Here we go; it’s the first album review of 2022 and we’re starting with on a high. “Delta Man” isn’t just an album packed with great songs, it’s also a wonderful celebration of over forty years of friendship and collaboration between two very talented and very different singer/songwriters. The fifteen (quantity as well as quality) songs on the album span almost the entire period of their friendship. Bobby and Jerry bring very different strengths to the partnership; Bobby’s a songwriter with country and honkytonk influences and a great voice who’s had a fairly conventional ride through the music business (if such a thing exists), while Gerry pulls in influences from rock and jazz (among other styles), plays a mean guitar and took time out from performing in the mid-eighties to bring up his family in LA before coming back to music full-time in 2017. The varying musical influences and career paths make for a very potent writing partnership.

The opening song of the album is an example of the almost random art of hitmaking. “Kinda Like Love” is a fabulous piece of songwriting that should have been a huge country hit. It’s amazing that it’s never been picked up by a major artist (although it’s still not too late, you can imagine a Luke Combs cover working really well). It was covered by Molly Hatchet in the eighties, but didn’t make a huge impact. All the characters are there – the beautiful young woman, the handsome cowboy and the slightly jealous onlookers in the bar and then there’s the classic lyrical and melodic hook in the chorus. Maybe there’s still time for this one.

The rest of the album is split fairly equally between Bobby’s conventional country/rock/blues and Gerry’s more eclectic stylings and vocal delivery. It’s noticeable that there are a lot of musical references running through the album and hints at influences from a wide variety of artists. “Rockin’ On a Country Dance Floor”, with Bobby Allison’s pure country vocal is a great example; there are nods in the direction of The Allmans and Jerry Lee Lewis and instrumental quotes from The Beatles and Roy Orbison. All of that and a song that’s great fun as well.

And that’s just two songs; there’s plenty of variety across the album, from the slow country waltz “The Good Life” with piano and pedal steel and hints of Eagles’ “Take It to the Limit” in the harmonies and the and the descending IV-III-II-I chord progression, to the Bo Diddley feel of “Delta Man” and the rockabilly styling of “Train Train Train” to the “Blue Bayou” feel of “In the Pass”. With powerful lyrical messages as well, there’s plenty to keep the interest over fifteen tracks and forty years. Welcome to 2022.

“Delta Man” is out on in the UK on Friday January 21st.

Our first review of 2022 and we thought we should start with a bit of confusion. Of the two Steve Dawsons that we now seem to feature regularly (because they’re both very, very good at what they do). This is the Chicago Steve Dawson as opposed to the Nashville Steve Dawson; the one who released the excellent “At the Bottom of a Canyon, In the Branches of a Tree” in June 2021. Steve had enough finished songs for a double album but “Canyon” was released as a single album; this left an album’s worth of oven-ready songs that Steve now intends to release as singles and possibly an EP. He’s releasing “A World Without You” to coincide with his British mini-tour starting at the Americana Music Association UK showcase in Hackney on January 25th.

The song is an example of a classic understated arrangement. It’s a simple, slow triple-time ballad, with a traditional four-piece backing given an added soulful edge with a sprinkling of piano and organ (courtesy of Alton Smith) and some lovely descending guitar arpeggios. Steve’s notes on the song tell us that he was aiming for a Merle Haggard feel with the song, but there’s also more than a hint of sixties/seventies Southern soul in there as well, Stax ballads or James Carr, maybe. Lyrically, you can interpret “A World Without You” as a straightforward break-up song, but Steve feels it’s more influenced by the loss of his in-laws. Either way, it’s a beautiful soul/country ballad.

“A World Without You” is released the UK on Friday January 21 on PravdaRecords.

You can see Steve Dawson in the UK at these places and dates in January:

Tue 25               London Hackney Social, AMA UK showcase

Wed 26              Leicester* The Musician

Thu 27               Birmingham* Kitchen Garden Cafe

Sat 29                 Sheffield* The Greystones

Sun 30               Carshalton Cryer Arts Centre

*with The Fargo Railroad Co.

We thought we’d said goodbye to 2021’s High Fives but here’s a late contribution from Mike Butterworth with some great shots from gigs he’s managed to get to this year. We may have a final Hogmanay contribution from Allan on the 31st; who knows?

Photo courtesy of Johnny Ng

Like last year many of my usual festivals were postponed again and many of the independent and small venues were not open for business, this includes The Half Moon at Putney who were forced to close and break their run of live music every day since they started in 1963!

Nile Rodgers @ The Big Feastival, Oxfordshire

At only my second festival of the year there was an amazing headline performance by Nile Rodgers. An incredible musician and although I was aware of his broader influence, he played songs from several artists, as well as classic Chic songs.

Nile Rodgers & Chic – The Big Feastival

With Bernard Edwards (also from Chic), Rodgers wrote and produced music for other artists, including the songs “He’s the Greatest Dancer” and “We Are Family” for Sister Sledge and “I’m Coming Out” and “Upside Down” for Diana Ross. After Chic’s breakup in 1983, Rodgers produced several major albums and singles for other artists, including David Bowie’s Let’s Dance, “Original Sin” by INXS, Duran Duran’s “The Reflex” and “Notorious”, and Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”. He later worked with artists including The B-52s, Jeff Beck, Mick Jagger, Grace Jones, The Vaughan Brothers, Bryan Ferry, Christina Aguilera, Lady Gaga, and Daft Punk, winning three Grammy Awards in 2014 for his work on their album Random Access Memories.

Nile Rodgers & Chic – The Big Feastival

Leddra Chapman @ The Jazz Café, Camden

Like many gigs this year, a lot of them were ones that were rescheduled from 2020. This gig was supposed to be played on the 10th anniversary of the release of Leddra’s debut album ‘Story’, but as it was postponed for the third week March 2020, we had to wait 19 months! She rose to prominence when her debut single, “Story”, was released on 7 December 2009 to much critical success and strong radio support and play from Terry Wogan on BBC Radio 2 during his last weeks as host of the station’s breakfast show.

