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.
Every year we seem have another ‘death of the album’ story as the established music business struggles to keep up with (or buy in to) services trying to maximise profit for the industry at the expense of the artist. But this year something strange has happened; sales of vinyl and record decks have risen dramatically. OK, the baseline’s still low but as CD sales plummet, it’s a good sign that people are investing in the hardware to play an analogue album format. Meanwhile, thousands of artists and bands are ignoring the established music business, funding their own recordings and using whatever methods they can to get their music out there. All of my High Five albums this year have been self-funded by artists who are making music because they believe in what they do and hoping that they can find an audience. I had seven albums on the shortlist for this selection, so there are a couple of honourable mentions as well.
It’s been another good year for Stone Foundation. They’ve signed up to a couple of overseas labels, toured Japan again and released “A Life Unlimited”, an album that moves their search for the new soul vision onward and upward with hints of jazz, house and Latin disco (and even guest vocal performances from Graham Parker and Doctor Robert). Songwriters Neil Jones and Neil Sheasby have produced another set of classic songs while the band line-up has evolved with the permanent addition of congas and baritone sax replacing trombone in the horn section to give a slightly harder sound. This album (like its predecessor “To Find the Spirit”) is all about a group of musicians working together to create a very British soul sound; no egos, no big solos, just a bunch of guys pumping out perfect grooves. You can read the original review here.
You have to admire someone who’s been singing for over forty years, come through some difficult times and still gets fired up about recording and performing songs. Since cutting his ties with the corporate music business, and setting up his own label around fifteen years ago, Southside Johnny has undergone a creative renaissance, becoming more involved in songwriting (with co-writer Jeff Kazee) and exploring new musical areas (including Americana with his second band The Poor Fools). “Soultime!” is the work of an artist who isn’t bound by a release schedule and a cycle of album and tour. This album is inspired by some of the soul and rhythm and blues greats of the sixties and seventies, and evokes the era joyously without ever becoming a pastiche. It’s an album that’s great fun to listen to and sounds like it was fun to make. It’s essential listening and you can read the original review here.
This is an album that had a long gestation period. Pete has been working on it for about ten years and there are a couple of reasons why the album took so long to make. Pete and Maura Kennedy have a very busy schedule with their other projects but, more importantly, this album could only be released when everything was absolutely perfect. “Heart of Gotham” is a song cycle about Pete’s love for New York City, delving into the city’s history, geography and ambience against a backdrop of Pete’s outstanding musicianship (playing all the instruments on the album) and some beautifully-realised arrangements. Pete’s multi-layered guitars and gravelly vocal delivery create an atmosphere that’s unlike anything else I’ve heard this year. You can read the original review here and you should also read Pete’s contribution to this year’s High Fives, which links in to the album.
This was a debut album with instant impact. Hannah puts together all of the classic singer-songwriter elements perfectly; she has a powerful, clear voice and she sings intensely personal songs with conviction and emotion. Everything on the album is inspired by life events, apart from “Parchman”, the story of a woman on death row, who has no regrets about the crime which put her there. There are songs about jealousy, revenge, addiction and inappropriate relationships, but there’s also a counterbalance, particularly with the nostalgia of “Black and White”. The album visits some very dark places but there are enough positive moments to create balance between the dark and the light. Hannah’s always been inspired by Jackson Browne; I’m sure he’d be pleased to hear the fruits of his influence. You can read a live review from Hannah’s Green Note gig in July here.
Black Casino and the Ghost (can we just say BCATG from now on) are a four-piece based in London and Essex and “Until the Water Runs Clear” is their second album. They’ve been Riot Squad favourites since their first album was released over two years ago. It would be easy to focus on the stupendous voice of singer Elisa Zoot and the guitar virtuosity of Ariel Lerner, but bass player Gary Kilminster and drummer Paul Winter-Hart play their part as well, with Elisa’s keyboards adding even more possibilities. “Until the Water Runs Clear” has drawn in many influences from sixties pop to trip-hop, mutated them and thrown them in the blender to create something that alternately sounds familiar and completely original. There’s also a lyrical dark side that runs through the album, creating sinister undertones and a hint of paranoia; maybe you shouldn’t skin up before listening to this one. The end result is an album which keeps you guessing; you’re never quite sure where it’s going, but you don’t want to miss a second of it. You can read the review here and see a few photos of the band at The Finsbury here.
And there are a couple of honourable mentions for the Dean Owens album “Into the Sea”, which was recorded in Nashville and packed with memorable and very personal tunes, and Bob Malone’s “Mojo Deluxe” featuring some keyboard virtuosity and a bunch of great tunes across a wide range of musical styles.
