Alvvays

•October 23, 2014 • 2 Comments

I haven’t updated this blog for a while but it’s the right time to celebrate its 8th year running with some new photos.

Alvvays have been on my radar for few months, missed them at a London festival, went to catch them close to home
I have a soft spot for indiepop. It is not my genre but it works pretty well when neither Michael Gira nor PJ Harvey do.

Summer nights, refreshing evening to cheer you up with a drink. Contemporary vintage. Nostalgia of old music without wanting to listen to the Beach Boys.
That is where Indiepop enters my life.

OK, Let’s spend a couple of lines on the name. I know, It’s internet. To be or not to be that is the question. Easy is the answer. Depends if the search engine finds us or not.
To get up there in the first half page of google isn’t easy, you know everytime you do a search of site without typing your name.
Name. One and foremost, a unique name helps a lot. A word that doesn’t exist. But still recalls another that does exist. Genius.
Alvvays replaced the W with 2 Vs. Looks wrong (to me) but works great. Google it and see. Than try to Google, for example, Perfect Pussy and see if you get anything about a punk band (DO NOT do this at work).

Unique name. It’s not just that, sure. Being the only Valerio Berdini in the world it would have made me a millionaire.
You need to be good (*reminder to self*), constant, professional and catchy. I’ll get to that later.

Chvrches did it first (or was it Mvscles?). Whatever, V in the place of U looks cooler than VV in the place of W.
Few years back someone pioneered the idea using caps lock (that google ignores) and removed vowels. Band as SBTRKT appeared but, let’s be honest, it didn’t work because it is impossibile to remember the sequence of consonants when you don’t have the whole name. And it’s unpronounceable which doesn’t help words of mouth.
I always get LND or LDN wrong for All London airports international code, for example. (Don’t think you care)

Right I finish this. I needed to squeeze a couple of pretty pics of Molly, rather, pretty Molly pics and need some words between them.

Molly Rankin is Alvvays’ magnet and a magnetic front-girl. She sings, plays guitar and capture audience attention.
Wikipedia tells me she is a member of the Rankin family, a musical institution in Canada that I never heard of until I got to Wiki to check. (Call me ignorant but I am honest)

This to say Alvvays are from Canada. Nova Scotia…. (google/maps/Nova Scotia) … oh yes, it is that protuberance in the east of the country just north of the US. Must be beautiful there.

Alvvays album was out earlier this year and welcomed enthusiastically in UK. They saturated my twitter liveon35mm feed for a week (it’s linked cause I’m close to 1000 for too long go follow me break the barrier), that’s how I was caught by the name, first, intriguing articles, second. I couldn’t avoid them.

Spotify now has their selftitled album on stream so I am listening to it right now.

9 fresh songs. They open with a nice jingle, not a proper riff, more the sort of things Robert Smith of the Cure used in songs, all with the right vibe from start to end.
Jangling guitars and Molly’s voice embodying that happiness of being young and doing what she loves most.

I wanted to buy the album and get it signed after their set at the Cambridge Junction. They came to open for Real Estate, I took these photographs there.
Unfortunately I forgot my wallet at home, so I couldn’t buy neither the album nor the glass of white wine belonging to a lady that I spilled from a table. #FeelingGuilty

Alvvays are a 5 members band. If Molly is the band’s (sweet)heart, the other 4 are the band’s mind.
Down to earth, they have the quintessential indie attitude playing quintessential independent music, dressed in quintessential indie fashion including indie accessories, spectacles, converse, t-shirt, skinny jeans kind of stuff.

So, they do what it says in the tin. And they do it well.

Signed to Polyvinyl (which I hope one day will bring to us another Japandroids album) is a warranty of sincerity.
They will play the album almost in full tonight in a 30 minutes slot. It sounds crisp and shiny (and better than Real Estate but don’t tell them).

Alec O’Hanley on lead guitar has the melodic touch, Kerri MacLellan on keys adds the pillars of the songs, with simple harmonies.
Let’s make it clear, it’s not rocket science, it’s not Thelonious Monk quartet and not even the Cure. But it’s pleasing.

If you want a comparison, you better look at Camera Obscura or the Pains of Being Pure at Heart.
This is on offer and better you take it now.

The most complicate career you can choose, as a professional band in 2014, is this sort of delicate, not showing-off, jangly pop.
It’s difficult to write songs that stand out from the huge bunch they’re with.
It’s difficult to impress your audience when you walk on stage the same way you dress to go to the cornershop to buy milk.

Alvvays managed to fill a whole album with 9 indie-pop pearls and it will be nice to see these guys growing and pointing at bigger stages.
To support Real Estate was good but wasn’t doing justice to their potential.

Listen to them, tell your friends, bring them back to UK.
You now know how easy is to find Alvvays online, but if you’re super lazy, I’m here to help with few links [website][facebook][twitter][Spotify]


Photo tip

Junction2 is a tiny posh venue, as posh as the city of Cambridge.
When is seated there’s no pit, actually the seats are in a pit.
When it’s standing most of times there is no pit.

Rarely as tonight, they put a pit. It was so tiny that the girl passing the photopass tells me she doubt I can squeeze in. I know I will.
Every small pit is better than no pit.
Why?

General opinion among music fans and venue securities is that music photographers want a pit so they do not have to arrive too early and still have a privileged spot in front of long time waiting first row fans. It’s true. We love our job, still is a job. When you are doing a job to be in the ideal conditions to work helps.

I have covered so many gigs without pit, I mean wild shows, shows with violent moshpits, deafening concerts that I am experienced enough to tell that the problem is not music photographers being picky.

The main reason we want a pit is because it helps shooting better photos.
Why? Yes, because we are close but mainly because we can move.

A concert is not static, and even with the static artists different angles help to find the right photo.
To move along the stage in a soldout theatre with people standing it is not a option when there is not a pit.

It is already tough to get to the front but we must. Second row is a no option. We need to be in front of anyone else.
Fans are right to complain. First row should be for them than to these big lenses taking photo.

Music venues, please, do all you can to put press pits at gig if the band allows photographers.

