Even when a gig’s going really well, there’s sometimes a very special moment when all the stars align to produce a musical epiphany (as the NME described Thin Lizzy’s seamless shift into “The Boys are Back in Town” on “Live and Dangerous”). These perfect moments can have many forms and they aren’t always strictly about the music. Let me explain.
Wade Bowen and Willy Braun @The Borderline
Towards the end of a great set where Wade and Willy took turns to perform their own songs and a few covers, Wade started to play the audience a little by asking who had travelled furthest to see the gig. The audience managed to cover a fair chunk of England, but then Wade stopped in his tracks and repeated the question to someone right at the front of the stage who confirmed that, yes, he did say Spain. Luis, and his son (also Luis) had flown from Spain that day and were flying back straight after the gig. Wade made sure that they got a huge ovation and, judging by the beaming grins, topped off a perfect night for father and son. Next time I think that I can’t be bothered to go all the way to Camden or Shepherds Bush for a gig, I’ll remember Luis and what dedication to live music really means.
Hannah Aldridge @The AMA UK Showcase, Hackney
The acoustic room at this showcase was truly acoustic; no amplification at all for vocals or instruments. All the artists, including Dean Owens and Danni Nicholls rose to the occasion, and Hannah Aldridge played a flawless set to a spellbound and appreciative audience. The night peaked when Hannah introduced a new song from her upcoming second album. The song was “Gold Rush”, a haunting tale of growing up and growing old in small-town America that transfixed the audience from start to finish; not a whisper and barely a breath until the song was over. Hannah’s the real deal: singer, player and superb songwriter.
Sound of the Sirens@ Bush Hall
This was a big deal for Abbe Martin and Hannah Wood, headlining their own show at the prestigious Bush Hall in Shepherds Bush. Following great performances from Sadie Horler and Wildflowers, Abbe and Hannah soon hit their stride and demonstrated their dynamic range and exquisite harmonies. They featured a cover that I’ve heard them play before, the Simon and Garfunkel song “Sound of Silence”. Something about the ambience of the room, the pure and perfect harmonies and the way song highlights Abbe and Hannah’s vocal and instrumental power created a moment of magic in west London on an October night.
The Mighty Wah! @Water Rats
Start to finish, all killer no filler. Pete Wylie still has it and his fans still adore him. The band didn’t need to win over the crowd but they still gave it the beans. Pete joked about hoping that musicians would stop dying soon, because Wah! were constantly adding songs to the set as tributes. All of the anthems appeared in all the right places, but just as “Sinful” was simmering away nicely something almost mystical happened; fans looked at each other in disbelief as the song morphed seamlessly into “Heroes” as a tribute to the Thin White Duke. No big fanfare, just an effortless transition from one anthem to another.
Underhill Rose @Green Note
This was already a memorable occasion. A local power cut in Camden, the room lit by candles and tea lights and a completely unplugged set by Eleanor Underhill, Molly Rose Reed and Salley Williamson meant that no-one would forget this gig in a hurry, but the most surreal part was still to come, with a cover of “These Boots Were Made for Walking” featuring a lead vocal from bass player Salley Williamson and a spontaneous eruption of clapping, singing and whooping all through the room. This was a band and a crowd that were determined to have a good time whatever it took.
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.
There was something different about The Borderline; you could sense it in the air. It wasn’t the wall-to-wall double denim and hundred-times-washed black tour t-shirt crowd that I normally see at blues/rock gigs there. No, this was something very different; at least half of the crowd was Texan. Before you ask, yes, I did hear quite a few yee-hahs and I even saw a Stetson. I’m not even sure there weren’t a couple of longhorns lurking over by the cloakroom. The reason for this Texan invasion of W1 was that singer-songwriters Wade Bowen and Willy Braun (of Reckless Kelly fame) were opening their UK tour in London.
As co-headliners, they opted for the song swap format, both players on stage from start to finish and playing songs in turn. If you judge these things by quantity, at around thirty songs, that’s a pretty good deal. Add in the fact that they were all great songs, beautifully performed and that’s a pretty good night. The differing vocal styles added another bit of variety; Willy has more country inflections whereas Wade has more of a modern Nashville style voice, crossing over into a more rock intonation. The whole show was held together by the rapport between the two performers and with the audience, with plenty of chat between songs, explaining their origins, talking about visiting London for the first time and, inevitably, the result of the presidential election two days before.
From Wade, there were a few songs about drinking, including “Saturday Night” and “Sweet Leona” as well as the inevitable hangover song “When I Woke Up Today” while Willy did his bit with “Pennsylvania Avenue”, Tee Champ” and a country version of the Beatles’ “ I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party”. The standouts for me were Willy’s new song “Moment in the Sun” and Wade’s “A Battle Won” with a special mention for Willie’s cover of the Lukas Nelson song “Georgia”. It was an entrancing evening watching two people do what they love.
Just another couple of things; I was gobsmacked at the number of people who thought it was ok to hold conversations during an acoustic performance despite repeatedly being told to STFU. To counterbalance that, with a performer’s instinct, Wade managed to home in on a Spanish fan and his son (both Luis), who had flown into London on the day of the gig and were flying back the same night. Luis and Luis, I salute you; that is true dedication and I’m pleased you had a great night in London.
You could hear huge sighs of relief in guitar shops all over Britain earlier this year when Henrik Freischlader announced his return to playing and recording music. His playing’s very accessible to all, but guitarists just can’t get enough of him. Whatever the reasons for his extended sabbatical he’s come back firing on all cylinders with a great new album “Openness” and he’s now coming back to the UK to play some dates as the Henrik Freischlader Trio with Alex Grube (bass) and Carl-Michael Grabinger (drums) working in the engine room. His playing alone will have the guitarists in the audience salivating, but he has another secret weapon; he has a very, very good blues/soul voice. This isn’t just a guitarist who sings a bit, this is someone who’s a guitarist and a singer and he’s completely at home in both areas.
If you want to see him in the UK in 2016, here are your choices:
Wednesday September 21 The Borderline, London
Thursday, September 22 ABC, Glasgow
Friday, September 23 The Flowerpot, Derby
Saturday, September 24 Yardbirds Club, Grimsby
Sunday, September 25 Komedia Studio, Brighton
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.