Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The Charlatans Acoustic Set

Monday 21st March saw me once again on assignment for Mudkiss Fanzine, for a live review of the Oran Mor, Glasgow gig of The Charlatans Acoustic Tour. You can read the full review here

There were a few headaches to overcome, the first being no guest list or photo pass details left at the door.
I counted five photographers in all, and no-one had passes waiting for them.

I was fortunate to have dealt with the extremely efficient Natasha Parker at Work It Media, who is the Press Officer for The Charlatans. Despite her best efforts, and having treble checked arrangements were in place, the band management did not supply the venue with the guest list.
Fortunately, Natasha emailed written confirmation earlier that day, along with three emergency mobile numbers in case of any hiccups.

The primary contact was the road manager, whose mobile was going straight to voicemail.
Thanks to Natasha, I was the only one with the back up numbers which eventually got us through the door.

As this was an 'intimate' gig, there was no pit or barrier and the fans had already lined the edge of the stage in front of the 500 + packed crowd. I had to use every last ounce of charm to blag my way to the edge of the stage. The lighting was also pretty atrocious, photographically speaking, especially for the Charlatans.

At times, I had to rely on manual focus as even the Canon 1d Mk3 was struggling to lock on.
I only needed a small handful of images to accompany the review, so all was not lost.

Trials and tribulations aside, it was a wonderful gig, in a wonderful venue.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

'Chicken and Egg' - Getting the bigger gigs

Anyone who has decided to take the crazy decision to specialise in concert photography will be familiar with the ‘chicken and egg’ scenario.

You start to build a portfolio by working with local bands and may get the occasional stroke of luck getting to shoot some of the bigger names.

You won’t get the bigger names without a decent portfolio, and you won’t get a decent portfolio without working with artists who have raised their game and worked on their stage-craft, resulting in more appealing images.

Even a strong portfolio is often not enough.

To work with bigger acts, you need to be working for a publication, be it printed or online.
After all, the artists and their management are looking for publicity.
They won’t get much of that by supplying you with an opportunity to feed your portfolio.

OK, a strong portfolio will help get you aligned to a publication, but in this oversaturated market, there are very few opportunities and many publications are loyal to their existing photographers, who understandably guard their positions fiercely.

The problem doesn’t end there.

If all you are capable of is photographing a show (and that can be a challenge by itself), the publication will need to also send along a reviewer; few are likely to run with pictures alone.
Getting two bodies through the door is more difficult than one, as guest list passes can be like gold dust for established and successful artists.
PR/Management will prioritise the available spaces to whoever will give their artist the most exposure.

Many photographers have had to diversify, and are required to take the pictures and write the review.
As you can imagine, some photographers have better writing skills than others.

The best place to start is with online publications.
I spent many frustrating months building a database of publications, and contacted each one.
I usually received no reply.
The few that did take time to reply would usually inform me that they had no opportunities at present or my geographical location was not ideal. (I live in Montrose, N.E Scotland. Glasgow, the epicentre of the Scottish music scene is a 2 ½ hour drive away)

I remembered that a childhood friend, Mel Smith was one of the co-founders of MUDKISS Fanzine.
We lived literally round the corner from each other in my home town of Newton Le Willows, Merseyside.
MUDKISS is a much respected online fanzine with an excellent team of reviewers, covering everything with an alternative flavour, such as live shows, exclusive interviews, album reviews and interviews with creative artists such as authors, models and even photographers.

I mentioned to Mel in passing that I could maybe photograph one of the bigger names visiting Scotland at some point in the future.
Within hours of the conversation, a list of potential gigs appeared in my inbox.

The catch? I would have to write the show review in addition to the photography!
“Not a problem Mel, I can write reviews too” was my reply.

I have thrown myself into the deep end and learned to swim several times throughout my life, so I set about researching how to tackle the task in hand. I also spent some time analysing reviews by respected writers and bought a few music magazines.

I chose The Grinspoon gig at King Tuts as my first assignment.
I researched the band fully. I was given access to their latest album and press reviews by their PR company and scoured YouTube for videos of the band.
By the time the gig came around, I was an enthusiastic fan.

Grinspoon are a multi-platinum selling rock band with a massive following in their native Australia and were in the UK to promote the European release of their new album.

The show was supplemented by two excellent support bands, JETTBLACK from London, and Sucioperro from Scotland.

The gig was ideal for cutting my teeth on and gave me the confidence to further explore this new found craft.
I am now looking forward to carrying out further reviews for MUDKISS, with The Charlatans, Dr Feelgood and The Dum Dum Girls in the pipeline over the next month.

My experience as a working musician since 1977 helps tremendously. I should by now be able to write a review with some authority on the subject and my background helps to build up trust and rapport with the artist.

The added advantage of working for a publication is that you are not relentlessly chasing photo passes; the PR companies often approach the publication with tour dates.

