The best of 2012

First published in The Critic

Personal highlights on the music scene included King Creosote and John Hopkins’s bewitching February show at St George’s Church, Daniel Johnston and British Sea Power turning the vast St Bartholomew’s Church into an intimate venue in April, Elvis Costello’s hit-packed Brighton Centre appearance in May, and Father John Misty’s electrifying city debut at the Blind Tiger Club in November.

And there has been some great theatre too – Fringe First winner The Table at the Pavilion Theatre in March, Rupert Everett in The Judas Kiss at Theatre Royal Brighton and Daniel Kitson’s Old Market shows, which sold out in four minutes, were all pretty special.

But my favourite of the year was a rare visit from The Magnetic Fields to Komedia in April, which saw Stephin Merritt dip deep into his back catalogue in a beautiful acoustic set-up.

Duncan Hall

My favourite show of 2012 was Sinead O’Connor’s pre-tour warm-up at St George’s Church in March. Her reputation as a vulnerable eccentric has so eclipsed her musical output, we went with no expectations.

We got a world-class live band, all the hits and O’Connor on astonishing, outlandishly potent form, brimful of funny stories, switching from hilarity to heartbreak in a moment. Voice intact, song after song she knocked ’em out of the park.

Her rendition of I Am Stretched On Your Grave was the single finest a cappella performance I’ve ever heard. I wouldn’t be surprised if that night in Brighton was one of her finest moments.

Chris T-T

When Sharon Jones And The Dap-Kings played Concorde 2 in March, Jones’s mother had just died.

The great soul diva explained that she was preparing to fly back to America to organise the funeral.

This personal tragedy combined with technical problems onstage, as she danced in front of her band, gasping like James Brown and improvising a song of exasperation about her earpiece and microphone not working.

Finally her pain and frustration boiled over into an explosive, emotional musical experience with barely a moment’s break: the packed-in crowd sweated, shouted, sobbed and danced in a frenzy, perspiration pouring from the walls as if at a religious revival meeting.

Rosie Clarke

I’m married to a German and generally they think a joke is no laughing matter, which is why when a German is funny, they are completely sidesplitting.

Watching Paco Erhard, German comedian and cross-cultural speaker at Brighton Fringe in May, tears poured down my cheeks, I ran out of tissues and laughed so much my sides hurt.

Paco, describing how Germans would rather die on the autobahn than risk a minor traffic infringement with graph paper and scale models was quite achingly funny – perhaps nothing is as hilarious as poking the extremely serious. Wonderful, unforgettable stuff.

Louise Schweitzer

The most memorable show I saw in 2012 was held in the beautiful St Andrew’s Church on Waterloo Street in October.

Organised by Offhand, the evening showcased the rising electronic talent of Brighton, and the line-up was diverse.

The experience was enhanced by visuals projected on all walls of the vast interior, lighting up the soulful vocals of Anushka and the pulsing synth-driven soundscapes of DA-10, and dramatising the sets of Lost Twin and Murder He Wrote. As the audience danced in the pews, the effect was magical.

Jessica Marshall McHattie

Canadian rap artist Richard Terfry, aka Buck 65, marked two decades in hip-hop with the album 20 Odd Years in 2011. Featuring strong storytelling and acoustic instruments, the songs included the country-inflected Paper Airplane, rhyming on letters to his soon-to-be wife, and She Said Yes, about her acceptance of his proposal.

But halfway through this gig at The Haunt in November, he told the crowd she’d walked out on him a year ago, before performing an emotional new piece. Buck 65 shows always have plenty of humour but the jolt of melancholy in his most poetic work was never more present.

Tim Norman

In yet another great season at Chichester Festival Theatre, The Resistible Rise Of Arturo Ui in June at the Minerva Theatre proved to be the highlight of the year for me.

The title role called for acting of the highest degree and Henry Goodman triumphed. He gave a mesmerising tour de force performance moving from a comic clown to the sinister, yet spellbinding, Hitler figure. It provided a terrifying climax as he stood atop a mountain of skulls.

Barrie Jerram

Last year’s Great Escape festival got off to a sensational start as Django Django rounded off the first night with a rip-roaring show at the Pavilion Theatre.

After an eclectic mix of warm-up acts – Canadian rock and rollers The Sheepdogs, the pared-back guitar and vocals of Willy Mason and the shuffling shoegaze of Toy – Django Django showed just why their debut album was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize with a superb set of harmony-laden art-rock anthems reflecting their myriad musical influences.

The band’s retro patterned shirts and oversized tambour-ines only endeared them further to the crowd.

