Now, you might think that live music is a curious choice for this piece to focus on, at the end of a year that was almost a total write-off for gigs from around mid-March. But hey, there were a few live albums this year, from artists old and new, to remind us of the power of live music.
At the very top of the tree is Check Shirt Wizard – Live In ’77, by Rory Gallagher. Released in March, I said in my review that I’d be dumbfounded if there was a better album this year, and I stand by that statement. Check Shirt Wizard is a breath-taking document of what Rory brought to the stage back then – a four piece on full throttle, barnstorming, dynamic form, led by a man with a musical mojo of mythic proportions. If you want to get in the mood, check out this footage of ‘Calling Card’, from a Hammersmith Odeon performance that year.
Another in concert collection from a late Irish legend arrived in January, with Gary Moore’s Live From London. Recorded in 2009, it’s not without its flaws, but it’s still a testament to how rediscovering the blues back in 1990 brought a much stronger focus to Moore’s work. Hard core fans will love the guitar pyrotechnics for which he always had a penchant, but for me it’s when he lays back a bit and captures the emotion in songs that he’s at his best, whether it’s the heartache of ‘Still Got The Blues’ or the humour of ‘Too Tired’. Here he is having some fun with ‘Walking By Myself’, at the 2010 Montreux Jazz Festival.
A more contemporary live recording released this year came from Albert Castiglia, with Wild And Free, recorded in Boca Raton in November 2019. Now Albert, like Gary Moore, is fond of letting it rip in the guitar stakes, and he certainly does that a few times in the course of this set. But there’s light and shade in there too – as well as some special guests. This performance of Johnny Winter’s ‘Too Much Seconal’, filmed in Poland a few weeks before the Boca Raton gig, is a pretty good illustration of the Castiglia style.
But lest anyone think that quality live albums are the sole preserve of guitar slingers, singer Sari Schorr chipped in with a goodie back in February in the form of Live In Europe. At its best it serves up sassy, rockin’ blues with a dash of funk, decorated by quality guitar from Ash Wilson and keys from (depending on the cut) Bob Fridzema and Stevie Watts, as a platform for Schorr to do her forceful vocal stuff. Here they are giving it some welly on the brooding 'Damn The Reason', back in 2018.
If there’s someone who really should have released a live album in 2020, to fill the void in touring work, it’s the woman who probably does around 200 gigs in the course of normal year – Samantha Fish. Let’s face it, she and her management must have piled up some decent recordings of her incendiary live shows by now, and her fanbase have been drooling at the prospect for a good while now. On the plus side, I did manage to catch a couple of British shows early in the year, including the London gig at Islington Assembly Hall, before she had to pull the plug on her European tour in mid-March. Here she is in Denver back in February, having fun on ‘Bitch On The Run’, complete with compulsory singalong.
One of the few other bands I managed to catch before live music came to a crashing halt was Wille & The Bandits, in their new four-piece incarnation. To my mind they're a band who deserve considerably more attention than they currently seem to get, as they manage to extend their blues foundations into prog rock terrain, with world music influences thrown into the mix for good measure. To demonstrate my point, here they are with 12 minutes' worth of the epic instrumental 'Angel', from a 2020 performance in France.
I can't say I've devoted a lot of time to watching the streaming of live shows, though naturally quite a few artists have gone down this road in an effort to keep the home fires burning. Sometimes that's just been a matter of timing - shows in the States often hit our screens in the middle of the night here in Europe. But there's also the missing ingredient to contend with - the magic of simply being there, in the room when the music is being made, and being part of the interaction with the artist. And with that in mind, let's hope this pandemic beats a retreat before too long, so that we can all get back to enjoying live music for real.
You can find Part 1 of the Blues Enthused Christmas Stocking here.