High Fives 2021 No. 16 – The Spice of Life

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We know that Allan likes to try to capture something out of the ordinary occasionally when he’s shooting gigs so we asked him to share five images that move away from traditional gig photography without getting into the abstract realm. We quite like his selection.

I do like a bit of variety; with the best will in the world, it can be quite a challenge creating an interesting image from the same basic elements time after time, so I start to look around for a bit of a change, whether it’s something visually different at a gig or something out of my music comfort zone. The first opportunity I had to take a slightly different direction in August 2019, when I photographed two poetry events. Within 6 months, I’d shot three poetry gigs involving the same two poets, one in a conventional gig venue, one on a canal boat and one in a library. Then along came COVID to wipe out most of 2020. The next opportunity to see these two poets again was in the basement of The Bloomsbury Theatre in October 2021. Actually, calling it a basement’s a bit unfair; it’s lovely performance area and well-lit for photography. The first two photos are from that gig.

Ralph Dartford @The Bloomsbury

Another of those gigs that was postponed because of the plague, but finally happened a couple of months ago. The gig was arranged to promote Ralph’s second volume of poetry, “Hidden Music”. I loved his first collection, “Recovery Songs” and I’d seen him perform three times so this was one to look forward to. Ralph’s poetry is firmly grounded in his early life in Basildon and his struggles with addiction and “Hidden Music” continues to explore these themes along with Ralph’s extensive globetrotting. Ralph’s a huge music fan as well and “Hidden Music” is a concept album; each poem has a piece of music recommended as a companion piece. I may be slightly biased but I recommend both of the books. Ralph’s a very intense performer and I hope this captures some of that intensity. I went for monochrome because the colour of Ralph’s clothing.

Phil Burdett @The Bloomsbury

I’ve known Phil Burdett for a few years now, seven to be precise. I reviewed his wonderful “Dunfearing and the West Country High” in 2014 when I was recovering from a knee operation. I was blown away and it had nothing to do with the pain-killing medication. Phil’s lyrics have always leaned towards the poetic and the move into poetry was fairly logical. It happened four years ago when Phil was recovering from a serious operation and poured his creativity into painting, prose and a film script (currently in production). Phil was finding it difficult to get back into live music performance after a traumatic spell in hospital and came up with a compromise solution; combine a performance of his first volume of poetry (“Rhyming Vodka with Kafka”) with a few songs accompanied by fiddler/mandolin player Steve Stott at a joint promotion for Ralph’s “Recovery Songs”. They’re both from Basildon and both appeared in the documentary about their hometown, “New Town Utopia”. Unlike the picture of Ralph, this worked well in colour with Phil limned in the purple light.

Dean Owens & Jim Maving @CTZN Brew

It’s surprising what you can improvise at short notice when the pressure’s on. I’ve started to dip my toe in the waters of backstage portraits and this was a good opportunity. I know Dean and Jim pretty well, so it was quite a relaxed vibe apart from time pressure (they were due back on stage in a few minutes) and a suitable location. The best lighting we could find was outside the toilets (a bit like The Borderline after the refit, really), so we dodged between customers making calls of nature and managed to get a few shots. With reasonably bright, but harsh, lighting, I was able to keep Dean and Jim in focus. Dean and Jim then went back upstairs to deliver a storming set of (mainly) Dean’s songs with Jim supplying harmonies and some stunning acoustic solos as Dean delivered powerful vocal performances including a new version of his Felsons song “Shine Like the Road” and an a cappella Frank Sinatra cover. These guys are the real thing and they sound even better with Tom Collison on keys and bass. This shot was used on a poster for a run of December Scottish gigs which was blown out by COVID.

Flashmob @St Martin-in-the-Fields

As COVID restrictions loosened over the summer, Talentbanq promoted weekly outdoor gigs at St Martin-in-the-Fields church opposite Trafalgar Square. Tourists were starting to return to London, and this was a perfect venue for a drink in the sun while listening to some great live music. I shot a few of the events and they were great fun; the performers were chuffed to be playing again and the audiences loved the renaissance of live performance.

Sometimes you look around the audience and spot a particularly lively group that are worth keeping a eye on because they’re joining in enthusiastically or just because they look like a lot of fun. Well, there was a group like that in mid-August. Between performances by Devon Mayson and American band We Three, while we were listening to the Ray Jones party playlist, the stage was invaded the instant The Macarena kicked in. Sometimes the great shot comes from watching the audience.

Vintage Christmas Cracker @The Grove Theatre, Eastbourne

A theatre shoot, why not? An acquaintance was directing and acting in an amateur Christmas show at The Grove Theatre. Why not take the cameras along? It was a chance to do something new and learn a bit about a discipline that has a lot in common with the work I normally do. What were the differences? Well, it appears that theatre lighting (in smaller theatres anyway) is still predominantly tungsten filament as opposed to LED, which is fairly common in gig venues. I know that LED is more energy efficient, but tungsten is warmer and less harsh; it’s just a nicer light. Unlike small rock gigs, even tiny theatre gigs will place an emphasis on a good lighting plot. It makes such a difference, as you can see in this (almost) perfectly evenly-lit shot.

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