A frequent collaborator with Scott Bradlee and the Post Modern Jukebox, Morgan James became an artist I had to see after her YouTube success both with the group and solo. Having listened to her debut album Hunter and her latest album, Reckless Abandon, it was clear I was in for a night bursting with talent.
To add further to the excitement, upon booking my tickets and posting the news on Instagram, I got a like and a reply from the artist herself! (Sorry… Bit of a fan girl moment!)
With impressive Broadway shows under her belt including The Addams Family, Godspell and Motown: The Musical, the expectations were high for her vocal range and power to raise the roof of the 500 seat capacity venue.
On her Reckless Abandon tour, the warmth of soul and R&B with a cheeky shot of country made you feel transported back to the early naughties. Her vocals are very reminiscent of LeAnn Rimes and Christina Aguilera back in their heyday.
Her set was varied, toying between her albums and a few covers. A highlight was her cover of Prince’s ‘Call my name’ which the idol himself gave approval for James to record and put on her debut album.
A standout moment in probably my entire gigging history is hearing ‘Say the words’ live. Even though the venue’s capacity was lacking, she raised the roof with her emotional performance as if she was singing to thousands, which resulted in small applauses throughout for her outstanding performance.
Additional notes about James’s performance is that she is one of the most expressive artists I have encountered to date. From her face to her body language, she truly feels the music that she’s singing and her theatre background is evident but comes across genuine and relaxed.
Not only did she thank her band twice (which featured jazz guitarist Doug Wamble, who is also James’s husband), she also graciously thanked the venue for letting her play, expressing the struggles artists sometimes face in securing venues to perform.
To top off the evening, she stood at the merchandising table to speak to fans and sign albums and tickets. She took adequate time with each of her fans and was highly engaged with everyone, to the point she asked the staff to turn down the music so she could hear her fans talk and have a more personal interaction.
I’m not a massive groupie when it comes to getting my ticket signed, having only got signed tickets for Jimmy Carr, Ben Caplan, Katzenjammer and now Morgan James but this ticket will surely go pride of place in my gig collection.
The Òran Mór is definitely no stranger to Nerina Pallot. Returning as part of her tour for her new album Stay Lucky, her familiar face was greeted by many returning fans to hear her perform.
The warm up act Million Miles was a cool blend of Alicia Keys meets Norah Jones. Her warm and soulful tone made her compelling lyrics come alive and set the perfect tone of the evening. A personal highlight was her song ‘Ice Cream and Cigarettes’
Nerina did not leave her fans waiting long after Million Miles and was greeted with cheers and applause as she came on stage in a dusty pink dress. Her long hair floating around her shoulders made her look somewhat ethereal as she floated between piano and guitar for each song.
Her engagement with the audience was laced with humour throughout. After performing her first few songs, her first interaction with the audience was ‘So… is there anything good on the telly tonight?’ which was met with chuckles.
In a packed set lasting just over two hours, she performed her entire new album along with some old favourites from her discography. Personal highlights were ‘Bring him Fire’ and ‘Idaho’.
A predominately silent but engaged audience were encouraged to sing the final song of the night ‘Sophia’ and was met with a contented soft sing-a-long of the choruses, in no way outshining the artist.
Celebrating over 20 years of a band is an accomplishment. 90’s rockers Placebo have decided to play in Brian Molko’s spiritual UK home of Dundee (where his Mother & many of his family members are from and reside). Being a fan of theirs for most of their career and missing out their SSE Hydro date last year due to being in hospital, I was ecstatic that they were playing on my doorstep!
Having only seen comedy shows at The Caird Hall, I was excited to see how it catered to the sound of the band. The buzz of the crowd at the bar was electric with the alternative scene of Dundee truly represented across a spectrum of generations and chatter of excitement for tonight’s show.
However as soon as these bubbling fans entered the hall, the mood halted into borderline boredom. The warm-up band Husky Loops was appropriate to set the mood but overall bland and forgettable and met with little to no engagement.
Placebo started their set with their classic hit ‘Every me, Every You’ which was played through the P.A. with the band not on stage and their music video playing, a disappointing start as it is probably their most famous song and it wasn’t presented to the audience with a live performance. When the band finally came on stage to play ‘Pure Morning’, it was played exquisitely and a highlight of the evening.
The venue itself catered well to the band, providing an intimate and exclusive feel to the group who regularly play venues to ten times the Caird Hall’s capacity. Sound, light and stage design was seamless.
The audience was flat, with weak clapping in between songs, minimal cheering and arm waving. The slow swaying of people showed some engagement towards the band but lyrics were half mimed rather than sung at the top of their lungs.
Brian Molko’s interaction with the audience was poor, diluted and generic and gave the impression he had given up as a result of playing to a small venue and it not being sold out mixed with the reception he received.
After a few songs, the set became forgettable from one bleak and bland song to the next. For a band that was celebrating 20 years and a 7 album discography with many iconic tracks, the song choices and timing of the set was poor. Molko’s performance declined gradually over time however his vocals did not falter. As a seasoned artist and deep into their tour, I would’ve expected a greater effort.
Just over halfway through the set, portions of the crowd slowly started leaving and I decided to bail also. I have not felt disillusioned nor will I stop listening to their albums, but it was a feeling of ‘I can’t be bothered’ by both band and audience tonight.
In response to my Live Music FAQs #1 blog, I have received many more questions so I thought I would do a short follow up blog.
I hope this answers a few of them.
What is the least/most you’ve paid for a gig ticket?
The cheapest (that wasn’t free) was Frightened Rabbit and Fat Sam’s December 2008 which was £7 per ticket. The Most Expensive was AC/DC at Etihad Stadium June 2016 where I paid an eye watering £120 per ticket.
How do you afford to go to all these gigs? Quite frankly, most of the tickets I buy have been reasonably priced. The average price for tickets I’ve paid for is £35 with a dozen or so tickets off the top of my head being £25 and under. Most, if not all of the gigs I saw between 2011 and 2013 involved sleeping on friends’ couches and pre drinking before the venue which also saved a fair bit of money.
I bet you’ve seen a lot of these bands at festivals so it doesn’t really count. Funnily enough, I have only been to one festival and that was ‘The Black Rabbit Festival’ in Beijing in September 2011 and I don’t really count it as a ‘gig’ as I went to see several bands who did 30-45 minute sets. It is a totally different experience versus dedicating yourself to one artist for an entire evening. Highlights of that festival were seeing Yellowcard, Ludacris and 30 Seconds to Mars.
Are there any artists on your bucket list left?
There are so many artists I would love to see. Stevie Wonder being one of them! I would also love to see Regina Spektor, Sara Barielles and Lady Antebellum. If I could only go to one more gig in my life, it would have to be Stevie Wonder without a shadow of a doubt.
If you have any more questions, please just put them in the comments or contact me.
Kitsch Americana songstress Lana del Rey announced her concert at Glasgow’s SSE Hydro with less than a month’s notice to her fans and it was received in high and excited demand. Having been a fan since her debut single back in 2011, this gig was a must seeon my gig bucket list. According to one member of staff, there had been fans queuing outside the doors from 11am the day before to ensure they got a premium standing position to see their idol.
Her fifth studio album ‘Lust for Life’ has received critical acclaim, debuting at Number 1 on the American, UK and Australian charts as well as countless other countries, making her one of the hottest acts currently on the music scene.
I was lucky enough to experience my first visit to The Hydro Club. The chic (and reasonably priced) bar and interior made me grow with anticipation to see the Queen of Holyweird. The lack of queuing into the venue was also a big benefit! The seats were central and the perfect elevation and distance from the stage to immerse myself in the evening but also be relaxed.
When she arrived, the scream was deafening as she floated across the stage, almost nonchalant at the cries of her devoted fans. Her setlist was varied, transporting us through her discography laced with nostalgic conversation, recalling the time that she lived in Glasgow.
Her melancholy lyrics were met with sultry dancers who doubled as backup vocalists as the band were an accessory to the star. Her vocals were crystal clear and effortless as she glided between octaves and evoked emotion whilst maintaining her signature pout, only breaking into smiles at the end of each song.
There were a few little disappointments of the evening. The first being the lack of warm up act, especially as fans were healthily filling the venue by 7.30pm hoping to see the ‘and guests’ which was featured on the ticket and had to wait until 9pm for the brunette siren to appear. Although a robust set list, her vocals only lasted a brief 70 minutes. Finally (which is a nit pick), she didn’t thank her band during the set who had exhausted their efforts to support her, a small peeve of mine due to my instrumental experience.
None the less, an entertaining evening and a unique addition to my growing gig collection.
Reader, I have been asked on many occasions what the best gig I have ever been to has been. I will be slowly approaching near 30 gigs by the end of this year and honestly, I couldn’t tell you.
Its disgruntling when I see the disappointment on people’s faces when I can’t give them a direct answer. So having seen a gig three weeks ago and about to see another in the upcoming weeks, I have thought about ‘What makes the perfect gig?’ and what a show needs to have for you to come back for more. I have broken it down to five (and a half) things that make the perfect recipe that make the ultimate gig experience. Some gigs you go to might only have one or two of these features that stand out for you but it doesn’t take away from it being one of the best gig’s you’ve ever seen.
I have also added my personal experiences of artists that I have seen over the years that I thought exceled in these elements as well for some context.
Ingredient #1 – The Setlist What bands play to their fans is a crucial part in setting the atmosphere for the perfect evening. A band that has popular songs in one city, might not have been received well in another and as a band’s discography grows, it can be a minefield of selecting the perfect songs to entertain your audience.
The Best: Maroon 5 – O2 Academy February 2011 Why?: Maroon 5 toured promoting their third album, ‘Hands all Over’ and after two successful albums and had started to decline in interest after a lukewarm response to this album. Little did we know that ‘Moves like Jagger’ was just around the corner and the band would see a resurgence in interest just a handful of weeks after I saw them.
They catered to their audience well in this gig, knowing that everyone wanted to hear the songs they loved, particularly from their debut album ‘Songs About Jane’ after the mixed reception of their new album rather than the new songs. As a result they only sang just 4 songs out of their 16 song set being dedicated to their album they were meant to be promoting and got a wonderful reception from the 2,500 capacity venue.
Ingredient #2: The Crowd
You cannot have a gig without some attendees, I have been to gigs varying from six people to a sold out 67,000 capacity stadium. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know all the words to the songs, you can still soak in the music and the atmosphere from the crowd and it can move you just as much as the lyrics and melodies themselves.
The Best: Passenger – Usher Hall December 2016 Why?: I have briefly touched on this in a previous blog, the engagement of Passenger’s crowd, notably in Edinburgh the first time I saw him was electric. Passenger told the audience during his set that he was going to share a story which inspired his song ‘Travelling Alone’. This heart wrenching song is about a man he met in Copenhagen whilst he was busking who was listening to him sing and got talking to Mike. He explained that he was travelling alone because him and his wife had planned to see the world and that she passed away before they could see the world so he decided to do it alone.
He asked the audience for complete silence and no phones in the air, to which all the audience did. You could’ve heard a pin drop in the sold out 2,200 capacity venue during his tale and it was hauntingly beautiful seeing not a single phone light or arms raised during those 10 minutes he shared his story and then played the song in question. It makes me a little sad to think we live in the generation where we try and capture so many memories through screens rather than living them sometimes.
Ingredient #3: The Venue The venue has a huge impact on how your gig experience is. From important things like, how near the bar is to your seating/standing to how far away are the toilets. It all matters. As well as this, you need to consider acoustics and how good the sound guys are in dealing with the venue.
The Best: Òran Mór – Glasgow Artists Seen: Katzenjammer (October 2012, May 2015), Nerina Pallot (November 2014) Why?: This venue, jointly with SSE Hydro and O2 Academy (also both in Glasgow) is one I have frequented the most. This 500 capacity gig is one of Glasgow’s best known secrets. Tucked away in the West End and below a busy Church converted bar, it attracts the up and coming artists or talented artists who you might know for one flash-in-the-pan pop hit but infact have several albums under their belt of high quality material but maybe don’t quite have ‘the look’. Its a small stage with a backdrop of the venue’s logo and has a stripped back no-frills vibe. The bar is at the back and within easy access due to the small venue, with booth seats along the sides. You are pretty much guaranteed a good place to sit, stand or lean and still get a decent view of the artist and hear the artist without the blow of the speakers of the tin-like sound of the microphones. It doesn’t matter if you’re there to raise the roof, like the energetic loud sounds of Katzenjammer, to the vulnerable and soulful voice of Nerina Pallot, you are in safe hands at the venue and know that you will get the most out of your experience.
Various gigs rom my time at the Òran Mór
Ingredient #4: The Talent Of course you can’t have a gig without an artist! The pressure for artists to sound like their record that you have vehemently listened to leads to sometimes a disappointing reality that your artist might not actually sound the same in real life.
The Best: Paloma Faith – O2 Academy Glasgow January 2013 Why?: This was a tough one to call from my personal experience. Paloma Faith stood out for me in particular as it was the first time that I can remember being blown away by someone’s sheer talent. Her vocal range and power exceeded that of her recordings and her bubbly personal transcended through the remixed versions of her songs, giving a multi-coloured presence to her mono-tone genre of ballad pop she is best known for. Her passion for her craft was evident when she kicked off her shoes and was seen sliding on top of the Grand Piano as she belted out ‘Picking up the Pieces’.
Ingredient #4A: The Artist’s showmanship Any artist can perform great music, but having engagement with your audience that night is crucial, especially with large crowds.
The Best: Lionel Richie – SSE Hydro March 2015 Why?: A seasoned veteran, Lionel has performed both as part of The Commodores and as a solo artist. At a man reaching his 70s, he managed his energy well between piano and standing to ensure he gave his concert 110%. He thanked his audience for not only coming but enjoying his music over half a century, paying credit to the generations that have listened to his music.
Whilst playing a few songs, he spoke about how he has been there for his fans through the various times when they have found, lost and made love. He playfully done this by listing the ways his records have been produced over the years, saying that his fans would grab ‘Their Vinyl, 8-Track, Cassette, CD and Download’ and call on….Lionel. The audience erupted in laughter at how music has evolved over the artist’s career.
His breaks in between songs were full of one liners and tongue-in-cheek jokes catered for all.
Ingredient #5: The Stage Design
The stage design plays more that one would initially think about your gig experience. It can be something as simple as one artist standing with a microphone to a full band and decorative outfits and props. How your stage is dressed can give a true insight that the artist is trying to portray as part of their image and can greatly impact your experience, be it the use of props of the interaction with the band and backup singers.
Special Mention: The Foo Fighters – BT Murrayfield Stadium September 2015. Why?: This naturally had to get a nod for set design for accommodating Dave Grohl with his broken leg by giving him a moving chair modelled on the Iron Throne from ‘The Game of Thrones’ , replacing the swords with rotating lights and guitars. Teamed with the excessive head banging and kicking on his non broken leg, this by no means took away from Dave Grohl’s energetic personality and performance.
The Best: Marina & The Diamonds – Fat Sam’s October 2013 Why?: Marina Diamantis’ stage design was one to behold on her ‘The Lonely Hearts Club’ Tour. Complete with a Chaise Lounge full of cushions and a small Poodle plushie, a retro TV playing clips from music videos and a coat hanger with some outfit accessories to assist with her performance. This comfortable set and use of the props felt you were hearing Marina’s tales of heartbreak from her very own retro sitting room. All this was executed with her band on set without making the stage look too cluttered and adorned with a bright neon sign with her album title, ‘Electra Heart’.
