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.

Time for another selection of Allan’s photos from the few months when we actually had proper gigs happening again. We’ve asked him to be a bit creative with themes this year so he’s come up with a title that no-one under the age of fifty will understand to link the photos.

Why black and white? Well, a variety of reasons; sometimes it’s a creative decision, made in advance, that monochrome will look better. It might be the artist’s choice; that’s happening more often these days. And sometimes it’s about the stage lighting. It’s a frustrating but understandable situation in small venues. The smaller rooms that are the essential first step on the ladder for upcoming bands will always struggle financially, particularly after an enforced closure over a long period of time. When the money’s tight, you look after the essentials first and that’s always going to be the sound. If it doesn’t sound right punters and band are unhappy. If the lighting’s not dramatic, or even bright, no-one cares (well, maybe the photograpers. So, I don’t complain, I just get on with the job. It helps that technology gives us the option to edit in colour or monochrome with one mouseclick. Here are a few examples.

Lina Stalyte @Servant Jazz Quarters

My first shoot in this venue. Like so many in London, it’s in a basement; not a criticism, just a statement of fact. This one was promoted by Lorraine Solomons at Success Express and featured two artists I’d shot before and three I hadn’t. The lighting on stage was patchy; if you found the right spot, you were well-lit. Lina Stalyte was last on the bill was one of those performers that are easy to photograph; she’s elegant, expressive becomes totally immersed in the song, shutting out everything else. This shot, where Lina looks totally unself-conscious was acceptable in colour, but monochrome emphasized the contrast between Lina’s fair skin and top and the dark background. It doesn’t always happen, but I knew this one was a winner when the shutter fired.

Jim Maving @CTZN Brew Twickenham

The first gig at CTZN Brew was only a few weeks earlier, so this was relatively new territory. Dean Owens and Jim Maving (great musicians genuinely good guys) were performing and the gig was promoted by Phil, Kevin and Lucy from Eel Pie Records. The lighting was, well, it was pub lighting; no interesting colours but bright enough to work with. The sightlines weren’t great, but the customers were really tolerant about having their view blocked for a few seconds (with their permission obviously).

With fairly harsh and uninteresting lighting, monochrome was an obvious choice, but there was another deciding factor. Jim, like me, is silver-haired and, unless the lighting is dramatically coloured, just looks better in black and white. I’ve shot him a few times now and I’m starting to think of him as Monochrome Jim. Given a choice, I wouldn’t have the mic and stand in the shot, but I don’t think it detracts too much from a shot of a great musician in action.

Hannah Aldridge @The Half Moon, Putney Keeping it really contemporary, this was shot two days ago at a gig where Hannah was supported by Isabella Coulstock. I’ve shot in the Half Moon and few times and I’ve shot Hannah loads of times; she’s a joy to photograph. I know the good angles at The Half Moon and I had that rare experience of the lighting being more interesting than I expected. Monochrome processing was a choice rather than an imposition for this shot. It was originally processed in colour, but the lighting and contrast are perfect in black and white. The distance between Hannah and the dark red backdrop means that the background is barely reflecting any light, emphasizing the perfect lighting on Hannah’s face.

Amy (Nova Twins) @Becontree 100

The first time I shot Nova Twins was in a basement (see what I mean) in Dalston six years ago. They’ve been working constantly since then and now they’re playing festivals – this one was Parsloes Park in Dagenham. They’re a lively performers and with decent stage lighting (even in bright sunshine), it wasn’t going to be difficult to get good action shots (it definitely wasn’t). Amy and bass player Georgia design their own outfits and they’re usually pretty lively and colourful, which would make you think that colour would be the right processing choice, and it was for most of the gig – I got some really vibrant shots of Amy and Georgia. Then this one came along; as hard as I tried to make the colour shot work, the combination of the hazers and the lights created a horrible colour image. Obviously with an image as striking as this, you don’t give up easily, so it was the black and white click and it was easy from there on in.

Down with the Stereotype @High Tide Festival

Promoted by the great people at Eel Pie Records, this was the second High Tide Festival with bands playing in venues around the town and on an outdoor main stage. The opening band on the main stage was Down with the Stereotype, winners of the local Battle of the Bands, organised by the Basement Door Charity.

Lighting on the stage was hit and miss. In sunshine it was perfect and the colours were vibrant, but when a cloud passed over, everything was muted. I got some nice colour shots during the set (the band were magnificent, by the way) and bass player Will is a force of nature, constantly creating photo opportunities. This classic foot on the monitor shot happened when a cloud passed over, but it’s a nice monochrome.

