High Fives? Is it that time already? Another year gone, loads of gigs attended and some pretty good pics, if I say so myself. Looking through this year’s galleries, it’s really obvious that it I have to claim two entries for the feature again, one for male artists, one for female; well, they do it at the Oscars, why shouldn’t MusicRiot do it as well. So, in no particular order, here we go. Click on any of the thumbnail images to expand the photo.
Southside Johnny @The Picturedrome, Holmfirth April 2016
This is dedication to the cause. I’ve been a fan of Southside for a long time. Only two gigs in the UK in 2016, and one of those on the day I flew back from Thailand. That was never going to happen, so I went for the next best thing, the following day in Yorkshire. Jet-lagged and bone tired, I drove 250 miles to the gig and then the same distance back home but in a snowstorm. No photo pit at the gig and (very unusually) some very uncooperative punters (and I’m very polite, before you ask). So, not the best position, but I was pretty chuffed with this attempt at giving Southside a blue rinse. See the full gallery here.
Crispian Mills (Kula Shaker) @The Roundhouse February 2016
In February of this year, I discovered that Riot Squad favourites Black Casino and the Ghost were supporting Kula Shaker on a European tour that included a gig at The roundhouse in Chalk Farm, a venue I’ve never visited; before you could say ‘Photo pass’, I was there, in a very busy photo pit which was actually very civilised (no dailies represented obviously). The stage lighting was up to eleven during Kula Shaker’s set creating some really contrasty situations which were crying out for black and white treatment. This is one of those. See the full gallery here.
John Fairhurst @The Borderline October 2016
It was a lovely surprise to discover that John was supporting The Eskies in London on their tour to promote their first album. I’d seen John before at Rich Mix in Shoreditch with his electric band, but this gig was a solo stint with a resonator and stompbox. Electric or acoustic, it really doesn’t matter, he’s equally convincing either way, and well worth seeing. Having photographed John before, I was looking out for facial expressions and watching his hands. This time the hands won. Having a chat later, I discovered that John and The Eskies (also very good) were old friends from a time when they used to busk in Dublin. See the full gallery here.
David Ryder Prangley (Sister Witch) @ The Unicorn, Camden July 2016
Sister Witch is an alt-London supergroup featuring DRP, Lux Lyall and Lilygun members Anna Christina and Belle Star, so this was a great night to meet up with some musicians I hadn’t seen for a while. It’s fair to say that each member of the band is worth photographing in their own right, but the honours on the night went to David, strutting his stuff with a six-string instead of a bass and looking every inch the underground legend that he is. This is someone that doesn’t need to play a part; he is a rock star. See the full gallery here.
Gareth John of Stone Foundation @Under the Bridge, Chelsea May 2016
It’s sometimes a huge advantage as a photographer if you know the songs well. I love Stone Foundation and I’d go to Chelsea to see them, even if I’m normally with Elvis Costello on that one. It’s a bit of a hike home from Chelsea, so I’m normally poised at the bottom of the stairs at UTB, waiting for the dying notes of the encore before I peg it over to Fulham Broadway to jump on the Tube. As the second encore started, trumpet player Gareth John and keyboard player Ian Arnold emerged from backstage and I knew that they were about to play “Old Partners, New Dances”, a smoky (and very short) jazz instrumental and Gareth would take centre stage, playing a flugelhorn, which somehow makes it even more romantic. I just managed to get a camera and lens assembled as the song started and was rewarded with this. As my Dad used to say ’Never take your eye off the ball’. See the full gallery here.
So how about five great gigs this year? Well, I’ve had plenty to choose from and I can’t say that I’ve seen a bad one, so it hasn’t been an easy choice to whittle it down to the top five (and no cheating this time either). These are all gigs that I walked away from feeling elated, feeling that I’d seen something special that I wanted to tell the world about. So I did, and here’s a reminder of how good these gigs were.
