It’s election time in UK, the “big election” time. General elections have been called and on the 6th of May several millions people will tell the Queen and the world if the New Labour era, started with Tony Blair in the nineties, will finish with Gordon Brown in the 10s.
I won’t vote in this country but if I do surely my choice will not be for either of the big parties. British system doesn’t allow minor parties to be represented. To my surprise small parties do exist and take part in the electoral run up.
The most surprising event in this regard happened a couple of months ago in Cambridge. Thom Yorke (no introduction needed) accepted to play a special solo gig to support and raise money for the Green Party MP candidate Tony Juniper.
I am not really a lover of Thom Yorke first solo album, I find The Eraser too electronic for my taste, but seeing Radiohead frontman live, in the small venue of the city I live was tempting enough to try to get a photopass. Which I failed but, tenacious as I am, I did manage to get in with a press ticket thanks to the Green Party press.
With small knowledge of the British politicians but always interested to politics, I started a friendly and curious chat to a green party activist. A nice girl sitting next to me. I tried to understand which are the chances that a minor party, even with Thom Yorke support, can send an MP to Westminster. She was very convincing (her job) and I realized the Tony Juniper call despite being difficult is not impossible. Why?
Cambridge has been a Lib-Dem stronghold city for a long time but it is also a very cultured, young, liberal place. It is the first and only town on earth to have a council run by a transsexual major.
This year the historical lib-dem Cambridge MP is not running for his seat anymore, the New Labour is struggling all over the country, Conservatives have never been strong in town hence the parties are much more lined up and the Green Party can play the outsider role.
The final victory may be a question of having the right idea and I find it difficult, for any other candidate, to match someone more appealing than having the frontman of the biggest band in the world to play a special gig just for you.
People have been queuing under the pouring rain since the morning, a sign of the devoted fanaticism this music elf can gather.
Let’s get into the Corn Exchange.
A limited edition specially designed poster for the event, recalling The Eraser design, is selling at £5 and will found the party.
Solo gig means you are all alone, it is not easy to hold a stage for 2 hours without any band but it is easy if your name is Thom Yorke, you can play several instruments, have a voice so peculiar to be recognisable among hundreds and wrote so many good songs that could play a back catalogue for several hours keeping the audience happy.
The set opens with The Clock from The Eraser that Thom will play more or less in its entirety, but it is when he strums the guitar or sits at the piano playing Radiohead songs that you understand what they have came to listen here.
It’s a support show, he won’t delude them aim is to have people happy to fund the cause, to buy a special poster, to spread the word.
Weird Fishes/Arpeggi starts with a mistake, he stops, starts again joking with the error and send shiver to the spine convincing me that missing Shearwater in London wasn’t in the end such a bad choice.
It’s political and there is a political moment. The Daily Mail is one of the new songs and among the lyrics (I never heard before) I grasp a “no regard for human life” which is quite direct hence effective.
It’s a minimalist set but not minimal. Yorke is generous. He alternates between several keyboards, guitars and a Grand Piano which uses for Pyramid Song from Amnesiac. The piano is blushed in blue and my mind in one of its strange associations made me thinks at the blue pyramid photo inserted in a poster included in Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of The Moon original vinyl. Don’t ask!
He plays an acoustic guitar, creates loop on the synths to get help from a virtual drummer and even plays the bass for Harrowdown Hill, still waiting for Flea to be free and join him.
Give up the Ghost is a nice new song which he starts twice to record a proper loop with his voice that would keep going while he plays over it. The guy knows is job very well.
The new Radiohead song These Are My Twisted Words introduces Like Spinning Plates still from Amnesiac. It has never been my favourite Radiohead album but tonight the songs sound somptuous. The audience is ecstatic, two songs from The Eraser are very well welcomed.
Then a stunning version of Videotape will close the main part of the gig. In Radiohead fashion Yorke comes back to the stage with two encores which contain two further pearls.
A breathtaking rendition of Airbag from OK Computer, this is still and forever will be my favourite Radiohead album and the grand final with the sublime True Love Waits.
A magic night closes. I ride back home soaked in the rain but it’s not as annoying as usual tonight. I realize in these days I am glad to live in England. I won’t be able to send the Green Party MP to Westminster but If I could I would have probably done. I keep supporting Greenpeace though.
More than six years in the live music photography business, hundreds of bands and concerts shot, probably thousands of e-mail sent I still can’t grasp how the machine behind this works.
I write to all the contacts I have to ask for a Thom Yorke photopass (Label, Venue, PR, Green Party), I get to at least two people who can deal with it but in the end both tell me it’s impossible it is all full no space.
Fair enough, a big name in a small venue for a one off show I think that all the big names of music photography will travel from London and beyond to cover the show. A friend tells me that policy is stricter than usual, only the first song in a small pit with eight people.
I am not that bothered, in fact I have a better idea.
I go to the gig, I take my camera with me. Anyone knows me at the Corn Exchange being a regular photographer so they don’t bother checking if I can carry my camera bag through.
With a press ticket I can get a first row seat in the press area which is in the mezzanine, a nice elevated spot to take telephoto shots.
I am not a fan of telephoto shots but in absence of an alternative there’s no choice. Having as much as I want to take pictures, I am confident I would get something. It will be my exclusive to cover Thom Yorke performance throughout the set, while he uses different instruments and different lighting. I go digital to feel free to shoot as much as I can and to check the exposure in due course, a tricky one even spot measuring.
The results are these cropped snapshots which have been published on at least 3 websites (not counting the ones who may have sneaked them to put somewhere else) and on paper in a Cambridge student journal and now here.
Those ones who select the photographer in base of their credential to give him/her a photopass on which bases decide? I haven’t seen many (if any, I can’t remember) of the shots taken from the pit at this gig. They were eight of them. Meanwhile several people have been in touch with me asking for the images which, officially, are not allowed.
If I followed the rules, didn’t bring my camera to this gig and just enjoyed it there would be less coverage of the show. Not in the musician interest and for this occasione neither for the Green Party.
I can understand being an entire gig in the pit snapping can be annoying for the band and for the fans but which is the reason why photographers can’t be allowed shooting the rest of a show from a back position who would not interfere with the performance but would boost the chances to get better shots?
I will never understand, but anytime I think at this I imagine Jimi Hendrix burning his guitar or the Who smashing the stage. Those images would not exist nowadays, because silly rules block us to do our job.
Think twice …and R.I.P. Jim Marshall.