You might think that the world of music writers and photographers, particularly in London, is cut-throat, dog-eat-dog and devil-take-the-hindmost; the reality’s very different. Generally speaking, the people that fill the magazines, websites and press releases, and shoot the posters and album covers get on pretty well with each other. As a demonstration, we invited Moray Stuart, Live Music Editor of “Blues in Britain” to make a contribution to High Fives this year. To illustrate his High Fives, Moray included some cracking photos from great photographers, who all deserve a mention. Credits for the photos, in the order they appear below are: Tony Corner, Rob Blackham, Rob Blackham, Steve Thomas and Al Stuart. It’s good to have some decent photos on MusicRiot for a change. Here’s what Moray had to say:

“Not Mike Ross to Bear”

It’s pretty rare in my (admittedly limited) experience to find an artist where you just think ‘Oh yes!’ straight off: Rosco Levee (of whom more later) was one, and in 2016 it was Mike Ross. The single act I’ve seen the most times this year, assisted in no small way by the quality of the various musicians he’s teamed up with.

With Jack Hutchinson / Maker – Latest Music Bar, Brighton 22/01/2016

1-mr-latest-music-barThe necessity of an overnight stay couldn’t stand in the way of a first opportunity to catch Mike live. This triple bill had quality written all the way through it like a stick of seaside rock, with Jack’s excellent vocals ranging from surprisingly delicate at times to a taut, tense rasp and a full-band set from Maker, who with all the cocky swagger of the Faces (and the chops to match) embody early 70s louche, laddish verve. Mike’s own solo set was an astonishing display of power and soul, brimming over with loss, anger and resignation, moving from dark and menacing one minute to wistful the next. So good I even took my wife along.

With Jack Hutchinson – Ain’t Nothin’ But, London 14/07/2016

2-mr-jack-anbI’d never really got to grips with this venue: ram-jam-packed with tourists and Italian students it always seemed a daft place to go to hear music. But following the Brighton show I made a special effort to arrive an hour and a half before show time to snag a seat at the front for this acoustic duo set. It allowed them to “pay their dues” with plenty of classic covers as well as originals from both and even an unexpected Black Crowes number. Jack and Mike’s playing nicely blended American and British influences and Jacks grade 3 sandpaper rasp complemented Mike’s stentorian drawl. So good I even returned for their next ANB joint session.

Tuesday Blues, 100 Club, London 23/08/2016

Michael Ross / Shot at The 100 Club Oxford St London by Rob Blackham /

The Tuesday Blues session has become a regular event this year but this was a cut above the usual fare, showcasing Mike’s new album Jenny’s Place. Great original song-writing, killer playing and singing, tone that could fell a herd of elephants, and the kind of assured polish, punch and fluidity normally associated with American bands, this was the best act of the fourteen I’ve seen at the 100 Club this year. Even slick Brum soulsters the Tom Walker Trio who headlined struggled to step out of the shadow cast by this performance. So good they released a live album of it.

Rosco Levee & Friends a.k.a Walrus – New Crawdaddy, Billericay 30/09/2016

04-mr-rosco-walrusAnother schlep to an unknown venue courtesy of a hastily arranged bass player taxi (thanks Trev!) was well-justified by the return to the scene of the Kaiser of Chutzpah, the Tsar to the Stars, Rosco Levee (now new and improved with added Mike!) A positively electrifying set of old Southern Slide numbers, Mike originals and stunning new material from the upcoming Soul Roller album had me grinning from ear to ear like an imbecile (maybe not a good look but who cares). Probably the gig of the year for me, and a glorious harbinger of what Walrus might deliver in 2017. So good… just so, so good

Interview – A Pub, Central London 30/11/2016

05-mr-interviewOK, not an actual performance as such, but the funniest interview I’ve ever done: Mike and Rosco delivering a perfect blend of swagger, thoughtfulness, crudity, spirituality and self-deprecation, with more unprintable bits than an MP’s expenses report. Who else can cover Levi 516’s, Wookies, and benevolent dictatorships? ‘That song? I’ve done better shits than that’? and ‘I could give you a really detailed description of exactly where they went wrong: from their shoes, to their choice of patch leads, to their fucking choice of van… but I’m not going to’ were two of the choicer moments. So bad it was so good