Leddra Chapman – Jazz Cafe

Playing to a full house, and so pleased to finally be playing to an audience, Leddra perfomed all the songs from her debut album.

Leddra Chapman – Jazz Cafe

Cloudy Galvez @ Servant Jazz Quarters, Dalston

Cloudy is an up-and coming artist pioneering the introduction of a new sound: 12-string progressive soul with a touch of pop. Whether accompanied by drums and bass, or solo, Cloudy delivers one thing live that other artists don’t: the non-stop set. The songs flow from one to another through beautiful improvised transitional sections, allowing the music to breathe and do the talking for itself. It truly is a captivating continuous mix of original material, packed with push-and-pull, catchy hooks and beautiful melodies inspired by her Colombian heritage, designed to catch your attention and stay in your head for days.

Cloudy Galvez – Servant Jazz Quarters

This evening, being her first full gig since contracting long COVID, she was only able to play a six-string guitar as her usual 12 string is still too heavy. Another notable difference was her more conventional set, with breaks between her songs – as she still doesn’t have the energy to play continuously. That said, her slightly lower tone to her voice, requiring a lower key for one of her songs, was sounding amazing and a remarkable achievement given her situation a year ago. Many of the songs were reflective of her last 18 month, not only of lockdown, but the dramatic changes in her own life as a result of COVID.

Cloudy Galvez – Servant Jazz Quarters

Lauren Housley @ The Half Moon, Putney

Lauren is a singer and songwriter hailing from Yorkshire, UK. Her love of music started early, with a deep connection to great songs, the craft of storytelling and an emotive vocal performance. “It was like magic to me, that music could have such an impact on the way I felt. It became my therapy.”

Lauren Housley – The Half Moon Putney

Lauren Housley is the ‘GIRL FROM THE NORTH’ whose new album was released in April 2021. Dealing with love, loss and the turbulence of growing up and learning about life, Lauren brings a refreshing air of optimism and heart-warming hope with an empowering belief in oneself to overcome obstacles. Hear some of Lauren’s new, unreleased material in a stripped-back intimate setting.

This was the first gig at The Half Moon Putney since their closure in March 2020. Lauren, the band, and the audience were all so appreciative of this opportunity to be part of a live performance.

Lauren Housley – The Half Moon Putney

Natalie Shay @ The Camden Assembly

Natalie Shay is an indie pop/rock artist & BRIT School graduate hailing from North London. The multi award-winning musician has established an ever-growing presence, media acclaim and a loyal fanbase through her explosive live performances and viral-worthy anthems, recognising her as one of the UK’s hottest emerging talents.

Natalie Shay – Camden Assembly

Shay sold out two headline shows in 2019, with her music continuing to pique the interest of notable publications such as Billboard, Clash and The Line of Best Fit. To date, she has amassed hundreds of thousands of streams, with her single, ” being placed in Spotify’s New Music Friday, New Pop UK & Wholesome Editorial Playlists. She has also worked on EDM tracks, racking up over 2 million streams to date.

Natalie Shay – Camden Assembly

Natalie is now set to release her latest 80s inspired single, New Wave, delivering a relatable anthem for those new lovers.

She performed a powerful and accomplished set headlining what was going to be the release party for her last EP, but as that was released in April 2020, we all had to wait 18 months because of COVID restrictions. However, it was well worth the wait, especially as she included a new song about coming to terms with who she is, past, present and future – that she wrote during lockdown. The full band added to the depth of the performance. These are just a few of the many amazing performance I’ve seen this year. It was really nice to be back as some great grass roots venues. Another great year of live music, in spite of the limited access due to the pandemic.

Graeme’s been contributing to this feature since 2015 and all of his contributions have been entertaining. We all know that it’s been hard to find positives over the last two tears, so we really appreciate the effort that’s gone into this one to pay homage to Charles Dickens with the presents of Christmas past and a Christmas yet to come. It’s a great memoir from a working musician and songwriter and we’re honoured to be publishing it here.

Present Number 1 – Abbey Road.

This was a present from my best friend’s parents to me when I was a nipper. I think it was 1970, probably years after it was released. But that didn’t matter to me at all. Music was timeless then. I was into the Beatles before I knew anything about music. Before I knew why it mattered. Maybe their music WAS why it mattered. Dunno, cept this was my first “grown-up” album. So grown up and in pristine condition that it was allowed onto my Dad’s enormous stereo player rather than just my Dansette. So I heard it loud and clear. Time and time and time again. I’d lie on the floor, speakers to either side and vanish. OK, it’s not a perfect album. In particular, Maxwell’s Silver Hammer is a stinker and Octopus’s Garden is a bit desperate. But the rest? Paul’s bassline on Come Together might be as significant to bassists as Sunshine of Your Love or Under Pressure – sheer genius. Here Comes The Sun? I Want You? Oh Darling? Something? All great songs. Then there’s the Medley. I’d never heard anything like it at the time. It was weird and wonderful to me. This was the first album where I was starting to think of myself as wanting to be a musician songwriter and I listened with ears that were trying to fathom what was going on. I must have learnt a million things from this album cos I must have listened to it a million times, but the one thing that springs straight to mind for this High 5 is hearing a love song that finds a clever way to say “I Love You” without being obvious.

“Something in the way she moves….. something in the way she moves ME”.

Thank you George. I learnt something from that.

