Cut In The Hill Gang
Just back from Salt Lake City.
Utah capital live music scene in the next days will offer Lily Allen, The Ting Tings and the one and only (quite enough to be fair) Britney Spears. You clearly can’t describe the place as leader for the USA live scene.
SLC is, instead, the Mormon Capital. Relax, I am not talking about Brandon Flowers again.
Follow me strolling around Temple Square, it is a very interesting experience.
Many girls (erm… sisters) approach you. They are very happy to answer all your curiosities about their religion. Excited?
What? You don’t care?
You non-believer! Before burning yourselves in the flames of Hell, have a look at them. Tenths of beautiful girls happy and available to talk with you! As soon as their smiles will catch your eyes, magically tons of mystical questions will reach your mind, be sure. Some religions use quite clever marketing, it must be pointed out.
If Catholic nuns were all like these, the Pope need not to rant around ridiculous issues to find some space on the news. Instead of travelling hot and dusty countries, facing hunger and poverty, he could relax sipping a drink on the border of the Vatican swimming pool while his sisters convert the sceptics.
If you convert to Mormons’ religion, you are allowed to baptize all your dead relatives, retrospectively. Clever, ain’t it?
This will let you leave your entire after life sharing your very own family star with all of your uncles.
If you were looking forward to get rid of them forever and wanted spend the eternity with your mates, think twice about those mermaids seducing you around Temple Square. You have read Homer Odyssey, haven’t you?
Because of this “Baptism for the Dead” thing (I am getting there!) Mormons are the most expert group in the world about family trees. If you want to know everything about your ancestors Salt Lake City has got the database you need.
All this introduction, was needed (probably not) to move to Detroit well equipped for a family tree analysis of the music in the motor city.
A city that, opposite to Salt Lake, has indeed a key role in the US music.
Ignoring the blues of John Lee Hooker, it was in the golden era of hippie-psich-rock years that Detroit abruptly emerged to gave a rebellious answer to peace and love happening in the west coast.
Garage (there must be plenty of in fact!) was born there. The names of the Stooges and MC5 should be enough to wake you up. If they do not, put on Raw Power or Kick out the Jams and you won’t need coffee for a while.
Let’s move on faster (I know you don’t believe me), Detroit after a silent period, in the last ten years resurrected to the splendour of the past.
The reason is, unsurprisingly, still garage. With car industry crisis, it was a fashion duo, The White Stripes, to start the renaissance.
Hosting the most original guitar sound to appear on the American scene since Tom Morello, kindly offer by Mr Jack White, his iper-activity has been responsible for producing a plethora of bands since.
Some of them have been outrageously undervalued. One were the garage blues rockers: Soledad Brothers.
I saw one of their concert 4 or 5 years ago and can still clearly remember the energy of warming up a UK student union bar with a couple of guitars and a relentless drumming.
Ben Swank was that drummer. He used to share his house with Jack White before he got a superstar. Curiously enough Meg White had a drumming part in their debut album (Anyone knows why?).
Johnny Walker was the Soledad Brothers lead guitarist and singer. He also is played slide on White Stripes debut album and has on his CV to have taught Jack White‘s slide guitar.
Oliver Henry (was on sax and second guitar) completed the trio.
He came from that Ohio band called Greenhornes that no one has ever listened to but everyone knows for being an endless source of musicians.
Beyond Henry, Greenhornes rhythm section Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler moved to fame with the the Racounteurs, the Jack White side project with Brendan Benson.
The same Jack Lawrence, the straight hair, funny spectacles bass player, has also played in the alt.country Detroit ensemble Blanche, used to open for the White Stripes in their Elephant tour.
Not happy, Lawrence recently joined Jack White again to form The Dead Weather (his side side project with Alison Mosshart, alias VV, alias the Kills singer).
Confused? I told you the Mormon tree experience would have helped.
Don’t worry, the last couple of branches and I am there.
Soledad Brothers split in 2006 when they were just about to coming back to Europe to promote their fourth wonderful album, The Hardest Walk. Their blues roots in the CD meet with a more contemporary sound giving a powerful sound that reminded me of one of my best kept treasures: Boston’s Threat her Right. The band fronted by Mark Sandman before he formed Morphine.
Johnny Walker, Soledad‘s singer/guitarist told me they split because of continuous arguing and fighting. Brothers?
He came recently to UK again with his new project, another 2 guitars bass-less trio misteriously called (to me at least) Cut In The Hill Gang.
The approach is similar, garage blues rock perfect set to fill up a sweaty back room of a pub.
The music is a bit different due to the different personalities.
The second guitarist enjoys soloing much more than his predecessor giving the sound a more pretentious, technical edge. But also acting as a perfect counterpart to Johnny Walker for duets.
The drummer despite doesn’t have the inventiveness of Ben Swank does a honest, precise work on keeping the rock’n’rolling.
As a result the sheer garage-ness of Soledad Brothers is a bit loss in translation to leave more space to blues’n’roll. Johnny Walker is very capable to “feel the show” and the audience mood.
He can clearly jump from a plain rock’n’roll to a boogie stomp, from a bit of blues to American roots.
Without pretending to write any new page of rock history these three guys know quite well how to put on a show, have fun and please the fans that come to see them, no matter how many.
The priceless value of alternative music.
At the end of the set I couldn’t avoid to buy Johnny Walker a copy of Cut In The Hill Gang debut CD, Cut Down. The album is rich and as a surprise contains a nice cover of White Stripes hit from their first album Sugar Never Tasted So Good that is indeed very good.
Portland Arm, Cambridge or, generally, The Pub Backroom.
This is the place to start with gig photography if you want to learn.
And this is also the place to come back to have fun taking concert pictures without any stress.
In pubs backrooms atmosphere is relaxed, bands are so close to you that your 50mm is a very long telephoto and a 28mm is the normal lens.
Easy to get photopasses (or no need to have one); the three songs’ rule rarely applies, quite often being free to move around the stage. This is the place to get shots from any position, any angle at any time.
It sounds like paradise isn’t it?
Bands playing here are usually less pretentious, down to earth and eager to be photographed.
You can often use flash (I don;t like doing it, though) which can help with lights that often are not state-of-the-art.
You can get in touch with musicians after the show (don’t forget your visit cards) and chat with them about their music or your photos.
This is also the place to spot next big things. If you can smell success and you are lucky you’ll have in your portfolio early shots of very famous names. Every single band in the music business has started from a pub (or a bar) backroom.
The only rule to follow is common sense. Put musicians and audience first, respect them don’t be obtrusive, don’t get too close, don’t jump on stage, don’t stand in front of the audience too long, don’t push anyone to get to the front. You’ll be plenty of occasions during a full set.
Try to be as invisible as you can and get this occasion to put Robert Capa suggestion in practice: “If it is not a good photo, you were not close enough”.