The High Fives feature just wouldn’t be the same without a contribution from Our Friend in the North. Steve J has been a very busy man this year, reviewing loads of gigs for us while working as a radio presenter in the Peak District and somehow manging to publish a couple of books as well, “On the Radio” with his brother Paul and a solo effort, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Twilight”. They’re both cracking reads (subtle stocking-filler hint here) and our totally unbiased view is that you should get hold of a copy of each for your nearest and dearest. In the meantime, here’s Steve’s reaction to hearing some of his classic 45s (ask your nan) performed live.

High Fives. This year has been the year of classic singles – LIVE!! So I’ve picked my fave live performances of five classic singles that I’ve experienced this year, bookending from ‘I’m Not In Love’ to ‘Is This Love?’ See what he did there? Certainty into uncertainty. Metaphor for the year, n’est-ce pas?

 

“I’m Not in Love” – 10CC

A beige, plastic-labelled 45 on Mercury Records. A night out at The Opera House in Buxton. Nearing the end of a storming set and the lighting changes. Suddenly, I become aware of an effect which has been more or less redundant all night…a cutaway mirrorball, throwing darts of seventiesesque silver light in elderly lovers’ eyes and randomly piercing the sudden dark blue wash which had swallowed the stage. And with stunning clarity and instant recognition, the keyboard strikes up for one of the most perfect, flawless and in a way, perplexing lurv songs of all time. And it’s all there. The ambiguity in the title, suggesting despair or disdain or something in between (Disappointment? Disenchantment? Take a look into this lovely audio mirror; see what bounces back) and all wrapped up in that rich electric keyboard swirl which at times sounds like it is emerging, dripping, from between the trees. And can the CCs pull off the stunning build up of layer upon layer of vocal harmonics before it all dissipates in a crystalline sprinkle of sparkly synth? Sure can. Sure do. Four or so minutes of suspended animation. Perfect.

 

Travellin’ Band – John Fogerty / Creedence Clearwater Revival

Ain’t nothing fancy about this; a UK-release blue-labelled Liberty Records mono 45 cut like the San Andreas Fault and heavily worn with spiral striations due to jukebox wear (the arm skims the toast rack of records, reaches down, grabs, makes a wear imprint and over time, your 45 will fade from shiny black to shimmering grey) with a stomped-out middle and a triangular black centre piece. And a night out in the former Millennium Dome in London. But what a way to start a set. This ain’t no polite calling card; this is a ‘blow the doors off’ statement of intent. John Fogerty rips into the opening tune with the ferocity of a storm-force wind. Rasping and what even for then was uncompromisingly ‘dated’ sax gives way to the foghorn honk of Fogerty’s amazing vocal. You can read millions of pages about what it was like to live the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle; or you can listen to this for about two minutes twenty seconds and get the whole story. You’ve paid for it. And you’re having it.

 

2-4-6-8 Motorway” – Tom Robinson Band

Red and salmon pink-labelled EMI demo 45 stamped ‘Factory Copy; For Demonstration Use Only’. And as tended to happen with the ‘airplay’ samples, it’s a Porky Prime Cut alright, tyre-wall black and uncompromisingly deep. Wherever it plays, it cuts the air like a knife. Pop tune meets rock anthem meets The New Wave (sort of). Probably the most out of context of all TRB’s output (with the exception of a few plain duffers on the second album) it is the Show Closer all century long, ensuring an enthusiastic crowd stick around for the encore and are Up For It. As a song it just screams to be hit hard, and sung with lust for life and played with drive and passion. And at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, that’s what it gets as the Tom Robinson Band roll back the years and suddenly we’re all somewhere else, sometime else.

 

“Rock ‘n’ Me” – Steve Miller Band

Another beige plastic-labelled Mercury Records 45. Another drivetime classic meets live anthem. But this one is very ‘American’ as we return to the Drearydomeydrome, London, once more. This just ‘drives’ along on vinyl, with the singer’s voice sounding as artificial and as ethereal as Fogerty’s is to sound ‘real’ and very much Of This World about half an hour later, same place, same night. This is as much a tribute to the fine art of producing recorded sound as it is to it being a mighty fine, well-arranged song. And after an early evening where the sound sold Steve Miller and the Millermen seriously short, it was good to hear the whole thing come together and produce three minutes of unadulterated joy, which evoked top-down, hedonistic, Californian sunshine of various kinds just as vivaciously as the little unassuming vinyl disc did when it first lit up my grim Scottish tenement flat as I first played a demo copy to myself on a horrible little autochange record player way back in (I think!) 1976. Keep On Rockin’ Me, Baby.

