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:

 

Our good friend Dean Owens recently returned from a short tour and working holiday around Tennessee and South and North Carolina. He’s just completed his final show of 2018, a reunion with his old band, The Felsons and found some time to tell us about five of his favourite things from his travels in the Southern states. And, just a little teaser for you, Dean’s latest project Buffalo Blood, a collaboration with legendary producer Neilson Hubbard and Joshua Britt will be the first release on Eel Pie Records in February 2019.

 

The Louisville Lip

I got to visit my hero Muhammad Ali’s grave in Louisville Kentucky. A special moment for me. I wrote a song for Ali that’s on my new record – Southern Wind. I wrote it the night Ali passed away and it’s called Louisville Lip, which was one of Ali’s nicknames when he was first starting out and still called Cassius Clay. I drove up to Louisville with an old friend of mine and we just made it to Cave Hill Cemetery before it closed for the day. I left a copy of Southern Wind by the grave and sang him a verse of Louisville Lip. I’ll never forget it.

 

The Levitt Shell

Getting to play the historic Levitt Shell in Memphis was fantastic. Levitt Shell was where a young Elvis Presley played his first show all those years back. I’m the first Scottish artist to play there so it was a real thrill to be able to play on that stage on a hot Memphis evening and to get to sing my latest single – Elvis Was My Brother. Amazing really.

 

Wild Ponies

Meeting and becoming good friends with Nashville duo – Wild Ponies. Doug and Telisha Williams are brilliant in their own right and to have them back me as my band was just fantastic. Great people with big hearts. We’re going to be hooking up again in the US in the Spring. Bring it on

 

Albino Skunkfest

Playing the Albino Skunkfest in South Carolina and getting a standing ovation……at NOON!!! It was here I was given my new nickname – Merle Haggis. Ha ha. Wonderful people at a wonderful festival. I’ll be back.

 

Buffalo Blood

Meeting up with my www.buffaloblood.com friends Neilson Hubbard and Joshua Britt and finalizing our plans for our debut album and world premiere at Celtic Connections in Glasgow on the 25th January.  Can’t wait.

It would be an understatement to say that this has been an eventful year for the Music Riot team. Steve Jenner has had two books published in late 2018, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Twilight” and “On the Radio” (with his brother Paul) and we thought it was a perfect opportunity to showcase some of his past Music Riot escapades and demonstrate the sheer quality of his writing, not to mention his enthusiasm for and knowledge of Popular Music. Just sit back and enjoy some effervescent music writing.

 

Setting the scene

Here’s an example from one of the books published this year, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Twilight”, a collection of live reviews, some of which initially appeared in Music Riot. This was from a review of a Brian Wilson show:

‘My mate can drink 3 pints of lager through a straw in less time than it takes to boil a kettle.

According to some, this makes him a ‘legend’.

Brian Wilson is regarded by many as a ‘genius’.

I would argue these labels have caused problems for both men and have probably influenced their behaviour and probably not in a good way.

Sheer enthusiasm

It’s a prerequisite for membership of the Riot Squad that you’re enthused to the point of obsession about popular music. The wordplay’s quite impressive as well:

Elvis Fontenot – an explosion of manic cajun and punk–zydeco energy. The outside area at The Cock is long and quite narrow and so if you find yourself at the front, they are In Your Face in a big way. A gurning bundle of leering, squealing, careening, lurching riot, they are Big Fun. Combining the pace of a Ska band and the intensity of punk with squeeze box and scrub–board tricks and tuneage born on the bayou, this was full of vivacious kick and naughtiness but with extremely high standards of musicianship and let’s hear it for the sound man who kept the whole thing in beautiful balance. Absolutely the best thing at the Festival so far. Mama’s Got A Squeeze Box. Somebody Sign These People – Now.

Photo courtesy of John Hayhurst.

Hilarious similes

Steve has a very creative turn of phrase. This reference to the drum sound is from a piece about the John Fogerty gig at the O2, referring to some ‘issues’ the sound crew was having during Steve Miller’s set. Steve made the comment during the set, then gave it a quick road-test later when we were backstage talking to the band. You know it’s a good line when it Makes The Band Laugh:

The keyboards, which would play an increasingly important part in the set were virtually absent; the guitars lost in a quite horrible swamp of all the things I do not appreciate which sometimes seems to be ‘the way it is done’ when an American band plays a stadium rock gig. The drums sound like someone is throwing an empty filing cabinet down a lift shaft; the bass is an intrusive, rubbery Audio Prevention Scheme.

Social campaigner?

A very serious point made in Steve’s grumpy, irascible old codger voice. It’s an old technique, sing humour to make a serious point, but he does it so well:

Venues, promoters and bands themselves often bemoan the relative lack of female punters and offer various socio – politico – entertaino(?)- reasons for this. The truth is much simpler. There are not enough bogs for women. It is not rocket science. As a bloke you cruise past, cheerfully unzipping before you so much as reach the door, whilst the queue for the ladybogs has already lit a campfire and are preparing a bivouac for the night. And it’s not even a good chortle for the average bloke; they’re tricky blighters, these women. I know. I’ve been kept by one as a sort of house pet for the last forty years or so. As a token bloke, they hold you personally responsible for all life’s discomforts and they take it out on you as a representative of the foul brood who have brought them to this ignominy. Please, ye great and ye good, if you make one resolution this year, it has to be more ladybogs in music venues. And High Five to you, too.

The important things in life

If you’ve read any of Steve’s work, you’ve probably seen a reference to beer. He enjoys a beer; proper cask-conditioned, hand-pulled beer, not cold, fizzy gnat’s pee. He enjoys a single malt as well and I could tell you a story about drinking Jack and coke after a DJ gig, but I think that has to wait a while. Anyway, back to bitter:

Now, when I go out to see a band, I like a beer. To be honest I like a beer when I don’t go out to see a band as well which is why I also have problems with 4 (Tight seats in venues – Ed). But for the sake of the good Lord, why, why oh why do some venues insist on dishing up five – count them – five – draught lagers AND NO BITTER? WHY?? Take the O2 Indigo as exhibit A. Gorgeous venue. Excellent sight lines, marvellous acoustics, washroom facilities you could picnic in – and NO BITTER! My most recent visit there was to see Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul and what a breathtaking gig that was. But it also happened to coincide with the night when the Guinness was ‘off’. (What does that even mean? It was past sell-by? It was giving off a sulphurous odour? WHAT?) And so we were offered a wide range of near-identical fizzy light brown chemical substances which could loosely be described as ‘lager’ (and don’t even try to tell me British Bud isn’t ‘lager’). I wasn’t expecting an array of twelve real ales and a couple of nice porters, but – not even John Smith’s, the last refuge of the scoundrel? Bah and humbug.

Allan’s had the brace of Nikons at quite a few gigs this year and he modestly says that he’s produced some cracking shots. Don’t say this too loudly, but the rest of the Riot Squad think that he’s probably right. However, he doesn’t get so much of the photographic spotlight this year as we’ve invited a few more gig photographers to showcase their own images and they’ll be appearing throughout December in the spirit of giving a bit of exposure to some extraordinary photographic talent. We thought it was only fair that Allan got first shot. So, in no particular order and with a running commentary from the man that reviewer Steve Jenner calls the Dapper Snapper are Allan’s favourite five monochromes.

Hannah Rose Platt @St Pancras Old Church

I’d seen Hannah around at a few gigs over the years but it was only about a year ago that we met after I heard her gorgeous single “1954”. She was one of those people that I wanted to photograph straight away. With long blonde hair and a very fair complexion, I could see some great opportunities under strongly-coloured lighting. Guess what? The only paces I’ve seen her perform have been very atmospheric but very dimly lit and only really suitable for monochrome.

This shot was at St Pancras Old Church, a fabulous intimate venue where the stage is lit by a couple of bedside lamps. Here’s the result:

Genia @Soho Music Festival

Genia’s a pianist from Russia, playing in the classical idiom and she featured at the inaugural Soho Music Festival earlier this year. Have you ever tried to photograph a pianist? There are only so many angles to use and it can easily get clichéd.

Genia was the opening artist in one of the festival’s three rooms in L’Escargot, starting her set at the unearthly time of 11:00 am. After grabbing a few usable shots, I sat down to review the selection and when I looked up from the viewfinder I saw that Genia’s shades had created the perfect shot with piano keyboard reflecting in the shades. It took two attempts to get it right, but the result was dramatic. The only problem was that with eleven hours ahead of me, chances were that I’d peaked a bit early. I had.

Lynne Hanson @Green Note

Gig photographers are a dedicated bunch; it’s not just swanning around in the sun at Cornbury and the Isle of Wight, oh no. I went out to see The LYNN(e)S at Green Note at the height of the Beast from the East (remember that?). Lynne Hanson and Lynn Miles collaborated on the album “Heartbreak Songs for the Radio” and were touring the UK to promote it. Loved the album and couldn’t resist going to see it live.

It was a superb night. I may have mentioned before that the light in Green Note’s challenging for photographers, which is why I roundly applaud any good image coming from that particular venue. The other challenge is respect for the audience; don’t block people’s sightlines and don’t have the shutter on burst mode during the quiet songs. So from my little perch by the door and using a longish zoom, I grabbed this shot of Lynne Hanson on the far side of the stage. Lynne likes it.

Hollie Rogers @The Jazz Café

You couldn’t move in the Jazz Café on this night without falling over a photographer; no unhealthy rivalries, just lots of mutual respect. Two Talentbanq artists were supporting blues guitar virtuoso Dan Owen (more about him later) and Hollie was the first of those to take the stage.

If you’ve seen Hollie perform (and you really should) then you’ll know that when the voice goes into overdrive, she’s incredibly powerful and all of this shows in her face. I’ve got loads of shots of Hollie looking incredibly intense. I won’t say I was looking for something a bit more contemplative, but when I saw the opportunity I was ready for it. The lights on the night were actually pretty colourful, but, with light and shade, I could only ever see this working in black and white.

