Jess Klein’s album “Back to my Green” was released in February 2019, which seems like a really long time ago now. We loved it then and we love it still, which is why we were really pleased when Jess agreed to contribute to our 2019 High Fives feature. Here are some of Jess’s highpoints from 2019. Bit of a spoiler here, the last one might make you think you have something in your eye.

 

Touring Florida

In January, I went on tour in Florida. I hadn’t toured Florida in a couple years and never outside of Tampa. The venues were all new to me and I had no idea what to expect – would anyone show up? It turned out my friend, the songwriter Grant Peeples (who had also connected me with some of the venues) told a bunch of people to come see me play. John Fullbright, who was touring Florida the prior week, mentioned my name to his audience from the stage and told them that they should come see me. Thanks to one of the promoters, WMNF in Tampa invited me on air twice in one weekend. WSLR in Sarasota pushed my show there. Every show was packed. Those were just gifts my fellow songwriters, the promoters and radio DJ’s decided to give me. They didn’t have to. I came home feeling so blessed. Creative community is powerful.

 

David Byrne’s American Utopia tour

Seeing David Byrne’s American Utopia tour: a 12-piece band playing and dancing like one rhythmic body, led by lanky, quirky David Byrne. “Burning Down the House”, “Road to Nowhere”, “Once in a Lifetime”…They covered Janelle Monae’s tribute to black lives lost to police brutality, “Hell You Talmbout”.   Byrne and his incredible band created something even bigger than the sum of their parts. My brain was screaming, “Look what humans can do!!!” It felt like the roof was about to blow off.  

 

First Sunday Revue

My husband, Mike June and I launched the “First Sunday Revue” here in Hillsborough, North Carolina where we live. The first Sunday of each month, we get our band together and play a no-cover afternoon gig at our local, the Nash St. Tavern. Nash St. is on the divier side, the sound is weird, it is not fancy. But I have never felt so loved as I do when we play these shows. People come every month, they bring their friends, they dance (all folksingers know, getting an audience to dance is a rarity). They yelp and cheer for more and leave looking happier than when they came in. We do too.

 

Song Traveler’s Songwriting Retreat

In October, I taught at the Song Traveler’s Songwriting Retreat in Nashville. The twelve students and three teachers (Wyatt Easterling, Korby Lenker and I) all stayed in one big country house outside of town. It was 24-7 writers and writing. You literally could not avoid the creativity and inspiration with so much of it flying around. Wyatt, Korby and I co-wrote a song together and it’s pretty damn good. Getting paid to just talk about what I love to do, and to help other songwriters through their processes was like a dream come true for me. I could do that all day every day.

 

Mike June

A couple weeks ago, I came home after a long, exhausting day. It was part of a long, exhausting week. Mike June sat me down and said, “I wrote a song about you today”. He walked over to the piano and played something so beautiful and simple and loving, all the crap fell away. That’s love. He had also cooked my favorite dinner (roast chicken with potatoes and Brussel sprouts). I was a mushy mess, realizing I have this human being as my partner. Love is everything.

Well, we gave Allan a free pass with his photos this year and he’s split the black and whites into male and female artists. Here are the female artists:

Midori Jaeger

This was shot at Pizza Express in Holborn at a gig to launch Daisy Chute’s latest single “Give Thanks”. I’d shot Midori before (at another Daisy Chute gig) and I knew what I was trying to capture this time around. She did a solo mini-set where I got in close, but this shot was taken from further back and it works because I think it captures Midori’s look and something of her personality. I have to say at this point that some of the artists are connected in various ways. Here’s Midori.

 

Karen Grymm-Regester (Dana Immanuel and the Stolen Band)

Heard of Dana Immanuel and the Stolen Band? You should have; they’re one of my favourite bands. I love the songs, but I really love photographing the band because they’re always visually stunning. It doesn’t matter how good or bad the lighting is, at least one member of the band will create a really striking image. I wish I could say that I patiently waited for Karen to create the finger shadows, but it wouldn’t be true; I only saw the three stripes when I was editing, but I knew then that it was a special shot.

Hannah Wood (Sound of the Sirens)

What can I say about Hannah? She’s half of Sound of the Sirens, another one of my favourite bands. I love photographing the band; Hannah and her oppo Abbe Martin are equally photogenic and I always come away from one of their gigs with interesting shots. This one at Canary Wharf was a little bit special. The lighting helped because it was just at the point where there was some daylight and the stage lighting had just kicked in. It looks a bit like a really high shutter speed to freeze the action, but it was actually Hannah frozen in a moment that she had created. Just pleased I was ready for it.

Barbara (Basia) Bartz (Dana Immanuel and the Stolen Band)

I know; another Stolen Band member. I love this band (see above) and I almost feel like a stalker now at their gigs. I probably like this one because most of my shots of Basia are action shots and this looks quite contemplative. And there’s a little connection here that I discovered earlier this year. Basia’s a good friend of Midori Jaeger (above), who I photographed for the first time earlier this year.

Natalie Shay

Natalie’s another artist that I’ve seen and photographed many times. I realised earlier this year that I didn’t have a good shot featuring her characteristic flick of her very, very long hair. So, on a Saturday evening in May this year I set out for the Leake Street vaults under Waterloo Station on a mission to get the hair flick shot (which has absolutely nothing to do with “Allo, Allo”). The lighting was minimal but just good enough, so I managed to get a result. A bit of a single-minded expedition maybe, but it’s a welcome addition to the portfolio.

Putting aside the fact that all of these five people are incredibly photogenic, they have something else in common; they’re all absolutely lovely people that I always look forward to meeting.

 

 

 

 

This started the way the best features do, as a conversation in the pub. We’ll let Allan take it from there.

It’s one of the oldest tricks in the pop music book; if the song’s on its last legs and you still need another thirty seconds or so to get you up to the optimal time for radio play, then you deploy one the producer’s most potent tactical weapons – the trucker’s gear change. In its most basic form, the whole arrangement shifts up a tone or a semitone, to grab back your attention before the chorus repeats and fades. Usually, it just happens once, but that depends on how desperate you are (or how weak the song is). You might even get some clever stuff going on to get from one key to the next; when that happens, you get all classical and call it a modulation. What do they sound like? Let’s start with an absolute clunker.

“I Will Always Love You” – Whitney Houston

Considering the quality of the musicians available to producer David Foster, this TGC is bone-jarringly unsubtle; there’s no attempt to pretty it up by repeating a riff in the new key or moving through a few passing chords. Oh no; old key/bang/new key – we’re done. As if that’s not enough, there’s a whole bar of almost complete silence before the melody crashes back in again, maybe David Foster thought that the average listener couldn’t remember which key the song was in after 4 beats. Who knows; anyway it’s a crash/bang/wallop of the highest order and you can hear the teeth grinding off the flywheel:

“Love on Top” – Beyonce

OK, we’re now well and truly in the era of digital recording and production and it’s much easier and quicker to manipulate sounds. You can do a TGC with a mouse-click. If it’s so easy to do, why not do loads of them – one is good, two must be better. Beyonce co-produced this with Shea Taylor, so she’s sharing the blame here. In the last ninety seconds of the radio edit there are four, yes four upward key shifts as the chorus is repeated. It makes you wonder what it would be like if the key shift just kept repeating. As it happens, someone thought of that. Here it is with fourteen upward shifts:

 

“The Snake” – Al Wilson

Ah, the old Northern Soul classic. Fans will remember that one of the UK pressings of this song had a cover of the John Fogerty classic “Lodi” on the b-side. That’s not relevant, just me showing off. Sometimes you can get away with a few stick shifts if you’re building up to the climax of the song and that’s what happens here. At the end of the second verse, there’s a bass riff which is then repeated a tone higher and you’re in a different key. It’s not just a chorus repeated in exactly the same way but higher, it’s part of the process of moving the story along. And the same device is repeated at the end of the third chorus into the final verse as the song reaches its dramatic finale. Maybe I’m biased, but I think this is part of the arrangement of the song and that keeps it out of Room 101:

“Heat Treatment” – Graham Parker & the Rumour

You might think that any key change part way through a song would be agreed with the writer; it ain’t necessarily so. This was the title song of GP and the Rumour’s second album “Heat Treatment”, released in 1976, the same year as his debut “Howlin’ Wind” (two albums in a year and incessant gigs; musicians grafted in those days). Partway through the song, there’s a modulation; it’s quite musical – a two-bar horn section phrase takes the song up a tone. It’s not lumpy but it does the job fairly quickly. The problem is that it’s not part of generating extra excitement, just the opposite. It takes the song into a bass riff breakdown and the groove has to be built up again from scratch. Graham Parker made his feelings about it known when the album was remastered for CD; his sleeve notes refer to it as ‘that abusive key change’. Fair enough.

“Up the Junction” – Squeeze

This was the title track from the second Squeeze album, with a tip of the hat to Nell Dunn who wrote the novella of the same name. Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford were just beginning to realise their potential as songwriters and Jools Holland was still their keyboard player. This is a key change that is about as far from a trucker’s gear change as you can get. It’s a modulation that reflects a downbeat turn in the lyrics through a ten-bar bridge using minor chords before dropping a whole tone for a more upbeat verse and then, paradoxically, going back up by a whole tone for the downbeat final verse. Difford and Tilbrook characteristically messing with the conventions. Bits of “Up the Junction” trivia? There are no choruses and the title of the song doesn’t appear in the lyric until the last three words:

Another album that Allan loved this year was Bob Bradshaw’s “Queen of the West”. You can see just how much he loved it here . There’s just a chance that it might appear as one of his top five albums of 2019 – who knows? “Queen of the West” isn’t just a bunch of songs sequenced in some sort of order, it’s an album where the songs fit together to tell a story from different of points in time with serious and sometimes comic styles. It’s an album you really should check out; make sure you set aside an hour and listen to it from start to finish. So we were more than somewhat pleased when Bob replied to our contributions shout-out with five of his favourite Americana songs from 2019:

 

Tyler Childers – House Fire

 

So simple yet so right, with a mostly-acoustic production that starts off huge and keeps building.