If you want that we do our best job we give us the condition to work.
If there is no chance we are going to have a pit, please tell us in advance.
We’ll live at home the 70-200mm and probably the second body attached to it. We’ll be lighter, we will be less of a hassle.

Pulled Apart By Horses

•August 20, 2014 • Leave a Comment

It has been a bizarre summer in terms of live gigs.

On one side I wasn’t very keen of going here and there shooting music because I was concentrated on a different photographic project.
On the live music side many things went wrong.

First the artists: Prince above all, Jack White, Neutral Milk Hotel and Mark Kozelek of Sun Kil Moon to close. I am a big fans of all of them, they are not big fans of photographers which means either I went to see the gig without cameras (Neutral Milk Hotel) or I didn’t go at all (Prince, Jack White).

Then there was the Jabberwocky/ATP festival cancellation. One of the most outrageous behaviour I have ever seen, but I will not write about it because there is nothing more to write. The internet is plenty of insightful analysis that all bring to the only reasonable conclusion: whoever is the responsable they didn’t care of the fans but only of the money.
It’s capitalism, baby.

My friend came from Italy for this and, in addition of struggling to refund the festival ticket, has paid a flight, a stay and everything. We had a nice countryside canoe ride on the River Cam up to Grantchester Meadows, though, which was nice and very Pink Floydy.

So back in Cambridge and back in time, since I don’t like leaving this blog abandoned and I am plenty of photos of gigs that I haven’t used, I fished out a concert that happened in Cambridge in May.

Pulled Apart by Horses played a tiny date at the Portland Arms. If you read me you now know this delightful pub with annexed one of the best music space in Cambridge.
It’s the right time now to get those shots out of the hard disk now.

Pulled Apart By Horses (also known as PABH) have been on the scene for a while. Following the classic indie band trajectory, they formed in Leeds in 2008, putting together the rests of dissolved bands. They released singles and demoes as everyone until they were noticed and signed by Transgressive records to release their self titled debut in 2010.

Despite this, it’s live that the band has always gathered its followers. Exploring the post-hardcore genre that has been going around in UK since the start of the decade, together with the like of Blood Red Shoes, Rolo Tomassi, Future of the Left and several more, PABH raucous shows became the worst kept secret of the underground UK scene.

The second album was out a couple of years later, Tough Love. BBC mentioned it as their album of the week, it cemented their success and increased their following. Together with continuous sold out dates in bigger and bigger venues all around the country including festival stages that are increasing in size under their feet.

A third album has been expected for a long time and that time has come. It will be out next week, 1st of September 2014, on a new label, Best of The Best Records, with a sheer title: Blood.

When PABH came to the Portland Arms, about 3 months ago, there were no rumours on the new album release, despite it was obvious. The above mentioned “indie-rock trajectory” implies that they were due an album somewhere around this year.

This was a special night with The Witches opening (another must see live band) for them. In a 150 people crammed venue. All the ingredients for the punk-night of the year were set.

And the punk night of the year, it was.

All volumes set to 11. T-shirt quickly left space to bare chests. Girls and boys having their wild night out experience. Tom Hudson screams set the energy level to maximum and all the rest followed.

I am not a big punk hardcore fan and if I have to mention one thing I don’t digest of it is the singing.
I appreciate the fast 2 minute songs and the fast music that tonight breaks the world records flowing at a pace of five hundred miles an hour but the singing is my problem.

I love the uncoordinated energy releasing mad dancing of the moshpits. I love the crowd surfing and the band surfing moments.

I like the sweating that for a hour let me think that UK ain’t that cold in the end. And I loved, surely more than the Portland Arms owners, the dismount of the ceiling due to a crowd-surf slightly more vigorous than the health and safety specs.

I could stay here mentioning anyone from Ramones to McLusky. Venturing into a political essay on Dischord and Washington DC scene all to attempt a poor review of this gig but I am a photographer and will not.
I think nothing better than these pitures can convince you that as soon as Blood is out, attending one of Pulled Apart By Horses gig would rejuvenate your soul.

Follow the band online to know where and listen them onto Spotify to know why: [website][facebook][twitter][Spotify]

Photo tip

Meeting fellow photographers in a pit is common. After few years going from one venue to another you realise that, despite the growing number of concert shooters that coined the saying “there’s more concert photographers than concerts”, we are a limited bunch and we know each other, at least locally.

What is less common is to meet one of the greatest concert photographers of all time in a Cambridge pub backroom. Steve Gullick is a legend of and beyond music photography.
Personally he is responsible together with Jim Marshall to have pulled me into this exciting journey of shooting gigs (even on film, but that journey is someway stopped, with regret, for now). So he’s behind the concept of this blog too.

I crossed my path with Steve already, at another couple of gigs. I remember Josh T-Pearson at the Union Chapel, Mogwai at the Junction in Cambridge and probably some Mark Lanegan’s too.
But having the chance for a chat is rare in those minutes before the show starts.

Tonight I finally succeed to have a quick chat and we decide to go for a pint at some point, point that I’ll make it happen soon.

For the ones who do not know Steve, he is probably the man that has been closer to Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain after Courtney Love. He followed the band, the whole madness of Seattle “grunge” and punk SubPop scene from the beginning. He is author of incredible album covers from the legendary USA scene to latest Foals and Smoke Faires. Steve basically photographs pretty much any artist I am in love with.

Gullick’s photography is on film, mostly, is B&W, mostly, hand processed by him in his darkroom, mostly, very contrasted, saturated, mostly, unusual in angle and lenses used, mostly, and… in a word (and one adjective)… utterly fascinating.

In a world where all music photographs look the same, three songs rule kill creativity. A world where all promo portraits are done in a 30 seconds slot taken next to a fence of a festival backyard or in front of a dressing room, Steve manages to maintain his unique style.

A friend of mine and another great photographer told me that Steve plays in a rock band too: Tenebrous Liars. They are good!
I know this because a couple of years ago I bought their vinyl. The reason was the original Gullick hand-printed landscape on the cover but I put on my dusty turntable the vinyl and I got to love the music inside.

