav Wyatt 2018 music roundup – FEATURE

Gav Wyatt 2018 music roundup – FEATURE

Gav Wyatt selects his highlights of 2018!

2018… What a year! I joined Blank Slate right at the end of 2017, accepted into something which was a personal stepping up in levels for myself. I’d previously cut my gig photography teeth working with the local charity Oxjam across the Northeast covering small gigs and the festival they hold in October, but Blank Slate was an opportunity to move up a gear and I wasn’t going to say no!

Top gig photos of 2018

My end of year review mostly focuses on the images I’ve captured from the gigs I’ve attended, I didn’t move into the world of reviews until right at the end of the year with Sumo Cyco and whilst I’ve only managed to actually get to eight gigs but it feels like so much more, so lets begin.

Don Broco – 19th February – Northumbria University

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My first introduction into ‘the pit’, and what an introduction! me and four other photographers clambering over each other for position all trying to capture the best angle. I was nervous if I’m honest, to begin with but once the band came on stage you can’t help but to fall in love with your position and Enjoy the show. The band themselves played to a young crowd with an energetic frontman filled with a dazzling light show which included everything the crowd came to see them for.

Belly – 14th June – Whitley Bay Playhouse

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90’s indie band Belly visited the northeast and played in front of a sell out crowd at the Whitley Bay Playhouse, another first for me for venues. A good crowd, Mostly middle-aged saw belly perform music from the 90’s, you could feel the sense of nostalgia in the air and the band performed a well-rehearsed set which you could tell they had done a thousand times before interacting well with the crowd.

There was a small hiccup when Tanya dDonellystopped the show with an issue with her monitor which she thought she’d fixed only to stop everything a further two times until she knew it was perfect, I liked that touch and the crowd gave her and the band all the patience they needed to get it right to continue.

Pussy Riot – 21st August – Newcastle Riverside

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Pussy Riot, famous for all the right or wrong reasons, depending on your opinion, arrived in Newcastle just after performing at the Edinburgh Fringe. I didn’t know what to expect with this but what the crowd got was a wonderful piece of performance art centred around the performance drawn from band founder Maria Alyokhina’s memoir; Riot Days, about her imprisonment in the Gulag following a protest action in 2012 in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.

Rudimental – 19th October – Newcastle O2 Academy

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A band that’s been together now for eight years brought their drum and bass act to the Newcastle Academy, a step up in size for venues for me, if I’m completely honest I thought I had struggled with this one photography wise however the band were as good as they’d sound in your living room and the crowd loved them, they got everything they came to see.

Glasvegas – 24th October – Boiler Shop

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The Boiler Shop! A stunning venue. Filled with a two-tone light show and the haunting melodies of Glasvegas on the 10th anniversary of their debut album ‘Glasvegas’. The band were sublime

Soul ll Soul – 4th November – Sage Gateshead

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Soul ll soul arrived in Gateshead to perform for the thirty-year anniversary tour, thirty years on from Back to Life and the band still sounded just as good. A night for many to reminisce on where they were thirty years ago with the crowd mostly dancing along, finishing the set with Back to Life.

Jon Hopkins – 18th November – Boiler Shop

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Without question my gig of the year, I had been introduced to Hopkins earlier in the year by a good friend and I was blown away with what I heard. So when I heard that he would be making his way into Newcastle for a Gig I had to go and I was not disappointed accompanied by a stunning display of visuals projected onto the screen behind Hopkins his heavy bass and electronic synths echoed and permeated through the boiler shop crowd. If you haven’t seen the review on Blank slate then check it out because no amount of what I say will ever match it.

Sumo Cyco – 3rd December –  Newcastle University

Finishing the year with the Canadian Punk metal band Sumo Cyco, My first review of the year, and having never had the chance to see this band perform all I can say is that I’d jump at the chance to see them again, Skye Sweetnam leading the line of the four-piece band that were providing support for the headliners CKY, a perfect finish to a great year being able to work with some great people!

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Victoria Wai 2018 music roundup – FEATURE

Victoria Wai 2018 music roundup – FEATURE

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.

