I first met Ray Jones about three years ago at a Time Out gig Mollie Marriott was playing. Two years later, Ray was fronting up a company (Talentbanq) promoting live performances by unsigned artists. It must have been quite a journey to make this happen; the reason it worked is that Ray and his fellow directors are absolutely passionate about music, live music particularly and that’s the reason the company’s working so well. Ray’s nominated a combination of favourite venues and events for his High Fives and given us carte blanche to add some narrative and photos. Let’s hope this works.

 

229 Great Portland Street 24/01/18

This venue hosts some really interesting events, including low-key warm-up gigs for artists preparing for arena tours. On the night of the Talentbanq launch, the action started in the small room before moving to the main auditorium (which was packed to the rafters) for the big stage action. Quite a launch event for a new company. The photo is Rebecca from Anavae.

26 Leake Street 10/05/18

Another first. The inaugural live music event at 26 Leake Street in the arches under Waterloo Station. You got the initial feeling from the audience that it was more about the occasion than the music, but that attitude evaporated as soon as Belle Roscoe (with the full band line-up) took the stage. And then on to Lisa Canny, again playing a full band set featuring the show-stopping laser harp. The photo is Lisa Canny.

Caffe Nero Brighton, The Chill Out Sessions 17-18/05/18

Let’s take a small Caffe Nero branch just off Brighton seafront and have a mini-festival there just as The Great Escape is kicking off. And, over two days, let’s have three artists playing every hour between ten in the morning and six in the evening. It sounds crazy and it probably was, but it worked, it ran to time and featured thirty-six artists (pretty much the entire Talentbanq roster at that time). The opening day was everything you could wish for at the coast – gorgeous sunshine and loads of delighted Caffe Nero customers listening to superb performers for free. The photo is Clint Nelson playing cajon while backing Mark Sullivan.

The Jazz Café, Camden – Hollie Rogers, Joe Slater, Dan Owen 29/05/18

A more traditional venue that has benefitted hugely from a refit that pretty much rectified all of the original layout problems. This was a cracking triple bill featuring two of the Talentbanq powerhouses, Hollie Rogers and Joe Slater with blues prodigy Dan Owen topping the bill. Joe and Hollie were both enthusiastically received by a knowledgeable and respectful audience before Dan Owen took centre stage and blew the roof off. The photo is Joe Slater.

L’Escargot – The Soho Music Festival 16/06/18

Another interesting and iconic venue and even more interesting concept; three sessions (morning, afternoon and evening) in three rooms, with audiences moving from room to room while the performers play three sets in the same place. The event was hugely eclectic, I honestly can’t recall a gig where I’ve seen a crooner, a classical pianist and a rapping Celtic harpist (that’s Gary Williams, Genia and the inimitable Lisa Canny) and will be back in 2019. I suspect it will be bigger. The photo is Gary Williams.

On a personal note, it’s been a pleasure to be involved with all of these Talentbanq gigs and to work with a team who really look after the gig photographers. We all appreciate it – Allan.

We’ve given Allan some interesting assignments this year and he’s also managed to blag his way into a few others. He’s had an interesting year and he’s desperate to tell you about some of the highlights. Why don’t we just let him get on with it?

 

 

“Rock ‘n’ Roll Twilight” cover

It’s not a big secret but, in case you didn’t know, our live reviewer from Up North, and myself have been friends since meeting on our first day at University. We’ve had a lot of interesting times together and separately but nothing quite like this year (Steve’s party piece is to almost, but not quite, get us into conflict with people that look like they could kill us just by looking at us).

Steve’s an unashamed rampant enthusiast; once he decides to tackle something he makes Norman Hunter look like a six-week old kitten (70s football reference – Ed). This year’s big project has been writing and publishing. Skip back a sentence and you’ll see the word enthusiast; even with adjective ‘rampant’ to help it along, it’s not the full picture. He’s a force of nature; a hurricane or a whirlwind maybe. So it’s no surprise when he announced that he was publishing not one, but two, books at the end of 2018. “On the Radio”, co-authored with his brother Paul, which is autobiographical and takes us from Steve’s birth to the point where Steve and Paul are granted the licence for High Peak Radio; it’s a great read. The other book, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Twilight” looks at live music from the viewpoint of someone got the bug in the 70s and has been a fan ever since. Many of the chapters initially appeared as Music Riot reviews, but that’s not the reason it’s one of ‘pinch myself’ moments of 2018. 