It is a good feeling to be able to take a break from the relentless chasing after work and watch quality assignments come to me!

You can read my first live review for MUDKISS here, hopefully, the first of many.

ABBAMANIA - The Music Hall Aberdeen

I first worked with ABBAMANIA a couple of years ago at The Webster Theatre in Arbroath.
The resulting images were used on their website, including the main image on the home page.

Nyree Burt, who performed the role of Freda had moved on to new pastures and was replaced by Juliana Hoy, so it was time to get some updated images.

I was very impressed with their show in Arbroath and the show at Aberdeen was even better.
The sound and lighting show are excellent  and the show includes a number of costume changes…a photographers’ feast!

The show is supplemented by a superb backing band, consisting of keyboards (played by Musical Director Steven Galert), 2 guitars, bass, drums and two female backing vocalists.

The core members are Ewa Scott (Agnetha), Juliana Hoy (Frida), Steven Galert (Benny) and Ross Taberner (Bjorn).

Close your eyes and you will be hard pushed to tell the difference between ABBAMANIA and the real deal. The show is ideal for all age groups, and tonight’s show in Aberdeen was a sell-out.
ABBAMANIA tour all over the UK and Europe.

A pleasant surprise on the night was bumping into Robert Pratt, director of Chimes International.
I toured the UK in 1979 as guitarist in the backing band to The Dallas Boys, regarded as the first ever 'Boy Band', before the likes of The Osmonds. Robert was responsible for the dates in Scotland on the first leg of the tour.

So, without further ado, here are some of my favourite images from the night…

Paul Jones & The Blues Band - The Music Hall Aberdeen - 17/02/2011

This night was special for me on many levels.
Back in my wild bass playing days, my band The Outlaws covered a number of tracks from the ‘Official Bootleg’ album…the first release by The Blues Band in 1979.
The band has a rich pedigree...

Paul Jones, vocalist/harmonica, just celebrated the 25th anniversary of his Blues Show on Radio 2.
He was front man for Manfred Mann and recorded many well-known hits…The Mighty Quinn/Do Wah Diddy/Pretty Flamingo/5-4-3-2-1/My Name Is Jack/Come Tomorrow…the list goes on.

Brian Jones offered Paul the gig with The Rolling Stones and he turned it down… the position was subsequently filled by Mick Jagger.
Paul has performed live or recorded with legendary artist such as Memphis Slim, Alexis Korner, Henry Gray, Alvin "Youngblood" Hart, Susan Tedeschi, Eric Bibb, Otis and Grand Tina Turner.
Paul also fronts the reformed and renamed Manfreds.

Dave Kelly is a respected slide player in blues circles. In New York, he jammed with Muddy Waters.  He became a friend to Howlin' Wolf and John Lee Hooker, and toured in their bands.


Tom McGuiness
In the early 1960’s, Tom shared the stage in The Roosters with none other than Eric Clapton.
He joined Manfred Mann in 1964 and stayed with them until they disbanded in 1969.

In 1970, with drummer Hughie Flint and singer-songwriters Benny Gallagher and Graham Lyle, he formed McGuiness Flint, and 'When I'm Dead and Gone' hit No. 1 in the charts.
His book on the music business, 'So You Want to Be a Rock & Roll Star?' is still essential reading for any aspiring pop musician.
Tom is also a current member of The Manfreds.

The Blues Band drummer, Rob Townsend, along with Roger Chapman and Charlie Whitney, formed Family. They were one of Britain's most creative and original bands, with an instrumental line-up which included flute and violin – unheard of in those early guitar, bass & drums days.

After seven great albums and four hit singles, Family broke up and Rob joined the duo Medicine Head, with whom he enjoyed more chart success. Upon their demise, he was soon back in the top ten with piano-playing balladeer Peter Skellern.

Rob joined British tours with legendary guitarist Duane Eddy and bluesman Memphis Slim.
He is also in the current line-up of The Manfreds.

Gary Fletcher, The Blues Band bassist, met Dave Kelly in late ’78 when they both played in a band put together by Wilgar Campbell, the ex-Rory Gallagher drummer, called The Wildcats.
He also leads his own band, The Gary Fletcher Band.

Gary is unique, as he plays left handed basses strung right handed.

I was in a privileged position on this night, as I was invited to join the band on-stage during their sound check to get some unique images, although Gary was missing as he arrived late.

The plan was to also get some backstage non-action portraits, but Dave Kelly was suffering with a knee injury and was still in a great deal of pain following an operation, so the portrait shoot didn’t happen.
Dave also spent the entire show seated on stage.
I subsequently learned that Dave spent the following morning in A&E at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary to drain fluid from the badly swollen right knee.

He had to drive from Aberdeen to Glasgow that day for their next gig…what a trouper!
I spent some time in the Green Room with the band before the show and enjoyed a coffee and chat with these perfect gentlemen.

Here are some of my favourite images from the night…

Sound check

   The Show 

One final note on ettiquette...I normally wear all black, usually a black t-shirt and jeans. Tonight's concert was a seated/tabled affair.

I always try to dress apropriately, so wore a suit and shirt on this occasion. Remember, you are in full view of the audience and they will always remember the small details.

I also avoid shooting from centre stage on these occasions.
The Music Hall has a very high stage...the audience are there to watch the show, not the photographer, so I stay to the left and right of the stage.

Time permitting, I will walk all the way around the back of the audience to swop sides.

There were no time restrictions tonight, as I was there by invitation to shoot the entire show.
My self imposed brief was 'Do what you like, but don't piss anybody off'.

I still chose to observe the three song rule and shot the remainder of the show discreetly, either from the side wings, or from the sound board with a 400mm lens.

A big thank you to Lari, the tour manager for making me feel welcome.
Thanks also to the lovely Shirley from the Merchandise stall for the coffee and introductions, and Adam on the sound desk, not forgetting Gilly Taylor from GTA for making everything possible.

The Official Blues Band  website

Burns Night - Roughneck Riot + The Real McKenzies

Burns night saw me back at Drummonds Aberdeen for a feast of kilted, Celtic punk, and what a fantastic night it turned out to be! Greg Matheison from Chaos Promotions sure knows how to throw a party!

I took the gig on, not really knowing what to expect, because my old drummer teaches the Roughneck Riot drummer and gave me the heads up that they were coming up from Warrington to Scotland for a mini tour.

I kind of looked on the night as a favour to them and to my old drummer.
I knew nothing about the band, or the headliners, The Real McKenzies and was a little dubious as to whether I would enjoy the experience.

As always, I did my research.
I like to give a band 100% and to do them justice, I will turn up knowing the band’s music, their history, their individual names, what they look like, what they had for breakfast and be ready for any signature moves. If the opportunity arises, I like to have a chat with the band members before the show and build up a rapport and trust.

All the guys (and gals) in both bands were very friendly.
It transpired that Roughneck Riot and myself share a few close mutual friends as they are from or around my home town before I relocated to Scotland 10 years ago.

Drummonds is a great live venue, although the lighting is a nightmare (virtually non existent) against a black painted and untidy stage backdrop. It is one of the only venues I know where flash is permitted, if not essential.

Flash can kill a live music image, but I find that if you dial the power right down to just ‘tickle’ a little light into the scene, it can help create a great image under poor conditions.

On to the show…

I can’t even remember the name of the first band on-stage, they left me totally un-impressed, both musically and visually.

As an audience member and a photographer, I prefer bands that hone their stagecraft and entertain their audience. Yes, the music is foremost, but I’m left cold by shoe gazers who make no effort to engage their audience. The void in front of the stage, empty of audience said it all really, as did the lack of applause. I normally photograph all of the support bands, but I gave this one a miss and went outside for a cigarette with some of the musicians.

Next on was Billy Liar from Glasgow, who I have worked with before and consider a friend. Solo punks with acoustic guitar don’t normally do anything for me, but Billy has it nailed. He looks the part, writes great, clever songs and delivers them with passion and energy. The Aberdeen punk troops lined the edge of the stage for his performance and they and Billy fed off each other.

Billy and myself popped out into the dark Belmont Street before his set for an impromptu portrait session, and considering that all I had to work with was a single on-camera flash, we were very pleased with the results.


After a short interval, The Roughneck Riot took to the stage and what a show they put on! Their music is Irish/Celtic punk (think The Pogues/Dropkick Murphys), which was well received by the audience.

This band has obviously made a conscious effort to work on their stagecraft and I was fed with opportunities for great action images from the moment they walked on stage until the moment they left it.

Every band member was a joy to watch, and I could photograph Caitlin, their banjo player all night!


Toward the end of the show, there were more band members on the floor than on stage, and the stage was invaded (by invitation, if that makes sense!) by the Aberdeen troops. The whole scene was one big party and the line between band and audience was blurred, which made for some great images.

The Real McKenzies kept the party going and again were a joy to photograph.
They were in the middle of their European tour from their native Vancouver and were on top form. Again, very friendly guys…a simple email resulted in a reply from their manager, Randy Stifes with permission. It turned out that Randy doubles as their sound guy and was there on the night and destroyed my image of him being a suit behind a desk somewhere in Vancouver. I thought it only right I should throw in a shot of a kilted Randy at the desk…thanks again. Randy!

There was a serious mosh pit going down half way into their set, so I found myself at one point standing on a pool table for some long shots and getting in the middle of it for some audience shots.

I came away from the night exhilarated and with a large number of images I was very pleased with. Billy, Roughneck and the Real McKenzies were all pleased with the results too.

The Real McKenzies have set up a gallery on their website from the night.

The Roughneck Riot will be returning in July for the Slaughterfest.
I will be there, and will be wearing my Roughneck t-shirt, courtesy of the band!