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.

One of the bands that the Riot Squad has supported for a few years now is Stone Foundation. Live and on vinyl, they are the real deal; great songs, rock solid rhythm section (that’s the stone foundation) and some superb horn arrangements. Founder members and songwriters Neil Jones and Neil Sheasby are a formidable partnership and also a pair of diamond blokes. Among other things, Neil Sheasby likes to do a bit of writing as well, and what he writes is always worth reading, so imagine how chuffed we were at Riot Towers when this piece came through less than two hours after we asked him if he’s like to contribute to High Fives again this year. What a star. 

Michael Kiwanuka – “Love & Hate“

 michael-kiwanukaIt’s such a complete piece of work from beginning to end, it’s in no desperate rush to impress, it just unfolds and works its way into your subconscious. It’s also hard to pin down to one genre, it’s a soulful record but equally embraces subtle elements of Rock, I certainly hear a Pink Floyd thing going on in there too. 

To encompass all these elements, have a social narrative and then still be an accessible pop record is no mean feat to pull off. 

Best album I’ve heard in a few years. 

 Phill Brown – “Are We Still Rolling?”

phill-brownI’ve read some great books this year. I really enjoyed Tim Burgess “Tim book two” as it turned me onto a lot of music that I otherwise probably wouldn’t have arrived at. 

I was given the Phill Brown book by a friend who thought I’d like it. Phill was (& still is) a recording engineer whose working life in studios started in the mid 60’s with sessions at Olympic Studios including The Stones right through to those remarkable Talk Talk albums “Spirit of Eden” & “Laughing Stock”.

The inside stories on both the artists involved and indeed the creation of the records is fairly priceless. I found it fascinating to read up on the creative process of pieces I adore like the first couple of Robert Palmer solo albums or tales of Traffic and a rather reclusive Stevie Winwood. 

Again it put me on a path of discovery, a chapter was dedicated to the making of Murray Head’s 1972 concept album “Nigel Lived”

I’d never heard it, didn’t even know of it prior to opening this book. 

It’s like a buried treasure somewhere between “Odyssey & Oracle” and “Dear Mr Fantasy”. 

It sold zero and sank without trace. 

 Josef Leimberg – “Astral Progressions”

josef-leimbergThis was something that our merch guy Pete had been banging on about for a while but as there is no physical format as yet of the album, it took me a short while to get around to hearing it, but once I did I found myself running back to listen to it constantly. 

He’s a trumpeter & composer who has worked recently with Kendrick Lemar & Erykah Badu but has now branched out and created his own thing which, as the title suggests, is a jazz fusion thing. The vocal tracks are pretty amazing too, it is a sort of continuation and development of the style that Kamasi Washington impressed with last year. 

It’s a real rewarding listen, powerful 21st century music. 

“The Get Down” (Netflix TV Series)

The Get Down

The Get Down

I wasn’t that impressed by the pilot of this but once I locked into the TV series I really thought it worked. 

“The Get Down” documents that period of New York City in the late 1970’s just as disco’s smouldering embers are being laid to rest and the City is on the verge of bankruptcy. A new art emerges, as always with the best movements it starts from the streets. The birth of Hip Hop told through the lives, music and art of a young street gang in the south Bronx. 

I thought the main actor, Justice Smith, was wonderful, the show had its fair share of critics but I really, really enjoyed it and look forward to picking it up again when the second series returns in 2017. 

 William Bell, Union Chapel – July

 neil-basher-and-neilWe (Stone Foundation) didn’t really do that many gigs this year as our priority lay with writing, recording and ultimately completing a new album for 2017. 

Our appearance as support for William Bell back in July turned out to be an evening that will live long in the memory, not so much for the gig itself but for the fairly surreal circumstances that we found ourselves surrounded by. 

Not only did we get introduced to William and have the opportunity to talk at length but we also had the good fortune of rubbing shoulders with both Paul Weller and Nick Lowe who were both in attendance. 

I always find it heartening to find that these people are just music obsessives and have principles and motives that are no different to that of our own. I don’t think you ever lose that sense of wonderment, that fan thing. It is fundamentally why we started playing and creating music and it never diminishes even if you’re Paul Weller or Nick Lowe. 

Music is an incurable sensation. 

Long may it reign o’er us…