Present Number 2 – Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs

This was also a Christmas present given year a few years after it was released. I had no idea at the time that the subject matter of the album was also the subject matter of Something but the cry of pain across the whole of the album resonated with me and my discovery of blues music which was picking up pace at that time. I was heading backwards into my Dad’s record collection finding he had Bessie Smith performing one of the tracks from Layla “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out” and my friend and I were trawling the record shops of Newcastle looking for old blues albums to listen and learn more about this fascinating music that spoke to us from another world. From the howl of Layla, the sob of Bell Bottom Blues, the wasted grief of Have You Ever Loved A Woman?, the torn soul of Thorn Tree In My Garden, I heard songs being used to communicate deep feelings lyrically and musically. I didn’t know how to do that, but I knew it was what I wanted to do. Just couldn’t put it into words or find the right notes! Sometimes you have to live a little.  Or a lot. But maybe not so much that 3 years of heroin addiction and 15 years of alcoholism is required to get over it. The first thing that comes to mind from this album now is again a new way of saying the old things. “There’s a thorn tree in my garden, if you know just what I mean”.

Present Number 3 – The Futurama Mk111

My first electric guitar. It was second hand and cost a whopping £25.00. I think I was vaguely aware that you got more guitar second hand than new. I have only ever bought one or two new guitars since. It came in a case and with a bottle of Selmar guitar polish. I was never the best guitarist, but I had the cleanest guitar. I can still recall the aroma of opening the case and smelling Selmar guitar polish. As heady a perfume as Sunday Dinner gravy, Fish and Chips, and all the other great aphrodisiacs. But here’s the thing. I’m left-handed. Now, I know Paul McCartney played left-handed, I must have even seen pictures of Jimi Hendrix playing his strat upside down. I probably hadn’t seen pictures of Albert King playing his Flying V upside down with the strings also upside down, and I don’t think that would have helped any. When I sat down and took out the cleanest guitar in all the world and my hands went one way and the guitar neck went the other, I sat and thought as my head swam. I’d persuaded my parents to buy me this guitar because my life depended on it. I couldn’t now go to them and say “err, I have a problem”. The guitar, to be honest, was already something contentious. It was being played on TV and Radio by people like said Mr Hendrix and other persons not on the family Christmas card list (you know who you are). My family were all old school trad jazz or even music hall. I was already swimming a little far from shore. So, I took the left arm and attached it to the neck of the guitar and the right hand was taped to the body of the guitar and I said to myself, get on with it. I think I was 14. We played our first gig when I was 16. We were awful. We split up after our second gig. Musical differences between us and music. It’s been on and off ever since.

Present Number 4 – Gibson Thunderbird

I can’t recall when I made the change permanently from guitar to bass. I know why I made it. Cos my best friend was 100 times better than me on guitar. So it was easier to change than remind myself every time we played. In my defence, I’d always really loved Paul and Jack. Great songwriters, singers and players. Then along came Andy Frazer, Phil Lynott, James Jamerson, Flea, Sklar, Carol Kaye and so many more into my line of vision and inspiration. It never really bothered me that Paul played bass with a plectrum. He was the bassist in the greatest band in the world and had written the greatest pop songs that will ever be written. I broke my wrist snow-boarding many years back and so, ended up using a pick more and more myself.

I have bought and sold many basses. Hofner Violin Bass, Gibson EB0, Rickenbacker 4001, Fender Jazz, Kramer, Status etc. This one will be the last one. I had to venture into the dark dangerous underworld in order to rescue it. It was held captive in a stygian dungeon called North London. I found it wounded and wasted and managed to carry it to safety and civilisation, South London, of course, and hence straight to the local Vet for shots and restorative care. (a shout out to John Procter – luthier of this parish – https://johnprocter.com/ ). What makes it so special? Dunno really. The Fender Jazz and the Status are easier to play. Almost all of them are lighter. It’s just iconic. I love the look. Are there any major bassists who have played one? John Entwhistle springs to mind. He also modified it into a Fenderbird. I just think it appealed cos of it’s total lack of obvious appeal! Anyway, what’s done is done. It has gotten under my skin like it or not.

Present Number 5 – The No Nukes Concert DVD

OK, this is the Ghost of Christmas Presents To Come. I have asked Santa for this pressie this year, but I dunno if it’s gonna be under the tree. I think I’ve been a nice boy all year. Christ, there’s not been much chance to be anything else! I am hoping it will be there on Christmas morning but the tree is currently still in the loft, so, who knows? If he’s checking his list once or twice, he ought to know this. Brucie was probably the last of the 20th C great songwriters to overwhelm me. I’d been overwhelmed by John and Paul, Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Paul Simon and Leonard Cohen at various points. I think I’d been aware of Bruce but pre Darkness on the Edge of Town, he’d seemed less relevant to a kid in a small town in the industrial north of England. But then, through the airwaves, I heard something.

“Badlands, you gotta live it everday,

let the broken hearts stand, that’s the price you gotta pay

keep pushing til it’s understood

The Badlands start treating us good.” The guy across the water was as miserable as me. And as articulate as Joe Strummer and Elvis Costello. I learnt a lot more about songwriting. And then I saw him and the band. Nothing really prepared me for that (maybe Rory Gallagher). Three hours plus of sheer soul, glory, rock and roll. Delivered. I have never seen a better gig. Seen some I’d put up alongside it, but never bettered. Not by Brucie either I’m sorry to say. For me, and this is just for me, The River is a dreadful album. Too many awful fillers. I felt very let down by that album. So, it’s with Great Expectations that I’m looking forward to Christmas morning to be looking back to 1979!!

Now, what if I’m disappointed with the concert?

What if, on review, I decide that Abbey Road isn’t as good as I originally felt?

What if I decide that I can’t accept the genius of Layla with the foolish old man that Eric Clapton seems to have become and have to lay it aside?

What if my fingers get so stiff from lack of use, that I accept my playing days are over? In that case, I have prepared here for Allan my list of 5 Rules of Songwriting THAT CANNOT be broken under any circumstances, they are, in order of importance, as follows:

At the start of this year Allan reviewed KB Bayley’s album “Little Thunderstorms”; he loved it. We’re a bit hesitant to give his ego any additional boosts but KB has been very flattering about the review and he’s put together a really interesting and moving contribution to High Fives 2021.

