Let’s be honest about this, I’m just using this to buy time until a few more guest contributions start to come in and I’m seriously hoping that’s going to happen some time soon. What we have in this selection is some shots that managed to be left out of the original selections for various reasons that I’ll explain as we go along. Anyway, I like them and they’re pretty much all we’ve got for today, so let’s just run with it, shall we?

 

Basia (Dana Immanuel and the Stolen Band) @The Vaults, Leake Street

The only reason this one didn’t make the cut for the original monochrome set is that it was only shot on Saturday December 10th.I don’t know what it would have displaced, but it would have been there. I’m a huge fan of this band; musically they’re superb, they’re great fun and there’s always something very visual going on. There aren’t many bands with five visually striking characters, but these guys are always great to photograph and they always throw some interesting shapes. The biggest problem is knowing where to look; there’s always so much going on. This is Barbara, or Basia, whichever you prefer.

Sound of the Sirens and Samantics at The Slaughtered Lamb

Did I ever mention that I love Abbe Martin and Hannah Wood, or Sound of the Sirens, as they’re better known? Yep, thought so. The Holy Grail of Sirens photography is to get a shot with Hannah and Abba facing you, but without microphones in front of their mouths. Sounds easy, yeah? I beg to differ. Myself and fellow gig photographer Richard Bolwell have been trying for years without success. I’m still not sure that this qualifies, because it’s between songs during the encore, but it captures the spirit of a great night and the dynamic between the three people on stage.

Red Berryn (Dominic Cooper) at Leek Blues & Americana Festival

I decided to escape from London for a few days to head Up North to Leek in Staffordshire, where I worked for a while in an earlier incarnation. I was heading for a Graham Parker gig in Holmfirth on a Sunday, but it coincided with the festival. In for a penny then. The format of the Festival is lots of pubs putting on gigs of various sizes over three days and you never quite know what you’re going to get. What we got early doors on Friday was Red Berryn who did Chuck Berry. So, all the usual duck walk shots, but then I got that brief moment of complicity between performer and photographer that just worked.

Julian Eccleston (Houndstooth)

The band formerly known as Coffeepot Drive; are you still with me? OK. Whichever name they go by, this band is hot, hot, hot. I took Mrs M along to see them and told her that if she didn’t love them, I would sell all my guitars. Well, the Les Paul and its poor relations are still with me and Houndstooth are still the funkiest rock (or rockiest funk) band I know. And they are lovely people. One of the many times I saw them play this year was in the Caffe Nero tent at Cornbury Festival. The lighting was, well, daylight filtered through canvas basically, so the challenge was to find some visual interest. Julian saved the day by wearing mirrored shades that nicely reflected the framework of the tent. I owe you one Julian.

Kathryn Williams (supporting Stone Foundation at Islington Assembly Hall)

Time to ‘fess up. When I picked the original High Five black and whites, I completely forgot about this one, which is pretty dim given that Kathryn really liked it. As always at The Assembly Hall, the lighting was variable but OK if you picked your moments. If you’ve seen more than half a dozen of my photos you probably realise that I tend to get in quite close and crop quite tight. This one needed the space isolating Kathryn and emphasising the apparently pensive mood of her stance. I was really happy with this one, even on a night when I shot Paul Weller and Graham Parker, as well as Stone Foundation.

 

When we review gigs, we talk a lot about the artists (quite rightly), but we don’t often mention the things that go on behind the scenes to make the magic happen. The people who take the financial risk promoting gigs, the sound engineers and, in some cases, volunteers who give up their time to create special nights for us. All of these things combine to make the magic happen; to make a great venue. And that’s what Allan’s looking at next, five great venues that have featured on the Riot Squad itinerary this year (and some in previous years).

The Union Chapel, Islington

For many artists, this is the Holy Grail of live performance. In an earlier High Five I wrote about Martin Harley’s desire to make this dream come true, which he did in a triumphant manner on March 10th 2018. But back to the venue. It’s a working chapel, which explains the superb acoustics (and the fact that you can’t take alcoholic drinks into the main chapel). It’s largely staffed by volunteers, which gives it an atmosphere that’s professional but warm and welcoming and carries its own little traditions. For example, unlike in Spanish hotels, it’s acceptable to reserve your seat (with a jacket rather than a towel) while you go to the bar, which works really well – if you know about it. A friend of mine saw a nasty little turf war break out when a party of latecomers shunted a bunch of coats along and took the reserved seats. You don’t want to upset the normally mild-mannered Union Chapel crowd.

The sightlines in the venue are good, the live programming is interesting and eclectic and the natural sound is always superb, which is why the unplugged encore is virtually de rigeur. And, with the photographer’s head on, I have to mention the gorgeous stained-glass window at the side of the stage. One piece of advice, which I gave to the friend who witnessed the seating incident; always take a cushion. Those pews are hard.

Green Note, Camden

Another award-winning London venue, although on a smaller scale than The Union Chapel, Green Note is nestled between the The Dublin Castle and The Edinburgh Castle in Camden and it’s a cosy intimate venue (the main room has a capacity of about 80, the basement about 20). Green Note is all about musical quality and, like The Union Chapel, it’s hugely eclectic. The sound engineers are always roundly praised by the performers and the atmosphere is always intimate. It’s like having a gig in your front room. There’s also a menu of tasty vegetarian snacks and a great selection of beers.

