The Thin Air sent me to cover Fangclub's album launch in Tower Records, where the band were performing an acoustic instore before a signing session. I had hoped to have a quick catch up with the guys since I'd last worked with them at their Whelans headline show for an AAA piece but I arrived just on time to catch the set, and afterwards they were knee deep in signing records and I had to run. I'm looking forward to asking them all about how their Pixies support slot went since I missed that show because I was in Lisbon. I know... life is tough.
Irish music scene
This festival marked two firsts for me. My first overnight festival where I'm doing photo coverage, and my first Body & Soul. I've always wanted to go but it's right in the middle of a holiday blackout with my day job and I hated the idea of ruining the fun by leaving the festival early. What I've found is I've wasted a few trips there and it's time to make up for it.
GoldenPlec sent me with resident reviewer Bernard and we roadtripped to Ballinlough Castle Estate to be greeted with a quick entry through secutiry and in to the Us & You Eco campsite. My tent was set up in no time and I was amazed to discover all the relevent bits were still there since I last used it at Electric Picnic and couldn't remember what state it was in. From there it was straight in to watch some bands, starting with Jafaris in the forest on the Pagoda stage. I followed up with Talos on the main stage and pretty much kept there for the day, covering Anna Meredith and true headliners of the night, Metronomy.
It's now just over a year since I took some portraits of frontman Joseph Mount, and the release of their fourth album. At the time he said he wouldn't be touring the album and I was a bit heartbroken. A year later and a handful of gigs lead into festival season and the band make their return to Ireland. I can sacrifice a headline show in Dublin to see them again at a festival. I've only ever caught the band at festivals, since they've rarely played their own shows in Ireland, so this wasn't a bad thing.
They were in flying form and had amazing lights to shoot them on stage. They segue their first three songs together, the same opening three songs from Summer 08, and as I go to leave I get the nod from our photographer liaison that we have one more tune to shoot. A cool mistake and one I wasn't going to debate. This was far better shoot than at Longitude 2015, when they were on a higher stage and where wide angle options were not great. The Body & Soul stage is a cool one to shoot on, but the little raised bit in the centre does get in the way of a good few wide angle band shots from the weekend. That gripe aside, it was a great start to a weekend's shooting.
After waiting around for final act of the night, Parcels, the festival organiser came onstage to announce that the band was here but their equipment stuck in Berlin. They were replaced by Le Cool. This was disapointing as I was really looking forward to seeing what Parcels were like. I just stayed for one song as it was time to unburden myself of the camera bag and go enjoy the festival's sights at night.
Saturday began with photographing Loah. I've seen her twice live since I did some portraits with her for Plec Picks 2015 but never shot either of those shows. It was great to capture her, bright and colourful on stage on a sunny day. Next up was Icelandic band Mammút. I didn't hang around to watch their show, they didn't really do much for me. I went to explore the festival and get some people shots around the walled garden.
I returned to the main stage again to photograph Lambchop. There was nothing interesting to shooting them so I moved on during the second song and didn't stay. The day was redeemed by La Femme, a French new wave band whose only song I knew was the one featured in the Renault adverts recently. They put on a great show, swapping instruments, vocals, dancing around the stage, smoking cigarettes and looking quintessentially French.
The day was further improved by Sleaford Mods arrival. This was the first time I've caught them live and they were cool to photograph, primarily vocalist Jason Williamson's passion in delivering the words on stage. I always have a laugh at Andrew Fearn just standing around the back smoking, drinking and pressing play on the laptop.
Bonobo were my last act to shoot on the main stage. At first I thought it would just be smoke and silhouettes until their vocalist came onstage during the second song and saved the day and the photos. She was beutifully lit and greatly improved upon what I was getting from the camera beforehand. The night finished with King Kong Company in the Midnight Circus Tent. I tried to shoot in this tent earlier but it was just DJs, low lighting and heavy on red lights. Not helped was the extra addition to the stage at the front which made for a tight squeeze in the centre of the pit, and made it a no go area for photographers according to security. Shots were limited for movement as a result, and the lighting didn't get a whole lot better, with dry ice and heavy yellows and purples washing everything out on stage.
Sunday was a better day, starting with Æ MAK. This is my second time photographing them, after their support of Warpaint recently. I nearly didn't make the set as I packed my tent to drop to the car, leaving my camera gear in Bernard's tent and locked with my coded lock. When we returned the combination wouldn't work suddenly and we were stuck. I managed to squeeze my hand in what little could be zipped open, reached his bag and he pulled out his swiss army knife from the front of it. A zip was removed and we were in. All was well again.
Ailbhe Reddy followed Æ MAK's performance and later on I returned for Sinkane. The big clash of the day came in the form of the two bands I wanted to see most that day. Austra and The Moonlandingz. Due to band cancellations, the Midnight Circus timetable was given a reshuffle and hence the clash. I had fifteen minutes between Austra beginning and Moonlandingz taking to their stage. I was not missing them for the world. I stayed for half a song for Austra, hence how limited options I had from their set. I took a few shots and ran.