Gordon Armstrong 2018 music roundup – FEATURE

Gordon Armstrong 2018 music roundup – FEATURE

2018… what a year!!

I’ve chosen my favourite photos of the year, mostly for what they mean to me rather than their “photographic prowess” so to speak. It’s been a funny old year in my personal life but one constant thing that has been a positive throughout (apart from the wife family and friends, obviously) is live music. Whether it’s a local band playing to a bunch of mates or a field of thousands I have had an absolute ball at these events

Top 15 photos

These are in no particular order as I really can’t do that when there are so many different aspects sizes and genres to each one.

Groundculture – Think Tank Newcastle. This was the ep launch night and was absolute carnage! The lads have gone strength to strength since this getting great support slots and reviews. I love this image as it sums up the madness of the night

Elrow – Live from Times Square Newcastle. I was really out of my comfort zone going along to this as I don’t really know the dance scene at all. This was a huge outdoor event and I had a blast once there despite the weather! Interactive event with dancers, stilt walkers etc huge production with stuff happening right through the day whilst DJs kept the throng dancing away in the rain.


The Stranglers/Therapy? O2 Academy Newcastle. An absolutely fantastic double bill, I couldn’t have been happier shooting this!


Dave Hillyards Rocksteady 7 – Think Tank Newcastle. This was one of those gigs that was always going to be good but surpassed expectations! The combination of Slackers Sax man Hillyard and the gravelly desert rock vocal of Sean Wheeler came together so well to bring a night of summery ska and dancehall vibes to the toon


Kaiser Chiefs and Vintage Trouble – Hardwick Live. Possibly my biggest outdoor event this year I love these two images Kaiser Chiefs frontman Ricky Wilson totally telegraphed the jump having stood on the drum kit a good verse and a half everyone in the pit kinda stood poised waiting but I think some may have got bored as I was expecting the jump shot in everyone’s reviews but didn’t see any! Even Tees Life website nicked it for their online feature haha! Vintage Trouble of course always deliver live and make for great photos but I love this one of Ty over the lip of the stage staring straight down the lens.


Mastersystem – The Cluny Newcastle. The tragic loss of Scott this year affected so many of my friends it was difficult to even finish editing the photos for a while. I chose this one as it summed up that night of joy and laughter at one of the years best gigs (and album releases).


Random Hand – Think Tank Newcastle. Random Hand were kind of adopted by Newcastle a long time ago their brand of ska punk was welcomed by all of us who loved that scene. After a bit of a hiatus, it was fantastic to get them back to their second home and finally get a shot of Robin flying which wasn’t just a passing foot or backside

Little Steven – Whitley Bay Playhouse. Legend Steve Van Zandt brought a 14 piece band to the theatre and smashed out a massive set of soul blues rock mixing covers and original material giving the seaside venue a feel of a night at something like the Apollo in Harlem at its height !


Sam Fender – Think Tank, Hit The North Festival – Sam was the surprise guest opener of the HTN festival and you could see then that this lad is going to be absolutely huge! The venue was packed at midday for him and he killed it! Arena level shows won’t be that far away from the way this year has gone for him.


Benjamin Booker – Boiler Shop Newcastle. Opening up for soul legend Mavis Staples Ben was fantastic. His mix of gospel, soul and punk made for one of my albums of 2017 and seeing him again live made it even better.


The Wildhearts – O2 Academy Newcastle. I love this shot of Ginger it captures all of his enthusiasm in what he does and loves! Got some lovely feedback from him and the band about my photos from this gig too


Coheed and Cambria – O2 Academy Newcastle. I’ve chosen this one as it’s one of those “you just never know” shots! I very nearly deleted it on first glance then tinkered a bit with the edit and thought it looked ok. I posted it and got some of the best comments I’ve ever had.


