These New Puritans
It seemed hard to write about These New Puritans until, as for any difficult things nowadays, I googled them to get some info.
As soon as I started reading online content this post became naturally easy.
No, not because I copied. The opposite, because anyone seem free to write everything and its opposite about These New Puritans. They seem to generate free association.
Now, Despite Matt Haig in his fucking tips on writing n. 8 suggests that “If it’s not worth fucking reading, it’s not worth fucking writing” I will keep muttering some lines to make these photos breath.
My First encounter with TNP was, better, should have been, in 2010. I was at the Shoreditch 1234 Festival and These New Puritans were supposed to headline. Unfortunately for them and their fans that black stage, plenty of instrument and some weird percussions, will never diffuse a sound. The show was cancelled with the band already on stage. ‘Sound problems’ the official reason. Angry people the obvious consequence.
Hidden, their second album, was released in January that year.
The mainstream music press jumped on that LP with a typical January overexcitement. “Only January and the album of the year 2010 contest is over” and more headlines like this. NME 9/10, Guardian 5 stars and so on, the hype machine, building expectations as it usually does, proved counterproductive. Sales of Hidden were not great despite the album was and still is good.
Take home lesson: To release an album around around Christmas is a wrong move if you aim at ‘Album of the Year’ lists. Those charts tend to come out in early December, ignoring anything that is to come out later in the month and forgetting everything that was out in the early days of the year.
Prior to Hidden These New Puritans debut album, Beat Pyramid, was published in 2008. I was aware but haven’t listened to it since… erm…. now.
This was back to the days when the twin brothers Jack and George Barnett teamed up with Thomas Hein and Sophie Sleigh-Johnson to put together the band.
Like the album or not, one things is clear: from Beat Byramid to Filed of Reeds, this year third long playing, through Hidden, These New Puritans chrysalis metamorphosed into a butterfly.
Beat Pyramid was a fast electronic album with hip-hop influenced singing. Hidden did the transformation into a darker band, which they cleverly followed in the look and the style. It has a black on black labyrinth on the cover that sort of become the band logo (T-shirts to follow). Musically the trumpet in the song that opens the album, slowing down the tempo, hints at a moody atmosphere. Hidden still preserves the early influence of the electronics of the beginning, as in the 7 minutes of We Want War.
Field of Reeds concludes the passage. The trumpet and the French Horn become prominent, Elisa Rodrigues a Jazz singer joins Jack Barnett on several tracks. The sound at times gets that orchestral grandiosity that wasn’t heard since Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother.
Thankfully 70s are over, classicism isn’t cool, prog-rock isn’t mainstream and the small doses of pomp left in contemporary music are accepted and often very well tolerated.
As for any gig following a new album launch, as this, there is a great expectations for These New Puritans gig at London Heaven. The press, the indie-entrepreneurs, the coolest business is all present tonight. They may well ‘trend on twitter’. I am surprised that I don’t spot Bobby Gillespie, he is the signal that tells you’re in the right place at the right time.
Study the body language, read the attitude. The indie-etiquette wants those who are involved in the business to gather at the bar chatting and showing only moderate interest than fans. There’s a high ratio of ‘people at the bar vs people at the front’ . Confirmed by the fact that the security did not put a barrier to separate the press pit from the fans.
I am neither an expert nor a fan of the early TNP so I am happy to listen to the music from the latest album. From the moment the three original members come to the stage they look very concentrate in the performance. Elisa Rodrigues, magnetically beautiful as her voice, joines them on stage. Her dark silhouette on the left adds velvety vocals.
These New Puritans concert showed a rare seen thing outside hip-hop and mainstream pop: the confidence of a band aware of its potential. So confident the clearly want to come on stage, play it live and convince the public. TNP are not one hit wonders, they do not write single, the melodies are not the easiest you whistle.
TNP are as craftsmen, slowly and carefully moulding their sound, bringing it bit by bit (literally) to a level of maturity.
Under the arches of the Heaven, 2 twin brother a friend a jazz singer and three more musicians put together a performance to surprise. They don’t only make music, the design the environment, generate a mood. These New Puritans aim to proselytize…. and they surely suceeded making at least one.
Curiously enough, in almost 10 years spent shooting London gigs, this was my first time at The Heaven.
I am still shocked that it took me about ten years to realise that Embankment and Leicester square are so close. Good tube tip if you had to run back to Kings Cross to catch a last night train. It is easier to walk the Strand to take the Piccadilly line than changing the Northern at Euston.
The place is at the Arches, the shopping arcade in Villers street, under Embankment rail station (not the tube station which is nearby).
I step down the stairs into a basement refurbished to be a cool place, the London way. The Heaven is also “the heaven” of G-A-Y, London’s gay-themed club night once at the Astoria R.I.P.
The bar is along the length of the venue, separate by large arches. The long hall ends with a ultra-high stage that tonight, differently from other times, does not have a press pit. Not a big problem when you know, solution is to travel light, a bit of a pain if you didn’t expect and brought a heavy camera bag.
These New Puritans lights fitted the music mood. They use dark, smoky, plenty of monochromatic backlights.
Mainly blue but also green and red. Rarely to see colour mixing together, even more rare a white spot that points to the band members.
It is not an easy situation but it is a situation that I like. If you ever seen a slideshow of my colour portfolio (of course you did otherwise do!!) you see it opens with a few silhouette/backlight shots before the lights turn you on into a show.
Three songs in, the security guy fights among the front row fans (not a squeezed crowd at all) to get me out and prevent me shooting beyond the third. The non photographer keep shooting.
Unhappy with the settings, I try something different. I see a staircase ending in a balcony, midway through the venue, on the right side of the stage. With few hopes I approach, very politely (know your tricks), the security guy asking if I can step there for a few shots. The answer is ‘no’ then he rethinks, comes back to me and says he’s going to ask the manager.
The ‘no’ mutates in a ‘yes’ and in seconds I am up there testing some ultra wide panoramic shots with my new 21mm and some the dear 70-200mm for some telephoto close ups. Light keep being challenging even with vibration reduction and a F2.8 lens, but the chances, when shooting the entire set, are there to be taken.
Another lesson to take home: Always be very polite when requesting a favour and never gave up. 9 out of 10 you’ll get a sound ‘no’, the tenth time the ‘no’ is a chrysalis ready to become a ‘yes’.