So there you have it! Do you agree with my ingredients? What makes a gig great for you?
Reader, I’m a massive fan of live music and have built up an eclectic mix of artists that I have seen over the last few years in particular. I have seen sell-out stadium tours that tickets were gone in seconds to an artist who had to move his venue to the upstairs of a neighbouring pub after he only sold just six tickets (this guys ended up being the warm up act for Ed Sheeran some years later). I love anything that makes a good beat and has a talented and charismatic artist behind the microphone.
Best Supporting Act
This is a tough one. I have two in mind for this answer. The first amazing warmup act I saw was Sara Barielles at O2 Academy in Glasgow whilst she was touring with Maroon 5 back in February 2011. The supporting act was initially meant to be country icons Lady Antebellum but after the lead singer Hillary Scott announced her pregnancy, Sara stepped up to the plate as a replacement. She has not since returned to Scotland as far as I know and she is definitely on my list.
The second supporting act who stood out for me was Ben Caplan. The booming Canadian with an impressive beard first crossed my path when I saw Norwegian pop group Katzenjammer (for the first time) at the Òran Mór on October 2012. His sound and personality blew me away with his soulful lyrics and catchy hooks, so much so I had to buy tickets when I heard he was returning to Scotland to play the Electric Circus in November 2016 and he did not disappoint!
First Ever Gig
This gig I don’t actually remember all that much because I was seven but I do remember the atmosphere, which was electric. Little did I know that seeing Whitney Houston on her 1999 ‘My Love is Your Love’ Tour would have such an impact on my thirst to see live music just over a decade later.
I remember being in the NEC in Birmingham (where I was told by my parents that the venue was where Gladiators was filmed which kept me very well behaved for the long car journey from our house as I thought I might actually meet a real life Gladiator!). I also remember a lot of costume changes and everyone getting their lighters out whilst Whitney sang ‘I will always love you’. I was also very excited that she sang ‘It’s not right but it’s Okay” which was my favourite of her songs at the time. What an artist to pop my live music cherry to!
Worst Gig Overall
I have only ever walked out of a gig once and it was that of YouTube sensation ‘Scott Bradlee and the Post Modern Jukebox’ in March 2016. This electro-swing band prides itself on covering billboard chart hits with a vintage re-arrangement to hail back to yester-year. Bradlee, a struggling jazz pianist, started filming videos in his Queens apartment with some close friends, turned into a viral sensation. However this wasn’t translated on stage for several reasons.
The first being the Scott Bradlee did not show up. You heard me reader! The act is called ‘Scott Bradlee and the Post Modern Jukebox’ yet he stayed backstage for no reason with no apology and had another pianist playing. The tour had about a dozen venues in the UK with Scott only making an appearance for his sold-out shows. He was still happily posting on social media with selfies of the collaborating artists like he was actually performing every night which proved disappointing for PMJ fans life myself.
Secondly the vibe was all wrong. The venue was a poor choice as many of the songs had a tap dancer who you couldn’t see as she wasn’t elevated. Perhaps the first few rows standing by the stage would’ve caught a glimpse at her talents but to most of us it was just noise and flailing arms.
The audience was varied from young drunk students dressed up as flappers to elderly couples wanting a piece of nostalgia with a modern twist but there was no harmony between audience members who should have been united in music and it was an awkward state of confusing and discordance for most. When some of the singers tried to engage with the audience, it was mostly met with silence or a few weak claps.
Scott Bradlee and the Post Modern Jukebox came back to Scotland just under a year later and played at the Usher Hall, a much more ideal venue but was charging £65 per ticket (the same cost I was to see Motown legend Lionel Richie), a whopping 260% price increase from the £25 he initially charged at O2 Academy and also the same price I saw Passenger at the exact same venue.
Long and short of it was it was a massive hot mess and I walked out 45 minutes into their set.
I have been asked what my favourite gig was but I will dedicate a new blog post to that sometime soon.
Have you got any questions about my experiences seeing live music acts? Feel free to leave a comment!