It constantly amazes me that I’m taking pictures of musicians doing their thing on stage. It’s something I love doing and takes precedence over anything else that might be going on in my life. It was a huge blow when lockdown was eventually announced in March 2020. We all knew it was coming, but it took a while to sink in properly. I was lucky in that I got to a few outdoor socially-distanced gigs in 2020 (including a Georgia Crandon gig on the coldest night of the year in December). So when things started to open up again in the summer of 2021, I was desperate to get back into action.

Rebecca Riedtmann @The Sound Lounge 30/06/21

This was a gig that should have happened in December 2020, when Rebecca was heavily pregnant but actually took place on June 30th this year and was her baby daughter’s first gig. There was enforced distancing and mask-wearing but it was still a proper indoor gig at the wonderful Sound Lounge in Sutton. You could sense that everyone in the audience was excited to hear live music again and Daisy Clark (who had played at the G7 summit in Cornwall) played a well-received support set. Rebecca and her band, as ever, looked like they were having a lot of fun. No signs of rustiness and many signs of a group of people who have a solid professional and personal bond doing what they love doing. The response to a storming set was heightened by the anticipation of the audience that had been starved of the live experience for fifteen months. Big shout out as well to Hannah and Keiron at the Sound Lounge for all of the work they put in to keeping venue alive. The shot above was from the soundcheck.

FAERS @The O2 Academy2 Islington 20/08/21 When I told my friend Al Stuart, a great gig photographer, that I’d been shooting at the venue, he asked if the gig was in The Desmond. I was puzzled until I worked out that upstairs at the O2 is known as Academy 2. Bit of a change in the rules for this one – evidence of full vaccination was required, but masks inside weren’t mandatory and no distancing was observed. It was also sold out. Honestly, I was a bit uncomfortable with that. Problem solved – although it’s a fairly small room, it has a pretty wide photo pit to accommodate the one photographer on that night – me. While everyone in the audience got up close and personal, I stayed in the photo pit to shoot ORDERS, Bandit and then the headliners FAERS. As a contrast to Rebecca’s Americana gig, this was a full-on indie rock gig; noisy, sweaty and crammed to the rafters. Great fun to watch from my sanctuary in a spacious photo pit. The night was completed when Stephen Anderson-Howard of FAERS jumped into the pit, climbed up the barrier and leaned over into the crowd creating the shot above this paragraph. Proper gig photography.

Dean Owens & The Southerners @Green Note

The first gig of Dean Owens’ last tour was March 13th 2020 in Edinburgh. The second was almost eighteen months later at Green Note in Camden on September 1st 2021. Again, there were sensible restrictions in place to ensure that Green Note (with a very small team of staff) wasn’t put temporarily out of business by the dreaded COVID ping – fill in an online form, provide proof of vaccination and take a lateral flow test within the twenty-four hours before the gig. I was happy with all of that (although some customers weren’t too chuffed). Dean and his two compadres Jim Maving (guitar and backing vocals) and Tom Collison (keys, electric bass and backing vocals) were totally up for the much-delayed gig and a great night was had by the restricted and socially-distanced audience. If you get a chance to see any of these guys, take it. They’re all great musicians and lovely people. And Dean’s songs are uniformly superb.

Various – Leek Blues and Americana Festival 30/09/21-03/10/21

I have a bit of history with Leek (the one in Staffordshire, not the Netherlands). I worked there for about two years in the mid-1990s and loved the experience. I was an outsider in a small, fairly remote town and I was made to feel very welcome. A few years ago Music Riot’s northern correspondent and very old friend of mine, Steve Jenner, moved to Leek and, in 2018, invited me to this festival. I took the cameras along on the off chance. It worked out because in 2019 I was back there as official guest photographer. If you want to know what that means, it means getting up on a Saturday morning to go and shoot the kids’ matinee performance (which was great fun) among other things. Obviously the 2020 festival didn’t happen but I was raring to go for 2021 and I wasn’t disappointed. The festival is mainly free events in pubs in the town centre (and there are a lot of pubs in Leek town centre) and paid events in The Foxlowe Arts Centre and other performance spaces. The whole thing is put together by volunteers who are, without exception, lovely people and total musicheads. I absolutely love it and always block out the start of October in the calendar every year. This year was quite strange in that I met up with a few people that I know from the London scene, which was all a bit strange, as well as all of the people I now know in Leek. I recommend it to anyone as a great mix of local and international artists. The shot above is the incredible Ian Siegal performing in The Foxlowe as Saturday night joint headliner.

