It’s about spring, it’s about colours, it’s about joy.
Joy Formidable are the perfect band to enjoy on a friday night when the last bits of rain are trying to resist the unavoidable coming of spring, it’s 19th of March, winter, for fuck sake, go away!
I ride back to the saved Portland Arms in Cambridge for a back-room pub gig which is supposed to be, among all things, a lot of fun.
Joy Formidable are a trio from North Wales, relocated in London, who has been an indie-rock phenomenon since the first files appeared as a free digital download months ago.
Actually for a short period their entire 8 songs mini album (which is the difference between an EP and a mini album? Whatever) A Balloon Called Moaning spread among the blogosphere with umpteenth reviews saying the most disparate things about their sound but all agreeing on the fact that it is a bloody good record.
I read about everything on the music that Joy Formidable play, from Dreamy-pop to punk-rock, which is the reason I always hate definitions.
Than I realized that they are one of those bands that makes a completely different experience if you listen to the album or go seeing them live. Not surprisingly for a trio that decorated the songs with much more instrumentation that three guys could ever bring (and play) on stage.
Tonight the tiny stage is essential. Bass on the left, kindly offered by Rhydian Dafydd, the sparkling blonde girl fronting the band, Ritzy Bryan, on vocal and guitar and Matt Thomas on drums, nicely sat on the right giving me the always exciting occasion of shooting a drummer from a different and closer perspective.
Joy Formidable songs overall are an explosion of energy, loaded with carefree cheerfulness and infused with shock wave of energy.
They could well sit along bands as Los Campesinos! or Dananananaykroyd but beyond the party mood they have in common what’s played on stage is nothing more and nothing less than indie-pop perfection played by a trio that loves playing live.
On record, at least on A Balloon Called Moaning, the songs have a sort of ethereal mood, at some points indeed dreamy but often waken up by Ritzy fuzzy guitar and “oh oh oh ooh” catchy choruses. Live it is clearly this second half to dominate.
This gig was indeed a party.
Probably the best party you could have been attending this side of Austin where apparently 99% of alternative emerging (and famous) bands are celebrating the arrival of 2010 spring, SXSW-ing.
If SXSW was the place to be on the 19th of March, the Cambridge Portland Arms was the second.
Clearly oversold tonight, the English shyness that makes a half empty venue packed on the half far from the stage and empty on the first rows tonight doesn’t apply. There are no chances for anyone to shy away from the front, nor for the non-shy photographer to roam.
While a drunk guy waving his fists so close to the drummer to be brought out by the security, while two pretty girls sitting on to the speakers in awe and at least 30 more wanna-be point and shoot videocameramen record the next youtube video, I crawl with my cameras trying to take pictures, but the main reason keeping me from shooting, are Joy Formidable songs.
I am not a pop geek, you probably know if you read this place regularly that lo-fi garage, noise and depressive songwriting suits my taste much more, but some bloody good pop’n'roll is vital to counterbalance the rest.
With the opening two songs, as the opening of the mini album, The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade (a reminder for photographers?) the party opens followed by the hyper catchy single Cradle. Now, if you listen to Cradle, live, and you stand still you’ll better search for some counseling, no offense, really, I mean it.
The Last Drop is another pop gem with a visceral drumming. A song that slows down in the middle to restart more vigourous than ever, the kind of tune that would have saved the Howling Bells second album and career if was penned by Juanita and friends.
Still on the mini album, Austere is Joy Formidable debut single. With Ritzy high pitch chorus and Joy Division if depression didn’t catch Ian Curtis to borrow a bass line, there is no need to wonder why the song was chosen as a single. But it is when the blast of fuzzy guitar arrives in almost a sonic showgaze attitude which keeps going when you think it is going to stop, that the songs opens to its best potential.
Ostrich with its epic opening is the perfect follow up to the mayhem just left and, as it ends the mini LP, closes the part of the gig dedicated to the mini album.
Joy Formidable have reached the level of self-confidence needed to make the jump and on their first sold out show of the tour anticipating the full length album, there is clearly space to test some of the new songs live.
Three new (to me at least) arrive. From the setlist I shot, the titles are almost unreadable. Are they the real title or the password of their Facebook accounts I’m not sure: Mag Glkss, Knymont, Yopinjay is what I can read, which is not so important. What is more important is that the unknown tracks don’t stop energising anyone in the room, the music flows as before, no sign of a downbeat moment.
The band members interaction shows the positive feeling among the three in a mutual understanding that becomes involving, physical for everyone present. The three close the set here, with the people asking for more in one of the most sincere ways I have seen in recent times.
There’s not space to the encore sham on a room where the band that leaves the stage has to get off among the fans. Joy Formidable come back to play Whirring which closes the night on a high with a guitar feedback inferno you wouldn’t expect from such a band.
There is not a lot more to say when you see a band happy to play, having good songs, knowing the tricks to play a good pop tune without sounding made of plastic. They are brave to test new stuff and I have been told that it was their choice to renounce to a five times bigger venue to play in this intimate place being in touch with their fans.
If you are into indie-pop, after a music that doesn’t make you think but does make you dance, carefree, waving your pint to the waves of Ritzy guitar, the Joy Formidable must be your new band.
Shooting on a pub, for a small band, with few or no chance to be published for your work (it goes without saying paid) it suits a topic I wanted to cover in one of these tips for a long time.
A music photographer first of all must love music. Even before photography.
I see photographers arriving to the gig 5 minutes before the begin and ready to leave the pit and the venue, even before the third songs finishes. I am not judging them, anyone is busy and can do whatever he wants with time but as a tip for the ones who would like the main thing to achieve good results is to enjoy live music and being at a rock concert.
You must love being closer to a stage, with no space, kneeled down on dirty surfaces, being pushed, pulled and whatever by people around you. Ready to protect your gear and your ears but quick to use it when it’s needed whatever happens around you.
There are 99% of nice people behind you when you are in there but there are people that gets upset, angry or annoyed by photographers.
Be polite, first rule; ignore them, second. Concentrate on the band, that is your target.
Feel the music, listen to the song, try to understand when the singer steps away from the mic, when the drummers has the pause that allow you to freeze him.
You have to feel when the members interact, look in their eyes, kneel down or jump around.
The best picture is when something unexpected happens, and it happens but you need to be ready, it lasts a blink of an eye.
If you love music, you know it, it is all predictable, understandable but it is fundamental to be ready in the right place at the right moment.
Live music photography is all about not missing the moment, actually about missing as few moments as possible, because it is normal to lose and regret great shots, so you must work to maximize the chances of success.
Know the songs, study the bands body language, put attention if they do something peculiar (chat, drink, joke, tune the instruments between songs) all of these are potentially good (or boring) interludes. Pictures of the musicians drinking or tuning their instruments are easy to take but rarely deliver, they are the breaks when the energy gets parked and the photo brings with it that sensation of pause. Concentrate on the instrumental breaks in the middle of songs. Solos, pauses, jams are usually the moments to take the best pictures when energy flows among the band.
To know this you need experience, you need to be at loads of gigs, to choose local ones as this where no one would stop you shooting after three songs but most important you must love music, you must enjoy this several times a week every week.