 

Lillie Mae – You’ve Got Other Girls for That

 

 

Quirky, edgy, beautifully sung.

 

Tim Gearan – Future of the Past

 

 

Tim Gearan’s characteristic complex, wry wordplay in a wonderfully loose atmospheric production.

 

Kassi Ashton – Violins

 

 

Funny as hell, not a wasted word in a perfect verse/pre-chorus/chorus build-up -- great roots slide guitar.

 

Caroline Spence --  Who’s Gonna Make My Mistakes

 

 

I’m a sucker for playful mid-tempo songs as good as this one.

We reviewed the latest J.P. Soars “Southbound I-95” earlier this year and Allan loved it. J.P. is a guitarist and writer with talent and creativity to burn and “Southbound I-95” absolutely fizzed with invention and exuberance. We were totally chuffed when J.P. agreed to make a contribution to 2019’s High Fives. If you wanted to know what his five favourite albums are, you’re in luck:

 

 

Here’s my list of five fav albums:

 

Muddy Waters – “The Real Folk Blues”

I stumbled on this record when I was 20 years old and it blew my mind.

 

 

 

 

Metallica – “Master of Puppets”

Discovered this one when I was 16 and it blew my mind as well.

 

 

 

Django Reinhardt – “20th Century Collection”

Found this one while on tour in the north-east back in 2003. It’s got most of his greatest work. Life changing!

 

 

 

T-Bone Walker – “Imperial Recordings”

The quintessential T-Bone. Simply great stuff.

 

 

 

Miles Davis – “Kind of Blue”

My go to record when I’m feeling low down, stressed out and wanna really relax and free my mind. 

 

All these records have had a huge impact on me and still do. Love ‘em all.

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:

Happy Thanks Giving Messages

It occasionally happens that the beginning of this annual High Fives feature coincides with Thanksgiving and this year is one of those occasions. So why not start this celebration of 2019 highlights with an appreciation of some of the things (and people) that enrich our musical lives and enhance the gigs that we go to. In no particular order, here are some of the things that Allan is giving thanks for in 2019:

 

The old London venues – By that, I mean not necessarily old in real time, but the venues I’ve been visiting for a few years now; the ones where I know the bar staff (and quite often the security team). The ones that I enjoy visiting because I know the artists are treated with respect and the audience listens rather than talking about their bad experience on the Tube (Green Note, take a bow). And the bigger venues where it’s loud and the stage lighting’s dynamic; the venues that have been around for years. We’ve lost a few recently, but we’ve still got the Empire in The Bush, Dingwall’s, The Forum and The Roundhouse for the old-school big gig experience.

 

The new London venues – First of all, the venues that are new to me. In nearly ten years of covering live music in London venues, I’d never visited The Electric Ballroom until a few weeks ago and it’s an absolute treasure of a venue. Great sound, great lights and, even with a full house, you can still get around the venue; and let’s not forget the wonderful staff.

We’ve all heard about venues closing, particularly in Soho but it’s not such big news when new venues open their doors. The Camden Chapel, an intimate 40-capacity space in the London Irish Centre opened this year and we also saw the first event at the Cocoa Vaults in Covent Garden. And Madame Jojo’s is due to re-open in 2020. That has to be something to celebrate.

The Volunteers– I know, sometimes it feels like everyone doing anything on the live music scene at the moment is volunteering. There isn’t a huge amount of money about and there are a lot of people in line for a small piece of it; but we also have venues and events that are run almost entirely by teams of volunteers. In London, The Roundhouse, The Union Chapel and Islington Assembly Hall (and probably many more) rely on teams of volunteers across a range of technical disciplines to run highly professional operations. Outside London, there are numerous local festivals run by enthusiastic and talented volunteers; one example, Leek Blues and Americana Festival in Staffordshire, runs over six days in October and is dependent on a small army of volunteers. It’s a huge success and brings significant numbers of visitors to the town; it’s also great fun.

The Sound Engineers – A good one is like an additional band member. In most small venues they are responsible for creating a great sound for the audience and mixing the onstage sound for the band. A good one will bring out all of the subtle nuances of your songs, while a bad one will leave you tearing your hair out. It’s fairly traditional in smaller venues these days (the ones where people actually listen to music) for the sound engineer to be introduced to the audience as part of the round-up of band members towards the end of the set. And that’s the only kind of feedback that they want to hear.

 

The Audiences – I’m very lucky; most of the gigs I’ve been to this year have been attended by audiences that really wanted to be there. No corporate hospitality, no huge support-band guestlist, just people who want to see and hear great live music. From the awed silence of The Camden Chapel and Green Note to a night at The Forum packed with eighties Polish punks (it’s a long story), I’ve mingled with thousands of people made the effort to come out to hear music in the way it should be heard. Just keep on doing it.