Even when a gig’s going really well, there’s sometimes a very special moment when all the stars align to produce a musical epiphany (as the NME described Thin Lizzy’s seamless shift into “The Boys are Back in Town” on “Live and Dangerous”). These perfect moments can have many forms and they aren’t always strictly about the music. Let me explain.
Wade Bowen and Willy Braun @The Borderline
Towards the end of a great set where Wade and Willy took turns to perform their own songs and a few covers, Wade started to play the audience a little by asking who had travelled furthest to see the gig. The audience managed to cover a fair chunk of England, but then Wade stopped in his tracks and repeated the question to someone right at the front of the stage who confirmed that, yes, he did say Spain. Luis, and his son (also Luis) had flown from Spain that day and were flying back straight after the gig. Wade made sure that they got a huge ovation and, judging by the beaming grins, topped off a perfect night for father and son. Next time I think that I can’t be bothered to go all the way to Camden or Shepherds Bush for a gig, I’ll remember Luis and what dedication to live music really means.
Hannah Aldridge @The AMA UK Showcase, Hackney
The acoustic room at this showcase was truly acoustic; no amplification at all for vocals or instruments. All the artists, including Dean Owens and Danni Nicholls rose to the occasion, and Hannah Aldridge played a flawless set to a spellbound and appreciative audience. The night peaked when Hannah introduced a new song from her upcoming second album. The song was “Gold Rush”, a haunting tale of growing up and growing old in small-town America that transfixed the audience from start to finish; not a whisper and barely a breath until the song was over. Hannah’s the real deal: singer, player and superb songwriter.
Sound of the Sirens@ Bush Hall
This was a big deal for Abbe Martin and Hannah Wood, headlining their own show at the prestigious Bush Hall in Shepherds Bush. Following great performances from Sadie Horler and Wildflowers, Abbe and Hannah soon hit their stride and demonstrated their dynamic range and exquisite harmonies. They featured a cover that I’ve heard them play before, the Simon and Garfunkel song “Sound of Silence”. Something about the ambience of the room, the pure and perfect harmonies and the way song highlights Abbe and Hannah’s vocal and instrumental power created a moment of magic in west London on an October night.
The Mighty Wah! @Water Rats
Start to finish, all killer no filler. Pete Wylie still has it and his fans still adore him. The band didn’t need to win over the crowd but they still gave it the beans. Pete joked about hoping that musicians would stop dying soon, because Wah! were constantly adding songs to the set as tributes. All of the anthems appeared in all the right places, but just as “Sinful” was simmering away nicely something almost mystical happened; fans looked at each other in disbelief as the song morphed seamlessly into “Heroes” as a tribute to the Thin White Duke. No big fanfare, just an effortless transition from one anthem to another.
Underhill Rose @Green Note
This was already a memorable occasion. A local power cut in Camden, the room lit by candles and tea lights and a completely unplugged set by Eleanor Underhill, Molly Rose Reed and Salley Williamson meant that no-one would forget this gig in a hurry, but the most surreal part was still to come, with a cover of “These Boots Were Made for Walking” featuring a lead vocal from bass player Salley Williamson and a spontaneous eruption of clapping, singing and whooping all through the room. This was a band and a crowd that were determined to have a good time whatever it took.
I met Di Holmes just over a year ago at a gig at The Union Chapel, where our mutual friend Dean Owens was supporting Rosanne Cash. We were introduced, saw each other’s camera bags and started talking photos (the way you do). I’m honoured that Di has agreed to share her five favourite images this year with MusicRiot; this is live music photography of the highest order (and with tech specs included). Cheers Di.
The Kwashibu Area Band – Womad Festival
This is my favourite shot of the year taken at my favourite music festival!
No opportunity of being in the pit for this one so I fought my way to the front.
I’ve come to realise that the three song rule for us toggers is great in order to get those close-ups but most of my favoured images are taken during the closing of the set, when the performers are reaching their euphoria. I think this shot depicts that euphoric energy: the evidence is clear that at this moment there is no better place to be!
The band are fronted by ‘Pat Thomas’, who throws some lovely shapes.
