Copyright Allan McKay

Graeme Wheatley is a songwriter and bass player with band Color Colour and he’s made a few contributions to High Fives in previous years. I think we’ll just leave Graeme to set the scene for this one (by the way there is a bit of creative swearing):

Sitting in the New Cross House the other night with Allan McKay talking about the year in review, cos we are eminent Victorian scholars, I was again struck by how many gigs he’d been to, how many new artists he’d seen and would recommend and his undiminished enthusiasm for all things music and in particular live music. Pretty much the opposite of me! Once again, due to a bundle of things, I’ve not really had my gig going head hands and feet on and so I have to once again cast around for other things to yabber on about in my High 5 blog. But what? Last year it was 5 best music related Christmas presents, previous years include 5 best cover versions and 5 fav lyrics as we stumbled through the covid years. Now, I’m lost for words.

So that’s it then, words. 5 words wot i like.

A couple of these have only appeared to me this year, so I guess it’s got half a valid reason for being here. And we can’t ask for more than that…

1. The Laughing Cavalier.

Now, these words are all known to me. As is the painting, the artist and the location of the painting.  You can go see the chap yourself, he’s upstairs in The Wallace Collection, Manchester Square, just off Oxford Street. However, I didn’t know the history of how he got here and how he got his name. Sir Richard Wallace bought the painting in or around 1870 when he was in Paris during the siege of Paris. Dunno if he was a communard but he did fund the installation of drinking fountains in the city to provide the people with water.

Anyways, he brought Mr Hals painting back to London as part of his gallery he was creating. The gallery was to be bequeathed to the nation and to be free to all. In order to get things sorted, he shipped all the paintings off to Bethnal Green where they were available for viewing in a temporary gallery by the local chirpy chappy cockneys while the gallery was refurbished.

At this time, the painting was known as “Unknown gentleman, aged 26”. But the cockneys are a creative, inventive and clever bunch of wordy wordsmiths and immediately christened the chap The Laughing Cavalier.

Now, my bit. It occurs to me, cockneys are most famous for their rhyming slang and there’s a certain nonchalant smirky twinkle in the chap’s eyes, his ruff is in full plumage and the embroidery on his doublet is of very, very fine detail. I just think the cockneys took one look at him and coined the phrase Laughing Cavalier in much the same way as they use Lillian Gish (fish), Amber Heard (turd), Rees Mogg (utter spunktrumpetting cockwomble). I might be wrong, but I might not care.

2 & 3.  Meccano 

Back in the day, Meccano was the toy of the year. The Buzz Lightyear of that moment. Every kid wanted a box for Christmas. It was imported from the USA and displayed in Hamley’s available in two sizes. The first box was Box Standard. The good citizens of London immediately christened this Bog Standard.  

The second box was Box Deluxe. and again, within seconds, this became Dog’s Bollox.


Mainly, genius cos I have no idea why Dog’s Bollox means something great, but it does. If someone says to you “it’s the dogs” or “it’s the bollox” you know its great. Just the same as you know if someone says “that’s bollox” that it’s rubbish!

4.  Teddington

Not rhyming slang, stop trying to think of something that rhymes with Teddington, it’s not worth the effort.

Back in medieval times and onwards, until probably the 19th century, the life of London was dictated for many by the river. The Thames is tidal. When people worked up and down the city they timed their trips by the tide. When it came in, they went up west. When it went out, they went east. The Thames is a tidal river all the way up to Teddington, or Tiding-Turn. Isn’t that a lovely bit of language?

I’m a big fan of new words coming into existence or being twisted into new use and it’s great to see it happened way back in 13th Century too. Of course, in the current climate, new words have a rather topically down beat tinge – warmbank – library or similar provided by the council to keep people warm during the cost of living crisis and thriftifarians – rich people who pretend to be economising when they don’t need to so as to appear part of the affected as opposed to part of the effecters (ie – tories).

5.  Elephant & Castle

We have been welcoming Spanish people to London for many years, despite what Iago Banet says. But he does have a point when he complains about being called Llargo, Jargo, Frodo, Draco et al. Sometimes we struggle to get our coarse tongues around the llanguage – in his case, despite Shakespeare naming one of his most cruel and cunning villains after Mr Banet. Quite how Will knew Iago was going to be such a villain is a source of amazement – but he had Will Power – he was a clever bastard as Ian Dury might have said. Or Jan Deténgase might have said.

Something similar happened back in the 12th or 13th century – I forget which – it happened so quickly. The King, let’s call him Richard 11 – was contracted to marry a Spanish princess as was the norm in those days, pre tinder. She was shipped over and parked herself just outside of London to get herself cleaned up and all Magaluf-ed (waxed, oiled, full MOT etc). This took some 9 months and in that period a small settlement was founded in the area of locals all employed in the aforementioned buffing.

The locals, much like those of today who struggle with Iago, couldn’t get their tongues around The Infanta of Castile (even if she was in the mood), so they called the area Elephant and Castle.

Don’t tell me it isn’t true. It is in my mind – and that’s good enough!