Photo by Rob Blackham

2021 was a strange old year. The complex and confused younger brother of 2020, who had made no secret of his cruel intentions. But amidst a sea of uncertainty, a real 2021 highlight for me was when Allan McKay reviewed my new album ‘Little Thunderstorms’ – to receive praise from someone who knows and loves music like Allan does was a shining light in a post-lockdown wasteland… so I was very chuffed to be asked to offer up my High Fives for the year.

There are recurring themes: lockdowns, live music, Weissenborns, albums.

Best Virtual Gig

Who remembers the first lockdown of Spring 2020? Hot sun, deserted roads. It seemed like the whole world was taking a breath, doing yoga, learning Ukrainian. I recorded my ‘Little Thunderstorms’ album in a back room at home, in between rediscovering long-forgotten records and learning about 1950s valve mics. By early 2021 and the third lockdown all that had changed. If you were like me, you were inhaling family packs of Hula Hoops and bingeing Line of Duty (“Jesus, Mary and The Wee Donkey, can we just move this thing along?”)  Spring arrived, but London remained empty and freezing, a dystopian gig-less wasteland. It was one Sunday afternoon in early spring when I stumbled across the two hours that restarted my year. I got an alert about a livestream show from Nashville, performed by Gretchen Peters – one of my favourite songwriters on this exhausted virus-ridden little planet. More than that, she was being joined by Ben Glover; a wonderful human being and another songwriting hero of mine. Ben had done me the honour of singing on track 4 of ‘Little Thunderstorms’, a song called ‘Blood Red Lullaby.’  I poured a beer, logged on and suddenly the world just tilted back into place. With the inimitable Barry Walsh on piano, Gretchen’s beautifully self-deprecating reminders that they hadn’t performed in front of an audience for some while reminded us all where we’d been. Then the opening chords of another classic would come chiming out of her guitar (accompanied by Ben’s Hummingbird), and I remembered why I loved songs and songwriting so much.

The Towpath Album For reasons I’ll explain in No. 5, I walked a lot at the start of 2021. I normally work in London, where the roar of the traffic fights daily with the rumble of the trains. In early 2021 I had rediscovered a towpath near my home where I could walk for four hours with only the canal boats and magpies for company; a time for reflection and emotion. I first saw Kelly Joe Phelps in Camden in 2000, and it remains one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen; emotional intensity, authenticity, humility, virtuosity and humour right there.  (“I’m gonna take a break now, get high, then come back on and play the same songs to you again”.) I knew every note and syllable of ‘Shine-Eyed Mr Zen.’ Shamefully, ‘Lead Me On’ had slipped under my radar.

This 1994 record became my towpath soundtrack. The breathtakingly fluid lap style playing, the raw intimate vocals, the themes of confession and redemption. Kelly Joe was my saviour and my travelling companion on that muddy path past the canal boats and their straggle-haired inhabitants.

One day I was lost in ‘I’d Be A Rich Man’ and a frantic woman told me her boyfriend was trying to kill her;  the next day it was ‘Black Crow Flying’ and she waved at me from their boat as they danced together clutching a bottle of red wine, their raggedy little dog snapping at my heels.

Best Guitar Workshop

By early summer my ‘Little Thunderstorms’ album had made its way into the world, like a baby crawling towards a shaft of sunlight through a door. I talked about the record online and on radio, to a variety of passionate and patient commentators. I read the reviews too – positive words brought a warm grateful glow, the occasional challenge always raised a smile. (This from Italy: “KB says he’s inspired by Kelly Joe Phelps, but he sounds nothing like him.” Hard to argue…  Making a record is fun; so is talking about it. But it was time to get back to the musical lathe and actually play some stuff.  

A brief origin story: I’ve been playing acoustic fingerstyle guitar since I could walk. I got into slide blues in my teens – a tough call on the punk-dominated 70s South Coast – then played in a series of badly-behaved electric blues bands. Weissenborn playing came much later in life – discovering in enthusiastic middle age the unique joy of a guitar that sits on your lap while the steel bar in your left hand slides out the melody. I tell myself my innocent lack of virtuosity allows my songs to thrive, unfettered by too much performance (but we’ll let the audience decide).  With the album out in the world and a few years of lap slide apprenticeship under my belt, in July 2021 I drove from Watford to Bradford and back in a day. Only one thing would truly coax me to do that; a Thomas Buchanan Koa Weissenborn. I walked into Tom’s Cleckheaton workshop and for a passionate guitar nerd like me – a truth since the age of 4 –  it was a magical grotto of delights. Beautiful woods were everywhere, shaped into different stages of instrumental evolution. Tom has the quiet confidence of a master craftsman; an alchemist who combines wood, steel and bone to create gold. I walked out of his workshop with a Koa Style 4, and I know that instrument will be with me until I check out. His words rang in my ears as I left: “I think you’ll find the instrument will tell you how it wants to be played.”

First Gig Back

So you’ve got an album out, twin Weissenborns sitting in a guitar rack and a folder full of solid reviews. Can you still play live?

I consoled myself with the thought that I probably wasn’t the only muso thinking that in 2021. But there were still butterflies as I arrived at The Star in Guildford on August 3rd 2021. I’d been invited to join a bill with two shining young southern talents, Leoni Jane Kennedy and Lifelike Charlie; those two plus a bloke older than the Prime Minister playing guitars designed in the 1920s.  

It was a glorious night. It was strange at first to stand at the back as the crowd filtered in and assembled in front of the stage; there were beautifully familiar faces from the the thriving local live music community, all engaged in that strange clumsy dance of ‘do we hug, punch or knock elbows?’ Even stranger to sit on stage for the first time since February 2020; surrounded by cables, monitors, mic stands; the soft glow of my kitchen at home replaced by the burn of stage lights on my hands. Could I still play and sing? Yup, it seemed so. (In truth, once Line of Duty had ended I’d been practising every night.) Could I remember the titles of my own songs? Not a chance. “This next one is called…. Sh*t no it isn’t, sorry.”  I could still play songs. I’d forgotten how to talk to other people.

Favourite Album Cover

‘Little Thunderstorms’ was a record all about stuff that happens to us; small, seismic, tragic, mundane. At the start of 2020 it was a scratchy collection of phone demos, with just a rough idea of how it would sound. As a family, we had been battling our own Event. My wonderful nephew Will – then 19 – had been fighting a rare cancer since 2017. He had stared it in the face, beaten it back, taken all it could throw it at him and come out standing tall. He’d given radio interviews where the DJ had been rendered speechless by his courage and honesty. Will was a scientist, a poet, and a gifted artist. I needed an album cover, and I asked him to create one for me at the start of 2020. All I had was the title – Little Thunderstorms – and a rough idea that the record was going to sound acoustic and homemade (if only I’d known just how much…..) He made me the first draft of a cover. It was beautiful – but it was too ‘big’; more like something for a stadium band, not an introspective troubadour questioning the world. With a maturity that I still don’t have, he called me and asked me to describe exactly what I wanted; the next day I received the original artwork for the album. It never changed throughout all the development of the record. Like his courage and his beautiful soul, Will’s art remained constant.

The album came out and the original cover artwork received so much love. In early 2021 I gave Will his vinyl copy of the record; his beaming smile was a tiny shard of joy amongst the sea of pain that came from knowing his time with us would soon end. In the final few weeks of his life I hope and believe that Will got some happiness from knowing that his uncle’s record had gone to all corners of the world, with his beautiful artwork on it. For every glowing review from a Music Riot or Americana UK, there was an Italian critic slagging off KB’s singing. He loved that.

Will left us in February 2021. Whenever I talked to people about the album I never mentioned his story. His contribution to it wasn’t about being a cancer patient, or a hero, or someone who finally ‘lost a battle.’ He was an artist.

We know that Allan likes to try to capture something out of the ordinary occasionally when he’s shooting gigs so we asked him to share five images that move away from traditional gig photography without getting into the abstract realm. We quite like his selection.

I do like a bit of variety; with the best will in the world, it can be quite a challenge creating an interesting image from the same basic elements time after time, so I start to look around for a bit of a change, whether it’s something visually different at a gig or something out of my music comfort zone. The first opportunity I had to take a slightly different direction in August 2019, when I photographed two poetry events. Within 6 months, I’d shot three poetry gigs involving the same two poets, one in a conventional gig venue, one on a canal boat and one in a library. Then along came COVID to wipe out most of 2020. The next opportunity to see these two poets again was in the basement of The Bloomsbury Theatre in October 2021. Actually, calling it a basement’s a bit unfair; it’s lovely performance area and well-lit for photography. The first two photos are from that gig.

Ralph Dartford @The Bloomsbury

Another of those gigs that was postponed because of the plague, but finally happened a couple of months ago. The gig was arranged to promote Ralph’s second volume of poetry, “Hidden Music”. I loved his first collection, “Recovery Songs” and I’d seen him perform three times so this was one to look forward to. Ralph’s poetry is firmly grounded in his early life in Basildon and his struggles with addiction and “Hidden Music” continues to explore these themes along with Ralph’s extensive globetrotting. Ralph’s a huge music fan as well and “Hidden Music” is a concept album; each poem has a piece of music recommended as a companion piece. I may be slightly biased but I recommend both of the books. Ralph’s a very intense performer and I hope this captures some of that intensity. I went for monochrome because the colour of Ralph’s clothing.

Phil Burdett @The Bloomsbury

I’ve known Phil Burdett for a few years now, seven to be precise. I reviewed his wonderful “Dunfearing and the West Country High” in 2014 when I was recovering from a knee operation. I was blown away and it had nothing to do with the pain-killing medication. Phil’s lyrics have always leaned towards the poetic and the move into poetry was fairly logical. It happened four years ago when Phil was recovering from a serious operation and poured his creativity into painting, prose and a film script (currently in production). Phil was finding it difficult to get back into live music performance after a traumatic spell in hospital and came up with a compromise solution; combine a performance of his first volume of poetry (“Rhyming Vodka with Kafka”) with a few songs accompanied by fiddler/mandolin player Steve Stott at a joint promotion for Ralph’s “Recovery Songs”. They’re both from Basildon and both appeared in the documentary about their hometown, “New Town Utopia”. Unlike the picture of Ralph, this worked well in colour with Phil limned in the purple light.

Dean Owens & Jim Maving @CTZN Brew

It’s surprising what you can improvise at short notice when the pressure’s on. I’ve started to dip my toe in the waters of backstage portraits and this was a good opportunity. I know Dean and Jim pretty well, so it was quite a relaxed vibe apart from time pressure (they were due back on stage in a few minutes) and a suitable location. The best lighting we could find was outside the toilets (a bit like The Borderline after the refit, really), so we dodged between customers making calls of nature and managed to get a few shots. With reasonably bright, but harsh, lighting, I was able to keep Dean and Jim in focus. Dean and Jim then went back upstairs to deliver a storming set of (mainly) Dean’s songs with Jim supplying harmonies and some stunning acoustic solos as Dean delivered powerful vocal performances including a new version of his Felsons song “Shine Like the Road” and an a cappella Frank Sinatra cover. These guys are the real thing and they sound even better with Tom Collison on keys and bass. This shot was used on a poster for a run of December Scottish gigs which was blown out by COVID.

Flashmob @St Martin-in-the-Fields

As COVID restrictions loosened over the summer, Talentbanq promoted weekly outdoor gigs at St Martin-in-the-Fields church opposite Trafalgar Square. Tourists were starting to return to London, and this was a perfect venue for a drink in the sun while listening to some great live music. I shot a few of the events and they were great fun; the performers were chuffed to be playing again and the audiences loved the renaissance of live performance.

Sometimes you look around the audience and spot a particularly lively group that are worth keeping a eye on because they’re joining in enthusiastically or just because they look like a lot of fun. Well, there was a group like that in mid-August. Between performances by Devon Mayson and American band We Three, while we were listening to the Ray Jones party playlist, the stage was invaded the instant The Macarena kicked in. Sometimes the great shot comes from watching the audience.

Vintage Christmas Cracker @The Grove Theatre, Eastbourne

A theatre shoot, why not? An acquaintance was directing and acting in an amateur Christmas show at The Grove Theatre. Why not take the cameras along? It was a chance to do something new and learn a bit about a discipline that has a lot in common with the work I normally do. What were the differences? Well, it appears that theatre lighting (in smaller theatres anyway) is still predominantly tungsten filament as opposed to LED, which is fairly common in gig venues. I know that LED is more energy efficient, but tungsten is warmer and less harsh; it’s just a nicer light. Unlike small rock gigs, even tiny theatre gigs will place an emphasis on a good lighting plot. It makes such a difference, as you can see in this (almost) perfectly evenly-lit shot.

Today’s High Five contribution is from Chuck Melchin of The Bean Pickers’ Union. We reviewed his retrospective collection, “Greatest Picks” in the late summer of this year and Allan loved it. Chuck’s decided to share his appreciation of some of his favourite guitar players with us. Apologies in advance for the Emmylou video that refused to embed.

I’m a guitar player. I’m not an especially good guitar player, and my friends probably think of me more as a songwriter than a player. But I do play enough that I have developed an educated appreciation for certain guitarists and their work. To me, it’s not speed or pyrotechnics. It’s playing for the song, it’s leaving space, it’s tone, it’s complementing the vocals and, yes, it’s tearing open the sky when that’s what the song wants. I hold these guitarists in the highest regard, as they all check all the boxes and then some. They may or may not be in your top 5, but remember I’m not calling them the best guitarists, I’m calling them my favorites. In no particular order:

Buddy Miller – when I say “plays for the song” there is absolutely no one I can think of that does so as effectively and beautifully as Buddy Miller. I first heard Buddy play when I bought wife Julie Miller’s gorgeous album Blue Pony. Right from the get go, the opening riffs on A Kiss on the Lips gave me goosebumps. And later how his guitar blends together with Phil Madeira’s organ as a single instrument on the solo section of All the Pieces of Mary. I was hooked. I dove into his catalog, spent countless hours searching for information on Buddy’s gear, lusted after his Fulltone tape echo, and was in awe of his strange Wandre Davoli guitar (which he found in a pawn shop, and which years later I broke a string on while working stage crew for him. He doesn’t know, please don’t tell him!). Over the years I have listened in wonder at how he becomes integral to the sound of everyone he plays with, from Emmylou to Robert Plant. With Buddy it’s always about playing for the song, playing with great tone, and as you can see in this video of him playing in Spyboy, he can flat out shred, if that’s what the song wants.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJoWLq_OibY

Waddy Wachtel – I am a liner note geek. I really miss the vinyl albums of my youth, where I would hold the record jacket and read the credits as I listened. One name kept showing up playing guitar on so many of my favorite records from folks like Karla Bonoff , Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon and James Taylor. The strangely named Waddy Wachtel (often along with the similarly strange names of Russell Kunkel on drums and Leland Sklar on bass) played again and again exactly what the song needed, with extremely tasteful lead guitar parts, and rhythm guitar that had me experimenting with open tunings trying to mimic the chord sounds he was getting. His solo on Karla Bonoff’s Someone to Lay Down Beside Me remains a benchmark of guitar solos in my mind. I finally got to see him play live just a few weeks ago when his super group, The Immediate Family, with Kunkel, Sklar, Danny Kortchmar (no slouch himself) and Steve Postell came around on tour. He is in his mid seventies and as good as ever. Here’s Waddy with a young singer named Linda Ronstadt covering Someone to Lay Down Beside Me.

David Rawlings – David Rawlings has described himself as “a guitar player in a band called Gillian Welch”. His guitar playing as her partner is instantly recognizable by his way of playing passing notes outside of the usual blues rock patterns, the tension and resolve he creates and how once he plays a run, you wonder why you hadn’t thought of that. He has influenced so many of the new wave of string band players. I find the most direct disciple that I’ve heard to be Kenneth Pattengale from the Milk Carton Kids. Like Buddy Miller, David obtained his trademark axe, a 1935 Epiphone Olympic, in an unusual way, finding it dusty and stringless in a friend’s garage. Always the consummate sideman for Gillian’s amazing songs, he has over the years earned a great deal of respect as a songwriter. But in my mind, his playing on the record Revival, the first of his playing that I ever heard, is what separated him from the pack of really excellent acoustic guitar pickers creating such beautiful sounds across the Americana genre. I hear tell he has recently purchased a “new” guitar from Gruhns on Broadway in Nashville (a 1959 D”Angelico Excel for you fellow geeks) which can be heard on 2017’s Poor David’s Almanack. Here is the “band” playing Gillian’s song Annabelle, with David providing great harmony and looking so cool:

Gary Louris – I don’t think any songwriter has influenced my songwriting more than Gary Louris. If I could be in any band from any era, it probably would be the Jayhawks in 1995. On top of the ridiculously great songs, Gary stands out as a guitarist by being everything I pointed to in my first paragraph – his solos and fills tie the songs together often with a repetitive riff that comes around again and again in prechoruses and interludes, and his solos are well thought out, and make musical sense, really elevating the songs without dumping on the rest of the instruments. He’s an amazing singer, both main vocals and harmony and his song arrangements are nearly perfect. That covers of his songs are almost always done really closely to the original, attests to his talents as arranger. I think all of this might overshadow his guitar playing, and he might be underrated. Except by me. Listen to him rip it up in this version of Tailspin, one of my favorites from the vast Jayhawks catalog:

Andy Santospago and Gary Goodlow – Tied for 5th place, I can’t mention my favorite guitarists without mentioning my favorites from my own band, the Bean Pickers Union. Gary Goodlow played guitar for the BPU for maybe 8 years before moving to Nashville, and he totally elevated the sound of everything he played on. A monster of tone, watching Gary play his guitar is like watching a prizefighter work the ring, always in motion, small tweaks to volume and tone knobs, tremolo bar, and pedals, he always has the right sound for the song. Listen on bandcamp to our Halloween show as Wilco back a few years, for example. Or the song Glory which can be found on both our Archaeology and the Greatest Picks records. As if having Gary in my band wasn’t enough good fortune for one lifetime, I have also had the distinct pleasure of having Andy Santospago play for the BPU on many shows and many recordings. Andy is probably the most versatile musician I know. An absolute virtuoso on guitar, he’s also a fantastic lap and pedal steel player, and a great bass, mandolin and banjo player. It’s Andy playing the dueling lap steel and electric guitars like Dickie Betts and Duane Allman trading leads on my song 16 Pounds of Mary. It’s also Andy tearing it up on lead guitar on the alt.country rocker Amy Jean, both on Greatest Picks. Andy is also one of the finest songwriters I have ever met, and Exhibit A when I try to make the case that there are some people who should be household names if the universe was fair. Here is maybe my favorite song of his, with him playing all the guitar bits:

Check out Gary cranking out the lead guitar on Warrior and Andy bringing the voodoo to the song Burning Sky right here:

Gary –

Andy:

Here’s Allan talking about some of the artists he encountered in the important half of 2021; that’s the half when we had live music again.

I may have said this before, particularly if I’ve met you at a gig, but I love gig photography. Apart from the obvious aspect of actually taking pictures, there’s a whole social scene around gigs. I’ve met some wonderful people on the gig scene, artists, managers, promoters, venue managers, security staff; you name it. It’s taken me to all sorts of venues, from the larger venues with photo pits to the small rooms where one of the major concerns is not obstructing the view of paying customers. These are the sort of venues where you see artists for the first time and where, sometimes, you discover artists that make an instant impact. I’ve seen a few of those over the last few years and, even in a truncated 2021, I’ve seen a few more. Here are a few of them. I thoroughly recommend seeing all four of these performers live. Spoiler alert – one of my five isn’t a performer.

Kat Neocleous

Kat’s a very gifted and versatile performer. She sings, acts, does journalism and works as a presenter on London Greek Radio. She’s now learning to play drums. I met Kat on social media a while ago, then bumped into her unexpectedly at a gig I was shooting at Pizza Express. Soon after that I shot her supporting The Lapels in Finsbury Park, and then at her sold-out headline gig at The Camden Chapel. Kat’s music is soulful; r’n’b with a splash of pop and hugely influenced by the confessional singer-songwriter tradition. Her voice is strong and I’m positive she has perfect pitch – her live performances are something special, even when backed by just one guitar. Her songs are powerful

and she knows how to deliver them to maximum effect. One of the highlights of her Camden Chapel show was her relatively new song “Warrior Heart” which is the headline track for her upcoming “Warrior Heart” EP.

Si Connelly

I’d heard a lot about Si Connelly over the last couple of years but somehow always seemed to miss his gigs because of clashes. 2021 was the year when I finally managed to put that right. Everything I’d ever heard about Si was really positive; I wasn’t disappointed when I finally got to see him at the Hope & Anchor in November (amazingly, my first shoot at the iconic venue) at a Success Express event. I’d thought of Si as mainly an acoustic guitar player (don’t ask me why), but he came on stage with a band and a Strat and proved that he’s a gifted electric guitar player. I saw him a few weeks later doing an (almost) solo acoustic set where he played acoustic guitar and piano. His songs are strong, but what really stands out with Si is his performance. He gives everything onstage, personifying the Andy Murray quote “Leave nothing out there.” From a photographer’s point of view, he’s one of those artists that you instantly know is going to do interesting things. I’ve shot Si at two gigs and I haven’t put the cameras down for a second during his sets. He’s visually and sonically stunning.

Brooke Law I first saw Brooke as a solo acoustic performer at the Talentbanq Eccleston Yards sessions over the summer (which are still continuing even in the deep midwinter). She did a solo acoustic set which convinced me of a couple of things. First that she’s a hugely gifted writer and performer and second that I wanted to photograph her under stage lighting. She’s lively on stage, very watchable and just looks like a rock star. Since then, I’ve had a couple of opportunities to shoot live photos, firstly at Folklore in Hackney and secondly at the Girl on Fire all-dayer at Blues Kitchen in Brixton. Both of these gigs featured her full band and demonstrated that she can perform like a rock star as well as looking like one. I’m not sure that she’s settled yet on her musical direction (I think she’s leaning towards indie/rock, but she’s already had a country hit, so who knows); whichever path she chooses, I suspect she’ll do very well.

Vincent Bugozi Vincent’s from Tanzania and he’s a force of nature. He’s an enthusiastic and energetic performer who knows exactly how to play a room. I saw him first at a charity gig at Leyton Orient Football Club (where I’d only ever been as a visiting supporter) where he and his band were dressed in suits from Tanzania that were as lively as his performance and were perfectly suited to the bouncing African rhythms of his songs. He loves to get off stage and mingle with his audience, using his extrovert radar to pick out willing participants for his performance. It certainly worked at The Orient because he picked out Nuala, one of the earlier performers on the bill. It definitely worked at The Bedford at the end of November, as you can see above. If you want to see an artist that throws everything into his performance and creates a party whenever he plays, go and see Vincent.