The bond between the band members throughout the set was obvious. These guys were simply having a ball!
1/250 sec at f/2.8, ISO 250.
The Lone Bellow – Komedia, Brighton
Oh Boy! I discovered these guys on ‘Later with Jools Holand’ & was immediately hooked! Desperate to see them live & even more desperate to capture some images. I saw them no less than 7 times over the following few months.
It’s a roller coaster ride of emotions, with each of the three front liners taking their turn in the spotlight. A lot of sweat flies around their stage.
I have umpteen shots of the whole gang but I particularly like this one of Zach Williams & Kanene Pipkin snapped during a moment of appreciation for fellow band mate Brian Elmquist.
It was a small, intimate gig, but as with every audience fortunate to be in the presence of this amazing band, they grow wilder with every strum!
If you’ve ever seen them play live, you’ll know how much energy they create on stage… it’s sheer electricity, and I love it!
1/40 sec at f/2.8, ISO 1600.
Charles Bradley – Womad Festival
Having nonchalantly walked past the Siam tent I was stopped in my tracks by a huge roar of the crowd & shuffled in to investigate. Charles Bradley was strutting like a peacock. I particularly loved his outfit & wanted to get a shot, but I discovered that this was his encore. There wasn’t time to get down to the front so I quickly put on my 70 – 200mm f/2.8 lens & fired a few shots… capturing Charles in all his glory… I can almost hear his note!
1/2500 sec at f/2.8, ISO 400.
Howe Gelb – Café Oto, Dalston
This was the last gig of a three week tour for ‘The Howe Gelb Trio’ who were playing songs from Howe’s new album ‘Future Standards’.
I was lucky to be included on the guest list, though not lucky enough to bag a seat on the front row.
A little frustrated by my position, an unclear view with obstacles of bobbing heads, I decided to use them to my advantage, creating a frame to accentuate the action. It seemed to work & I was more than pleased with the outcome.
It was a magical evening with the crowd respectfully leaning in to the maestro from Tucson, Arizona.
Joined by fantastic musicians Thøger Tetans Lund & Andrew Colberg, Howe named this his “favourite show ever” so I was delighted that I’d helped capture this memorable evening of sonic beauty.
1/50 sec at f/2.8, ISO 2500.
My passion for photography extends from the stage to ‘Location Shoots’, enjoying the creation & direction in a controlled environment.
Here is an image that I took of beautiful songstress Lucinda Drayton during one of those sessions.
We started the shoot in Britain’s oldest public house, ‘The Royal Standard of England’ in Beaconsfield, which has a wonderful medieval feel. We then moved on to a glorious spot amongst the autumn leaves & finally ended up here, on an industrial estate close to home. It’s a place that I particularly love due to the multi-directional light that seeps in. For this shot I used a video light to create a soft glow on Luce’s face.
I previously photographed Lucinda for the cover of her latest album ‘The Road Least Travelled’.
Accompanying her on this particular road was Willow, Lucinda’s loyal lurcher who immediately struck an attentive pose whenever I uttered the word ‘rabbit’.
Good girl Willow!
Much respect Lucinda!
1/60 sec at f/2.8, ISO 1250.
We reviewed Rod Picott as part of a great bill at Green Note this year and he was superb. We were mightily chuffed when he agreed to chip in to the 2016 High Fives with his five favourite novels from 2016.
“Barkskins” – Annie Proulx
“Barkskins” is a roaring firestorm of a novel that tears through decades over its 700-plus pages. There are so many characters the book contains two family trees in order for the reader to stay on course. Proulx’s writing is poetic, expansive and intimate simultaneously. Essentially the story of the North American lumber trade from pre-colonial America through to the industrial revolution, “Barkskins” stands as an allegory to the destructive nature of man. The characters enter the novel, wildly tear across the pages and give way to the next generation in this amazing piece of work.
“Ella Minnow Pea” – Mark Dunn
“Ella Minnow Pea” is a curiously odd political satire written in the form of letters between characters in the fictional island town of Nollop. This strange novel is short, punchy and darkly funny as the letters trace the totalitarian nature of the local government and its banned use of particular letters as they fall from a revered local memorial statue. This short novel is a marvel of invention and imagination.