 

“Is This Love” – The Wailers / Bob Marley and the Wailers

Island records multi-coloured label 45 with the lurid green palm tree in the foreground, and with the centre knocked out for use as a Jukebox copy, my “Is This Love?” is a well-travelled audio file. I’ve taken it out on more gigs than The Beatles, The Stones and The Who have played put together and sure enough it bears all the scars of wear, tear, spilt beer, exposure to sunshine on outdoor gigs, grit in between the single sleeve sides, greasy buffet fingers and sub-zero storage. Old-school DJ abuse, in short. As do The Wailers, who continue unsteadily but utterly charmingly into the future, carrying Bob Marley’s live legacy with them. Both on the 45 and in the Manchester Academy, the song and the way it is delivered contains enough space to walk around in. Space. Clarity. No clutter. And those chord progressions and the odd squirt of squealing lead guitar every now and then. And that drummer. Live, just as on the record, strolling, loping along as if it’s the easiest, most natural thing on earth. (Try it some time! I stand in awe of most musicians due to my own limited abilities but reggae drummers….well.) On stage as on vinyl, sunshine, but more than that, a hope bordering on a belief that love can indeed triumph over all, and that peace will be the outcome and unity will be the end result; which lasted about as long as it took for me to walk outside into the typecast Manchester rain and for some bloke half my age and twice my size to attempt to kick me swede in whilst waiting for a taxi. And the compliments of the High Fives to you, too.

I know, I know; we’ve said this before. The Riot Squad loves the way that artists taking part in this piece stamp their individuality on their contributions – you never know what you’re going to get. We’ve had a huge variety already this year including Dean Owens’ American tour highlights and Track Dogs’ UK tour discoveries and we’re just over halfway through December. In this particular piece, Gerry Spehar, whose “Anger Management” album blew Allan away this year, has taken the opportunity to say thank you to some of the people that have made a difference for him in 2018. Gerry’s kept this very simple, so we’re going to respect that by not including any distracting visual images. And thank you Gerry.

 

Thank You High Fives  2018

 

Robert Mueller and the American justice system for giving me hope.

My kids, grandkids and other family for giving me roots.

Ellen for mending my broken wings.

Paul, Tommy and the other fine musicians for polishing my soul.

Geraint, Allan, Bill, Kim, Mike and other promoters, reviewers and stations for making it smile.

 

Allan is a huge fan of Rod Picott. He loves the last two albums, “Fortune” and “Out Past the Wires”, he’s seen him live and was gutted to miss Rod’s latest appearance in London in the spring of 2018. Rod can sing and play with the best but, beyond anything else, he’s a storyteller; the characters in “Out Past the Wires” will be appearing in a volume of short stories in the near future. So it’s absolutely no surprise that Rod’s High Fives for 2018 are literary picks. He’s also very thorough, so he provided all of the cover artwork to use in this piece.

 

“The Flame” – Leonard Cohen

This is Cohen’s final piece of work and in fact he died before finishing. “The Flame” is a loose collection of poems, drawings and lyrics from his later albums. Most of the drawings are of Leonard himself with his aged and jowly face surrounded by small sometimes mystical phrases. The book is revelatory in showcasing the familiar syllabic repetition in much of Leonard Cohen’s work. It’s surprising to see the rhythmic patterns emerge over and over as they bring the reader to a sort of trancelike state. The familiar themes are all here. Love, loss, sex, death, aging and the mysterious relationship Cohen had to life itself. “The Flame” is a wonderful book and an intimate look inside one of the great artistic minds of the last fifty years.

“Gone ’Til November” – Wallace Stroby

This noirish crime fiction novel grabs you from the beginning and Stroby masterfully drags the reader along into a fast-paced mystery that never lets up. This is not the kind of fiction I’m usually drawn to but the “Gone ’Til November” characters are so vivid and the story so compelling that I couldn’t put the book down. The plot unfolds much like a great film and is just as cinematic. Simply – great crime fiction worthy of Elmore Leonard comparisons.

