Less than a year ago we were heading north to visit the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, a wonderful park where Henry Moore sculptures mix with pasturing sheep over large green meadows. Installations from James Turrell to site-specific works by Andy Goldsworthy are separated by streams and magically appear while you walk into woods. It is a paradise for modern and contemporary art lovers, with Land Art masterpieces.
I am not going further than suggesting it strongly if you are planning a weekend break with an art twist in England.
If you do so, you’ll probably find yourself booking a B&B in Wakefield. This town in the middle of hilly Yorkshire is the optimal starting point to be in the Sculpture Park from the morning.
We spent a couple of nights in a “Hitchcockian” hotel there. We checked in, paid the bill in advance and, immediately after, everyone disappeared. We were left alone, front door locked, back door keys in hand. Surreal.
The following two days the only human vision was an old woman materialising early in the morning to cook for us a basic English breakfast, served in a big empty room.
First night we had a walk in the so-called city centre, a desolate place. Despite it was the Easter weekend very few people were around. I providentially spotted an open Pizzeria and, while tasting what turned out to be one of the best pizzas I have eaten in UK, we were chatting about Wakefield life, Wakefield people, Wakefield youth. How’s living in Wakefield?
It must be my snobby past in pretentious Rome and the irritating ability that city has to rescale everything else to its exaggerated standards, but at the same time I was attracted by life there as much as I couldn’t see myself being there beyond that weekend.
I am fascinated by working-class small-town realities; hard lives lived in tough places, the ways communities go through this, naturally and often, proudly.
I had the same thoughts writing about the Enemy and “their” Coventry.
All this intro because The Cribs are three brothers from Wakefield.
I missed out their first two album, until they got press attention for their major debut: Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever.
This record, produced by Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos, and you can hear his touch, it’s fresh, direct and elegant. Despite the closeness to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, the album doesn’t contain Ferdinand’s artschool-rock but uses Kapranos intelligence to converge The Cribs provincial punk attitude into nice tunes exactly as a Turrell installation can make you see a Yorkshire landscape differently.
Wakefield life permeates the Cribs’ lyrics, their music puts colour on top of that.
London here is not even England and in Yorkshire, England doesn’t meet the world.
The album title illustrate what a weekend here is actually about: Men’s needs, Women’s needs, whatever. As a soundtrack what best than vigorous indie-guitars riffs to Wake up from everyday monotony?
They sing “have you noticed i’ve never been impressed by your friends from New York and London? but really this all seems quite meaningless…” (Men’s needs) and “you can change your clothes, change your hairstyle, your friends, cities, continents but sooner or later your old self will always catch up…” (Be pace).
Concentration is on what they have and how to live it “…evening comes and I feel no different, sorry my friend, I just can’t do nothing. In a radius of a thousand miles you find it strange no one makes me smile.” (Women’s needs)
Live, headlining this year NME tour, the songs have a harder touch.
A sort of therapeutic release of anger through singing on stage comes out pretty impressive. The audience, quite wretched after the 3 bland support acts, is finally involved emotionally and physically with the Jarman brothers. The full venue goes crazy in a sort of continuous flow of surf-crowders that erupts from the back landing in the pit where the security guys are quite busy controlling the air-traffic.
In some dates of this tour including NME awards night, legendary Smith’s guitarist Johnny Marr joined the band.
He didn’t in Cambridge but I am not sure this was a misfortune, alone to themselves these guys were spontaneous and free to scream out all their passion, unfiltered.
The Cribs have now achieved success, they are about to head to Texas for the SWSX and then headline a full USA tour that will follow Arctic Monkeys on delivering slices of Yorkshire accent to the other shore of Atlantic.
A plus to compensate the poor quality of NME 2008 line-up has been their photo policy.
First three songs WITH flash.
I have never been a lover of flash in any of my photography and I tend not to use flash at concerts even when I am allowed, unless there aren’t alternatives to have some usable images.
Hence I am not a flash expert but these occasions are good to have a go thus I mounted a flash on one of my cameras and experimented some slow, second-curtain flash synchro.
I know, it is a quite technical tip. Trying to put simply, slow synchro means that the flash happens together with a long shutter time. This in still, dark situations assures that the background together with your subject is visible. At concerts (or with any moving object) the technique gives you pictures that are a mix of a sharp subject with a blurred background. Note that blur is consequence of both your shaking, for the hand-held long exposure, and the subject movement. You can minimize the first, but you have no control on the second.
The second curtain synchro does an interesting thing. On SLR cameras, a shutter works with 2 curtains running one after the other, living a fissure that lets light to impress the film (or the CCD).
Normally a flashgun flashes together with the first curtain movement. This means that if your subject is moving, first you got the flash exposure (frozen image) and then the long one (the blurred bit).
If your camera-flash system allows the second-curtain synchro, the flash activates after the movement so that the long exposure causing the blur happens before the last moment is frozen.
On subjects with a predictable movement (a car) it delivers a more natural image. At a concert (experienced here) you don’t know because guitarist’s next move is not as obvious.
I don’t have two examples to show you the difference on pics, I am sure if you google “second-curtain slow flash” you get something. Results can be as pleasant as disturbing and are difficult to know in advance.
To give it a try all you need to do is:
> Find a concert where flash is permitted
> Get a camera + flash that allows slow-sync flash and eventually second curtain synchro and read the instructions on how to set it.
> Set your slow shutter manually let’s say 1/4s to 1/15s. I selected the aperture that gave me a correct exposure with these speeds in order to have the background correctly depicted (kind of f/8 @ 1/8s, ISO800).
> Put on a mild wide-angle lens, 28 or 35mm to avoid that your moving subject goes out of frame.
> Switch off all your image stabilizers if you have any.
> Shoot, shoot and shoot again, trying to chose the most dynamic moment.
…and keep your fingers cross while shooting, this is the tricky bit, I am aware!!
Good luck and let me know.