Happy Thanks Giving Messages

It occasionally happens that the beginning of this annual High Fives feature coincides with Thanksgiving and this year is one of those occasions. So why not start this celebration of 2019 highlights with an appreciation of some of the things (and people) that enrich our musical lives and enhance the gigs that we go to. In no particular order, here are some of the things that Allan is giving thanks for in 2019:

 

The old London venues – By that, I mean not necessarily old in real time, but the venues I’ve been visiting for a few years now; the ones where I know the bar staff (and quite often the security team). The ones that I enjoy visiting because I know the artists are treated with respect and the audience listens rather than talking about their bad experience on the Tube (Green Note, take a bow). And the bigger venues where it’s loud and the stage lighting’s dynamic; the venues that have been around for years. We’ve lost a few recently, but we’ve still got the Empire in The Bush, Dingwall’s, The Forum and The Roundhouse for the old-school big gig experience.

 

The new London venues – First of all, the venues that are new to me. In nearly ten years of covering live music in London venues, I’d never visited The Electric Ballroom until a few weeks ago and it’s an absolute treasure of a venue. Great sound, great lights and, even with a full house, you can still get around the venue; and let’s not forget the wonderful staff.

We’ve all heard about venues closing, particularly in Soho but it’s not such big news when new venues open their doors. The Camden Chapel, an intimate 40-capacity space in the London Irish Centre opened this year and we also saw the first event at the Cocoa Vaults in Covent Garden. And Madame Jojo’s is due to re-open in 2020. That has to be something to celebrate.

The Volunteers– I know, sometimes it feels like everyone doing anything on the live music scene at the moment is volunteering. There isn’t a huge amount of money about and there are a lot of people in line for a small piece of it; but we also have venues and events that are run almost entirely by teams of volunteers. In London, The Roundhouse, The Union Chapel and Islington Assembly Hall (and probably many more) rely on teams of volunteers across a range of technical disciplines to run highly professional operations. Outside London, there are numerous local festivals run by enthusiastic and talented volunteers; one example, Leek Blues and Americana Festival in Staffordshire, runs over six days in October and is dependent on a small army of volunteers. It’s a huge success and brings significant numbers of visitors to the town; it’s also great fun.

The Sound Engineers – A good one is like an additional band member. In most small venues they are responsible for creating a great sound for the audience and mixing the onstage sound for the band. A good one will bring out all of the subtle nuances of your songs, while a bad one will leave you tearing your hair out. It’s fairly traditional in smaller venues these days (the ones where people actually listen to music) for the sound engineer to be introduced to the audience as part of the round-up of band members towards the end of the set. And that’s the only kind of feedback that they want to hear.

 

The Audiences – I’m very lucky; most of the gigs I’ve been to this year have been attended by audiences that really wanted to be there. No corporate hospitality, no huge support-band guestlist, just people who want to see and hear great live music. From the awed silence of The Camden Chapel and Green Note to a night at The Forum packed with eighties Polish punks (it’s a long story), I’ve mingled with thousands of people made the effort to come out to hear music in the way it should be heard. Just keep on doing it.

So what makes the perfect festival? A line-up of artists that you really want to see, obviously, but maybe I’m approaching this from the wrong direction. There are many, many aspects of festivals that fill me with dread, including sanitation (or lack of), over-priced food and drink, the great British weather and big one; camping, glamping or whatever you favour in the area of al fresco sleeping. Now if there was a festival where I had the choice of loads of interesting gigs and the option of curling up in your own bed after a nice shower, that’s the one I’d be going for. Now, as it happens, there’s something closely resembling that happening in London this year, for the second time, going by the name of Innervisions Festival promoted by the APMG group.

The line-up features an impressively varied list of artists including Van Morrison, Mavis Staples (supported by the wonderful Stone Foundation), Maceo Parker, Fela Kuti, Gilberto Gil, Gentleman’s Dub Club, Janet Kay and Carroll Thompson playing at a range of venues including Under the Bridge, The Roundhouse, Islington Assembly Hall, Shepherd’s Bush Empire, Indigo at the O2 and Earth between Wednesday July 3rd and Sunday July 7th.

You can see the full updated line-up and links to ticket sales on the Festival website. Here’s how it’s looking at the moment:

So if you’re a fan of any of the artists on this line-up grab yourself a ticket or two for any of the gigs, arrive at a reasonable time, leave the wellies at home, enjoy the gig and then get the tube home to a nice comfortable bed and wake up the next day feeling refreshed and without the prospect of a mile-long cue for a tepid shower. Just sayin’.

 

Here’s the second set of my photos of female artists, taken in widely differing venues with one thing in common; live music. It’s fair to say there were that conditions were challenging in some of the venues, but if it was easy all the time it would be no fun and photographers wouldn’t have use creativity to get killer shots. It’s just a matter of attitude. So here are the shots.

