FEATURE: Ali Welford – A Look Back at 2021 | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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So, how was your 2021?
Better than 202
0. I think? Maybe? I’m having doubts.

What was your best moment?
Seeing Arab Strap in Glasgow. Their show at the Boiler Shop was great, but seeing them play to a home-town crowd at the Barrowlands the following evening was a different proposition entirely. The atmosphere was the best I’ve ever experienced, and their performance – featuring a subtly tweaked setlist – was pure gloom-ridden magic. They’re my favourite band in the world, and while I’m not sure I’d call it ‘the best,’ I’ve certainly never enjoyed a gig as much as this one.

And your worst moment?
Plenty of choice here. I’m going to say the takeover of Newcastle United. Everything about it is so, so grim. It’s not just the fact that the team I (used to) support are now controlled by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund – headed by quite literally some of the worst people on Earth… It’s the way the vast majority of supporters have embraced their new overlords, justifying their apathy with desperate whataboutery and embarrassing mental gymnastics… It’s Tory mega-donor Jamie Reuben being hailed as a hero for using the foodbanks he helped as cheap PR stunts… It’s the fact Amanda fucking Staveley is somehow seen as the acceptable public face of this consortium. It stinks to the core – but who cares when you might be signing James Tarkowski, right?

Who was your favourite band/artist this year?
Although I really enjoyed last year’s debut album, 2021 feels like the year where Billy Nomates has been properly unleashed. She’s released a cracking follow-up EP, her live shows have been a thrill to witness, she’s repeatedly stuck two fingers up at a certain North East promoter, and she’s even topped it off with a Christmas song I enjoy!

What was your favourite gig/show of the year?
I think I’ve already answered that one! Honourable mentions go to Billy Nomates’ brilliantly effervescent show at The Cluny and Archipelago’s scintillating Echoes to the Sky album launch at Gosforth Civic Theatre.

Recommended album?
Arab Strap’s As Days Get Dark is (unsurprisingly) my Album of the Year. As a fan, I wasn’t entirely sold on the idea a new record. I never doubted that it’d be good, but to me Arab Strap’s original incarnation was the sound of (often misspent) youth – the prospect of a pair of middle-aged men attempting to recapture that wasn’t terribly appealing. Fortunately, what they delivered an updated, matured vision of that original formula, reflecting a decade-and-a-half of change both personally and as musicians. It’s one of the best records they’ve ever made, and most importantly it feels quintessentially Arab Strap.

Your favourite song of the year?
I could pick any number from the Arab Strap record (noticing a theme?), but I’m going to keep it local and call a tie between Archipelago’s Gold and Ceitidh Mac’s When the Tune Rises. A couple of stellar standouts from two of the best releases the North East has spawned in recent years.

Favourite venue of the year?
I’ve loved being back at The Cumberland Arms, and though I no longer live conveniently in the back street, I always enjoy a visit to Bobik’s. This year, though, I’m going to say Cobalt Studios – a great space with a fabulous ethos, and a knack for booking some of the most innovative and leftfield talent around. I’d particularly recommend their FRESH events – a sumptuous Thursday night food/gig combo – if you haven’t been to one already.

Any upcoming artists we should keep an eye out for in 2022?
Dublin songwriter Rachael Lavelle absolutely blew my head off when I saw her open for Anna B Savage in Manchester, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Locally, meanwhile, I’m really looking forward to hearing more from Heather Ferrier – a terrific performer bringing a fresh twist to the North East folk circuit.

Your favourite film?
I’ve seen a grand total of three films with 2021 UK release dates – Promising Young Woman, Ammonite and Dune. The former was my favourite.

Favourite TV show of the year?
By contrast, I’ve watched a lot more TV than usual this year. Time was an excellent drama with a superb cast, and Squid Game was a cultural phenomenon I actually engaged with at the same time as everybody else – almost unheard of! Let’s be frank, though, It’s A
Sin takes this by a country mile.

Best book you read?
This question has made me realise how shamefully little I’ve read this year. I’ll say A Seat at the Table: Interviews With Women on the Frontline of Music by Amy Raphael.

Best podcast?
The Guardian’s Football Weekly is the only podcast I listen to, therefore wins by default.

Any predictions for next year?
The threshold for rioting will finally be reached. ‘Tis the season to be jolly, and all that.

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