For the first time I kept a fairly accurate record of every gig, exhbition, film or play that I went to see in 2013. OK, it is a bit OCD, but it has come into its own now as I consider the cultural highs of the year.
This is - of course - a set of totally subjective lists, based only on the stuff I happened to get along to. Inevitably, since I live in London, it is pretty London centric, though I did try and get further afield when the opportunity arose.
The sample of cultural events I am drawing on is reasonable in terms of spread, though not particularly deep, especially as far as film and theatre are concerned. In terms of the totals, in 2013 I:
- saw 13 films at the cinema
- visited 22 art exhibtions in the UK, and also visited the Venice Biennale, Museum du Monde Arabe in Paris and the fabulous Cafesjian sculpture park in Yerevan.
- watched 12 gigs and went to 6 festivals seeing 55 bands perform live in total; and
- sat through 10 stage performances (plays, musicals, comedy).
So in each of these categories, here are my top 3:
Not a vintage year, I didnt think, but I did miss a few good ones, because of other stuff going on. Nevertheless, I found 3 that I could heartily recommend:
Act of Killing
We were fortunate to see the director's cut of this at the fantastic Hackney Picture House. An amazingly brutal but surreally funny documentary about unrepentant mass murderers. Incredibly, given the subject matter, it felt tender and compassionate.
Zero Dark Thirty
I was really cynical about this, partly because everyone knew the ending, and also because of the politics of filming - and risking glorifying - in effect a state sponsored assassination. But it was a tense and daring film, with careful politics, which, even if you didn't agree with them, you were encouraged to understand and engage with.
Again, I had my doubts: Blockbuster, special effects, unlikely concept, sentimental storyline. And it had all of those. But in spite of all that this was a really great cinematic experience, moving, entertaining and gripping.
Good also rans: Nebraska - nice but too cruel to ordinary folks; Selfish giant - generally great but a rushed confused ending
In contrast to film some real corkers this year, and a hard choice.
Jake and Dinos Chapman at the new Serpentine
Creepy and challenging but very funny, horrific battlefields of toy soldiers, dinosaurs and cartoon characters killing and being eaten by each other in huge numbers. Superbly intricate horror.
Souzou outsider art from Japan at the Wellcome Collection
An amazing collection of quirky and disturbing conceptual work made by people in various institutions. Challenges the idea of what art is - but some incredibly beautiful pieces on show, and some of them were later displayed at the Venice biennale.
Whistler Thames paintings and etchings - Dulwich Picture House
A surprise to me this one. Went with my mum on a cold November day. This was a beautifully curated slice of London history showing different aspects of the mid nineteenth century river Thames. I would not have chosen to go, but was so delighted I did.
Honourable mentions to: Iain Baxter and Adam Chozko at Raven Row - quirky conceptual stuff; Everything was moving: photos from the 1960s and 70s at Barbican. Brilliant world spanning exhbition.
Bands - live perfomances
A lot to choose from and many gigs at beautiful times (eg sunset) in lovely settings (eg Camber Sands in the summer). Top 3, though, were:
RM Hubbert - the tipi tent at End of the Road
Scottish acoustic guitar genius and gloom merchant. Beautiful songs and funny self deprecating humour in front of a completely respectful audience. End of the Road 2013 was a fabulous festival as always and this was its highlight.
Singing Adams (pictured above) and She Makes War - the Crypt, Crouch End at the End Festival
Late night tiny gig as part of The Local's fantastic pop up November festival. Cheating a bit as including both acts, but She Makes War, was a revelation with her variety of instruments, audience participation and quirky lovely songs. And Adams was at his finest. Acid but tender songs, some Broken Family back catalogue as well as his newer work. And a marvellous Herman Dune cover (going to the everglades). A tremendous gig, and there must have only been 40 people there to see it the room was so small. Very priveleged.
Waxahatchee - Scala
She is such a great songwriter and fantastic performer. Kind of Polly Harvey / She Keeps Bees but a bit sweeter. Lovely guitar and again and really rapt audience. Great gig.
Good performances also from: Woods at the Lexington - great rocky americana, in a superb venue; Allo Darlin at St Pancras Old Church - lovely intimate gig and they even played the song I shouted for as an encore (loser); The Wedding Present at Shepherds Bush - fabulous old school gig, even saw Stella Creasey MP there.
Plays / Stage stuff
A real mixed bag of very high quality this year. Musicals, comedy, ballet and plays. I got a bit obsessed by The Shed and the three things we saw there were brilliant but in the interest of balance i'll include a wider top three:
Moby Dick - Arcola Theatre
A superbly entertaining and innovative musical production of this classic tale. How you get the concept of an awe inspiring sperm whale into a small independent theatre in Dalston must have been a hugely creative challenge but they pulled it off magnificently. Great fun and very moving and powerful.
Nut - National Theatre at the Shed
I could have picked all or any of the three Shed productions I saw this year (Home and Protest Song were the others) but Nut just shaded it for its sympathetic, funny and incredibly moving portrayal of mental illness.
The Great Gatsby - Wiltons Music Hall
OK it is an over cooked story, but this was such a brilliant performance, with songs, dancing, audience participation and cocktails all at the tremendous Wiltons Music Hall. Havent been so entertained for a long time.
Also worth a look: Stewart Lee at the Tringe Festival in Tring - just a funny, funny man; Sleeping Beauty at Saddlers Wells - beautifully done and really entertaining
I could go on, but that is enough. Hope you had as much enjoyment last year as I did - looking forward to getting stuck into 2014.