Dan Owen @The Jazz Café

Later the same night. Now we all know that lead guitarists like to throw a few shapes, don’t we? Which is great because otherwise all of our pictures would look the same. Dan’s no exception and he’s also a bundle of raw energy, the archetypal livewire. It’s great fun with these guys, following them around the stage, trying to capture the perfect combination of light and shape. I wish I could say that this shot was all perfectly planned, but it wasn’t.

The camera settings were right for the conditions and then Dan stuck the acoustic out at arm’s length. I like the shot because of the calm intensity in Dan’s face and the fact that it’s not a Strat or a Les Paul he’s throwing around, it’s an acoustic. I looked at the shot in colour but the lighting was a bit meh, so I tried monochrome – bingo.

 

 So, there you go, my favourite five monochromes of the year

 

When we review gigs, we talk a lot about the artists (quite rightly), but we don’t often mention the things that go on behind the scenes to make the magic happen. The people who take the financial risk promoting gigs, the sound engineers and, in some cases, volunteers who give up their time to create special nights for us. All of these things combine to make the magic happen; to make a great venue. And that’s what Allan’s looking at next, five great venues that have featured on the Riot Squad itinerary this year (and some in previous years).

The Union Chapel, Islington

For many artists, this is the Holy Grail of live performance. In an earlier High Five I wrote about Martin Harley’s desire to make this dream come true, which he did in a triumphant manner on March 10th 2018. But back to the venue. It’s a working chapel, which explains the superb acoustics (and the fact that you can’t take alcoholic drinks into the main chapel). It’s largely staffed by volunteers, which gives it an atmosphere that’s professional but warm and welcoming and carries its own little traditions. For example, unlike in Spanish hotels, it’s acceptable to reserve your seat (with a jacket rather than a towel) while you go to the bar, which works really well – if you know about it. A friend of mine saw a nasty little turf war break out when a party of latecomers shunted a bunch of coats along and took the reserved seats. You don’t want to upset the normally mild-mannered Union Chapel crowd.

The sightlines in the venue are good, the live programming is interesting and eclectic and the natural sound is always superb, which is why the unplugged encore is virtually de rigeur. And, with the photographer’s head on, I have to mention the gorgeous stained-glass window at the side of the stage. One piece of advice, which I gave to the friend who witnessed the seating incident; always take a cushion. Those pews are hard.

Green Note, Camden

Another award-winning London venue, although on a smaller scale than The Union Chapel, Green Note is nestled between the The Dublin Castle and The Edinburgh Castle in Camden and it’s a cosy intimate venue (the main room has a capacity of about 80, the basement about 20). Green Note is all about musical quality and, like The Union Chapel, it’s hugely eclectic. The sound engineers are always roundly praised by the performers and the atmosphere is always intimate. It’s like having a gig in your front room. There’s also a menu of tasty vegetarian snacks and a great selection of beers.

I’ve seen many gigs at Green Note and never one that I didn’t enjoy. It’s a completely welcoming environment that lends itself to an intimacy between audience and performer and, for reasons of closeness rather than acoustics, lends itself (again) to the unplugged encore. They’re always entertaining. Any downsides? The lighting isn’t ideal for photography but, if you’re any good you can work around that. I always have a warm glow walking back down Camden Parkway to Camden Town tube.

The Picturedrome, Holmfirth

It’s set in the Yorkshire Dales; it’s the village where “Last of the Summer Wine” was filmed and it’s picture postcard England. If your journey to the venue is longer than about an hour, you should stay in one of the many affordable hotels, guest houses and B ‘n’ Bs and soak up the atmosphere of the place before a gig. There are loads of good places to eat as well.

The venue has been open for live music for just over 20 years now (21st birthday celebrations coming up in 2019?). With a capacity of 690, it’s relatively easy to fill, with the right artists. The programming isn’t as eclectic as some of the London venues and it’s built mainly around heritage artists, but there’s absolutely no doubting the quality of what’s on offer. Well, it would have to be good to make me take a 400-mile round trip, wouldn’t it?

As an old cinema, it has a raked floor, which means that there’s less chance of being stuck behind the huge bloke and missing everything on stage (and there’s a balcony as well). The sound is always good and it has another huge pluspoint in the eyes of the Riot Squad’s Northern Man, Steve Jenner. It serves proper, hand-pulled, cask-conditioned beer; you got Mr J right there. And it’s a friendly and musically knowledgeable crowd. Just be careful in the winter, although there are worse places to be snowbound.

The Slaughtered Lamb

It’s situated in Clerkenwell, close to Farringdon and St Paul’s tube stations and it’s a bunch of contradictions. The live music venue is in the basement and is about the same size as the main room at Green Note. Like the Camden venue, the boundaries between audience and artists tends be fairly flexible. While the artists have green rooms available (generally), they tend to mingle with the audience throughout the evening, which creates a certain intimacy.

The sound is always crystal clear and, generally speaking, it’s what artists call a listening room. If you have a good song to get across, this room will allow you to do it; there’s just one thing to be aware of; the bar upstairs, which is mainly aimed at local workers having a beer or two on the way home. Nothing wrong with that, but those gatherings tend to be loud and the music is ramped up to compete with the background (?) noise. The result is that, in the basement bar (quiet and intimate), it sounds like the Dave Clark Five (ask your nan) are rehearsing upstairs. And (again like Green Note), the lighting’s a bit challenging for photographers. Me? I like a challenge.

The Bedford, Balham

This one’s a bit of a London institution really. It’s been renowned as a music venue for years and recently closed down for a refurb. I’m ashamed to admit that I’d never visited The Balham before this, but I went along to the opening night after the refurb to catch the buzz. It helped that one of my favourite bands, Houndstooth, was headlining. After the standard opening night glitches (the fire alarm being repeatedly triggered by the hazers), the night kicked off pretty much on time.

The performance space is what would have the pub’s back room in the past, but it’s a long way from being a dingy little corner of the venue. There’s an area in front of the stage which was completely open on the night, but can be configured cabaret style for more intimate gigs. And there’s a balcony; as a photographer, it opens up all sorts of new views, but it’s also a great place to see the entire stage without being miles away. So there’s absolutely no complaints about the physical space, what about the sound? Good news, it’s superb. The opening night was such a good experience, I’m going back again this week to have another look.

Finally a few honorary mentions: the intimate Nell’s Jazz & Blues in Chelsea (or West Kensington if you prefer), The Fowlowe Centre in Leek, Staffordshire which is attracting some fairly major touring artists now and the new, and ever-changing 26 Leake Street (near Waterloo Station) which is state of the art and has huge potential. They’re all great spaces to see live performances.

It’s the fourth day of the 2018 High Fives series and the contributions from songwriters and performers are starting to come in. it’s always good to have something from Graeme Wheatley, bass player and songwriter with Deep Blue Sea and all-round nice guy. It’s great to see that Graeme has completely embraced the High Five brief – just five of absolutely anything. And there’s even some Shakespeare for you as well. All photos courtesy of Laurence Harvey.

What subject can I pick? Allan will have the gigs sewn up for sure. I think I did albums and musicians before.  I guess my answer is easy – it’s what I am doing right at this very moment. Or rather, it’s what I should be doing – but I am letting Allan’s request for an article distract me. Song writing.

I first thought I’d write a note about my favourite 5 songwriters – but none of them have written anything new this year – and it’s 2 years since Leonard decided to write no more. So I thought I’d write a little about some Deep Blue Sea songs – it might be self indulgent, it might be a bit arsey? But surely it’s not as bad as scoffing an entire tin of Quality Street tho of course, I might do that too.

2018 has been a year of writing songs. Deep Blue Sea started to write as a unit when Dre and Amanda joined Iago and me in March 2018. In the space of 3 months we got together, did a few gigs and then recorded a live album featuring 5 songs that were written in that 3 month creative burst. Since then we’ve probably written about 15 more and we’re in the studio over December and January recording them for a new album in 2019.

Seems like a good idea to take a look at the 5 songs we wrote over that 3 month period. I’m hardly qualified to go into great depth on the music – and the lyrics are totally open to interpretation – but here goes a few words of waffle and title tattle – feel free to disagree. One over-arching observation. A band is a relationship. Relationships start with an intensity. These songs happened fast and are part of the glue that we’ve created – part of the DNA of DBS. I hope you like this little tale –

“A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Rock Star Status

 

Oh. Look at the stars up in the sky – My oh my

Look at the stars waving goodbye – Bye bye bye

 

Everybody here gets Rock Star Status – There’s no point now cos everbody’s famous

It’s nobodys fault But everybody hates us – It’s nobodys fault  But nothings gonna save us

Everybody here gets Rock Star Status – A little applause and admiration

15 seconds of adoration – A lethal dose of adulation

 

Oh. Look at the stars up in the sky – My oh my

Look at the stars waving goodbye – Bye bye bye

 

Everybody here gets Rock Star Status – A pocket full of dreams and a ticket to Vegas

Hold on tight, you’re making the papers – O/D-ed celebrities are coming back to plague us

Everybody here gets Rock Star Status – VIPs in the Palace of Gratis

Take a little taste of the breathing apparatus – A finger on the pulse of the phallic operators

Oh. Look at the stars up in the sky – My oh my

Look at the stars waving goodbye – Bye bye bye

 

All we ever wanted was Rock Star Stuff – Everything now and it’s still not enough

Keep it coming cos we’re Rock Star Tough – Keep it coming til we choke on the stuff

 

Oh. Look at the stars up in the sky – My oh my

Look at the stars waving goodbye – Bye bye bye

So, Iago had this little Stonesy type riff- except as always with Iago – the chords were weird, wired and inspired. I’d been to an art exhibition in Dulwich and there had been a painting I really liked. Couldn’t afford it of course, but there were some postcards of the painting free – so I took a couple. Got home later that day and looked at the picture. Surreal dreamscape with horses. Turned it over and the title was “All I ever wanted was Rock Star Status”. I knew I had a title. The lyrics flew onto the page – it was a job stopping them. When Dre started working on the melody she noticed nothing really rhymed very well. There’s the language barrier for you. You say Status and I say Status!!! We compromised. What’s it all about? You tell me. I’ve been wondering. Oh, by the way, the artist, Kate Pritchard, who painted the picture, came to see the band at our gig last week at 100 Club!!! Circle complete. That was a total new experience for us both – and a really good one. Life eh?

