Review of 2023

And so ends another gigging year. I’m still not back to pre-pandemic levels. This year, I bettered the 156 gigs of 2022, but only by a few, attending 159 gigs or concerts and seeing over 300 artists. However, this number doesn’t tell the whole story. I missed over 20 gigs. Some were missed due to bad planning or a lack of energy after editing photos until the early hours the night before. Most were missed due to two bouts of COVID and the ongoing rail strikes. The first COVID infection came from the first night I stopped using a mask! The second, was a random gig I decided to try, causing me to miss three gigs I was really looking forward to – including The Kills playing a small venue in Kingston. With no end in sight for the train strikes and COVID still coming back in cycles, I guess 2024 will be more of the same.

Another thing affecting my London gigging is the cost. Stevenage council’s redevelopment plan for the town centre seems to involve building on all the cheap long stay car parks, so car parking has shot up by £8. Add in a small increase in the price of train tickets and each gig is costing me £30 before I’ve even bought a ticket for the gig.

Because of the rising costs, I concentrated on local gigs, attending around 50 gigs across the Horn, Corn Exchange and Club 85. This had some positives. I’ve seen more local bands. But the negative is that there is only a finite number of bands in and around Hertfordshire and the quality is more variable than I experience at London venues. However, I’ve discovered quite a few interesting bands with potential and in 2024 I’m going to put more effort into local gigging. I believe it is the Horn’s 50th Birthday. I think 50 for 50 would be a good aim.

Sadly, earlier this year, we learnt that Club 85 is now on borrowed time. The owners of the venue are retiring and want to sell the land for redevelopment. Club 85’s business model has been one where they programme the venue and profit from ticket sales. Managing the bar and the bar’s revenue has always gone to the venue itself. The promoters are not in a position to offer up the sums of cash needed to persuade the owners to sell them the venue. While they are hopeful they will find a new venue. I think it will be difficult to find a similar space in Hitchin. It will be a sad loss for Hertfordshire if it does close.

Daylight Music is also under threat. We learnt late in the year that it failed in its bid for Arts Council funding. Hopefully, a follow-up bid will be successful. It would be awful to lose this series.

The second half of this year I found it difficult to find the motivation to review gigs and this website hasn’t seen many updates. Work has been busy and given how many nights I sit in front of a computer at 2am editing photos from that evening’s gig. I needed nights off away from the computer. To be honest, much of my apathy was because I was messed about by the Great Escape’s media team. They appeared to have a new team and I registered early for a photo pass. The new team actually acknowledged emails, which was an improvement and were sending me the press releases. So I played the game. Posted their lineups and retweeted their announcements. Then when it got to the point of them making a decision, they used my previous reviews as an excuse to turn me down. Why? Because I stated I had already bought an early-bird ticket. Yes, I buy tickets for everything I shoot because I am not a ‘guest list leacher’ who never pays for anything. Frankly, after the kick and being so busy at work, it killed off my enthusiasm for this website. I’m trying to rediscover my enthusiasm and I spent Christmas posting galleries to bring it back up to date. Hopefully, this year I can find a better balance.

Musically, I’ve still been listening to a lot of post-punk and the post-punk bands still dominated my gigs this year. I suspect we are at the tail end of the post-punk revival and there are signs that new bands are starting to raid other 80s genres. There’s even signs of Prog making a comeback with HMLTD releasing a concept album ‘The Worm’ and played it in full at the ICA. After the COVID years stifled new bands. I think 2024 will see an explosion of new artists and I’m looking forward to what the year will bring.

Best Festival: Krankenhaus

I only managed three festivals this year. Although I also missed the new Rally festival due to a train strike and I had to give up my ticket for the WideAwake Festival as it clashed with a wedding.

My usual pilgrimage to the Great Escape once again proved frustrating due to the queues and the fact that hotels in Brighton are now ridiculously expensive. Rockaway Beach continues to grow on me. It gives me a boost to the start of the year.

My favourite festival is once again Sea Power’s Krankenhaus festival. Despite an increase in numbers, it retained its DIY charm and relaxed friendly atmosphere. The organisers made numerous tweaks that improved the overall experience and the lineup was excellent and they seem to have finally hit on a sustainable formula.

Best Gig: Lottery Winners at the Corn Exchange Hertford

My best gig of the year goes to a band I don’t even listen to, as their music does little for me on record. Lottery Winners played the Corn Exchange in Hertford and I went along to support my local venue. But I was really pleased I did because Lottery Winners put on an extremely fun show. It is part gig and part comedy show. It is the first time I have seen a singer paint while the rest of the band played a song that didn’t feature him. If you get a chance to see one of their headline shows, go, you will not be disappointed.

Album of the Year: Benefits – Nails

Best New Band/Artist: Lael Neale

I think this was a good year for new discoveries. Lankum produced an extremely good album and were excellent at the Roundhouse. At the start of the year, Personal Trainer showed their fun side. I caught Big Special twice in 2023. I have no doubt they will be big in 2024. But it was Lael Neale’s album that I kept coming back to and I managed to catch her three times and each time I found myself entranced by her sound.

Best New Venue: The Hot Tin, Faversham

In the summer, Daylight Music held a Lost Map special in London and at the Hot Tin in Faversham. I headed down and discovered one of my favourite venues. It is an old pre-fabricated Victorian tin church that the owners live in and because of this, it is full of quirky touches. It felt like we were being welcomed into their home. Sadly, I think the venue is under threat from neighbours who don’t want the noise. I hope it survives.

Favourite Photo: Sea Power at Krankenhaus

I’ve decided to go with my favourite photo from the year. It isn’t my best shot. It captures the anarchy at the end of Sea Power’s extremely good first set at Krankenhaus, with Martin trying to ride the bear and the band having fun on the stage.