Let’s start 2018 in the traditional way by dusting off the Riot Squad crystal ball and having a peek into the next few months to see what we have to look forward to. As always, in no particular order.

After an absence of a couple of years to deal with serious health issues, Phil Burdett’s back in business again and firing out creative sparks in all directions. The action starts on Saturday January 27th at The Dickens in Southend with the launch gig for Phil’s latest album, “Psychopastoral”. He’ll be backed by the sublime Phil Burdett Group and the support band will be Winter. But that’s just the start; Phil has big plans for the rest of the year, including recording a double album of the songs written while he was in hospital, working on an art/film project and completing a book of poetry and a novel. We’ve got an interview with him coming up in the near future, so just watch this space. (Breaking news on this, Phil’s currently looking for a new venue for the gig on the 27th after The Dickens closed down over Christmas).

 

While we’re on the subject of grand ambitions, let me tell you about Martin Harley. He’s doing a three week tour of the UK with upright bass player extraordinaire Daniel Kimbro. They work together perfectly as a duo, both live and in the studio. The songwriting’s first class, the playing’s perfect and the harmonies are superb; even the chat between songs is interesting and often hilarious. Anyway, one of Martin’s ambitions is to play the Union Chapel in Islington, so he’s booked it for the last night of the tour on Saturday March 10th and he’s promoting the gig himself. It’s the perfect venue for Martin’s music and the Riot Squad will be out in force to support such a brave venture.

 

Another musical partnership we’ve been following for some time is Dean Owens and Will Kimbrough. Will’s guitar playing is in high demand; I lost count of the albums I reviewed in 2017 that featured Will’s playing, but he’s built a special relationship with Dean that’s led to a full-scale collaboration on their latest album “Southern Wind”. We’ve had some sneak previews here and we’ll be reviewing it in the next couple of weeks ahead of the official release date of Friday February 16 on At The Helm Records. You’ll love it.

 

2017 saw the release of the ‘lost’ PP Arnold album and the announcement she’s going to be making an album this year at Paul Weller’s Black Barn studio. It’s fantastic that “The Turning Tide” has finally been found, but even better that Pat is actually making original music again. And there’s plenty of speculation round the water cooler here at Riot towers about possible guest appearances and collaborations on the new album.

 

Finally, and this is specifically a London thing for the moment, late January will see the launch of Talentbanq, the latest venture for Ray Jones. Ray, former Development Director at Time Out has a passion for music that would shame most journalists and he’s always been willing to put a lot of time and effort into promoting new talent. Now that he’s no longer at Time Out he’s focussing his energies on promoting up-and-coming artists with Talentbanq. We’re still waiting for more details, but we do know that it’s going to be an interesting ride.

 

The Riot Squad get invites to all sorts of venues in London and various other parts of the country, so we thought it was only fair to ask occasional contributor Ian Stratford to give us a rundown of some our favourite places to listen to music and photograph performers. Here’s what he came up with (in no particular order:

The Union Chapel, IslingtonThere is absolutely nothing to criticise about this venue. It’s a working church that’s staffed by volunteers that seem to have been selected purely on the basis of their friendly attitude. The acoustics are absolutely superb and the stage is a very beautiful setting. Allan loves giving the Nikons a little outing there and generally gets a bit of a result. Go there and have a look; you’ll love it.

Rosanne Cash @The Union Chapel

Green Note, Camden – There’s something very lovely about the award-winning Green Note. It’s not the biggest venue, but the Riot Squad has seen some great nights there watching some really high-quality performers from the UK and further afield. The sound is always absolutely perfect and artists love to play there. Oh, did I mention the great selection of vegetarian food, lovely staff and real beers as well.

Hannah Aldridge @Green Note

Paper Dress Vintage – We liked this venue when it was in Shoreditch, but the move to Hackney was inspired. The venue is now above the main retail area and the atmosphere at the gigs the Riot Squad have seen there has always been cracking. We saw Amanda Rheaume there at the Americana Music Association UK showcase this year and had a great night. And don’t forget there are another two venues within five minutes walking distances from PDV, MOTH and Oslo, and they’re both worthwhile as well.

Amanda Rheaume @Paper Dress Vintage

2 Northdown – Bit of an unconventional one this. It’s more of a comedy venue but it’s been hijacked by Ray Jones of Talentbanq for his Acoustic Sex nights. The setting is unfussy with straight white lights on the stage, but the sound is always spot on and the talent on stage is exceptional. It’s also a great place to meet people from the music industry. It’s become one of Allan’s favourite nights out.

Joe Slater @Acoustic Sex

Rich Mix, Shoreditch – It’s a mix of a cinema, an Indian diner and a gig venue. We’ve tried two out of the three on Riot Squad nights out. The food in the diner is gorgeous and the atmosphere in the venue is electric. Each time we’ve been there the audience has been incredibly receptive and the performers have played great sets.