Manic Pixie Dream Girl

 

 

Dark days take pride of place – For the little girl with the smiling face

A smile that hides  – uncertainty

If her face seems so serene – Her hands betray a silent scream

And doubts about  – her sanity

Worlds of distorted noise – Distraction drinking drowning boys

Shaking shame  – and regret

Touch and  hold and then let go – Of something in her overcoat

One thing not – broken yet

 

The manic pixie dream girl is swaying in the breeze

Washed by winds and tossed by tides from all the seven seas

The manic pixie dream girl is shaking like the leaves

Crossed by stars and chained by dreams of

Never being free

 

Black clouds hang down the face – of the little girl with silent grace

Reaching out for – sanctuary

Beneath the stones and dusty bones – words are falling all alone

To mourn – dignity

Might have seen might have beens, hopes are only dusty dreams

Bitter pills – memory

Moments passed nothing lasts, out of reach fading fast

Time kills – vanity

 

The manic pixie dream girl is swaying in the breeze

Washed by winds and tossed by tides from all the seven seas

The manic pixie dream girl is shaking like the leaves

Crossed by stars and chained by dreams of

Never being free

 

She’s

Thrown in all directions – blown by recollections

The manic pixie dream girl is swaying in the breeze

Drawn to all confections – torn by rare infections

The manic pixie dream girl is shaking like the leaves

 

The manic pixie dream girl is swaying in the breeze

Washed by winds and tossed by tides from all the seven seas

The manic pixie dream girl is shaking like the leaves

Crossed by stars and chained by dreams of

Never being free

 “I have almost forgot the taste of fears; The time has been, my senses would have cool’d To hear a night-shriek.”

 Trev Turley writing a review of this song in Blues In Britain called the groove “invisible reggae” – I dunno what it means – but I like it 🙂

 I was driving along in the old band van awhile back, listening to the radio. There was a book review programme on and people were talking and I wasn’t listening until someone said “oh, her, the classic Manic Pixie Dream Girl, it’s no more than you’d expect.” I knew I had a title for a song, but I didn’t know what the person meant by “no more than you’d expect.”

I got to thinking about a friend of mine who I am very happy to say is on the other side of the tunnel from her period as a manic pixie, but there was a time when several friends and I worried about this frail and beautiful butterfly. We saw her floating, we saw her shine and shimmer but we couldn’t do much to shelter her from the storms inside. She was fighting battles we had no weapons. 

 I wanted to try and capture the idea of a moment in time with her – where words don’t always mean what they appear to mean, where things tail spin off into other moments – the uncertainty at the core of a person in turbulence.  I’m so glad she’s still my friend. And in the weirdest ways the manic pixie dream days are not over but no longer laced with the threat of a long, long night.

The Thrill of It All

 

 

The little girl doesn’t know

If she’s alive anymore

No sense of fun – nowhere to run

Once there was a time

Happiness was no crime

Now she’s in a cage – No passion or rage

 

As the light starts to fall

 

She’s walking on the edge

Of everything unsaid

It hurts just to feel, doubt what is real

Standing by the side

Of the days of her life

See the falling tide – what’s left behind?

 

As the light starts to fall

I know she recalls – I know she recalls

I know she recalls – The thrill of it all

I know she recalls – I know she recalls

I know she recalls – The thrill of it all

 

Here under the Sun

Hopelessly undone

How can feelings grow – From seeds she didn’t sow

Mem’ries made of  pain

She cannot explain

A hand in the flame – the nameless game

 

As the light starts to fall

know she recalls – I know she recalls

I know she recalls – The thrill of it all

 

I know she recalls – I know she recalls

I know she recalls – The thrill of it all

 This song grew in the playing. Iago’s guitar solo can take us off anywhere. When Amanda got into the song and the feel of it – she started to push things and take risks. If you listen to the live album, there’s a few moments where we could all really fall on our collective bums as we get perilously close to the edge. I think that’s the one of the great things I love about playing in the band – we are a band. And I think we all love the risks. Nobody stays calm – we’re all in it together. Dre’s melody to the chorus transformed this song. It would not have been on the album if she hadn’t have lifted something special out of the void. I co-wrote the lyric with Emma Holman. I think she put some truly heartfelt emotion into the words and thank her for sharing. 

