The Long Blondes
It’s rare I enjoy something related to cheery pop.
In the wait of a gig-packed month of May, April is being quiet so I challenged my legendary rigidity towards pop groups (and chilly spring nights) and I rode my scooter to see The Long Blondes presenting their acclaimed second album, “Couples”, live.
Surprise surprise! I enjoyed the show. Driving back home I randomly drew some general, personal and band-related conclusions.
First of all, being open-minded helps a lot on having a happier life. Easy to understand, less to put in practice. Try it, go where you wouldn’t go, shock yourself!
Key for a band (live) success is the (stage) presence of the leader. To me bands work even better when a vocalist not involved in playing any instrument, fronts them.
The Long Blondes have a marvellous lead singer. Kate Jackson is the key to their success and to my enjoyment.
She guides the show with confidence. The look of a blonde French actress, red-carpeting Cannes 1963, translated into a brunette English girl, coming from the city of the renaissance of Brit music, Sheffield 2008.
Elegant, outgoing, she fascinates the fans with magnetic eyes and a surprising creative singing that can shift from a romantic, seductive voice to an amusing singing-along attitude.
If you thought Blondie (I mean Debbie Harry) couldn’t team up with Siouxsie you may want to think it again; surprisingly the result materializes in a sophisticated, although entertaining, art-rock outcome.
The Long Blondes are not just Kate Jackson. There are two girls and two guys invited to the party. It wouldn’t be the same band without guitarist/keyboard player Dorian Cox. His rhythmic on guitar, technically supported by a brilliant “left hand” (he is left-handed and holds the guitar “Jimi’s way”), is the heart of their beat. His work on keyboards is indeed the secret behind the magic of their new electro-pop musicscapes.
Murphy’s law is not a humour book, on the contrary, it is the closest demonstration to exactness and reproducibility of science I ever came across. If it is true that a car and a truck travelling in opposite directions will meet right in the middle of a narrow bridge, it is as true that in a month so poor of gigs, on the same night, a Sunday night, there are three tour buses arriving simultaneously in the small town of Cambridge, UK.
The Long Blondes supported by the mediocre XXteens.
Blood Red Shoes (coming soon!) supported by the interesting Violet Violet and These New Puritans (which I missed to see XXteens and I regret, sorry guys, next time).
KT Tunstall supported by Teitur both left out; photo-pass was confirmed too late, I already shot her once and I am not convinced of her “Yankee-ish” twist.
By the way, it is worth acknowledging, I learnt I have a partial gift of ubiquity. I can be in two places at once, sadly not three. The madness of listing seven bands on the same night was mildly balanced by having five of them in two adjoining venues. I managed to check out four of them, not that bad.
On a personal consideration, I also realized that I couldn’t do a multi stage festival without being frustrated to miss some bands out in order to watch others.
Back to the gig. The new single, Century opens the show and indicates the direction. Congratulations to the Long Blondes to have completed their second album choosing the difficult path. Instead of opting for a selection of first album out-tracks, as it happens for 90% of sophomore outings, they came out with totally fresh, new, different material. A more mature sound which left the fellow-citizens, Pulp influenced, brit-pop to the past and blinks at electro-atmospheric-pop.
It is not my favourite music, but it is undeniably good music, hence, I was positively surprised.
Live the new songs don’t look out of place combined with the classic hits, at least to the ones (me) not too emotionally attached to the first album, Someone to drive you home. Thanks to Kate voice and band arrangements, they harmonize well, giving the audience an opportunity to approach the band from diverse points of view.
Their famous early statement “We do not listen to The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors or Bob Dylan. We chose an instrument each and learnt to play it” is still audibly valid, nevertheless leaving those vinyls in daddy’s sitting room, they must have browsed a lot of nice contemporary music to come out with a setlist which has been better than even my more optimistic expectation.
Another gig with great lighting. I have to thanks The Long Blondes for this settings that make photographers’ life straightforward and, for the few still working on films, the darkroom job much easier!
I have been asked what combination of film/development and technique I use. Since I do everything on my own, I am happy with the results and it is now quite standardized, this photo tip is for the darkroom lovers.
The film I use is ILFORD Delta400 Professional although I always expose it at 800 ISO.
In the years I tried most of B&W films available, I stuck with this because I am happy with the results and, not less important, it is (still!) reasonably easy to find.
My developer is commercial ILFORD DD-X. Accessible and ready to use without need to dissolve a powder in hot water are the two main reasons. It is reported to be optimized for Delta-like emulsions, the modern flat silver halide crystals, I disagree. It works very well with Delta400, average on Delta100, horrible with Delta and Kodak T-Max 3200. So my suggestion is to be empirical. Always try different combinations, than go for the one that gives you the most satisfactory results.
I customized the procedure so, if you want to try this, write it down because it is not the one you find on the ILFORD tables.
In a standard 2 films tank, I use 100ml of developer + 500 ml of water at 22-24 degrees.
(for one film just half the doses, 50ml DD-X + 250ml water).
Reason behind the temperature is that the water cools down both when mixed with the colder developer and when is poured into the tank. I don’t measure it but I think the final temperature is close to the standard 20 degrees for most of the developing time. You might want to check this if your darkroom is in Andalusia, San Diego or Siberia!
I develop the films for 12 minutes, turning the tank upside down 3 times every minute.
Washing and fixing are standard.
The official ILFORD timing is shorter, and the developer is more concetrate. Simply, they suggest to use more developer for a shorter time. This probably works OK for most negatives exposed with an average contrast.
At gigs you have very strong lights. Your photographs have deep dark areas and some very bright spots. My more diluite solution balanced by a longer developing time helps the negative to be less contrasted and additional details to come into sight, especially in dark areas.
If the concert is “extremely contrasted”, as with very strong backlights or when using flash, I agitate the solution every two minutes.
That is it! I am not Ansel Adams, I studied his books, I know the zone system but I am not obsessed by technique, as long as I am pleased by the result.
In these difficult days for 35mm film, I must rely on what it is easy to find, easy to use, easy to handle.
Have a go and let me know!