Few months ago, instead, Steve embarked in a huge project on pledge music to make a 200 pages book on Nirvana and their years a reality.
It goes without saying I managed to pledge for a signed copy the day it was launched and now that the book has finally been crowd-funded I am looking forward to receiving it, hopefully in front of that pint.

There is still time to grab a copy of Nirvana’s Diary here and even some original signed prints.
Which you must do if you have ever appreciated this little blog and even if you do not.

Deap Vally

•August 7, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Shall I write about the most expensive gig I have ever been for… erm… free? Yes but I’ll do it below in the “photo tip”.

Before that, few words about Deap Vally, which is what I went to see few weeks ago in this summer of concerts that, as usual in UK, is being all about weekend festivals with a sparse theatre shows.

One of these few shows that I managed to spot, sort and go have bee Deap Vally’s at Madame Jojo’s in London.
I was recently at Madame Jojo’s for Smoke Fairies album Launch.
I love Smoke Fairies, you must know this if you aren’t new to this old blog… I also loved the place and promised I’d get any chance to give it a second visit.

Deap Vally have been out for a while and I’ve been missing their show for more than that. It was time to fill the void.
When they came out they kind of checked all the bits Iusually like in a band.
Garage – checked.
Bluesy – Checked.
Duo – Checked.
Guitars and Drums – Checked.

Even the plus of having two girrrrrls on stage. How to miss that?

I bought Deap Vally debut album, Sistrionix, about a year ago. Yes, it has been out for a while.

It was very talked about too. Well covered in the mainstream paper reviews, one of the last few advantages of signing with a major, Island, when not targeting pop audeinces.

The album, I must admit, feels good on first listening, and it’s a pleasant record, but in the following months it hasn’t seen my CD player often. Is there a word meaning the opposite of a “grower”?
2013 was a great year for music and even 2014 hasn’t started that bad at all. With so much music to go for, stream, spend money into, I forgot to monitor Deap Vally UK tours. Also read… come to Cambridge girls!

Deap Vally are from Los Angeles, California, not your first garage location. Too sunny, too starlet, too sunset boulevard.

Their story is the classic “two friends met at school”, with the best twist. The school was a crochet class!
I think if garage musicians aren’t many in California, musicians who want to put on garage blues band in Los Angeles and bot love crochet is a tale ready for a movie. Not a Hollywood one, though, time to move to Berlin.
Born to be away from LA!

Facts are: Lindsey Troy and Julie Edwards met, became friends, talked about music and started a band which name is Deap Vally which I don’t know what it means.
They were born in 2011. Lindsey is on guitars and Julie sits behind the drum kit.

They comeback to London about 3 years since they met and about one since the album was released.
Madame Jojo’s is a small venue and sells-out quickly. It’s what here call “intimate”.
The over decorated baroque, fake gold-plated, red-velvet, opera-theatre design matches well the band. Maybe in their subconscious recalls crochet days.

I like Madame Jojos because it is one of the few venue with some tungsten lights, the traditional yellow light, that is being replaced by LEDs.

First a storming set by Howl, a support band that choses the least obvious name to bring their garage fuelled blues-rock to unexpected heights.
Than the usual half hour standing in the (not pitted) front plus five minutes of compulsory clapping, waiting.
Julie and Lindsey arrive, in shorts and glitter.

With just one album out and enough tour bus rides on their diary I know what to expect, song-wise. The album and a couple of new songs written during tour breaks.  More than at songs, I am interested at the sound and the live show.

Inevitably the first two blues-rock duos to come to mind are the (Jack) White Stripes and the Black Keys. If you expected someone to replace the void they both, for different left to take different directions, you’re not going to be satisfied.

White Stripes are irreplaceable since the day Meg vanished off the musicbiz. Because, despite what I believed when they were active, the White Stripes are Meg and are not without her. Listen to the way Jack White plays those song in his solo tour and you know that that magic is missing behind a massive wall of sound. Meg added those key voids, pauses, that Jack White can’t handle.

Black Keys, instead, went the Grammy way. The day they stopped being a duo, the day they added Rhythm to the Blues, recruited a bassist it was over. That Hills County inspired blues was left behind together with FatPossum.

Deap Vally could beseen as a void filling of either of them, but they are not.
They have their personality as a band, which is good, and also they are not because they don’t have that genius in songwriting of their epitomes.

After about an hour of music I was left with the feeling of having seen a surrogate of something. Something not yet defined.

Lindsay guitar skills aren’t at the level of Jack White or Dan Auerbach, they don’t even have Japandroids’ Brian King stormy energy. If you play guitar in a duo you have to take control of the void left by the lack of a bassist. Troy is a guitarist that would gain from bringing a bassist in the band.
Which is exactly what Haim did and gave them a very successful time.

Julie drumming is vigorous, coupled with her stage presence and flying hair, it is very entertaining.
I love when bands bring the drummer ahead and, even if she doesn’t dare to stay on the edge of the stage as Shellac’s Todd Trainer, I’m close enough to feel the passion.

Deap Vally have few good songs, and the good songs work better just because they are… better. Those have a good riffs, hooks, some melody and the chorus.
The mostly male audience gathering at the very first rows is pleased.

I think the fate of Deap Vally relies on the quality of the music that will be in their sophomore release.
I don’t know when it is going to happen but this is a classic example of a band that is in front of that “second difficult album”.

The future will tell, and internet will be of help too: [Website][Facebook][Twitter][Spotify]

Photo tip

I get out on Soho narrow streets outside Madame Jojo’s on a pleasant London summer night. I have time for a stroll. While I find my way towards Piccadilly Circus tube station, I put my camera back in the bag and get out my loved 14-24mm to check everything is fine.

It is not. The zoom ring is very stiff, basically the lens doesn’t zoom and in a word doesn’t work. Repair is the solution. The amount of a Fixation bill is my next problem.