Next year, I’m going to get out to more gigs, plays, films, events. festivals and raves and I’ll have something to report, including the return of ColorColour. Honest.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah

Sinter Klaas

Guitarists; like Madonna, they love to strike a pose, don’t they? It’s all very well playing great solos, but you have to look good at the same time because you might have a halfway decent photographer at the gig. I don’t think it’s an ego thing, I think it’s subliminally taught at the various pop/rock schools and colleges – who teaches guitar players at those institutions? Yep, older and more experienced guitar players. Here are a few shots that either confirm or subvert those plank-spanker stereotypes.

Si Connelly @Water Rats

What I really like about this shot of Si is that he’s so still. Anyone who has seen him live will know that he’s a bit like Taz on stage; a complete whirlwind, throwing his guitar around and kneeling on the stage, but I managed to capture him perfectly lit, with nice contrast and upright. Si’s an incredible performer and it was good to catch him taking a little time out.

Dan Owen @Crypt Lates, St Martin-in-the-Fields

Dan Owen is a master of his instrument, whether he’s playing acoustic or electric you can guarantee that you’re going to hear something special. His raw voice is perfectly suited to the songs he delivers. He’s also a very physical player who likes a bit of a stomp around on stage while he’s playing, which means that there are a few dramatic moments to capture. Here’s one of his characteristic stomps.

Matthew, The Molotovs @229 The Venue

While we’re on the subject of raw energy, how about The Molotovs? Matthew, Issey and Ice are all under eighteen and still developing as a band at the moment as they write more of their own songs. When they hit the stage some magic happens as the adrenaline kicks in and Ice’s pounding drums and Issey’s thumping bass create a platform for Matthew’s singing and playing as he whirls and leaps around the stage. There’s a lot happening on stage and it’s just a question of having the camera pointed in the right direction at the right time. The shot works quite well in black and white, but the warm colours and contrasts really work in colour.

Daybreakers @Slim Jim’s Liquor Store

Sometimes you get results because you’re having to work around things like lighting that’s not ideal and lots of people on a small stage. I found a nice shooting angle (which meant I got a nudge every time someone went downstairs to the toilets) but it paid off when Aidan, the guest guitar player and bass player Conor Cotterill all had the necks of their guitars at slightly different angles to create a bit of structure out of a very busy scene. The expression on the guest player’s face is the icing on the cake.

Joanne Shaw Taylor @Shepherd’s Bush Empire

This was a last-minute thing. My friend Richard Bolwell from MNPR magazine couldn’t make the gig and asked me if I was available to cover it. I hadn’t seen Joanne play before and I always like a pit shoot at The Empire. Except it was cabaret seating and no pit, so the order of the day was keeping out of the way of the people in the expensive seats at the front and grabbing a few interesting shots. The positives were that the lighting was perfect and Joanne is incredibly photogenic. Probably one of my favourite shots of the year.

I’ve been landed with editorial duties on this one, so I can explain how this particular theme came about. For various reasons, I’ve not been able to get to the big festivals this year but I’ve done quite a few local multi-site festivals with lots of indoor gigs going on. Maybe the artists aren’t as well known as those on the stages at Cornbury, Glastonbury, Isle of Wight or Reading/Leeds, but they’re still incredibly interesting people to photograph. These are all people totally committed to what they do and I hope the photos capture that. These are people that may only ever be known on their own local music scene, or they may go on to achieve international recognition. You might have an idea about their potential, but how often have we all been wrong with those predictions? As always, these are in no particular order.

The Slacksons @Hanwell Hootie

Copyright Allan McKay 2022

The Slacksons are a fascinating band from Bristol centred around producers Mikey and Andy combining samples and live musicians to create a barnstorming live experience fronted up by manic singer/rapper Mikey. I was invited along to this gig at The Hanwell Hootie by Darkspin Music Management, who look after The Slacksons after shooting the band at another couple of gigs – that was a no-brainer. Even without stage lighting, the band creates lots of striking imagery and Mikey and Andy aren’t camera shy and the monochrome editing and tight crop capture something of Mikey’s onstage intensity.

Bad Soul Buskers @Leek Blues & Americana Festival

Copyright Allan McKay 2022

Every year at the beginning of October the town of Leek in Staffordshire hosts a five day festival with live music in the town’s two gig venues and various pubs around the town. There’s a huge variety of music from established touring acts and visitors from the US to bands featuring musicians from the area around Leek. The town’s in the Staffordshire Moorlands, about 600 feet above sea level and it can be bloody cold at that time of year – just sayin’. This year I made a conscious decision to only shoot the pub gigs, partly to give myself a bit of a challenge. Gigs in pubs that aren’t set up for gigs is definitely a challenge. Bad Soul Buskers was the first band I shot, at The Red Lion on the Market Square. I quite like a bit of eye contact in close-ups and I definitely got that here from the singer, who really likes the shot.

