The New Year party poppers and fireworks are a distant memory, but the hangover continues, with a slow start to 2018 for gig-goers.

While the listings may still be a little thin, things are picking up, with some great looking shows to ease us into a stellar year – with the return of some huge international names, hometown shows by local heroes and thrilling acts on the brink of breaking through.

As usual, it’s the O2 Academy Oxford which has the most to shout about – or at least its hardworking promoters do – with a ridiculously mixed bag of acts. Highlights include:

Aussie singing sensation Natalie Imbruglia (February 2) and Hayseed Dixie (February 15) – who perform heavy metal tunes in a bluegrass style. The ‘rockgrass’ Tennessee titans come armed with the latest of their 15 albums, Free Your Mind And Your Grass Will Follow.

Fans of the late Ian Dury can sing along to his new wave funk and rock backing band The Blockheads (March 3), while Britpop icons Sleeper drop in as part of their first live tour for 19 years in what, for them, is a ridiculously intimate show. Expect Louise Wener and gang to belt out everything from Statuesque to Sale of the Century and Nice Guy Eddie.

Brixton’s finest exponents of “sweet, pretty country acid house music” Alabama 3 return (March 16) for a night of immense beats and Americana twang, in what is sure to be one of the gigs of the year.

For a change of pace there are gentler offerings by

Rae Morris, who presents her eagerly awaited second album, Someone Out There (March 20) and Turin Brakes (March 24). Look forward to more soulful offerings from Heather Small of M People (April 27), famed for those sky-scraping vocals on classics Moving On Up, How Can I Love You More?, Search For The Hero and, most epic of all, One Night In Heaven.

May sees big shows with Hertfordshire punk-rockers Lower Than Atlantis (May 3) and Dr Feelgood legend Wilko Johnson (May 4) – who returns, quite literally, from death’s door after beating diagnosed terminal cancer.

Making a ‘Slight Return’ are The Bluetones (May 7), while things get darker and louder still with the return of The Wedding Present, who bring their Tommy 30th Anniversary Tour to the Cowley Road (June 7).

For a complete change of pace, lull yourself into a stupor in the company of soft rocker Michael Bolton. The double Grammy-winning How Am I Supposed to Live Without You star calls in at the New Theatre (February 9) – without mullet, or even guitar, to present his life story in a spoken word exploration of the highs and lows of his career.

Other New Theatre offerings verge from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Occupying something like the former position are Nottingham lad Jake Bugg who presents his new solo acoustic show (February 9) and Public Service Broadcasting (April 5), who play tunes from their latest album Every Valley – based on the coal mining industry alongside crowd-pleasers from previous outings The Race for Space, Inform – Educate – Entertain and The War Room. Expect a show as rich on visuals as finely textured sample-rich sounds from J Wilgoose Esq and drumming sidekick Wrigglesworth.

There are blockbuster shows at the New Theatre too by Bryan Ferry (April 27) who plays tunes from latest album Avonmore, and classics from his solo and Roxy Music back catalogue, and Waterboys (May 6) – Mike Scott and mates bringing songs from new double album Out of All This Blue alongside such sing-along greats as Fisherman’s Blues, The Whole of the Moon and A Bang on the Ear.

Perhaps the biggest name of all though, is former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne, who calls in at the New Theatre (June 14) in support of new album, American Utopia – out March 9 via Todomundo/Nonesuch Records. Expect tunes from his vast back catalogue, including plenty of Talking Heads tunes. The silver-haired legend will be joined by a 12-piece band for a choreographed concert that he has called ‘the most ambitious show I’ve done since the shows that were filmed for Stop Making Sense’.

Also making a return to the George Street venue are Paul Carrack of Mike + The Mechanics (March 10) and Love & Affection singer Joan Armatrading (September 28).

For a cheesier blast from the past, relive the 80s in the hands of slap-bass master Mark King of Level 42 (October 7), Glaswegians Deacon Blue (November 19) and Trinidad-via Romford R&B legend Billy Ocean (November 24) for a night of such classics as Caribbean Queen and Get Outta My Dreams, Get into My Car.

Prog-rock fans meanwhile can revel in renditions of tunes from Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here and more when the Australian Pink Floyd Show return to mark 30 years as a tribute band with a tour entitled Time.

The show will feature state of the art lighting effects, lasers and animation projected onto a huge round screen, coupled with inflatables (watch out for those pigs!) and the 10-piece band themselves.

In terms of local talent, we have Cassels, Flatlands, Easter Island Statues and Cherokii, playing the Uprising night at the O2 Academy (February 9) and two consecutive shows by the mighty Youthmovies who reconvene at The Bullingdon (March 8-9). The Cellar also continues to provide a platform for great up and coming acts and DJs too. Check their listings.

The Bully continues to delight with some quality shows, not least tea-loving trip-house DJ Mr Scruff (January 26) and dapper raconteur Mr B the Gentleman Rhymer (February 9).

Long-running blues-rockers Nine Below Zero also return to blow the doors off (May 4).

The highlight for many, of course, is festival season, and we continue to be blessed with some of the UK’s best – Wood, Truck, Wilderness, Cornbury,

Henley, The Big Feastival, Towersey, Rewind and Cropredy – who are set to announce their line-ups.

Among the most eagerly-awaited is the phenomenally successful Common People Oxford – which takes over South Park on May Bank Holiday weekend. The crew, who are also behind the award-winning Camp Bestival and Bestival, remain tight-lipped on the line-up, but rumours are flying over headliners. And our top tip is Ride.

Festival curator Rob da Bank is a big fan of the Oxford comeback kids, booking them for Bestival, and word has it that Mark Gardener and the lads would be happy to take that top slot. Furthermore, they’ll be back in the country after next month’s Asian tour and may well have the time free before their BST Hyde Park show in July.

South Park won’t have seen anything like it since Radiohead’s 2001 homecoming. Fingers crossed then for a feast of ‘shoegaze’ against the backdrop of the Dreaming Spires.

For tickets, go to:

O2 Academy Oxford:;

The Bullingdon:; New Theatre Oxford:

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