The venue was relatively quiet with only a couple of photographers at the front, no pit but quite a lot of people behind me. Difficult to get lenses out of the camera bag in this situation. I decide to mount the 24-70 and leave the 14-24 on stage, in front of me, just in case. It’s plenty of space between me and the drumkit.

Monitor suggests Lindsay Troy will be standing on the left, Julie Edwards sits at the drums. The few hardcore fans are busy shooting crap videos (vertica video is wrong, by the way) and taking photos instead of enjoing their idol in flesh and bones. Prince has a point here.

Second half of the set, Lindsay decides the moment, neither I nor the audience was expecting, arrived.
She walks towards me, stands in front of Julie drum-kit and jumps onto the few people standing there. Quite concentrated on filming a rare moment she got closed to them, they were all concentrated at their smartphone. Lindsay jumped and slowly fell down to the floor.
She was recovered by few aficionados who lift her back towards the stage. One of the worst attempt to surf-crowd I ever attended.

I saved my camera but I didn’t manage to save catch that precious ultra wide zoom lens which flew down from the stage in the hard wood floor.
Few (read: very many) bad words, with the hope it survived the crash, I put it back into the bag deciding the concert was lively enough to be impossible to change lens without a pit.

The morning after I filled a fixation form while having breakfast, sent the lens by registered mail. Prayed.
In a week time the nice (but expensive) people at Fixation called, collect my money and delivered my jewel back. It is working great, my bank account slimmed by £250.

At the price of this gig I could attend a couple of major festivals.

You can support the costs of my stupidity if you want and decorate your room. I have a large selected live-music gallery on my site at Photoshelter. you can order any print you want of Deap Vally or any other artist in my portfolio that will be delivered to your home.

Slow Club

•July 21, 2014 • Leave a Comment

It’s called indie pop for a reason.
Because it’s pop. And because it’s indie.

It’s a niche. It isn’t much on TV or national radio to break into everyone’s home.
You need to search for it. You need to desire it.
The only mainstream media to talk about independent music, and only in England, are national newspapers.

Only recently, thanks to streaming platforms, papers became multimedia channels to offer listening in addition to the traditional articles with photos.

The Guardian streamed Slow Club third album, Complete Surrender, before its official release. The newspaper capability to permeate the ethereal atmosphere of the internet managed to bring the band in many more homes including mine.

Slow Club aren’t new to the niche. They still are to the masses.

The first album, Yeah So, was out in the summer of 2009 (5 years is a long time in today’s music average band lifetime).
The album opens with When I Go a delicate country-ish lullaby and goes on with Rebecca Taylor and Charles Watson multi-instrument playing along those melodic lines.

A Christmas EP followed the end of the same year, Christmas Thanks For Nothing. It was not a weird choice. Rebecca voice sounds perfect for a Christmas album. Big, deep, sound. Curiosity made me play Silent Night on Spotify on the warmest day of the year to discover it is an instrumental! The rest of the EP covers Darlene Love and has a couple of originals that, to be fair, are better than the covers.

At this point of their career Slow Club were still looking for a musical identity. I would classify them more among the indie-folk brigade together with the Laura Marling, First Aid Kit and the other girls that grew up with Mum’s Jony Mitchell vinyls.
Rebecca potential still has to come out powerful as it will be.

2011 arrived and Paradise, their second LP, came out late summer. From the first song the message sounds clear. Slow Club are moving to bigger songs. Arrangements gets more elaborate, rhythm is prominent and Taylor’s voice is finding her natural space and place.
A place which is not anymore in the folk tradition but not yet in a soul filled indie-pop.

Paradise deserved all the very good reviews it had worldwide, and in the indie-music blogosphere the band is now well known. They are played to a thousand people in the lovely London Koko to put them in contest.

At this point I haven’t seen them yet. I am much quicker to get in touch with rockier, garage, noisy new bands than more melodic, new-romantics.
But I get there in the end.

3 more years, another summer and another Slow Club album arrives: Complete Surrender. From the cover it’s clear this is a different thing. The colourful painting of Paradise is replaced by an almost monochromatic photo.

This is the piece that marks the division between two eras.
Change of label, they moved from Moshi Moshi to bigger indie Wichita, but most important they moved their sound to a contemporary indie version of Northern soul.
It does fit very well in the definition of blue-eyed soul for obvious reason but I would be unfair to Charles Watson.

Slow Club started as a duo and Charles Watson has an essential part in taking the band music to their sound, never drifting into clichés.

Both Charles and Rebecca are multi-instrumentalist and they alternate between guitar, keys and vocals. Rebecca plays drums too. I like when musicians move to their favourite instrument for a particular song. I imagine them composing music on a particular instrument and going back to that once in concert.

I arrive to the Portland Arms in Cambridge, delighted to see them in such a tiny venu. I know regret I sent my 14-24mm to service due to Deap Vally guitarist kicking it off stage and blocking the zoom ring at a gig the night before this.

One of the reasons that brought me to this show was a Rebecca Taylor interview at TLOBF where she gives her tips for dating.
It emerges an open, sincere, honest personality. Strong and at the same time fragile. The kind of frankness I love.

I get the same impression from the show. New songs have her voice stepping out and imposing itself over the band and the audience. Incredible performance that is rare to find nowadays. Suddenly Rebecca steps back, sit at the drums or at the keys. She hides behind the microphone, almost wispers, leaves space to Charles in a presence that is as essential as it is unobtrusive.

Indie fans love feeling the artist close to them. To be “one of them”. Slow club are indie to heart. Rebecca is inches from the fans, she chats, she asks for an elastic to tie her hair in the super hot room. She get one from ‘Fiona’ a girl in the audience that passes her a rubber band. She’ll then acknowledge Fiona when presenting the band. It all comes naturally and it is lovely.

She introduced the band. Indeed. Slow Club are a quartet on stage. Watson and Taylor keep control but are joined by a rhythm session, drummer and bassist at the beginning before they start exchange instruments depending on the songs’ need.

Expectedly the show rotates around the latest album (A pic of the setlist is here). They started with a couple of oldies but the new songs point to a different direction and the bands has more than a reason to emphasise them. Most of the album will be played and among my favourites The Queen’s Nose sounds as a soul classic, revisited for the third millennium. Number One is a powerful slow ballad where Charles singing finds a perfect place in the harmonics with Rebecca tapping in.

As it always happens when bands change directions (Bob Dylan anyone?) there will always be someone disappointed. It’s the artists the first that have to believe in what they do, and Slow Club ‘convinced me they are convinced’. They wants to bring their sound in everyone’s home. Together with the genuine approach of two young guys that believe in their songs.

Very much worth catching them live now, unless you like big shows in huge theatres in the next years.
For everything else there is internet: [website][facebook][twitter][Spotify]

Photo tip

So it is possible! So there are wise bands out there.

LED lights have been concert photographers’ nightmare in the past five and more years. They replaced most complaints that were dedicated to red spotlights.
Camera sensors never dealt well with red and too often B&W stopped being an aesthetical decision to become a technical necessity.

Since the LEDs arrived I almost wish for the red lights. LEDs are very cheap to run, give a variety of effects and many small venues have them as standard lighting. As the Portland Arms.
If they are set to a single colour from blue to red through purple, photos are going to have serious problem of sensor saturation as last photo in this post here.
It becomes again a B&W necessity with load of toning of saturation/hue/luminosity levels on the separate colour channels.

Slow Club showed you can set LEDs set to a more neutral colour that won’t make photography job impossible. For the beginning of the set light was good enough (still not enough) to shoot. Than it turned monochromatic for a bit, rotating all colours for another while and in the end stopped on a too pink tone but still this was enough for some photos.

If you are a band, and you want good photos of your show, tell the light technician to add enough green/yellow/orange to the LEDs to counterbalance the purple/red/blue.

It doesn’t have to be forever… give us at least three songs.

Neneh Cherry

•July 7, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Apart from the music, Neneh Cherry story is a nice biopic in itself.
There is a lot of (good) music into that too, which is a good complement.

This story began in the 60s, between a Swedish painter called Monica Karlsson (Neneh’s mother) and an African Drummer Ahmadou Jah (Neneh’s father).

The ‘Cherry’ comes in once Neneh’s mother marries Jazz musician Don Cherry who will raise Neneh since birth. The tale gets even more complicate when half-brother Eagle-Eye Cherry, son of Don and Monica, joins the family. He will have some glory with a single, Save Tonight, in the 90s.

Until today I wasn’t aware of all of this, and I always assumed Neneh was Don’s daughter.

Don Cherry to everyone slightly into Jazz, especially free jazz, was a constant presence in Ornette Coleman bands. He has credits in all Coleman’s masterpieces. Those albums, from Something Else!!! to Free Jazz through The Shape of Jazz To Come are key recordings that changed the landscape not only of jazz but modern music altogether.
Don also had sessions with most of Jazz and fusion artists including Sun Ra, Sonny Rollins, Paul Bley.

Neneh was born in Sweden but moved with family to New York and then to London on her own. Music and music cities surrounded her since her early childhood.

In London she met the Slits and abandoned father and jazz. It was the peak of punk and she claims to have discovered she could sing.

It took a few years before her Raw Like Sushi debut came out at the end of the 80s. The single Buffalo Stance was a hit and for the next 5 years Neneh was a superstar of the pop music scene. Grammy nominations, shocking pregnant set at Top of the Pops, rework of Cole Porter song and collaborations with Michael Stipe (REM) and Geoff Barrow (soon to become a Portishead).

Her career peaked again with the joint single with Youssou N’Dour in 1994. Their 7 seconds is present on both Neneh’s Man album and N’Dour The Guide (Wommat) and was a huge hit worldwide.

History teaches it is difficult to follow up a huge success and Neneh Cherry must have experienced it. She disappearing from the music mainstream for a very long time.

Blank Project her new album she brought to (this) Field Day and Meltdown festival gigs in London was released in February 2014. 18 years have passed since Man, her previous effort.

Differently from many late comebacks of the 80s and the 90s stars (Kate Bush, Sade and even Pixies) Neneh Cherry didn’t go the easy way, pleasing her fans with the music they’d expect from her.

She chose the high tipped electronic musician Kieran Hebden better known with his stage name Four Tet to produce the new album.
The result is electronic but not the Four Tet way, which I don’t like much.

Blank Project, as the title indicates, is a more minimalist approach to her vision of music. Neneh’s voice stands out. Across The Water the opening track is pretty much a statement of what will count in the next 9 songs: rhythm and vocals. And what will not enter. Frills and overproduction.

The record flows at a nice pace without ever becoming tiring. There is a cameo by Robyn towards the end for Out of The Black. The more recognisable influence by Four Tet arrives in the last track. Everything lasts 7 minutes and indeed contains a bit of “everything” in an antithesis of what the opening track did 40 minutes earlier. From Hebden electronic signature to the last seconds of the album where Neneh screams into the microphone in a way that recollects the singing experiments of Diamanda Galas, minus the eccentricity.

Field day tent was packed for Neneh live comeback. With a set all centred on the new album (I couldn’t stay the whole show, I have no idea if some surprises arrived at the end) the music sounded great and Cherry vitality was overwhelming.
It is nice to see an artist that is brave enough to step back when there is not the urge to perform and decide to come back when she has something new to say.

The album had great reviews pretty much across the world music press and I am sure the live concerts will not delude the fans. If you want to catch her live, book your tickets now. You’ll never know if it is going to be 18 more years for the next appearance!

Neneh Cherry is on the web here [website][facebook][twitter][Spotify]

Photo tip

At music festivals, there are several kind of stages which require a slightly different equipment and approach. Neneh Cherry played one of the Field Day tents. Let’s talk about The Festival Tent.

Field Day is a London festival happening in Victoria Park.
London + Park = Grass. The Tent was mounted on a field and the spacious photopit was on the grass.

Depending on the weather a tent can either be a shelter from the rain or a sauna because of the sun.
In case of rain the counterpart is mud all the way and you need to be very careful with your gear. Regardless what petapixel videos show trust me and avoid your body and lenses to see the ground and become muddy. Some water is fine but hard particles in the moving parts can kill even the best water sealed hi-tech pro equipment.