 Hole in your Soul

 

 

It’s only when u get here  u know this place exists

you’ve taken the wrong turn round every bend and twist.

u finally hit the bottom you have  one more thing to learn

no going back, this is the point of no return

 

When love has lost

There’s a cost

There’s a hole in your soul

 

When the vital spark of life in ev’ry leaf and tree

Is passed un-noticed By eyes that do not see

You look into the darkness – seek solace out of light

Cut out all sensation  – Taste and touch and sight

 

When love has lost

There’s a cost

There’s a hole in your soul

 

I climbed the highest mountain and looked down to the sea

I saw the miracle of life spread out in front of me

I look on all the beauty of night becoming day

When I saw that nothing moved me, I turned and walked away

 

You turn away from friends turn away turn away

Close down your heart. Nothing more to say

 

When love has lost

There’s a cost

There’s a hole in your soul

 

I climbed the highest mountain and looked down to the sea

I saw the miracle of life spread out in front of me

I look on all the beauty of night becoming day

When I saw that nothing moved me, I turned and walked away

 

When love has lost

There’s a cost

There’s a hole in your soul

“I begin to be aweary of the sun, And wish the estate o’ the world were now undone.”

It will come as no surprise to anyone who vaguely knows me that I am a massive Bob Dylan fan. This lyric started life as a Bob type song. The bridge part “I climbed…” – it’s not often that I will say something like that – something I haven’t done. I haven’t climbed the highest mountain to look down to the sea – and I’m prepared to wager that Bob hasn’t either – but it’s something he would claim to have done. So if you are going to tell a porkie – tell a big one, like Bob 🙂

Lyrically, for me, it’s a dark night of the soul song. Make of it what you will. Sara (our previous drummer – from The Pearl Harts) liked this one a lot – said it reminded her of Muse.  The line “This is the point of no return” was meant to have two meanings – but I realise one meaning is far more obvious than the other and unless I add an explanatory note, no one will see it. And who would be so tedious as to add an explanatory note? Duh!!!

All Our Yesterdays

 

 

Welcome to the great escape

No one’s gonna stop this big break

There’s a raging battle

Every single night

Someone’s give me half a chance I’m gonna set this place alight

So long to my sad old days

Don’t look back to those old ways

There’s a storm inside

Burning up my soul

Someone give me half a chance to make my life a whole

 

And the radio plays songs from a different day

Sing that song all night long wash your blues away

And the DJ plays All our yesterdays

So we say This one’s for the runaways

 

Welcome to this point of view

Somethings changed somethings new

Now we’re out the dark

Out into the sun

Some will stay and fade away but we are gonna run

 

And the radio plays songs from a different day

Sing that song all night long wash your blues away

And the DJ plays All our yesterdays

So we say This one’s for the runaways

And the DJ plays

All our yesterdays

So we say

This one’s for the runaways

So we say

This one’s for the runaways

“To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day To the last syllable of recorded time, And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The way to dusty death.”

This wee tale started life as a song I was writing with the ace guitarist Chris Walker while Chris helped keep the band afloat for a year or so, for which I am eternally grateful. It wasn’t easy keeping things going – but we had commitments to honour and he’s a great guy. We also had a dear friend Louise Davies making sure we kept the flame alight – she didn’t give either of us any other option. I nicked my own lyric to drop into Iago’s infectious confection of rockabilly roll. A song called All Our Yesterdays with a rock and roll groove seems to be made for each other and it’s kind of as close as we get to a bit of light relief. This is Dre’s favourite dancing song – which is great for her – cos she can dance – but the other two people standing on stage beside her both have 2 left feet!! We try not to fall over. That is the lesson for today folks. Dance, laugh, be happy, it could be so much worse. Keep your head in the clouds and your feet on the floor and…..try not to fall over.

(all the quotes are from one small page of Macbeth

– the Scottish play – a nod to the McKay:)

2018 has been a cracking year for gigs. I’ve been all over London and I’ve even managed to get to Staffordshire, Oxfordshire, Yorkshire and Brighton. I might have to do a count at the end of the year to work out how many different gigs and bands I’ve seen. I haven’t seen a bad gig, I’ve seen a lot of good ones and I’ve seen a few absolute belters. I’m guessing that those are the ones you want to hear about, yeah? As always, in no particular order.

 

Martin Harley & Daniel Kimbro @The Union Chapel

A year before this event, Martin told me after his gig at The Forge in Camden that he was booking The Union Chapel. He had no idea if he could fill the venue, or if he would break even on the event. At that time, I suspect I was more confident than Martin was. Anyway, fast forward a year to March 10th 2018 and a packed Union Chapel (almost sold out on pre-sales) saw finger-style guitarist Mike Dawes open for the dynamic duo. The intimacy of Martin and Daniel’s small venue performances scaled up perfectly for this particular venue. The combination of superb playing, perfect harmonies and the laconic interplay between songs was absolutely entrancing. Martin’s Weissenborn playing and Daniel’s virtuoso bass (I actually wanted to hear the bass solo) combined perfectly to create an almost Spectoresque wall of sound at times. And then the obligatory unplugged Union Chapel encore. Want a great Christmas gift? How about the live DVD?

