Allan’s had the brace of Nikons at quite a few gigs this year and he modestly says that he’s produced some cracking shots. Don’t say this too loudly, but the rest of the Riot Squad think that he’s probably right. However, he doesn’t get so much of the photographic spotlight this year as we’ve invited a few more gig photographers to showcase their own images and they’ll be appearing throughout December in the spirit of giving a bit of exposure to some extraordinary photographic talent. We thought it was only fair that Allan got first shot. So, in no particular order and with a running commentary from the man that reviewer Steve Jenner calls the Dapper Snapper are Allan’s favourite five monochromes.

Hannah Rose Platt @St Pancras Old Church

I’d seen Hannah around at a few gigs over the years but it was only about a year ago that we met after I heard her gorgeous single “1954”. She was one of those people that I wanted to photograph straight away. With long blonde hair and a very fair complexion, I could see some great opportunities under strongly-coloured lighting. Guess what? The only paces I’ve seen her perform have been very atmospheric but very dimly lit and only really suitable for monochrome.

This shot was at St Pancras Old Church, a fabulous intimate venue where the stage is lit by a couple of bedside lamps. Here’s the result:

Genia @Soho Music Festival

Genia’s a pianist from Russia, playing in the classical idiom and she featured at the inaugural Soho Music Festival earlier this year. Have you ever tried to photograph a pianist? There are only so many angles to use and it can easily get clichéd.

Genia was the opening artist in one of the festival’s three rooms in L’Escargot, starting her set at the unearthly time of 11:00 am. After grabbing a few usable shots, I sat down to review the selection and when I looked up from the viewfinder I saw that Genia’s shades had created the perfect shot with piano keyboard reflecting in the shades. It took two attempts to get it right, but the result was dramatic. The only problem was that with eleven hours ahead of me, chances were that I’d peaked a bit early. I had.

Lynne Hanson @Green Note

Gig photographers are a dedicated bunch; it’s not just swanning around in the sun at Cornbury and the Isle of Wight, oh no. I went out to see The LYNN(e)S at Green Note at the height of the Beast from the East (remember that?). Lynne Hanson and Lynn Miles collaborated on the album “Heartbreak Songs for the Radio” and were touring the UK to promote it. Loved the album and couldn’t resist going to see it live.

It was a superb night. I may have mentioned before that the light in Green Note’s challenging for photographers, which is why I roundly applaud any good image coming from that particular venue. The other challenge is respect for the audience; don’t block people’s sightlines and don’t have the shutter on burst mode during the quiet songs. So from my little perch by the door and using a longish zoom, I grabbed this shot of Lynne Hanson on the far side of the stage. Lynne likes it.

Hollie Rogers @The Jazz Café

You couldn’t move in the Jazz Café on this night without falling over a photographer; no unhealthy rivalries, just lots of mutual respect. Two Talentbanq artists were supporting blues guitar virtuoso Dan Owen (more about him later) and Hollie was the first of those to take the stage.

If you’ve seen Hollie perform (and you really should) then you’ll know that when the voice goes into overdrive, she’s incredibly powerful and all of this shows in her face. I’ve got loads of shots of Hollie looking incredibly intense. I won’t say I was looking for something a bit more contemplative, but when I saw the opportunity I was ready for it. The lights on the night were actually pretty colourful, but, with light and shade, I could only ever see this working in black and white.

Dan Owen @The Jazz Café

Later the same night. Now we all know that lead guitarists like to throw a few shapes, don’t we? Which is great because otherwise all of our pictures would look the same. Dan’s no exception and he’s also a bundle of raw energy, the archetypal livewire. It’s great fun with these guys, following them around the stage, trying to capture the perfect combination of light and shape. I wish I could say that this shot was all perfectly planned, but it wasn’t.

The camera settings were right for the conditions and then Dan stuck the acoustic out at arm’s length. I like the shot because of the calm intensity in Dan’s face and the fact that it’s not a Strat or a Les Paul he’s throwing around, it’s an acoustic. I looked at the shot in colour but the lighting was a bit meh, so I tried monochrome – bingo.

 

 So, there you go, my favourite five monochromes of the year

 

I’ve seen Hannah around at various events over the last couple of years, but somehow managed to avoid hearing her songs or seeing her play live. I’m pleased to say that I’ve managed to put that right this year. I loved her latest single “Chanel and Cigarettes” and managed to find the beautiful song “1954” as well. Late to the party, but I’m making the most of it now I’m here. Anyway, after finally meeting Hannah for the first time a few weeks ago, I invited her to make a contribution to this year’s High Fives. I’m well chuffed that she agreed – Allan.

Amelia White

East Nashville based singer songwriter Amelia White’s music is, without question, my favourite discovery of 2017. Her album Rhythm of the Rain is one of those gems that you’ll find yourself playing over and over again, finding new diamond moments with each listen.

