There are concerts and then there are concerts. I saw Janelle Monae perform on Jools Holland’s TV show a few years ago and in that moment I was adamant I would photograph one of her shows as soon as possible. Well, fast forward a long time and here we are, at the Roundhouse for the first of her two sold out London shows.
Quite what someone of her talent and stage presence is doing playing intimate venues like this is utterly beyond me – surely she is just a hit or two away from selling out the biggest arenas and stadiums around the world?
I have to say that technically it wasn’t the easiest of shows – this photo above was taken wide open at 14mm and she was back and forth all over the place with a beautiful but challengingly backlit lighting set up. I’d say that tonight’s show was one of the highlights of my year – I’ve ticked a few names off the bucket list so far like Lenny Kravitz and Van Morrison, but Janelle Monae tops that lot easily and I sincerely this isn’t the last time I catch her on tour.
Okay, confession time. The only reason I went to the Steve Van Zandt gig tonight is that he has a habit of bringing out some very famous special guests. Last time it was Paul McCartney, and given Sir Paul only launched his new album and played the Cavern Club the other day, it was a risk worth taking.
The light was, well, not. The Nikon D4S flatters to deceive but this was a dark show, shot at the limits of what the camera can do which is a shame given how colourful it all was. Anyway, it was over in a flash (not that you can use flash of course), no special guests, and we were out after three songs. He’s very good, don’t get me wrong, but I probably shouldn’t have gone along tonight really.
It wouldn’t be the British Summertime Festival without some rain, surely? After weeks of crazy high temperatures, rain was forecast tonight but I’m not sure anyone really believed it would come. We spent the afternoon shooting in the heat shooting some great artists like Van Morrison. It’s not often I get to shoot two artists on my bucket list for the first time in the same day! He does everything he can to make a clear shot nigh on impossible, cluttering the stage with a lecturn and various other stands, but a massive venue like Hyde Park means you get the opportunity to experiment with different focal lengths and eventually I found my clear shot on my 150-600mm lens.
Just as I was heading to the second stage for The Shires, the heavens opened. It was like a tropical storm which went on and on. Half an hour before Michael Buble’s stage time we were taken out to the end of the runway which was our very specifically designated shooting position. We just prayed he’d come along the runway, otherwise the shoot would be a disaster and we were all soaked to the bone and doing everything we could to protect our camera kit. I resorted to using a heavy duty bin liner as a poncho and it just about did the job.
True to form, Michael Buble delivered in style. He came right down to the end of the runway and performed literally within touching distance of us in the driving rain and this picture shows!
I have a huge, new found respect for him, what an absolute performer! Most artists wouldn’t have gone near that runway – it was like a river, yet he came down to the front and gave us wonderful frames. Couldn’t have asked for more, other than a canoe to get home in…
I’ve shot a fair few of Eric Clapton’s shows over the years at the Royal Albert Hall. Last time he performed at Hyde Park he reluctantly gave the photographers pit access and I banked on the same happening tonight.
It was touch and go for a while – would we get any access at all, and then where would we be shooting from – mixer, the gap between the gold and diamond circles or somewhere else? At the 11th hour we got pit access – we had to choose a side and stay there. For me, the shot I want is of him pulling one of his epic solos and so it was a simple choice – go stage left and hope that he moved far enough from the mic stand for a clear shot. Fortunately he did exactly that and this was my favourite shot.
Among the other performers it was great to catch Carlos Santana again for only the second time. Alas Steve Winwood was a massive disappointment. He lurked resolutely behind a piano for the first three songs and as we left the pit he came to the front, guitar in hand. Just typical! Still, today was all about Eric Clapton and I got my shot!
Given his age, you have to wonder how long Iggy Pop will carry on performing, especially when you see how he throws himself around the stage…and the crowd! They just don’t make them this way anymore and I was delighted to get a pass for tonight’s show as it’s a while since I’ve seen Iggy perform.
Whereas yesterday I’d braved the heat and shot a fair few of the artists, I just came along for Iggy’s set tonight. At one point it looked like access was in doubt, but then it came down to pick a side and stick to it. As we went in to the pit the whole middle section (where he is in this photo) was taped off and photographers chose their side. I didn’t think he’d come down in to the crowd while we were there but I knew I wanted to be stage right because of the angle of the sun and I’m so glad I stuck to that choice. He was great to shoot up on the stage but when he came, ever so briefly, down to the front row, this shot would have been impossible from the other side and even though shooting gigs in bright sunshine usually doesn’t look good, I’m really pleased with how this turned out.
It’s years since I last shot an Oasis show so I thought it would be fun to head along to Finsbury Park this weekend. I’d also never shot Wolf Alice, and Richard Ashcroft brought the house down with a surprise acoustic set just before Liam Gallagher. For once it all worked out beautifully because we were ushered in to the pit for Richard’s set too – all too often you miss the ‘secret’ set because it’s, well, too secret. Richard nailed it. He stole the show, end of!
Liam definitely isn’t a fan of photographers and I have to say he sounded much better than last month when he supported the Rolling Stones. I wanted to get something a little different as he is pretty inanimate – either scowling behind the mic or in front of it, shaking the maracas.
I also went along to the second stage to see Dream Wife and managed to stay for the whole set. Not really my thing but they were great to shoot and it will be interesting to see how they get on.
I’ve wanted to shoot Lenny Kravitz for as long as I’ve been a concert photographer. So after finally getting accreditation, tonight was a tale of two very distinct halves.
First off, I was shocked when I got there to find that there were only two of us accredited. Two!? For Lenny Kravitz!? WTF!? Standing in the pit waiting for showtime it seemed too good to be true – a near empty pit for me and my friend Awais.
And that’s where the second half of the tale kicks in. Venue security were really relaxed and helpful but Lenny’s own security people were rude and aggressive. Down came the lights and on came Lenny, right up and the back for the first song, in reasonable light but miles away up high. The rest of the shoot the lighting was miserable and in fact I barely got any useable frames. Utterly predictably, as the fourth song opened, he came and stood right in front of us and started soloing. Obviously we wanted a few frames – even just a few seconds of that in half decent light would have saved the show but no, his security physically stopped us from shooting, pushed my camera down and made it very clear that we were to leave. He had to have seen it happen and I wonder what he thought.
I had friends there with standing tickets and we’d been given tickets to stay and watch the show so I went in to the crowd to try and find them. I had no intention of shooting from the crowd until Lenny went walkabouts and ended up high in a seating area serenading the audience. That made for some great shots but what I would never have predicted was that when he went to the rear of the standing area on his walkabout, almost the entire crowd surged backwards away from the stage, towards him. Suddenly, having been midway back in the crowd, I found myself with a 30 foot gap in front of me to the next person and before I knew it I was 5-6 rows from the front for the encore. I knew the final song would be Are You Gonna Go My Way and surprise surprise the lighting had improved as the show went on. I simply couldn’t not shoot it! I was right there and although I rarely had a completely clear view, I did manage a few frames like the one above that I’m delighted with. Alas I can’t do anything commercial with them since they were taken after my time in the pit, but had I left after those first three songs I would have been gutted as my photos were absolutely terrible. Funny how these things work out sometimes!
I’ve shot most Download Festivals over the past 10 years and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to get access to shoot the headliners. It hardly feels worth bothering spending three days in (usually wet but not this year) muddy Derbyshire fields when you can’t shoot the main acts. Or when there are silly restrictions putting photographers way back at the mixing desk.
This year Avenged Sevenfold were the only headliners playing ball and treating working photographers with any respect. On Saturday, Guns n’ Roses accredited just about every single photographer, but forced them to shoot in daylight from the mixing desk about 100 yards away, and on Sunday, Ozzy Osbourne just banned photographers except his own from the pit completely.
So here’s the thing. Guns n’ Roses have been my number one band since I was a kid. I saw the (nearly) original line up destroy Wembley Stadium with Faith No More and Soundgarden back in 1992 and I’ve never forgotten that show. It’s one of the reasons I do this. Last year I got tickets to both London shows but of course you can never take a professional camera in.
As an accredited photographer for Download, I decided to sacrifice my photo credentials on Saturday and watch Guns n’ Roses from the crowd. My plan was simple. My accreditation allowed me early access to the arena and so I went straight to the front row first thing in the morning and stayed there all day. It also meant bringing in a camera was straight forward. What I hadn’t banked on though was just how rough the crowd would be for Guns. Even though I was on the barrier, at times I could barely stand up, let alone take photos and I was taking a real risk with my camera equipment. It was worth it though. From the moment it started to get dark, I shot the whole show on a 70-200mm lens, although those photos will never see the light of day from a commercial perspective – they’re purely for my own enjoyment. It was a massive physical challenge and there were several points when I thought I’d made a mistake and couldn’t take the pushing anymore, but I couldn’t have left even if I’d wanted to – I had the entire crowd behind me!
Getting a good frame of Axl and Slash together was the only thing I wanted to achieve and they came together a fair bit more than last year in London. Of course if you’re in the crowd and you’ve staked out your spot you can’t move to capture a moment taking place elsewhere on the stage so I was limited to shooting when any of them was at the front of the runway. Still, I came away with better shots than I could have possibly got in the first three songs from the mixer with official accreditation and bruises aside, I came away utterly energised by an incredible day.
Sunday was pretty good to shoot with the exception of Ozzy closing the pit, but in general, shooting heavy metal in broad daylight isn’t ideal. I think next year the only thing that will get me back to Download will be amazing headliners we can actually shoot – my money is on Metallica and Iron Maiden being two of those. No doubt even if I’m wrong I’ll end up back in a muddy Derbyshire field again in 2019!
Having had a golden circle ticket for the opening London show I was delighted to get an official photo pass for tonight’s show. I knew it would be a tough shoot because the photographers are being kept at the end of the runway for this tour, which is about 500-600mm range from the main stage.
On the opening night, Mick had ventured right down to the front during the first two songs but no such luck tonight. However, it was the first outing for my new lens, the unbelievable Sigma 150-600mm f5-6.3 Contemporary DG OS HSM lens. It is light enough to handhold right through to 600mm and as long as you’ve got enough light for f/6.3, it produces surprisingly sharp results, all for £700.
It did me proud tonight because it meant that I could get a really wide range of shots from what really was a poor shooting position. With hindsight I could have done with having time to road test it before a major gig but it certainly didn’t disappoint!