Farmer – Jim Harrison
“Farmer” is a quiet marvel of a novel. Its protagonist is a rural Michigan teacher caught between two lovers – one, a far too young nubile beauty and the other his lifelong friend and confidant. This description doesn’t come close to capturing the tortured beauty of the protagonist’s journey. Harrison is a poet of a novelist, both literally and figuratively, and “Farmer” is an eloquent telling of the complications inherent in life itself – no matter how simple it appears at its surface.
“Angela’s Ashes” – Frank McCourt
I’m always suspicious of a read that receives as much praise as McCourt’s “Angela’s Ashes”. It’s the iconoclast in me. This novel, however, is stunning. Written in the voice of McCourt’s own poverty-riven childhood, the novel crawls slowly forward across his youth from pain to pain. The mainstays are familiar; the drunken father, driving poverty, the unforgiving judgement of the church and the mother trying against odds to hold the entire mess together as a home. “Angela’s Ashes” is a stunning work worthy of its Pulitzer.
“The Ancient Minstrel”– Jim Harrison
Three compact novellas make “The Ancient Minstrel”. I can’t think of anyone aside from Hemingway who writes about the human condition in contrast to nature as effortlessly and effectively as Jim Harrison. That comparison sounds trite and easy but Jim Harrison has the force of a hurricane in his language. These three novellas are brilliant, ruthless, compassionate and brimming with both melancholy and life. Harrison was a master. The best 45 minutes I spent in 2016 was watching Harrison reading his poetry on a YouTube video from a few years back. What a brilliant, funny, unique writer we lost this year in Jim Harrison.
I’m apologising in advance if this selection’s a bit miserable, but with the year we’ve had and the people we’ve lost, some of these songs chime in perfectly with the zeitgeist. In no particular order, here are five of my favourite songs of this year from albums we’ve reviewed on MusicRiot. Please don’t trust my attempts to convey the importance of these songs, click on the links and hear them in all their glory. These songs will enrich your lives.
“Please Let it Rain in California Tonight”
From Anna Elizabeth Laube’s stunning album “Tree”, “Please Let it Rain in California Tonight” shone out like a beacon as a powerful secular reworking of “”The Lord’s Prayer” with a sparse piano backing. It’s beautiful and moving and you really need to listen to it.
“Red Dress” – Amanda Rheaume
From yet another high-quality album, “Red Dress” stands out by virtue of its simplicity and emotional message. Amanda delivers a political message about the disappearance and murder of indigenous women in Canada (and by extension the North American continent) in a very matter-of-fact way with a focus on victim-blaming, Simple and incredibly effective.
“Ordinary Day” – Chris While and Julie Matthews
From the album “Shoulder to Shoulder” (which is packed with exceptional songs), “Ordinary Day” gives an insight into the everyday tragedy of the loss of a family member. The pathos isn’t emphasised, it’s just expressed in an ordinary way with an empty chair. One of the most moving songs I heard this year.
“Shadow in the Window” – Michael McDermott
Michael McDermott is a prodigious talent who you should have heard of already but probably haven’t. He released two stunning albums this year and this is a song from his acoustic album “Willow Springs”. “Shadow in the Window” is on the theme of loss again as he tries to make sense of the death of his father and the gap that it created in his life. It’s powerful on the album, but you really should hear him play it live.
“Unplug the Machine” – Wild Ponies
From another album (“Radiant”), absolutely packed with great songs, “Unplug the Machine” taps into the energy of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” as it runs through a list of things that are wrong with the world today (and this was released before Trump was elected) at breakneck speed. I could listen to this time after time after time and then maybe a few times more.
We’re big fans of Anna Elizabeth Laube here at Riot Towers, so we were delighted that she was able to make a contribution to this year’s High Fives. Her album “Tree” deserved every on of the five stars it received. We were even more pleased that she did something that no featured artist has done before; she opted for five favourite videos. Here we go:
Beyoncé – Hold Up
I didn’t really understand Beyoncé-mania until her last record, Beyoncé, when the genius finally hit me. I covered her song “XO” (as did John Mayer, a version I also really like) on my most recent record, Tree. Beyoncé is a masterpiece of an album, as is Lemonade. This video for “Hold Up” sums up the contradictions implicit in this album. Playful, rageful, knowing, confused, lighthearted, heavy. Feelings. It’s gorgeous, sexy, powerful.
