When you think that this is the year music went over the cliff (well, live music certainly) we’ve been pretty busy with album reviews as artists faced difficult choices about whether to release their material in a time when they couldn’t tour to promote it. Despite those difficult decisions, we still reviewed over thirty albums this year and we asked Allan to pick out five of his personal favourites.

I’ve always loved the MusicRiot ethos of reviewing; it’s not about trashing albums that we aren’t keen on, it’s about highlighting the albums that we really like and telling the world why we like them. We don’t review high profile albums, nothing we say will help Springsteen, Dylan or Young sell half a dozen more units, but we might actually help someone self-releasing their work, even if it’s only with a quote to use on their next press release. Now I’ve got that out of my system, I’ll tell you about five albums that I’ve had on high rotation this year. As always, in no particular order:

“What in the World” – Michael McDermott

Michael McDermott keeps cropping up in these year end lists, with good reason. He’s a great songwriter and he knows how to present his songs on record and live. “What in the World” was a bit of a departure for Michael; his focus has shifted towards protest songs. When Michael takes a pathway, he commits to it completely. The title song is “Subterranean Homesick Blues” for 2020; it’s a headlong rush through the final year of Trump’s presidency and pulls no punches – ‘It’s not hard to see The President’s a criminal’. While “What in the World” is one of only two protest songs on the album (the other is “Mother Emanuel”), its power and ferocity mean that it defines the album, although there are plenty more songs from Michael’s post-addiction and recovery space to make a great and varied album.

“Can You See Me” – Maya Rae

This one was very different from the MusicRiot staples. Maya Rae isn’t the kind of artist we usually hear about from our sources. She sent a demo tape to producer Steve Dawson (Black Hen Records) and he hastily put a band together to record the album in three days. Maya wasn’t even eighteen at the time and she had already been singing professionally for six years. The album’s fresh and zingy and full of the insights about young people’s lives that you can only get from a young person. The musicianship on the album is superb as the band step effortlessly from pop to sinuous funk. Try it, you’ll love it.

“Iago Banet” – Iago Banet

I don’t think I’ve ever featured an entirely instrumental album before in my High Fives, but I’d never heard “Iago Banet” before this year. Iago plays in a style that he describes as Galician finger-style from south, south, south, south London. If you haven’t seen Iago play live you would think that each song features at least two guitarists (a bit like Martin Harley’s Weissenborn playing), but only one track on the album features a second guitar and that’s the fun blues hybrid ”Octopus One”. Iago’s playing evokes pictures ranging from Greater London scenes (“Morning at Greenwich Park”) to more prosaic domestic scenes (“There’s a Mouse In my Kitchen”). And there’s also a wonderful swing arrangement of Van Morrison’s “Moondance”. What more could you want?

“Tangle of Souls” – Scott Cook

To paraphrase the Marks & Spencer advertising strapline, this isn’t just music. “Tangle of Souls” as a standalone album is a superb piece of work, but it comes packaged with a hefty booklet containing Scott’s writings, printed on had-crafted paper. It all adds to the experience, but the album stands on its own musical and lyrical merits. The album’s centrepiece “Say Can You See” is a political statement that isn’t partisan; it’s about not trusting anyone from the DC elite. The album has more of a political edge than some of Scott Cook’s earlier work, including an update of Dick Blakeslee’s “Passin’ Through”, which includes a reference to 1970s Chilean martyr Victor Jara. It’s an album that will make you listen and make you think.

“The Sleepless Kind” – Andy Fleet

This was another one that came out of left field. Andy is a musician who makes a living in the same way as a lot of musicians these days; a bit of performance, a bit of recording, a bit of teaching and a bit of anything else that comes along. “The Sleepless Kind” tells the stories of the musicians who entertain us in our clubs and bars every night (or did before the onset of this plague) and gives us a unique perspective on Soho through the eyes of an owl. It’s an album that rewards repeated plays and has an end of the day feel to it. You should probably listen while nestling a single malt in one hand.

And here’s a little bonus ball for you. I wouldn’t normally include a compilation in this selection, but this one merits a mention.

“The Man from Leith” – Dean Owens

This is a seventeen-song Dean Owens retrospective. I’ve followed Dean’s work for nearly ten years now and he’s a songwriter who writes beautifully about Scottish and global themes. There are songs about family, songs about friends, songs about events and even a sing inspired by Ronnie Lane. If you want an introduction to Dean’s body of work, then this is the perfect place to start. And whether he’s playing solo or with a band you should try to see him live as well.

Is anyone ready for a few more of Allan’s photos? He hasn’t had the bumper gig year he was expecting but he still managed to get in a few before lockdown, a few over the summer and a few more after lockdown lite. Let’s see what he has to say about this set of images.