Now I better sign off before POW! my fairy godmother appears

There are two albums which were reviewed on MusicRiot on the Top 40 Independent Album chart last week, Neneh Cherry’s “Blank Project” and Stone Foundation’s “To Find the Spirit”.  These albums have a few things in common; they’re both fourth studio albums, they both have guest artists, both were rated as 4* by MusicRiot writers and both feature guest performers and the similarity pretty much ends there.  Except that, as Neil Sheasby, bass player and songwriter with Stone Foundation pointed out a few days ago, both albums were in the 30-to-40 section of the Independent Album chart, “To Find the Spirit” at 33, “Blank Project” at 38.

It isn’t a straightforward comparison; Neneh Cherry’s album peaked in the top ten a fortnight earlier while “To Find the Spirit” has just entered the chart in its first week.  The interesting story here is the journey that each of these albums made to reach those chart positions.  This isn’t a criticism of Neneh Cherry; it’s an achievement to get any kind of significant album sales at a time when the value of music has been so degraded by piracy and the industry has no time or money for artist development.  Most of the bands I’ve spoken to recently have only the most tangential contact with the traditional music industry, usually at the distribution end of the chain.

Neneh Cherry was operating on a fairly tight budget with “Blank Project”; it was recorded and mixed in five days (featuring guest appearances from Robyn and RocketNumberNine) by Four Tet’s Kieran Hebden, generating a certain level of interest in the project outside Neneh Cherry’s own fanbase, which is still reasonably healthy after a long time out of the spotlight.  In the weeks leading up to the release there was a significant amount of interest from the trade press and even the inkies in the UK; the physical release was in vinyl and bonus CD form with the CD containing the almost obligatory remixes.  So, signs of a marketing budget there.  Maybe not a huge budget, but enough to get the album into the mainstream media.

Stone Foundation have been doing their thing for about ten years, building up a local, then national, then international following; putting in the hard graft, basically.  The band has played as Stone Foundation and has also backed touring soul singers such as Nolan Porter and Joe Harris, building a reputation and a hugely loyal fanbase.  There’s no complicated organisation in place here; no manager or entourage; just seven very gifted and committed musicians (plus long-time production collaborator, Andy Codling) with a total belief in what they do.

“To Find the Spirit” has a few guest appearances too.  Nolan Porter, Carleen Anderson, Pete Williams from Dexys and even Paolo Hewitt are all there.  The album even has a remix; the Dennis Bovell dub of “Don’t Let the Rain”, which is available on all formats.  The promotion campaign was minimal, focussing on social media and a support slot on The Selecter’s anniversary tour, but still the album managed to break into the official Independent Album Top 40.

It would be easy to moan about how much better it was in the good old days when artists got huge advances and only toured in support of an album, but that model just doesn’t apply any more.  Most artists now only make money by touring, and a lot of that income is from merchandising.  Take a step away from singles charts and there are thousands of talented and hard-working musicians taking control of the recording, marketing and distribution processes (physical and electronic) to get their own material out into the marketplace with very little help from the mainstream media.  The MusicRiot writers try to cover as many artists as we can who are working in this way (as do thousands of other websites) but it’s only effective if our readers actually do something about it.  It’s so easy to try before you buy these days that any music lover should be able find new artists doing something interesting and appealing if they make the effort.  It’s all going on out there but, despite 6 Music’s slightly patronising campaign, it won’t come to you automatically; you have to make the effort to go out and find it.

So I say thank you to Stone Foundation and the other artists and labels we’ve featured recently; The Brothers Groove, Roscoe Levee, Bandhouse Records, Drumfire Records, Ags Connolly, Phil  Burdett, Dean Owens, Jo Hook and Geoffrey Richardson, Noel Cowley, Pete Kennedy, Aynsley Lister, Vera Lynch and the Billy Walton Band.  All of these artists are making their own wonderful live and recorded music while doing whatever else it takes to allow them to keep on making music.

Now go out and support them.