The Zaw Towers Top 10 Gigs of All Time

(updated 1 October 2016, original list 10 July 2006)

Sometimes you go to a gig, and it's not just about the fact that it's someone you see performing. They either blow you away with their performance, something wonderful happens when you're there, or there's just a great atmosphere with the band and the crowd that you can't help having a warm glow and happy feeling inside. Here I'll try and narrow a fair number of concerts I've been to over the years and make a top 10 out of it, which as you can understand is quite a difficult task. However, if you wish to nominate your own 10, feel free to contact me and let me know about them - particularly if you were at the gig yourself!

This update reflects more of the gigs I've been to since 2006 which now feature in the top 10 list.

1 - Pixies (Manchester G-Mex, Saturday 22nd June 1991)

It had been a lifetime ambition of mine to see my favourite band live, and unfortunately I'd already bought tickets for the Wonder Stuff at Walsall and was in a quandry when I found out this concert was the same day. I decided to just sell on the ticket for the Stuffies (as hard as it was) and bought my ticket for this instead. In hindsight probably the best decision I ever made in terms of gigs. Cud were supporting and they were also pretty good, but as for the Pixies - they were mindblowing. Not just content with churning out plenty of great songs from Trompe Le Monde, with Planet of Sound being particularly brilliant and scary, there was also room for B-sides like Into The White, and über classics like Debaser, Monkey Gone To Heaven, Dead, Isla de Encanta and then a really stirring version of Where Is My Mind, which never even now has lost its appeal. Of course during the likes of some songs I was that involved I just felt I wanted to be Black Francis and so was screaming the vocals out and singing along that way. That was fine for about the first half hour or so but then it became a bit more difficult. However the best bit was at the end - all the lights had been switched on and people started to leave, but knowing their antics I stayed around and piled towards the front. And sure enough, they started playing Tame as another encore, cue everyone running back to the front of the stage and pogoing like crazy. I had a sore throat for four days solid after that, but you know what? I didn't care. It was just brilliant.

2 - Kraftwerk (Manchester Velodrome, Thursday 2nd July 2009)

I fulfilled a lifelong ambition to see Kraftwerk, and the event as part of Manchester International Festival was indeed a rather special gig all round. Not only did we have their now standard 3D show in all of the second half which was pretty mesmerising, but on top of that, an extended version of Tour de France featuring the original single and the étape stage parts, and right on cue, the British cycling team cycling around the velodrome's track at the same time. Ralf Hutter is himself a big cycling fan, so for this to be pulled off so well, with the likes of Geraint Thomas, Jason Kenny and Jamie Staff, was very special indeed. Not just that, but killer versions of many classics such as Home Computer, Computer Love, The Robots, and perhaps most notably of all a superlative Trans-Europe Express, and it was a fascinating two plus hours in a massively hot and sweaty velodrome with some of the best audio and visuals I've seen in a long time. The other abiding memory was having the 3D glasses on and having the likes of vitamin pills come towards you during Vitamin which showed off the fancy technology to its finest for its time. It was an event, and it was purely brilliant. It was one of those true "I was there" moments that myself and indeed The Love In My Heart (one of the first gigs we went to together) enjoyed hugely.

3 - Morrissey (Manchester Evening News Arena, Saturday 22nd May 2004)

When a leading Morrissey website says that this was the best ever Morrissey gig then you know that it was an event which was to be a special place for many fans like me. Not only was it his 45th birthday on that day, but You Are The Quarry had been released to critical acclaim and so everyone was on a natural high. All Saturday afternoon my friend Chris and I spotted lots and lots of Moz diehards while we were out munching, and the general feeling was one of cameraderie and relaxed feeling. Franz Ferdinand fulfilled a lifetime ambition of being the same gig as the man, and to be fair they were also excellent, churning out plenty of tight and top tunes. But of course everyone wanted to see the man back in Manchester for the first time in almost twelve years, and he did not disappoint. Not only did you get plenty of YATQ stuff, including a superbly rousing version of Irish Blood English Heart, but you got some obscure B-sides like Hairdresser on Fire, Such a Little Thing Makes Such A Big Difference, and my all time Moz favourite, Every Day Is Like Sunday (blended cleverly after Subway Train to just enhance the experience nicely). Not just that, but plenty of Smiths stuff _as well_ including Shoplifters of the World Unite, and to end things off on such a lovely note, There Is A Light That Never Goes Out. And that light, that night, was Morrissey.

4 - Pop Will Eat Itself (Birmingham Academy, Saturday 22nd January 2005)

When I'd heard that the incredible PWEI were to reform, there were plenty of happy smiles in the Towers I can tell you. I just simply had to get the ticket, book the hotel, and save the entire planet from my anger if I'd have missed out. And it didn't just feel like seeing the Poppies rock live again like they used to. It was such a family atmosphere of people who were fans and who had waited for years for this moment to happen. And it wasn't just any moment. It was the moment that the Poppies proved just why they were so ahead of their time. Their special blend of tunes came to the fore straight off, kicking things nicely with Wise Up! Sucker, Preaching to the Perverted, Kick To Kill (cue Clint yelling "aww f**k it" when it was going too slow for him and speeding everyone up), Not Now James We're Busy, and a storming version of Their Law which just proved to the Prodigy who really were the ones to kick ass with that tune. Everyone just bounced along merrily to that and having 2,000 of us, bouncing in unison, yelling "f**k them and their law" was special, it really was. Not to mention after that for the encore we got really old stuff like Beaver Patrol (yes, really, that had me in shock), Urban Futuristic and to end things on a high note a completely rocking version of Karmadrome that made everyone bounce and sweat. It wasn't just a return, it also ended up being an end as their final gigs, so to be there just to see them for one last time rock the house makes it even more special.

5 - Roy Harper (Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, Friday 25th October 2013)

It was a month or so after the superb Man and Myth album had been released, and for me to see Roy Harper in his home town of Manchester just had to be done. Even more so perhaps as it was the first time I'd seen him without someone who would have gone with me. It was intensely emotional and you could feel grown men everywhere moved to tears by stunning renditions of lengthy classics such as Me and My Woman, which was a jaw dropping moment if ever there was one, and a really insightful When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease which had bucket loads of feel and emotion within. The new album songs went down really well too, especially the opener of The Enemy which sounded wonderfully defiant and a perfect set opener, along with The Stranger which showed all the new acoustic pretenders how to do moody and wistful in a wonderful five minutes or so. The acoustics of the hall added all the depth and warmth needed, and Harper himself was in very fine fettle. The old man turned seventy-five this year and if this gig was the last time I'll see the great man live, it's a very fine memory to have.

6 - Skunk Anansie (Manchester Academy 2, Saturday 20th January 1996)

The first time I saw Skunk Anansie, and argubaly the best. Myself and my friend Dan were fans pretty much from the outset, and the album Paranoid and Sunburnt got lots of regular play on the CD player, as you'd expect. One freezing night in Manchester and we were both braving the elements (especially as I had my SA t-shirt on in preparation) and then into the inferno of heat that was the Academy 2. And did they rock? Oh yes they bloody well did. It was a supercharged and intense set, full of album tracks and singles, and plenty of nice moments in between. Skin particularly was on top form vocally and it was a wonderfully tight set. The piece de resistance though had to be during the encore as the band unleashed into the anthemic Skunk Song, and all of a sudden you just felt the whole floor shake as about 1500 people pogoed, in complete unison, to it, chanting along with the chorus and generally giving everyone a feel good factor that was something that'll always remain with me. It just was fantastic, and even though I saw them another five times in the next year and a half, nothing ever topped this wonderful display of rocking.

7 - PJ Harvey (Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, Saturday 7th July 2007)

As someone who has always enjoyed her work and respected her musical excellence, it was a wonderful moment to see her at the Bridgewater Hall, playing the whole of the new album at the time White Chalk. Not just that though, but the solo feel and the fact that the acoustics were just set up wonderfully well made for an intimate and emotional feel throughout. You could sense the delicacy in her voice as she went through the likes of Silence, Dear Darkness and a rising crescendo building throughout The Mountain. Not just that though, but really powerful versions of some of her classic songs such as Down By The Water and a purely breathless and stunningly moving The Desperate Kingdom of Love. That would be enough for most, but then to really let rip with a purely electric version of her early single Dress literally had everyone on their feet and rocking out. It was a great way to release the emotional chains and a way to end a night that just had everyone appreciating how wonderful an artist she is. Well worth seeing if you ever get the chance.

8 - Paul Weller (Roundhouse, London, Monday 19th March 2012)

Having seen Paul Weller a number of times with The Love In My Heart, any of the last few times were contenders. However, this gig was rather special due to the fact it was the launch date of the album Sonik Kicks and so for the first half of the show it was the new album, in full, and sounded rather impressive all round due to the band (notably Steve Cradock) being on top form as well as Paul. Later on, the second half was a solid look at his back catalogue to date, which included the likes of Out of the Sinking and No Tears To Cry sounding particularly impressive - and that was just the acoustic set. He went electric and ramped it up with the likes of Wake Up The Nation being a real tour de force of passion, power and control, showing the Modfather up in full flow. And if that wasn't enough, a two fingers up at some of the reviewers accusing him of playing too many hits by thrashing out the Jam classic A Town Called Malice with the crowd all as one singing along and pogoing madly - that alone was a true I was there sort of moment, and we all left with huge smiles on our faces with a quality gig from a quality act all round.

9 - Kristin Hersh (London Kings Cross Scala, Tuesday 22nd November 2005)

Kristin was performing songs from her solo career only (the previous night was her Throwing Muses career) and aided with the McCarricks on violin, turned the Scala into a lovely intimate venue for the evening. It felt a bit weird being at the very top of what was an old and ancient cinema, but the acoustics alone made for a soft, gentle and intimate evening. It wasn't without its fun moments either: during Gazebo Tree Kristin accidentally forgot the words, and was prompted by the fans for the next line, and then later on her guitar string broke as she really went for it near the end of the song, proclaiming "This song is cursed!" in a real kooky way. One swift guitar change later and she was back on form, performing plenty of her reportoire that endeared me so much to her (and still does). Personal highlights for me included the likes of Sundrops, The Letter, Your Dirty Answer (in a different key and sounding even more angst-ridden than on the album) and then a wonderfully beautiful version of Your Ghost to really set the seal on just a warm friendly atmosphere that made it so special.

10 - The Human League (Manchester Apollo, Manchester, Saturday 8th December 2012)

Seeing one of my favourite 80s bands was always going to be good, but the Manchester Apollo is notorious for being difficult to get the sound right. So full credit to the band and their sound engineer for getting everything so wonderfully crisp and clear. Phil Oakey, Joanne Catherall and Susan Ann Sulley were all on top form, belting out many of the classics from that era but also from the then new album Credo as well, which was surprisingly catchy, notably the likes of Night People and Electric Shock which showed they could still write a smart pop tune too. Naturally the big hits such as Don't You Want Me and Mirror Man were belted out with massive aplomb, but it was nice too that the older stuff prior to the ladies joining such as Being Boiled were also remembered well with great electronics. The purely happy look on everyone's faces as they closed with Together in Electric Dreams was a rather special moment even now, and one certainly that stayed with me. If you get chance, see them - it's that simple.