Dan Reed Network – Riverside Newcastle. I love black and White I think it can bring out detail that can sometimes be missed in colour – this one in particular the raw emotion in Dan just didn’t have the same effect in its original version


Arcane Roots – Think Tank Newcastle. This was the bands farewell tour and for me a full circle with the band as I first saw them in this same venue 5 years ago. This shot is of the last notes of the last song they’ll ever perform there and the image just resonated with me


Alice In Chains – Leeds O2 Academy. My first ever “waiver“ concert where I had to sign a contract to take photos and have them approved. Had to shoot from the crowd half way back and I was already nervous as hell about trying to get shots of one of my favourite bands of the last few decades! Did ok though and the management approved 35 out of 45 photos submitted so I took that as a big win!


The Month Of May – possibly the maddest month of the year I shot 45 bands ( or thereabouts ) Even I called myself an idiot that month haha But still had a mint time and would do it again.

Here’s to 2019 bringing more opportunities to continue this crazy hobby and hopefully getting better at both photographing and writing as I go 🙂
Merry Xmas everyone and a happy healthy clicky new year.

GJB 2018 music roundup – FEATURE

GJB 2018 music roundup – FEATURE

GJB selects his music and photo highlights of 2018

This year has been incredibly difficult to make my choices, despite my huge decrease in shows I’ve attended. Poor health has restricted me, that said it has also made me appreciate the gigs I can get to all the more.

I’ve had my incredible team to support and encourage me. They’ve churned out some simply stunning photos this year and we’re aiming to do more of the same in 2019. They’ve kept me busy and made me very proud.

We’ve also lost so many amazing people this year. It’s not been an easy one. My first gig of 2019 will be the tribute to my pal Aran at the Cluny on 12th January in support of a great cause www.ifucareshare.co.uk.

A musical hero and a lovely bloke. Miss you matey.

We Are Knuckle Dragger - Aran Glover
We Are Knuckle Dragger – Oct 2013

Top 10 photos

Melvins - 26th October 2018 - Leeds Stylus
Melvins – 26th October 2018 – Leeds Stylus
Sepultura - March 2018 - Glasgow
Sepultura – March 2018 – Glasgow
Mogwai - Northumbria Institute - February 2018
Mogwai – Northumbria Institute – February 2018
Superchunk – 27th May 2018 – Stereo Glasgow
Superchunk – 27th May 2018 – Stereo Glasgow
The Twilight Sad – 24th Nov 2018 – Leeds O2 Academy
The Twilight Sad – 24th Nov 2018 – Leeds O2 Academy
Killing Joke - 4th Nov 2018 - Newcastle Northumbria Institute
Killing Joke – 4th Nov 2018 – Newcastle Northumbria Institute
IDLES - 23rd October 2018 - Newcastle Riverside
IDLES – 23rd October 2018 – Newcastle Riverside
Russian Circles - May 2018 - Leeds Stylus
Russian Circles – May 2018 – Leeds Stylus
Oh Sees (Thee Oh Sees) - 12th July 2018 - Boiler Shop Newcastle
Oh Sees (Thee Oh Sees) – 12th July 2018 – Boiler Shop Newcastle
British Sea Power - Glasgow Garage - Feb 2018
British Sea Power – Glasgow Garage – Feb 2018

Top 10 gigs

I’ve been open about my mental health battle this year and came close to losing that fight, music has truly saved me and looking back there are some really special shows that I’ll cherish for the rest of my days.