Substitute – Nicholson Baker

The genius of Nicholson Baker can’t be overstated. “Substitute” is a 719-page memoir of Baker’s tenure as a substitute teacher in the public school system of the state of Maine. Baker does something in his writing that is absolutely unique. He writes as a person’s mind works without any nod to plot and without any hint of manipulation. It is a wild and strangely compelling trick that keeps you wondering where his words will go next. There are untamed swings of thought that keep you on your toes the entire time. “Substitute” is basically every thought Baker had during his 28 days as an on-call teacher. Baker’s observations are so sharp and his empathy so present that this project is an incredibly moving journey through what should be incredibly pedestrian territory. In lesser hands this book would never work. A stunner.

Paris Trout – Pete Dexter

This novel is straight up my alley – dark southern gothic filled with vivid intense characters and rich brilliant prose. “Paris Trout” is simultaneously dark, violent and comic and the novel goes places you do not see coming. The main character himself is a racist, wife-abusing storekeeper in the dreamy small southern town, Cotton Point, Georgia. Dexter reveals our common flawed humanity through the townspeople’s reaction to a tragic incident brought on by Trout. Such vicious narrative requires a deft hand and Dexter never leaves the reader in doubt as he drags you into deeper and deeper water.

Trampoline – Robert Gipe

This illustrated novel is a work of absolute genius. The narrative is so vivid that I can recall the story as if I have seen a film. That’s saying something. The book follows the life of wry, restless fifteen-year-old outsider Dawn Jewell. Woven into her story is a larger narrative that addresses the brutal nature of strip mining in her small Appalachian Kentucky town. Gipe’s own loose, scratchy inked illustrations are a marvel of economy and power. The drawings of Dawn are often accompanied by a few carefully chosen words that reveal her inner mind and the conflict therein. Your heart will break for Dawn as she navigates her small world and the inevitable collisions that come with her finding her way to some kind of peace inside the chaos around her. This book is a game-changer we seldom receive in fiction.

 

Allan reviewed the Track Dogs album “Kansas City Out Groove” in the summer of this year and he was impressed. The album’s a glorious mixture of musical styles and influences stitched together in the way that only the most accomplished of musicians can do convincingly. One of our great regrets is that we couldn’t get someone out to a live performance on their UK tour. We’ll definitely be there next time. We were more than pleased when they agreed to share some of their UK tour discoveries with us and, obviously, with you. Here we go:

 

The Dark Horse – 7a Kingsmead Square, Bath

Howard and Garrett discovered this place after our recent Chapel Arts gig and it was the perfect wind-down; fantastic selection of rums and cheese board to boot, low lighting and comfy, what more could you ask for?

 

 

Scones and Clotted Cream aboard the Edith May Barge in Lower Halstow, Kent

Apart from loving to play concerts below decks on this 100-year-old Thames sailing barge, they do the best scones with cream. The barge was even featured in the Wonder Woman movie and is truly a step back in time. Well worth the visit.

 

The Floating Coffee company – breakfast barge in Birmingham just off Brindley Place

A full English is on every touring band’s priority list and this place was one of the best we’ve found. We even ended up selling some merch to the people sitting next to us who happened to be from Kansas City. As you can see, we love all things barges! 

Parmo (Teeside Parmesan), Smith’s Arms, Carlton                                                                                                              

It’s a chicken-fried steak (breaded fillet) with bechamel thing that is cheap but enormous and filling, and typical to Yorkshire. It’ll cure what ails you, for a few days. If you’re in North Yorkshire, just ask. It seems everyone has their own take on it, but they all seem to agree; there’s never any Parmesan cheese involved.  

10:50 FROM VICTORIA Micropub, Strood

Built in a bridge arch under the very tracks of the 10:50 train from Victoria. Ciders and Cask Ales including their own “Ten Fifty” house brew. Great patio! It’s a laid-back urban oasis. It feels like you’re in your neighbours back yard – no TVs or fruit machines. Not intrigued enough? Ask about the folks chillin’ a few arches over.

We’re really pleased that Lynne Hanson made this contribution to this year’s High Fives. She came to our attention with the gorgeous album “Heartbreak Song for the Radio” which she made with Lynn Miles; we loved it at Riot Towers. Not surprisingly, Lynn and Lynne also turned out to be lovely people and it was love at first sight (and hearing) for the Riot Squad. Have a listen to the album and to anything by Lynn and Lynne individually and make sure you look out for any live dates near you. We’re looking forward to welcoming her back to the UK in 2019.