Thankfully the sky was clear this year. It avoided us the mud but it comes with a different backside. Thousands of people breathing and warming up the temperature under the tent’s roof, and the sun hitting it from the other side is like experiencing a bit of Thailand tropics in East London.
Cameras don’t have problems with these temperatures, we have. So wear light.

Festival tents also have the “advantage” of (coloured) stage lights and smoke even in daytime. Despite my eternal complaining about low lights, I’ll take a lit up gig versus a daylight one all the time. The atmosphere in the photos comes out much better and the coloured backdrop of the tent (black and dark blue in this case) works nicely as a unobtrusive background compared to the mess of a big stage in the sunlight.

One practical problem I often face is where to leave the camera bag. If the grass is wet or muddy, the ground is not an option (see above). To carry it with you is not always possible, especially if the pit is crowded as tents usually are and all ‘togs would be pissed off by the guy with the backpack. To leave it on the barriers would be great but you have to trust the audience and work with the stress someone could run away with your other lenses. Best is to arrive a bit early, look for the driest spot beforehand. A large plastic bag can be an easy solution in case of mud, too.

Last but quite important, tents are wonderful moments to shoot the crowd. The residual daylight arriving from all around does not leave them in total darkness as in theatres, the lower ceiling frames the fans and the light is usually diffuse and pleasing. You may have to balance the white (shoot raw!!). Look out for silhouette options too.

So if you are going to photograph a festival don’t stand all day under the big stage with the big names but organize your schedule with a few stops in the small tents which is where the best pics usually are.

Pixies

•June 21, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Confession. I’m a nineties guy, but I have never been a Pixies fan.

I own their records. The two key albums, Surfer Rosa and Doolittle are in my CDteque since the 90s and should be in any rock’s lover collection.
I can mention the names of all the members, despite I keep forgetting David Lovering and know few anecdotes about them. It’s when it goes down to music they have never clicked as other Americans alternative bands.

If I have to choose I’d definitely go Dinosaur Jr or even Nirvana, over Pixies.
When it’s down to the East Coast or Boston, well, Morphine you know are in my heart.

Pixies history started in the late eighties when guitars from USA jumped on top of declining new romantics from UK. The plastic decade was over, Iraq war, anger economic downturn was the reaction to the hedonism of the 80s and music turned more aggressive, punkier.
Story is well known.
In Seattle subpop renamed punk as grunge and marketed it to make huge money, in LA last glimpse of politic in music from RATM or Living Colour stormed the simple minds. In Washington DC Fugazi from Dischord were taking their hardcore close enough to the white house to be heard by the Bush dynasty.

Pixies were in this and were also not. Not enough to be symphatetic.

Then they sort of disappeared too early for me to fall in love, in 1993.
Ten years hiatus till the comeback. We are in the century of music reunions, it’s accepted now to comeback regardless a band has said they’ll never comeback.
This reunion era will close only the day The Smiths comeback. Still a long way.

Pixies’s Brixton Academy comeback shows in 2004 are considered some of their best moments. I was told they were better as a band even than the nineties. I missed.
Since then they played for about 10 years umpteenth times in London and around. I managed to miss them all too. Partly because of coincidences, partly because I have never been enough into Pixies to challenge the websites and compete in the ticket-sold-out-in-30-seconds event.

When Pixies came back in 2004, they did with the original line-up. Kim Deal, their bassist was there on stage together with Black Francis on vocal and guitar, Joey Santiago Gibson and … what’s his name… yes, David Lovering drumming. Sorry David!
It made sense. I believe if you comeback you have to give the fans the real deal. Radically If some of the original band members can’t (or don’t care to) sit together in a rehearsal room with the original line-up and need to be replaced by another musician, it means there’s no reason to comeback. All band should accept it. I know, alternative 90s band didn’t make enough money to retire with it so everyone needed a comeback to fill the pension fund. Understandable… not sure?

When Pixies came back they didn’t recorda comeback album. Now, my position on comeback album can vary. If you have something to say, if you have a bunch of good songs to record an album OK. If you need an album to tour and pretend you’re still an active ensemble not relying on nostalgia, well, it doesn’t work. Better to be honest with you and cash on fans nostalgia. They want to listen to the hits, they want to remember how beautiful the boy/girlfriend was, they want to party as if it was still teenage kicks.

So we arrive at my first experience with Pixies headlining Field Day festival in London. I’ve been to this Festival few times in the past, it’s nice for being cutting edges, for bringing a slice of music to come in the future. This was still true on the classic Saturday line-up (even if I am not sure about Metronomy’s golden future).

Sunday was mainly about Pixies. The stages were much less, basically 2. With the exception of Future Islands that confirmed to have the best frontman to walk a stage since Morrissey got ill, it was mainly a guitar feast. Sounded good enough to me to go back to Victoria Park despite I was knackered from walking millions of miles the day before. I wanted to check few bands I didn’t know as Pond or Temples and see someone I watched growing up since the very early days, again, as The Horrors.

And Pixies, but which Pixies?
In the last year the band has seen Kim Deal saying bye and walking to her solo/Breeders stuff. No explanation given, not that I have read. Another Kim, Kim Shattuck, replaced the “real Deal”. It lasted about a year and then she was sacked or whatever happened… replaced against her will. Tonight on stage there is Paz, Paz Lenchantin. Formerly of Perfect Circle among others bands. Great musician, no doubts, but she’s not a Pixie.

There’s more. For the first time since Nirvana released Nevermind (hint A.D. 1991), Pixies released an album of new song: Indy Cyndi. It’s not bad it’s just… late. It’s like (actually worse) than the new Afghan Whigs. Good music but there have been 15 years of music under the bridge, history has changed, panorama is different, there is Internet, there is digital music, all of this can’t be ignored pretending it’s forever 1993.

