Another good and varied year for live music, with some excellent new discoveries and some old timers on fine form. I find I went to fewer gigs than last year - 16 this time, plus seeing 21 acts at The Great Escape - but competition for the coveted top five slots has been intense...
The judges finally settled on these worthy winners:
5. Van Morrison - The Dome, Brighton, 3 March
The old grump came good, singing splendidly in front of a classy jazz band. Very much the approach which informed his decent Born To Sing: No Plan B album, released in the autumn - but with the advantage of familiar and stronger songs, including an unexpected 'Fair Play'. The concert left me properly energised for writing my Van book, and is reviewed here.
4. Michael Chapman - West Hill Hall, Brighton, 10 February
On to the second artist on the list who is eligible for a free bus pass... Chapman gave an amazing performance in this quirky venue, playing glorious guitar and in fine voice too. I've come to his music ludicrously late, but catching up on the back catalogue has been a continuing pleasure through 2012, which also saw the release of a splendid second album of improvised instrumentals, Pachyderm.
3. Two Wings - The Needlemakers, Lewes, 9 June
The younger folk finally get a look in, with a striking and inventive set from this excellent band, launching their debut album Love's Spring. Broad labels like folk or Americana don't do justice to their unique blend. The best I could come up with was
...imagine that a Full House-era Fairport Convention are trying out a new female folk singer who might replace Sandy, but Dave Mattacks couldn't make it so Bill Bruford has sat in on drums, and then a time machine arrives with Kate Bush in it...
Who could resist that? Full review here.
2. Patti Smith - The Dome, Brighton, 12 September
A stonking show from one of my all time heroes, reviewed here. Patti was at number one in this list last year and could easily have been there again this time: her singing is better than ever; the band tight, powerful and controlled; the set list blended classics from throughout her career with fine new songs like 'Banga'. Brilliant.
But, on a split decision, the judges decided to go with some (slightly) younger bucks for a change.
1. Wussy - The Windmill, Brixton, 19 September
This band are definitely my discovery of the year - OK, I took my time finding them, but it was worth the wait... I knew from their records that there were amazing lyrics, glorious hooks and harmonies, powerful rocking energy - what more could you want? Well, an intimate show in a pleasantly scuzzy pub from the band's singing/songwriting core Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker - reviewed here - was the icing on the cake. And the cherry on that icing was an opportunity to chat at the end of a splendid gig, rounded off with a kiss from the lovely Lisa.
The judges noted regretfully that Patti failed even to say hello...
Jostling just below those five places were a whole lot more fine performances, including Dexys, Black Twig Pickers, Meg Baird and two doses of the mighty Gum.
Bruce Springsteen at Hyde Park failed to make the cut, despite his usual amazing performance: the sound was feeble, pulling the plug on him and Paul McCartney was bone-headed, and straining to see standing for hours in a flat field is less than ideal... Let's hope that Wembley next June is an improvement.
Onward and upward.
(from Eden On The Line)