 

CANADIAN FOLK MUSIC AWARDS

I released an album this year with my longtime friend and songwriting mentor Lynn Miles. Our band name is “The LYNNeS” and our album “Heartbreak Song for the Radio” was nominated for 5 Canadian Folk Music Awards.  It was a huge honour to hear our name called out for English Songwriter and Ensemble of the Year and definitely the biggest highlight of 2018 for me.  

 

MOUNTAINS

Nothing will make you feel smaller than standing at the base of a mountain in the middle of the Canadian Rockies and looking up before spending a hours scrambling up the side of it.   I recorded an impromptu demo of a song I had JUST written at the base of a mountain, sitting next to a glacier lake, while the sun came up and the birds sang.  I’m not sure any single moment can compare to the beauty of that one in all of 2018.

 

GIANT PANDAS

I am such a fan of the Giant Pandas, and finally got to visit them in person at the Calgary Zoo this summer while on tour in Alberta, Canada.   Highly recommend Toronto Zoo giant panda cub fall compilation for any and all who may be having a bad day.  Guaranteed to lift your spirits: 

 

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RLQiAqc1MI8

 

SWEET SWEETS

I love touring England … and managed to fit in not one but TWO tours this year.  I have to admit the weather was a bit friendlier the second time around, with the first go-round taking place while England was under seige from The Beast From The East.  White-out conditions that definitely made me think I was back in Canada.  But I digress.  I admit I have a bit of a sweet tooth so have been known to partake in a round of sticky toffee pudding or two.  However, I have NEVER encountered anything quite as spectacular as the sticky toffee pudding at the Bull’s Head in Alton.  Seriously it was so good it should probably be illegal.   

 

FRANCE

I got to play some shows in France for the very first time. This was a serious highlight for me, as I grew up in Ottawa, Canada and speak French. I am a lover of languages so getting to sing a song in my second language was a wee bit of a thrill, albeit nerve wracking as well! One of the real perks of being a touring musician is getting to see so much of the world while travelling around playing my songs and having a chance to see the engineering feat that is the Chunnel was also a serious highlight. Humans can be pretty ingenious and getting to ride on THAT train was pretty cool.

 

I first met Ray Jones about three years ago at a Time Out gig Mollie Marriott was playing. Two years later, Ray was fronting up a company (Talentbanq) promoting live performances by unsigned artists. It must have been quite a journey to make this happen; the reason it worked is that Ray and his fellow directors are absolutely passionate about music, live music particularly and that’s the reason the company’s working so well. Ray’s nominated a combination of favourite venues and events for his High Fives and given us carte blanche to add some narrative and photos. Let’s hope this works.

 

229 Great Portland Street 24/01/18

This venue hosts some really interesting events, including low-key warm-up gigs for artists preparing for arena tours. On the night of the Talentbanq launch, the action started in the small room before moving to the main auditorium (which was packed to the rafters) for the big stage action. Quite a launch event for a new company. The photo is Rebecca from Anavae.

26 Leake Street 10/05/18

Another first. The inaugural live music event at 26 Leake Street in the arches under Waterloo Station. You got the initial feeling from the audience that it was more about the occasion than the music, but that attitude evaporated as soon as Belle Roscoe (with the full band line-up) took the stage. And then on to Lisa Canny, again playing a full band set featuring the show-stopping laser harp. The photo is Lisa Canny.

Caffe Nero Brighton, The Chill Out Sessions 17-18/05/18

Let’s take a small Caffe Nero branch just off Brighton seafront and have a mini-festival there just as The Great Escape is kicking off. And, over two days, let’s have three artists playing every hour between ten in the morning and six in the evening. It sounds crazy and it probably was, but it worked, it ran to time and featured thirty-six artists (pretty much the entire Talentbanq roster at that time). The opening day was everything you could wish for at the coast – gorgeous sunshine and loads of delighted Caffe Nero customers listening to superb performers for free. The photo is Clint Nelson playing cajon while backing Mark Sullivan.

The Jazz Café, Camden – Hollie Rogers, Joe Slater, Dan Owen 29/05/18

A more traditional venue that has benefitted hugely from a refit that pretty much rectified all of the original layout problems. This was a cracking triple bill featuring two of the Talentbanq powerhouses, Hollie Rogers and Joe Slater with blues prodigy Dan Owen topping the bill. Joe and Hollie were both enthusiastically received by a knowledgeable and respectful audience before Dan Owen took centre stage and blew the roof off. The photo is Joe Slater.

