One of my favourite aspects of photography is live events such as concerts and gigs or to be fair, anything that involves working with people.
That may include studio, sports, streetwork, I have no preference to be honest as long as I have interaction with the human race.
I was given an introduction to covering gigs when I was asked if I would like to attend “The Battle Of The Bands” in Glasgow and having never ventured into the realm of live music previously, I considered it to be a fantastic opportunity that may well open doors along with other avenues to explore.
The main problem I soon discovered was lighting or lack of it. Many smaller venues have poor illumination available, probably because of the cost of installation and having an experience lighting engineer to hand when bands are on stage.
I soon found out that expensive lenses and cameras were required and in the worst scenarios, I would have to resort to using flash, which I personally abhor at concerts. Flash is often unwelcomed by the artists on stage too, as they find it distracting or blinding as the bright light leaves them visually impaired for a short time, if directed straight at them. It is always desirable to bounce the flash whenever possible for this reason, should you have to use it at all.
The event had seven acts, who if memory serves me correctly were vying for a place in the final, which was to be held a few weeks later.
My first impression was they were some pretty talented and unique people on show, which was not what I was expecting. It had been some time since I last attended a live show of any nature other than your Friday or Saturday night tribute and covers bands, who often provide excellent entertainment but are never going to break into the big time. No disrespect to these acts for they provide wonderful entertainment and value for money and keep music live around our pubs and clubs. We require clubs to provide us with live music and without them, we would not have enjoyed the likes of the Beatles and many other legends of the 60s and 70s especially.
As more opportunities were presented to me, I soon discovered there was a wealth of talent around the UK, which was untapped mainly due to TV dross such as the X Factor. These bands I was seeing were real musicians, lads and lassies who could perform in front of a live audience without putting a sob story out to gain popularity before they donned the stage.
Some were youngsters with huge potential and fine tuning their art, others had been trying for years to make the breakthrough but enjoyed what they do, so keep plugging away in the hope that their big day will come.
A band called the Trips stole the show that inaugural night and are featured in my opening images.
The photos are not in order of the times the events/concerts occurred but more of an arrangement that I discovered them amongst the thousands in my collection. For instance I attended many rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly gigs, where dancers and colourful dresses could be seen in abundance. Jivers who would entertain you in their own right. Some old, some very young, as young as 10 years old and as elderly as 70 plus. There is no restriction when it comes to dancing other than physical fitness.
When you add wonderful rocking music to the skills on the dancefloor, you have a superb night out for all in attendance and a photographers dream.
I covered many gigs which featured bands from punk rock to country and western, from rock to ska and even blue grass. I find that when I attend a live musical offering, it is very rewarding if those on stage are talented and I have been very lucky in that respect. Rarely have I been to a gig where the bands were complete dross.
Even if it was not my type of music, I still enjoyed the occasion because they were good at what they did. Talent will always win over the sceptics.
Take Rusti Steel and the Startones pictured above. Their brand of music was not what I would describe as something that I would aspire to go and see but a free invitation is never going to be turned down, especially when I can get the camera working.
To my amazement, I thoroughly enjoyed their renditions of songs I knew and many I had never heard before. They described themselves as authentic rockabilly, western swing, hillbilly and blues musicians but I would say they are all of these but only touching on rockabilly, hence I was apprehensive before they appeared on stage. Like I said, they were phenomenal and brought the house down. Go and see them if you have the chance.
Another band of similar ilk that will blow your mind with their skills are the Hot Shot Four. Multi-instrumentalists each and every one of them.
There are always DJs present at these rockabilly type gigs, many pride themselves on only playing original vinyl recordings. Personally I don’t mind if its an MP3, a CD or a Record as long as the music is good to listen to or it gets people on the dancefloor.
Along the road I was asked if I would attend a charity gig in Glasgow featuring four punk rock bands. Now this was far removed from my knowledge of punk rock and if the truth be told, I don’t think I recognised a single tune.
Nevertheless the bands were once again – superb. One in particular stood out from other others – Jock Sparra. Not because they were superior as musicians or sang more in tune but because the lead singer was to put it bluntly – a head case!
This man was Mr. Entertainment. He was like the Freddie Mercury of punk rock. His long spiky hair, the fact that he was dressed in a kilt and spoke with a broad Scottish accent and more importantly, his interaction with his audience, had to be seen to be believed.
He came down on to the dancefloor and got involved in the mosh pit, pushing, shoving, dragging people around in mock battles of supremacy. The crowd loved it and joined in, retaliating to the point that it looked like a punch up could ensue but that was never going to be the case the case. A high tension atmosphere controlled by the man in the middle with the microphone. I never did catch his name but according to Facebook he goes by the name of Pablo. A genius at working an audience.
I continued to travel around Glasgow and its surrounding neighbourhood to watch and photograph other live bands, mainly rockabilly, which is my favourite music genre.
I was treated to spectacular shows from those who have been around the block to the new upstarts making their way into the performance trade. They came from as far away as Australia and as near as Glasgow itself.
The Tennessee Hotshots, The Revolutionaires, Cow Cow Boogie, Esperanza, Strange Blue Dream, The Atmospherics, Roddy Radiation, The Trips, Death To Indie, The Kicks, The Shiverin’ Sheiks, MaryJean Lewis, Emma and the Ragmen, The Lost Rockers, The Fuck Ups, Jack Rabbit Slim, The Groove Diggers, Mitch Humphrys and the Hot Shot Four, The Hot Rod Sinners, The Valvetones to name some but not all of the bands I have worked with.