The Twilight Sad - 16th June 2018 - Leeds Brudenell
The Twilight Sad – 16th June 2018 – Leeds Brudenell
  • The Twilight Sad – June 2018 – Leeds Brudenell Social Club. Emotionally supercharged one-off UK summer show in a great venue. This one made me cry. Beautiful and cathartic. They are thee best live band in Britain, untouchable. There’s no love too small <3
Mastersystem - April 2018 - Cluny Newcastle
Mastersystem – April 2018 – Cluny Newcastle
  • Mastersystem – April 2018 – The Cluny. This one was a welcome surprise, both the album and the UK tour. I was really struggling with my mental health at this point and nearly didn’t go due to a panic attack. Speaking to Scott before the gig he made me laugh with his great sense of humour, he filled me with enthusiasm which gave me confidence that to go to the show and have a great time. I did just that and it was amazing. They played the whole album track by track, the band were visibly having a great time playing these songs. I’m eternally grateful I got to see these live. 
Mogwai - Northumbria Institute - February 2018
Mogwai – Northumbria Institute – February 2018
  • Mogwai – Feb 2018 – Northumbria Uni. My heroes in my hometown. I’ve seen them a few times this year but that was truly special. Great setlist and stunning sounds and lights. Just perfect. 
British Sea Power - Glasgow Garage - Feb 2018 - bears
British Sea Power – Glasgow Garage – Feb 2018
  • British Sea Power – Feb 2018 – Glasgow Garage. This gig gave me hope in a very dark period of my life. I smiled I danced and I discovered that I can be happy again. Music is amazing! BSP should be available on the NHS. Just lovely!
Superchunk – 27th May 2018 – Stereo Glasgow
Superchunk – 27th May 2018 – Stereo Glasgow
  • Superchunk – May 2018 – Glasgow Stereo. A bucketlist band for many years but I’ve never had the chance to see them. They came back in 2018 with a great new album. I took a trip to Glasgow to catch them in a lovely little venue. So much energy on that stage and a lot of love in the crowd with the audience singing along word for word. I REALLY loved this gig!
Mono - 4th October 2018 - Newcastle Cluny
Mono – 4th October 2018 – Newcastle Cluny
  • Mono – Oct 2018 – The Cluny. The Loudest show of the year without a doubt, also a remarkable gig and yet another band I didn’t think would play little Newcastle.
Melvins - 26th October 2018 - Leeds Stylus
Melvins – 26th October 2018 – Leeds Stylus
  • Melvins – 26th Oct 2018 – Leeds Stylus. Another incredibly loud bucketlist band. Riff fucking city! Dual basses and one of the greatest frontmen on the planet. 
Chelsea Wolfe - 18th July 2018 - Glasgow SWG3
Chelsea Wolfe – 18th July 2018 – Glasgow SWG3
  • Chelsea Wolfe – July 2018 – Glasgow SWG3. On tour with Ministry (who were also great) the sheer power of the songs performed live left a lasting impression.
Russian Circles - May 2018 - Leeds Stylus
Russian Circles – May 2018 – Leeds Stylus
  • Russian Circles – May 2018 – Leeds Stylus. The masters. Nothing more I can add. Just brilliant!
Code Orange - April 2018 - Newcastle Cluny
Code Orange – April 2018 – Newcastle Cluny
  • Code Orange/Employed to Serve – April 2018 – The Cluny. ETS are easily the best thing to happen to British Metal in recent years, that coupled with the riot that is Code Orange made for a scary and awesome night.

Top 10 albums

I must admit I haven’t really listened to much new music this year, just old ones. Perhaps that’ll be my new year resolution for 2019. So this list isn’t very researched, more a list of albums I’ve bought this year!

  • Deafheaven – Ordinary Corrupt Human Love
  • Mastersystem – Dance Music
  • Will Haven – Muerte
  • Hot Snakes – Jericho Sirens
  • Jeff Tweedy – Warm
  • Mogwai – Kin
  • Jon Spencer – Spencer Sings The Hits
  • Superchunk – What a Time to Be Alive
  • Rat the Magnificent – The Body As Pleasure
  • Soulfly – Rituals

Most seen band

Mogwai of course

Mogwai – 22nd August 2018 – Leith Theatre, Edinburgh
Mogwai – 22nd August 2018 – Leith Theatre, Edinburgh

Best new northeast band

Ten Eighty Trees. Mark my words! This lot are mint! Go see them and find out why.

Ten Eighty Trees - 17th Nov 2018 - Newcastle Think Tank
Ten Eighty Trees – 17th Nov 2018 – Newcastle Think Tank

Band to watch out for

Loathe. Devastatingly brilliant live, make sure you catch them in smaller venues while you can!

Loathe - 13th Sept 2018 - Newcastle Think Tank
Loathe – 13th Sept 2018 – Newcastle Think Tank