Jenny Tregoning

Quickfire gags mixed with slick song-and-dance routines made October’s Radio Times The Musical the best show to come to Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne.

Gary Wilmot and a superbly talented cast enhanced the uplifting music and lyrics of Noel Gay by playing trombones, trumpets, saxophones, piano, double bass and ten ukuleles!

They also showed great comic timing to fully exploit an often hilarious script by Abi Grant and Alex Armitage.

Tony Flood

If one show persuaded me that our brief lives are still unutterably beautiful whatever axe the Chancellor wields, it was Melly Still’s gorgeous staging of Janacek’s late masterpiece The Cunning Little Vixen, which opened the 2012 season at Glyndebourne in May.

Youth, vitality, sex and bare-faced cheek all go a long way when times are hard and this production had it all, plus the meltingly romantic score played with a get-it-while-you-can urgency under the baton of Vladimir Jurowski. A sensational night; I wept with joy.

Eleanor Knight

For me, the best show of the year really has to be the veteran Swedish metal band Meshuggah, who played to a packed Concorde 2 in April.

Their almost unbelievably dense, otherwordly sound is among the most distinctive of any band, heavy or otherwise; Meshuggah’s live show was nothing short of incredible.

Though Brighton has hosted these cult heroes before, this year’s gig felt like part of a real shift, alongside shows from Kylesa, Sunn O))) and Boris, towards world-class acts of this genre regularly bringing their tours to town.

Nick Aldwinckle

Eleven-piece folk group Bellowhead put the “big” into big band at Brighton Dome Concert Hall in November. Their latest album, Broadside, is their noisiest yet – full of parping brass, operatic chants and joyous fiddling.

And the band brought it to life in style on a specially designed stage resembling a ghost ship. Rowdy dancing and singing along with the English folk tradition’s lustier choruses were all encouraged.

A great gig made even better afterwards when members of the band went to a nearby pub to lead a (slightly) quieter song session. An unforgettable night.

Mark Dishman

Sometimes the best things happen when you least expect them. Such was the case when Bat For Lashes returned home to Brighton Dome Concert Hall in November on the back of her third record, The Haunted Man.

Both the performances of her incredible band, as well as her own faultless vocal delivery, were things of genuine brilliance.

Coupled with her beaming smile and unbridled enthusiasm, by the time she let out the words “Thank God I’m alive” during a euphoric Lilies, it became less a gig and more a celebration.

Andy Robbins

The intensely fresh, tightly directed and faultlessly choreographed version of Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange at The Old Market, Hove, in September was utterly compelling.

And Martin McCreadie’s physical, charismatic take on lead Droog Alexander DeLarge was the year’s stand-out performance for me.

The show resonated with hidden menace as well as in-your-face violence meted out during a series of weirdly titillating dance/mime sequences. All nine male cast members were excellent, but Stephen Spencer was notable for his deliciously gleeful minister of the interior.

Mary Kalmus

The stand-out show of 2012 for me was Alexei Sayle’s first foray back into live comedy after a 16-year hiatus.

His missus berated him for returning to stand-up, saying he risked “diluting his legacy”, but at Hove’s Old Market in October he rolled back the years with a gutsy and forthright comedic tour de force.

Sayle joked that he was only rated as one of the all-time comedy greats because nobody had ever seen him live. But judging by the reaction of those lucky enough to have witnessed this set, his stock only rises further among those who have seen him in the flesh.

Gary Scattergood

Fleeto, Paddy Cuneen’s gritty, in-your-face yet intelligent drama of knife crime on Glasgow’s streets, turned my legs to jelly at The Nightingale, in May, as part of the Brighton Fringe.

Elsewhere Translunar Paradise was a bewitching tribute to love in Le Coq mime, Three Men In A Boat was a clever and hilarious take on an old favourite, and in Threepenny Opera, Chichester University’s performance rivalled professionals.

Catherine Meek

In my review of Spymonkey’s Oedipussy at Brighton Festival I wrote that the comic vision of Petra Massey appearing as a naked half-human half-cat with the costume on the wrong way round would stay with me for a long time.

More than seven months on the moment and the roaring crowd which resulted remain as vivid as the vision.

The show, exploring the process of ageing through the Greek tragedy of incest and murder, was the best thing on stage this year.

A close second was Eddie Izzard doing a show in French for a curious few on the roof of Bexhill’s De La Warr Pavilion.

The best live music was witnessed by not more than a huddle at Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar where former Stereolab singer Laetitia Sadier picked the best from her new record, Silencio. She’s quirky, intelligent and determined, but her real star is seeing the beauty of simplicity.

Dominic Smith

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