L’Escargot – The Soho Music Festival 16/06/18

Another interesting and iconic venue and even more interesting concept; three sessions (morning, afternoon and evening) in three rooms, with audiences moving from room to room while the performers play three sets in the same place. The event was hugely eclectic, I honestly can’t recall a gig where I’ve seen a crooner, a classical pianist and a rapping Celtic harpist (that’s Gary Williams, Genia and the inimitable Lisa Canny) and will be back in 2019. I suspect it will be bigger. The photo is Gary Williams.

On a personal note, it’s been a pleasure to be involved with all of these Talentbanq gigs and to work with a team who really look after the gig photographers. We all appreciate it – Allan.

We made a special effort this year to make the High Fives more visual and to invite more gig photographers to make a contribution. The first to respond was Michael Butterworth who Allan has met at many a gig this year. Michael’s a great live music photographer but, unlike most of those people who are in the pit at gigs or who use their elbows and shoulders to get to the front of the stage, he’s a really good bloke. Here’s what he has to say about his favourite things this year.

 

Wow, what a year. I’ve met a lot of new people this year and covered more gigs than ever.

1 – Ferris & Sylvester @ Battersea Arts Centre

 

I was asked to photograph this gig by a friend. As I often do, I checked them out on the internet to get a feel for them and boy, was I a lucky snapper.

They are an up and coming London duo, who are great songwriters – With clear references in their catchy setup to the mid-60s sounds of Greenwich Village combined with their meatier blues tones, Ferris & Sylvester sit somewhere between Jack White and First Aid Kit (great band). Their clever combination of blues, folk and rock ‘n’ roll has created a distinctive genre of their own.

As I usually follow where the music takes me, The Battersea Arts Centre was new to me. It’s a lovely old building (in the mists of fundraising for refurbishment) the gig was in the wood-panelled Great Hall, with the stage sticking out into the room, just in front of the three French windows.

I also bumped into my friend Paul (Pablo) Ettinger, in the interval and he told me about his new business venture Talentbanq (see below).

2 – Lots Holloway and Lisa Canny @ Soho Music Festival

 

Aligned with the Mayor’s #SoundsLikeLondon event taking place throughout June and as part of Music Venue Trust’s #FightbackLondon campaign to support independent venues, TALENTBANQ announces The Soho Music Festival . A one-day celebration of independent music and musicians to be held at one of Soho’s most famous addresses. A festival that is designed to grow over the next three years to bring back music to basements, small rooms and rooftops in the bohemian district flanked by Oxford Street and Shaftesbury Avenue.

TALENTBANQ programmed 12 hours of live music to take place in The Salon Noir, Salon Vert and The Library at L’Escargot on Greek Street. Heralded as one of the capital’s finest French restaurants, its upstairs rooms whisper the stories of times gone-by and provide exquisitely intimate spaces to discover new music.

From 11am to 11pm L’Escargot hosted no less than 10 red-hot, breaking acts – each chosen for their ability to deliver exceptional live performance. Uniquely the day was divided into three sessions, where the audience moves from room to room.

The artistic line up ranged from Classical Crossover Piano, through Tango, to UK County, Swing, Rock and possibly the wildest Celtic harp ever to grace a stage. All this plus of course an after-party because in Soho; when the music stops, the music starts!

Among the many talented musicians, two stood out for me, Lots Holloway a multi-instrumentalist Lots Holloway writes and produces catchy indie-pop tunes. Her talent for song writing shines through in clever lyrics, strong melodies and memorable songs that manage to stay with you long after you first hear them.

The second was a real firecracker – Lisa Canny. She’s a charming red headed Irish singer song writer whose main instrument is a harp, however when she gets going it isn’t a gentle classical music recital you get – she attacks it, on occasions, like a heavy rock lead and bass guitar.

3 – Dan Owens @ London Jazz Café

 

At one of London’s most iconic live music venues. The Jazz Café features live music with a restaurant around the balcony.

What a night of music, opening the evening was the charming Joe Slater, who delivered a smooth, saturating blend of rock, blues and soul that is beyond his years.

Drawing inspiration from The Beatles, The Boss and Oasis, Joe’s songwriting and unique vocals take listeners on a journey comprised of energetic sing-alongs and anthemic ballads, full of interior and reflective moments, that only the greats could inspire.

The filling of this amazing musical sandwich, was given to us by wonderful Hollie Rogers who often plays with a full backing band or as a duo with double bass (as she did that nigh), and performing with notable candour and honesty and with endorsements like these:

“Reminiscent of Carole King and Joni Mitchell, amazing voice” – Nick Mason (Pink Floyd)

“A magnificent and powerful voice” – Suzanne Vega

Do I have to say more?

Finally Dan Owen, what a tour de force. Dubbed as an old blues man, he has been singing publicly since he was 13 (nearly half his life). Dan performs with the raw power of that deep, rich, resonant voice, he has gone from performing for politicians at Westminster to partying in Nashville with Willie Nelson. This young man from Shropshire, with the big blues voice has a wealth of stories to share.

He performed many of his own song and closed the evening with a rendition of ‘Little Red Rooster’ a classic blues song, perfectly demonstrating his power and energy.

 

4 – LAIKIPIA @ Century Club

 

In lovely venue, just off Shaftsbury Avenue, this was the first musical journey at the Century Club with Paradise London Live and Success Express Music.

A fabulous evening of new and emerging music culminating in a passionate and energetic performance by LAIKIPIA (named after an area of Kenya).

As is their intent, they are best described in their own words:

Through the original worlds that their music explores, LAIKIPIA has developed a distinct sound, combining a unique blend of harmony driven storytelling, hypnotizing dance floor beats, and melody rich instrumentals.

LAIKIPIA is creating new music true to themselves; strangely alien, yet comfortably familiar, their music welcomes all ears, completely disregarding the walls between genres.

So you see, quite a unique and amazing duo.

5 – Afterhere @ 229 The Venue

 

I’ve shot several things this at this venue, including the official launch of TALENTBANQ, single and album launches – however the one I’ve picked was this one.

As a huge Heaven 17 fan, I was delighted and privileged to whiteness Afterhere’s debut live performance. This is a brand new project of HEAVEN 17 front man Glenn Gregory and Berenice Scott.

While Glenn Gregory along with band mates Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh scored a number of hits including ‘Temptation’, ‘Come Live With Me’, ‘Crushed By The Wheels Of Industry’ and ‘This Is Mine’ as Heaven 17, Berenice Scott joined their live set-up in 2011 while releasing her most recent solo album ‘Polarity’ in 2014.

As well as Heaven 17, the pair have also been part of Holy Holy, the supergroup led by Spiders drummer Woody Woodmansey and producer Tony Visconti who perform the songs of David Bowie from the period between 1969 to 1973 at concerts around the world.

As Afterhere, Berenice Scott and Glenn Gregory got their first commission for the soundtrack of the ITV drama ‘Liar’. With their debut album ‘Addict’ released this year, music from it featured in another ITV drama ‘Vanity Fair’ broadcast in September 2018.

So, although the two of them have played together for the last seven years, this was their first live outing as a band and with Glenn playing keyboards live, as he said “I’m a bit nervous, as although I play the keyboards in the studio for Heaven 17, I usually just sing when we perform live”. The other key difference was Berenice sings most of the vocal parts. Two of the stand out songs for me were the title track and single form the album ‘Addict’ and the powerful ‘Blackout’. As always, the evening went too quickly, but there was an extra special surprise for the final song. Their version of ‘All Along the Watchtower’, a Bob Dylan classic, was introduced by James Strong the Director and Producer of ‘Vanity Fair’ – whose idea it was to adapt the song for the series.

With such a great year, musically, I found it hard to pick out just five amazing gigs.

 

2018 was a bit of a year, really. There was a strong showing in the first few months of the year and it felt like the early albums would be difficult to beat. Maybe it was a self-fulfilling prophecy or the fact that, for one reason or another, I wasn’t able to review too many albums in the latter part of the year but the early albums were very difficult to beat. I’m only featuring albums that I reviewed here, so great pieces of work like the magnificent Stone Foundation album “Everybody, Anyone” doesn’t get a mention. Oops, it just did. Anyway, as always in no particular order, here are my five favourite albums of the year.

“Southern Wind” – Dean Owens & Will Kimbrough

I’ve been a fan of Dean Owens since my introduction to “New York Hummingbird” six years ago. Dean’s a consistently great performer whose songs cleverly combine universal themes like love and loss with a particularly Scottish outlook. Over the last few years he’s been increasingly involved in collaborations (with Amy Geddes as Redwood Mountain and the upcoming Buffalo Blood album with Neilson Hubbard and Joshua Britt) and “Southern Wind” was a joint project with the superb and in-demand guitarist Will Kimbrough. The album is a classic; there’s no filler and lots of killer and you can clearly hear the influence of the wonderful Ronnie Lane, particularly in “Last Song”. I wasn’t going to single any particular song out, so how come that just happened. It’s a meeting in the mid-Atlantic between Leith and Nashville and it’s a Thing of Beauty.

