Bat For Lashes

There are gigs born under a bad star even if played by a real star.
Bad luck.

I wanted to photograph Bat For Lashes for a long time. Not only because I like her music. I have been attracted by the atmospheres she creates out of her imaginative world and curious to see how the interaction of the music and the landscape makes the often misused word “musicscape” perfect for once.

With her first album, Fur and Gold, she surprised the music world disclosing the finding of the crossroad where Kate Bush and Bjork met. It is in the middle of a forest. Someone must have appeared to her in a dream or she read it in an old, dusty fairytales book.
She went there, drank the miraculous water of the fountain, got the magic powers and came back to Brighton with eleven songs convincing everyone it’s all for real.
The twelfth song is a wonderful cover of Bruce Springsteen‘s I’m On Fire.
She also convinced the Mercury Prize jury and got nominated in 2007.

Two Suns, her second album, moves a step ahead. Here she writes the fairytale.
The album is a concept revolving around her alter-ego, Pearl, a blonde femme fatal.
With the help of Scott Walker, the music risks to get overcomplicated but her voice does such a superb job to dominate the entire work.
What she achieves in the opening track, Glass, is inimitable.
Two Suns, has just been nominated for the Mercury Prize as well.
I am not a fan of statistics, I ignore how many acts have got such an achievement, for sure not many.

Photopasses are strange objects that come in different forms: laminates, stickers, wristbands, stamps on your backhand.
I failed to get into Bat For Lashes concert at the Cambridge Junction recently. No way to get a pass for a venue where I never had problems.
Few months later, I asked again, without much hope, for this Somerset House show and, with surprise, I am not only in with a photopass but I also have press tickets to stay for the gig with a +1.

What I forgot, in the excitement of rushing to the concert, is that I am in UK. Here summer is not a seasonal concept.
During what looked like a wonderful evening, listening to a mediocre support act, the guy had the brilliant idea of looking at the sky uttering: “I don’t think it’s going to rain”.

Time his set finishes the first drops starts falling. In 10 minutes Somerset House regal courtyard is flooded.

My press wristband tonight gives access to the backstage bar, which is good.
The garden umbrella used to protect tables from the sun everywhere else in the world, in England are used for sheltering from summer storms.

The bad thing is to be at that bar surrounded by all those Londoners working in the music business at their worst moment of showing off. At this point the gig is not important, what is important is to be there (or not to be there) and to conform to the behaviour of your own role.

In an “unwritten” code (very well written in Empire of Dirt: The Aesthetics and Rituals of British Indie Music Music Culture) the important things to show off are:

Passes. A laminate AAA (All Access Area) pass it’s the top. It’s always made very visible and who wears it looks cool, is detached, as if something is always about to happen, and it’s something clearly more important than the person in front of him. It’s clear you have one of these to everyone, your body language speaks, security doesn’t even ask. All the other passes follows, kept a bit more hidden so when the security ask for the ticket the pass pops out and everyone sees it. The humblest is my photographer wristband, they multiple check it and check even the camera bag. “What’s in there?”… “Erm, my cameras I am a photograprer”… “Right can I check?”… “Of course, please”, opening the bag annoyed… “They are professional cameras!”… For fuck sake, every night the same scene!

Smart Phones. The gadget to have is clearly the new i-phone. If you have a new i-phone, you must put it on the table well in sight and find a way to tell it’s the new. The guys at Apple made a capital error, 3Gs is identical to the old 3G! Better if you look busy using it. Best touchpadding (?!), scrolling your Facebook profile than calling. I feel bad, I have had one for 2 weeks.
Blackberries are ok but not as cool, they look too corporate, “economy” more than “art”, e-mail more than Twitter.
Coolness in UK music (and music biz) is more important than water in the desert. Fact.

Cameras (this is for photographers only).
Evidences in order of priority: the number of them, the size of the lenses, their aperture and the number of funny accessories.
Aspect: they must not look brand new. Good if they are the latest models but worn out gear is a sign of a high use, experience, a working hard mature photographer. Old stickers on long lenses are cool.

I am in an improbable position. Two manual film cameras looking centuries old. They are indeed worn out but out of any model comparison. The prime lenses have wide apertures the modern zooms can dream of but in the end I still look like a Venusian. Italian accent doesn’t help. Some seem to have mercy on me some admire the heroism.
When I started Live on 35mm I thought being in a niche on my own could be a profitable idea. No one shooting live music on film, I am the only who can offer proper B&W prints. This was the original idea. Two years later I learnt that being in a niche on my own just means being alone.

If you are approached by a photographer before a gig be sure you have to go through a one single question: “Who are you shooting for?”.
The one asking the question feels confident enough to be in a hierarchical higher position then yours.
No one can check your answer so if you want awe, envy and respect you can go like “I have been commissioned and flew here by Rolling Stone USA” even if you are a photography student putting together a portfolio.

Why am I wasting Bat For Lashes post with this stuff?
It is still raining at Somerset House and the time of the gig has arrived.
English photographers know and are better organized, they all wear trendy raincoats.
I wear an old fashion photographer multipocket cotton jacket full of heavy lenses.
I look like an explorer who has lost his rainforest and is just left with the rain.

A person of the organization arrives to escort (not in the Berlusconi’s way) us to the pit. It is obvious where the stage is, but this is needed to give to the person, the security and the photographers a sense of authority. Power is nothing without control, is it?

Once there I am in front of a stage too high and very deep. Centrally is protected from the rain but if you step back it’s very wet. Impossible to avoid the monitors unless you are a NBA player.

You may have noticed I hate telephoto pics, the longest lens I have with me tonight is a 135mm not long enough. My 50mm works as a ultra-wide angle considered the distance. I opt for these. No time no space and too much water to change them in due course. These are clearly the most difficult conditions I have ever shot a concert.

A lot of people comes on stage. Strings, keyboards, strange instruments and a full band. I tell you because they were so “up there” I couldn’t snap.
Bat For Lashes tonight looks like the twin sister of Lily Allen who was adopted by a family living in some undefined, remote, wild country. She ended up singing about a fairy-like place instead of celebrity-like London, which is more interesting.

She was born in Pakistan, after all, exoticism must have permeated her.
If she puts on record the soundtrack of her dreams, on stage she recreates their settings.
Her fantasies, populated by birds, wolves, tigers materialize. You perceive trees, rivers and people dressed in feather and leather. Wooden houses with colourful carpets were they live. The moon shines bright and countless stars appear in the darkness. (Clearly not London).

Her artistic inclination originates from a degree in visual arts and experience in sound installations and performance. Despite the many comparisons I read, this is the only point in common I see between her and PJ Harvey.

The music is atmospheric, the atmosphere is wet. The rain fits with the howling wolf, the full moon, the crow, the forest and the rest of the animals decorating the stage. Unfortunately it doesn’t fit with my clothes, my cameras and the shoes I have. I move back to the entrance to listen to half dozen of more songs, all sang beautifully. The gig sounds great, the sea of umbrella makes impossible to see anything. Soaked I leave before the end, my fault not her fault.

I will go back to a date of the upcoming Autumn tour, so while you wait for more pics, listen to her music here on [myspace] on the [website] or if you have access to the best idea since music was created on you can stream both albums in their entirity.

Photo Tip

Do you really want it? Here it is:
If you are shooting an open air concert in UK bring a raincoat for you and a cover for your gear. Whatever the season and the forecasts for the day.


~ by Valerio on July 26, 2009.

5 Responses to “Bat For Lashes”

  1. Nice write up and images Valerio!I really liked your commentary on the pass and tog, gear hierarchy too:) I am supposed to show BFL this next month…inside;)

  2. Thanks Elisa,

    I wonder if Seattle scene is the same as London!
    Good luck, she is very nice to photograph, I’m definitely going back to her auumn tour, indoor!

  3. Great show isn’t it? Despite of all that rain!! I did not ask for a photopass this time, had already shoot them at Glasto.

    Sometimes you could not tell if the thunders were coming from the band or the sky!

  4. Yes, great gig but we didn’t stay till the end ‘cos of the rain.
    Gonna catch her again in October, with Yeasayer supporting. A wonderful double bill!

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