Here’s the second set of my photos of female artists, taken in widely differing venues with one thing in common; live music. It’s fair to say there were that conditions were challenging in some of the venues, but if it was easy all the time it would be no fun and photographers wouldn’t have use creativity to get killer shots. It’s just a matter of attitude. So here are the shots.
Kit Bennett (Wildflowers) @Bush Hall (14/10/16)
I saw Wildflowers a couple of times this year, once at an AMA UK showcase and once supporting Sound of the Sirens at Bush Hall and the obvious subject seems to be Siddy Bennett, centre stage and lead vocal, but we don’t like obvious do we? To one side of the stage is Siddy’s sister Kit, effortlessly cool keyboard player and if you want extra photographic wow factor, she plays accordion as well, and you don’t see that every day. I got some decent shots of Siddy but, at both gigs, I loved the photos of Kit, particularly at Bush Hall where the lighting was spot on for subject and background. As a bonus, Kit can look quite intent when she plays, but this pic caught a bit of a twinkle in her eye. See the full gallery here.
Hannah Wood (Sound of the Sirens) @Bush Hall (14/10/16)
The very same gig. I admit it, I’m a fan and I’ll take every chance I can get to see Sound of the Sirens; my photos tend to be 40% Abbe, 40% Hannah and 20% both together. One of my fellow photographers, Richard Bolwell, likes to catch Hannah when she’s at her most animated (and very successfully too) but there’s a peaceful, serene side to Hannah that shines through when she’s totally immersed in the music and that’s what I was trying to catch here by wedging myself against a wall to try to get the right angle to frame the shot. I’m pleased to say Hannah then created the perfect image for me. See the full gallery here.
Lux Lyall of Sister Witch @The Unicorn, Camden Road (30/07/16)
One of those gigs where anything could happen, and a bit off the beaten track for me (at least half a mile away from Camden Parkway). I’d gone along to see Anna Christina and Belle Star from Lilygun playing in David Ryder Prangley’s band, Sister Witch and I was looking forward to photographing all of them again, although I had no idea what the light would be like (not too bad, as it happens). Turns out that, despite the undoubted photogenic qualities of that trio, I had overlooked a true star. Sister Witch singer Lux Lyall has that bit of mystique and theatricality that the camera can’t resist. There were a few good shots on the night, but this one seemed to capture her cool, almost disdainful stage persona perfectly and with only a bit of colour correction at the processing stage. See the two galleries here and here.
Carina Round @The Lexington (05/08/16)
You know, of course, that all gig photographers always play by the rules and would never cheat (unless it meant getting a really cracking shot), don’t you? Well, I was puzzled when the three songs rule was applied to a gig in a room above a pub (admittedly a great live music room, but three songs?). I spent the first three songs down at the front of the stage in almost pitch darkness trying to get anything usable. I even blocked the view of someone in a wheelchair (it’s ok, I asked her and she very kindly allowed me to stand in front of her for a few seconds and we had a lovely chat). After three songs, I wasn’t really happy with anything that I’d shot, but I could see that the projection Carina was using was warming up and would create some interesting effects later. Towards the end of the set, I could see an incredible image starting to appear and, without realising how it happened, I had a camera pointing at the stage to record this. I’m saying now, I have no regrets whatsoever about not playing by the rules. Sorry Carina, but it is a stunning image, particularly with the black and white treatment. See the full gallery here.
Elisa Zoot (Black Casino and the Ghost) @Camden Roundhouse (17/02/16)
Elisa’s another one of these people that I’ve photographed a few times now (and a serial offender in my photos of the year) in various venues, but this was something else. Black Casino and the Ghost had landed a support slot with Kula Shaker for a European tour and the London gig was at The Roundhouse. The photo pit was really busy and most of the pros gravitated to centre stage where the action usually happens. I sloped off to stand in front of Elisa’s keyboard on my own and waited for the band to start. Before the end of the first song, I was surrounded as everyone realised where the focal point was. Elisa’s a bit like Mollie Marriott in that it’s quite difficult to take a bad picture of her; there were probably three from this particular night that could have been in this selection, but the action and the lighting made this my favourite. See the full gallery here.
High Fives? Is it that time already? Another year gone, loads of gigs attended and some pretty good pics, if I say so myself. Looking through this year’s galleries, it’s really obvious that it I have to claim two entries for the feature again, one for male artists, one for female; well, they do it at the Oscars, why shouldn’t MusicRiot do it as well. So, in no particular order, here we go. Click on any of the thumbnail images to expand the photo.