Here’s the original review.

“Psychopastoral” – Phil Burdett

Coincidentally, I first met Phil Burdett on the same night I met Dean for the first time (this stuff isn’t just thrown together, you know) and they’ve both had very different journeys since then. If I had to pick one word for Phil’s attitude to his music, it’s uncompromising, and I mean that in a very, very good way. His back catalogue is all worth checking out, but his latest project “Psychopastoral” is something else. It’s a song cycle which tells the story of the journey home spread out over 24 hours. Sounds simple? This Phil Burdett. The songs are linked by spoken-word interludes and (courtesy of Lyndon ‘Songdog’ Morgan) and musical fragments created mainly by Senor ‘Al’ Franklinos. I know, it sounds like it could be a bit pretentious, as I said, this is Phil Burdett; it works perfectly. And Phil’s gone one step further than Pink Floyd by making the whole project one massive track nearly an hour long to force listeners to hear the project the way it was intended to be heard. Didn’t think I’d ever write a sentence with Phil Burdett and Pink Floyd in it.

Here’s the original review.

“Out from Under” – Michael McDermott

We can link this back to Dean Owens as well, because Will Kimbrough plays on this, as he does on a lot of Michael’s recent material. Told you he was in demand. The title song is big in an E Street Band style and, let’s face it, Michael will always get those Springsteen/Dylan comparisons and for all the right reasons. He’s a superb songwriter who understands the American songbook and its highways and byways and isn’t afraid to take a trip down any one of them. The album shifts seamlessly from the pathos of “This World Will Break Your Heart” to the joyful Motown exuberance of “Rubber Band Ring”. I said back in May that I hadn’t heard a better album this year and I stand by that now.

Here’s the original review.

“Anger Management” – Gerry Spehar

I loved Gerry Spehar’s previous album “I hold Gravity”. He’s a natural songwriter with a gift for a telling image. So just combine that gift with an exploration of the state of modern America following the election of Kurious Oranj. It’s political in less direct ways as well; “Bitch Heaven” digs into the story of Woody Guthrie’s campaign against Trump Senior and the Beach Haven property, while “Son of an Immigrant” double-underlines the blindingly obvious truth that the vast majority of Americans are immigrants if you go back far enough, including the current occupant of the White House. It’s an angry album, but Gerry is managing the anger by diverting it into creative channels. This is an important album and we should all listen to it.

Here’s the original review.

“Out Past the Wires” – Rod Picott

OK, quantity isn’t everything, but Rod Picott defied the current trend for shorter albums and EPs by releasing a double album (twenty-two songs in total). If you have the material and it’s good enough, get it out there. It’s good enough, it’s more than good enough. Will Kimbrough plays on it and also Neilson Hubbard (notice a theme here) but it’s not just about the playing arrangements, it’s also about the stories and that’s what Rod Picott is really good at. In fact, the stories are so important that Rod’s also publishing a book following the lives of some of the characters appearing in the songs and that should really be worth reading.

Here’s the original review.

 

Let’s be honest about this, I’m just using this to buy time until a few more guest contributions start to come in and I’m seriously hoping that’s going to happen some time soon. What we have in this selection is some shots that managed to be left out of the original selections for various reasons that I’ll explain as we go along. Anyway, I like them and they’re pretty much all we’ve got for today, so let’s just run with it, shall we?

 

Basia (Dana Immanuel and the Stolen Band) @The Vaults, Leake Street

The only reason this one didn’t make the cut for the original monochrome set is that it was only shot on Saturday December 10th.I don’t know what it would have displaced, but it would have been there. I’m a huge fan of this band; musically they’re superb, they’re great fun and there’s always something very visual going on. There aren’t many bands with five visually striking characters, but these guys are always great to photograph and they always throw some interesting shapes. The biggest problem is knowing where to look; there’s always so much going on. This is Barbara, or Basia, whichever you prefer.

