This is the unedited version of my January Ocelot column.
My column last January was the first time I had written an awards / review of the year piece, and I enjoyed writing it rather a lot. So here is one for 2014’s musical happenings in Ocelotshire. Back to normal next month as I have some great new records all ready to review!
Record of the year
As always this is a really tough call. There has been some sublime music coming out of the area in the last 12 months. Maybe not in the same volumes as previous years, but nonetheless some high quality stuff. Some familiar artists to these pages released some quality material. Just looking through the records of the month shows that Black Hats Does That Make You Nervous, Vienna Ditto’s Feeling Good, Buswell’s An Irish Wristwatch, Port Erin’s Floating Above The City and Nudybronque’s Moondog were all in with a serious shot at the gong this year. As was new to me but not most of you Smilex with La Petite Mort from way back in February.
From among those that didn’t achieve record of the month several have proven to be real growers that would have featured higher if I had to listen over a period of time before reviewing, especially Dead Royalties Hormones EP and Betaris Box eponymous EP.
But it was new to me this year The August List from Oxfordshire who stole it from under everyone’s noses with their brilliant O’Hinterland album. At the time I described it as a “Fabulously and unashamedly lo-fi, rough around the edges and rustic” record, with the songs as “catchy, foot-stomping backwoods folk tunes, infectious and drenched with atmosphere”, a summary I totally stand by. I have listened to this record more than any other this year, which fully justifies its position. I challenge you to listen to it and not be impressed.
Venue of the Year
This has been a tough award to make, as I have been very guilty of not going to enough venues this year. But, after some comprehensive interviewing of some of the regions premier musicians, adding their opinions to my own I am awarding this gong to The Rising Sun Arts Centre in Reading.
This fabulous place started out life as a squat , with the commendable aim of developing ground-level arts including music. I have not heard of a poor word for the place from any of the musicians who play there or promoters who put shows on there. Although I have only been a few times, I can attest that there is something charming, welcoming and friendly about the frayed round the edges old place.
With a rich and diverse musical programme, coupled with the rest of the artistic endeavours that they support The Rising Sun Arts Centre proves that it is entirely possible to make grassroots arts work and be appealing to a huge range of people. Therefore, I doff my cap to all those volunteers who keep the place running, and promise I will be back in 2015.
Performance of The Year
I see a lot of bands perform live throughout the year, mostly local acts at our local venues. And through 2014 there have been some incredible performances, many of which I have written in these pages, and even more I have not had the space to do so. And it is one of these performances that I have selected as the best of the year. But before announcing, I just need to shout out to some of the nearly-rans who deserve recognition. I urge you all to check these bands out live over the next year as they are well worth it – Bad Sounds, Vienna Ditto, The August List, The Greasy Slicks, Swindlestock, Flights Of Helios, Super Squarecloud and Black Hats.
However, performance of the year for me has to go to Gaz Brookfield with his occasional backing band The Company Of Thieves grand homecoming show at The Victoria in Swindon back in September. Notable for the rabid fervour of a full-house crowd that was even surpassed by the energy, sweat and passion coming at them from the stage it was a night of electric atmosphere, well crafted, sing-along songs, dancing and enough beer and cider to knock a football crowd out. The sort of night that marks a major talent out and that people talk about for a long time. Once they have recovered. Incredible stuff.
Breakthrough of the Year
Perhaps this is the most eagerly anticipated award personally, for I have a real “thing” for new music, and I love to discover brand new acts that I can excitedly tell everyone else about. I purposefully titled this award “Breakthrough” as I wanted to recognise newly emerging acts, rather than new to me. A look through my various columns, blogs and gig history proved mostly fruitless, as I appeared to have not seen or heard many really good brand new acts. But, looking at the back end of the year I struck gold.
Swindon four piece Coasters may be made up of scene veterans, but they are a very new project, with one EP and just a handle of gigs under their belts. Built initially as a solo vehicle for songwriter Si Hall to get some tunes recorded, the studio vibe quickly translated into a desire to expand the project into a proper gigging band.
Taking cues from a lot of American bands (Gaslight Anthems, Hot Water Music, The Menzingers and Bruce Springsteen) they band is focused around powerful razor-blade vocals, emotive and intelligent lyrics and some pounding music that still maintains a curious delicacy to it. It grabbed my attention immediately the first time I saw them, and that excitement has not gone away since. Go check out their new EP catch them at a live show, you will not be disappointed.
Hero of the Year
This award is the greatest pleasure to award, recognising those who perhaps are the more unsung heroes of the music scene. Let’s face it; it is the musicians, bands and artists who command the column inches. But without the inspiring, hardworking army of venue owners, promoters, engineers, super-fans, photographers, writiers, producers, studios etc then any band’s effort is in vain.
So this year, it gives me great pleasure to recognise the input of one of the hardest working promoters out there, a man with fingers in more pies than a polydactyl on the Great British Bake Off. Step forward Mark “Osprey” O’Brien, once of “Oop North” and now Oxfords busiest man. On any given week Mark will be managing gigs at various points at all the main venues in the town, including at the O2 Academy, and is responsible for hundreds of local bands gets getting decent shows, as well as a host of out of town acts being brought to the town. Add to this the Oxford City Music Festival and a plethora of other events and it is obvious that were Osprey to pack it all in, there would be an enormous pair of shoes left to fill, and very little music going on. All of us here at The Ocelot salute you sir and we urge you all to buy that man a pint next time you see him!