Jim Maving @High Tide Festival, The Cabbage Patch

Jim’s a stunning guitar player that I’ve been bumping to at gigs for a few years now, working with people like Dean Owens, Lou Kyme and his old Case Hardin bandmate Pete Gow. He also played in The Mick Ralphs Blues Band. And I just need to say at this point that he’s a bloody good bloke as well. I’ve photographed Jim in many settings from pubs to theatre gigs, in monochrome and in colour and he always looks good. Makes me a bit jealous really, particularly as he’s such a brilliant player. This particular gig was mostly indoors (the picture windows opened out on to the street, so the lighting was kind of interesting. Unusually for Jim, this gig was all about his own material and he was holding centre stage. Superb performance delivered as always, and I liked this shot of Jim pulling the audience in to the experience.

Hannah White @High Tide Festival, The Cabbage Patch

I first saw Hannah four and a half years ago at ‘Vin’s Night In’ at The Hospital Club. My first impression was that her songs provoked strong reactions – what’s the point in songwriting if it doesn’t provoke a reaction. I’ve photographed her a few times since, particularly over the last year, and discovered how committed Hannah and husband, and guitar player, Keiron Marshall are to music (running The Sound Lounge live venue and organising the first Folk in the Park event in Sutton this summer) and to environmental causes. She also gives everything when she’s on stage and she’s a very interesting person to photograph.

I like to see talent being rewarded (and good people). Hannah’s a great songwriter and a heart-rending performer in a classic country tradition, so it didn’t come as a surprise when Ricky Ross played Hannah on his ‘Another Country’ show in Scotland after a recommendation and then invited Hannah & Keiron to play as support on his solo UK tour. And the accolades for her latest, appropriately named, album ‘About Time’ keep coming in. I’m sure there’s more to come.

Stoneash Blues Band @Leek Blues & Americana Festival

Copyright Allan McKay 2022

This was shot at The Wellington Inn on Strangman Street in Leek. It’s a pub that features live music, but as an add-on so it’s a challenge to get decent lighting and backgrounds, not for the first time, or the last. Stoneash Blues Band is typical of a many of the local bands playing at this event; it’s all about the music. Most of these people do this for love and not because they have any expectation of ever becoming rich on the back of it. This band had all the chops, timing coming from years of gigs, loads of little anecdotes and a singer with a voice that was honey over gravel. What more do you want from a free gig?

Music Riot’s based in London; that’s not boasting or bragging, it’s just the way it is. We try to cover gigs across the UK; we’ve sent Allan to cover gigs in Staffordshire, Leicester, Edinburgh and Fife in the past (he is actually from Fife originally), but London’s where we live and where we see most of our gigs. There’s a thing that’s common to London gig venues, particularly pubs, that you won’t always find across the rest of the country. We’ll leave it to Allan to amplify.

It’s all about property prices, particularly in Central London. If you have a property in a prime site, you need to devote all of the possible space on the ground floor to customers and move everything else upstairs or downstairs. How many ground floor toilets do you see on London pubs? It’s a similar thing with live music; a stage, mixing desk and PA take up a lot of space, so stick them down in the basement or upstairs. I’m going to focus on the basements here.

Simple Fiction @Underworld

I was shooting this particular gig in Camden because two bands I knew were on the bill. This shot is of the band that I didn’t know. The lighting was fairly underpowered and there was nothing at all on the drum seat. The one photographic rule I have that I never break is that I don’t use flash – ever. Yet this shot looks like it’s flashlit. The band had asked the lighting engineer to use strobes a lot during their set and I really wanted to get a shot of the drummer who was very active and not well-lit so it was time to play the odds; during an extended strobe session, I fired the shutter on burst mode hoping that one of the activations would coincide with a strobe flash. It did, and froze the action perfectly. Result.

Natalie Lindi @Pizza Express, Holborn

This is an interesting basement venue and I’ve shot here quite a few times. Normally, basement space is used because ground floor space is busy but this Pizza Express doesn’t attract a lot of passing trade outside working hours and the basement gig space is normally much busier than the ground floor space. This Success Express gig was the first time I saw Natalie Lindi and I was blown away. Her songs and delivery were superb and she was incredibly photogenic; I don’t know that I could ask for anything more, except a few more opportunities to shoot Natalie again.

Lisa Canny @ Crypt Lates

Copyright Allan McKay 2022

Lisa’s another one of those people that I never tire of photographing; she always has a dramatic and intense onstage presence. She’s also an incredible musician, songwriter and performer fusing traditional Celtic roots with hip-hop and pop to create a totally original genre. I like this shot because it shows Lisa cracking a joke (which isn’t unusual) and the response of the band who obviously weren’t expecting whatever she said. Knowing Lisa it could have been absolutely anything. However you look at it, it’s a fascinating tableau.

Danni Nicholls @229 The Venue

229 The Venue – not one, but two venues, both underground. This gig was in the smaller room with about a 200 capacity, where the lighting’s reasonable and there are some nice angles. Danni’s another artist that I always like to shoot – she’s very animated and totally committed on stage and it always shows through in the photos. Her songs are styled in Americana settings but lyrically most of them are very English; it’s a difficult trick to pull off, but Danni does it with style and aplomb. She gives her all on stage; it’s up to the photographer to capture it.