Laura McKay, Band Manager

Not an artist this time, but a manager and an interesting story. I had a message on Facebook from a Laura McKay. My first thought was that my sister’s FB account had been hacked (she’s also called Laura) but when I checked the mutual friends I realised that this was a genuine person involved in the music business. You can’t leave a coincidence like that hanging, so I got back to Laura and told her about the coincidence. Here’s the best bit of the story – Laura told me that people in the business had been asking her if she had a brother who was a photographer. I’ve now photographed both of the bands that Laura manages, Sins and The Slacksons (see, I managed to get new bands in there) and I’m looking forward to working with her again in the future. Got to love the independent music scene. The photo is with Sins outside The Fiddler’s Elbow in Camden.

If you live in the UK, go and see any of the bands or artists I’ve mentioned; they’re all great and passionate about what they do. You might even be able to buy me a beer to thank me for the recommendation.

Bob Bradshaw’s a bit of a regular around these parts. We’ve reviewed four of his albums and this is his third contribution to our High Fives feature. His songs are exceptional and original and his albums are examples of sequencing a series of songs to create a coherent entity, particularly on his 2019 album “Queen of the West”.

Photo by Rafi Sofer

Podcasts were a life-saver for me over the past year and a half, especially music podcasts. Here’s my high five, with examples (sometimes drawn from previous years but I heard them for the first time in 2021).

Cocaine and Rhinestones.

Tyler Mahon Coe’s wildly opinionated, rip-roaring podcast about the history of Country music is a trip. His use of sometimes obscure song clips to illustrate points is masterly. He’s devoting the whole of the present season to George Jones. This episode from the first season about Buck Owens and Don Rich is terrific:

Music Makers and Soul Shakers.

Steve Dawson is a fine guitar player/producer himself and this is one of the best nuts-and-bolts podcasts for and about musicians I’ve heard. There’s some great stories in this episode with Marc Ribot:

https://www.makersandshakerspodcast.com/podcast/8-marc-ribot

My Favorite Album.

Host Jeremy Dylan has interviewed Daniel Lanois, Mitchell Froom, and Max Weinberg, among others. In this episode the great Nick Lowe explains how he puts a live show together:

https://myfavoritealbum.libsyn.com/338-nick-lowe-breaks-down-his-live-show

Love That Album.

Maurice Bursztynski’s wide-ranging, low-key approach is perfect for discovering new music, or revisiting old favorites. Steve Berlin, from Los Lobos, talking about their 2021 album ‘Native Sons’ is a good place to start:

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/interview-with-steve-berlin-about-los-lobos-native-sons/id459559336?i=1000536614565

Dangerous Amusements: The Elvis Costello Playlist. Perhaps only Dylan or Bowie are worthy of this level of scrutiny (and there are podcasts about both that I don’t think much of.) Fellow musicians, journalists and music business folk discuss (with host Stu Arrowsmith) what Costello has meant to them over the years, and pick one song from each of the five decades Costello has been producing his idiosyncratic catalogue. There’s plenty good stuff in this interview with Glen Colson who did publicity and promotion for Costello in the early years:

https://podcasts.apple.com/il/podcast/glen-colson/id1535324499?i=1000527944399&l=iw

Time for a few more of Allan’s shots from 2021. Just by way of a change, they’re all colour shots.

I do a lot of black and white work these days, for various reasons, mainly to do with getting the best results with low lighting levels, but I do still like a splash of colour. Here are a few shots from 2021 (well, the part of it where we actually had gigs to shoot) where the colour treatment works well. Three of them are helped along by brilliant sunshine as well. Here we go:

Stilt Walker @Becontree 100 I’m fascinated by stilt walkers, possibly because my balance is so bad that I could fall off the floor. At any music festival you can guarantee that you’ll see stilt walkers. You can also guarantee that they’ll be colourful and glittery. Another helpful thing is that they’re entertainers and part of their job is to engage with the public, including photographers. What sets this apart from the majority of my gig shots is that I wasn’t trying to get a background as close to black as possible; exactly the opposite, in fact, and the colours really pop against the almost completely white background, and the long zoom allowed me to crop tightly to get rid of any extraneous background.

Duncan Menzies @Hackney Wick Duncan Menzies is a member of the London folk trio Copper Viper but at this gig, he was playing fiddle for Dana Immanuel and the Stolen Band at an outdoor gig as lockdown restrictions began to lift. This shot was taken during the interval as Duncan was preparing to rejoin the band for the second set. It’s a striking outfit and the contrast between the traditional clothes and hat and the reflective sunglasses is what makes the picture work.

Cloudy Galvez @Servant Jazz Quarters, Dalston This shot isn’t packed with vibrant colours but it has a very warm feel that conveys the atmosphere of the gig. The shot has a glow that matches Cloudy’s smile, which was pretty much fixed during the whole set. It was a very special night because it was the first gig for Cloudy as part of her recovery from long COVID. It’s been a long journey but she’s back on stage again doing what she does best. I think this shot captures the ambience of the evening.

Georgia South (Nova Twins) @Becontree 100 The reason I was at Parsloes Park in Dagenham was to see Nova Twins. They’ve spent the last five or six years working their way through the lower reaches of the music business and it’s just beginning to pay off. Georgia South makes some amazing sounds with her bass and a battery of effects to complement Amy Love’s guitar playing and vocals and spends a lot of time dancing around her pedals stomping on footswitches. Nova Twins always help photographers out with bright clothes and Georgia’s hair is always striking. She does a great smile as well.

Eleni (Echo Wants her Voice Back) @Pizza Express, Holborn Pizza Express is a bit of a challenge. The lighting’s a bit bland but you can work around the cabaret seating to get some decent shooting angles. If you want a green room shot, take along an ultra-wide lens. You can around the lighting and get good results in colour if an artist’s wearing something colourful. Eleni was pretty helpful in that respect, wearing a shade of green that worked perfectly in those lighting conditions. The other thing that makes the image striking is Eleni’s long black hair, particularly falling across one side of the face. Eleni’s a powerful performer, but it’s always nice to catch a shot where the artist is totally in the moment, almost serene.