Simon Godley’s Top 12 live music performances of 2023

Simon Godley’s Top 12 live music performances of 2023

I must be getting old. Despite going to 45 gigs and five festivals in this calendar year and probably seeing more than 150 acts in the process, 2023 generally hasn’t exactly been a vintage year for me in terms of catching live music. Having said that, there have been some pretty good live performances along the way – for some reason, they seemed to get better as the year went on – and here is my top 12 listed in chronological order.

Death Valley Girls – Cluny 2, Newcastle Upon Tyne, 2nd March

I went to this show with my sister who lives in Newcastle. One of a number of concerts we have gone to together over the years was Al Green at the Festival Hall in London in 1991. To this day it remains one of the most disappointing shows I’ve ever attended. Thankfully, this one was infinitely better. It was held in the smaller of the two rooms at the Cluny. This one has a capacity of 180 though I doubt there was even a fifth of that number in there that night. Those who weren’t there certainly missed a bit of a treat.

Lisa O’Neill – Howard Assembly Room, Leeds, 16th April

Lisa O’Neill had politely requested beforehand that the audience refrain from taking any photos during this show. She wanted everyone to be “fully in the moment”. And every single person in the sell-out crowd duly respected her wish and, do you know what, she was absolutely right in what she had said. It was a totally immersive, quite unforgettable experience, completely devoid of unnecessary distractions.

Nina Nastasia – Brudenell Social Club, Leeds, 5th April

Prior to this tour, Nina Nastasia had not played in this country for more than a decade. Making up for lost time she was to return some five months later. I just couldn’t bring myself to go and see her again, though, because as moving and as memorable as this Leeds show was the experience was akin to bearing uncomfortable witness to an individual’s personal nightmare, something that you wouldn’t necessarily be in any great rush to repeat.

Pretenders – KITE Festival, Oxfordshire, 11th June

The last time I had seen Chrissie Hynde in concert was about 10 years ago at Latitude Festival and it was a fairly forgettable occasion. But this was something else altogether. The set was unfortunately truncated by a biblical outbreak of thunder and lightning but up to that point the Pretenders had rolled back the years. Chrissie was in fantastic voice and in guitarist James Walbourne she has the perfect foil. If in any doubt about my assertion, catch some of the TV footage of the Pretenders at this year’s Glastonbury Festival a fortnight later. This was every bit as good.

Suede – KITE Festival, Oxfordshire, 11th June

Not sure why, but I’ve never much cared for Suede. But this performance went some considerable way to changing that view. Coming onto the stage after the storm that had cut the Pretenders set short had passed, they achieved immediate lift off due, primarily, to Brett Anderson’s energy, athleticism, and sheer on-stage charisma. To be in that photo pit for those first three songs was exhilarating.

Beth Orton – Green Man Festival, Brecon Beacons, Wales, 18th August

Beth Orton makes it into my top dozen live performances for the second year running. The heavens above Green Man this year had stayed open for the previous 36 hours, but dressed in a bright yellow jumpsuit Orton’s appearance on the Mountain Stage late on Friday afternoon radiated luminance, warmth, and charm amidst the prevailing gloom. With her top-notch band behind her, including a wonderfully understated Adrian Utley from Portishead on guitar, she was clearly enjoying herself. Her happiness and joy, combined with her brilliant set translated easily to the crowd and she certainly lifted our spirits.

Graham Nash – Moseley Folk & Arts Festival, Birmingham, 1st September

I first saw Graham Nash nearly 50 years ago as part of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. I’d always viewed him as the weakest creative link in this early 70’s supergroup, but his exquisite light tenor, especially when on harmony, moved many of their songs into another dimension. More recently, though, he’d gone down in my estimation especially given some of his comments in an interview with The Guardian last year. But he certainly went some way to redeeming himself on Friday night at Moseley Folk. With politically motivated fire still burning  in his belly, he railed against injustice, oppression, and war, and even at 81 years of age his exquisite voice remains in remarkably good shape.

Wilco – Moseley Folk & Arts Festival, Birmingham, 3rd September

There had been plenty of good stuff already, not least the aforementioned Graham Nash, The Mary Wallopers, The Saw Doctors, and then immediately beforehand, Billy Bragg, but Moseley Folk remained true to the grandest of traditions by keeping the very best until last when Wilco closed out this year’s festival. They were magnificent, affirmation that they are still one of the greatest rock bands around today. And Billy Bragg returned to the stage for their final song, ‘California Stars’ which they had initially recorded together on their 1998 album, Mermaid Avenue.

Dexys – York Barbican, 5th September

Nothing was ever going to compare with that time I saw Dexys at Whitley Bay Playhouse in 2012, right before they were about to release One Day I’m Going To Soar, their first album in 27 years. That show routinely gets into my personal Top 10 Gigs of all Time list. This was never going to reach those dizzy heights, not least because of the perennially sterile atmosphere within this auditorium, but it really wasn’t half bad at all.

The Psychotic Monks – The Crescent, York, 4th October

This was one of those gigs where you just take a chance. You’ve never heard of the band let alone any of their music beforehand but working on the basis that local live music promoter Please Please You never puts on anything that is ever less than interesting, I headed down to the Crescent that night. Often when not too many paying punters turn up at this venue the band end up setting up on the floor space immediately in front of the stage to compress the room and create greater intimacy. It certainly works as you feel as if you have become an integral part of the performance, so close are you to the artists.

Cowgirl – The Crescent, York,  20th October 

Since they played their first ever gig in March 2017, I’ve seen the York band Cowgirl many times but this show has to have been their best. It was incendiary, white-hot rock’n’roll and in running the risk of lapsing into chronic hyperbole it made me think what it might have been like catching the MC5 in Detroit’s Grande Ballroom c. 1969. It was high-octane, bare-knuckled energy for 30 undiluted minutes.

Bobby Lee – The Crescent, York, 29th October

The Crescent, York’s premier live music venue, was once again responsible for many of my personal favourite shows in 2023. To this list A Yorkshire Tribute to Michael Chapman, Lost Map 10 Presents, and earlier in the year, Robert Forster could all be added, but the final berth in this year’s Top 12 is reserved for the cosmic innovator, Bobby Lee. As if arriving from a different time zone – one located firmly within the Summer of Love – Lee thankfully brought with him an impressive double-handful of his celestial instrumentals. 

With special thanks to my local venues and live music promoters at Please Please YouThe CrescentHoward Assembly Room, and Brudenell Social Club for having put on some very special shows throughout the year. 

Photos: Simon Godley

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