Been a bit busy recently and not blogged much. Of course this doesn't mean I haven't been busy, just the opposite. I have been too busy to get around to writing about it. So this is one of three catch up blogs, that picks on the three big gigs in my calendar and misses out on a load of stuff that would be interesting enough to write about if only I could find the time to do it. The gigs that I had planned my calendar around were The Fields of the Nephilim, Carter USM and The Levellers. There is an awful lot of planning goes into gig photography. Access to take photos at these gigs takes a ton of arranging and it is getting tougher and tougher. So I take each one pretty seriously....
First up, The Fields of the Nephilim. If ever there were a band that deserve respect when it comes to gig photos then it is The Fields. Notoriously difficult to shoot due to dark conditions and huge clouds of smoke/dry ice (last time they played Leeds the airport was closed for three days afterwards).
So I thought I would get some practice at low light shooting. Two bands who I really like where playing together in The Stereo in York. Berlin Black and the Shades of Grey and O. Children should be great to take pics of, but the Stereo is a pub back room with really tough lighting. The big issue with The Stereo is that the front lighting that should hit the band is actually too close too the stage to really help. As soon as anyone steps slightly forward of the light then they disappear into darkness. Even if they stand in the perfect spot they tend to get a 'floating head' effect as the light hits the head hard and nothing else. So Berlin Black's Shades of Grey all came out black and I really didn't get a shot that I thought would be worth sharing. From a gig perspective, the band seem to just go from strength to strength and put in a great gig. O. Children are a band I have been really keen to see again. I loved the first album, and the follow-up Apnea is something that has seen a fair amount of time on the car stereo. There are particular problems with taking pictures of O. Children in venues like this. Tobi, the lead singer, is one of the tallest folks I have ever seen. So the lighting at The Stereo, even if he stood on the perfect spot, hit his chest. The lighting was so dark that the auto-focus steadfastly refuse to connect with anything. I left the gig empty handed, a great wake-up call for a man a week away from a Neffs gig.
The debacle in York meant I needed to head out to my favourite place of practice. The Library in Leeds hosts The Flock club-night on the first Saturday of each month. It is usually defiantly dark and smokey. Zeitgeist Zero and Last July were playing in a nice looking double bill. Both bands put in a great set, but the lighting was really nice! This was clearly not was needed for a man on his last practise!
So, it was with much trepidation, that I turned up to take pics at the Fields of the Nephilim gig. The last time I saw them was at the Mission XXV gig in Brixton and the lighting was really tough. The gig had a similar 'event' feel with folks meeting up in pre-determined pubs in a celebration of a bands rare appearance. The line-up for this gig was simply brilliant, with Salvation and the newly renamed Skeletal Family appearing.
Salvation have played a few gigs since their reappearance at the Mission XXV gig in Leeds last year. They have always pulled in a crowd of devout maniacs who just throw themselves into the gigs. I am really lucky to have seen all of the gigs they have played and can see why the group gets a bit bigger each time. Despite the technical difficulties with bass amplification the set is a cracker and significantly sharper then the Mish support slot a year before. Unfortunately, the lighting was tough and had me feeling really nervous about the upcoming headliners.
The Skeletal Family eased my fears a little as the ripped though a Skeletal Family, Ghost Dance and Anne-Marie Hurst mash-up under the new/old banner. Lighting was great, smoke machine smokey, wind machine windy and was really nice to see them on the bigger stage.
Of course, all the practise and preparation for a gig can go out of the window pretty quickly. Fields of the Nephilim appear in the expected darkness and smoke combination, but without the main subject of Carl McCoy. Of course, venues should make allowances for Shroud, but they don't. One of the three songs gone without a lead singer to snap out. With one third of the photo opportunity vanished in a puff of smoke my nerves were jangling. McCoy finally appears and it is time to put all that practise into effect.
There are some bands where you need to get a shot of each member of the band, but there is really a 'must have' feel to shots of McCoy. He is the figurehead of the band and you really need to nail that shot. This one comes during 'Straight To The Light'. I usually struggle to remember the song when I am doing pics, but this was a song with some significance for the photographers. The reasons are still a little unclear, either crowd surfers or production decision, but the photo pit was cleared 3/4 through song two! Planning and practise go to hell in a hand-basket when this kind of thing happens. There was effectively less then two minutes to get a shot of the main subject. Tricky lighting, loads of smoke, security guards, jostling togs and loads of other things conspire against getting the one shot you need. Having a radically shortened window of opportunity did not help.
It is moments like this that I start interpreting the rules of photography. The three song rule at the O2 Academy usually means you get three songs and then you put the camera away and take no more shots. These are usually taken from the photo-pit. In the heat of the moment when the security guys are clearing you out there is little time to ask clarifying questions. So I made a decision to attach the long lens (70-200mm F2.8 L USM IS II) and drifted to the back of the crowd for a song (or two). It is really tough to take a good photo from distance, really, really, tough! I was not convince I had the shot I wanted so had a crack.
The pic (above) was taken from the side of the venue (by the door between the two bar on the right of the venue). It is a long way away. It doesn't look a lot like this on the camera when I took it. I had a point of reference for Neffs pictures from when I was a kid. This comes from Sounds/Melody Maker/NME pics back in the day where photography and printing techniques combined to create quite a specific grainy/newpaper feel. This is not an easy effect to recreate, but I feel like it was worth the effort to create a pic that felt like something I aspired to when I used to devour live reviews.
I didn't really appreaciate just how good the Neffs were during the Mish support slot. I think this is mainly down to my adverse reaction to the 'Neffs where better then the Mish' attitude. I hope that this doesn't colour my judgement if they should ever play together again, as if that could happen next December!