Gig Review – Robbie Williams and the Black Eyed Peas, British Summertime Festival, Hyde Park, 14 July 2019

Today was the last date on the Barclaycard British Summer Time Festival calendar for this year. Maybe I’ll see Hyde Park again in September for the BBC Radio show, otherwise it will be another year.

Robbie Williams closed out the festival, supported by Texas (who I missed), Keane and the Black Eyed Peas. The Peas were great to shoot but you pretty much had to make the choice of being at the end of the runway for group shots or taking a side and going for individual shots. For a daylight show the lighting was great. As I’d done the Hammersmith show last year I decided on group shots and although I’d have like a couple of decent close ups of will.i.am, I was happy with the shots I got.

Robbie Williams had an approved list of just ten of us. Until late on we thought we would be in the pit which would have been fabulous because he used the runway throughout the first three songs. But no, we were back in that gap between the diamond and golden circles. However, because he was on the runway most of the time he was actually fairly close especially with the diamond circle seemingly smaller than for the previous BST shows.

As I headed for the exit for the last time, I wandered through the back of the golden circle again. I knew the light show would be quite something from back there and took a couple of snaps as a memento on my way out. Maybe next year they could organise for photographers to shoot the headliners once the sun has gone down and the stage lights are up – what a difference 45 minutes make!

Gig Review – Bob Dylan and Neil Young, Hyde Park, 12 July 2019

Day 4 of 5 in Hyde Park for me this summer. Today was another show where we really had no idea what sort of access we would get until we arrived. This wasn’t (ahem!) a British Summer Time / Barclaycard show but only because Bob Dylan had insisted that all branding was removed, apparently due to a bust up with Barclaycard in the past about a house insurance claim or something like that.

As it turned out we had pit access for Neil Young. It was the first time I’ve shot him but apparently he can be somewhat of a recluse. We had to pick a side in the pit and stick to it. We were told we could be in there a while as he tends to jam his songs and we had a good amount of time. Thing is though, I gambled on stage right and he spent more time playing towards the handful of photographers who’d gone stage left. And there was no opportunity to swap sides. Still, it worked out okay.

Frankly with Bob Dylan it’s a miracle we had any access at all. We had initially thought we might be in the pit but in the end we got a couple of songs way back at the mixing desk. But it’s Bob Dylan, so who cares!? So off we went to the mixing desk. We might as well have been shooting the show in a different London Borough and he skulked behind the piano for both songs. We weren’t given a choice of which mixing desk we went to – half went one way half went the other. I think the other half had a better angle, but they think we did! The fact that every photographer there got two songs is incredible. Even on the 150-600mm lens he was distant, but it was good enough.

As I left for the evening I walked through the back of the golden circle to the same spot where I’d watched Stevie Wonder last weekend. The stage set up was really simple but unlike one I’ve seen before – nine massive freestanding lamps towered over the band providing all the light. Everything else was black. I watched the show for 10-15 minutes. At 78 years old he can perhaps be forgiven for poor vocals, but it was hard to distinguish one song from the next. I took the last two shots just as I was leaving so that I’d have a record of the full stage.

Gig Review – KISS, O2 Arena, 11 July 2019

When KISS played at The O2 two years ago, there were plenty of rumours doing the rounds that they’d never tour again. Fast forward two years and this is really it – this time they’re definitely packing up. Or are they? Supposedly yes, but in 2023 they’ll have been together for 50 years and given they’re nothing if not a money making machine these days, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them ‘come out of retirement’.

Regardless, for now I assume this really is it.

Getting accredited for KISS shows hasn’t been easy for some years, so I was commissioned tonight by a national newspaper. Somehow the pit was rammed though with over 15 photographers. We had two songs. Standard for KISS. Except when they came on we were still out in the wings, waiting. That’s because we weren’t allowed in the pit until the curtain had fallen and been cleared out of the pit completely. They descended on massive hydraulic risers and if we’d got that shot it would have been the shot of the night, but no, by the time we were in the pit they were on the stage.

