It's that time of year again and what a year it has been, and now it's time to start publishing the Best Of 2016s from our key people and on 31st December we'll be announcing the end result, one winner from each category. Here's Johnny's Best Of 2016s...
BEST BAND: THE AMORETTES
Scots rockers The Amorettes are on the brink of stardom after five years of hard work including countless solid live performances and a clutch of great studio albums that get better and better with each release. If you've not yet grabbed the 'Bull By The Horns' and heard anything from this hard rocking trio then get on it now, and if you're already a fan, then you'd better 'Batter Up' and brace yourself for another onslaught from them in 2017.
2. TYGERS OF PAN TANG
On the strength of their most recent self-titled album, Tygers Of Pan Tang simply prove that their career trajectory is back on the way up. An outstanding studio release backed up with solid live performances, there's definitely life in this band and they're right back up there with the best of the newer bands on the scene.
I've finally seen the Absolva live experience for myself and it was certainly worth waiting for. The Appleton brothers, Luke and Chris, have a band that really is the future of British Metal so get out there an support this great act.
BEST GIG: GEOFF TATE: CATHOUSE, GLASGOW
It's not every day that a legendary singer pitches up in Glasgow for an acoustic set in a three hundred capacity venue, but that's exactly what Tate did recently when he delivered a two hour career retrospective set which was intercut with stories and anecdotes from his time in Queensrÿche, surely one of the greatest Metal bands of all time, and his solo career.
2. THE TREATMENT/THE AMORETTES: STEREO, GLASGOW
When two of the UKs biggest up and coming bands go out on tour together, you know it's going to be one of the monumental tours of the year that people won't easily forget. The Treatment and The Amorettes did it in 2016, and they laid waste to venues throughout the UK in one of the most exciting live pairings for me this year.
3. Y&T: THE GARAGE, GLASGOW
It was 2013 that I finally discovered Y&T (despite my wife owning a sizeable Y&T vinyl collection) and I haven't really looked back since. A fantastic band on record and an even better band live on stage. Put simply, their gig at The Garage in Glasgow last month was a two-and-a-half hour masterclass with Dave Meniketti and the band putting on another faultless performance.
BEST ALBUM: JOANOVARC: 'RIDE OF YOUR LIFE'
This young London based quartet dropped their highly anticipated debut album early in November 2016 and it hit all the right notes for me. From the thundering drums of Deborah Wildish to the frankly incredible guitar skills of Shelley Walker and not forgetting the killer vocals of Sam Walker, this band really do 'Live Rock'N'Roll', so expect more greatness from them in 2017 and beyond.
2. BLACKBERRY SMOKE: 'LIKE AN ARROW'
Okay so I'm over a decade behind with Blackberry Smoke but I'm catching up fast, and it was special thanks to this incredible opus landing on my desk that kick started things for me. Everyone loves a bit of Southern Rock, surely, and the future of the genre is in safe hands with this quintet from Atlanta, Georgia who I'm definitely a fan of now.
3. VARDIS: 'RED EYE'
A wise man once told me to listen to Vardis – and I did, and the sound was great. This influential trio have been around since the very early eighties and despite no studio releases for nearly twenty years, something has happened to make them produce, probably, the finest album of their career. Let's hope they capitalise on their new lease of life and don't let their career fade away.
BEST FESTIVAL: HARD ROCK HELL X
For me Hard Rock Hell is undoubtedly the best of the smaller UK Festivals. If you don't want to spend three days covered in mud at Donington Park then get yourself to Hard Rock Hell where the bands are great, the accommodation is first class and where the organisation is second to none. With fantastic performances this year from Ricky Warwick, The Amorettes, Graham Bonnet, JoanOvArc, The Treatment, Mason Hill, The Departed and many more, I'm looking forward to more of the same in 2017.
BEST VIDEO: HOSTILE: 'FREEDOM ACT'
3rd October 2016 is a day that should go down in Heavy Metal history because MetalTalk premiered 'Freedom Act', the new video from Black Country Metallers Hostile. Not only is it a great song (taken from their fantastic 'New World Disorder' album) but the video also features Heavy Metal royalty in the form of ex-Priest guitarist, the legendary KK Downing.
BEST NEW BAND: STONE BROKEN
Early in 2016, this Walsall quartet released their debut album, 'All The Time'. Following up this release, Stone Broken quickly gained a reputation for high quality headline shows up and down the country, as well as appearing at Planet Rockstock and the Ramblin' Man Fair before penning a deal with Frontiers Records. With all the cards falling into place in 2016, 2017 looks like it could be a bumper year fOr them, with everything kicking off in January on a tour supporting ex-Deep Purple legend Glenn Hughes.
Having been blown away by their full length debut album, 'Ride Of Your Life', I was able to experience the JoanOvArc live experience with their tight sixty minute set at Hard Rock Hell which simply reinforced what a great band this lot really are. Their live shows are great fun and their performances are faultless. If you're looking for a great, fun band to see live – this is them! Let's hope they get a UK tour in 2017 but until then, go and get their album – you won't be disappointed.
You'd think that being in Girlschool was a big enough task, but guitarist Jackie Chambers isn't one to rest on her laurels and during downtime from the 'school, she's created Syteria – a full on rock quartet featuring the killer vocals of Julia Cavlo, the thundering bass lines of Keira Kenworthy and the bombastic drums of Pablo Calvo, who impressed with their live shows and their EP, 'Wake Up'. The band were recently announced for Hard Rock Hell XI and the prospect of a full length album is something else to look forward to.
LOOKING FORWARD TO IN 2017
Ritchie Blackmore is scheduled to play his first gig in Glasgow since 1977 where he'll plug his Fender Stratocatser back in for a run through the back catalogues of Rainbow and Deep Purple as part of a handful of electric gigs. My fourth consecutive trip to Hard Rock Hell is already shaping up the be the best yet with Airbourne, Y&T, Gun, Syteria and The New Roses already announced.
There's a stack of new studio album releases already in the pipeline, and the ones I'm most looking forward to in 2017 include those from Sepultura, Exodus, Kreator and Judas Priest and possible albums from Danzig and Obituary. The prospect of finding new bands too is always something to look forward to – I just hope I'm half as lucky as I have been this year.
And last but most definitely not least, after the shock news of the untimely death of Woking's first son of rock'n'roll, Status Quo legend Rick Parfitt, I'm hoping for a star studded tribute gig after seeing the messages and tributes from Bruce Foxton (The Jam), Brian May (Queen), Fish (Marillion), Martin Kemp (Spandau Ballet) and Sir Paul McCartney MBE amongst others, so let's hope that Parfitt is honoured for all his hard work over the last fifty years in Quo - its the very least he deserves.