We asked Allan to share his favourite five photographs of the year and got the response we expected. ‘How can you pick favourites? It’s like asking a parent who their favourite child is’, and lots more in that vein. We eventually got him to agree to split them into five favourite monochrome and five favourite colour photos. Too good to be true really; it was, because he selected ten nice monochromes for us and said he couldn’t break it down any further. But surely ten’s just two sets of five; could we split them up? Amazing; five are male performers, five are female so here we go with the male performers, in no particular order:

 

Steve Stott

First thing I’m saying about this is that I know Steve quite well. He’s part of a scene in Southend-on-Sea and is a very gifted fiddle and mandolin player; he’s also a really nice guy. I got to know Steve because he collaborates extensively with Phil Burdett (and you really should check him out). This shot was taken upstairs at The Railway Hotel in Southend at the launch of volumes of poetry by Phil Burdett and Ralph Dartford. Phil decided to intersperse readings of his poems with some of his songs, accompanied by Steve, meaning that Steve had some onstage downtime. And the point that I’m approaching tangentially here is that the interesting stuff doesn’t have to be front and centre; Phil is a riveting performer and I loved the expression as Steve watched him recite:

 

Sam Tanner

There’s a bit of a theme emerging here; Sam’s a lovely guy as well. He’s also a great keyboard player and has one of the most soulful voices I’ve ever heard. The first time I saw Sam, he was part of Mollie Marriott’s band as co-writer, keyboard player and backing vocalist. He’s also one of the members of the funk supergroup Brother Strut (check them out live and on record) and in 2019 he released his solo album. This shot was taken at the sold-out launch gig for the album at The Half Moon in Putney with an absolute all-star band and an audience packed with great musicians as well; Sam didn’t disappoint and I think this picture captured something of the essence of one of the UK’s finest soul singers:

Red Berryn (Dominic Cooper)

My first encounter with Dom was at Leek Blues & Americana Festival in October 2018. I grabbed an interesting shot during his set and we got acquainted online. What Dom does is a tribute to the godfather of rock ‘n’ roll, Chuck Berry. This isn’t just any old Chuck Berry tribute; Dom’s totally committed, knows the Berry family and was actually invited to Chuck’s funeral. This isn’t just any of Chuck’s children out there playing his licks. This shot was taken in October 2019 at the same festival when Dom’s band supported the wonderful Little Victor at The Foxlowe Theatre. As Dom went into his splits routine, I got in close just as he shot a laser-like stare directly at the camera:

Mikey Christer

Social media has its faults, but sometimes it works wonderfully well. I photographed Mikey for the first time in 2017 when he played in Penny Riviera’s band (check her out as well) at her EP launch at The Hard Rock Café. On the back of one shot from that gig, Mikey got in touch and we’ve discovered since that we have loads of favourite bands and guitar players in common. When I heard that Penny was doing a gig at Slim Jim’s in Islington this year with Mikey in the band, it was a no-brainer. It’s interesting lighting there, but it works well with monochrome. It was great to meet up with Mikey and chew the fat and this was my favourite shot from the night:

Connor Cockbain

I like to visit Brighton during The Great Escape for a day or so. The weather’s usually good and it’s nice to get away from The Smoke for a day. This year, the day was spent mostly in Caffe Nero watching some fabulous artists, but it’s always nice to pop over the road to The Mesmerist to catch some bands there. One of the bands I saw very briefly this year was The Post Romantics from Liverpool. I have some rules about gig photography and Rule One is that you don’t get the microphone directly in front of the singer’s mouth. Rule Two is that you can break the rules when you can justify it; the intensity of Connor’s stare in this shot is the justification. With minimal stage lighting and daylight through the windows, this was always a monochrome shot, which was a good thing because I had a chat with the band afterwards and they told me that Connor would convert it to black and white anyway:

Strut ScrollerNo, seriously, is there really anything better than a bunch of stonkingly good musicians at the top of their game just doing what they do best; playing the tunes they want to play and having a great time as well? They’re just doing their own thing; no label affiliation and everything controlled from Strut Central, so how do they do it? It’s easy; they are the absolute mutt’s nuts. Individually, they’ve worked with just about everyone, live or on record, and, as a unit, they’re funkier than a mosquito’s tweeter.