Say Anise @Pizza Express, Holborn

From the same Pizza Express gig as the Natalie Lindi shot. The big difference is that I’ve photographed Emily loads of times. Her onstage persona reflects the style of her songs; she’s lively, full of fun and just a little bit unpredictable. Keep the camera pointed in Emily’s direction and you’ll get gold at some point. I’m pleased with this shot because it’s more colourful than my usual Pizza Express shots and because it captures that slightly mischievous smile that Emily does. And I have to say that Emily and her fellow Say Anise band member Adrien are lovely people.

Steve Jenner @The Cavern

Steve Jenner has been contributing to Music Riot for many years now. He’s a huge fan of all sorts of music and he’s been a radio station manager and presenter for decades. Over the last couple of years, he’s achieved a lifetime ambition by securing regular gigs on Radio Caroline including proper live shows with record decks and everything from the Ross Revenge moored at Blackwater Estuary; there is no such thing as too old. Here’s Steve’s take on having a chance to play new music again on air.

As you may or may not know, I’m a presenter on Radio Caroline’s two oldies channels, Flashback and Radio Caroline North, which recall the halcyon days of ‘the pirates’ and this year I’ve been given the opportunity to go out to and present shows from their original broadcast boat the Ross Revenge, moored in the Blackwater Estuary just off Essex, and it has just been the most remarkable experience. However! In a year of ‘firsts’ I found myself playing new music on the radio for the first time in years when the organisation asked me to ‘sit in’ temporarily for a number of presenters on Radio Caroline’s main ‘Album Channel’, which features both classic and contemporary album music. Well, it doesn’t so much feature it as scream it out via 4000 watts on 648AM (AM rock, eh? Who thought THAT would be making a full-on reappearance in the broadcast environment at this stage in the game?) as well as all the usual digital armaments (apps, online, phone, Alexa, you name it we’re on it.) So, here’s my High Fives featuring musical airplay delights which have glowed briefly but brightly for me this year…

Todd Rundgren – ‘Puzzle’

This is just gorgeous. Taken from his album ‘Spaceforce’ it is a sumptuous wallow in modern recording techniques allied to great writing from someone who knows how music works and always did. Glass of wine/box of chocs in the bath stuff. It has hooks which positively tear the flesh but do so totally painlessly. Hear it once and you don’t forget it in a hurry. Better digitally online than on AM, I would venture but honestly, if it was being cranked out of the North Sea at stupid o’ clock at night to the accompaniment of crystal set whistle and fade, you’d have to have some.

Bernie Marsden – ‘Na Na Na Na’

This isn’t gorgeous and yes I know I’ve just been banging on about how lovely it is to be playing new music on Radio Caroline’s main channel. BUT it’s a new cover, from an album called Trios released earlier this year by a guy who in rock ‘n’ roll terms is a national treasure to many due to his work with Whitesnake. Bernie Marsden has been hammering out this stuff with customary joy and gusto since Noah floated the Ark and the fact that he’s chosen a sassy, trashy old Cozy Powell hit 45 as an opportunity to revisit the spirit of former glories is alright by me. Very alright by me. A spirited thrash which deserves praise just for having the brass balls to cover the thing in the first place, I so enjoyed playing this even though I knew it wouldn’t be universally met with similar enthusiasm. Sometimes you just gotta!

Tedeschi Trucks Band – ‘Soul Sweet Song’

Photo courtesv of Al Stuart/Redcap Photo

These have been knocking out class music for a while now and it is great to see the increasing evidence that more and more people fitted with ears as standard are realising they’re in the presence of something rather special here. This is by no means their most popular song or in many respects a standout track but boy, does it programme beautifully. The sort of song that Raises The Tone, just by being there on the playlist. And I’m told that they’re That Good live as well. Highly unlikely many who hear this will actively dislike it; and many love it, that much is already clear.

Ricky Ross – ‘I Was The Beatles’

Photo courtesy of Allan McKay

Just the voice, just the song. Just the piano with a bit of a string arrangement dropped on top. Recorded at his house with strings and brass bits added later, ‘Short Stories Volume 2’ appeared on Cooking Vinyl earlier this year. Not much on the face of it, it’s a song which drips loss and longing for a past which remains just out of reach to us all, it positively aches with the weight of lost love and friendship and potential unfulfilled. It has all the haunting quality of Deacon Blue’s cover of ‘What Do You Get When You Fall In Love’ but it’s an original song, even though it is shot through with intentional echoes and reminders. Delightful.

Dr. Feelgood – ‘Damn Right I Do’

In truth I don’t know if this song was ‘A-listed’ by Radio Caroline’s main album channel but I do know that various tracks from this, their latest album and first for ages, have seen considerable airtime on the station with a number of our presenters. I was present at a live showcase of the by the band at their stomping ground of Canvey Island this winter; as chance would have it this was shortly before Wilko died. There are those who say it doesn’t sound like original Feelgood, isn’t the original line–up and all the usual stuff but if you park that for a minute and just listen, this title track in particular in full–on, direct and punchy ‘attack’ mode has juke-box classic stamped all over it. Virtually no such thing now of course in any meaningful sense but certainly grabs the attention as a proper ‘45’ should as it leaps out of the radio at you.

And if you’d like me to leap out of the radio at you and play you some new music, I’m next scheduled to feature on the main Radio Caroline album channel on 648AM and all the smart stuff on New Year’s day at 10AM through until 1PM, as I ‘sit in’ for Phil Meek. I will be both ringing out the old and ringing in the new, the way you do…

Jana Varga @The Sound Lounge

Monochrome; it just keeps on hanging in there, After about 1960, the mass market had adopted colour film as the norm and black and white photography was seen as old-fashioned by anyone other than photography enthusiasts. It’s a common thing; the public embraces the new and instantly rejects the old leaving it to claw its way back. Just look at the resurgence of vinyl among music enthusiasts. Even my first attempts at gig photography included quite a few rolls of black and white film. Black and white TV is virtually gone now, with fewer than 5,000 black and white TV licences across the UK, but monochrome lives on in arthouse films and photography, particularly gig photography. Why? The glib answer is that sometimes it just looks better. Maybe the comments on some of these photos will help answer the question.

Cloudy Galvez @ Pizza Express, Holborn

Cloudy Galvez @Pizza Express Holborn

Cloudy’s someone that normally works well in colour, particularly with a bit of interesting lighting but this shot at Pizza Express was lit purely in purple, so it was a monochrome shot before processing it as black and white. One of the things that makes black and white shots work is high contrast, which this shot definitely has. I break two of my photography rules in this shot; there’s a microphone in front of Cloudy’s face and there’s a silhouette from the audience cutting in to the bottom left corner, but Cloudy’s gesture and the eyes looking straight down the lens (which they actually weren’t, Cloudy told me she had no idea I was taking that shot) make the image work.

Jenny Colquitt @Green Note

Jenny Colquitt @Green Note

This is a shot from a few weeks ago. Green Note’s a fabulous venue and, if you know how to work the angles, you can get some really nice shots. If an artist’s wearing something really colourful, you can get some great colour shots. Jenny was wearing neutral colours, so monochrome was always going to be the way to go. This shot was taken from just behind the mixing desk, giving a viewpoint that you can’t always get at this venue and the shadows created by Jenny’s hat add to the contrast of the shot.

James Sayer @St Martin-in-the-Fields

James Sayer @Crypt Lates

The Crypt is another one of those venues that has fairly monochrome lighting; unless there are strikingly-coloured stage clothes, black and white is going to be the best choice. This shot came towards the end of the gig and it was one of those unique moments. James was joined on stage (and at the same piano) by his brother and his father. It took a few attempts to get the perfect angle for the shot, but the end result really works.

Jana Varga album launch @Sound Lounge

Jana Varga @ The Sound Lounge

This is a lucky combination of knowing the perfect shooting angles at a venue and having something interesting happen while you’re using one of those angles. There’s a position where you can shoot the artist against a completely black background; if you happen to be there when something interesting happens, then you automatically get a good shot. On this occasion, Jana (who is incredibly photogenic) created a perfect shape and it was just a question of pressing the shutter release.

Martin Harley (Harley Kimbro Lewis) @Landmark Arts Centre

Martin Harley @Landmark Arts Centre, Teddington

This was my first visit to this venue in a deconsecrated church, where they get everything right. They look after the audience well, the sound is excellent and they pay attention to lighting the stage effectively for the audience and any passing photographers. This shot is one of the rare few that look good in colour and black and white, but the monochrome just edges the contest. It’s always a joy to shoot Martin (and his partners on this night Daniel Kimbro and Sam Lewis) and this shot captures something of the real Martin Harley.

This probably needs a bit of explanation, mainly about the reason why Music Riot exists. What we’re about is promoting music that’s worth listening to but probably isn’t going to get too much mainstream attention. We know that we can’t make a difference for Springsteen or Dylan (not that either of needs any help) but we just might persuade a few people to listen to a Rob Heron album. The five favourites we’ve chosen are all albums that we’ve reviewed this year, so don’t expect to see anything mainstream there. What they have in common is that they’re all good (we don’t believe in negative reviews – there’s enough negativity without us adding to it) and they all deserve to be heard. In no particular order.

St Paul’s Boulevard – Michael McDermott

Michael McDermott @Water Rats

Michael’s been a big favourite at Riot Towers since The Westies ‘Six on the Out’ in 2016 and with good reason. He’s a great songwriter steeped in the tradition of American popular music, whatever the genre. He can also persuade great players to work with him (Will Kimbrough for example) on his albums. ‘St Paul’s Boulevard’ is an album that looks back with gritty realism at Michael’s difficult past, and forward to a positive with clear-eyed, multi-hued optimism. The title track’s a wonderful piece of work, harking back to Michael’s early Chicago days and describing one of those places we probably all have that were important to us because of the people we met there. And the great lyric: “None of the heroes around here have capes, they’re just talking in taverns and on fire escapes”.