Of course I will apologise to those I have not mentioned above but my memory is not what it used to be but each and every band or artist that I had the pleasure to work with will always be in my heart. It was an honour to be associated with such talent. I Have not included the bands that I photographed in bars, for that would take up a post on its own.
I have plied my trade at some awesome venues in my travels around the UK including many of the o2 venues, such as Manchester, Newcastle, Warrington and Glasgow. I took great satisfaction of photographing the Sex Pissed Dolls at the Blackpool Tower Ballroom. The Grand Ole Opry in Glasgow was another favourite of mine and the many smaller clubs and halls that hosted live music. Towns and cities such as Kendal, Preston, Durham and Edinburgh, Blackpool, St. Annes were visited but there could have been so many more, had the financial rewards been in place.
Now as most of you who read this dross will know, I now live in Thailand and at present I have no intention of returning and leaving my new home. But if there was one thing that could attract me back to the UK, it would to work in the world of music and stage, in a paid capacity I hasten to add.
I miss my music, and taking bands, singers or dancers into the studio. I would dearly love to work at this level or above and if that meant returning to the UK then sobeit.
Now arguably the biggest or best known band that I worked with was an all female punk rock band known as the Sex Pissed Dolls, their name being a play on the original punk band featuring Johnny Rotten, The Sex Pistols. They have a huge following considering they are mainly a tribute or covers band. Putting this lot together was genius but I don’t believe anyone associated with the band, would have foreseen the success they would enjoy before the first note was played.
I contacted the band having seen a video of them singing Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” but in a Sid Vicious style. I asked if I could be permitted to take photos at their planned show in Edinburgh a few weeks later and to my amazement, I was invited along after sending some sample images.
Unfortunately that gig was cancelled but I was asked if I wished to attend their first major gig at The Layton Institute in Blackpool. Of course I said yes because I saw it as a window opportunity.
I arrived in Blackpool a day ahead so I could plan the shoot in more detail. I discovered to my delight that there were four other bands on show. The Cobras, Roddy Radiation of the Specials, who were a huge Ska act in the late 70s and early 80s, The Atmospherics and of course the Dolls.
The Cobras opened the show and did a variety of cover songs, before the legendary Roddy Radiation came on stage, just him and a guitar.
Then we were treated to some class. A bunch of boys from Blackpool entered the arena and blew the audience away with not only covers but many of their own songs. These youngsters have gone on to make recordings of their own material, play more frequently at large venues and even appeared on BBC radio. Watch out for them, they will make a huge impact one day.
At first, having never seen the Dolls before, I was concerned for them, that maybe they could not follow the Atmospherics. However I had nothing to worry about. The girls came out on stage one at a time, each one receiving a massive round of applause and roars, mainly due to their chosen attire. Five stunning ladies with odd names such as Nancy Doll, Kitty Vacant, Connie Rotter, Jily Idol and Anna Key, all plays on punk rock songs or singers.
The audience went wild and I realised my gamble travelling to Blackpool was going to be worth it.
It was sexy. It was raunchy. It was dirty. It was edgy. It had the lot! They strutted about the stage in an alluring fashion, teasing the audience with suggestive moves. Their clothing, whilst revealing was not overly tarty as the girls wanted to be known as musicians first and foremost but I doubt if the audience cared a jot.
Sheena is a punk rocker, Anarchy in the UK, God save the Queen, I predict a riot and many more anthems blasted out as the mosh pit went wild with anticipation of every song.
Whilst the girls are all accomplished musicians, it was the antics of the provocative and talented singer Nancy Doll that truly captured the auditorium, which hosted around 400 people.
The sound was extraordinary from an all girl, unknown band and enhanced by colourful lighting, which added to this spectacular show. The girls brought the house down and so began for many, a trip back in time to their youth. Many of the fans that night have attended almost every gig the Sex Pissed Dolls have played, covering almost every corner of the UK and even the Isle of Wight.
I attended eight or nine, traveling around the midlands of England and my home country of Scotland.
Despite numerous changes in line up, they appear to get stronger with every gig. The fans base expands on a daily basis and the size and importance of their venues and gigs grows, and seems to know no bounds.
How long they can last for is anyone’s guess. They have replaced the drummer on three occasions, lead and rhythm guitarists have come and gone but the core of the bass player and vocalist remain. The nucleus of the band is without a shadow of a doubt Nancy Doll. When she hangs up the microphone, there surely can be no more SPD. She also does an impressive Amy Winehouse tribute.
How about the Sex Pissed Dolls live in Pattaya? Now that would be awesome. There are plenty of expats living here who would love to see a raunchy all girl punk band and most Asian nations adore punk and rock ‘n’ roll.
I will leave you with two of my favourite photos from my time covering gigs in the UK. The second from last is of the Death To Indie drummer, who was a complete and utter nut job and I mean that in the kindest possible way. I could have trained my camera on this man all night if time was afforded to me. A true star who put on a strange but wonderful display of drumming and foolery.
The last image is one I took on the spur of the moment. I noticed the Sex Pissed Dolls roadie working tirelessly setting up the stage, and the way the lighting was hitting him or lack of it I should say, provided a silhouette of the man, that is Nige Bethwaite. A gentlemen and like many roadies go unnoticed by the audience, for their work is carried out before and after the events. This picture is a tribute to him and all roadies across the world.