2014 wasn’t a great gig year for me, so I decided to catch up in 2015 by getting my cameras along to every gig I could possibly get to. It obviously worked; when I had to pick my favourite five photos of the year, I had difficulty narrowing it down, so I decided to cheat. I’ve seen a lot of female singers this year, so I decided to create a High Five dedicated to them. As always, in no particular order.
Mollie Marriott at The Half Moon – By the time I saw this gig, it felt a bit like I was stalking Mollie. I’d seen her play live three times in three months. This gig was her second at The Half Moon with her full band and it wasn’t quite as busy as the first so there was a bit of space to pick some nice angles and just wait for Mollie to get completely absorbed in her songs and try to catch some special moments. She’s a singer who totally commits herself to the song and all you have to do is press the shutter release at the right time.
Elisa Zoot of Black Casino & the Ghost at The Finsbury – I’ve loved this band since I was introduced to them by John O’Sullivan of Red Adore Music. They’re totally original and Elisa has a phenomenal voice. It’s a little bit weird when you suddenly transform from two people talking in a pub beer garden to a photographer and a performer within fifteen minutes, but it’s always good to get a chance to get to know the artist. The lighting wasn’t great, but there was a lot of contrast, so black and white was the way to go. It’s good to know that Elisa likes this photo as well.
Rosanne Cash at The Union Chapel – I have to say I got a very lucky break here. When I discovered that Dean Owens was playing as support to Rosanne Cash, it was full-on grovel mode with Dean’s manager, Morag to try to get a photo pass but, as always, Morag came up with the goods. It’s always an interesting shot at this venue if you can get the stained glass window in, but Rosanne Cash happened to look heavenward at exactly the right time to make this work. Maybe I need to rethink the atheism thing.
Nova Twins at FTFH, Birthdays, Dalston – FTFH is a monthly event at Birthdays promoting female performers and Nova Twins were topping the bill with their intriguing and eclectic mash-up of rock, hip-hop and punk attitudes. The lighting was decent and Amy and Georgia’s style and stage presence made it pretty much impossible to take a bad shot. I finally settled on this picture of Amy because of the attitude and power and the nice mix of colours in the background, but I could have chosen any one of a dozen shots from this gig.
Hannah Aldridge at Green Note – Green Note’s a venue where you have to put in a bit of effort to get a good shot. I went along to this gig on the strength of Hannah’s stunning debut album, “Razor Wire” and I wasn’t disappointed. I had just moved around the stage to get a slightly different viewpoint when Hannah introduced a new song “Gold Rush” which was incredibly powerful and completely enthralled the audience. I think the shot just about captures the emotion she was pouring in to that song.
Just click on any of the thumbnails to see the picture at full size.
We’ve been waiting for this one for a while now, and I’m chuffed to say it was well worth the wait. The second Black Casino and the Ghost album, “Until the Water Runs Clear” is packed with great individual performances, but the great strength is the way they work together as a band. Elisa Zoot’s voice is stunning and Ariel Lerner’s guitar playing is faultless across a range of styles, but Paul Winter-Hart (drums) and Gary Kilminster play a huge part in the band’s sound, supplying the rhythmic pulse and some melodic and inventive basslines.
There are some influences which are woven through the album; there’s more than a hint of sixties pop, and a hint of psychedelia channelled through the trip-hop filter of Portishead and Massive Attack or the shimmering nineties pop of Saint Etienne and Morcheeba. So the obvious opening song is one which sounds like early English folk, isn’t it?
“The Pool” proves that Elisa can do the quieter, more reflective songs as well as the belters, starting with a finger-picked acoustic guitar backing and multi-layered backing vocals, adding shards of percussion, synths and slide guitar before dropping back to the minimalist guitar backing. After the trippy feel of “Age of Contagion” and the monster guitar riff of “Veggie Tarantula” (the two singles so far), it’s a bit of a departure but it’s very effective.
The sixties influence is clearest in “Soul Mall”, the bass-led “Sherry” where Elisa delivers the verses in a cool, almost dismissive style, and “Mr Puppeteer” and “Hoochie Coochie Lover” where Ariel plays in a clipped, precise style that’s very Hank Marvin, or maybe it’s just like Eddie. Apart from the obvious “Lucifer, Lucifer, Lucifer”, there’s a darkness and obsession suffusing the album, and it surfaces in lines like ‘Wish I could skin you, look at what’s in you’ in “Hoochie Coochie Lover”; it’s challenging and not always comfortable but, if comfort’s what you want, you should be listening to Smooth Radio.
There are still a few more stylistic twists and turns to the album; “Tarjeteros” has an Ennio Morricone feel, “Bitter Beast” contrasts a verse with a hint of Bjork with a wall of sound chorus, while the album’s last song, “Solar Storm”, closes the circle with Elisa’s controlled vocal over a sparse arrangement that builds with keyboards and backwards effect before fading into the ether.
I don’t think I’ve heard a better album than “Until the Water Runs Clear” this year; Black Casino and the Ghost have created an album that’s full of hooks to grab your attention, but is full of dark and mystical undercurrents to keep you enthralled.
If you want to see Black Casino and the Ghost live (and you really should), they’re playing at The Finsbury on December 8th and it’s completely free.
Here’s another little teaser from Black Casino and the Ghost to whet your appetite for the upcoming album “Until the Water Runs Clear” which is out on November 16th. It’s been a while since their debut “Some Dogs Think their Name is No”, and we’ve heard some of the new material live, so the expectations are high. “Veggie Tarantula” opens with an overdriven guitar riff followed by a thunderous bassline and you wonder if Elisa Zoot’s voice can cut through the wall of noise; the answer’s obviously yes, although you have to wait until the chorus to hear the raucous sound of the entire band playing at full tilt. And just when you think you’ve been battered into submission, there’s a bit of remission with a psychedelic breakdown and layers of ethereal vocals before everything goes back up to eleven. Absolutely glorious.
We’ll have the album review for you in the next few days; in the meantime, just watch this on repeat.
The one thing you can definitely say about Black Casino and the Ghost is that whatever they do, it’s going to be interesting, and probably unlike anything else that you’re seeing or hearing. It’s two years since their last album “Some Dogs think their Name is No” was released and they’re back in the summer of 2015 with new material and live performances kicking off with the release of “Age of Contagion” on June 18, from the new album, “Until the Water Runs Clear” which is due to be released later in the year.
The song is dark, moody and bass-heavy, a bit like nineties Bristol trip-hop, which is the perfect backdrop for Elisa Zoot’s stunning vocal and explores the idea of transformation by ordeal and taking a step into the unknown. The accompanying video is pieced together from Peter Bogdanovich’s cult 1968 movie “Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women” and emphasises the sombre, slightly menacing mood of the song:
If you want to see Black Casino and the Ghost live, they’ll be headlining at The Finsbury in North London on Friday July 10.
I first heard about the Radio (in my) Head project over a year ago when I met up with a couple of the people involved in putting the album together. It’s fair to say that it’s been a fairly long flash-to-bang time, but the end result certainly is a cracker (sorry). We’ve been publishing fairly regular updates on the album’s progress and reviews of the singles released so far (as well as a few unrelated singles from the artists involved), so the final release could have been an anti-climax; it isn’t, because this is a very, very good album. Normally, I’d give you a bit of background on the artists, but there are eleven of them, so you can find all you need to know here. I try to avoid track-by-track reviews as well, but there really isn’t any choice here, so I’ll start at the beginning, leaving out the songs we’ve already reviewed as singles.
The opening track, “The National Anthem” by STRNGRS, which eases the listener into the album doesn’t depart radically from the “Kid A” original but replaces the funk groove with a rockier, heavier feel, a bass sound that wouldn’t be out of place on a Kasabian track and a vocal with more than a nod in the direction of Brian Molko. You just know that Black Casino and the Ghost will put their own very individual stamp on “Packt like Sardines in Crushed Tin Box” with an incredibly heavy bassline and Elisa Zoot’s breathy but powerful vocals driving the song along; it doesn’t disappoint.
Stoneface Travellers are the first band to really make a song their own with a version of “My Iron Lung” that replaces the original’s “Dear Prudence/ Lucy in the Sky…” guitar sounds with straight ahead blues riffing. Where the original breaks down into a noisy middle section, this becomes quieter ahead of an extended solo from Emile Gerber. It’s the first radically different version on the album. Yoya’s take on “Wolf at the Door” replaces the mainly acoustic instrumentation of the original with samples played backwards and forwards, loads of electronic sounds and a vocal which goes from pure to fractured in the space of one line; it took Marianne Faithfull twenty-five years to do that.
There are good, and very good vocal performances on the first half of the album, but the first truly outstanding vocal is on Amy Hannam’s version of “Street Spirit (Fade Out)”. The song builds gradually from a chiming guitar intro with the piano providing the bass and a very close-miked vocal which demonstrates the quality and power of Amy’s voice, particularly when joined by the perfect harmonies in the chorus. It has a very 70s prog feel at times; there’s a passage where the vocal is reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s “Great Gig in the Sky” and the piano is straight out of “Tubular Bells”. And, yes, it does fade out. Skeye’s version of “Karma Police” again has a retro feel using traditional rock band instrumentation and adding organ to the mix in traditional 70s style. The vocal is pure and clear until pushed hard when it becomes more raw and rocky and it’s another song stamped with the style of the performer.