On a freezing February Friday night in Shoreditch, Rich Mix was a welcome respite from bars full of bankers and ‘exclusive’ lap-dancing joints. The venue is a social enterprise where the motivation isn’t purely profit and programming of events is always interesting. On this particular night, John Fairhurst, along with Pete Episcopo (bass) and Toby Murray (drums) played a raw and raucous set of blues focussing on the 2014 album “Saltwater”. Some of the album versions of the songs were fairly big production numbers but the live performance was strictly a power trio affair with John’s blistering guitar topping off the mixture. The journey back through Shoreditch didn’t seem quite so bad after a night of proper blues with electric guitars playing way up loud. You can see some photos from the gig here.
Mollie Marriott @The Half Moon
This one was firmly in the eagerly-anticipated category. Mollie’s been working quietly for some time putting together a great band for live and studio work featuring her Jim Stapley bandmates Izzy Chase-Phillmore, Sam Tanner and Johnson-Jay Medwik-Daley. After an interesting acoustic support set from her nephew, Mo Evans, Mollie’s full band made their first live appearance in a Half Moon packed with fans and a few well-known faces as well. It was obvious from the start that this isn’t just a bunch of hired hands; this is a bunch of really good mates as well. None of their playing is showy or attention-seeking; everything serves the songs and underpins Mollie’s phenomenal voice, and it all works perfectly. The audience were onside anyway, but Mollie and the band gave a great performance of material from the upcoming debut album and a couple of covers as well. Here are some photos of this one.
This was a very special gig. I’d been invited along to see Mad Dog Mcrea and I had no idea about the support on the night, Sound of the Sirens. It’s such a great feeling when you see an artist for the first time and you know instantly that they’re something special. And it’s not just me; apparently Chris Evans was quite impressed with them as well. Anyway, they played a storming set completely winning over the audience with their powerful songs, dynamics, and harmonies. If the night had stopped at that point, I would have been perfectly happy, but we still had Mad Dog Mcrea to come, with an energetic run through material from their album “Almost Home” plus a few old favourites and crowd pleasers. Two great bands with enough in common to appeal to the whole audience but with enough differences to create a very varied night. And there are some photos here.
Another interesting double bill, this time with two very different artists, linked by the era which saw the start of their careers. John Cooper Clarke (now making the most of his honorary doctorate) has been doing poetry and comedy events for a few years but the tour with Squeeze put him back in front of big audiences filled with people who remembered him from the first time round. He throws more one-liners and gags into his routine now but a lot of the old favourite poems are still there, although some of them, particularly “Twat”, have evolved over time. On this night he was a barnstorming crowd-pleaser, building up the audience nicely for the headline act.
This year Squeeze had a new album to promote so the setlist was varied, to say the least, with material covering almost forty years from “Take Me I’m Yours” to new songs like “Cradle to the grave” with the usual smattering of different interpretations of Squeeze classics. What made this performance so special was the group of musicians (mainly Glenn Tilbrook’s Fluffers) now making up the rest of Squeeze who add upright bass, melodica and other esoteric instruments to the mix as well as adding rich vocal harmonies. Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook have never sounded better and what an incredible set of songs. Guess what, some photos here.
Graham Parker and Brinsley Schwarz & The Union Chapel
And finally. One of the greatest talents never to break through in the seventies and eighties, Graham Parker, who toured twice this year; once with The Rumour and once with Brinsley Schwarz. With a songbook which again covers almost forty years and a new album to promote as well, Graham Parker mixed up some established classics, some surprises and some new songs to delight an audience which might have been a little biased anyway. His voice is still remarkable and the songs are all strong enough to work in stripped-back arrangements. This wasn’t just a nostalgia thing; there were new songs to promote and they all sounded as good as anything he’s done before. He’s a remarkable man and it was a real pleasure to hear these songs in such a beautiful venue. How about a look at GP in the seventies and now?
OK, I cheated with my favourite five photos by doubling it up to ten, but I think it was worth it. Following on from my all-female shortlist, here’s the (mostly) male version with photos from a wide variety of musical styles and some very interesting venues. If you’re interested in the running order for these, it’s really simple; it’s chronological.
John Fairhurst at Rich Mix, Shoreditch – I heard about John Fairhurst in 2014 when I reviewed his “Saltwater” album but had to wait until February 2015 to see him live. Rich Mix is a cultural oasis set between strip joints and banker pubs in Shoreditch. The venue features a wide range of musical styles and it has a really good lighting rig. John Fairhurst dressed for the part with a bright red suit and made the colour/black and white debate completely irrelevant. I could have picked any one of half a dozen shots from that gig for this set, but this one captures his onstage perpetual motion machine. Thanks to John and Fabio Suttle for setting this one up for me.