The Moonlandingz were so good they deserved a set all to themselves when I submitted them to GoldenPlec. Lias, aka Johnny Rocket arrived on stage cling film wrapped to his mother, walking backwards to his microphone. From there she escaped and he took off, launching to the front of the stage, stalking the crowd, dribbling beer and pulling all sorts of shapes an poses. They are such a good band to shoot live, and I love the music and attitude. Like Fat White Family, they are a different beast live to on record. Unfortunately Rebecca Lucy Taylor was absent for backing vocals and her duet on The Strangle of Anna, opting to stay at Glastonbury it seems.
The second to last band I shot that weekend was Hundred Waters. This was another band that just didn't stir me at all. I found the singer to seem a little shy, sometimes seeing the cameras and turning around. It could have been coincidence but to me and a fellow tog is had an air of unconfidence. Maybe we were wrong.
The last act of the festival, Birdy Nam Nam, cancelled and the headline slot was given to Mykki Blanco, upgraded from the Midnight Circus tent. This was of much benefit given that stage's set up. We were advised that we could shoot the whole show as he loves photographers. I chose to stick with the usual three songs as it was cold, late and I wanted to get home to bed as I had work in the morning. Unfortunately bed was to wait as he had a DJ play for half an hour before he came on stage. When he did arrive he was like whirlwind, boucing around the red light soaked stage, picking up props and roaming the stage. I left my zoom lens in the bag and kept to my 24-70mm for the whole set. By the third song he jumped into the crowd and got them to form a circle pit. This was the best part of the shoot and a great way to end the weekend.
So I've talked about the bands a bit, now it's time to show off the people, the festival goers and music lovers. It's a great festival for people to dress up and not give a damn. I didn't realise there was so much going on around the site to encourage this, secret parties, raves, masked balls and wine parties. I didn't see the half of it. Maybe next year.
I began February with an Access All Areas for Fangclub's headline show in Whelans for GoldenPlec. An AAA shoot involves a lot of hanging around while the band loads in, sound checks and hang out backstage. It's always in the back of my head to keep out of the way as much as possible and give everyone their space to get on with their jobs, and not be in their face too much when it comes to down time backstage.
I headed in just after the band loaded in and would snap away as they got the stage set up and sound-checked. The lights on stage were looking impressive and there was a neat backdrop, both of which are rarities to see in a Whelans show. For backstage shots I tried to use flash as little as possible. The shot above of Steven and Kev on the couch was one of the only shots I used a flash for pre-gig.
The show itself was heavy on strobes, low lights and harsh red/purple lights. It was the trickiest part of the shoot funnily enough, given the earlier light tests provided some cool shots. The lights were now a trickier affair to get the band in the right light at the right time. I made sure to make my way to the back of the stage to catch Steven crowd surfing during the final song. I was very tempted to run out to the front of the stage to get a closer shot but as it is a small stage I didn't want to risk being in the way as he was thrust back on to it. After the gig I finished the AAA with a shot of the three guys ready for some post-gig celebrations.
Sometimes there are gigs you get landed with on the day, the original photographer can't make it for one reason or another so you step in to help out. Leading up to this show I had thought "Band of Horses would be an alright show to shoot", so luck was on my side courtesy of The Thin Air. Vicar Street is a 5-10 minute walk from my apartment so I made my way up in good time before the band would take to the stage. The lights beforehand were great looking but by the time they came on they took a dull turn and the smoke machine was turned on. This turned it into a tougher shoot than I'd expected it to be but there are some shots that came from this that I'm delighted with, particularly of Ben Bridwell screaming into the microphone while the drummer's hair is swinging in the air behind him. The first song is where the majority of my shots came from, the other two songs were pretty useless for lighting and a waste to shoot.
The Divine Comedy was a Sunday night gig. I was in one of those lazy, hungover moods where it felt like a drag to have to go from the couch, walk the cold quays at night and make my way to Bord Gais Energy Theatre to shoot a show. It was worth it though. The venue restricts photographers to shoot from the side so the variety of shots is minimal which is a shame. What made it worthwhile were the two spare seats that were beside me and another photographer as we shot the gig, so we sat down and enjoyed the set after the three song shoot. I had no notions of staying since it's an all seated show and not something you can just blend into a crowd when done like other shows. The set provided loads of nostalgic moments with songs I hadn't listened to in years.
The Thin Air asked me to do a photo-shoot with the band Girlfriend for issue 15 of the magazine. They are mainly based in Bettystown which is just under an hour's drive from Dublin. Ahead of time they filled me in on potential locations about the town that we could use for the shoot, and given I was going to be travelling a small distance I figured we could take our time and do a few more set ups than a shoot like this usually needed. This was their first band photo-shoot so it was a good way for them to get used to the process. The only downside was that all four members wouldn't be present as their drummer, Lahela, was in the USA on a J-1. I asked them to think about a way we could possibly represent her in a few photos.
The Saturday that I drove to meet them was one of the hotter and sunnier days we'd had all Summer. I drove past nearby beaches to find my way to the seaside town and met Hana, Lisa & Sophie outside the local arcade. I was excited at the prospect of shooting inside it but I couldn't let the good weather go to waste first so we set up near one of the abandoned buildings nearby as they had suggested to start with. They chose to represent Lahela with a balloon and taped a picture of her to it. The breeze tended to get the better of the balloon so we would abandon the idea after we tried a few shots with it.
We moved from one unused building to another across the road which had graffiti on the door that said "death is around every corner". This was a nice touch and something they felt would be apt, however the sun was directly in the girl's faces causing them to squint in many of the shots. I didn't like how the shots were framed based on my limited vantage points in trying to fit the girls & graffiti in frame so I abandoned this set up to go around the back of the building and try something there.
At the back there was more graffiti on doors, and the walls were covered in leaves. I opted for the latter, mainly due to the fact that parked cars blocked half the building. With the girls now in a little bit of shadow I used a fill flash, hand held off the camera and covered with a lumiquest softbox ltp. I had brought a tripod and large softbox but kept them in the car until I felt I would need them, they never made an appearance. By this stage I was ready to go try out the amusement arcade.
We browsed the arcade to see what was cool and what they'd be comfortable with posing in front of while the general public passed by. The first stop was at the slot machines. I held the flash off camera again, this time with no softbox. Behind me were more machines so this was the widest I could go for this shot. Sophie, on the right, was the hardest to keep lit as I held the flash aloft with my left hand but struggled to get an even spread of light. I fixed this is post processing (frustratingly since shooting at Hell & Back not long before this shoot I forgot to revert my files to shoot in RAW, so my editing was quite restricted). I have mixed feelings with the result as I wanted to get more ambient light from the machines mixed with the fill flash but I would have needed to give myself more time, and with paying punters walking by I didn't want to linger on too long in one place.
The next shot was simpler and more effective. Using the lights of the pool hall and nearby machines I shot the girls in this neon light without any flash. The main issue was the people playing pool in the background, but ultimately I found they proved no distraction in the end result.
Possibly my favourite shot of the day came from using the neon lights in the seated area of the bowling alley. The effect comes across a little like that the girls are in a diner, and I love how they each look in the above shot. I tried this from a few angles but having caught this shot in the first few frames, I knew I wouldn't beat it.
We'd got to the point where we wanted to use parts of the arcade that we'd better get approval on. Having scoped out the place on arrival two areas had stood out, the bumper cars and this shooting game, complete with cartoonish background & characters. Management gave me the go ahead so I gave the girls the nod to hop the barrier and enter the scene. What we hadn't accounted for was the amount of dust on the floorboards and the height restriction. I stood outside and again used the natural light of the game for the above shot. I couldn't quite get the full skull in the picture while keeping in the sign above the game. If I went any wider the gun station at the front would be in the way and be an unnecessary distraction. The girls kneeled and sat down on the floorboards for the most part for these shots, getting covered in years old dust in the process. My apologies ladies.
For the finale we made our way to the bumper cars and made sure they were not in use and that there was no queue. We ended up asking a young girl at the entrance if we could use it for a few minutes, not realising she was just a passing kid and not an underage, underpaid staff member. Again we got official approval to gain access and use the area. What drew me to it were the mirrored walls of light that would flicker on/off and in different patterns. We tried once more to use the balloon but it was not staying afloat and would turn the wrong way. It was kicked to the side for a final time. I had some cool wide shots of the girls in the whole bumper car space but I wasn't a fan of how the balloon looked in those pictures that I never gave it a full edit. In my rush to get good use of the space I forgot to take a version of the shot without it.
I alternated between using the fill flash, and using just the lights from the wall to get a natural result I was pleased with. The above image is what appeared in the magazine in the end. Afterwards we sat with a drink in the diner, looking back over the results to make sure we all liked what we had taken. Overall this turned out to be one of the best & most fun shoots I've run so far. The band were great company and fun to work with. I'm sure I'll run into them again some time in the future and catch them live.
July was another quiet month for me shooting gigs. I took a week off work at the start of the month to travel some of the Wild Atlantic Way which I'll blog about in another post, but he rest of the month seemed to just be more festivals. Festivals I wasn't attending as sad as that is. One gig I had on my radar to cover for The Thin Air was Popicalia Returns, the 22nd Popicalia gig after an absence of 2 1/2 years, featuring Squarehead, Land Lovers & Ginnels. I'll not rehash what was said in the review so you can click here to have a read of that. It was my first time in Bello Bar so I was glad for a change of scenery from my usual haunts.
Click the any image to see the full gallery.
Non photo related, I ventured over to Leeds to see The Cribs in Leeds Millennium Square. Danny Payne has great coverage of that gig that I'm very jealous of. It was an epic gig, with support from local acts plus... Thurston Moore!! Other gigs I went to but didn't shoot were Pixies in Iveagh Gardends & Longitude. I headed along the Sunday to see Christine & the Queens, Kurt Vile and The National. Christine is someone I have to try photograph when she returns.