Still, it’s KISS, and they know how to put on a show for the cameras. Gene slobbers everywhere, stares and points and licks his bass. Paul poses all the time, but no longer drops to his knees with a KISS guitar pick stuck to the end of his tongue. Mind you, if he had, the two over zealous videographers would have ensured we saw none of it!

Even though we really only got about 4-5 minutes in the pit it was still a cool show.

As this is (allegedly) the last time they’ll ever play in London, I’d bought myself a standing ticket. Once I’d locked my DSLRs in the car I headed in to the crowd with my little Sony RX100. I had already decided to get directly in front of the mixing desk if I could as I figured I ought to get some half decent full stage shots from there. I pushed the little camera to its absolute limits tonight. Yes, it can shoot RAW files, has continual focus and you can set the whole thing up manually, but it’s a pocket camera. I have to say that I was delighted with a few of the shots I got with it. I knew they’d pull out all the stops but it was a crazy show and I’m really pleased I got to see it.

Gig Review – Stevie Wonder, British Summer Time Festival, Hyde Park, 6 July 2019

We had no idea what to expect with Stevie Wonder. He’s a legend and it would have been no surprise at all if he’d not allowed any photo access at all. As it was, for much of the day we thought we were going to be shooting from the pit. Not so in the end.

But first Lionel Richie. Well not first, actually second last of the day, but he banished photographers to the mixing desk which is a ridiculous distance away from the stage so I didn’t bother – both times I’ve shot his shows, including the last time he headlined BST here in Hyde Park, it has been from the pit.

In the end we got one song for Stevie Wonder, shooting from the gap between the diamond and golden circles. Only about 6 of us got accreditation. It wasn’t ideal but actually wasn’t too bad a distance. I used the 150-600mm Sigma for close ups but the 300mm f/2.8 gave the sharpest shots.

We had song three specifically because during the first two songs he was at a different piano, hidden from view. As you can see, you don’t get to see much of him but hey, it’s Stevie Wonder so who cares!?

After our shoot, I walked through the crowd on my way out and decided to stop for 10-15 minutes to watch some of his set. Who knew when or if he’d ever return here to play again. As it is, he announced at the end of the show that he’s having a kidney transplant in September and I’m sure I won’t be the only one to wish him well.

When we had been shooting earlier on, it wasn’t practical to get a whole stage shot because of the angles, so this shot below was a quick grab shot before I headed for home. I wanted a general view of the whole stage because it looked magnificent from back there.

Gig Review – Celine Dion, British Summer Time Festival, Hyde Park, 5 July 2019

You know the summer gig season has truly arrived once the British Summer Time Festival rolls around again. Mind you last year we had everything from searing heat for Eric Clapton to torrential storms for Michael Buble.

Headlining tonight’s opening show was Celine Dion. I’ve only photographed her once before, back in about 2008 at the O2 Arena. The years haven’t been kind. She very sadly lost her husband to cancer three years ago and appears to have lost a lot of weight. Mind you, she can still sing. She was supported by a wide range of performers across three stages.

One of those was Claire Richards, formerly of Steps.

Josh Groban was another.

Probably the most interesting for me was Alice Chater. She is practically unknown outside of Bournemouth where she lives and she powered through a set on the tiny Bandstand Stage. Playing to a tape with a guitarist, drummer and at one point random dancer, she appears to be tapping squarely in to Rita Ora’s market and was impressive – watch this space.

The night belonged to Celine Dion. Although when she came on at 8.15 the sun was still so bright on stage she wore sunglasses during the first song. The sun has the effect of destroying all the beautiful stage lighting, and leaves the shots looking quite flat, but she gave a belting performance.