William Paris (Billy Walton Band) at Hockley Community Centre, Essex – Another first-time venue in the middle of the Essex countryside where a few quid has been spent on decent stage lighting. The Billy Walton Band always give good face, but this gig presented some interesting opportunities. As Billy led the horns on a Pied Piper dance around the room, the rhythm section were left on stage with no guitars, saxes or trombones in the way and I had a great opportunity to get a decent photo of the uber-cool bass player William Paris while the audience was looking the other way.
The Vans at The O2 Academy Islington – Another gig that I went along to with my mate Jonesy because it was on his manor (sorry slipped into mockney again). This was one of those showcases that could have been brilliant or awful; it was 80% brilliant with a varied selection of bands and reasonable lighting. The Vans are Australian and play catchy melodic rock that you just have to like. It took me a couple of songs to work out that there were some Fab Four parallels and I was lucky enough to grab this shot of Kat and Ryan that absolutely had to be black and white to catch that sixties feel.
Laurent Mouflier at The Borderline – For the launch of his “Grio” album at The Borderline, Aidan Connell put together an interesting line-up which included Wang Dang Doodle opening the show. Laurent Mouflier, the band’s singer and harmonica player is always an interesting photographic subject, and my portfolio’s not exactly overflowing with shots of harmonica players. Lighting at The Borderline can be a bit hit and miss but, on this occasion, it was absolutely perfect as Laurent tilted his head back (eliminating any possibility of shadows from the brim of his hat) and blew up a storm. Possibly my favourite photo of the year.
Ian Siegal at O2 Blues Fest – With a choice of pop-up venues scattered around the O2, lighting was always going to be a bit unpredictable, but Brooklyn Bowl has a permanent stage with a pretty good rig, so there would at least be opportunities for some decent shots. This was the second time I’d seen Ian Siegal and the first time with a band. After trying a few different angles, I moved in close and framed really tight, ignoring the guitar and concentrating on the face. It worked perfectly; this was one of those rare occasions when you know as soon the shutter release clicks that you’ve got the shot.
And that’s definitely the end of the photos for this year. Bring on 2016.
Here’s someone we reviewed live a few weeks ago with his electric live band stripping things back down to basics with his acoustic version of the Mississippi John Hurt classic “Payday”.
What’s not to like about one man, a resonator and a stompbox?
OK, so it’s Shoreditch on a Friday night. Normally I would rather eat my own body weight in guitarists’ nail clippings than visit a Shoreditch venue on a Friday night but, in this case, I’m making an exception because the venue and the artist are a little bit special. Rich Mix is a charity and social enterprise comprising a cinema, performance space and food outlet in a building which at one time was a garment factory (when we made garments in the UK). John Fairhurst is a bit special as well; his style is predominantly blues, but don’t expect third or fourth generation, ironed-out gutless blues because this guy taps into the feel of the original mid-twentieth century originals with a little side order of Indian classical tradition and some Hendrix and Neil Young for seasoning. His songs are featured in two films to be released in 2015, “The Beat Beneath my Feet” and the Scorsese-produced “Tomorrow” and his latest album “Saltwater” (highly recommended by MusicRiot) was released in late 2014. So we’re looking forward to this one.
To start up the evening, DJ Chris Tofu warps and bends blues with electronica and samples to build up the atmosphere before the John Fairhurst Band really kickstarts the event. The “Saltwater” album has some fairly big productions, but the live set is a power-trio affair delivered by John, Pete Episcopo (bass) and Toby Murray (drums). While the focus is always on John Fairhurst’s playing and vocals, this set-up only works if the rhythm section is at the top of their game and Pete and Toby certainly don’t disappoint, providing a solid foundation for the songs and John’s extended solos. The set leans heavily on “Saltwater” material, featuring the Mississippi John Hurt classic “Pay Day”, the Hendrix-inspired “I’m Coming Home” and an astonishingly powerful version of the album’s title song to close the set. John Fairhurst’s playing is raw, loud, phasers-set-to-stun blues; it’s not for the faint-hearted 70s-era Clapton and Joe Bonamassa followers, but it’s a glorious earthy noise and the quality of the playing is stunning. I’ll certainly be having more of that later in the year.
As a bonus (well, this is part of the London Remixed Festival), the final live set of the evening is a collaboration between producer and live remixer Reverend Rockwell, John Fairhurst and Boxcar Joe Strouzer. You can’t argue with the performances and it’s an interesting experiment, but the programmed beats really aren’t a match for three great musicians playing together as a unit. Nothing wrong with it, but it just wasn’t the highlight of the night.
Things are looking good for John Fairhurst this year. He has a newish album to promote and, on the evidence of tonight, he’s going to win new fans every time he plays. The fact that his music is featured in a couple of new films as well is probably more valuable than radio plays in the current climate; I’m really hoping that things work out for him.
And how do I feel about Shoreditch now? Well, it would be great if it was all like Rich Mix, with a diverse audience and staff that make you feel that they actually like having you in their venue. It makes a huge difference to the entertainment on offer and the people who pay to see it when profit isn’t the only reason for opening the doors on a Friday evening. Fair play to Rich Mix.
Click here to see some of our great photos from the gig.
When we asked our friends at Quite Great promotions for a contribution to the High Fives feature, they gave us a selection of albums they’ve worked on this year that really took their fancy: “Field of One” – Alan Mair The Only Ones bass player Alan Mair has been writing songs for many years, and witnessing the current accessibility to worldwide digital distribution of music, and the ability to keep control of one’s music, he has decided to finally release them. Alan’s debut solo single ‘Four Winds’ is due for release on the 22nd December 2014. The track itself is an eclectic blend of alternative rock with resonating vocals and features the revered guitarist Zal Cleminson on guitar, who in his own right is a superstar in the world of guitarists. If you can’t wait until December, take a listen to it here.
“Saltwater” – John Fairhurst Bristol-based, the John Fairhurst Band are a newly formed trio fronted by their eponymous songwriter. Drawing from rock, blues and world music, with a penchant for slide guitar and a distinctive deep growling voice, his songs, delivered in pure raconteur style, narrate all the hardships of life on the road. For the first time, John Fairhurst will be releasing his new album – and the preceding singles – accompanied by a powerhouse rhythm section of Bristol’s young guns: Toby Murray & Pete Episcopo. For a taste of their sound, check out this video for “Breakdown”.
“Codeine EP” – Witching Season The highly anticipated EP from rock trio Witching Season is out now. The band claim to draw influences from the likes of rock legends, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, The Doors, Queens of the Stone Age and Dinosaur Jr, all of which shines through in their music; they have been making a lasting impression across the rock scene and have received a host of plays on radio stations nationwide. New track “Codeine” showcases the band’s rocking talent and is true to their dark rock sound. True to the band’s native rock sound, ‘Codeine’ features heavy and impressive guitar riffs teamed with fierce drum beats all stitched together with Tom Reynolds coarse and captivating vocals. “In the Art of Doom” – Noel and the Pandas Noel and the Pandas are the hottest new alternative rock sound to emerge from Italy. With a soft rock sound and sensitive lyrics, the guys add a hearty Italian twist to rock. The band is led by front man Noel, who is the ultimate Italian Jack of all trades who has finally found his calling in the world of alternative rock music. The band has an alternative rock sound, with a soft undertone that subtly embraces the best of rock. “In the Art of Doom” is the debut album from the band and showcases the rockin’ talents of the five guys. A number of tracks on the album explore the heart ache Noel has suffered over recent years and draws the listener into his complex world through his heartfelt lyrics. “20 Years Late” – The zzips Meet The zzips; living proof that rock‘n’roll is not dead, and is in fact very much alive and kicking. A diverse duo comprising frontman James Butler and writing partner Graham Cupples, their debut is the eagerly anticipated album “20 Years Late”. Within their songs, they address issues that are prominent within British society, and question the policies of consumerism, greed and elitism after partaking in social observation. The album is both a call to arms and a cry for revolution and change, whilst some of the songs simply follow what happens within their day-to-day lives. Think classic 90’s rock, with a modern blues twist and challenging lyrics.