From the end of January 2020 it was obvious that 2020 wasn’t going to be a normal year for anyone. I was cramming in as many gigs as I could get pre-lockdown and hoping that post-lockdown might be a bit easier; so much for that. Over the last few years, I’ve done a fair amount of monochrome work, partly because it worked for certain images and partly because of lighting that was a bit meh. At the limited number of gigs I’ve done this year, I’ve had some decent lighting for colour, so here we go:

Tales from the Towpath (1)

Belle Roscoe had an album to promote and very few opportunities of getting punters to gigs so someone had the radical idea of taking the gig to the punters; on a barge. Starting at Hackney Wick and moving north during the afternoon. This was the second time I’ve shot a gig on a barge. The first one was at Kings Cross on a gorgeous summer day; this one wasn’t quite so warm, in mid-October, but the sun was shining. Matty Gurry just looks like a rock star (as does his sister Julia); all you have to do is get the right angle and press the shutter. I suppose the wind-swept look didn’t do any harm either:

Tales from the Towpath (2)

The album Matty and Julia were promoting (and still are) is called “Talking to the Walrus”, so why not have a walrus to help with the promotion. Not a real one obviously, but a very sinister walrus mask. Now, it’s not every day that you get introduced to a walrus, is it? Did you know they speak with an Australian accent? So, a photo of a walrus in a naval jacket? Works for me:

Greenwich Blues & Beer, Eddy Smith

Eddy Smith has a great blues/rock/soul voice and is a cracking keyboards player. He’s also a really good bloke. I’ve photographed him many times, solo and with his band. Eddy creates on particular problem for photographers; he wears a baseball cap which throws a shadow on his face when lit from above. Fortunately at this gig at The Old Joinery in Greenwich he was lit from below and not in full-on blues shouter mode. The soft, warm lighting emphasises the serene mood of the shot:

Greenwich Blues & Beer, Georgia and the Vintage Youth

From the same mini-festival at August Bank Holiday, I had another opportunity to photograph Georgia Crandon. It doesn’t matter how many times you photograph Georgia, you always get something different. The look is never the same for any two gigs and it’s always interesting. Like the previous shot of Eddy, the lighting’s quite soft and portrait-friendly and Georgia’s rose-tinted glasses add the finishing touch. I’ll be photographing Georgia in 2021, absolutely no doubt:

SJ (Morganway)

Two weeks before the first lockdown I met up with my friend, mandolin and fiddle player Steve Stott in Brentwood to introduce him to the Morganway experience. If you haven’t seen or heard Morganway, you really should. If the world returns to something resembling normality in 2021, they should be playing bigger venues and building a massive fanbase. They are the real thing; a live band where everyone plays an important part and they and do the whole lot from unplugged acoustic to no-holds-barred rock. Here’s singer SJ, giving it plenty:

Bit of a bonus, here’s Morganway’s “Hurricane” live:

Morganway – Hurricane [OFFICIAL VIDEO] – YouTube

 

We try to keep him out of the way for most of the year, but a sudden bout of Christmas generosity has prompted us (probably unwisely) to let the curmudgeon have access to a laptop and share his highly debatable and probably scurrilous opinions with you. Just a reminder for you that the views of our correspondent don’t reflect the values of MusicRiot or possibly anyone else in the world. You’ve been warned. This is the return of Isitjustme.

You’ve been warned. Indeed. You would think that they were expecting me to say something controversial but I’ve mellowed and I’ll be sticking to the party line by looking at the positives of the COVID pandemic. As a response to Steve Jenner’s piece, I’m sharing some of the things that I definitely haven’t missed about live music.

Soundchecks

I know, I know. The soundcheck’s vital to getting the sound right so the artist can sound good. There’s an insider joke – ‘When does soundcheck end?’, ‘Ten minutes after doors (scheduled opening time)’. How many times have you stood outside venues on nights when brass monkeys are looking for welders waiting for the doors to open, while the door staff tell you that the soundcheck’s still going on. It doesn’t build up anticipation, it just winds people up. I know it’s a radical solution, but why not start soundchecking a bit earlier. And it happens from the biggest to the smallest venues. At the Steve Miller/John Fogerty Bluesfest at the O2 (and I hate the O2 and all the other enormodromes) doors opened about 45 minutes late and they were still soundchecking. To add insult to injury, even after a bang-average opening duo, the sound was still terrible – the drums sounded like a filing cabinet being thrown down a lift shaft and the keyboard player might as well have been miming for most of the set. And why do VIP packages include soundcheck access; it’s the most tedious part of the live process. Nobody likes it and it’s just something the band has to do before getting stuck in to the rider.

