Just let me be completely serious here, the whole idea of reviewing albums and gigs and doing live music photography is something I wouldn’t have dreamt of ten years ago. Whatever gods you believe in, I will thank them for this opportunity. Every album I hear or gig I go to is another bonus and I truly appreciate it; I’ve made many friends as a result of doing this and had some wonderful times. Every year for the last five years or so, I’ve had few moments that stop me in my tracks and they’re still coming. Here are a few from 2019, in no particular order.

 

Mavis Staples @The Roundhouse

It wasn’t the first time I’ve had the opportunity to photograph Mavis; that was Cornbury Festival last year. This was different; it was the full-on show, the proper gig experience. Proper soundchecks, full-length sets and not having to dash off to shoot another band after the first three songs. And it didn’t hurt that the support for Mavis’s two gigs in England was Stone Foundation, my favourite current UK soul band; they rose to the occasion, powering through a tight set and grabbing the attention of an audience that had mainly come to see Mavis as part of the Innervisions Festival. I’d managed a couple of decent shots of her at Cornbury, but you never pass up an opportunity to photograph a legend again. Three songs from the pit, including a few that I’m still happy with, and then what? Get to the mixing desk, stand in front of it and enjoy the force of nature that is Mavis Staples and her band. The songs always had power, the band are totally on it and Mavis’s voice is undimmed by age. What a night.

Interviewing Graham Parker

Bit of context here. As a student in the late seventies (I know, you work it out), I had access to a lot of gigs and I was just getting into gig photography (Olympus OM-1, if you’re interested). I spent a fair amount of time as a DJ with current MusicRiot contributor Steve Jenner. As a DJ at that time in Students’ Unions, you got a lot of freebies. One of the freebies that grabbed my attention was an EP by Graham Parker called The Pink Parker EP (the original limited edition was on pink vinyl) and it ignited a life-long love of this guy’s music. He’s now one of several musicians that I’ve photographed at an interval of four decades; you get the picture, I’m a fan.

Cutting to the chase, in February of 2019, a Graham Parker tour celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the album “Squeezing Out Sparks” was announced and one of the dates was The Foxlowe Theatre in Leek, one of my favourite small theatres in one of my favourite small towns, coincidentally the current hometown of Mr Jenner. Tickets were bought and as the year went on, I thought it might be a good idea to collaborate with Steve on an interview with GP if we could swing it. Turns out (with the intervention of Neil Sheasby from Stone Foundation), we could. So, on Friday October 22nd in Leek, I found myself sitting with my oldest mate Steve Jenner opposite Graham Parker with a microphone between us. If you’ve got half an hour to spare, you can listen to it here:

It’s the first time I’ve been happy to use an interview as a podcast, rather than transcribing the whole thing. It was a bit of moment.

Sam Tanner album launch @The Half Moon

Heard of Sam Tanner? You really should have, he’s the man. Sam sings, writes songs and plays keyboards, but that really doesn’t do him justice. He’s the funkiest keyboard player I’ve heard, his songs are incredibly powerful and then there’s the voice. As a keyboard player and soul singer in the UK, the obvious comparison is Paul Carrack. I’ve seen both several times and I have to say my money’s on Sam. I first got to hear of him as a member of Mollie Marriott’s band, then as member of Brother Strut (check out this Ed Sheeran cover) before bumping into him at various gigs around town. All of that talent and it turns out he’s a really nice guy as well.

For the launch gig for his solo album he pulled out all the stops (thinly-disguised organ player gag) with a full band, horn section and backing vocalists (Mollie Marriott and Izzy Chase). This was a quality line-up with the kind of players that could follow any changes and sounded incredible. Sam was on top form vocally and even dealt with audience members talking in his trademark gentle way: “If you’re going talk along, can you do it in B flat because that’s the key the next song’s in…”. Superb band, superb vocals and lovely atmosphere; I floated back to Putney station.

Dana Immanuel & the Stolen Band @The Forum

While I’m ‘fessing up to all the bands I love, I can’t miss out Dana Immanuel and the Stolen Band. I love these people as artists and as people. In October, I saw the band three times. Each gig was special in its own way, but a support set at The Forum with a full house was a huge opportunity. The band supported Polish eighties punk band Kult who still have a huge following in the UK. It can be difficult playing support to a band with a hugely partisan following, but Dana had a secret weapon (besides having a great band). Fiddle player Basia is Polish and did various links and introductions in her home tongue, which the audience loved. It’s a fabulous feeling to see one of your favourite bands get a rapturous reception at a big gig on their own manor. I suspect I’ll be at a few more Stolen Band gigs in 2020.

Poetry

I know it seems unlikely, but I got back into poetry. Over the last few years, I’ve become a fan and friend of the songwriting colossus that is Phil Burdett. It’s been no secret that Phil’s had some issues over the last few years and working on his poetry is something that’s been therapeutic. This year, Phil published a volume of poetry and prose (it’s very good and you can buy it here) and launched it at The Railway Hotel in Southend-on Sea with a performance featuring spoken word and songs aided and abetted by his long-time collaborator Steve Stott, playing the usual mandolin and fiddle. I’d forgotten how good it is to hear poetry performed live and wasn’t remotely surprised at the way Phil aced his first live recital. And the songs with Mr Stott sounded bloody good as well. As if this wasn’t enough, Ralph Dartford supported Phil with the launch of his latest volume, “Recovery Songs” and also went down a storm. The audience was perfect; totally silent during the performances and noisily appreciative at the end of each piece

And there’s still more. A few weeks later, Ralph launched (no pun intended) his volume, “Recovery Songs” from a floating bookshop on the Regent’s Canal in King’s Cross, supported by Phil and Steve. Not quite such a captive audience, but great to see people walking along the towpath stop to listen. Those two volumes are probably the first new poetry I’ve bought since “The Mersey Sound”. Another bonus was that I had the chance to have beer with some very interesting musicians, which is a theme that crops up elsewhere in these High Fives. There might be a good idea buried somewhere in that.

Nostalgia and a record

I can’t resist a bonus ball this time, inspired by the Graham Parker interview. In the same year that I first saw Graham Parker, I also saw a band from Birmingham that I’d heard a lot about, The Steve Gibbons Band. Imagine my surprise when I turned up to interview Southside Johnny at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in March to discover that Steve Gibbons had been added to the bill at short notice. Forty-two years isn’t my personal record for length of time between gigs I’ve seen an artist at; it ties with Brinsley Schwarz as a member of his band and as a duo with Graham Parker, but it’s quite impressive. My options for beating that record are pretty limited now; I think it might come down to seeing Ian Gomm or Billy Rankin again – just sayin’ guys, there’s a record to be broken here… To make everything perfect on the day, the interview went really well and the gig was absolutely storming. I love this job.

All images except Phil’s book cover courtesy of yours truly.

 

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: