Apart from the music, Neneh Cherry story is a nice biopic in itself.
There is a lot of (good) music into that too, which is a good complement.
This story began in the 60s, between a Swedish painter called Monica Karlsson (Neneh’s mother) and an African Drummer Ahmadou Jah (Neneh’s father).
The ‘Cherry’ comes in once Neneh’s mother marries Jazz musician Don Cherry who will raise Neneh since birth. The tale gets even more complicate when half-brother Eagle-Eye Cherry, son of Don and Monica, joins the family. He will have some glory with a single, Save Tonight, in the 90s.
Until today I wasn’t aware of all of this, and I always assumed Neneh was Don’s daughter.
Don Cherry to everyone slightly into Jazz, especially free jazz, was a constant presence in Ornette Coleman bands. He has credits in all Coleman’s masterpieces. Those albums, from Something Else!!! to Free Jazz through The Shape of Jazz To Come are key recordings that changed the landscape not only of jazz but modern music altogether.
Don also had sessions with most of Jazz and fusion artists including Sun Ra, Sonny Rollins, Paul Bley.
Neneh was born in Sweden but moved with family to New York and then to London on her own. Music and music cities surrounded her since her early childhood.
In London she met the Slits and abandoned father and jazz. It was the peak of punk and she claims to have discovered she could sing.
It took a few years before her Raw Like Sushi debut came out at the end of the 80s. The single Buffalo Stance was a hit and for the next 5 years Neneh was a superstar of the pop music scene. Grammy nominations, shocking pregnant set at Top of the Pops, rework of Cole Porter song and collaborations with Michael Stipe (REM) and Geoff Barrow (soon to become a Portishead).
Her career peaked again with the joint single with Youssou N’Dour in 1994. Their 7 seconds is present on both Neneh’s Man album and N’Dour The Guide (Wommat) and was a huge hit worldwide.
History teaches it is difficult to follow up a huge success and Neneh Cherry must have experienced it. She disappearing from the music mainstream for a very long time.
Blank Project her new album she brought to (this) Field Day and Meltdown festival gigs in London was released in February 2014. 18 years have passed since Man, her previous effort.
Differently from many late comebacks of the 80s and the 90s stars (Kate Bush, Sade and even Pixies) Neneh Cherry didn’t go the easy way, pleasing her fans with the music they’d expect from her.
She chose the high tipped electronic musician Kieran Hebden better known with his stage name Four Tet to produce the new album.
The result is electronic but not the Four Tet way, which I don’t like much.
Blank Project, as the title indicates, is a more minimalist approach to her vision of music. Neneh’s voice stands out. Across The Water the opening track is pretty much a statement of what will count in the next 9 songs: rhythm and vocals. And what will not enter. Frills and overproduction.
The record flows at a nice pace without ever becoming tiring. There is a cameo by Robyn towards the end for Out of The Black. The more recognisable influence by Four Tet arrives in the last track. Everything lasts 7 minutes and indeed contains a bit of “everything” in an antithesis of what the opening track did 40 minutes earlier. From Hebden electronic signature to the last seconds of the album where Neneh screams into the microphone in a way that recollects the singing experiments of Diamanda Galas, minus the eccentricity.
Field day tent was packed for Neneh live comeback. With a set all centred on the new album (I couldn’t stay the whole show, I have no idea if some surprises arrived at the end) the music sounded great and Cherry vitality was overwhelming.
It is nice to see an artist that is brave enough to step back when there is not the urge to perform and decide to come back when she has something new to say.
The album had great reviews pretty much across the world music press and I am sure the live concerts will not delude the fans. If you want to catch her live, book your tickets now. You’ll never know if it is going to be 18 more years for the next appearance!
At music festivals, there are several kind of stages which require a slightly different equipment and approach. Neneh Cherry played one of the Field Day tents. Let’s talk about The Festival Tent.
Field Day is a London festival happening in Victoria Park.
London + Park = Grass. The Tent was mounted on a field and the spacious photopit was on the grass.
Depending on the weather a tent can either be a shelter from the rain or a sauna because of the sun.
In case of rain the counterpart is mud all the way and you need to be very careful with your gear. Regardless what petapixel videos show trust me and avoid your body and lenses to see the ground and become muddy. Some water is fine but hard particles in the moving parts can kill even the best water sealed hi-tech pro equipment.
Thankfully the sky was clear this year. It avoided us the mud but it comes with a different backside. Thousands of people breathing and warming up the temperature under the tent’s roof, and the sun hitting it from the other side is like experiencing a bit of Thailand tropics in East London.
Cameras don’t have problems with these temperatures, we have. So wear light.
Festival tents also have the “advantage” of (coloured) stage lights and smoke even in daytime. Despite my eternal complaining about low lights, I’ll take a lit up gig versus a daylight one all the time. The atmosphere in the photos comes out much better and the coloured backdrop of the tent (black and dark blue in this case) works nicely as a unobtrusive background compared to the mess of a big stage in the sunlight.
One practical problem I often face is where to leave the camera bag. If the grass is wet or muddy, the ground is not an option (see above). To carry it with you is not always possible, especially if the pit is crowded as tents usually are and all ‘togs would be pissed off by the guy with the backpack. To leave it on the barriers would be great but you have to trust the audience and work with the stress someone could run away with your other lenses. Best is to arrive a bit early, look for the driest spot beforehand. A large plastic bag can be an easy solution in case of mud, too.
Last but quite important, tents are wonderful moments to shoot the crowd. The residual daylight arriving from all around does not leave them in total darkness as in theatres, the lower ceiling frames the fans and the light is usually diffuse and pleasing. You may have to balance the white (shoot raw!!). Look out for silhouette options too.
So if you are going to photograph a festival don’t stand all day under the big stage with the big names but organize your schedule with a few stops in the small tents which is where the best pics usually are.