Gig Review – Tony Bennett, Royal Albert Hall, 29 June 2019

Tony Bennett is almost 93 years old. The fact he’s even touring at all is amazing, so to hear him in fine voice tonight was quite something. Only two of us shot the show which in itself surprised me, and we had access right down at the front of the Hall. It’s where you want to be but you have to do everything you can not to obstruct the audience who themselves are seated – it means basically shooting on your knees! Still, what a privilege, I can’t imagine we will ever see him playing over here again.

Gig Review – Download Festival, Day 3, 16 June 2019

At last the weather had started to improve, just in time for the end of the festival! Today was all about old school hard rock – Anthrax, Lamb of God, Smashing Pumpkins and Slayer’s last ever UK show.

Anthrax are just good fun to shoot, and certainly delivered.

I’m not particularly fussed by Lamb of God but Randy Blythe’s dreadlocks are always an opportunity for an interesting shot or two.

I fully expected that the Smashing Pumpkins would close the pit and force any of us accredited for their set to shoot from the mixer. All the shots from other dates on their tour have been from the mixer so it was frankly shocking when we took our place in the pit and weren’t moved on. However camera shy Billy Corgan is, he and the band certainly delivered. His solo on the 3rd song went on and on and although he did his best to hide away, we got our shots.

The vast majority of us turned down the ‘opportunity’ to shoot the festival headliners and Sunday closers Tool. First because they had the most ridiculous, restrictive contract that forced you to hand over your copyright. Second because you got one song. Third because it was from the mixer and fourth because the singer stands off to one side in darkness throughout the show. Why would anyone bother!? Seems about 6 of our number did and I can’t see why. Cue Slayer instead, headlining the second stage and performing their last ever UK show. It was an absolute blast, a ton of dry ice from the off, great light and a barrage of songs that seemed to be over in an instant. What a way to close my time at Download 2019!

Gig Review – Download Festival, Day 2, 15 June 2019

If I’m honest, today was really only about three bands for me, Stone Temple Pilots, Halestorm and Slipknot, but they all turned out to be great as did some others. Yes there are multiple stages and if you want you can spend all day trudging between stages in thick mud shooting anything and everything but I’m getting too old for that!

One of the highlights of the day was Trivium. Not my type of band or music but to see them under proper stage lights must be fantastic. The pyros were used from the word go and they made great use of the runway despite the rain.

Stone Temple Pilots were a bit of a shock for me. I saw them here the last time they played with Scott Weiland in the driving rain on the main stage and they’re back now with a new singer, a competition winner apparently. Bizarrely their management insisted on a contract that required our shots to be approved prior to their use. More surprising was the singer. He wasn’t Scott Weiland obviously, but he looked like him, dressed like him and had all the Scott Weiland mannerisms and moves down to a fine art – not so much a tribute as freaky.

Halestorm headlined the second stage and I’ve wanted to see Lzzy Hale for a long time, so this was another tick on the bucket list. She certainly delivered and it was nice to have some decent lighting to experiment with.

Slipknot were of course the draw of the day for me. With so many of them on stage and so much going on they’re a bit of a nightmare to shoot. Add in a runway and it’s almost impossible to know where to stand or where to point your camera. All you can do is hope you get some decent action. I still think I got my best shots of them some years ago but here are a few…

Gig Review – Download Festival, Day 1, 14 June 2019

Every year I say I’ve shot my last Download Festival then every year I find myself back in a (usually muddy) Derbyshire field. Last year the weather was amazing, not so this year. Normal service resumed. I thought seriously about whether to go again this year as for me the headliners were okay but not that inspiring but as I got back in the car on Sunday night I concluded I’d done the right thing to come. No doubt I’ll be back again in 2020.

Day 1 for me was all about Slash. Access to his solo shows is getting harder and harder, and even though the show and his style never change from year to year, it’s Slash!

It turned out not to all be about Slash in the end. I’d not even clocked before I arrived that Deadland Rituals is the supergroup put together by none other than Geezer Butler and this was their first ever UK show. I’d not seen Matt Sorum since the last time I shot Velvet Revolver and I’m so pleased I saw them.