Photo courtesy of John Hayhurst.

John Fogerty and Steve Miller @The O2

I really loathe the O2. It’s impersonal and it’s ridiculously expensive; it’s everything that winds me up about the enornodromes. And, as the start of the evening proved, if the mix isn’t spot-on it can sound awful in the auditorium, which it did for most of Steve Miller’s set. Which was a shame because the last half-dozen songs, when the mix was finally right, sounded superb.

But the reason for my tolerance of this corporate barn was John Fogerty. I’ve been a fan of his work since I was a teenager, progressing from Creedence Clearwater Revival to the solo material. He has a phenomenal back catalogue of classic songs, most of which were dusted off for this gig. When you can open your set with “Travelin’ Band”, you can’t go too far wrong. The band was absolutely stunning; all superb musicians, with keyboard maestro Bob Malone dashing around the stage between blasts of piano and Hammond. The greatest hits all got their airing (including the one we know better from Live Aid and Quo, “Rocking All Over the World”, which he only plays in Europe) but, in a little tribute to New Orleans, we got covers of “Don’t Mess With my Toot Toot” and the Gary Bonds song “New Orleans”. Just phenomenal. Read what Steve J thought about it here.

Albert Lee & Peter Asher @Cornbury Festival

For various reasons, Cornbury was the only festival I did this year. It was a bit of a mixed bag on the main stage, but the bill on the second stage across the weekend was eclectic and classic. The one performance I didn’t want to miss was Albert Lee & Peter Asher in the Caffe Nero tent on Saturday evening. I wasn’t disappointed; the songs were delivered in an Everly Brothers style (well, Albert did play in their band) and were interspersed with anecdotes about songwriting greats in the 60s and 70s on both sides of the Atlantic. It was all very laid back but the quality of the playing and the harmonies was absolutely superb. I’m a big fan of the duo format and this was the ‘two voices, two instruments’ at its absolute best. The tent was packed throughout the set and the entire audience left with a warm glow.

Belle Roscoe & Lisa Canny @26 Leake Street

This was the first night of live music at a new venue and it introduced me to not one but two new artists.

Belle Roscoe are brother and sister Matty and Julia Gurry. They play gigs in the duo format, but also have a band for bigger gigs (like this one). The songs are strong, the harmonies are great and the arrangements, with Matty’s guitar and Julia’s floor tom and keyboard playing augmented by bass, drums and guitar are powerfully percussive. It’s a big sound and it completely won over a crowd who were mainly there for the occasion, and not necessarily the music. And that was just the start of the night; there was still Lisa Canny to come.

Lisa also adapts her live arrangements according to the size of the venue. She’s perfectly happy with just the harp and banjo, but this was also a full band set. Lisa’s originally from Cork and a traditional Irish music background; that background is part of what she’s about now, but there’s a lot more. She blends Celtic influences with pop and rap to create a totally infectious mix that’s unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. I’m not exaggerating when I say that at times most of the audience was absolutely stunned by what they were seeing and hearing. And then the finale; Lisa playing a projected laser harp (honest, and I was stone-cold sober). A bit of a night.

Skatalites & The Majestic & Nell’s Jazz & Blues

Another night out with Steve J and Mrs J in a slightly smaller venue. Nell’s is renowned for its intimate atmosphere, with a cabaret layout and a very chilled vibe. I hadn’t heard The Majestic before and I loved the band; proper roots reggae. They’ve been around for years doing their thing around West London and they’re such a powerful reggae unit. It’s not about individuals, it’s about everyone playing their part to create a slinky, sinuous groove. I hear a band like this and I can’t understand why there are people who say they don’t get reggae.

 

I didn’t know what to expect from Skatalites, apart from the obvious “Guns of Navarone”. The membership may not be the originals, but most of these guys have been in the band for decades. They’re tight and punchy with the classic tenor sax, trumpet and trombone horn section. It’s a pleasure to hear guys who are this good just doing their thing; but that’s not all. Part way through the set they were joined by the phenomenal ‘Queen of Ska’, Doreen Schaffer. She’s looking a little fragile now, but the voice is still there and the audience loved it. I think I had something in my eye at one point.

It was a taste of carnival at the end of October.

We’ve given Allan some interesting assignments this year and he’s also managed to blag his way into a few others. He’s had an interesting year and he’s desperate to tell you about some of the highlights. Why don’t we just let him get on with it?

 

 

“Rock ‘n’ Roll Twilight” cover

It’s not a big secret but, in case you didn’t know, our live reviewer from Up North, and myself have been friends since meeting on our first day at University. We’ve had a lot of interesting times together and separately but nothing quite like this year (Steve’s party piece is to almost, but not quite, get us into conflict with people that look like they could kill us just by looking at us).