John Fairhurst @Rich Mix

It’s been a busy old year here at Riot Towers and we’ve sent Allan far and wide to watch bands – well, the Isle of Wight to Edinburgh. On his travels, he’s bumped in to some incredible musicians, but also his fair share of writers and photographers as well. As a result, we’ve invited a few guests from other websites and publications to join in the year-end fun and we’ve got some cracking live pictures coming up over the next few weeks. Allan insisted on pulling rank and starting with his own favourite shots of female artists. As always, in no particular order:

Elle Exxe at the Isle of Wight Festival – An invite to go to the Isle of Wight with a group of artists, writers and photographers courtesy of Ray Jones and Time Out; don’t mind if I do. No photo pass, but it really didn’t matter. It only stopped me from getting to the other side of the pit barrier. The event was broadcast by Sky Arts, which meant a full lighting production on various stages. The Big Top on Saturday afternoon was the main attraction; I’d photographed Elle Exxe the previous October  at an awards ceremony and I was expecting striking imagery. Here’s my favourite shot from the set:

Rider @Water Rats – Rider has been around for a while, quietly plotting world domination while putting her band together; this was their debut gig. Rider is very striking visually and it should have been relatively easy to get some interesting images. Right at the front with a wide –angle lens looked favourite, but it was a looking a bit average until I changed up to the telephoto zoom and moved to the back of the room. Like the Elle Exxe shot it needed very little editing to create something a bit special.

Kelly Halloran @The Union Chapel – Kelly Halloran is a stunningly good fiddle player who tours with Rachael Sage.  I was more than happy to accept a press pass from Rachael’s PR team for her support gig with Howard Jones at The Union Chapel. It’s a lovely venue for photographers; you shoot from the side of the stage if you like and, at this gig, there was no pit and no three song rule. That was the lucky bit, because this shot was taken towards the end of the set. I loved the purple lighting on Kelly’s black suit and I had spotted the unusual angle from the side of the stage. The lights weren’t cycling wildly so it was just a question of getting into position when they blended into purple and:

Hollie Rogers @Acoustic Sex – Remember I told you about the Isle of Wight? You are paying attention aren’t you? Well, one of the people I met there was Hollie Rogers. We were introduced, I was impressed and did a quick search online; it was enough to make me decide to go and see her play five days later. She obviously impressed Ray Jones as well because he booked her to play at his Acoustic Sex showcase at 2 Northdown a few weeks later. There are no fancy coloured lights, but the lighting levels are pretty good so there are no excuses. Hollie’s songs are generally pretty intense and her voice is incredibly powerful, but there’s another side. She has a wicked sense of humour and that’s the side I tried to catch in this shot:

Mollie Marriott @The Borderline – I was lucky enough to see the first and second (and a few more) gigs that Mollie played with her full band. Like everyone else in this list, she’s a terrific singer and writer; she also has a band that are great musicians and lovely people. They don’t just play music together, they’re a team and it shows in the way they interact on stage and off. Mollie’s one of those people (a bit Like Hannah Aldridge) that I never get tired of photographing; there’s always something different to capture. This was a shot from the refurbished Borderline before they really got the lighting sorted out. A challenge, but you make the most of the hand you’re dealt:

It’s been a huge pleasure to meet and photograph these people, but it’s not just about the visuals; they are all gifted performers that you should make the effort to see if you get the chance.

Nuala ScrollerSometimes it feels like every time you turn around, another iconic venue vanishes, but it’s not all doom and gloom; some entrepreneurs are bucking the trend and I had the chance see the opening night at a new venue just off Pentonville Road this week. From the outside, 2Northdown looks completely anonymous. Only the presence of security staff hints at something interesting inside; there wasn’t a green door, but I told them Ray sent me and someone laughed out loud but I was in. the priorities of the management team are obvious as soon as you walk through the door. The bar is basic, and cash only, but the sound system is good and the stage is very photographer-friendly with a completely uncluttered black backdrop and some basic but effective white floods to light the stage. Top marks there.

For the opening night of Acoustic Sex, Ray Jones (formerly of Time Out) put together a bill of artists who have been attracting attention for some time now. Nuala’s mix of busker attitude, a huge voice and the ability to incorporate distractions like a phone ringing and breaking a string into her lyrics was a great start to the night. The string-breaking incident gave Ray a chance to hustle a quick guest spot from Steve Young, who also loaned Nuala his guitar to finish the set. Next up was Lisa Marini with her fusion of traditional singer-songwriter and smooth jazz (featuring Arthur Newell on drums and Jack Tustin on upright bass). It was eclectic, with Lisa starting the set with a uke before switching to a lovely nylon-strung Godin guitar for the rest of the set. The audience were completely engrossed and you could have heard a pin drop, or the shutters of half a dozen Nikons on burst mode.

To close the evening out, the final set was from Joe Slater, down from Liverpool for the day, full of cold or flu germs, but still game for a raucous half-hour set. As always, in the words of Ray Jones, he knocked it out of the park. He’s a natural songwriter and his voice and delivery are huge. His penultimate song, “Rainbow”, is what “Imagine” could have been if John Lennon had still been hungry and not living in a mansion in Weybridge; this guy has talent, and the balls to finish with a cover of “Champagne Supernova” which had the entire audience singing along.

Great venue, great atmosphere and great performers; what more do you need to know?

If you want to see some pictures of the event, go to Nuala, Lisa or Joe.