Southside Johnny @The Picturedrome, Holmfirth April 2016
This is dedication to the cause. I’ve been a fan of Southside for a long time. Only two gigs in the UK in 2016, and one of those on the day I flew back from Thailand. That was never going to happen, so I went for the next best thing, the following day in Yorkshire. Jet-lagged and bone tired, I drove 250 miles to the gig and then the same distance back home but in a snowstorm. No photo pit at the gig and (very unusually) some very uncooperative punters (and I’m very polite, before you ask). So, not the best position, but I was pretty chuffed with this attempt at giving Southside a blue rinse. See the full gallery here.
Crispian Mills (Kula Shaker) @The Roundhouse February 2016
In February of this year, I discovered that Riot Squad favourites Black Casino and the Ghost were supporting Kula Shaker on a European tour that included a gig at The roundhouse in Chalk Farm, a venue I’ve never visited; before you could say ‘Photo pass’, I was there, in a very busy photo pit which was actually very civilised (no dailies represented obviously). The stage lighting was up to eleven during Kula Shaker’s set creating some really contrasty situations which were crying out for black and white treatment. This is one of those. See the full gallery here.
John Fairhurst @The Borderline October 2016
It was a lovely surprise to discover that John was supporting The Eskies in London on their tour to promote their first album. I’d seen John before at Rich Mix in Shoreditch with his electric band, but this gig was a solo stint with a resonator and stompbox. Electric or acoustic, it really doesn’t matter, he’s equally convincing either way, and well worth seeing. Having photographed John before, I was looking out for facial expressions and watching his hands. This time the hands won. Having a chat later, I discovered that John and The Eskies (also very good) were old friends from a time when they used to busk in Dublin. See the full gallery here.
David Ryder Prangley (Sister Witch) @ The Unicorn, Camden July 2016
Sister Witch is an alt-London supergroup featuring DRP, Lux Lyall and Lilygun members Anna Christina and Belle Star, so this was a great night to meet up with some musicians I hadn’t seen for a while. It’s fair to say that each member of the band is worth photographing in their own right, but the honours on the night went to David, strutting his stuff with a six-string instead of a bass and looking every inch the underground legend that he is. This is someone that doesn’t need to play a part; he is a rock star. See the full gallery here.
Gareth John of Stone Foundation @Under the Bridge, Chelsea May 2016
It’s sometimes a huge advantage as a photographer if you know the songs well. I love Stone Foundation and I’d go to Chelsea to see them, even if I’m normally with Elvis Costello on that one. It’s a bit of a hike home from Chelsea, so I’m normally poised at the bottom of the stairs at UTB, waiting for the dying notes of the encore before I peg it over to Fulham Broadway to jump on the Tube. As the second encore started, trumpet player Gareth John and keyboard player Ian Arnold emerged from backstage and I knew that they were about to play “Old Partners, New Dances”, a smoky (and very short) jazz instrumental and Gareth would take centre stage, playing a flugelhorn, which somehow makes it even more romantic. I just managed to get a camera and lens assembled as the song started and was rewarded with this. As my Dad used to say ’Never take your eye off the ball’. See the full gallery here.
Another Saturday, another venue to tick off the list. The Unicorn on Camden Road seems incongruous in this area; you think it should maybe be a mile down the road with all the vibey places in Camden Town. But maybe it works because of the distance. Anyway, the reason for this excursion from the well-travelled path is to check out a pub that’s daring to put on live music six nights a week; tonight’s offering was the “Somewhat Damaged” night offering four very different live sets. It wasn’t packed to the rafters, but it was reasonably busy, with an enthusiastic audience.
So, first up was a solo set from Adam Lightspeed playing acoustic versions of some new songs and some from his band Starscream’s debut album. It was a valiant attempt, but the album versions lean heavily on big productions and the songs weren’t the same in the stripped-down format. Full marks for effort; it can be a lonely place on stage solo when the room’s nowhere near full. The album “Sexploitation” is definitely worth a listen though.
Next up, Loose Joints were from the badlands of south-east Essex, mashing up funky rhythms with riff-driven rockers and generally getting the audience off their seats on their feet. They even threw in their own take on the James Bond theme. Great tunes, inventive arrangements and loads of fun. I’m sure I’ll be seeing Loose Joints again.
So, what about Sister Witch? The songs are the work of David Ryder Prangley and Lux Lyall, guitarist and singer respectively and they were joined on stage by Belle Star and Anna Christina (drums and bass) from Lilygun and another two guitarists to create a very seventies-style line-up; three guitars, indeed. There’s more than a nod to seventies iconography as well, with DRP’s low-slung guitar and the routine of sharing Lux’s vocal mic à la Bowie and Ronson. And the glam references don’t stop there, some of the riffs could be T Rex at their noisiest and they’re interspersed some classic Stones-style interwoven guitars. And that’s before we get on to the studied ennui of Lux, sitting down to read a Zelda Fitzgerald biography mid-song. A bit theatrical maybe, but it’s all part of the show, and she really can sing, so it’s not just a distraction; it never harmed Bowie or the New York Dolls to introduce a bit of performance art. On a crowded stage there was always something interesting to watch; no way you’re going to ignore Sister Witch. Style yes: substance definitely.
As for Black Sixteen, well, not for me really. Two guitars, bass and drums knocking out muscular riffs and a singer who didn’t quite have the voice to compete. Maybe not helped by the minimal soundcheck, but they just weren’t doing it for me. Nice venue, but one little whinge on behalf of the photographers. Red stage lighting; just say no.
Ok, I admit it, we’re a bit late out of the blocks with this one and the reason we’re finally reviewing “Sexploitation” is that Anna-Christina from Lilygun pointed me in the direction of Star Scream; good spot A-C, as ever. Songwriter Adam Lightspeed fronts the band mixing guitar and keyboards with lead vocals and the trio is completed by Natalie Cherry (bass and backing vocals) and Sky London (drums and percussion). With that particular line-up, you probably won’t be too surprised if I tell you that Muse is acknowledged as a major influence. The album is dotted with references to a wide variety of styles and eras, stitched together with such skill, style and unpredictability that the end result is a unique collage.
The album opens with the camp theatricality of “Roseblood (Weeping Willow)”, a seedy, sordid tale of exploitation in the skin trade and an arrangement which echoes the Sensational Alex Harvey Band from the early 70s. “Die on the Floor” is another reference to the 70s, fusing a Marc Bolan vocal style with a Sweet stomp and maybe even a bit of early Giorgio Moroder to set the scene for the rest of the album.
When the playing and the dynamics are this good, it’s easy to focus on the music at the expense of the lyrics; if you do, you’re only getting half the picture. Adam is obviously a writer who likes a bit of wordplay and it comes through in some of the titles: the riff-monster “Harlot’s Web”, “Frightmare” and the stomper, “Kill me Kate”. And it doesn’t stop at that; there are some clever turns of phrase in the lyrics as well; how about ‘knight in shining Armani’ from “Frightmare”, and my favourite portmanteau word for the week ‘conspiranoia’, from the hard-riffing glam satire of the current music scene, “Death Shower Scene”. I suspect they ordered in extra kitchen sinks for that one.
Towards the end of the album there are three songs linked by the theme of transgressive or dysfunctional relationships. The trio starts with “Kill me Kate”, progresses through “As the Earth Dies Screaming” with its very effective use of loud-soft dynamics to “Heart of Ice (Falling Out of Love)” which builds by adding instrumental layers for each verse. For once Adam’s voice isn’t on the ragged edge throughout and in the opening verses there’s a hint of Stephen Duffy’s voice (remember him?).
The album’s third and fourth songs also share a theme both poking fun at the faces, the alpha males and females at the forefront of any scene. “Break the Night” is probably the album’s most heavily Muse–influenced song, particularly the vocals and the guitar solo, while “Scenester” pulls influences from everywhere. The song opens like the Clash version of “Brand New Cadillac”, has a breakdown with manic left to right percussion panning, a second breakdown for live audience participation and a guitar solo which would fit perfectly on a Joe Meek record and a crash ending. What more could you want?
The more reflective moments are all towards the end of the album, starting with “When Crimson Lips Spell Murder” which makes good use of dynamics before ending with a delicate string quartet coda. The final big production number, “Obsession”, is built around a sequenced synth riff which loops almost throughout the song, while a piano hook on top adds to the over-the-top Muse feel of the song. The album closes with the stripped-back “The Girl Who Was Death” (just acoustic guitar, strings and some lovely harmonies) and a lead vocal which sounds a lot like Greg Dulli.