Kit Bennett (Wildflowers) @Bush Hall (14/10/16)

01-kit-bennettI saw Wildflowers a couple of times this year, once at an AMA UK showcase and once supporting Sound of the Sirens at Bush Hall and the obvious subject seems to be Siddy Bennett, centre stage and lead vocal, but we don’t like obvious do we? To one side of the stage is Siddy’s sister Kit, effortlessly cool keyboard player and if you want extra photographic wow factor, she plays accordion as well, and you don’t see that every day. I got some decent shots of Siddy but, at both gigs, I loved the photos of Kit, particularly at Bush Hall where the lighting was spot on for subject and background. As a bonus, Kit can look quite intent when she plays, but this pic caught a bit of a twinkle in her eye. See the full gallery here.

Hannah Wood (Sound of the Sirens) @Bush Hall (14/10/16)

02-hannah-woodThe very same gig. I admit it, I’m a fan and I’ll take every chance I can get to see Sound of the Sirens; my photos tend to be 40% Abbe, 40% Hannah and 20% both together. One of my fellow photographers, Richard Bolwell, likes to catch Hannah when she’s at her most animated (and very successfully too) but there’s a peaceful, serene side to Hannah that shines through when she’s totally immersed in the music and that’s what I was trying to catch here by wedging myself against a wall to try to get the right angle to frame the shot. I’m pleased to say Hannah then created the perfect image for me. See the full gallery here.

Lux Lyall of Sister Witch @The Unicorn, Camden Road (30/07/16)

03-lux-lyallOne of those gigs where anything could happen, and a bit off the beaten track for me (at least half a mile away from Camden Parkway). I’d gone along to see Anna Christina and Belle Star from Lilygun playing in David Ryder Prangley’s band, Sister Witch and I was looking forward to photographing all of them again, although I had no idea what the light would be like (not too bad, as it happens). Turns out that, despite the undoubted photogenic qualities of that trio, I had overlooked a true star. Sister Witch singer Lux Lyall has that bit of mystique and theatricality that the camera can’t resist. There were a few good shots on the night, but this one seemed to capture her cool, almost disdainful stage persona perfectly and with only a bit of colour correction at the processing stage. See the two galleries here and here.

Carina Round @The Lexington (05/08/16)

04-carina-roundYou know, of course, that all gig photographers always play by the rules and would never cheat (unless it meant getting a really cracking shot), don’t you? Well, I was puzzled when the three songs rule was applied to a gig in a room above a pub (admittedly a great live music room, but three songs?). I spent the first three songs down at the front of the stage in almost pitch darkness trying to get anything usable. I even blocked the view of someone in a wheelchair (it’s ok, I asked her and she very kindly allowed me to stand in front of her for a few seconds and we had a lovely chat). After three songs, I wasn’t really happy with anything that I’d shot, but I could see that the projection Carina was using was warming up and would create some interesting effects later. Towards the end of the set, I could see an incredible image starting to appear and, without realising how it happened, I had a camera pointing at the stage to record this. I’m saying now, I have no regrets whatsoever about not playing by the rules. Sorry Carina, but it is a stunning image, particularly with the black and white treatment. See the full gallery here.

Elisa Zoot (Black Casino and the Ghost) @Camden Roundhouse (17/02/16)

05-elisa-zootElisa’s another one of these people that I’ve photographed a few times now (and a serial offender in my photos of the year) in various venues, but this was something else. Black Casino and the Ghost had landed a support slot with Kula Shaker for a European tour and the London gig was at The Roundhouse. The photo pit was really busy and most of the pros gravitated to centre stage where the action usually happens. I sloped off to stand in front of Elisa’s keyboard on my own and waited for the band to start. Before the end of the first song, I was surrounded as everyone realised where the focal point was. Elisa’s a bit like Mollie Marriott in that it’s quite difficult to take a bad picture of her; there were probably three from this particular night that could have been in this selection, but the action and the lighting made this my favourite. See the full gallery here.

 

fightback-scrollerJust imagine this; your best friend tells you they’ve set the date and venue for their wedding and it’s only a few weeks. Then they go on to tell you that haven’t sorted out the catering, the entertainment or even the ceremony they want; they haven’t even got a partner. You’d be wondering about their sanity and looking for a quick escape. Well, that’s what the Music Venue Trust has done. They booked The Roundhouse for an event called Fightback on Tuesday October 18th. At the time of booking, no artists had been booked and none of the usual infrastructure (sound, lights and security) put in place.

It’s an example of a desperate situation eliciting a desperate remedy. The event aims to raise funds for a service to help smaller venues threatened with closure, but it’s also about raising awareness of the difficulties currently facing live music venues in city centres. It’s not just a London thing; it’s happening across the country as developers see venues and music pubs as prime targets for conversion into expensive accommodation. And it’s not just a logical economic progression; there are some dodgy tactics being employed (illegal demolition by CLTX Ltd of the Carlton Tavern in Maida Vale for starters) and the odds are stacked in favour of the developers.

Music Venue Trust is trying to redress that imbalance by offering support to venues threatened by closure. The idea of announcing a gig without having any of the elements in place is drastic, but we’re talking about it and about the issues around it; it’s creating solidarity across the music business around tackling venue closures. At the time of writing, one band has been confirmed; The Carnabys, who are patrons of the Trust and donated the profits from pre-sales of their latest album to the cause, have confirmed their participation and others will follow.

It’s up to you now. If you want to support the event you can book tickets here.