‘Paper Hearts and Broken Arrows’ – Rod Picott

Rod Picott @Green Note basement

Like Michael McDermott, Rod is another Music Riot favourite. I should also say they’re both great people as well. ‘Paper Hearts and Broken Arrows’ is a potent mixture of songs that range from the very personal through social comment to the historical. ‘Revenuer’ has an interesting history; it’s based on a Taylor Brown novel about moonshine runners, but when Rod mentioned this to Taylor, he fessed up to stealing the idea from Steve Earle’s ‘Copperhead Road’. The other song that really caught our attention was ‘Sonny Liston’, Rod’s exploration of the complicated life of the heavyweight boxer. Let’s finish on a great lyric again: “Two big fists pumping like pistons, nobody punched like Sonny Liston”.

Every Seed we Plant’ – Alice DiMicele

Alice’s sixteenth album is one of the many we reviewed in 2022 that’s influenced by the pandemic that we somehow managed to live through. The songs on the album have a huge emotional range, from raging anger to a heart-warming dog story. ‘Dispatch’ is a very angry song about the killing of a retired black Marine in his own home in White Plains, New York after mistakenly calling in a Life Aid medical alarm – it’s harrowing. ‘Dear Elaine’ is at the opposite end of the spectrum; it’s a tale of the healing relationship built between a woman and her dog. The album takes a journey from historic raw rage to a positive look into our future. Alice’s vocals need a mention as well; she has a huge dynamic range from a sweet whisper to a rock growl. There’s a bit of everything here.

‘Leo’ – Pete Gow

Pete Gow @The Playground

Pete’s a very interesting songwriter. He’s a former member of Case Hardin (with the brilliant Jim Maving) and, as a Scottish songwriter living in and writing about London, there’s an inevitable comparison with the late Gerry Rafferty. ‘Leo’ is a full-blooded production featuring a rock band, string section and a horn section with arrangements by Joe Bennett creating some really interesting textures to back up Pete’s fascinating narratives. If you want two highlights, ‘Side III of London Calling’ paints a post-gig picture of a seedy musician on the pull, while ‘Leonard’s Bar’ is the classic ‘one last job’ petty criminal story. The album hangs together really well and the songs sound great in a live setting. And Pete’s a nice guy as well.

‘The Party’s Over’ – Rob Heron & the Teapad Orchestra

Rob Heron @The Lexington

So let’s get this over with first, Rob’s a great guy as well. He read the Music Riot review of this album just before going on stage at the London gig at The Lexington and made a couple of references to it on stage. The album continues Rob’s tradition of eclectic musical influences and even a few political references as well. ‘Snip Snap Snout’ is nonsense zydeco (which is exactly what Rob intended it to be), ‘The Horse That You Rode In On’ channels the Frankie Laine classic ‘Rawhide’ and the light-hearted ‘The Doctor Told Me’ pulls in the House of the Black Gardenia horns to create a New Orleans funeral band feel. I did say it was eclectic. And, like everyone else mentioned here, you really should see Rob & the Teapad Orchestra live – they’re phenomenal.

Ok, I’m taking control of the editorial introduction for this one to give the gaffer a rest and because it’s more personal than most of my pieces. You probably know I like to keep things moving, visit new venues, see new artists and just generally keep things moving along – I have a low boredom threshold. So here’s a few firsts for this year; the title probably has a lot to do with the fact that I’m reading Jarvis Cocker’s latest book ‘Good Pop, Bad Pop’ at the moment and there’s a fairly obvious link there. Neil Sheasby picked the book as one of his High Five selections and I definitely agree with him. If you’re looking for a present for the music geek in your life, then you won’t go far wrong with this one. Time for the firsts.

Three Gigs in One Evening

Tamara Stewart @Camden Chapel

Why would I want to do that? Well, why wouldn’t I? “Why did you climb the mountain” – “Because it was there.” By a complete coincidence, they were all Talentbanq gigs and not too far apart geographically. The mini-marathon started with Zoe Wren doing the last session in The Courtyard of St Martin-in-the-Fields. She was stunning as always and even introduced some loopstation things to complement her guitar/vocal material. After Zoe, it was a quick walk up to Leicester Square tune station, three stops down to Hyde Park Corner and a five-minute walk up to The Back Door Bar to catch a set and a half from Brooke Law. Brooke’s another one that I’ve photographed a few times. I’m not sure that I know where she’ll finally position herself musically because she’s had a country hit but I like her as a rock singer in the Pat Benatar mould when she’s with the full band; time will tell.

A quick walk up to Green Park, on to the Victoria Line up to Highbury & Islington, then two stops on the Overground to Camden Road. Ten minutes later I’m in The Camden Chapel shooting  a support set from Roisin O’Hagan before the headline set from Tamara Stewart. If I’d been a bit more ambitious, I could have probably picked up a fourth gig in Camden at The Camden Club or Spiritual Bar. Maybe next time, but while we’re talking about Spiritual.

First gig at Spiritual

Amy Taylor @Spiritual

Sometimes I wonder how I manage to avoid venues. I didn’t shoot in Hope and Anchor until 2021 and I managed to miss out on Spiritual until 2022. I don’t know how I managed that because so many artists I know have been regulars there and the buzz about the place has been going on for years. What makes the place special is that the owner, Rafael, is passionate about music and he looks after the musicians that play there. He’s one of the good guys; he holds the whole thing together and the musicians love him.