Bar Queues

It’s all about the profit margin isn’t it? You deliberately under-staff the bar and boost your margins by keeping your costs down. Maybe you could increase your margins by selling more drinks (by having more staff to sell them)? It’s a bit of a difficult staffing problem because there are periods (when the bands are playing) when there isn’t a lot to do (gig expert tip – that’s the time to go to the bar). So with no gigs at all, that’s not a problem and with socially-distanced gigs it’s a different problem – table service. There are two ways for this to fail – you’re either constantly being hassled by over-eager staff to buy more drinks or you’re so thirsty you’re tempted to go down the Sarah Miles route (just google it). Don’t do this in a group, you don’t want to pick up the wrong glass. And while we’re talking about the bar…

Craft Beers

When I were a lad, you went to gig and you had a choice of bitter or lager (or a short if you’d screwed the leccy meter that week). You got a pint in a glass (a real glass that smashed when you dropped it or threw it at the support act, maybe after doing a bit of a Sarah Miles). It was cold, fizzy gnat’s piss but we loved it. So what happens now at a gig? Unless you go to The Picturedrome in Holmfirth (which sells real beer), you get floor-to-ceiling chiller cabinets packed with cans (cans?-when did that happen?) of beers that you’ve never heard of even if you could read the branding through the condensation on the doors. So you take a random stab at something that’s in a can you like the colour of and flick your credit card at the reader, just about registering that you’ve paid the equivalent of a main course in a restaurant for a 330ml can. But that’s not worst thing. The can describes the dubious fluid inside it as pale ale – that can’t be bad, can it? You can’t beat a good IPA with a big stick. But it’s either an American pale ale or a British copy – it doesn’t really matter, they’re both specifically brewed to be undrinkable. The ingredient that gives beer its bitter taste is hops and it’s perfect when used in moderation. Craft beers are brewed on the principle that more hops equals better beer – honestly, no, it doesn’t. The first taste is mouth-puckering and it doesn’t get any better – this is when you thank whatever gods you believe in that it’s only a 330ml can. Of course, you might get lucky and find a plastic bottle of Doom Bar on display. You might, and it ight even be chilled.

Background Music

It’s not really background music that naffs me off. It’s part of the night out (or entertainment offering, if you like) and it’s an important part. It’s not difficult to get it right with a bit of musical knowledge, so why do so many venues totally screw it up (even the good ones). Ever been in a venue that you visit regularly and you know exactly what’s coming next on the playlist – sort it out folks, it’s boring. Have a bigger playlist, set it to shuffle – you can thank me later. The other classic is the inappropriate playlist randomly chosen by one of the barstaff or the sound engineer. You know the kind of thing – thrash metal at an Americana gig or a Christmas playlist in November. Take control of it and give the punters what they deserve. You could even get a DJ to ‘curate’ your background. Just sayin’.

Rude punters

We’ve all been hacked off with them at gigs and we’ve let them know and it still makes no difference – they’re oblivious to criticism. You want examples – there’s the obvious one that wants to talk loudly at an acoustic gig. For your information, I don’t give a flying one about how busy the Northern Line was on the way to the gig and I care even less about what your bonus was last year – I just want to hear the gig I’ve paid for. How about the one person at a seated arena gig, right in the middle of the auditorium that wants to hippy-dance standing up and blocking the centre-stage view for about 200 people behind them – that’s way beyond selfish. Some people just shouldn’t be allowed to go to gigs.

My only wish for 2021 is to get back to normal gigs again. If we can do that, I’ll put up with all of these things (for the first gig).

 

We reviewed The Danberrys’ third album “Shine” in April this year and Allan was pretty keen on the album. The band’s name comes from a contraction Dorothy Daniel and Ben DeBerry and they’re based in Nashville. Here’s a piece of trivia for you – the person playing guitar, trombone and tuba on “Shine” is Neal Pawley (originally a native of Sheffield)  from one of Allan’s favourite bands, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes (and Johnny’s Americana outfit, The Poor Fools). Here’s the Danberrys’ positive takeaways from the year of the COVID:

 

The Wood Brothers – Ryman Auditorium 2/14/20

Little did we know, this would be the last live concert we would attend in the year 2020. It was Valentine’s Day and we received a last minute invitation to join a wonderful couple for the concert. Our friends Stoney and Susan, who own the amazing Purple Onion restaurant/music venue in Saluda, NC, called us & said they had two free tickets to a concert we had wanted to attend but had procrastinated too long in buying tickets before they were sold out. Hooray! We usually don’t do much on Valentine’s Day because the restaurants are always obnoxiously packed & we’re never too keen to participate in overly-commercialized holidays, so this was quite possibly the best Valentine’s Day in the books. The Wood Brothers ALWAYS bring it but with this being the tour closer at the Ryman in their hometown, it was an extra special performance. 

The 8 O’Clock Howl

At some point early on in the pandemic, some East Nashvillians decided that we should join in on the 8 o’clock howl that was also happening in other cities. For the entire summer if you happened to be outside at 8pm you could hear thousands of people howling. It was reminiscent of the uniquely Nashville custom in which entire bars break out into song together, and it brought a sense of community and quirky artistic ridiculousness back to the hard-hit neighborhood. Howling with a bunch of strangers is predictably cathartic.

live stream icon

Live Streams (duh)

On the night of March 2, a deadly tornado came through middle Tennessee. The famous Five Points area as well as other areas in East Nashville were heavily affected. Less than two weeks later, live music event cancellations began following the COVID 19 lockdowns. Things in our neighborhood changed very quickly. The transition to virtually no social interaction and no gigs was just plain scary. And weird.

