The readers' choice of 2009 culture
From boat paintings on the Tamar to Godot in London, here's the pick of the bunch
Tuesday 22 December 2009
Led Bib at Jazz Steps, Bonington Theatre, near Nottingham. An über-cool looking quintet who hit the audience right between the eyes from the first note (played at number 11), whilst thoroughly enjoying themselves. They were actually laughing during the performance. What was this stuff? Rock? Punk? Electro? Maybe even bits of jazz were in there somewhere. A fantastic, inspiring, uplifting evening. At least they didn't win the Mercury Prize – more people may get to see them.
Paul Bonham, Belper, Derbyshire
The Killers at the Royal Albert Hall were awesome. But overall Spring Awakening at The Lyric, Hammersmith was probably my favourite arts event of the year. The best new musical on the London stage in 2009 was also seemingly the only one that wasn't based on a reality TV show or a film. Instead, it was an adaptation of a 19th- century German play in which the suppression of pubescent awakening results in beatings, rape, abortion and suicide all set to a thrilling alt-rock soundtrack. Fun for all the family.
David Nickless, London
Best film of the year by far: Let the Right One In. A masterpiece of cinema. Every shot precise and carefully judged, creating a deeply moving experience. The fantasy premise may be fictional, but the emotions are real.
Peter Benson, by email
The Cinematic Orchestra's gig at the Union Chapel in Islington in September was pretty special. They performed their soundtrack to the film The Crimson Wing live while the film was playing. They were accompanied by the London Metropolitan Orchestra and Lou Rhodes came out to sing on the final song, at which point people fainted with excitement. The audience were crammed in up to the rafters – it was spellbinding.
Kate Proctor, by email
The best exhibition was Walking in My Mind at the Hayward Gallery – although I think Conrad Shawcross's Chord installation in the Kingsway tram subway might have topped it, had I seen it. The best night was put on by Nabokov theatre company in London's Old Street: The Correspondents were amazing; I had so much fun dancing to Mr Bruce doing his version of "I Wanna Be Like You" in his tails and lycra. Derek Jacobi in Twelfth Night, Waiting for Godot, Toby Stephens in A Doll's House ... But my favourite has to be The Fairy Queen at Glyndebourne – for the glorious Welsh Bottom, bunny threesomes (!) and grapefruit bosoms bouncing down the stage – not your average trip to Glyndebourne! We were crying with laughter.
Gemma Rocyn-Jones, London
I nominate Chrissy Wallis of Calstock, Cornwall as the most memorable artist, because she is in tune with the Noughties. Her environmental-themed work includes jewellery made with silver and recycled broken car windscreens and installations in Saltash and Shaldon made from recycled pottery found in the mud of the River Tamar. At Shaldon the design is a waterfall in a lily pool, made with terracotta bricks and pots as well as recycled windscreen glass. Her boat paintings show vessels on the Tamar, and views of the Calstock viaduct.
Mrs J M L Bolingbroke, by email
The best play I've seen all year is Inherit the Wind, at London's Old Vic with Kevin Spacey. More recently, the giant cocktail installation at 33 Portland Place, London by jelly architects Bompas & Parr was very good fun.
Pippa Stevenson, London
The Blur reunion gig in Hyde Park in July. After being forecast thunderstorms, it turned out to be one of the year's only great summery evenings. The sunset was amazing, the atmosphere was amazing and Blur were really, really amazing. That said, it seemed we'd all aged rather more than the music, as the food on offer was all organic, free range, ethically sourced, and the "beer tent" offered some rather nice pinot noir which somehow felt a little un-Parklife. It felt like a recognition that we'd said a slow goodbye to our collective youth, but the music still brought us back to the heady days of the mid-90s when we wouldn't have dreamed of entertaining such middle-class, middle-aged activities. Still, it was the best thing in 2009 by miles.
Angus Bujalski, London
For my cultural highlight of 2009 I'd like to nominate not a film, CD, event etc, rather a website which I think is worthy of much greater exposure than it has received. The website in question is www.songsfromtheshed.com and features music recorded in a garden shed by some wonderful musicians and singers. Over the few months it has been going it has given the world music from the likes of Honey on My Grave, Jackie Oates, Roscoe and an amazing session by The Young Republic, featuring Don't Move, on a see-it-to-believe-it version of "Ghostbusters". In an era of bland X Factor dross and manufactured pap, this site is dedicated to bringing real music by real musicians to the world, unfiltered and unedited.
Kevin Rawlings, Clevedon, North Somerset
Carlos Acosta in the lead role in Mayerling at the Royal Opera House stole the show – and the year – for me.
Claire Angell, London
My highlight of the year was Kraftwerk at the Manchester Velodrome. It was the first time I'd seen the band, the first time I'd seen the dummies and the first time I'd seen a concert in 3D. But the ultimate thrill was when Team GB took to the track to the sound of "Tour de France". Holmfirth highlights were Eliza Carthy in the folk festival while Manchester highlights included the Pet Shop Boys at the Apollo and Take That taking over Old Trafford Cricket Ground for a glorious week.
Colour Chart at the Liverpool Tate was my favourite exhibition, if only for the disco floor in the centre of the gallery. My favourite dance event was the tour of Adventure in Motion Pictures' Dorian Gray at the Sheffield Lyceum. Best play was The Pitmen Painters at the same venue.
In Stratford I enjoyed The Winter's Tale and As You Like It. The Mystery Play at Monk Bretton Priory in Barnsley was community theatre at its best and the funniest performance of the year was Pam Ann at the Lowry in Salford, with half the audience being air crew who'd flown in especially for the performance.
Andrew Charters, Holmfirth, West Yorkshire
There was something special about the atmosphere at Glastonbury this year. Perhaps it was the weather (sunny), perhaps it was the abundance of perry (pear cider), perhaps it was the line-up (no Jay-Z). Whatever it was, the crowd was on great form. Tom Jones on the Sunday afternoon was incredible – a classic "oldie but goodie". Also, Anish Kapoor's much talked-about exhibition at the Royal Academy did not disappoint. A dreary Sunday afternoon outside, but inside the mood was tingling.
Ruth King, London
Richmond Fontaine's album We Used to Think the Freeway Sounded Like a River was the latest gripping collection of lyrical character studies by Portland's finest exponents of noir-tinged Americana. After 10 years of being the greatest band nobody knows, 2009 will hopefully go down as the year that Richmond Fontaine finally registered on the critical and commercial radar and stepped out from the shadows that lyricist and author Willy Vlautin's characters have long inhabited. Despite the dark subject matter, there's a sense of compassion and hope that keeps you gripped and rooting for the often flawed characters. As part of their September tour of the UK, the band played one of the smallest and most remote venues in the country – The Band Room, Farndale. The result? No booking fees, no over-priced lager – instead the organiser, Nigel, sent us handmade tickets in the post at no extra cost, allowed us to bring our own beer and the local farmer let us camp in his field in return for a pint. Album and gig of the year.
Andy Glover, by email
My most memorable event of 2009 was Waiting for Godot at Theatre Royal, Haymarket with Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Simon Callow and Ronald Pickup. I never expect to see it done better – it was an absolutely classic performance. Marvellous.
John Rowan, North Chingford, London
Waiting for Godot, with its double act of Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, was just too good to miss. The two great actors worked wonderfully together as a pair of tramps who, with their bickering and ancient familiarity, resembled an old married couple. McKellen's Estragon, in particular, could be touchingly pathetic at times.
Alex Cockburn, by email
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