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:

What a wonderful thing it is to be able to go, ‘yeah, I’ll have a bit of that’ when you’re in your local having a pint. So happens the promoter of the local folk club was in. So happens he’s a long-time mate of Steve Gibbons. Turns out he’s persuaded him to play an unplugged solo gig upstairs at the intimate but absolutely luverly (if we overlook the early-closing bar) Rainbow Room at the Foxlowe Centre in my current and I suspect final hometown of Leek.

I haven’t seen him in 42 years, ever since I did the support rock ‘n’ roll themed disco and compere duties on a gig whilst he was touring Scotland just as his cover of Chuck Berry’s “Tulane” was in the top forty, having briefly made it into the top ten.

So, yeah, I will have a bit of that, thank you very much.

Said promoter, Dave Rhead, is also opening for SG tonight. This is brave of him as he has just fallen base over apex, stone cold sober and in full public view, over a local pavement. He’s well banged up and does well to hobble through “Leaving on a Jet Plane” and Anthony Toner’s lovely “Always Meeting my Cousins at Funerals”. To add insult to injury he managed this just outside Specsavers. Maybe he should….

When I last saw the Steve Gibbons Band they were absolutely in their pomp, top of their game. Huge great P.A. system, all the paraphernalia of a band signed to a major record company with a hit single and album in “Rollin’ On”. And he’s just finished a tour of parts of Scandinavia with a full band, so his trip to Leek for this solo low-key ‘unplugged’ set was clearly going to be something of a ‘gear change’ for him.

But he’s a trouper, is Steve Gibbons. His Dylan Project has kept playing gigs, he still packs them in on full band gigs, has played a number of big festivals in recent years, as well as solo and unplugged events like these. He is, to quote Pete Townshend, ‘road-worn’ but he cuts an elegant and dignified figure as he sets up to go.

First song is one of his early ones from the sixties. He was around in The Uglys and The Idle Race and the Dominettes before that – and the Dominettes can trace lineage back to 1960. This guy has been at it All Day. As far as I can discover, this is his first song recorded for a major label – “Wake up my Mind” was out on Pye back in 1965. Didn’t do much over here but went top twenty in Australia. They all count.

He then heads off into “The Chain” from “Maintaining Radio Silence” and “Wild Flowers” where the Dylanesque phrasing comes through and a lovely love song for Valentine’s Day, “Still in the Dark”. Can’t Get Next To You, Babe. The mystery of relationships and all that malarkey. “Graffiti Man” was an amusing aside from his observations of Birmingham life, and “Down in the Bunker” was a song that indeed took me back.

“I Got Chuck In My Car” finished off the first half of the set with more than a little nod to Jerry Reed’s “Tupelo Mississippi Flash”, a former hit single of his (apart from the fact that it’s a song about Elvis). More about that one, though, later.

Time to reflect.

The Steve Gibbons Band hit serious paydirt for probably the first time in the period 1976-1979; and he was by no means a young man by then. He was the right man at the right time, in many respects; rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly were enjoying a resurgence, even amongst home-grown acts, and his energetic and fleet-footed reworking of Chuck Berry’s “Tulane” sort of bridged the gap between rock ‘n’ roll revisited, punk energy levels and pace and the (by then) rapidly fading pub rock scene. Also; it kind of fitted the zeitgeist. The Fonz. Grease was just about to hit VERY big. “American Graffiti”. Showaddywaddy selling truckloads, and here comes Shakin’ Stevens…..you get the picture.

But he was a whole lot more than that. In the second half of the show he began mining the rock ‘n’ roll roots as only someone who had been playing music and listening to all that amazing stuff first time around can. I honestly believe you don’t HAVE to be American to understand how great rock ‘n’ roll works (but it helps) but if you’re not, what helps a very great deal is if you were ‘around’ when these great, great songs were new to the world. And for that you really don’t need to be born in the fifties, like me; you need to be born in the forties, like Steve Gibbons. And through most of the second half of the set, he showed us how true that is. Starting with “Hey Buddy” dedicated to Buddy Holly, “Memphis Flash” (please see above!) dedicated to Elvis including a sneaky peek at “That’s Alright”, the drug mule song “Mr Jones” the roots of American rock ‘n’ roll music are laid bare by the dry, dust-bowl voice and the simple but authentic guitar chops.

The problem is – if you were born in the forties, you’re knocking on a bit now, and whereas age might have done really interesting things with his voice, he freely admits it hasn’t done him any favours in the memory department, so there are occasional meanderings and excursions, sometimes between songs, sometimes during a song, but on the rare occasions this happens he manages to scrape it all back together again and keep moving.  Be under no illusions; his performance wasn’t perfect – as you might expect from someone carrying very many years on his back. But what he brought to the party meant you were absolutely forced to overlook that and to do otherwise would just be plain churlish.

This guy was more ‘Americana’ than many who currently wave that particular flag decades before anyone so much as mentioned the word. A point which is subtly underlined when he swoops into Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone”, Bo Diddleyfies “No Spitting on the Bus” (which might sound like Americana but is about as English in content as a pint of mild) and “Man in the Long Black Coat”.

Bizarrely, events are interrupted by the drawing of a raffle, before he draws the evening to a conclusion with a moving rendition of Rick Nelson’s “Hello Mary Lou” before being called back for an encore during which he wanders amiably through Chuck Berry’s “Memphis Tennessee”. Somewhere I imagine Dave Berry has neglected to start his gig with “Memphis Tennessee” but has decided to sing “Tulane” instead. The universe must be kept in harmony.

Yes.

Speaking with him afterwards was an absolute delight. He signed my 45s and indeed the page of our book where the Steve Gibbons Band gets a mention so I’m well chuffed. So the guy who toured America with The Who, and has shared stages with the likes of Lynryd Skynryd, ELO and Little Feat quietly packed his personal kit away, no doubt already contemplating the next stop on the seemingly endless road in whatever incarnation presents itself to him. Because that’s the deal.

Steve Gibbons is one of Britain’s last real troubadours who link directly back to the dawn of rock ‘n’ roll in the UK – had hits during (arguably) its most turbulent and explosive times – and yet whose voice and presence recall a world and a culture many miles removed.

If that moves your soul, catch him while you can. If not, well, your loss.