Maggie Rogers – Alaska
The music and images in this video are unique, fresh, inspirational. Maggie Rogers was propelled to fame by a Pharrell masterclass, but her talent and merit is all her own.
Michael Kiwanuka – Black Man In A White World
I first heard Michael Kiwanuka in a Starbucks on State St. in Madison, WI, one cold winter afternoon. This new video is disorienting, important, timely, thought-provoking.
Lady Gaga – Million Reasons
I don’t love this video as much as the rest of the ones on this list, but I love the song. One of the best new songs this year. I’m sure we’ll have an official video out soon, but for now this live performance will suffice. (Unfortunately, the video Anna chose has been blocked in the UK for copyright reasons, so here’s the official video).
Danny Denial – Sell Me Out
I moved to Seattle this year and am happy to report the music scene is alive and well. This song and video are by local pop-punk artist Danny Denial. Raw, real, precocious.
We absolutely loved “Ingrained” by Carly Dow at Riot Towers earlier this year, so we were double plus pleased when Carly was able to contribute to High Fives this year with (apologies to Julie Andrews) a few of her favourite things. And we’re looking forward to seeing her in the New Year. Almost forgot to mention that Carly Dow is the only contributor to include a video of herself playing live in a boat on The Yukon.
As a completely indecisive person, it’s been terribly difficult trying to narrow down a high five list for the entire year – but here we go! I’ve created a mishmash list of *some* of my favourite things that made this year so special.
Favourite New Music Discovery
Big Thief. I have been listening to their debut album, “Masterpiece”, non-stop since first hearing the track “Paul”. This music is grungy, emotive and beautiful. It’s a sad party, and we’re all invited! I love the intelligent and thoughtful lyrics, the gorgeous melodies, and the heartbreaking delivery of Adrianne Lenker’s voice.
This isn’t really a 2016 high five, if I’m completely honest. It’s an all-time forever and ever favourite. This little hole-in-the-wall bar in Winnipeg, MB (smack-dab in the heart of Canada) is a place you can count on for being full of good music and good people, every night that it is open. I’ve had some of the best shows of my life at Times, and have seen even more from the audience, beer in hand and smile on face.
15-Day Canoe Trip on the Yukon River. I was so fortunate to be accepted as 1 of 10 artists to participate in the Canadian Wilderness Artist Residency over the summer, which took place in the Yukon Territory. A portion of the residency involved a long paddle journey from Whitehorse to Dawson City through the Yukon wilderness, which was an incredibly humbling and beautiful experience. Here’s a video of me playing banjo while floating down the river in a canoe, if you want a peek into what the trip was like:
Joel Plaskett at the Summer Lights Festival in Brandon, MB. I haven’t swooned this hard since I was 18. Seriously. I know about Joel Plaskett (everyone in Canada does), but I had never seen him live before. An intimate, solo performance on an outdoor stage in the summer – it was freaking magical and I left the concert with a sore face from smiling. What a charming fella!
Madeleine Roger. Ok, I have a LOT of favourite people. But Madeleine in particular is an absolute doll, and has been there for me through some of the best and worst parts of the year. She is a spectacularly lovely human, and lights up every space she is in. She is also a fantastic songwriter, and you can check out her project Roger Roger with her equally lovely brother, Lucas. We had our fair share of adventures together this year with two tours out to the Canadian West Coast.
Here’s the second set of my photos of female artists, taken in widely differing venues with one thing in common; live music. It’s fair to say there were that conditions were challenging in some of the venues, but if it was easy all the time it would be no fun and photographers wouldn’t have use creativity to get killer shots. It’s just a matter of attitude. So here are the shots.
Kit Bennett (Wildflowers) @Bush Hall (14/10/16)
I saw Wildflowers a couple of times this year, once at an AMA UK showcase and once supporting Sound of the Sirens at Bush Hall and the obvious subject seems to be Siddy Bennett, centre stage and lead vocal, but we don’t like obvious do we? To one side of the stage is Siddy’s sister Kit, effortlessly cool keyboard player and if you want extra photographic wow factor, she plays accordion as well, and you don’t see that every day. I got some decent shots of Siddy but, at both gigs, I loved the photos of Kit, particularly at Bush Hall where the lighting was spot on for subject and background. As a bonus, Kit can look quite intent when she plays, but this pic caught a bit of a twinkle in her eye. See the full gallery here.
Hannah Wood (Sound of the Sirens) @Bush Hall (14/10/16)
The very same gig. I admit it, I’m a fan and I’ll take every chance I can get to see Sound of the Sirens; my photos tend to be 40% Abbe, 40% Hannah and 20% both together. One of my fellow photographers, Richard Bolwell, likes to catch Hannah when she’s at her most animated (and very successfully too) but there’s a peaceful, serene side to Hannah that shines through when she’s totally immersed in the music and that’s what I was trying to catch here by wedging myself against a wall to try to get the right angle to frame the shot. I’m pleased to say Hannah then created the perfect image for me. See the full gallery here.
Lux Lyall of Sister Witch @The Unicorn, Camden Road (30/07/16)
One of those gigs where anything could happen, and a bit off the beaten track for me (at least half a mile away from Camden Parkway). I’d gone along to see Anna Christina and Belle Star from Lilygun playing in David Ryder Prangley’s band, Sister Witch and I was looking forward to photographing all of them again, although I had no idea what the light would be like (not too bad, as it happens). Turns out that, despite the undoubted photogenic qualities of that trio, I had overlooked a true star. Sister Witch singer Lux Lyall has that bit of mystique and theatricality that the camera can’t resist. There were a few good shots on the night, but this one seemed to capture her cool, almost disdainful stage persona perfectly and with only a bit of colour correction at the processing stage. See the two galleries here and here.
Carina Round @The Lexington (05/08/16)
You know, of course, that all gig photographers always play by the rules and would never cheat (unless it meant getting a really cracking shot), don’t you? Well, I was puzzled when the three songs rule was applied to a gig in a room above a pub (admittedly a great live music room, but three songs?). I spent the first three songs down at the front of the stage in almost pitch darkness trying to get anything usable. I even blocked the view of someone in a wheelchair (it’s ok, I asked her and she very kindly allowed me to stand in front of her for a few seconds and we had a lovely chat). After three songs, I wasn’t really happy with anything that I’d shot, but I could see that the projection Carina was using was warming up and would create some interesting effects later. Towards the end of the set, I could see an incredible image starting to appear and, without realising how it happened, I had a camera pointing at the stage to record this. I’m saying now, I have no regrets whatsoever about not playing by the rules. Sorry Carina, but it is a stunning image, particularly with the black and white treatment. See the full gallery here.
Elisa Zoot (Black Casino and the Ghost) @Camden Roundhouse (17/02/16)
Elisa’s another one of these people that I’ve photographed a few times now (and a serial offender in my photos of the year) in various venues, but this was something else. Black Casino and the Ghost had landed a support slot with Kula Shaker for a European tour and the London gig was at The Roundhouse. The photo pit was really busy and most of the pros gravitated to centre stage where the action usually happens. I sloped off to stand in front of Elisa’s keyboard on my own and waited for the band to start. Before the end of the first song, I was surrounded as everyone realised where the focal point was. Elisa’s a bit like Mollie Marriott in that it’s quite difficult to take a bad picture of her; there were probably three from this particular night that could have been in this selection, but the action and the lighting made this my favourite. See the full gallery here.
Well, we’ve almost reached two weeks of High Fives and the juggernaut’s still rolling, although it was only a cinquecento when it started on this road trip. Joe Francis (Winter Mountain) has opted for the highways and the byways with his exploration of his favourite tour van music.
It’s more than just a car journey from A to B. Your vehicle is imbibed with a multiplicity of purposes, like the Tardis with a personality disorder. It becomes a diesel-powered bedroom on wheels, a dressing room, a hotel, a guesthouse, a calm port, a storage facility, a temple and a garbage bin. Its significance greater to a touring musician than any average road user may ever understand.