Last up on the second stage were the Eagles of Death Metal, one very much ticked off the bucket list. It’s always hard to shoot any artist in daylight as it never does them justice but they were still great fun to shoot.

I fully expected Def Leppard to be a write off because every single show on the current tour has been from the mixer. I resolved not to bother – not because of them but because I think it’s completely pointless shooting a rock band from way back at the mixer. For reasons not even known to Kevin Nixon, my mate who is their tour photographer, we all got pit access for 3 songs. And as you can see it was an absolute treat!

Gig Review – Muse, London Stadium, 1 June 2019

Matt Bellamy is quite a front man and you live in hope that they’ll let you in the pit for Muse because when they do it can be spectacular. Tonight was anything but spectacular though.

Unfortunately I arrived just moments too late to get in to the pit for Tom Morello and even though it was daylight still, it would have been great to shoot his set.

Rumours swirled of pit access for Muse even though we’d been warned to bring long lenses because we could be at a lighting tower, which even with a long runway were a long way back.

So minutes before showtime they took us in…to the pit! We were told to stand in a particular spot at the end of the runway and thought our luck was in. Then the head of pit security ordered us to a different part of the pit slightly further back from the runway. Not as good but still it was the pit, it would be okay. Then 3 minutes before showtime he decided to ignore his own decision and ordered us out of the pit altogether telling us we had to go to the lighting tower. How we made it in time I don’t know but we did.

Predictably it was like snatching defeat from the jaws of victory – it was a lousy shooting position, off to one side and miles back. The only saving grace was that when Matt used the end of the runway you could get a reasonable shot over the sea of hands. Such a shame as had they just left us in the pit we would have got great shots. In all my years I can’t remember ever being treated so badly and I will think twice before attending another Muse show. Their head of security was an embarrassment.

Gig Review – Joe Bonamassa, Royal Albert Hall, 24 April 2019

Access to Joe Bonamassa’s shows has been getting harder and harder of late. Not so much in getting the passes themselves – they’re still pretty liberally handed out, but general these days you have to photograph him from the mixing desk. I’m not a fan of mixing desk shoots at the best of times, but when you’re talking about one of the best guitarists on the planet, frankly you want to be up close to catch the intensity of the show.

The Royal Albert Hall is a stunning venue although not an easy one to shoot in generally. Tonight we were given privileged access down at the front of the stalls seating area, crouched down to avoid getting in peoples’ way. The result was that we got as close to the stage as you’re going to get for now at least at Joe’s shows, and the outcome was really good shots.

It was a case of pick a side and stick to it, and I think I chose well. He moves around a fair bit which always makes for good images.

joe Bonamassa, Royal Albert Hall, 24 April 2019

In a rare treat I had been given two tickets to watch the show afterwards. That rarely happens, but it was great to be able to stay on and watch. The seats were fantastic, practically right on the side of the stage, but I resisted the temptation to shoot from there even though it would have looked amazing!

Gig Review – Stewart Copeland, Royal Festival Hall, 30 March 2019

As far as I can remember I’ve only shot one show previously at the Royal Festival Hall which was many years ago and it didn’t work out well. But Stewart Copeland tours very rarely, and I haven’t seen him since The Police reunion tour in 2007 to 2008. I shot two of those shows, really badly, which I regret to this day. I’ve learnt a lot since then.

Anyway, I approached Stewart’s management company about coming along tonight and after a few emails all was sorted. First 3 songs in a specific access area. But I was told the first song would be 16 minutes long so not to worry!

So off I headed tonight and I met up with my contact nice and early and got shown around the empty auditorium. It’s a pretty functional building. Fantastic acoustics but it’s no oil painting. I could use the side aisles and pop to the mixer for a head on shot of the whole stage but that was it.

I was the sole photographer. Back in 2008 on The Police tour you could barely move in the pit for the other photographers. At first I couldn’t believe I was the only one there tonight, then I realised that it’s really not a great venue to shoot in.