The reason I finally shoot a gig there is that Amy Taylor is playing and I can’t resist that. I love Amy’s songs and her live delivery and she’s another one of those artists that photograph really well in a live setting. So, a great night all round – I got to meet the Spiritual team for the first time and got some nice shots of Amy in an intimate setting.

Pete Gow ‘Leo’ album launch

Pete Gow @The Playground

I’ve seen Pete Gow play live a few times, usually alongside his former Case Hardin bandmate Jim Maving; I’ve never seen him play with a full band including a horn section. I love Pete’s songs so when he announced a couple of full band gigs to launch his album ‘Leo’ this year, I got my name at the top of the list. The album’s a collection of songs about human frailties and even criminal behaviour that’s not even borderline and it features one of my favourite songs of this year ‘Side III of London Calling’. You have to listen to that.

On the night, Pete was supported by some old friends of mine, Belle Roscoe (Matty and Julia Gurry) and then appeared on stage resplendent in a white suit and looking incredibly like George Harrison at the ‘Concert for Bangla Desh’. Do I need to say that everyone involved nailed it and it was a great night? Thought not. And The Playground was a new venue for me as well.

Harley Kimbro Lewis at Landmark Arts Centre Teddington

Martin Harley @Landmark Arts Centre

I’ve seen Martin Harley, Daniel Kimbro and Sam Lewis solo and in various combinations over the years, but never in this one. There are a couple of other firsts; I’ve never been to the Landmark Arts Centre before and I’ve actually never been to Teddington, so that’s a triple first. Better than my 2(ii) degree. I knew that Harley Kimbro Lewis would be superb but I was surprised by the quality of the Landmark experience. There are no compromises; this is all about a beautiful sound in a venue with great acoustics and a stage that’s lit perfectly for ambience and photography. Congratulations to all the volunteers who create a perfect live music environment in this deconsecrated church.

Isabella Coulstock T-shirt

Isabella Coulstock & T-Shirt

I’ve shot a book cover, my photos have been used in print media and on publicity material, but I had a bit of a bonus a few weeks ago when Isabella Coulstock, who I’ve shot many times, gave me my first T-shirt print. It’s one thing to see your work on social media and on posters in the toilets at Green Note, but it’s very different to see people wearing it at gigs. Apparently sales are pretty good, so it’s looking like a bit of a success. The shot was taken at the slightly unlikely venue, The Ned, and my original version was a colour shot, but the monochrome image works really well with Isabella’s signature underneath. Thanks to Graham Jackson for making the image work.

Copyright Allan McKay 2022

After Allan photographed Frankie Morrow solo earlier this year and with her band just over a week ago at their debut EP launch (‘Blue Parrot Backpackers Hostel’), he was so enthusiastic about the band that we had to ask them to make a contribution to this year’s High Fives. In a truly democratic approach, each of the band has submitted a favourite song from 2022. You definitely need to keep an eye out for Frankie Morrow in 2023; go and see them live if you can.

NEEV (Keys/acoustic guitar)

Copyright Allan McKay 2022

Martha Hill – ‘Right Out My Head’

I’ve always really liked Martha Hill and the way she picks out vocal melodies that have so much movement and character around her arrangements. Loving this one in particular because the production is so dynamic but keeps a lovely group of acoustic guitars and vocals at its core. Big production inspo for me at the mo, and the lyrics are so intelligent too.

DUNCAN (Drums)

Copyright Allan McKay 2022

Black Midi – ‘Sugar/Tzu’ Black Midi has always been a band I can’t stay away from for long, and the track ‘Sugar/Tzu’ has totally gripped me. From the surreal nature of the instrumental, to the brutal dynamic shifts between sections, resulting in a song that blurs the lines between jazz and rock. Performances on this track are delivered with pure energy, speed and accuracy, an addictive combination that perfectly complements the intensity of the story being told. The song ‘Sugar/Tzu’, and Black Midi, have opened my eyes to a whole new world of music, fuelling me with inspiration to experiment moving forward.

JAMES (Bass)

Copyright Allan McKay 2022

Black Country, New Road – ‘Concorde’

I can’t remember who in FM recommended this band but I’m so glad they did. ‘Ants From Up There’ is one of my favourite albums at the moment, and it’s really difficult to pick a track but I really enjoy the songwriting, structure and production on ‘Concorde’. I love the dynamics of the song, how it feels like it keeps building and how they’ve been so careful in the production to find a brilliant balance of all the instruments and vocals. The masterpiece of this song is the lyrics though, they feel so personal and direct, yet you could take your own meaning away from them. My favourite line is “But I’ll know you’ll be there, the Sandman inside.”  

SAM (Guitar)

Copyright Allan McKay 2022

Julian Lage – ‘Auditorium’

On the several, glorious occasions on which I have had the fortune of hearing Julian Lage live, he has always been accompanied by the audible despair of every aspiring jazz guitarist in the room (myself included). When i first listened to his new record, ‘View from A Room’ (prod Margaret Glaspy), ‘Auditorium’ made me well up with teary joy – the gentle interplay from the legendary Bill Frisell joining his band, Dave King’s stirring momentum (also huge Bad Plus fan!) and Jorge Roeder’s loving groove all make for one of my favourite Julian Lage tracks of all time. I have always loved Jazz for highlighting chemistry of band members and this line up feels like it could be one for the books.