Audience is young. There are some girls standing in the front row since the morning to get every Black Francis note before the rest of the field. Unfortunately the stage is very far from the pit and even further from the fans, which is something someone on stage (Temples singer if I’m not wrong) complained.

Pixies fans seem to be stronger than air separation and as soon as the first notes (at a moderately quiet volume) arrived started to get very excited. The band helped, Wave of Mutilation, U-Mass and Debaser are quite a good statement to open and the whole set was very steady and quite hit oriented.

I took my photos and walked back into the crowd to take more snaps of the party. Lot of excitement, good music, sunset and warm temperature made it a perfect chill-out moment after 2 whole days of festival shooting. When it got too dark and I lost my two friends I walked further back sat on the grass in front of the second row of speakers to listen to at a better volume.
I must admit, I wasn’t impressed. I blame my tiredness, I can’t blame an epic setlist. The songs are all there but… but if I have to speak with my open heart I had the feeling of perfectly executed song played by a former band known as Pixies or, to be a bit harsh, the best Pixies cover band you can see today.

It’s not a case, to me, that Black Francis in March and (what’s his name oh yeah) David Lovering hours before the Field Day set said they’ll be very happy if Kim Deal re-joins the group. No answer that I am aware of.

I am not sure Paz, that does a brilliant work on bass in both Kims’ places and also is on credits on the album (there’s the reason behind the replacement, maybe?) would be as happy as the rest of them, but I must agree.
If it has to be Pixies in the years to come, it has to be the real Deal. I used this “joke” twice, so better I close this here and you go check Pixies future plans online [website][facebook][twitter][Spotify]

Photo tip

I shoot for years on film, as you may guess from the title of this blog even if you’re reading today for the first time.
Those times I did with Contax cameras. Manual cameras, manual prime lenses, manual focus. It was fun and it was different.

Despite the common thought, the medium we use changes the way we express.
Writing with a pencil, a pen, a computer or a tablet deliver different results. Figure with a piece of technology as a camera.

To date, the digital part of this blog has been entirely shot on a Nikon D700, with nikon AF zooms. When I started I found it much simpler. Then I exploited the versatility to do different things, starting from using colours to more thought composition and straigther lines. I tended to tilt the camera far too often using film. High ISO also simplify life. My concert photography changed a lot.

This Field Day signed another turning point. About 2 years after I bought a D800 body for my other work (travel, photojournalism) I decided to introduce it to a press pit to cover the festival.

One reason is Field Day main stage is far away from the pit, even a 70-200 can be short (all these Pixies pics apart the whole stage shots were framed with a 70-200) and the huge resolution of the D800 allows for something I don’t really like doing:  cropping. You can crop vertical an horizontal shot and still have a file as big as a D700.

Reportage. I like wondering among the crowd and taking some more genuine shots than rockstars on stage, so 2 cameras work better than one to havae two lenses always ready.

Reasons why I didn’t use it till now is because for online and editorial stuff 12 MP are more than enough for everyone, quicker to postprocess and to sell. 36 are pointless unless you are a heavy cropped which I, coming from film the Cartier Bresson way, am not. I also didn’t want to risk a new body into a messy moshpit, the D700 after hundreds of gigs shows signs of tiredness.
Field Day is relaxed and atmosphere is joyous so no worries there.

Todd Owyoung that all of you do (or should) know, convinced me too. He’s happy shooting gigs with a D800 so I gave it a go.

Outcome. It works brilliantly. It doesn’t have big issues with ISO up to 3200 similarly with the D700, but 6400 are well usable too. The AF maybe is less precise and slower, weakest point, but usable. I never burst shoot so I have no problems with its frame per second count.
One of the main problem is the unforgiving high resolution. Slightly wrong focus or too slow shutter time and you have a blurred image.

All the setting are pretty much like the D700 apart they shift the zoom button when chimping the shots.
I think I am going to use it more often and I already brought it to an Eels gig. I still believe a cheap D4 body (as the D700 was for the D3) would be a great thing to have, but Nikon invested in hipsters more than professional photographers and I’m sitting here waiting, actually… I’ll be standing there shooting with a D800.

Swans

•June 6, 2014 • 2 Comments

I turned 250 posts on this blog and my OCD disorder made me keep it consistent for about 8 years: Single monography of bands, all photographed by me live on stage (apart 1 post, RATM) and very rarely duplicated.

By heart I can remember only The National (1 - 2), Smoke Fairies (1 - 2) and The Horrors  (1 - 2) had the privilege of a double post even if the record is for Mark Lanegan appearing solo, with his band, Isobel CampbellSoulsavers, Gutter Twins (kind of). Thom Yorke is solo and there’s Atom For Peace too. While PJ Harvey has the film/digital combo thanks to a John Parish tour.

Now Swans join the group.
I wrote about them few years ago, after a set at ATP I’ll Be Your Mirror in London. I am duplicating it with this show at the Electric Brixton.

Before the comeback, I hadn’t seen Swans live, Gira was a sort of legendary musician doing anything from Swans darkest projects to songs sang on solo acoustic tours.

When Swans played their first comeback gig in London, at Koko in October 2010 I had sorted a photopass well in advance. Sadly I haven’t managed to sort out my flu before the gig. Stuck in a bed with high temperature for the first time in years and the last ever since (fingers crossed) I spent that night listening to Swans new album and reading my friends’ SMS telling how amazing it was. A very painful experience.

Since then, and before last week, I saw Swans live few more times. Shortly at Primavera in Barcelona, at the ATP I’ll Be Your Mirror in 2011, where I took the photos on the other blog post, then in London and at Koko about a year and half ago.

So why to talk about Swans again?

Of the several useless comebacks happened in this reunion century, the only I still found meaningful are Dinosaur Jr (oh they’ve got a double bill here too 1 -2) and Swans.

As any work of art I believe that to make a point you have to shape it out of a good idea. If there is a good idea, there is creativity, there will be a nice piece. If there are no ideas, there will be a piece recalling nostalgia or emptiness.

Swans came back with Gira, better put, Gira resurrected Swans after than 10 years hiatus.
It was a surprise, a nice surprise. As Gira said in many interviews it was also a new phase and the absence of Jarboe is the most tangible evidence of this.
He’s not into the band’s past. Swans are doing new things, as if they were a new band. That’s what “idea” means, this is why nostalgia isn’t in the equation here.

Three albums later, they’re biggest than ever.

My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky, 2010 marked the return. It is a single album, sort of what the Bad Seeds would have been if, instead of Warren Ellis, they recruited Michael Gira to replace Blixa Bargeld.

The Seer, a double CD. After months of touring the bands rolled much “smoother” and the record is recognised with a 9.0 even by Pitchfork.
Crowdfunded selling live recording taken during the tour of the previous album it saw the light in 2012.

Tonight Swans came to London to present the third album since reformation. To Be Kind. Two more hours of Swans mayhem, from post-rock to post-experimentalism through obsessive repetition.

I embark in my journey towards the Electric Brixton on a miserable, rainy end of May evening of a post bank holiday Tuesday. On the train I think I’d rather be at home even in bed.

Instead I arrive early, wet, I enter the venue and discover that health and safety won’t leave me inside the too-narrow photopit. I’m safer with cameras and stuff in the middle of the crowd. God damn H&S silly rules in UK!
This means at 7.00PM I am at the fence and will stand there till 11pm. Better you get me rocking, Michael.

Thankfully Swans audience is intimidated enough by the band sound to be surprisingly calm and well behaved.

He will do.
Gira is on fire. He released many “kind” interview to promote To Be Kind (sorry :-) including a mammoth mother of all interviews here at The Quietus  where he clearly states what it is clear tonight from the moment, well before the gig, he enters the stage to check if everything is right.

The four years since Swans return, have seen Gira more and more at the centre of the stage. He has always been Swans but now Swans are Gira.
Compared to the early gigs I attended, Gira is now in total control.

His stage presence is more theatrical than ever, emphasize the music has he always had, highlighting all the song passages and changes, kicks the air and remarkably jumps the stage, there is more performance into it.
He has always spitted on stage. But he has never left the guitar to dance as a shaman for a whole song. That was a premiere.

Gira always interacts with the musicians, but he now pretend they must look at him all the time. He engages with all of them in turn. As Miles Davis used to do, he plays most of the set backward to the audience, to direct “his” orchestra.

There are wonderful moments with Christoph Hahn which, towards the end of the show end abruptly. I probably was the only to witness (and photograph) this scene. Gira lifted his right arms to communicate to Hahn something, but he wasn’t watching at him, he did it again, nothing. Gira walked to him and pointed his eye. Body language was precise: “you must look at me, pay attention”.

Hahn face was like the pupil who forgot to do the homeworks and from that minute on, Gira stopped that nice theatre which was giving me cool shots.

There is time for everyone, except Thor. Maybe he’s too big to have an argument with or too intimidating with those oversized mallets mistreating huge gongs. Perhaps he is simply too perfect and essential to Swans music.

The concert is fantastic. The band has almost 4 years of touring and you can perceive every minute of it. They are an incredible ensemble that decides eithr to punish or delight the audience at their will.

Compared to my other Swans performances, the new songs live sound more structured. They still morph in a sonic magma erupting at ears-bleeding volume (even if Swans volume isn’t as disturbing as other loud bands) but in a less, radical, less controversial way.

Hardcore fans could read this as Gira compromise to a much more “mainstream” success. Recent 9.2 Best New Music on Pitchfork and praises from everywhere including NME (yes the same magazine looking forward to the Libertines reunion) isn’t so predictable.
It must be my ageing but I find myself less open to radicalism everywhere, even in music, and the fact that a Swans composition can plea me from start to end, without going through a layer of pain isn’t something I tend to ditch nowadays.

Gira is less angry and maybe pleased by the recognition his music deserved since the 80s. He’s a happier man and sublimates his positive mood in a sound that remains Swans’ sound with the intimidation moved away.

Swans still are one of the best live bands out there, maybe they are the best of all. It is not to me to say.
Swans are here [website][facebook][Swans are not on Twitter][Spotify]

Photo tip

I have been a few times to the Electric Brixton. It’s “the other” Brixton place, considering the temple of Rock music in London, the Brixton Academy is just down the road.

Electric Brixton is up the road, towards Brixton Hill. Getting out of the Tube, because the Victoria line is The way to get to Brixton, turn left and walk about 5 minutes. On the right, where the small queue is forming, there is the venue. That is the Electric Brixton.

You may remember it as the Fridge, a place famous to have launched the New Romantic movement. The Fridge closed in 2010. Electric Brixton opened in 2011. Same place different everything else.
Recently Electric Brixton is gaining its momentum as a concert venue for cool event.

I shot here Franz Ferdinand comeback last year , with also gave me a couple of pics sold to the Telegraph and already faced a too narrow pit with not enough space to move, if someone else is in it with you.

I am prepared for Swans to do the same, until the security girl tells me it’s not going to happen. The tiny pit is there not for us to access. Damn!
It 7pm and can’t do nothing else than reach the front barrier, slightly stand on the side and stay there all night.

I have shot Swans few times so I know the best place to be, central slightly on the left looking at the stage. It is were Michael Gira spend most of his stage slot.
No pit means no chance to move around. All the images will be from the same perspective and sometime (as this time) even with the same lens. Impossible to switch.
No pit, on te positive side, also means we could shoot the whole set, which I probably prefer over shooting three songs with freedom of movement.

The stage is average in height and size. Swans use white lights with backlight which I love so I can’t complain on this for once.

If you are less stuck than me and have freedom to roam around, there is a nice room on the right of the venue, with a bar and some sofas. It is detached from the gig area so is the perfect place to have a chat before the show and especially during if you belong to the people going to concerts to chat all the time and ignoring who’s next to you. There’s a window in the wall to look at the stage if your friend love drama gets more boring than the live set.

The Merchandise desk usually is on the other side, next. There is a circle upstair, look small and interesting, but I have to admit I haven’t had the occasion to go up there yet.

 
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