Thankfully, the music world quickly adapted and did the best we could with what was available. Soon we were watching others perform online, and not long after we began playing our own livestream shows. We had never done livestreams before, so there was a definite learning curve along with lots of awkwardness at first. But it was totally worth it. It’s undeniably cool to be able to play for people all over the world at the same time. The interaction and comments from fans and friends to the simple task of wrapping wires at the end of the show brought back a much needed sense of normalcy and connection. There has also been a silver lining in our personal music consumption – artists we’ve never seen live and thought we maybe never would are now easily accessible. We’ve been getting glimpses of rehearsals and other behind-the-scenes-type content from artists we love. It’s been so inspiring to watch the creatives being creative with the limitations of lockdown. We hope the livestreams are here to stay.

Gilmore Girls

This show saved our sanity. Mostly because it’s not serious at all, and we had a full 7 seasons of 20+ episodes plus the 2016 four episode re-boot to watch. It started off as a fun and light-hearted way to pass an hour or so in the evenings and turned into a quest. We had to finish the whole thing before quarantine ended. This was our all-important task. Stars Hollow was a magical reprieve from the reality of the pandemic. The story lines never gave us anxiety or nightmares, only joy and laughter. Thank you Lorelai. Thank you Rory. And most of all, thank you Kirk.

Ollie

Our daughter, Ollie Grace, was 10-months-old when COVID 19 hit the U.S. She had just taken her first steps when the world went into lockdown. She graduated from infant to toddler in May of 2020, at the height of the pandemic. Ollie is definitely not a chill baby. She’s smart & active & demands a ton of attention and constant entertainment. Raising such a tiny human is challenging in any environment, but the pandemic took away the life-blood of any parent’s toolkit: playdates & social activities. We had to be creative. We bought a tow-behind baby carriage for the bikes. We went on long hikes in and around the parks and lakes of Nashville. We bought a plethora of plastic backyard water toys. Focusing on her – watching her grow into a walking, running, talking personality of a person over these months – has been the joy of our lives. We comment to each other constantly that she is the reason we haven’t gone crazy with boredom and anxiety during the pandemic. And the pandemic also afforded us the opportunity to be with her almost every single moment of her first months of life. More silver linings.

 

We decided to let Allan share another set of photos from 2020 while we wait for contributions from some of his fellow photographers. He was more than happy to pick out a set that reflected the positivity we’ve been seeing from our contributors so far.

It’s a privilege to work with performing musicians to create photographs of people on stage doing what they love and creating a shared experience with an audience; I’ve missed it for a big chunk of this year and I’m desperate for its return. The beauty of working in smaller venues is the intimacy between the performer and audience (and the photographer); everyone’s closer together and everyone can make eye contact. Here are a few photos where I think I managed to capture the artist’s response to the audience (and the camera) and a few big smiles:

 

Simeon Hammond Dallas @Greenwich Blues & Beer Festival

This was from the first gig(s) I did after the first lockdown ended. It was initially an outdoor event at the end of August, but the traditional August Bank Holiday weather meant that most of it was moved indoors. This is from one of the sessions that wasn’t; it was the first session on Sunday and let’s just say it wasn’t a balmy British summer morning. I’ve photographed Simeon Hammond Dallas a few times before; her songs are powerful and her delivery is perfect. She puts everything into her performance and when she laughs, she really laughs. Can you tell how cold it was on that Sunday? Simeon definitely dressed for the weather.

Lisa Canny @The Big Gig

This wasn’t an intimate little venue; it was the main room at 229 The Venue and Lisa was playing with her full band. I’ve photographed Lisa in many different venues, both solo and with her band and she always gives the absolute maximum. She plays harp (the Celtic not the blues kind) and banjo, does loop mixes and has a great line in anecdotes as well. This was a full band gig on a big stage celebrating the second anniversary of the Talentbanq organisation; the room was full and the band was cooking on gas. There’s an intensity to Lisa’s performance that shows on her face; it’s all about knowing when to press the shutter.

Isabella Coulstock @The Bedford

Way back in pre-lockdown days (and my first gig of the year), this gig was a cracker. The line-up was Rebecca Riedtmann, Hope Winter and Isabella Coulstock, three gifted performers and songwriters. The Bedford’s a fabulous live music venue with some great photographic angles and (pre-lockdown) the opportunity to get really close to the performers. Which is exactly what I was doing, with a 35mm lens, when that lovely interaction between performer and photographer happened and Isabella stuck out her tongue, creating a perfect cheeky shot.