And so too are the songs you listen to on the road.
Free from distractions of everyday life, you’ve no option but to really listen. And because of this your choices matter. Selecting songs for a tour is not a casual thing. The tracks you listen to will help shape your experience and will take you back to there each time you hear them in the future. Here’s 5 songs that mean a lot to me…
“Solsbury Hill” – Peter Gabriel
You begin your tour full of optimism and hope, feeling vitalised by the promise of the dawning of a new musical era. Fewer songs capture the spirit and the sparkling, spiritual blue sky soul that surrounds this moment than PGs extraordinary 1977 classic ‘Solsbury Hill’. An exquisite riff that sounds like morning.
Best listened to when – The vans loaded? Gear, guys and girls all present and correct? Then start the engine and hit ‘play’.
“Thunder Road” – Bruce Springsteen
Too obvious? Yeah, totally. But for good reason. As a kid from a small village where nothing much seemed to be happening Springsteen’s 1975 track showed me there was real magic to be found in the mundane. It’s romantic and rocking and a poetically pure promise to aim for glory no matter the consequences. And ain’t that just like a musical life? ‘Have a little faith, there’s magic in the night…’
Best listened to when – The first few shows are under your belt and you’re loving it. The journey is well underway, the roads are clear…NOW!
“Highway to Hell” – AC/DC
Heavy, primitive, menacing, soulful and sexy. Sometimes basic is best. AC/DC’s behemoth will help you through the longest of journeys, through the worst of driving rain, damaged tyres and badly worn tarmac, when the van is straining under the weight of you and your gear. It’s devilish and dirty and after 3 weeks on the road you will be too.
Best listened to when – You’re two thirds of they way through the tour. The fatigue’s setting in and you need an injection of pure Taurine rock and roll to keep your stamina up and an anthemic sing along chorus to unify the weary musos.
Any track from “Blue” – Joni Mitchell
Transport yourself to a place of warmer climes, pretty people and free love. Check out any song from Joni’s beautiful folksy masterpiece and you’ll be smiling like a Californian under the summer stars within seconds.
Best listened to when – Traffic is at a standstill, the tour is nearly over, tension‘s a little high…
“Lost in the Dream” – The War On Drugs
Maybe the pace is going to get to you or the band need to get some shuteye to deal with the comedown before the next show and a little ethereal peace is in order? Stick on ‘Lost in the Dream’ by the War On Drugs and you’ll be floating through the early hours like a character from a stylish formulaic Netflix series about what it means to be young and on a comedown.
Best listened to when – It’s 3am on a post gig drive, through the French Alps, a silver cloak of moonlight laid over the mountains and lakes. The amber glow of a small village down in the valley below and way up ahead, a fire burns on a distant peak…
The album that kicked started the year here at MusicRiot was “Carnival of Hopes” by Jane Kramer. We loved it at the time and we still love it, so we were delighted when Jane made a contribution to keep the High Fives train a-rollin’ for another day, and give Malcolm Holcombe his third mention in the feature this year. Read about her top five gigs here.
I’m honored to be included in this wonderful list! I’m sharing with you the top 5 live shows that I’ve attended this year that a.) Made me want to keep writing better, deeper, braver songs. b.) Made me glad to be alive and wearing skin and c.) Knocked me on my bum and helped me realize that music is more powerful; it’s bigger than all of us. It’s a language we mustn’t be afraid to speak and share.
Three Women and the Truth at the Altamont Theatre in Asheville, NC
This tour consists of…wait for it…Mary Gauthier (a friend and mentor of mine), Eliza Gilkyson AND Gretchen Peters. Three of the most brave, unabashed, TALENTED, accomplished, truth-telling songwriters that live. They are each so passionately authentic and so advanced and graceful in their craft. Besides the fact that each of their songs floor me, they have a wonderful friendship and their shows together are full of hilarious, witty banter and stories. The reverence they have for each other’s art is also very moving and the amount of talent on the one stage is staggering. I loved watching Mary’s face when she was moved by certain lines in her peers’ songs, and I loved the way they would chime in on harmonies for one another off the cuff because they were moved to and didn’t worry if it was polished or perfect. Mary put me on the guest list for the show, and I hung out in the green room with the ladies before they performed. They were just as authentic and warm as their songs. The venue has wonderful sound and only seats 150, so it was nice and intimate. I left so humbled and inspired!
Malcolm Holcombe at the Grey Eagle in Asheville, NC
Malcolm is the real, raw, gruff yet shiny, deal. I’ve spent almost 20 years now in this little corner of the world; the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina, and Malcolm (a local fixture here who is also known internationally) and his songs represent home to me. Like, if you could bottle up the wild woods here and the divey bar rooms and the rivers and the hollers and the way the blueish mountains make you yearn, it would look and sound like one of Malcolm’s songs. I remember going to see him at the Town Pump, a serious dive bar, when I was in college. I was floored. I was a young songwriter and knew I was in the presence of greatness. He gave no sh*ts about the audience or social conventions. He smoked his cigarettes and his dentures would fly out of his mouth sometimes while he was singing. His eyes flutter-rolled into the back of his head while he sang and played like he was in some kind of snake-charmer trance. I remember thinking: “This is how it’s supposed to be. He is not playing us his songs, he IS his songs.” It was very formative for me.
I even got to sing a duet with him once and it was a crowning moment in my career. I have loved keeping up with Malcolm over the years and never miss an opportunity to see him play. This show at the Grey Eagle was intimate and perfect. Just Malcolm, his fierce finger picking and beautiful growling vocals and poetry, and he had a great dobro player accompanying him. It was, apparently, a release show for his new album, but you never would have known it from him – he never mentioned it. The only story he told was about a dog. He just kept the songs of life hard-lived and hard-loved rolling and he was authentically himself and the crowd drank him in with reverence. I was so happy to be there. I never want him to stop.
Akira Satake in his pottery studio in the River Arts District of Asheville, NC
Akira, in my opinion, is one of those humans who got ALL the GREAT genes. He is brilliant. He is a mind-blowing potter. He is an exquisite banjo player. He’s produced records for Tim O’Brien. He grew up in Osaka, Japan and discovered the banjo and mountain music from his brother’s Flatt and Scruggs albums. He’s become a master of shamisen (Japanese banjo) and played all over the world. He has a pottery studio in the River Arts District of Asheville, NC, and his pieces look just like his banjo playing sounds: earthy, wild, sturdy; a mystical fusion of the sounds of Japan and the sounds of the old-time mountain music of this region. It’s really something. I haven’t made it to a formal Akira concert yet, but I stumbled into his pottery studio on an open-gallery Sunday and there he was,
sitting at a little table in his studio (that also houses an adorable tiny cafe that his wife operates), and he was casually playing his banjo with his Altoid Mints box full of picks open in front of him. I have never in my life heard anything like it. It was effortless and every note showed how dear these two disparate lands: Japan and the NC Mountains, are to him, and filled the gaps between them. Pure magic.
Shovels and Rope at the Reeb Ranch (Hendersonville, NC)
What a breath of fresh air these saucy, raspy, young southern rabble-rousers are. How can you even begin to not love a young woman who belts out soulful poetry in harmony with her husband WHILE banging on the drums?! These guys are on the rise for a good reason. They are the whole package: songwriting, musicianship, unique voices and humility. I got to see them in a lovely festival setting, under the stars, cuddled up on a blanket with my honey. Doesn’t get much better than that. They were gracious and funny with the crowd, and gave such fire in their performance. They walked on and off stage holding hands and somehow manage to play and tour and do business together and still be in love. I’m in awe. They closed with the song “Birmingham”, tender and achey and one of my favorites.
Darrell Scott at the Altamont Theatre, Asheville NC
I never miss a chance to hear Darrell perform. I even was so lucky as to be his student in a songwriting intensive workshop a few years back. With the heartbreaking loss of so many of the masters of the songwriting craft over the last few years: Guy Clark, Merle Haggard, Leonard Cohen, to name a few, I believe that songwriters such as Darrell Scott are carrying their torch forward. Not only is he an exquisite songwriter; he is an incredibly accomplished guitar player and an amazing vocalist. The full package. He commands the stage with quiet grace, and seeing him in this intimate venue was beautifully special. His son’s band, ‘A Boy Named Banjo’ opened for him, and it was incredibly sweet to see Darrell swell with pride for his bass-playing son. They did some numbers together and I loved watching Darrell be the band leader in such a paternal (but not patronizing) way. He would gently nod to each boy, trusting them to solo, and nod again as if to say “you got this. Play out!”
Darrell was reflective and well-spoken and performed a staggeringly beautiful version of his dear, departed friend Guy Clark’s “Desperados Waiting for a Train”. I left with quiet resolve to write a song of my own that I’d be proud to share with Darrell.
Well, after spending a morning trying to pick my five favourite photos of female artists this year, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m either very indecisive or a rampant egomaniac (answers on a postcard please). After a lot of soul searching, I managed to narrow it down to ten photos that I really like, so I’m going to split them over two days. I hope that doesn’t make me a bad person.
Gabi Swiatkowska (Tildon Krautz) @Green Note
I’ve spent a fair amount of time at Green Note this year and I’ve now stopped moaning about the lighting. I know what it’s going to be and I’ve actually had some great results there. So why complain. This was a Josh Harty gig and he was supported by Tildon Krautz, a surreal and incredibly entertaining string band. The image of Gabi dwarfed by the upright bass was too good to miss, but it took a few attempts to get the perfect angle and even more attempts to get a shot where the neck of the bass wasn’t in front of Gabi’s face. The lighting at Green Note always gives muted colours on stage, so black and white was always the way to go with this one. You can see the whole gallery here.
Dani Sylvia @The Unsigned Music Awards
I was really pleased to be invited to photograph the UMA’s at The Troxy in Limehouse this year. The discipline was very different from either the first three songs only for major venues, or complete freedom at smaller venues. Each artist did one live song and the photographers had to move away from the front of the stage before the end of the song to avoid being caught by the TV cameras as they moved from the main stage to the awards stage. Dani Sylvia’s performance was so visual and colourful that it would have been difficult to take a bad photo. This one captured the atmosphere and ambience perfectly and I was really chuffed that Dani liked it. Result.
Hannah Aldridge @Green Note
If you’ve read any of my random ramblings about music, you might have worked out that I’m a huge fan of Hannah Aldridge. She’s a singer-songwriter from Muscle Shoals, Alabama and her astonishing first album grabbed my attention immediately. Hannah’s songwriting and live performance are absolutely exceptional, but she also understands the value of the visual image. I’ve photographed her in several settings now and always produced something I was really happy with, but this shot from Green Note (again) in black and white (again) had the look of a promotion photo for a silent movie star from the forties. Once again, I was really pleased that Hannah loved the shot as well.
Mollie Marriott @Time Out Rising Stars
So it’s Mollie again. A bit like Hannah, I find it almost impossible to take a bad, or even ordinary, picture of Mollie. When she sings, she gives it everything, every time, and that passion is clear in every shot. There were two shots of Mollie in my (not so) shortlist for this selection and this made the cut because she’s so obviously singing her heart out and the purple backlighting creates a lovely halo effect on her hair. With Mollie, I’m not sure I can even take any credit for good photos because every time I’ve seen her (and that’s quite a few times now) I’ve managed to grab some exceptional shots. Here’s the original gallery, and you really need to listen out for Mollie’s debut album which will be released in early 2017. And thanks to Ray Jones at Time Out for the invite.
Sarah Kayte Foster (Daisy and the Dark) @Ace Hotel, Shoreditch
For various reasons, this year I tried to get along to every gig that I was invited to and this one came about because of an invite from Quite Great PR. I’d never visited the venue before and I hadn’t heard anything from Daisy and the Dark. The lighting wasn’t great in this basement venue, which meant that black and white was favourite, a decision that was helped along by Sarah’s very sixties hairstyle. This was a gig that I could have very easily missed and it’s a great advert for taking every opportunity that comes your way. It was a challenge to navigate around the video camera setup, but it worked out perfectly in the end. Here’s the original gallery.
More to come soon.