Sound of the Sirens and Samantics at The Slaughtered Lamb

Did I ever mention that I love Abbe Martin and Hannah Wood, or Sound of the Sirens, as they’re better known? Yep, thought so. The Holy Grail of Sirens photography is to get a shot with Hannah and Abba facing you, but without microphones in front of their mouths. Sounds easy, yeah? I beg to differ. Myself and fellow gig photographer Richard Bolwell have been trying for years without success. I’m still not sure that this qualifies, because it’s between songs during the encore, but it captures the spirit of a great night and the dynamic between the three people on stage.

Red Berryn (Dominic Cooper) at Leek Blues & Americana Festival

I decided to escape from London for a few days to head Up North to Leek in Staffordshire, where I worked for a while in an earlier incarnation. I was heading for a Graham Parker gig in Holmfirth on a Sunday, but it coincided with the festival. In for a penny then. The format of the Festival is lots of pubs putting on gigs of various sizes over three days and you never quite know what you’re going to get. What we got early doors on Friday was Red Berryn who did Chuck Berry. So, all the usual duck walk shots, but then I got that brief moment of complicity between performer and photographer that just worked.

Julian Eccleston (Houndstooth)

The band formerly known as Coffeepot Drive; are you still with me? OK. Whichever name they go by, this band is hot, hot, hot. I took Mrs M along to see them and told her that if she didn’t love them, I would sell all my guitars. Well, the Les Paul and its poor relations are still with me and Houndstooth are still the funkiest rock (or rockiest funk) band I know. And they are lovely people. One of the many times I saw them play this year was in the Caffe Nero tent at Cornbury Festival. The lighting was, well, daylight filtered through canvas basically, so the challenge was to find some visual interest. Julian saved the day by wearing mirrored shades that nicely reflected the framework of the tent. I owe you one Julian.

Kathryn Williams (supporting Stone Foundation at Islington Assembly Hall)

Time to ‘fess up. When I picked the original High Five black and whites, I completely forgot about this one, which is pretty dim given that Kathryn really liked it. As always at The Assembly Hall, the lighting was variable but OK if you picked your moments. If you’ve seen more than half a dozen of my photos you probably realise that I tend to get in quite close and crop quite tight. This one needed the space isolating Kathryn and emphasising the apparently pensive mood of her stance. I was really happy with this one, even on a night when I shot Paul Weller and Graham Parker, as well as Stone Foundation.

 

So, Allan’s shown us his favourite black and whites from 2018 already, it’s time for the colour shots now. You might recognise some of these, you might not. The Riot Squad like them. We’ll let Allan tell you about them:

Joe Slater @The Jazz Café

A bit of a strange gig this one, because it was the first major gig after a bit of a health wobble. However you look at it, it was great to be in the same room as Joe Slater, Hollie Rogers and Dan Owen. It was a really warm evening in a venue where the aircon struggles at the best of times and Joe’s fashion statement was to wear a hoodie. I’d just picked up the camera with the wide-angle lens when this happened:

DJ Lusinda @Party in the Park New Cross and Deptford

I saw this festival on Facebook and it was just around the corner from the day job. I got in touch, volunteered my services and I was in. What a great move that was. The sun shone for the entire day and the atmosphere among the festival-goers, volunteers and performers was absolutely superb. During the early afternoon, DJ Lusinda worked with Holly Flo Lightly and Minx to deliver a classic set of London hip-hop. I could have chosen any one of half a dozen photos from this set, but here’s the one I’ve gone with:

Mavis Staples @Cornbury Festival

This was my first year with photo accreditation at Cornbury Festival and I have to say it was a good ‘un and a chance to meet up with fellow gig photographers. My attentions were concentrated mainly on the second stage and the Caffe Nero stage, but the one artist that I really wanted to capture was the legendary Mavis Staples. She was totally outstanding and I somehow managed to grab this shot:

Julia Gurry @26 Leake Street

Julia’s one half of Belle Roscoe, along with brother Matty and this was the first time I had the chance to see them. Just sayin’ now, you need to see these guys; they are sensational. They’re also incredibly photogenic, both of them. This was the opening night for live music at 26 Leake Street, under Waterloo Station and it was a memorable on for most of the right reasons; I shot my first book cover there, for starters. Anyway, Julia, nice lighting, what do you think was going to happen?

Lisa Canny @26 Leake Street

The same night; how strange is that? The first time I’d seen Lisa Canny as well. Lisa plays harp and banjo, sings and raps. I’ve no idea how you would classify her and I’m not going to try. I’ve got lots of nice shots of Lisa, but nothing matches the intensity of this basilisk stare: