Review Of The Year 2011

Now 2011 has been another great year. Loads of great gigs, great records and plenty of nights out that I’ve regretted the next morning!! Highlights; The Sunderland fan who took his dog to the match and discovering the Europa Cafe in Middlesbrough. Lowlights; The death of the wonderful Gary Speed and discovering the people who frequent the Europa!! Everything in the following review of the year either happened in 2011 or I came across in 2011. So if a bands album came out in 2010 but I didn’t hear it or hear about it until 2011 then it’ll be in this review. Does that make sense? Also this review is purely my personal choice and does not reflect the views of anyone else living or dead…..

Last years winner was Mitchell Museum: “The Peters Port Memorial Service”. This years was, again, a tough call. Loads of great albums by loads of great bands. PJ Harvey “Let England Shake” is a great album and my favourite of Polly’s since “Rid of me” back in 1993. But not the best of the year by quite a way despite what almost every magazine has told us. Frankie & the Heartstrings; “Hunger” was a fabulous debut unleashed in the spring. I also saw them a whole heap of times and they are even better live than on vinyl. Hyde & Beast’s “Slow Down” proving that drummers can do more than just drum. Looking forward to seeing them live in January. Our good friends Hope & Social brought us another great set of songs in the shape of “Sleep Sound”. Blasts from the past Half Man, Half Biscuit released a new set of tunes in the form of the unusually named “90 Bisodol (Crimond)”. They sound exactly like they did on their debut “Back in the DHSS” and this folks is a good thing. The Horrors “Skying”, The Vaccines “What did you expect?” I know they’re not from the North but either is Polly Harvey I just thought I’d sneak them in. Elbow “Build a Rocket boys”, Young Rebel Set “Curse our Love” Wild Beasts “Smother”, King Creosote & and Jon Hopkins “Diamond Mine”, Bill Wells & Aidan Moffatt “Everything’s getting older” and another non-Northener but almost album of the year; Other Lives “Tamer Animals. These were all contenders but the top three, in order, are…. Bronze: “Withered Hand “Good News” (I think it came out in 2009 but I first found it in January and it’s brilliant. It might have won but for the fact it’s 2 years old!!!) Silver: Admiral Fallow “Boots met my Face”. Every time I play it I hear a new line that I hadn’t realised previously. Today it was “Four bulbs” and how he measures time by the amount of bulbs he uses in his lamp. Poignant, strange and hauntingly beautiful. And the winner and gold medal getter is Minotaurs ” Eat Yr Hate”. Released on Cottage Industries Records (fast becoming our favourite label) they hail from Newcastle/South Shields and make a beautiful noise that reminds us of Prefab Sprout, Field Mice, Orange Juice and early Belle & Sebastian. A lovely glow surrounds you as you listen to this. Expect big things in 2012.

Last year it was Wreckin’ Bar by The Vaccines. This year it will be something different. I’ll start with a band I’ve just discovered; Sharks Took the Rest and their jaunty, folky, poppy new single “Rename the Planets”. It’s great. Then in no particular order; The Castells “Young Lovers”, Athletes in Paris “Just Decline”, Grandfather Birds “Higher Bridges”, Vinyl Jacket “Koala”, Jimmy & the Sounds “Little Victories”, everything by the Lake Poets (all in demo form but I suspect when they do put out their first proper single it will be a nailed on best of 2012 track), The Last Battle “The Springwell EP”, Fantasy Rainbow “Healthy Lung, Dirty Lung” released on cassette!!!! Still brilliant though. The winner, and probably not a great surprise to you all, Cattle & Cane “Sold my Soul” from their debut EP. Now I probably could have chosen all the tracks they released across their two EPs released this year. Special mention to “We were children” a hauntingly beautiful song on EP2. It almost won track of the year which is some achievement for song three on an EP. But after much deliberation it went to the lead track of EP1. A big, anthemic tune that will be played in arenas by the time the LP has hit the world. I predicted that 2011 would be their year and in a way it has been but maybe the slow rise is better than the instant hit. By the end of 2012 I predict that the world will know their name.

Firstly I have a confession. I don’t really watch much TV apart from the footie. That is Match of the Day, Football Focus, Sky Sports News, Goals on Sunday, The Championship, every live game on Sky or ESPN. So I don’t have time for much else. I could say Jools Holland because of the great bands he has on rather than for Jools himself. So there is only one nomination. And therefore one winner. And it is……. This is England 88. Superb viewing. If you’ve seen the film This is England (set in 82) and the follow up This is England 86 then you’ll know what I’m on about. If you haven’t, then you need to buy the DVDs of the first two and wait for the newest one to come out next year. I think the latest one is actually the best. Shane Meadows if you’re reading this; well done on your best of the year award!!!

Again a bit of a non-competition. I only bought one box set all year. And I really don’t think I missed many others by Northern bands?? So the winner is THE SMITHS: COMPLETE. Absolute brilliance. All 8 albums in a box with pictures, notes etc. All re-mastered by the genius that is Johnny Marr. Now as you may know The Smiths are my all-time favourite band so I must own all these albums already? Surely? Yes, I do. Every 7″, 12″, cassette, CD single, vinyl album, Rough Trade CD albums, imports etc etc. But I still needed to own this box set. And I wasn’t disappointed. All 8 albums together in one place for less than £4 an album. You cannot go wrong. And it was great to hear Johhnys new versions of the songs. Not a lot of difference to the originals but then can you really improve on perfection???
One criticism? It’s not really The Smiths “Complete” is it? Now I can live with John Peel versions instead of other studio versions of great songs but some songs are missing altogether!! One of my all time favourites; Jeane. B side to the 7 inch of This Charming Man. Not even on CD until 92 with the re-issue of This Charming Man and now missing completely. No What’s the World, no Work is a four letter word, Maybe EMI/Rhino are planning a box set of “missing” stuff. If they are then the Troy Tate version of The Smiths is a must plus a few early live recordings that have never seen the light of day (officially!!) But overall a must for all fans of The greatest band ever.

Last year it was a book of photos because I’m too lazy to actually read books. This year is no different. We have one nomination because……. we’ve only read one book!! And that was whilst on holiday in sunny Scotland. So the winner is “Clough & Revie: The Rivals who changed the face of English Football” by Roger Hermiston. Now we usually don’t get mixed up with football here at The Northern Line. The reason is that if we feature one Northern team we risk alienating the fans of all the other Northern teams. But this book is different as it looks at the whole culture of the North-East as well as the lives of the two main characters. Born just a few miles from each other in Middlesbrough their paths cross and a “feud” develops. I assume you’ve all read/seen The Damned United which tells some of this tale but not all of it. The book is great and a must for all footie fans regardless of which team you support. I was planning a bigger feature on this when it came out but am holding off until the spring when the new statue of Don Revie is unveiled at Elland Road. I thought you didn’t do footie??? I know, but some things are too good to miss.

Again a real tough one as I went to loads of great gigs in 2011. So in no particular order; Cattle & Cane at The Westgarth in Middlesbrough; EP launches 1 and 2. I think 1 was the best but both were incredible. All the hype coming to fruition. Admiral Fallow at the Deershed festival; “Admiral Fallow, I love you” indeed. The Vaccines at Leeds O2 last month, with the superb Frankie & the Heartstrings. Other Lives again at the Westgarth (actually I should just do a “Best gig at the Westgarth” award!!) If you haven’t heard them then do. Superb. The Crookes and Collectors Club at the same venue. Withered Hand in January. First time I’d even heard of him. Now he’s one of my favourite artists, ever!!! Billy Bragg at Boro University, Julian Cope in Harrogate and Roddy Frame at the Town Hall all proving you don’t have to be new or young to be good. Strangest gig; Forest Fire; equally awful and brilliant. Often at the same time!!! And the winner is….. actually it’s quite easy as on one day, in one venue, almost all my favourite bands came together….. so the winner is Stockton Calling on Easter Saturday and particularly the Sun Inn stage. The Winterhill Transmission, Withered Hand, Chased by Wolves, Mitchell Museum,Cattle & Cane and headlining, Washington Irving. It was almost like I’d hand picked the line up myself!!!!

