There was a time earlier this year, when I was hobbling around with the help of a crutch, when I thought that I would have difficulty scraping together five gigs that I’d actually seen; how wrong was that? It’s been difficult to narrow this list down to five, so I think there might be a few honourable mentions as well. So, in absolutely no order at all are my favourite live shows of 2014.

Jim StapleyJim Stapley Band at 93 Feet East

Jim Stapley’s debut album almost made my top five albums, but there was absolutely no doubt about this live performance. Jim has a phenomenal soulful rock voice and he has pulled together a superb band to deliver the songs live. This was an album launch gig featuring virtually all of the album “Long Time Coming” (plus a cheeky cover of Rihanna’s “We Found Love”) and, despite atrocious weather and a half-full venue, Jim and the band gave it everything. The songs were strong, the band were cooking on gas, but what a voice.

 

Stone FoundationStone Foundation at The 100 Club

Towards the end of a very busy year for the band, this was an appearance at the annual Delicious Junction bash and another headline slot at The 100 Club with a set based solidly on the “To Find the Spirit”. All of the band members are great players but, despite the solos, this isn’t about individuals, it’s about the group; it’s the perfect combination of a locked-in rhythm section, keyboards and horns. It was also a chance to see how the new members Gareth John (trumpet and flugelhorn) and Rob Newton (congas) had bedded in. It’s fair to say that the horns sounded better than ever and the congas added a little bit of icing on the cake. It was a great set from the band and a stomping encore of “Jumping Jack Flash”. Enough said.

YokaLittle Devils at The 100 Club

Yeah, The 100 Club again and it’s blues Jim, but not as we know it; Little Devils are fronted by singer and multi-instrumentalist (sax and flute), Yoka. The rhythm section of Graeme Wheatley and Sara-Leigh Shaw (aka the Pintsized Powerhouse) built a solid base for Big Ray’s guitar and Yoka’s vocals and instrumental solos. The quality of the playing alone would put this gig up there with the best this year but this is also great fun; the band obviously enjoy themselves and the audience will always pick up on that. Great performances and big smiles all around the room; that’s a pretty good combination for a great night.

Federal CharmFederal Charm and Ian Hunter’s Rant Band

This was the final night of the Ian Hunter tour and the audience was in a party mood. It’s not the first time I’ve seen Federal Charm but they seem to get better every time. They got a huge cheer when they strolled on to the Shepherds Bush Empire stage and powered their way through thirty minutes of melodic blues rock featuring their powerful cover of “Reconsider” before making way for Ian Hunter. What a legend; played for two hours and kept the audience spellbound throughout, and the voice still sounds great. We even got an appearance from Mick Ralphs for the encore. Top night.

Gary BondsGary Bonds, Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes

Now this sounded like a great idea. 60s legend, and big influence on the Asbury Park scene teams up with Southside Johnny for a UK tour; I’ll even pay for tickets for that. Albany Down, despite a ten-second soundcheck, got the audience nicely warmed up for the main event which was a set from Gary Bonds (with some help from Southside) and a set from Southside (with a little help from Gary Bonds), both backed The Asbury Jukes. As ever, the superb musicians (Jeff Kazee, Tom Seguso, John Conte, Glenn Alexander, John Isley, Chris Anderson and Neal Pawley) fitted together perfectly and reacted instantly to any curveballs thrown by Southside. Seriously great players but they know how to have a bit of fun as well. They’re a great attraction as The Jukes, but Gary Bonds just tipped it over the edge.

It was incredibly difficult to narrow this down to only five gigs and there are a few more which deserve honourable mentions. I saw Vera Lynch three times (including their final gig at The Barfly in Camden and a gig in a Shoreditch shop window), The Kennedys and Edwina Hayes at Green Note and Dean Owens and Black Scarr on Eel Pie Island and all of those were great nights. Here’s to many more in 2015.

Jim Stapley TitleI reviewed Jim Stapley’s debut album in May and since then I’ve been waiting for a chance to see him sing live. Kenny Jones rates him very highly and so do many musicians I know. Actually that’s an understatement; the ratings usually start at ‘great singer’ and finish at somewhere north of ‘fuckin’ awesome’. But I’m not taking anyone else’s word for it; I want to hear it for myself and that’s why I’m blanking the curry house touts on Brick Lane in the pouring rain to get to 93 Feet East. And I’m soaked because umbrellas really aren’t rock ‘n’ roll, are they?

The opening act is Johnson-Jay (who later reappears as guitarist in the Jim Stapley Band) performing with Jennifer Clarke as The Junipers, a two guitars/guitar keyboards duo. It’s a lovely laid-back set with strong songs and superb harmonies throughout, particularly the closer, “Can’t Take it With You”; a perfect start to the evening. Jay Scott and the Find come roaring out of the blocks for the second support set but, and this is just my opinion, don’t really consolidate as the set progresses. Sorry guys, maybe I just really wanted to see Jim Stapley. So, nearly six months after hearing the album for the first time, I’m about to hear that voice live.

Even as the band do the final preparations (placing the set lists and drinks), it’s obvious that there’s a great camaraderie there and they get a real buzz out of being together. From the relatively low-key opening bars of “Out of Sight” with drums and acoustic guitar, you know that it’s a great band out there and that they’re stoked just to be there doing what they do best. It’s difficult to pick out individual performances from the band because it’s all about showing off the songs and providing a solid platform for Jim’s stunning rock voice to soar to the heavens. At a time when vapid mediocrities are hyped to the hilt and superlative proliferation has become a way of life, it’s such a great feeling to hear a real rock singer with plenty of soul working with such a tight, professional band. Jim’s voice harks back to the 70s and singers like Paul Rodgers and Robert Plant but there’s also a soulful edge which takes it in to the territory of Steve Marriott, Frankie Miller, Joe Cocker and maybe even John Waite. I’ve heard a lot of great singers, live and on record, and Jim Stapley is right up there with the best.

The set is perfectly paced and features almost everything from the debut album, “Long Time Coming” plus the non-album song, “Somewhere” as Jim and the band switch easily between styles and dynamics. The power ballad “Laid to Waste” is followed by the slower “Heartstrings” (both on the first single) before the first out-and-out rocker “My Way Home”, which is followed by the country stylings of “Shield”. “New Religion” builds from a solo piano backing to a huge full band sound with gospel backing vocals and then it’s into a cover of “We Found Love” which Jim and the band tackle very much in their own style (juge for yourself from the clip) before blasting into the 80s style “Made of Stone”, with its massive guitar riff and epic chorus.

The wind-up to the big finish starts with “Hurricane”, a slow ballad with another big chorus, builds up with the album opener, “No Good Reason” (and another monstrous guitar riff) before “Breaking Out” begins with an acoustic intro, builds as the band join in and finishes with everyone (particularly the backing vocalists pushing it to the limit. And that’s yer lot, apart from a quick chat with the man himself on the way out. Turns out he’s also a bloody good bloke.

So, I’m going to make some recommendations for you. If you like great rock music and appreciate a true rock voice, you should check out “Long Time Coming”. Then you should buy a copy at a decent record shop or here. Then you should find out when they’re playing near you, get a ticket and prepare to be amazed at the quality of the band and Jim Stapley’s astounding voice. That’s not too difficult, is it?