So, how was 2013 for you?  The Riot Squad have had a brilliant year bringing you the best in contemporary music wherever we find it.  Allan, John, Klare and Louie have reviewed some exceptional live and recorded music throughout the year and we all thank you for reading our reviews and looking at our photos.  We couldn’t resist this opportunity to remind you of some of the artists we reviewed for the first time in 2013.

We saw live performances by the Emile Gerber Band (which became Stoneface Travellers), Henrik Freischlader, Josephine, Marcus Bonfanti (solo and with his band), The Kennedys, Federal Charm (twice), Black Casino & The Ghost, Coco and the Butterfields (several times), The Dirt Tracks, Carrie Rodriguez, Aynsley Lister, Civil Protection, Wheatus, Dean Owens and Zoe Schwarz Blue Commotion.  Quite a selection, really.

We reviewed albums and singles by Henrik Freischlader, Marcus Bonfanti, Sally Shapiro, Tomorrow’s World, Black Casino & The Ghost, Jimmy Livingstone, Austra, Tess of the Circle, Aynsley Lister, The Nyco Project, The Dirt Tracks, Nadine Shah, Sullivn,  Radio (in my) Head, Tal National, Layla Zoe, Kinver, Au Revoir Simone, DENA, Hartebeest, Polly Scattergood, Glasser, Annie, Emika and John Grant and probably a few others as well.  Along the way we had some great fun and met some lovely people; you all know who you are, and we’re hoping to meet most of you again this year.

Looking forward to 2014, we’re hoping for more of the same.  The review copies are already coming in and it’s starting to look pretty good already.  Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing some of our predictions for 2014 from the Riot Squad and possibly from a few guest contributors as well.  And, while we’re on the subject of guest contributions, many thanks to Aynsley Lister, Steve Jenner, Marcus Bonfanti and Billie Ray Martin for their contributions to our High Fives feature last year.

So I wouldn’t normally go to a small, glamour-free, square (in shape) venue like Bush Hall in Shepherd’s Bush on a cold Wednesday evening in February; my editor Allan and his camera would and probably has but I’d rather stay in and press play. The thought of seeing and more importantly hearing Mancunian Josephine play songs from her sweet and soulful debut album proved too strong though and at 8:30pm I was standing in said hall and looking at a nervous young boy with a guitar called George Ezra whilst he passionately and skilfully sang his 5 or so songs before dashing out to get his train back to Bristol.

At 9 o’clock Josephine and musical partner, Steve, walked onto the tiny stage (with Josephine looking more Studio 54 than you might have imagined in skyscraper heels and a silky bustier pant suit), strapped on their guitars and the beauty begun to unfold. Opening with the stately “I Think it was Love”, Josephine finished the song revealing relief that the hardest song was thankfully out of the way and she could now relax, not that you would have ever known she was anything other than comfortable and confident in front of a pretty packed room. This was a tight 55 minute set consisting mainly of tracks from the surprisingly strong “Portrait” debut album; Josephine is a masterful vocalist with a charming stage presence. The more uptime pop of “A Freak A” and big, warm-hearted “Original Love” were crowd favourites, well-known enough for people to sing along but it was on the waltz-time, Cabaret-like album closer and her most distinctive track “House of Mirrors” that Josephine, stripped of the guitars she had held close to her all night, made for a humble, vulnerable and moving presence.

As a warm up for her first tour proper in April after completing her current support slot with Paloma Faith, Josephine proves that she can hold a room’s attention and I, for one, look forward to experiencing her with a full band in a venue that can fully accommodate her blossoming and considerable talent.