In May of this year Steve gave me the commission for a cover shot for the book. As luck would have it, three days later, I saw exactly the shot he needed backstage at a Talentbanq gig (more about them later). Anyway after all the publication issues were resolved, I was able pick up a book with one of my photos on the cover. It was quite a moment.  

Martin Belmont photo 

I’m a big fan of Graham Parker – always have been. The strange thing is that I’ve seen him more times in the last 3 years than I ever did when he was at his commercial peak in the 70s/80s. When I discovered that he was touring with a band and The Rumour horns, it went straight into the diary – twice. Once at Islington Assembly Hall and once at The Picturedrome in Holmfirth to tie in with a weekend at Leek Blues & Americana Festival in Staffordshire with Steve Jenner and his wife Sue (also a friend since University days). 

I published a few shots from the Wednesday Islington gig on social media directly after the gig and made my way Up North the following morning to shot the Leek festival, head over to Holmfirth on Sunday and back to London on Monday. When the pace slackened a little, I checked to see the response to the photos on social media. One shot of Graham Parker’s guitar player Martin Belmont had been seen and shared by Martin and was getting a lot of attention. When I checked, I recognised a lot of the names that had liked the picture, but I was gobsmacked when I saw that the collection of loves for the shot included Charles Shaar Murray and the rock photography legend Chalkie Davies. I’ll just leave it at that.

Talentbanq @The Shard 

I mentioned Talentbanq earlier. If you go to gigs in some of the cosier venues in London, you’ve probably heard of Talentbanq. For those who haven’t, it’s an organisation promoting unsigned acts across London and it’s fronted up by Ray Jones, formerly of Time Out magazine. There are two things you need to know about Ray – he knows everyone in hospitality and the media in London and he’s fanatical about live music. Just the person to organise the first open-air live music performances at the top of the tallest building in Western Europe.

And the opening day, August 4th, was an absolutely perfect summer day in London; no clouds, brilliant sunshine and perfect panoramic views over London from a height of nearly 250 metres. It was an honour and a privilege to be there, watching incredibly talented artists playing to people who had no idea that live music was part of the package.

And just to add a bit of interest, Julia Gurry, from the incredible Belle Roscoe, announced in the Green Room, just prior to performance, that she was terrified of heights. She still did the show and here’s the evidence:

Claudia Fontaine tribute gig

 Gig photography; it’s really specialised and you would imagine it must be incredibly competitive. My experience is that, unless the tabloids are involved, there’s a huge amount of mutual respect between gig photographers. Most of us are doing this because we love it and we respect that motivation in others. Take a look in the photo pit next time you’re at a gig and you’ll see camaraderie and mutual respect; gig photographers will congratulate each other on great shots; it’s a privilege to be a part of that community.

That’s a long-winded introduction that partly explains why I was invited to photograph an event this year where Annie Lennox made a guest appearance. The photo gig should have gone to the fabulous Emma Jones but she couldn’t make it and recommended me as a replacement (see, told you we look after each other). The gig was a tribute to the late Claudia Fontaine (just Google the name; you’ll be amazed) and Annie had agreed to appear. We did all of the megastar liaison about photographic restrictions and eventually came up with shots that Annie was happy with. Unfortunately, for contractual reasons, I can’t illustrate this with an Annie Lennox photo, but I hope this pic of the wonderful Beverley Skeete works for you:

Stone Foundation with Paul Weller, Kathryn Williams and Graham Parker

You may have noticed the occasional mention of Stone Foundation in my random typings. I’m a huge fan and I’m not alone there. They’ve attracted a lot of celebrity attention from the likes of Robert Elms and Craig Charles and from musicians including Dr Robert, Graham Parker and Paul Weller. When they announced a tour in November to support the latest album “Everybody, Anyone”, I was at the front of the queue for tickets; the photo pass was a bonus. No three songs and out this time; the pass was for the whole gig, so something special was happening. There was a bit of a clue when Derek D’Souza (long-time Weller photographer) showed up in the pit (no egos, mutual respect and handshakes all round).

So, to cut to the chase, Kathryn Williams supported (along with Michelle Stodart) and during Stone Foundation’s set there were guest appearances from Kathryn Williams, Paul Weller and Graham Parker. Apart from the really obvious stuff like the band doing “Tear Your Playhouse Down” with Graham Parker, I have no memory of the gig. I do have a few good pix:

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.