Malin Andersson’s version of “Exit Music (For a Film)” has electric and acoustic guitars providing the backing for Malin’s breathy vocal (close-miked again) before adding a violin, in contrast to the original’s drums and synths in the final third of the song ; it’s another excellent version. Alexey Zelensky tackles the only non-album track of the project, “Staircase”, which was released on “The Daily Mail” single. Many of the elements of the arrangement are similar to the original, including the UK garage/drum ‘n’ bass drum patterns and chiming guitars but Alexey adds some powerful multi-tracked lead and backing vocals and guitar. And I think you can guess what’s coming at the end of the album.
The closer is Bethan Mills’ version of “Creep” and it’s a classic. I must admit to hearing a demo version of this a few months ago and it’s been really difficult to keep this one secret; it’s a powerful and original take on the song that Thom Yorke seems to hate so much now. The song opens with understated piano before Bethan’s (close-miked again), intimate vocal comes in. Drums and bass kick in after the first chorus, but the vocal still punches through the arrangement. There’s a breakdown back to the opening arrangement on the “Whatever makes you happy…” verse before an epic finish featuring a big guitar solo with squalls of controlled feedback drop out to leave a plaintive vocal to end the song. I’m a huge fan of the Chrissie Hynde unplugged version of “Creep”, but I think this version just shades it in a straight fight.
So, it could have easily been a bunch of tired retreads of Radiohead songs but it’s much, much more than that. Project curator John O’Sullivan has pulled together a bunch of people from all over the world to put their own stamp on their favourite Radiohead songs. Listening to the album for the first time, you have no idea of what’s coming next and the surprises are all pleasant. There aren’t any average tracks here; they’re all well thought-out and very well performed. My personal highlights are Amy Hannam’s version of “Street Spirit” and Bethan Mills’ version of “Creep”, but I’ll happily listen to any song on this album.
The good news is that from October 29, you can hear the album in all its glory by downloading it on iTunes here.
What are the odds on Portis(in my)Head next?
I have previously reviewed Black Casino & the Ghost’s second single “Hoboland” (where you can find more details about this London-based band), and I settled in for a few listens to the album expecting a larger dose of “Hoboland”’s rocky, indie blues, but I was surprised and delighted to hear a much greater musical variety, including acoustic ballads and even a ghostly piano-led fairground carousel instrumental , (“We’ve Seen Nothing”) so it pays not to have rigid expectations…
We kick off with all musical guns blazing, “Boogeyman”, and keep the energy up for “Johnny Boy” before exploring ballad territory. The whole album does justice to Elisa Zoot’s clear and distinctive vocals, especially on the tracks she is not competing for space with the band, “Son of the Dust”, where she switches genders, and “If It Doesn’t Hurt” which features acoustic guitar. But when the band ramp up the tempo, Elisa can keep up without resorting to screeching at all, I suspect her voice would suit a variety of genres. She lets herself off the leash for the chorus of one of my favourites, “Been A Bad Woman”, then immediately reins herself in again for the pretty, “Son Of The Dust”: ‘I’ve been such a good Christian son/Said all my prayers/ joined your house and children every Sunday…, etc.’ Apart from vocal duties, Elisa also proves a competent pianist on the tracks that feature piano.
The drums are well recorded, which can be notoriously difficult and production credits go to the band as well. “Some Dogs…” has largely been recorded live which always seems to make a difference in immediacy to me, and hints at how well the band would play together live. Guitar alternates between searing and folkish as required and the bass throbs in all the right places. It comes across like any tensions in this band are purely creative. Another stand out track for me is the acoustic, “If It Doesn’t Hurt”. It begins, ‘if it doesn’t hurt it means it’s not working/ if it doesn’t burst it means it’s not burning enough’. Perhaps the lyric is a little gothic for some, but the beautiful tune isn’t. The lyrical content is typically on the darker side, but not depressing, that is to say, they take you on a visit to their visions without leaving you there. Topics on “Some Dogs…” include wolves, ghosts, sinners and bogeymen, but this is not some juvenile concoction; it’s a well crafted CD exploring these night themes and despite differences in tempo and arrangement the album hangs together well. It’s both immediate enough and has sufficient complexity to bear repeated listening; all this and the entire CD lasts just a little over half an hour. BC&TG deserve a wider audience than the underground ‘alternative’ scene and that’s why I’m awarding them an extra half star.
Out Monday September 2nd on Lucky Machete Records.