Martha L Healy @ Cash Back, The Woodside, Aberdour

I was so chuffed to get an invitation to this gig but concerned that it might not happen because of the impending lockdown. It did go ahead and I saw some incredible performances from established Scottish legends and new talents. This is no criticism of the venue, but the lighting for most of the performers wasn’t perfect for photography; it’s something you have to live with. However, there was a sweet spot on Friday during Martha’s set where there was a bit of contrast and colour. It’s not a typical performance shot, but I think it captures Martha’s warm personality. This was a case of eventually finding the right angle with reasonable lighting and grabbing something that worked.

Sadie Horler @Eccleston Yards

Between lockdowns and following lockdown lite, Talentbanq has been providing artists for a music stage at the Sunday markets at Eccleston Yards in Victoria. I’ve had a few good Sunday afternoons there and managed to grab a few good shots. On this particular afternoon, Sadie Horler, who I first met when she supported Sound of the Sirens, arrived breathless and just in time for her closing slot, did a quick sound check and went straight on stage. Sadie performs a lot of her own material and has a certain knack with a cover version as well – how about an acoustic version of “Creep”? Another thing you should know about Sadie is that she has a smile that lights up a room (or a yard in this case). Again, find the right angle, just wait and press the shutter at the right time.

Graeme Wheatley’s a bit of a veteran of the High Fives thing; his first contribution was in 2015 and his band has had three names since then. They’re now ColorColour and the line-up really works; Amanda (drums), Iago (guitar) and Dre (vocals) fit together perfectly and the latest album “Strange Ways” (under the band’s previous name of Deep Blue Sea) is packed with great songs built around interesting subjects. How does a song about the Cable Street anti-Fascist protests sound? It works for us. Like all musicians, Graeme’s been incredibly frustrated by the COVID restrictions and, like most, he’s tried to find the positives:

 

When Allan McKay asked me if I’d like to write a High Five for 2020 my head spun! What could I do to find 5 high points of 2020? Had there been as many as 5?

Normally, 5 great gigs or 5 fun moments at gigs, or 5 silly things at gigs, or 5 weird things at gigs, at gigs, at gigs, at gigs……

Last year, I think I selected 5 cover versions of songs that were better than the originals. While I was doing that, I also selected 5 cover versions that should never have been recorded. Things like Paul Young’s version of Love Will Tear Us Apart. Of course, this year, the list is blown out of the water by William (The Shat) Shatner’s new album – every track of which is a travesty. Which I think maybe just about sums up 2020. But I can’t add to the woe. It’s got to be high 5 not low. Not this year.

So, I’ve not been to a gig since March at the 100 Club. Our band, ColorColour, has not been together in a studio, bar, venue or anywhere other than online since then. We’ve written songs, tried recording over the interweb, even made some clips of new songs and old songs and bits and bobs and Dre and Iago have been able to do some solo broadcasts and recordings and Amanda and I have recorded some drum and bass things but really the band has been in suspended inanimation “Another year over, and what have we done?”  

So, wracking the old grey stuff for 5 high points from this mother of all “anus horribluses” (intentional mis-spelling) – I stumble on something in the gloom. 5 things to look forward to in 2021?

 

  1. The vaccine – I am not going to listen to conspiracy theories – if you stand next to a 5G mast after having the vaccine you turn into a werewolf – whatever – I’m a big Warren Zevon fan – gimme the shot Doc – soon as you can – but not before anyone who needs it more than me gets it. I can wait in line behind the Keys – the people who have kept us going – the people who deserve a whole lot more than a clap – pay these people what they deserve you snivelling toads. Meantime, I’ll listen to some music and dream of the day we all go out to play.

Here’s my choice of music while I’m waiting for my shot.

I’m waiting for the man

 

  1. Standing in a crowded venue with loads of people watching a great band blasting out some rock and roll – nuthin fancy – nuthin too clever – all together – good times. Pushing to the bar, getting a couple of cold ones, standing, eyes closed, rocking back and forward, can’t get that smile of my face – it’s only rock and roll – but I like it. Start me up. I’ll be jumping like Jack, we can spend the night together. Remember, it’s just a shot away.

Gimme Shelter

 

  1. There will be parties. Dancing in the street. It’s not like we had to go to war to win this one – but people have done great things – small things and big things. And I know there will still be more tears. But someday, there will be tears of joy mixed with the tears of sad remembrance. And I want to focus on 5 good things coming down the line. So, yeah, sure Brexit will screw us up even further and prices will probably go up even more and my lovely band of gypsies from round the world will find it harder to go play in places where we wanna play but we will find a way and even if they charge us £20.00, we’re gonna party like it’s £19.99

 

  1. So, the last film I saw at the Peckhamplex (best cinema in London, or at least Peckham) sometime in February 2020 was JoJo Rabbit. We went twice. And bought the DVD. I always loved this song off The Vindicator album but in this film it became even better. Pointless to say it was my favourite cinema outing of 2020 cos it was probably my only cinema outing – so I’ll say it is one of my favourite films of all time – I don’t have to wait another 10 years to decide. It’s up there with another few hundred that make me laugh and cry and feel the human condition open and revealed. If you haven’t seen JoJo Rabbit, you need to. Now. I’m not saying it’s a Christmas movie, but it will work at Christmas just as well as any time. Give yourself a treat, we can all do with another yippie ky-aye.

Everybody’s gotta live

 

  1. Now you can say I’m a dreamer – but I’m not crazy – I know we aren’t going to get back to Woodstock. Those times are gone – and to be honest – I’m going to stick my neck out here and say – I’m guessing the toilets were pretty basic – and the whole concept of washing hands while singing Happy Birthday is probably not compatible with the 60s festival thang but:

 

someday

not too far away

we will stand in a field

there will come a time

the sun will shine

there will be wine

and chills down the spine

and upon a sign

standing in line

hands waving, yours and mine

some perfect day

not too far away

 

So, till we meet again, may you stay forever young, and if by chance you don’t know the band, let a little ColorColour into your life right here www.colorcolourband.com

We reviewed the latest EP by Los Brujos (Chuck Melchin of Bean Pickers Union and Michael Spaly of Green Monroe) just over a month ago and Allan was impressed with the five songs created by online collaboration reflecting the conditions the world’s enduring at the moment. The EP’s full of great songs, understated playing and some lovely harmonies and you really should give it a listen. Chuck Melchin has returned the compliment by sharing his five lockdown lifesavers:

 Five things that made 2020 tolerable, even enjoyable:

 The Critter Cam – We live in a pretty rural part of New Hampshire, a small state in the northeastern US. Our house is built into the side of a large hill, and is surrounded by forest on three sides. The music studio is in the back on the basement level, and has a sliding glass door to the outside, from which the view, because of the slope of the land, looks like you are standing about halfway up the trees. So, I call the studio the Tree House. Anyway, we occasionally see deer up near the house and wondered who else is living nearby. So I installed a critter cam – a night vision, motion detection camera that takes stills and video of anything moving near it. So far we have recorded raccoons, possums, porcupines, snowshoe hare, foxes, coyotes, a weasel and, of course, lots of deer. We walk an old logging road for about a mile down to the camera about twice a month and change out the disc, then come back and spend a couple of hours going through the results. It’s fascinating. We have also captured video of a human animal, attempting to steal the camera, and not being able to figure out how to untie the straps. He actually waves as he gives up and walks away. It’s a small town, I suspect we will see him around at some point. That should be an interesting conversation!

Food – For most of 2020, the restaurants have been closed, and grocery stores have been somewhere with a strong potential to contract the virus, so we have avoided both as best we can. About once a month Suzanne drives into town and is at the grocery store when they open. She sketches out the layout of the aisles ahead of time and moves through the store like a prizefighter, no wasted time, no unavoidable contact with other humans. She gets our non-food goods – toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning products, etc. We have almost all of our meats and produce delivered weekly by our local farm cooperative. Schwan’s delivers ice cream and frozen fish twice a month. We have always enjoyed cooking but in 2020 we have upped our game. We have made some epic meals these last few months. Scallop pie, Mexican lasagna, lamb meatballs. We play a game where we try to guess what we would have paid in a restaurant, and then compare to what it cost us to make it. Friday nights are now free and have become pizza night. We put on music and hang in the kitchen, slowly assembling the pies and cooking, and talking. The Spanish have a word for it – sobremesa. It’s the time you spend after a meal, hanging out and enjoying each other’s company without hurry. We make Fridays a night-long sobremesa.

Our Dogs – when you apply to a rescue agency to adopt an Australian Cattle Dog they always ask if you have any experience with the breed. For good reason. Cattledogs are highly intelligent, high energy, busy and strong. Strong physically and strong willed. They have been bred to work, so they need a job. If you don’t give them one, they will make up their own, and you might not like it. We have two. Mr BoJangles (you can call him Bo) is a three year old male Cattledog / Border Collie mix. Hatty is a three year old female Cattledog / Cattledog mix.  By which I mean she’s got lots of cattledog sass. I call it Hattitude. They are absolutely wonderful dogs, endlessly entertaining. Loyal and brave. Protective around strangers at first but will give you their whole hearts once they meet you. We had Bo first, and recognized that he really needed a friend, because he loves to play so much that he goes crazy when he sees another dog on a hike or walk. Hatty is now his best bud, and they play hard inside of our huge fenced in yard, and keep the property free of those dangerous rabbits. They are the best songwriting partners, are fantastic on hikes (you can not wear them out!) and are always ready for an adventure. They keep us grounded in reality in this seemingly unreal time, reminding us to stay in the moment. If you could ask them what time it is, they would tell you it is right now.

Here’s a video featuring Bo and Hatty:

The Time Before – YouTube

Remote recording – When I started playing in bands as a kid, there was no way we could have made a record. You needed to be signed to a record contract, and have someone else pay for the studio time. Now of course anybody with a cheap mic and a computer can make a record. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is debatable, but during this isolation time, I’m awfully glad to have a studio at home. For the last few years I have been slowly improving the quality of my gear, and learning more about the engineering and producing end of music making, with the goal of transitioning from gigging musician to more of a producer for solo artists looking to make demos or to add instrumentation to an existing demo. Previously I was mostly using my home setup to record my new songs for me to refine them or for band mates to learn them.  Last year I did a few tracks at home for a record that was mostly recorded at a studio, and it worked out really well. This year, things ramped up. I did two full – length records and an EP with almost everything recorded here at the Tree House. One record was sort of hastily done just to document some tunes in case the world ended. When the world didn’t end, I did another record of songs I wrote for a band I was in back in the 90’s, with lots of help from friends adding parts in their home studios. That record exceeded my expectations. And this fall, I just released a collaborative EP with my pal Michael in which we co-wrote the songs, and exchanged audio files over the internet, using We Transfer or Google Drive. We did have the mixing and mastering done by a friend at a pro studio, but all the raw tracks were done in the comfort of our own homes. Dogs at my feet, children at Mike’s. I also did some vocal, mandolin and guitar tracks for other folks’ records during the year without changing out of my sweatpants. But don’t tell them that.

Suzanne – I have gone days if not weeks this year without speaking to another soul outside of my home. I would have guessed that the lack of human interaction would make me a little stir crazy. And with both Suzanne and I working from home, that we might need a break from one another, or that the stress and frustrations we are feeling this year would cause us to bicker with each other. Nope. We met in 2001, when she came out from Chicago for the wedding of my bass player and her good friend. I was immediately mesmerized. Nearly 20 years on and that feeling hasn’t changed. I don’t believe I could have endured the challenges of this year without her. Simply put, she is the best person I know. Smart, funny, interesting, empathetic, caring, hard working, honest, and the prettiest girl I have ever seen. I’m feeling like 2021 is going to be alright, but if it wants to try to top 2020, bring it on. I have her on my side. 

We like to have a visual element to our High Fives, and we like to feature the work of as many gig photographers as we can, not just our own resident snapper. We’re hoping to feature some guest photographers later this month but, in the meantime, we’ll start with five from Allan because he’s got five ready to go. Here’s what he has to say about this year:

There was a time earlier this year when I wondered if I’d have enough pictures for this feature. This was supposed to be a great year for gigs and January, February and the first half of March was living up to the promise; loads of gigs around London, a weekend mini-festival in Fife and my first shoot at the legendary Fairfield Halls in Croydon. A week after the Croydon gig, we were in lockdown. I was lucky enough to squeeze in a few gigs between lockdowns but let’s just say I won’t be doing a calendar this year. I normally shoot a lot of portrait-style shots with one person in the frame, but for various reasons, including avoiding brother/sister fallouts, I’ve shot a few group shots this year. Here’s a few of them:

The Velveteen Orkestra

I photographed Dan Shears at a John Lennon 79th birthday gig at The Hard Rock Café in 2019 and following on from that, we arranged to do some shoots at upcoming gigs in 2020 with a variety of Velveteen Orkestra line-ups. The second shoot I went along to was an early evening gig at Jamm in Brixton with Dan and violinist Sarah Boughton. I got lots of good solo shots of Dan, but having Sarah out of focus in the background gave some depth to this shot.

Amy LaVere & Will Sexton

What could be better than dashing around between venues in Hackney for two nights at the end of January. This was the annual Americana Music Association UK showcase 2020; it needed careful planning, stamina and shoeleather, but there were good shots to be had if you were fast and lucky. Amy LaVere and her husband Will Sexton were individually photogenic, but I was keen to get both of them in the frame. Amy draws the attention by staring straight at the camera, as Will plays the supporting role. If you want to know why this was a black and white shot, it was down to some flat and not very colourful lighting.

Belle Roscoe on a barge

I love shooting Belle Roscoe. They’re a brilliant band and, like the Velveteen Orkestra, they play in a variety of configurations from a duo format to full rock band. Whatever the format, they’re great to listen to and always interesting to shoot. Coming out of lockdown, I shot them at The Bedford in Balham and a few days later they announced a series of guerrilla outdoor gigs on a barge on a Saturday afternoon starting at Hackney Wick. After mistaking the River Lee for the canal and getting totally lost (and horribly late), I finally found the location for the first gig just as the band moored the barge to set up for the gig. As always, the band rocked and there were a lot of interesting shots there for the taking. I think the shot captures the strange setting, the cold and windy weather and the rock star quality of Julia and Matty Gurry.

Dean Owens, Hannah-Rose Platt and Rab Noakes

This was a couple of weeks before lockdown. I had train tickets booked months in advance and fingers firmly crossed that the UK wouldn’t grind to a halt before the event. It was a weekend at The Woodside in Aberdour curated by the fabulous Scottish singer-songwriter Dean Owens celebrating Johnny Cash’s roots in The Kingdom of Fife. The weekend featured a wide variety of artists including Fay Fife and my favourite crime novelist, Ian Rankin.

My favourite session of the weekend was a songwriters’ circle on the Saturday evening featuring Dean, Hannah-Rose Platt and Scottish folk legend Rab Noakes. They complemented each other perfectly and I was positive that there was a good shot coming at the end of the set, so I got myself into position and waited.

Georgia and the Vintage Youth

Just before the first lockdown again, this was a bit closer to home, at Paper Dress Vintage in Hackney. The gig was an EP launch and Georgia had the full band for this one. I have to say now that this is probably my favourite shot of the year. It was almost at the end of the set and I’d packed away the zoom and just kept the 35mm lens ready for any close-ups that might happen. It got interesting when Georgia sat down on the stage, got more interesting when guitarist Charlie Manning got in on the act, and absolutely perfect when Georgia flicked the ‘V’. It’s not technically perfect, but I love the Sid and Nancy/Kurt and Courtney feel of it.

Strange the way things work out. This piece was programmed for publication today and by some quirk of fate it’s the same day that our long-time correspondent from ‘Up North’, Steve Jenner, achieved a lifetime ambition by starting his regular Sunday morning show on Caroline Flashback. Steve’s been in radio for many years, but he’s been a fan of live music for many more and 2020 has been a bit of a shock to the system. Here are some of the things he’s missed in this year of lockdown and its variants:

 

The Five Ritual ‘Live’ Things Missing from My Life This Year

 

Anticipation.

You get your ticket and as the date nears you start to think about it. What will the line-up be? Will they play my fave tune of theirs? How’s the new stuff going to play in a live setting? Will he/she be ‘on it’ or will it be a ‘routine gig’? Has it sold out? Will there be any proper beer?

Going in.

Milling about inside  the venue, eyes getting accustomed to the dark, checking out the bar and the bogs, staking out a space, hearing the noise levels rise as the pre-event music kicks in and the punters start to flow through the doors. Getting that ‘tingly’ thing you do.

 

Tension build-up.

Main act is habitually fashionably late and there is a palpable build up of tension / expectation in the crowd. There’s a bit of good-natured jostle near the front. Torches keep flicking on and off onstage and shadowy figures flit from mike to monitor and desk. The crowd starts a ‘stomping’ routine.

Bang.

On they come, first song’s just a sighting shot but the second one’s a biggie. The crowd are singing like a Championship football crowd at a home game and the bass player cracks a smile at the drummer. We’re in!

 

 

 

Off they go, and they’ve left nothing out there.

Mad stampede noises, roadie rushes to front mike and makes an adjustment and ducks away. Lights off, crescendo, on they come again and off we go into the best new album track, a Chuck Berry/Smokey Robinson/Insert name here followed by The Greatest Hit. Thangyewg’night!  And you stand there, bathed in sweat, half-covered in somebody else’s beer, feeling like you’ve been run over by a truck. Time to go home via kebab/pizza/chipper/insert food here.

 

Here’s to 2021. Hang on in there until it happens. Big respect to everyone in the industry who have somehow found a way to survive ‘silent running’ and deepest empathy to those who have not.

We’ve reviewed a couple of Track Dogs albums in the last few years, “Kansas City Out Groove” and “Fire on the Rails” and we’ve always been impressed by the breadth of the influences they incorporate into their writing and playing – esoteric is very much an understatement. This multi-national band comprising Garrett Wall, Dave Mooney, Howard Brown & Robbie K. Jones is also multi-instrumental and their vocal harmonies are outstanding. They were quite firmly on the MusicRiot ‘to watch’ list for 2020 before COVID came along. Looking at Garrett Wall’s list of festivals they’re going to miss, we think we would have caught them somewhere:

Performing at  – Music on the Marr!!

We were so looking forward to playing this northern festival on Castle Carrock Marr as we’d been invited in 2019 right after our debut Towersey concert. Lovely folks and it was sure to be a lovely weekend close to the Lake District.

Performing at – Beardy Festival

We’d wanted to play this festival since we’d heard about it so to be finally booked and then not be able to travel, with our flights paid for and everything…to put it mildly, we were gutted. At least the festival was one of the few events to actually take place this year, bravo for them and see you in 2021!

 

Performing at – Broadstairs Folk Week

This would have been our second time playing this wonderful Kent coastal festival and it was sure to be the highlight of the late summer. We have so many friends in Kent we were planning camping trips with our families and lashings of ginger beer and scones with clotted cream…alas, it wasn’t to be.

Performing at – Gate to Southwell

This early June festival near Nottingham was another new festival for us and one of our first bookings of 2020 so we were very excited to meet and play for new audiences.

Our Irish tour

Playing Ireland is as much about homecoming as it is about touring. This year has been heartbreaking for most artists and the whole industry. So, we could all do with recharging the emotional batteries too. Here’s to the roaring 2020’s. If the public comes with the same gusto as the bands will, it aims to be a bright future.