Again loads of great things around this year. No, not the t-in-the-Park, V Festival type corporate whore nonsense but real, organic type festivals. Stockton Festival goes from strength to strength and despite having to pay for the first time and it pouring down with rain it was still a great success. Kendal Calling, Willowman, Galtres all great. Special mention to SPLIT in Sunderland that got great reviews from everyone I know who went but the winner is….. opens envelope slowly……. Deershed Festival. Situated near Thirsk in North Yorkshire it is a family friendly, laid back extravagance that was one of, if not my favourite, week-end of the year. Top performances from Frankie & the Heartstrings, Erland & the Carnival, Hope & Social and show stealers; Admiral Fallow. But also magicians for the kids, great food, great atmosphere and all round great time had by all. I know they’ve got more great things lined up this year. Get yourself there, you won’t regret it.

Only one contender. So only one winner; “The Sound of Young Scotland”. This was the name we came up with to describe all the new bands coming out of sunny Scotland. Woodenbox with a Fistful of fivers, Washington Irving, The Last Battle, The Imagineers, Admiral Fallow, Mitchell Museum and I bet theres more up amongst the heather and tartan. Wait till everyone else jumps on the band-wagon. Jings, crivens, help ma Bob!!!!!

Another new category and again I need your help. I don’t get to enough venues to really make this a category relevant to the whole of the North. So let me know where are the best places to see bands in the north of our great isle. We have visited a number of venues this year, mainly on Teesside and Tyneside; The Ku bar, Sun Inn, ARC and Georgian Theatre in Stockton are all fabulous. The Head of Steam and the Cumberland Arms in Newcastle provide excellent views, atmosphere and a range of beers, always important!! My top three are….. in third place; The Cluny in Newcastle. Great food, great beers, great views of the great bands that they put on here. Looking forward to Fanfarlo there in February. Second and picking up the silver medal is the Empire in sunny Middlesbrough. Majestic in its elegance, over 100 years old but still as bright and fresh as when it was opened. And the winner is….. well there was only going to be one winner. The Westgarth Social Club, again, in Middlesbrough. Within walking, or should that be stumbling, distance from my house. I have seen some fantastic bands here over the past three years but I think this year has seen the finest. Great views, friendly staff, cheap beer, get yourselves there. 2012 is looking to be better still.

The final and toughest category to judge. Last year the winners were Cattle & Cane and they are well in the running to get it two years in a row. Loads of others have tickled our fancy; Frankie & the Heartstrings, The Vaccines, Arctic Monkeys keep going strong, Elbow, Winterhill Transmission, Other Lives, Bombay Bicycle Club (Not from the North but who cares?)…. the whole Sound of Young Scotland thingy majiggy…. Admiral Fallow, Washington Irving, The Imagineers, Last Battle, Woodenbox with a Fistful of Fivers and Mitchell Museum. Also our album winners Minotaurs. So here goes…. In third place; Admiral Fallow for a great debut album and our performance of the summer at the Deershed Festival. In second place, by a whisker, last years winners; Cattle & Cane with two brilliant EPs. But the winner and the band whose album is my equally most anticipated of 2012 (along with Cattle & Cane’s)……. Washington Irving. For a great EP and gigs in Middlesbrough, Stockton and York. Great people and a great wee band.

The Lake Poets first single. The Collectors Club. Cattle & Cane’s debut album. All the “Sound of Young Scotland” bands hitting the big time. Village Green. Grandfather Birds. Vinyl Jacket. The Heartbreaks debut. Brilliant Mind. Fantasy Rainbow. The Castells. Athletes in Paris. Winterhill Transmission finally getting an album out. The return of FANFARLO. Sharks took the rest. The Chapman Family.

A great year here at The Northern Line. A big thank-you to all the bands, venues, photographers, artists, writers, pubs, promoters…. who have made our year a great one. Looking forward to 2012.

If you agree with all this then great. If you don’t tell us why. Do your own review of the year, it’ll probably be better than mine. We will put them up as long as they’re broadly of a Northern feel and obviously not offensive. Send them to; peter@thenorthernline.com. I look forward to them.

By peter on January 1, 2012

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