“Sexploitation” is an album that grips you because you just don’t know what’s coming next; imagine throwing a lit match into a box of fireworks and you’re about halfway there. The influences are all very transparent but they’re woven so subtly into the rich and contrasting fabric of the songs that they seem to belong there. But it isn’t just about big guitars and thunderous drums; the band use dynamics really effectively and the lyrics are actually worth listening to. In a world of manufactured pop pap and over-hyped ‘next big thing’ acts (did someone mention Royal Blood) this album is a reminder that the real talent is still out there.
Well that’s just about got the British summer out of the way and we’ve got a few months of good music before the silly season of compilations and box sets starts all over again. After a surprisingly good August, we’ve got a very busy September lined up for you.
We’ll be reviewing Texan fiddle player/singer/songwriter Carrie Rodriguez live in London and we should finally get to see the Anna-Christina solo show, “Pretty Little Lady?” towards the end of the month. We’ve also got our only festival review of the summer from Lou; live at Leeds. I’m sure we’ll find a few other gigs to tell you about as well.
John’s going to be reviewing the new material from Ultraista, Dawn Richard, Icona Pop, Natalia Kills and Goldfrapp while I’ve got the debut Dirt Tracks album for you and whatever else the postman or the internet send my way in the next few weeks. The long-awaited Radio (in my) Head project is about to launch and we’ll have some news about that for you next week. We’re also starting a new regular piece featuring links to new music we think you might like to hear. More in a few weeks.
It’s beginning to look suspiciously like the start of summer, what with the rain stopping and the sun appearing at last, but the Riot Squad don’t care about any of that (apart from the fact that we can wear our shades now without looking ridiculous). Anyway, we’ve got a busy few weeks coming up with plenty of live and recorded music to tell you about.
I’m finally going to get to see Anna-Christina’s live, unplugged show “Pretty Little Lady?” this week and I’ll be telling you all about that next week. The highly-acclaimed New York duo, The Kennedys, are touring the UK and Ireland to promote their latest album “Closer Than You Know” and we’ll be telling you all about that later this month. Then, at the end of the month, I’ll be going to Edinburgh to see Modern Misfortune whose first EP is out now.
John’s going to be reviewing albums by Little Boots, Alison Moyet, MS MR and Daft Punk and I’ll be having a listen to The Kennedys album. I’m also trying to get hold of a review copy of the debut Federal Charm album which is out in June. I’ll keep you posted on that.
We’re also kicking around the idea of a monthly Riot Squad podcast to let you know what we sound like and what we’re up to each month. It’s going to be an interesting month.
So, what’s coming up now that we’re well and truly into 2013? Well, I’m glad you’ve asked because we’re going to be very busy over the next few weeks. We’ve got some tour schedules for you from some of our favourite artists, including Anna-Christina from Lilygun doing an acoustic mini-tour and Dean Owens visiting everywhere from the far north of Scotland to the south of England.
John Preston has reviews of Tegan & Sara, Sally Shapiro, Major Lazer and Laura Mvula coming up and I’ll be reviewing anything that pops into the MusicRiot inbox, including the new Martin Harley Band album and many more albums and gigs. Anything else? As it happens we’ll be bringing you updates on the progress of the Radio (in my) Head project which is motoring along at the moment as we get closer to the release date.
And just one other thing; we’re working on a new look for the website with loads of new visuals and presentation ideas which we should launch within the next few months. Apart from that, it’s all a little bit quiet really.
Well, Happy New Year everyone. We’ve already decided that 2013 is going to be great year and we’re expecting plenty of great recorded and live music. And talking of live music, we’re featuring loads of gigs this year starting with some of our friends from Bandhouse Studios as the Radio (in my) Head project approaches its launch date.
We’ll also be talking to Lilygun’s Anna-Christina about her new unplugged project “Pretty Little Lady” and we’re hoping to have a look at that live towards the end of January. Keep an eye out for that because it’s looking very interesting indeed.
My New Year’s resolution is that I’m going to watch as much live music as I can this year. Artists are finding it increasingly difficult to make money from sales of recorded music for many reasons which I’m not even attempting to address here, but we still have a thriving live circuit if you know where to look. Over the next year, we’re going to try to help you find some great live music wherever you live and, if you miss it, we’ll try to tell you about it.
Have a great year.