Bristol live music best of 2012

26 12 2012

1) Africa Express, Big Top @ Creative Common; September 7
More than four hours of music was an immensely pleasurable treat, with nobody – not even those on stage – entirely sure what would be happening next. Damon Albarn kept a mostly low profile, but appeared for one highlight when he played On Melancholy Hill by Gorillaz on the piano accompanied by Malian singer Rokia Traore. Earlier in the day, Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones had turned up unannounced to play a gig in the Canteen on Stokes Croft.

Africa Express arrive at Bristol Temple Meads

2) Bat For Lashes, Anson Rooms; November 3
Natasha Khan is the closest thing to a Kate Bush for the 21st century. This was an exceptional gig from an exceptional talent. When not singing, Khan was either dancing or playing a variety of instruments, from piano to hand bells. For one song, she held a transistor radio above her head like a victorious FA Cup Final captain. For another she got the most cheers for shaking a maraca since Bez from the Happy Mondays.

3) Skrillex, Academy; February 15
A multi-sensory bombardment from start to finish, like being repeatedly run over by a steam train in the midst of an alien invasion during a particularly ferocious thunderstorm. Behind Skrillex, visuals on a large screen accompanied his bone-shaking beats, while flashing strobe lights, lasers and smoke only added to the experience.

4) Bellowhead, Colston Hall; November 18
The folk juggernaut that is Bellowhead have been booked to play New Year’s Eve at the Colston Hall next year. Last month, the band carried on their gig up the road at the Colston Yard pub. This was music so good, nobody wanted it to end.

5) Three Cane Whale, The Square; June 11
The acoustic trio of Pete Judge, Paul Bradley and Alex Vann, who released one of Cerys Matthew’s top-five modern folk albums, played a fundraiser for the Bristol Pound on a multitude of unusual instruments, which was simply sublime.

6) The Staves, Louisiana; April 15
You could hear a pin drop during most of this set from the three harmonising sisters, who later went on tour with Bon Iver before returning to Bristol last month for another magical gig in the Thekla, causing many more music lovers to fall under their spell.

7) Jake Bugg, Thekla; November 15
With the current number one album, 18-year-old Bugg is the kind of artist – all jangly guitars and attitude – that had been booked to play in the Thekla months ago, before that rise to fame, and could very well have sold-out a much bigger Bristol venue.

8) Lianne La Havas, Trinity; May 5
Everyone in the crowd at the Trinity fell a little bit in love with Lianne La Havas on the first date of her UK tour. She was at her best wile on stage on her own,  looking like Janelle Monae, with a voice to match but a style akin to Lauryn Hill or Erykah Badoe.

9) Ed Sheeran, Fleece; May 23
A special one-off intimate performance from the ginger troubadour for those who had raised more than £125 for St Paul’s-based charity One25. Sheeran later played at both the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee concert and the Olympics closing ceremony.

10) The Unthanks, St George’s; October 30
Only an hour-long but filled with decades of history, happiness, misery and suffering, this was like nothing else in Bristol this year, soundtracking archive footage projected onto a screen behind them about the shipbuilding industry in their native North East.

Africa Express in Bristol

8 09 2012

Platform 10 at Bristol Temple Meads on a Friday afternoon. A train pulls in soon after 2.30pm. Unusually, there is a welcome party of media and a British Transport Police officer waiting in the wings. There is also an enterprising autograph hunter brandishing a Blur CD and a poster. For this is not a normal train but the Africa Express:

The Africa Express is just one of the musical projects of Damon Albarn, hence the autograph hunter with the Blur merchandise. The name came before this tour was put together, but it perfectly suits the dozens of African and western musicians who have been travelling around the country all week as part of the London 2012 Festival.

Here a few of them are on Platform 10 soon after arriving into Bristol:

Yesterday afternoon the group played two shows, one in the Bristol Crisis Centre on Stapleton Road, the other at the Canteen on Stokes Croft, with Malian singer Afel Bocum, superb beatboxer Roots One, with special guest former Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, now a member of Them Crooked Vultures. That’s him to the left of the photo:

The day’s main show was in the Big Top @ Creative Common. The nearest equivalent to describe it is Live Aid, with musicians coming on stage for one song and then being ushered off to make room for more, and more, and more.

Artists on stage in Bristol included Amadou, Baaba Maal, Gruff Rhys, Lucy Rose, and Kano. Here’s Albarn with a few African musicians towards the beginning of proceedings.

And here’s Albarn singing Gorillaz song On Melancholy Hill on the piano, accompanied by Rokia Traore. I was standing only a few feet away from the piano and can exclusively reveal that Albarn wears Loft pants.

Massive Attack were rumoured to be appearing and their no-show was the only disappointment of the night that did feature Tricky’s former collaborator and Clifton College alumna Martina Topley-Bird, and finished with a version of Kashmir by Led Zeppelin like never heard before, with John Paul Jones playing the mandolin.

The Africa Express will pull out from Platform 10 sometime today for the last leg of its nationwide journey to London, having given Bristol a night to remember.

If The Lion King, now into a three-month run at the Hippodrome, is a vision of Africa from a 15-year-old stage show based on an 18-year-old film, then Africa Express is the sound and colour of Africa here and now in 2012.

Preview: Africa Express & Damon Albarn

18 07 2012

Damon Albarn is coming to Bristol on September 7 with Africa Express, a collection of musicians who are travelling around the country by train as part of the London 2012 Festival, which in Bristol will see everything from a bouncy replica of Stonehenge to a floating island in the Cumberland Basin.

The Africa Express collective, confirmed to include Baaba Maal with more acts announced soon, will not have far to travel from Temple Meads.

The venue for what promises to be one of the Bristol events of the year is the big top at Creative Common, which this weekend during the Harbour Festival is the venue for the latest show from the Invisible Circus.

Tickets for the one-off concert, presented by Bristol Music Trust, cost £17.50 and are on sale from 10am this morning from the Colston Hall, on 0117 922 3686 or online.

Gig review: Gorillaz at Trinity

23 03 2010

I hereby declare Damon Albarn to be officially a genius. The Blur frontman has an embarrassment of side projects from writing the score to a Chinese opera to collaborating with some of the best musicians in Mali. The cartoon band Gorillaz, however, remains his most famous outlet outside Blur and following the release of their third album Plastic Beach this month they are currently out on the road rehearsing their new material in more intimate venues before a headline show at Coachella and a two-date residency at the Roundhouse in London.

Their appearance last night at the Trinity was the second of this six-date rehearsal tour. An enthusiastic and clearly ecstatic Albarn told the equally enthusiastic crowd that this was a chance to “let the music live”, without the razzmatazz of visuals and guest vocalists of a typical Gorillaz show.

So we didn’t have any of Jamie Hewlett’s animations, or on-stage appearances from Mos Def, Gruff Rhys, Shaun Ryder, Bobby Womack, The National Orchestra For Arabic Music, Bashy, De La Soul and Kano, who will all be at the Roundhouse.

What we did have was The Clash’s Mick Jones and Paul Simonon, who when recording the new Gorillaz album had been in the studio together for the first time in 30 years, and a valiant attempt at a nautical theme, with stripy blue and white t-shirts and sailor hats.

What we also had was undoubtedly one of the most exciting gigs in Bristol for years. Without any of the assorted paraphernalia of past Gorillaz gigs (the band used to play behind a white screen and their last gig at the Manchester Opera House in 2005 was an audiovisual extravaganza) Albarn’s call to let this show be all about the music was too true.

The band opened with Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach, with the bass thumping and Snoop Dogg’s vocals echoing inside the former church. Almost every song from Plastic Beach was played, with Albarn alternatively on lead vocals or providing backing to Bobby Womack and Mos Def on Stylo, Lou Reed on Some Kind of Natures, and De La Soul and Gruff Rhys on Superflash Jellyfish.

It was an exhilarating live show as the band switched seamlessly between diverse musical genres. If this was a rehearsal, the real thing will be huge, but we were lucky enough here for it just to be about the music.

Clint Eastwood from their eponymous debut album was a firm crowd favourite, as were Dare and Kids With Guns, both from second album Demon Days.

But it is impossible to pick any highlights from a two-hour show the likes of which have never been seen before.