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.

Well, after spending a morning trying to pick my five favourite photos of female artists this year, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m either very indecisive or a rampant egomaniac (answers on a postcard please). After a lot of soul searching, I managed to narrow it down to ten photos that I really like, so I’m going to split them over two days. I hope that doesn’t make me a bad person.

Gabi Swiatkowska (Tildon Krautz) @Green Note

01-gabi-swiatkowskaI’ve spent a fair amount of time at Green Note this year and I’ve now stopped moaning about the lighting. I know what it’s going to be and I’ve actually had some great results there. So why complain. This was a Josh Harty gig and he was supported by Tildon Krautz, a surreal and incredibly entertaining string band. The image of Gabi dwarfed by the upright bass was too good to miss, but it took a few attempts to get the perfect angle and even more attempts to get a shot where the neck of the bass wasn’t in front of Gabi’s face. The lighting at Green Note always gives muted colours on stage, so black and white was always the way to go with this one. You can see the whole gallery here.

 

Dani Sylvia @The Unsigned Music Awards

02-dani-silviaI was really pleased to be invited to photograph the UMA’s at The Troxy in Limehouse this year. The discipline was very different from either the first three songs only for major venues, or complete freedom at smaller venues. Each artist did one live song and the photographers had to move away from the front of the stage before the end of the song to avoid being caught by the TV cameras as they moved from the main stage to the awards stage. Dani Sylvia’s performance was so visual and colourful that it would have been difficult to take a bad photo. This one captured the atmosphere and ambience perfectly and I was really chuffed that Dani liked it. Result.

 

Hannah Aldridge @Green Note

03-hannah-aldridgeIf you’ve read any of my random ramblings about music, you might have worked out that I’m a huge fan of Hannah Aldridge. She’s a singer-songwriter from Muscle Shoals, Alabama and her astonishing first album grabbed my attention immediately. Hannah’s songwriting and live performance are absolutely exceptional, but she also understands the value of the visual image. I’ve photographed her in several settings now and always produced something I was really happy with, but this shot from Green Note (again) in black and white (again) had the look of a promotion photo for a silent movie star from the forties. Once again, I was really pleased that Hannah loved the shot as well.

 

Mollie Marriott @Time Out Rising Stars

04-mollie-marriottSo it’s Mollie again. A bit like Hannah, I find it almost impossible to take a bad, or even ordinary, picture of Mollie. When she sings, she gives it everything, every time, and that passion is clear in every shot. There were two shots of Mollie in my (not so) shortlist for this selection and this made the cut because she’s so obviously singing her heart out and the purple backlighting creates a lovely halo effect on her hair. With Mollie, I’m not sure I can even take any credit for good photos because every time I’ve seen her (and that’s quite a few times now) I’ve managed to grab some exceptional shots. Here’s the original gallery, and you really need to listen out for Mollie’s debut album which will be released in early 2017. And thanks to Ray Jones at Time Out for the invite.

 

Sarah Kayte Foster (Daisy and the Dark) @Ace Hotel, Shoreditch

05-sarah-kayte-fosterFor various reasons, this year I tried to get along to every gig that I was invited to and this one came about because of an invite from Quite Great PR. I’d never visited the venue before and I hadn’t heard anything from Daisy and the Dark. The lighting wasn’t great in this basement venue, which meant that black and white was favourite, a decision that was helped along by Sarah’s very sixties hairstyle. This was a gig that I could have very easily missed and it’s a great advert for taking every opportunity that comes your way. It was a challenge to navigate around the video camera setup, but it worked out perfectly in the end. Here’s the original gallery.

More to come soon.