Stewart was side on stage left which meant that if I’d been down the front I’d have had a perfect view of him but because I was to only shoot from a specific area, I had to make the best of it. That meant shooting all except the wides on the 300mm f/2.8 as it was simply too dark for the slower Sigma 150-600mm.

Still, I came away with a good enough selection of shots I thought. Nothing stand out, but there just wasn’t quite a perfect angle to find in the half an hour I had to shoot, so I did the best I could. Regardless, it was fabulous to see him playing again and a treat to have an unexpected exclusive.

Gig Review – Wilko Johnson, Alban Arena, 10 March 2019

Six years ago almost to the day I photographed what we all believed was Wilko’s farewell show at the Koko. It was an emotional night because he was suffering from terminal cancer.

A year later I saw him on stage with Roger Daltrey and in the years since he has fully recovered and played a huge number of shows.

It’s not often I get to shoot at my local venue and I was the only photographer. I met Lofty, Wilko’s tour manager, before the show start, was given a seat and shown where I could shoot from. Normally it’s a tricky venue to work in as it’s all seated and they don’t like you even being crouched down in the aisles but my instructions were clear – ‘do what you want as long as you keep out of the way’! Perfect.

Glenn Tilbrook opened the show and from what I’d heard of other nights on the tour I was very worried about the lighting being low and subdued but actually it was fine.

Wilko played a fabulous set, full of his usual energy and unique moves. It flashed by and before I knew it they’d said their goodbyes and left the stage. No airs and graces, just great music and great showmanship.

Gig Review – Twenty One Pilots, Wembley Arena, 9 March 2019

It’s only March but I’m pretty sure this is going to be one of the gigs of the year for me. I went along curious because I’ve seen some brilliant shots of their stage show and came away absolutely converted. I knew that the confetti finale is the best bit to shoot but unsurprisingly the only access available was for the first two songs. Research showed me they were dark and uninspiring to shoot so I took a radical approach.

Rather than shoot two songs from the pit and leave I went early and headed in to the crowd before the start. I picked a spot about a quarter of the way back off to one side and banked on that being a good vantage point. I figured that I’d be able to shoot pretty much whatever I wanted and I was right. I’m not advocating using a pass to shoot from the crowd but occasionally needs must. I knew this could be a one off chance tonight.

So I took occasional photos throughout what was an incredible show. There may only be two of them on stage but everything about the visual aspects of the show was incredible, from the elevated walk way to a B stage to the ladder the singer climbed high above that B stage to the drum kit set up on top of the front row of the crowd, and of course, those 10 seconds of confetti right at the very end of the show.

It was tough. Trying and often failing to shoot through the sea of hands and mobile phones without intruding on the people around me who were loving a great show meant I missed a ton of good shots but I got pretty much all the key shots I’d hoped for. The confetti shower at the end was nigh on impossible to get but somehow my 70-200 lens kept in focus and just as the shower started a surge of people in front of me enabled me to get a clearer view for just a few frames.

I came home converted and keen to now listen to some of their tracks. I’d love to go to the Reading Festival in August when they play but I’m sure photographers will only be allowed a handful of early songs which is a shame when such fantastic action takes place throughout the set.

Gig Review – The Struts, Shepherds Bush Empire, 26 February 2019

I first saw The Struts last summer at the Download Festival. They played the main stage on the Saturday when Guns n’ Roses headlined. As I was in the crowd that day I just watched, but I knew instantly this was a band to catch soon before they go stratospheric.

So fast forward 8 months and they’ve sold out the Shepherds Bush Empire. On the one hand it’s a great venue for a band like this because of the small low stage. On the other, that goes out of the window when about 16 photographers are squeezed in to a space that shouldn’t be allowed to hold much more than half that.

Luke is quite the front man, part Jagger, part Mercury, and he’s got a great voice. The minimal follow spots really didn’t keep up with him much so in the end it turned out to be technically a very tricky shoot. With good front lighting he would be a dream singer to photograph.