For me, she brings together all of the best elements of Patti Smith, Lucinda Williams and Martha Wainwright, but very much has her own style. I had the pleasure of seeing her live twice this year on her UK tour. She is the real deal, authentic, talented and gracious with an effortless rock star quality that is rarely seen these days. I’ve since fallen in love with Rhythm of the Rain’s predecessor Home Sweet Hotel and am very much looking forward to delving further into her back catalogue

Loud Mountains

Oxford based ‘Loud Mountains’ were the highlight of Truck festival this year for me. They deservedly played on the main stage which I unfortunately missed, but luckily caught their second set at the Saloon stage the following day. The atmosphere during their set at the Saloon was absolutely electric – jam packed with fans as their infectious hooks and perfect harmonies reinforced by their rocking band shook the walls. The best live act I’ve seen this year without doubt

Newton Country

I am very, very excited by Bath based 3 piece band Newton Country, I had the pleasure of playing the same bill as them back in March at The Golden Lion in Bristol and they are just lovely people and extremely talented. With their fresh energetic vibe, lead singer Roisin’s Neko Case-esque vocals and thoughtfully crafted songs they are ones to watch for sure in 2018.

James Hodder

I first heard James Hodder perform back in February when we both played the Resonance FM fundraiser at Aces and Eights, I was completely blown away and I admit I was ashamed that I had not heard him perform before. Having known James for a couple of years  (the presenter of ‘Tin Can Hodder’  – a fabulous radio show on London’s ‘Resonance FM’)  as someone who champions roots music and musicians, and is particularly supportive of us struggling indie musos it is wonderful to see him gain much deserved attention for his own music. Velvety vocals, carefully crafted songs with intelligent and moving lyrics- in my opinion, he is the UK’s answer to Jason Isbell.

Society

Crawley based ‘Society’ were my highlight of this year’s inaugural ‘Rambling Roots Revue’ festival in April which was an absolutely fantastic three day festival in Buckinghamshire choc full of the finest acts in the Americana scene. Society (Matt Wise, Fin Scott Kenny, Thomas Collison and Ben Lancaster) were one of the bands I was looking forward to seeing the most and they did not disappoint. Their perfect close three part harmonies, Matt Wise’s gravelly vocals and storytelling, the musical calibre of every band member (including a singing drummer!) and the chemistry between them all made for one of the most exciting and enjoyable performances I’ve seen this year.

Phil PenmanPhil Penman is the MD of the independent label, Drumfire Records, and all-round good bloke with years of experience in the music business. We were really pleased that he was able to contribute to this year’s High Fives and we’re happy to say that he’s going to double Drumfire’s 2015 output very early in 2016; we’ll be bringing you some news about that in the very near future. It’s just possible that Phil Burdett could be involved.

 

 

Into the SeaAlbum of the Year (aka I Love My Label)

In the literal sense Dean Owens’Into the Sea” was my album of the year because it was the one and only release on my label Drumfire Records. It occupied my time, endeavour and thoughts for much of the time, but most importantly of all, it is indeed a great album – Dean’s best to date – and due to his indefatigable manager Morag Neil and my own efforts as well as Dean’s, he’s had a really good year, including supporting Rosanne Cash at London’s Union Chapel, a Bob Harris Country session, 3 consecutive BBC Radio Scotland playlists, and now deserved appearances in a slew of end-of-year best-of lists.

 DartsI Love My Job Sometimes

Last year in this category I talked about how proud I was of my work on the first box set by The Sound. Volume 2 followed and was equally brilliant. I worked on a number of special projects, but the one I would call a labour of love is the 6 CD boxset “The Complete Collection” by my wonderful friends Darts. I managed to bring together all their released recordings for Magnet Records, alongside their self-released Choice Cuts records, and dozens of unreleased studio recordings. Huge Fun.

Sleaford ModsKeeping The Fires Burning (aka One That Nearly Got Away)

Every year I trawl around trying to hear something new; something different; something exciting; something challenging. I am always dismayed by the endless stream of predictability and mediocrity in so-called ‘new’ music. I had resisted listening to this band, convinced by their name, image, and hype, that I wouldn’t like them.  Controversial choice I’m sure, but when I finally stopped to listen to Sleaford Mods, I was hit in the face with the stark aggression, simplistic beats and total listenability.  Honourable mention here also to the folk band Stick in the Wheel for doing it their way.

 Hannah Rose PlattBright Young Thing

One nomination for this category of mine this year.  I met the lovely Hannah Rose Platt in 2014, and in 2015 she released her debut album “Portraits” and we were delighted to welcome her in Twickenham as support for a show we hosted with Martin Stephenson. Her album is well worth getting a copy of. Oh yes, and she also got married this year.

 

Death Cab for CutieReturn to Form

Several albums that I enjoyed this year were I thought not quite as good as previous releases:  John Grant, Jason Isbell, Ron Sexsmith, Patty Griffin – all very good but just a little disappointing. The one I saw as a return to form was Death Cab for Cutie’sKintsugi”.