40:18

Vok. The Louisiana, Bristol.

Icelandic electronica. Second visit to the Louie, known for its great sound & atmosphere.

The ticket for this was a birthday gift from friends, who are fans of this band (I have some smashing friends. With excellent musical taste). Electronic music. From Iceland. Not usually my bag. Too hip. But as I am learning on this musical journey, what you think you like on paper & what you actually like are not always the same.

After last nights gig, a full day at work (including my appraisal) and everything else that has happened in the past week, I was feeling too tired for a gig & not entirely in the mood to go. To expend emotional energy chatting in the pub & go to an enclosed, dark, upstairs space for a band I knew nothing about. Well it wasn’t appealing. But, I have good friends. Generous friends. Who I knew would understand. So off I set.

We managed to catch most of the support act, Bethany Humphries, who has an emotional maturity beyond her years in her music. We were all really impressed with the quality of her voice. I think she said she is playing her first headline gig in Bristol in July and she would be well worth catching.

The crowd was noisy & busy for Vok, which in the small space of the Louie made me feel uncomfortable. I realised tonight why I feel shut in – the ceiling is low, as is the stage, rendering it quite a challenge for a short arse like me who needs to be able to control her space and way out! The sound was excellent as ever and the atmosphere really good – Bristol crowds are always game for a good time in a good-natured way. Vok. Well they were loud and heavy, in a good way. They play live electronica (drum machine, keyboards) with bass, guitar and saxophone. It’s a pretty heady mix and most of the crowd were jumping and dancing with the groove. I was just way too tired to join them. I was also anxious as I was stuck in the middle of the crowd, which is the last place I enjoy being. Towards the end I gave up and sat on the floor and this was a much better solution. I could close my eyes, feel the music vibrating through me and relax. I began to really enjoy the music. I wish I’d done it earlier in the set!

Along with the rest of the crowd, my friends enjoyed the gig very much. I liked Vok a lot & would happily see them play live again. Something didn’t quite click tonight, but it was in me, not in the music. I’m 40 now, gotta learn to pace myself a bit better!

Thank you Jacqui & Monty for taking me to the gig, thank you Vok for being so lovely to chat to afterwards. Thank you all for introducing me to more new music. A huge part of this celebration was to go in with open ears and discover. I did that tonight.

18 down. 22 to go.

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40:17

Bella Union’s 20th Anniversary Tour: The Lantern, Colston Hall, Bristol

Record label celebrating its birthday with 3 of its acts, Will Stratton, Pavo Pavo and Mammut in the most visited & beloved venue I’ve been to so far on this journey.

I won tickets in a competition so gig 17 was already awesome simply by dint of being free! I had eyed up this as a possible gig earlier in the year so was very pleased to win tickets and be able to go. I’ll confess to have not heard of any of the bands, or the label beforehand, but discovering new music live is one of the reasons for all of this and so far every chance I’ve taken has proved to be worthwhile.

There was no act in the main hall so the venue was strangely quiet. And I was early. So I had a cup of coffee in the bar (I know, rock n roll behaviour right there). I went with a friend who did know Bella Union and Mammut and was also grateful of the free ticket. Thank you Colston Hall for drawing my name out of the hat.

First on was Will Stratton. Singer/songwriter with a guitar. Just my kind of thing I thought. And he was. Oh boy he was. The man can play a mean guitar. It was like he was trying, and succeeding in playing half a dozen styles of music all at once, by himself. Add in heartfelt lyrics and a lovely voice and I was sold.

Then Pavo Pavo who were so hip it almost hurt. All handlebar moustaches, coordinated outfits (with a nod to mod) and excellent musicianship. Lovely harmonies, great playing & sonically interesting but I didn’t feel it. And I have to feel music to love it. Sorry Pavo Pavo. I can respect you as musicians and songwriters (there was plenty to admire) but I didn’t fall in love.

Our final act was Mammut. Who I honestly thought I wouldn’t like. Icelandic heavy rock, not really my scene. Or so I thought. Three fifths of Mammut are women. Singer. Bass player. And guitarist. I’ve tried, where possible, to seek out female musicians for 40 gigs so show sisterly solidarity & it was so good to see a band not just fronted by a woman but with female musicians too. When you see yourself represented you are more likely to feel included – if I’d seen a band like Mammut when I was 17 maybe I’d have learnt to play guitar. Who knows. I just know I like it when I see myself reflected.

I liked the look of them, would I like the sound of them? Oh yes. Oh yes I would. And did. So much more than I was expecting to. I did not know that what my life needed was Icelandic rock music before tonight. But I do now. And I am sold. Sold on the wall of sound, sold on the beauty of her voice (especially when she sang in Icelandic – that was aces), sold on the sheer heaviness of the music with driving bass, drums and guitars, sold on the aural assault of traditional rock. There is wonder in contrast, the soft & gentle speaking voice giving rise to the power and volume of the singing voice being backed by heavy yet groove inducing music. It just worked. And came together to make me rock out and move my old body about in time. They were amazing.

Thank you Colston Hall for the opportunity to be there, thank you Bella Union for showcasing such wonderful talent and thank you to all three bands. Gig 17 gave me so much more than I was expecting it to.

17 down. 23 to go.

 

40:16

C Duncan. Islington Assembly Hall, London

Beautiful soundscapes with harmonies, a venue I’ve never heard of, let alone been to before.

This gig was on May 10th. My actual 40th birthday. In the City of my birth. I had enjoyed C Duncan when I saw them in February, and again supporting Elbow in March (40:1 and 40:6 respectively) and had cheekily asked Chris if I could have a photo pass for this gig as a birthday present. He is so lovely that he agreed! I had already made plans to be in London on my birthday, and I had a wonderful day, but this was to be the icing on the cake.

I missed the support act as I was busy catching up with old friends over dinner (in a gluten free restaurant – coeliac heaven) but was in time for Chris and the band. Not knowing the venue at all, and being so late, I was a touch nervous. The Assembly Hall is a pretty venue and had good acoustics but as its not exactly my local. The stage was very high (good for the audience, not the photographer) and there was something odd going on with the seating (I think the balcony was closed) and as it was a London gig the atmosphere was flat. I’m a Londoner (the Thames runs in my veins) and will defend it to the hilt over everything except gigs. Bristol crowds, well all other crowds, are so much better.

I got myself ready and into the press pit with plenty of time. I am always full of nervous energy before I photograph & so either have to sit quietly or pace the pit like a prowling panther. Chris noticed me and gave me a thumbs up & wished me happy birthday (I told you he’s lovely right). As soon as the band started playing all the nervous energy disappeared into finding the right angle/spot in the pit/shot/dodge of light to grab the one photo that will make being there worthwhile. Its symbiotic with the music (well it is for me) in that I’ve only ever been able to take good pictures of bands I like. I spent my 3 songs grappling with the blue lighting & high stage trying to get some decent images. I think I succeeded but I’ve barely had a chance to look.

Before you know where you are the 3 songs you are allowed to photograph are gone & you have to make your way back into the crowd and try to find a place to enjoy the music from. It is a real privilege to be allowed to photograph a gig, its an intimate space to share with a band & their music. There is no barrier between you and them. No filter. It is often very noisy! I love it and I am always grateful when I get given the chance to do it. I am there as a fan, and as a photographer. It is a great place to feel connected to the music, in the visceral way that I love, and its raw and unfiltered. There is a purity in my relationship to music photography that I hope comes through.

After a couple of tracks Chris very sweetly gave me a birthday shout out, which excited no-one but me (London crowds) but was such a kind thing of him to do. Sadly I had to leave not long after this to catch the coach back home to Bristol and so missed about half of the gig. Ironically the coach was delayed and so I didn’t get home until 2.30am!

Thank you Chris for topping off my birthday not only with a gig but the chance to photograph you. I couldn’t have wished for a better end to my birthday, which had been a pretty amazing day before the gig. I will, hopefully, see you on the road again one day.

16 down. 24 to go.

40:15

Michael Kiwanuka. Colston Hall, Bristol

The modern soul man. Main Hall at Colston.

I’d booked this ticket months and months back, before this project had begun, but still knowing it would be part of my birthday celebrations as its 7 days until the big 40. I adore Michael’s voice and the live session he did for 6 Music showed what a special musician he is so I was really looking forward to seeing him live.

Having been spoiled seeing so many fantastic artists in the Lantern at Colston Hall (and while we are talking about the Hall I support the decision to rename it when it reopens after refurbishment) it felt odd to be in the big main hall again. I was early as the stage times for the support act had them coming on at 7.30 to an almost empty room, which can’t have been easy for them. Their debut album is released this week, Clean Cut Kid if you want to see if they are more to your taste than mine.

Michael. Well what do I say? How many superlatives can I throw at him? His voice. Man, his voice. Soulful, fragile yet powerful and just reaches into the pit of my stomach and makes me feel. Couple that to his powerful guitar playing and an 8 piece band of superb musicians & backing singers. On his 30th birthday. And what you get is a special, memorable gig. There were moments of sheer delight, there were moments to get your groove on, there were moments to savour, moments to think, moments to move and moments to make you cry. When the crowd sang him Happy Birthday he looked genuinely touched and you got the impression the band could have riffed and improvised Black Man all night (and that we’d have let them). The staging, the lighting and the sound were all incredible, just enough to add & highlight the music. I wish I’d been able to photograph as the lighting was really gorgeous and would have resulted in some spectacular shots, but then I was too busy moving and dancing & getting lost in the music to care.

Highlights for me included Rule The World which just worms its way into me in ways I can’t explain and Father’s Child which served as the false finale. Michael left the stage first, allowing each musician to play out one by one and take the moment which was a generous and fitting move. The actual ending to Love & Hate just as perfect. Whatever words I put here won’t really do justice to the wonderful talent that is Michael Kiwanuka. Thank you for sharing your 30th birthday with us, it was magical and I wish we could do it all again.

I knew this had the makings of a special gig, I am just grateful it lived up to expectations.

15 down. 25 to go.