MAZ (Vocals/guitar)

Copyright Allan McKay 2022

Katy J Pearson – ‘The Hour’

I’ve been loving Katy J Pearson’s new record ‘Sound of the Morning’ and just recently saw her headline the Electric Ballroom with Neev a couple months back. It was brilliant! ‘Howl’ is an absolute tune – the brass, the hook – ‘Willow’s Song’ has a beautiful switch up thanks to drumming by Black Midi’s Morgan Simpson on it, but the standout track for me is ‘The Hour’. It’s a classic folk song – vocal and acoustic guitar, nothing more, nothing less – and it is so powerful. It sounds quite mediaeval actually. It has an eternal and haunting quality to it. We are in the process of writing our next set of tunes and it has really reminded me to come back to the bare bones of a song at its very core. Plus I loved learning the fact that the reason it was so stripped back was because she had fake nails on in the studio that day hahaha. Talk about making a virtue out of necessity!

And while we’re sharing videos, how about ‘White Rocks’ by Frankie Morrow:

We’ve reviewed three Pawn Shop Saints albums here on Music Riot and they’ve all been great pieces of work, particularly 2020’s ‘Ride My Galaxy’. When we asked for contributions for this year’s tenth anniversary of the High Fives feature, Jeb Barry was one of the first to submit a contribution covering, in true High Fives tradition, a wide range of his special 2022 moments and experiences. Over to Jeb:

So here are my five favorite things of the past year or so…

Home recording:

Josh Pisano in The Attic Studio
Mike O’Neill in The Attic Studio

 I’m lucky enough to have my own small recording studio where my band, The Pawn Shop Saints, record, mix and master all of our releases. It’s small, but it works for our style of music…laid back acoustic Americana. It’s been an important part of the creative process to simply walk up a flight of stairs and work on music….and it doesn’t cost us a penny. This is important since I fund everything myself and we are 100% indie…we do it all on our own. It may be a little low tech for some, but we are trying to create our own sound our own way. Sometimes it works..other times..well, not so much..but it sure is fun.

Before I dropped the ‘Jeb Barry and…’

The European Americana Scene:

I live in the Berkshires in the state of Massachusetts…not a huge original music scene, but that’s ok since, from the start, we’ve focused on promoting ourselves across the Atlantic instead of at home. Europe seems to have a more focused and concentrated Americana scene, and our last three albums have all charted there, thanks to great support from our promoter, djs, critics, writers, bloggers, etc…It’s still pretty cool to see all the airplay and reviews that we get with every release, which makes all the work worthwhile.

Except for my publisher and a handful of others in Nashville, we are pretty much unknown…even in our own town. It’s simply too hard to compete with groups with money behind them and staff to do the hard work of promotion, publicity, booking, distribution,  and everything else that goes with doing original music.  We play live only a couple of times a year locally since we are not in the local music loop and are picky where we play. My dream is to someday get to play some shows in Europe, even if it’s a solo show.

Solid Sound 2013 – J Barry

The Return of Live Music:

Solid Sound, Wilco’s three day festival that occurs at the Mass Moca Museum complex, finally returned this past spring. Since it is held five miles from me, I have gone to every one of them in the past ten years. To be honest, I was a little uncomfortable being in such large crowds with Covid still a factor, but since it was outside it made it a little easier to be in a crowd of 8,000. This festival, along with the Freshgrass Roots festival held every September (I have played six of them) are three days of bands, food, art, and performances. It’s great to see old favorites again and new groups for the first time. It’s a great scene…not too big like some festivals.

Unfortunately some of the music clubs I used to go to pre-Covid have closed or drastically cut their schedules.

The Ongoing vinyl resurgence

Yeah, I’ve been collecting vinyl records for about 12 years. The resurgence in interest is great, but it has had some negative impacts on my hobby. For one, I can’t simply go to the local thrifts or estate sales and find tons of records like I used to do. There is so much more competition, but that’s ok…I just have to try a little harder. The resurgence has also impacted my bands releases, as I planned to press our last two releases on vinyl, just for the hell of it, but due to everyone pressing their releases, the cost and wait time was too much for us, so we’re sticking to CDs and digital.

Calton Guitar Cases:

Eight years ago I finally splurged on an upper level acoustic guitar; a Martin HD-28 with the 1935 sunburst color scheme. Since then, I have always been nervous to fly with that guitar, given how airlines can mistreat musical instruments. So I finally splurged on my dream guitar case (yes, there is such a thing LOL) …a Calton case, handmade in Austin, Texas. This gives me a little more peace of mind when I fly the next time and can take my main guitar, instead of my second guitar (A Martin 000-15). Hopefully this will be next summer when I try to get back overseas. Oh yeah, I got a blue one since it’s easier to find at the airport…or if someone walks off with it.