I’ve seen many gigs at Green Note and never one that I didn’t enjoy. It’s a completely welcoming environment that lends itself to an intimacy between audience and performer and, for reasons of closeness rather than acoustics, lends itself (again) to the unplugged encore. They’re always entertaining. Any downsides? The lighting isn’t ideal for photography but, if you’re any good you can work around that. I always have a warm glow walking back down Camden Parkway to Camden Town tube.

The Picturedrome, Holmfirth

It’s set in the Yorkshire Dales; it’s the village where “Last of the Summer Wine” was filmed and it’s picture postcard England. If your journey to the venue is longer than about an hour, you should stay in one of the many affordable hotels, guest houses and B ‘n’ Bs and soak up the atmosphere of the place before a gig. There are loads of good places to eat as well.

The venue has been open for live music for just over 20 years now (21st birthday celebrations coming up in 2019?). With a capacity of 690, it’s relatively easy to fill, with the right artists. The programming isn’t as eclectic as some of the London venues and it’s built mainly around heritage artists, but there’s absolutely no doubting the quality of what’s on offer. Well, it would have to be good to make me take a 400-mile round trip, wouldn’t it?

As an old cinema, it has a raked floor, which means that there’s less chance of being stuck behind the huge bloke and missing everything on stage (and there’s a balcony as well). The sound is always good and it has another huge pluspoint in the eyes of the Riot Squad’s Northern Man, Steve Jenner. It serves proper, hand-pulled, cask-conditioned beer; you got Mr J right there. And it’s a friendly and musically knowledgeable crowd. Just be careful in the winter, although there are worse places to be snowbound.

The Slaughtered Lamb

It’s situated in Clerkenwell, close to Farringdon and St Paul’s tube stations and it’s a bunch of contradictions. The live music venue is in the basement and is about the same size as the main room at Green Note. Like the Camden venue, the boundaries between audience and artists tends be fairly flexible. While the artists have green rooms available (generally), they tend to mingle with the audience throughout the evening, which creates a certain intimacy.

The sound is always crystal clear and, generally speaking, it’s what artists call a listening room. If you have a good song to get across, this room will allow you to do it; there’s just one thing to be aware of; the bar upstairs, which is mainly aimed at local workers having a beer or two on the way home. Nothing wrong with that, but those gatherings tend to be loud and the music is ramped up to compete with the background (?) noise. The result is that, in the basement bar (quiet and intimate), it sounds like the Dave Clark Five (ask your nan) are rehearsing upstairs. And (again like Green Note), the lighting’s a bit challenging for photographers. Me? I like a challenge.

The Bedford, Balham

This one’s a bit of a London institution really. It’s been renowned as a music venue for years and recently closed down for a refurb. I’m ashamed to admit that I’d never visited The Balham before this, but I went along to the opening night after the refurb to catch the buzz. It helped that one of my favourite bands, Houndstooth, was headlining. After the standard opening night glitches (the fire alarm being repeatedly triggered by the hazers), the night kicked off pretty much on time.

The performance space is what would have the pub’s back room in the past, but it’s a long way from being a dingy little corner of the venue. There’s an area in front of the stage which was completely open on the night, but can be configured cabaret style for more intimate gigs. And there’s a balcony; as a photographer, it opens up all sorts of new views, but it’s also a great place to see the entire stage without being miles away. So there’s absolutely no complaints about the physical space, what about the sound? Good news, it’s superb. The opening night was such a good experience, I’m going back again this week to have another look.

Finally a few honorary mentions: the intimate Nell’s Jazz & Blues in Chelsea (or West Kensington if you prefer), The Fowlowe Centre in Leek, Staffordshire which is attracting some fairly major touring artists now and the new, and ever-changing 26 Leake Street (near Waterloo Station) which is state of the art and has huge potential. They’re all great spaces to see live performances.

Day 2 at Cornbury was always going to be a game of two halves. Caffe Nero had lined up a huge array of unsigned talent on their stage, kicking off at 9:15 and running through to the early evening. After checking out the running order, I was perfectly happy to spend the first eight hours of Saturday watching the Caffe Nero/Talentbanq selection. In fact, I was telling anyone who would listen to get their asses down to Caffe Nero to watch the Saturday lineup.

Katy Hurt got the day started with her UK Country thing before handing over to the 21st century folk of Daisy Chute. It was a fairly laid-back introduction to Saturday morning without a hint of the whirlwind that was about to descend on the Cotswolds. How about a flame-haired Celtic harpist who sings, plays banjo and raps? Yep, that’s Lisa Canny and she’s a force of nature, mashing up pop and roots into a gorgeous musical melange.

And that’s only halfway through the day; there was still Emily Barker’s gorgeous Americana followed by the powerful and soulful Joe Slater (go and see him if you get the chance, he’s a great writer and powerful, charismatic performer) before things got really out of control. Houndstooth (formerly Coffeepot Drive) absolutely tore it up, getting the second standing ovation of the day (Lisa Canny got the first) before handing over to Nuala to close the day for Caffe Nero.

And for the evening, the Songbird stage featured two legends; PP Arnold was back in the game following the release of “The Turning Tide” (originally recorded in the sixties) followed closely by the fabulous Mavis Staples. From the (as yet) unknown to the legendary in one day, and still a day to go.

You can see the photos here.