The Black Mamba and Ru @Union Chapel 23/11/21

There were virtually no COVID restrictions by this time (and the ones still in place were being largely ignored). I’m still wearing a mask in enclosed spaces but, towards the end of November, I was in a minority. I was at the gig to photograph Ru, who was doing a short support set for her Portuguese compatriots The Black Mamba, who represented Portugal at Eurovision. Don’t let that put you off; they’re a seriously funky band. Also, I’ll grab any opportunity to shot at Union Chapel; it’s such a lovely venue. The shot above is Ru during her set. It was a special night, but the icing on the cake was guest performances during The Black Mamba set by Bumi Thomas and Omar.

There are a couple more honourable mentions as well. The second High Tide Festival in Twickenham, organised and curated by Eel Pie Records (big shouts out to Phil, Kevin and Lucy). The weather was perfect and there was a great selection of artists on the main stage and in various locations around the town centre. A great day out. There was also a lovely night curated by Success Express (thank you Lorraine Solomons) at Servant Jazz Quarters in Dalston. Five very different artists played short but powerful sets on the night. Si Connelly, KT Wild, Russell Jamie Johnson and Lina Stalyte were wonderful but the night belonged to Cloudy Galvez who made her first live appearance since a long COVID diagnosis in 2020. It’s great to see her back on stage again. And it’s always good to end on a high note.

Well, we’re hoping to bring you some great photos from some of the best live music photographers on the circuit as part of this High Fives season, but until then you’ll have to make do with another selection from our resident snapper, Allan McKay. This time he’s picked out a selection of colour shots of male performers from a widely varying range of venues.

 

 

John Crimes (Jaxhill)

This was taken at Leek Blues and Americana festival in October of this year. This is a great community event staffed by volunteers and features a stack of free events in the town’s pubs (there are a few of those) plus a small number of ticketed events, over a period of 6 days. The smaller events are interesting because they don’t usually have any stage lighting, so it’s about playing the hand you’re dealt. Turning away from singer Mike Gledhill, I noticed that John was beaming out this 100—megawatt smile. Press the shutter button and there you go.

Maceo Parker

This shot was from Maceo’s show at The Roundhouse as part of the Innervisions Festival in 2019. Why do I like this festival? Easy, you can go home at the end of each gig, have a shower and sleep in your own bed. This shot was a combination of planning and luck. I saw Maceo place the wooden ‘Love’ sculpture on the stage and thought that there must be a way of working it in to a shot. After trying the sculpture on its own and as an out-of-focus foreground, Maceo walked to the back of the stage and there was the shot. I like to take away a lesson from every gig. The lesson here was that LED stage lighting and a shaven head isn’t a great combination.

Martin Harley

Leek Blues and Americana again, and this was the first ticketed event of the festival at the wonderful and intimate Fowlowe Theatre. I’ve photographed Martin before, but usually in much smaller venues, acoustic, and with upright bass player Daniel Kimbro. This time he was leading an electric trio and, apart from the Weissenborn songs, playing standing. The combination of those things with the heavily-modified Stratocasters created opportunities for some images that were very different from past gigs. And there’s a bit of the lead guitarist thing going on there as well. Combine that with decent stage lighting and you’ve got a shot.

Lewis Bewley-Taylor (Hardwicke Circus)

Hardwicke Circus is cracking young band from Carlisle with great songs, bags of energy and presence, and a hint of early seventies-era Stones. They’re managed by the legendary Dave Robinson and they’re always worth seeing live. This shot was from the newly-refurbished Bedford in Balham. It’s always had a reputation as a great music venue and it has one huge bonus for photographers; it has a balcony over the back part of the stage allowing you to shoot from above, which works well for drummers and keyboard players. The shot was made by the seventies prog-rock setup and the carpet and the use of an unusual viewpoint. You really want a bit of trivia don’t you? The band’s name is taken from a traffic island in Carlisle.

Jim Maving (Dean Owens and The Southerners)

Taken at The Exchange Theatre in Twickenham. Jim is a stunningly good guitar player who has spent some time recently working live with Dean Owens and Tom Collison. Jim isn’t keen on being photographed, but was good enough to tell me that he liked the shots I’d done at this gig. The thing that I really like about this shot is that it captures some of the intensity of Jim’s playing and the purple stage lighting (not normally my favourite) works really well with Jim’s silver hair.