The unusual suspects forming Brother Strut are Paul Turner (bass), Frankie Tontoh (drums), Otha Smith (guitar), Sam Tanner (vocals and keys) and Stevie Jones (sax and vocals). I’m not going to tell you what they’ve all done in the past; you can find that out for yourself, and this is about what they’re doing now. And that’s releasing their second album, “What We got Together”, this week (Friday April 8th) on their own label.

The album’s a joyous mix of all of their sixties and seventies funk, soul and r’n’b (when that actually meant rhythm and blues) influences and there are even some Latin beats thrown in as well. When the opening track “Chri$$ie” fires in like the Average White Band covering “Funkin’ for Jamaica” you just know this is going to be an interesting ride.

The album’s not big on songs, as such, focusing more on gargantuan grooves with full-band chants in classic funk style, but when the songs do come along they’re belters, with Sam Tanner proving that he’s not just a stunning keyboard player; he has a superb soul voice as well. “Everyday Joe”, with its seventies wah-wah guitar and story of a refusal to fit in with the nine-to-five, and the lovely “Song for Marvin” (and we’re talking Gaye not Hagler here) are as good as anything I’ve heard this year.

The musicianship’s so strong that changes of style present no problem; the Latin-inflected “De Donde Eres” and “Love and Only” are totally natural and convincing with some great percussion adding authentic accents. The ensemble playing is tight as everyone locks on to the funk grooves, while the fills and solos are outstanding examples of musicianship that don’t sound like a ‘most-notes-to-the-bar’ competition.

This is one that’s going to hit you right on the funky bone; don’t miss it.

What We Got Together” is out on Friday April 8th and the band is touring the UK in May and June . You shouldn’t miss the album or the tour.

And just as a special treat, have a look at this as well:

 

Mollie TitleIt’s about a year since we first picked up on Mollie Marriot, when she popped up doing backing vocals (with Izzy Chase-Phillmore) for Jim Stapley on his debut album and at a London gig last year. It was obvious to anyone who didn’t have tin ears that she had an outstanding voice. What we didn’t know at the time, but discovered after a few gigs, was that she also has at least an album’s worth of great songs which she’s worked on with a bunch of co-writers that includes Jim Stapley, Sam Tanner of Brother Strut and Judie Tzuke. Lyrically, it’s not always comfortable because it deals with some troubled times in Mollie’s life, but the arrangements and performances create positive feelings from negative experiences. And she’s put a phenomenal live band together as well.

“A Million Miles” is her third solo single (following “Ship of Fools” and “Transformer”) and it might just be the one to make the breakthrough, ahead of her debut album “The Truth is a Wolf” which is due for release in early 2016. The song opens with Johnson-Jay’s shimmering guitar weaving in and out of Sam Tanner’s trickling keyboards evoking a seventies Californian drivetime feel before Mollie’s voice comes in, gently at first, with just a suggestion of Stevie Nicks and the story of an unravelling relationship. As the instrumental intensity builds, the vocal goes up through the gears from pure and clear to powerful and emotional, building to a climax before fading to a gentle finish. It’s a song that takes you on an emotional journey, so buckle up and enjoy the ride.

Mollie Marriott’s made a lot of great decisions in the last couple of years; she’s surrounded herself with superb musicians and collaborators who happen to be lovely people, and she’s created a very tight little family that just happens to be a musical powerhouse. If anyone can achieve popular success while pursuing their own artistic vision in today’s music business, my money’s on Mollie.

“A Million Miles” is out on MITA Records on October 23rd.