As gigs go, music journalism and photography is about as good as it gets for this ‘wee boy fae East Wemyss’. When you do something for over a decade you’re going to have a few frustrating experiences; what you hope for is that the genuine bangers even up the balance, maybe even tip it into the positive. It’s no exaggeration to say that 2017 has been astonishing year with some moments that would have my eighteen-year-old self wondering how on earth all that happened. But even with the volume anchored at ten, there were some moments when it sneaked up to eleven (‘it’s one higher’). In no particular order, these are some of those moments.

Stone Foundation @Islington Assembly Hall – I’ve been a fan of Stone Foundation since the moment I stuck a promo of their album “To Find the Spirit” in the CD player about four years ago. It hit me with that sucker punch of Hammond and horns from the first bell and followed it up with a hit of pure twenty-first century British soul. I’ve watched as the band’s abilities and sheer bloody hard work have steadily moved them up the rankings. I guess it helps that they’re such a great bunch of people as well.

Their latest album “Street Rituals” was recorded at Paul Weller’s Black Barn studios with Mr Weller guesting on a couple of songs and now they can headline at the bigger London venues. So when they announced a tour gig at Islington Assembly Hall, it looked like a reasonably good punt for a Paul Weller guest appearance, the odds shortening when, collecting my photo pass, I discovered that access to the pit was for the entire set. It wasn’t just limited to one Magic Moment either. Not only did PW join the band to take the lead vocal on the gorgeous “Your Balloon is Rising”, he also appeared later for a cracking version of “What’s Goin’ On” (with a hint of “Something in the Air”). Not only two great performances that might never be repeated, but one of my favourite photos of the year (above). More SF to come…

Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes @The Forum, Kentish Town – I first heard Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes in 1977 and I was hooked instantly. I’ve never fallen out of love with that voice and the sound of that band (Hammond and horns again, with big rock guitars as well), but I could never have imagined the first time I heard “The Fever” it would mean the start of a long-term relationship rather than a one-night stand. Fast-forward to the second decade of the twenty-first century and things get a bit intense – I was asked to do some green room shots of Gilson Lavis presenting Southside with a pen and ink portrait of himself he’d done a few months before. And then I was asked to interview Gilson about his upcoming New York art exhibition and to take some photos of the gig.

I was in the green room with one of my all-time heroes and his incredible band, shooting the breeze and listening as the band arranged a guest performance with Gilson before being thanked by one of the band for a review I’d written of his side project. HTF did that happen? And then they went on to play a storming set with Gilson guesting on “Key to the Highway”. I still can’t believe it.

Stone Foundation @The Empire – This one’s easy; you can get all the background above. No surprises this time, I knew from the off that Graham Parker was the support for this gig. I’ve always been a huge fan and I was at the gig with my old friend and sometime MusicRiot contributor Steve Jenner and his lovely wife Sue. While I was backstage sorting out my accreditation, I bumped in to Neil Sheasby, bass player and co-songwriter with Stone Foundation, who was also having a ‘pinch myself’ moment because Graham Parker had brought along Dave Robinson, former Stiff Records supremo, who was regaling the band with his seventies music business stories.. One of the things I was sorting out backstage was photo pit access. I mentioned earlier that SF had allowed access for the whole gig in Islington; This time they went one better; they highlighted the songs that would feature guest appearances later in the set and ensured that that the photographers had pit access. That’s proper attention to detail.

The real magic moment came towards the end of the evening with a guest vocal by Graham Parker on his old Ann Peebles cover “I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down”. Magical because of a stunning performance by everyone on stage, but also because GP hasn’t played with a horn section in years and he’s said GP and The Rumour will never play live again. And a big shout to Jalen N’Gonda, the first support act (who was superb in a Marvin Gaye-style) and popped up during “What’s Goin’ On”. These guys know what they’re doing.

Hannah Aldridge & Jetbone @Windlestock – The night after the gig above as it happens with the same audience plus Mrs M, who can go out because it’s not a school night. Anyone who knows me will know that I’m a huge fan of Hannah Aldridge. She writes powerful and moving songs, she has an incredible voice and she has those cheekbones. I never get tired of photographing Hannah; it’s a different visual image every time, but that bone structure is always there. Anyway, this time she’d brought along Jetbone from Sweden to play a support of their blues-inflected Southern boogie and as her backing band.

I love a chance to photograph artists in different environments and this was a great opportunity. Towards the end of the set Hannah put her guitar to one side (got my interest already), picked up a tambourine (camera in hand) and went into full Janis Joplin mode (jeez, never thought I’d see that). It was a night packed with stunningly good performances (including the opening set by Rebecca Reidtmann), but the tambourine thing made my night.

Dana Immanuel & The Stolen Band (private gig) – I had a significant birthday a few days ago and invited a couple of bands, Deep Blue Sea and Dana Immanuel & The Stolen Band to play at the event. They were both superb. I’ve seen Dana a couple of times and the band is great, the original songs are superb and she knows how to deliver a powerful cover. Now these gigs are difficult, because audience chatter (seriously frowned upon I serious music venues, and rightly so) is almost inevitable as people catch and are perhaps introduced for the first time. Dana and the band took it in their stride and won over a crowd that ranged in ages from three (my great-nephew, who was completely smitten) to eighty-one (my mum and mother-in-law).
They took a short break after a storming first set and returned for a second set with an audience that was particularly noisy. With no introduction they launched into an almost a cappella (a little percussion) two-part harmony version of the Janis Joplin classic “Mercedes Benz” which completely silenced the audience and immediately dragged attention back to the stage. Unconventional certainly, but they had the audience eating out of their hands after that. I’ve seen a lot of classic pieces of stagecraft, but that was probably the finest.

If you’ve got any moments like those that you want to share with us, message us on the Facebook page or email musicriotboy@gmail.com. And thanks for following us.

Dana Immanuel & the Stolen Band - 'Come With Me' - cover (300dpi)It only seems like ten minutes since the last Dana Immanuel album, “Dotted Lines”, was released and now we’ve got another one. “Come with Me” is Dana’s third album, although it’s being described as the debut of Dana & The Stolen Band, so the fairly equal split between songs from each of Dana’s two solo albums and new songs seems about right. Apparently it was recorded live-ish to catch the chemistry of the band’s interesting instrumental line-up featuring Dana (banjo, vocals and guitar), Feadora Morris (guitars and banjo), Blanche Ellis (vocals, washboard and thimbles), Maya McCourt (cello, vocals and upright bass)  and Hjordis Moon Badford (cajon and foot tambourines).

What Dana and the band have achieved on “Come with Me” is to subvert the macho culture of Outlaw Country by showing that the sisters can do it for themselves, competing with the boys in the bad behaviour stakes whether it’s the cocaine of the claustrophobic title track, playing the casino tables (“Devil’s Money” and “Viva Las Vegas”) or misguided sexual encounters (“Clockwork”). There’s no holding back lyrically and even the musical arrangements subvert the genre by using cello to round out the bottom end of the sound and contrasting the tones of cello, banjo and distorted guitar. The line-up of the band falls somewhere between a bluegrass string band and a rock outfit, creating possibilities for unusual textures not normally heard in either genre.

If you like your tunes to swing a little, there’s a bit of that in the jazzy stylings of “Achilles Heel” and “John Wayne” and the vocal harmonies add yet another dimension on “Nashville”, and particularly the a cappella counterpoint in the coda of “Going to the Bottle”. The album’s closing song, a new take on “Viva Las Vegas”, usually tackled as a cover version with macho posturing and bluster, is driven along by a cello riff and the usual Stolen Band harmonies, distancing it from the Elvis or Springsteen versions.

At times this album’s tough and uncompromising, but there’s always a sense that the entire band’s having a blast just doing this stuff, and not sticking to any arbitrary rules. Combine that with great musicianship and the result’s always going to be interesting.  And I’m grateful that the press release warned me about the ‘explicit!’ lyrics to “Motherfucking Whore”; I’d never have guessed from the title.

“Come with Me” is released on Friday August 5th and the band’s touring throughout the summer.

Dana Immanuel - 'Dotted Lines' -TitleI have to admit it; when a press release describes the artist as “banjo-toting, whiskey-drinking, poker-playing singer-songwriter currently operating from a north London hideout” it does grab your attention. With those influences, you wouldn’t expect an album full of moonin’ and Junin’ lyrics and you wouldn’t be wrong. Dana Immanuel’s second album, “Dotted Lines”, is a fascinating mixture of lyrical invention, painful honesty some psychedelic production and arrangements pulling elements in from her varied and interesting background to create eight songs that give us a sometimes disturbing insight into her life. That’s right, only eight songs, but none of them make me reach for the skip button, so I don’t have a problem with that.

The album’s opener and title track tells you immediately that we’re not in Kansas any more; there’s banjo, distorted slide guitar, breaking bottles and reversed sounds as a framework for a story of metaphorically disrespected boundaries. It’s part Americana, part psychedelia and part musique concrete and it’s not often I get the chance to say that. The musical invention is present throughout the album, from the thunderous bass and reversed backing vocals of “Rock Bottom” to the military beat and massed counterpoint of “Going to the Bottle” and there’s verbal dexterity in the lyrics as well (how about ‘It’s not my primary intention to find chemical redemption’) although there’s always a fine line between smart and too much, which the album just about stays on the right side of.

The two slower songs towards the end of the album stand out as more personal, dealing surprisingly gently with an artistic groupie (“Life in Colour”) and the need to be completely selfish in order to succeed in the music business (“Be like Arnie”) using fiddle and trumpet respectively for some additional colour. There are references to gambling, drinking and failed relationships throughout the album (not surprisingly given Dana’s background) but there’s also “Mile High”, an interesting take on the life of airline cabin crew. It’s certainly an interesting mix and it’s not an album that permits boredom because there’s always something new around the corner. The songs may be strong meat, but Dana’s pure, and sometimes delicate, voice rounds away some of the sharp edges creating bitter-sweet vignettes.

Out on Friday 16th October.