If you happen to have dipped a toe in the pool that is the British blues scene recently, you may have noticed that there are some very snappy critters swimming there waiting for the unwary. As with any scene that’s out of the mainstream, it’s inevitable that cliques develop, a fact that isn’t helped by too many performers chasing too few fans. It’s a classic supply and demand situation. As well as reducing the cash available to performers, it creates a situation where greed and selfishness seem to be excusable and some of those critters in that pool are piranhas. You can hear accusations of nepotism, award-rigging and other bits of nastiness, but the worst thing you can do is to question someone’s authenticity, which is ironic given that the players who are currently really successful are imitating the players from the 60s and 70s who imitated the original blues artists from the 30s and 40s.
Ok, so here’s where that was all heading; I’ve been listening to an album by John Fairhurst. The album’s called “Saltwater” and it’s not full of tasteful imitations of Clapton playing “Further on Up the Road” or “Key to the Highway”; the inspiration here comes from Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Walter and many others. The smoothness has been filtered out and this goes back to the raw earthiness of early country blues and Chicago electric blues.
John Fairhurst is originally from Wigan; he now lives in Bristol and recorded this album in Bristol and London with the help of Toby Murray (drums), Joe Strouzer (harmonica and vocals), Emma Divine (vocals), Tim Loudon (bass), Luke Barter (bass), Jago Whitehead (drums & percussion), Phil Jewson (piano), Saul Wodak (guitar effects) and Alex Beitzke (bass). I have a little confession to make about the album; on the first listen, I was halfway through before I actually started to get it (during the guitar solo on “I’m Coming Home”, actually). I blame it on the previous review I did, which was a very cleanly-produced singer-songwriter and it took a while to move from that to the over-driven guitar, wailing harmonica and Tom-Waits-dukes-it-out-with-Mark-Lanegan vocals. So let’s go back to the start.
The two opening songs, “Breakdown” and “Who You Fooling” get things off to a raucous start with plenty of amped-up slide and harmonica to get things rolling before the album’s only cover, the Mississippi John Hurt song “Pay Day”, which is much gentler, using the old country blues devices of repeated lines and call and response with the help of the Dean Street Choir. There’s even a sneaky little Eric Clapton reference at the end. “More More More” and “Time Goes By” are rooted in the rural, country blues tradition, the first having a UK skiffle feel while “Time Goes By” could be Tom Waits with the badly-tuned pub piano accompaniment.
You couldn’t really describe “I’m Coming Home” as blues; it’s a mutant Jimi Hendrix/Neil Young hybrid with “Voodoo Chile”-style riff and fill playing in the verses and a Shakey-style solo from the “American Stars and Bars” era. It’s the first of the album’s epic pieces. “No Shelter” is another elemental piece built around a simple (but loud) guitar riff and a reasonably good choice for the album’s first single while “Black Cat” is pure Muddy Waters; it’s a straight-ahead twelve-bar with belting harmonica and that always sounds good to me. So, more of the same to finish the album off?
No way; the penultimate song, written by the whole band, is “Dance in the Pines”, a mad surf-punk piece which splices DNA from The Cramps, Dick Dale and The Ventures. It’s off the wall and it’s brilliant. The album’s closer and title track, “Saltwater” is the magnum opus and absolutely has to be the last track; it wouldn’t be as effective anywhere else on the album. The song, which is a restyling of the Robert Johnson “Crossroads” story substituting the ocean for Clarksdale, has the singer refusing to shake hands with The Devil. It’s an epic which starts with acoustic guitar and vocal (slipping into a Wigan accent) which builds through a rural bluegrass-tinged to a kitchen-sink finale featuring Emma Divine delivering a vocal which easily equals Clare Torry’s famous performance on “Great Gig in the Sky”. And it’s the last track on the album because you can’t follow that; job done.
If you’re sick of hearing second and third generation blues revivalists recycling smooth guitar licks and bland vocals (no, I’m not naming names) then this could be just the album for you; don’t file under easy listening.
Out now (JF005).