Saturday 2nd October, 2021
This one was and will be emotional. I adore John Grant. I’ve seen him live more than once, each time he has made me laugh and cry in equal measure, usually while dancing. His music is confessional, witty, honest, raw and filled with love. He remains the only one of my musical heroes that I’ve not met and a part of me wants him to remain mysterious and fascinating, another wants to squeeze him in a bear hug and thank him over and over for making music that makes life meaningful. In a way we meet musically, I live in the music he makes, which is so autobiographical that it could only be his. We connect, collide, in shared pain and redemption in that music.
It has been two years since I photographed a gig. I’ve never photographed at The Forum, or John Grant before. The nerve damage to my hands has affected my fine motor skills; my hands shake, I can’t grip and I’ve lost strength. I have almost permanent pain in my neck, shoulder and arm. The spinal cord damage is likely to progress, although at what rate and to what end no-one knows. But I picked up my camera and I set off to Bath by train. I’ve not been on a train since June. I’ve not been to any event of this size since, March 2020. You would expect me to be highly anxious and nervous, but I wasn’t. I knew I would be in safe hands with John. Musically at least. His music, his voice, his lyrics, they are places of safety and love. I knew it would all be alright. And it was. The staff at the Forum, everyone connected to Bath Festivals and John Grant, were so lovely, welcoming and kind that I felt right at home.
I always photograph the support act when I am lucky enough to have a pass, it helps ease me into the lighting and set up of a venue. Plus its polite. Teddy Thomson was excellent. Funny and with a beautiful voice. A solid support act who I would happily pay money to hear again. He’s playing in Bristol at St George’s next February, so I might see you there.
There was a moment when I looked through my camera and I saw John Grant’s face and I cried. JOHN GRANT, I AM PHOTOGRAPHING JOHN FLIPPING GRANT ran through my mind for a brief moment before the muscle memory of being a photographer kicked back in and I considered lighting, angles, shutter speed, focal points and all the other micro decisions you have to make before hitting the shutter button and hoping you have captured the shot, the moment of magic. It was genuinely a dream come true to be there photographing a man who’s music I love so deeply. I can’t sing, I can’t play or read music, I am not talented in that way and I am in awe of people like John who are. I can take a decent picture and I can write; those are my ways of being connected creatively to the music and the people who make it. It is an intimate thing taking a photograph, even when, like this, at The Forum, you aren’t in a photo pit, and you are shooting from the back and the sides using a zoom lens. You are still in a privileged position of being closer to the artist than the rest of the crowd. It has been such a long, long time, since I got to be there and it was magic. I can’t thank John’s team enough for indulging me.
After my three songs shooting, I went to take my seat in the stalls and by luck there was no-one sat either side of me or behind me so I felt comfortable to sit and chair dance whilst silent singing along to Grey Tickles, Black Pressure, which I am feeling all the more acutely now myself. Marz was made all the more perfect by a couple of wildly enthusiastic fans, reminding me of how live music is a communal experience; its why listening at home will never, ever be the same. You have to share it for it to have meaning. As much as this music means so very much to me, I know I am not alone and gigs connect me to others, however fleetingly. Seeing that fan in rapture makes me fill with joy. Hearing someone else explode in laughter at one of John’s lyrics makes hearing it again all the sweeter. Their joy becomes mine, becomes theirs, becomes ours, in a symbiotic and symbolic moment. Those are the moments I live in, where I am truly free.
I was having to closely watch the time as the last train home was earlier than usual so I moved to the back of the stalls so I could leg it out the door at the last possible moment. Almost as if he knew, John introduced the next song as being for us, always for us, Glacier. Sharp intake of breath because I knew I would be overcome. And how. All the emotions. Pouring in. Pouring out. It is a breath-taking piece of music. Written by a man who has felt deep, deep pain, shame and rejection and who has put all of it into this song, which is so filled with love and hope, and put it into the world, not to appease his own hurt, but to help others survive whatever they have faced. It is beautiful and it makes me weep and weep and weep. The long, held notes, the lyrics, the stirring strings, the piano outro, its just a marvel. Hearing it played live, being in the room as the resonance of John’s yearning voice hits your ears is one of the most perfect musical experiences I’ve ever had. For that one song alone, everything is worth it. There is my place of safety and security, my home. Right there in that moment. In that song. In that place and time everything will be alright; John makes it so. That’s why I love him.
I checked the time, I had to go. Just as John launched into Pale Green Ghosts. The bastard I muttered, laughing, as he turned the entire atmosphere on its head in one move. That is also why I love John Grant. He takes you to all points on the emotional compass with his music. He is articulate, funny, heart-breaking, gentle, creepy, weird, warm and has the most amazing smile. Just as I couldn’t help myself from crying through Glacier, I couldn’t help myself from dancing to Pale Green Ghosts as I made my way out of the building. I wish I could have stayed, but any John is better than no John. And I got to photograph him. That still feels like a dream. And you know what, the pictures came out ok. I did good. The last shot I took, just as John was closing the third song, where he turned and smiled. I got it. I captured that moment. That feels very special.
Thank you John Grant for your music, it means so much. Thank you Bath Forum, Bath Festivals, all your staff were welcoming and wonderful. Thank you JG’s crew for making my dream come true. Forever I can say and know that not only did I get to hear John play live again, but that I got to photograph it. Thank you.