Steve’s an unashamed rampant enthusiast; once he decides to tackle something he makes Norman Hunter look like a six-week old kitten (70s football reference – Ed). This year’s big project has been writing and publishing. Skip back a sentence and you’ll see the word enthusiast; even with adjective ‘rampant’ to help it along, it’s not the full picture. He’s a force of nature; a hurricane or a whirlwind maybe. So it’s no surprise when he announced that he was publishing not one, but two, books at the end of 2018. “On the Radio”, co-authored with his brother Paul, which is autobiographical and takes us from Steve’s birth to the point where Steve and Paul are granted the licence for High Peak Radio; it’s a great read. The other book, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Twilight” looks at live music from the viewpoint of someone got the bug in the 70s and has been a fan ever since. Many of the chapters initially appeared as Music Riot reviews, but that’s not the reason it’s one of ‘pinch myself’ moments of 2018. 

In May of this year Steve gave me the commission for a cover shot for the book. As luck would have it, three days later, I saw exactly the shot he needed backstage at a Talentbanq gig (more about them later). Anyway after all the publication issues were resolved, I was able pick up a book with one of my photos on the cover. It was quite a moment.  

Martin Belmont photo 

I’m a big fan of Graham Parker – always have been. The strange thing is that I’ve seen him more times in the last 3 years than I ever did when he was at his commercial peak in the 70s/80s. When I discovered that he was touring with a band and The Rumour horns, it went straight into the diary – twice. Once at Islington Assembly Hall and once at The Picturedrome in Holmfirth to tie in with a weekend at Leek Blues & Americana Festival in Staffordshire with Steve Jenner and his wife Sue (also a friend since University days). 

I published a few shots from the Wednesday Islington gig on social media directly after the gig and made my way Up North the following morning to shot the Leek festival, head over to Holmfirth on Sunday and back to London on Monday. When the pace slackened a little, I checked to see the response to the photos on social media. One shot of Graham Parker’s guitar player Martin Belmont had been seen and shared by Martin and was getting a lot of attention. When I checked, I recognised a lot of the names that had liked the picture, but I was gobsmacked when I saw that the collection of loves for the shot included Charles Shaar Murray and the rock photography legend Chalkie Davies. I’ll just leave it at that.

Talentbanq @The Shard 

I mentioned Talentbanq earlier. If you go to gigs in some of the cosier venues in London, you’ve probably heard of Talentbanq. For those who haven’t, it’s an organisation promoting unsigned acts across London and it’s fronted up by Ray Jones, formerly of Time Out magazine. There are two things you need to know about Ray – he knows everyone in hospitality and the media in London and he’s fanatical about live music. Just the person to organise the first open-air live music performances at the top of the tallest building in Western Europe.

And the opening day, August 4th, was an absolutely perfect summer day in London; no clouds, brilliant sunshine and perfect panoramic views over London from a height of nearly 250 metres. It was an honour and a privilege to be there, watching incredibly talented artists playing to people who had no idea that live music was part of the package.

And just to add a bit of interest, Julia Gurry, from the incredible Belle Roscoe, announced in the Green Room, just prior to performance, that she was terrified of heights. She still did the show and here’s the evidence:

Claudia Fontaine tribute gig

 Gig photography; it’s really specialised and you would imagine it must be incredibly competitive. My experience is that, unless the tabloids are involved, there’s a huge amount of mutual respect between gig photographers. Most of us are doing this because we love it and we respect that motivation in others. Take a look in the photo pit next time you’re at a gig and you’ll see camaraderie and mutual respect; gig photographers will congratulate each other on great shots; it’s a privilege to be a part of that community.

That’s a long-winded introduction that partly explains why I was invited to photograph an event this year where Annie Lennox made a guest appearance. The photo gig should have gone to the fabulous Emma Jones but she couldn’t make it and recommended me as a replacement (see, told you we look after each other). The gig was a tribute to the late Claudia Fontaine (just Google the name; you’ll be amazed) and Annie had agreed to appear. We did all of the megastar liaison about photographic restrictions and eventually came up with shots that Annie was happy with. Unfortunately, for contractual reasons, I can’t illustrate this with an Annie Lennox photo, but I hope this pic of the wonderful Beverley Skeete works for you:

Stone Foundation with Paul Weller, Kathryn Williams and Graham Parker

You may have noticed the occasional mention of Stone Foundation in my random typings. I’m a huge fan and I’m not alone there. They’ve attracted a lot of celebrity attention from the likes of Robert Elms and Craig Charles and from musicians including Dr Robert, Graham Parker and Paul Weller. When they announced a tour in November to support the latest album “Everybody, Anyone”, I was at the front of the queue for tickets; the photo pass was a bonus. No three songs and out this time; the pass was for the whole gig, so something special was happening. There was a bit of a clue when Derek D’Souza (long-time Weller photographer) showed up in the pit (no egos, mutual respect and handshakes all round).

So, to cut to the chase, Kathryn Williams supported (along with Michelle Stodart) and during Stone Foundation’s set there were guest appearances from Kathryn Williams, Paul Weller and Graham Parker. Apart from the really obvious stuff like the band doing “Tear Your Playhouse Down” with Graham Parker, I have no memory of the gig. I do have a few good pix: