As the year draws to a close Louder Than War photographers select three of their favourite shots taken this year for the website and talk about what they are looking forward to in 2020. The main photography team in 2019 have been Melanie Smith, Mike Ainscoe, Svenja Block, Paul Grace and Naomi Dryden Smith.
Melanie Smith: Once again we narrow down the selection of our favourite images and what a difficult task. I first started my foray into music writing/ photography 11 years ago and I am still amazed and appreciative of the opportunities I have been presented with. My special selection are all-female (cos they rule) and I do like dramatic, theatrical shows, so, in no particular order here is my choice.
1. Pink: What an absolute blast it was getting the accreditation for the awesome Pink. A bit daunting at a huge football stadium and the shooting position wasn’t perfect, but I was delighted when she emerged onto the set singing and swinging on the heavily decorative chandelier. I was totally impressed and pleased with my photos too, albeit from what felt like a mile away. Definitely one off my bucket list this year.
2. Skunk Anansie: the band are always fun to photograph, Skin has such a charismatic stage presence and this year she had a whole new wardrobe of fantastic costumes. She emerged side stage, bright red lighting, wearing a cloak of silver foil, it was a mind-blowing entrance and as challenging as it was I love how I just managed to get her face in the shot. 3. Amanda Palmer: This was a 3-hour show with a difference, we were told that we had to remain in our seats whilst photographing the whole show and to be careful about making camera noise. The stage was mainly lit with a white light centred upon Amanda Palmer, as she played the piano and regaled some of her life stories to a packed out Albert Hall in Manchester. She is a very talented musician and a captivating storyteller, plus a very beautiful woman inside and out. I do like the simple lighting in this shot, the stunning Roman profile and the reaching out hand gesture. Amanda is someone who is there for everyone with a listening ear and a kind heart. Special mentions must go to other exciting shows I shot this year, such as Melanie Martinez, Gossip, Starcrawler, Shakespears Sister, Aurora, Charli XCX, Marina, Jenny Lewis, LP, Take That, Suede, Mott the Hoople, KT Tunstall. In 2020 I am keeping my fingers crossed to be able to cover such shows as Lana Del Ray, The 1975, Sleater Kinney, Chelsea Wolfe, Billy Ellish, The Who and Queen…not a lot to ask is it :-)
Mike Ainscoe: Here are mine. As Mel says, a tricky choice to get down to three. It may have been easier to choose one! Or maybe not…even if we had a selection of five or ten we may struggle. I’ve gone for a theme of ‘blokes with guitars’. Here goes:
1. Richard Hawley: at Holmfirth Picturedrome. Always a pleasure to see and hear Richard, especially on his home turf. He also appeared in this gallery in 2018. This was at the launch show for his excellent Further album. Not an easy one to shoot as there were blinding lights either side of the stage shining directly at me on one side of what passes for a pit and one straight at Frank Ralph at the other side. We bided our time waiting for Hawley to block it out so we could attempt a hit.
2. Kiss: at Manchester Arena. After getting to shoot two songs, including missing half the opening number while the crew shifted the drapes, all hell broke loose in a crowded pit. I went for not the typical ‘all three guitars lined up across the front’ or Gene Simmons with his tongue out (hang on, he always has his tongue out) but one of Gene and Paul Stanley mugging it up for the crowd and strictly speaking, all four of the band are ‘in’ the shot. And that was all before I got clobbered by one of the video cameramen…
3. Slash: at Manchester Apollo. Another bloke, another hard rock night. Mel had to miss this one so I was a late sub. No real bother; it took me all of a few seconds to step up and getting up close to the legendary Mr Slash was quite an experience. Looking back, there was probably an opportunity to get something reflected in his mirrorshades but in the heat of the moment… Another musician who knows how to make it easier for us photographers to get our shot and make him look good, although he could have done with a shave.
Honourable mentions for the shortlist which included gigs by Elbow, Martyn Joseph, Frank Turner, Rosalie Cunningham while the very colourful Little Steven Van Zandt was within a cat’s whisker of making it. All in all another fab year of sharing shots and pits with the usual suspects and seeing some particularly fabulous work from our writers and photographers. What will 2020 bring? Who knows, but I’m looking forward to seeing Wheel in February (blokes with guitars again) as I rated their Moving Backwards album.
Svenja Block: I feel honoured to have been able to capture some amazing human beings on stage in 2019.
1. Rammstein: at Milton Keynes Stadium. Best audio, visual and live performance of 2019. An unrivalled masterclass of performing-arts both on and off stage courtesy of an extended team of dedicated professionals operating behind the scenes. Berlin girl shoots Berlin band – I loved every second of it, soaked up the atmosphere from both the photo pit and the back of the stadium and probably didn’t stop grinning from ear to ear during this special Heimspiel in the UK.
2. Nita Strauss: long-term heroine guitarist with Alice Cooper at O2 Arena London. Hurricane Nita easily steals the show – her skills and fast paced action are an inspiration to any aspiring rock n’ roll musician and provide great photographic opportunities.
3. Australian punk rockers Amyl and The Sniffers played The Underworld in Camden the other night. This small, sold out club gig was a real eye opener for me and it got pretty wild at times. Mostly due to frontwoman Amy Taylor, a wonderful, strong and feisty personality – totally owning the stage like many other young and talented women musicians who have appeared on the scene over recent years.
There’s no photopit at The Underworld so I expected the front row to be occupied and dominated by men of a certain age. (I wonder if this is a particularly British phenomenon, where a complete package of questionable behaviour around much younger women artists seems to be present? This has been much discussed in the music press, across social media, and observed by myself on a regular basis at gigs). But instead, I found myself surrounded by an audience made up mostly of confident, excited women celebrating their solidarity. The band rocked, women crowd surfed, the atmosphere buzzed and rather surprisingly for a cold December night it got really sweaty. I couldn’t move at all during the gig, and trying to fish my flashgun out of my bag was wishful thinking. This gig ticked all my boxes. Although it was just plain simple, stripped-down, rock n’ roll – fast and dirty, with Amy dangerous, unpredictable and shining through, absolutely nothing was missing for me. We need more bands like Amyl and The Sniffers!
Anna Calvi, Hands Off Gretel Lauren Tate solo, Republica, Camden Rocks Festival, a Celebration of Pete Shelley’s life with Buzzcocks and friends, and The Damned in A Night Of A Thousand Vampires all deserve a special mention, too – regardless whether these events were shot for LTW. Please support live music near and far in 2020; we do our bit to contribute with our team of brilliant writers and photographers.
Paul Grace: This year I’ve been really enjoying the punk and noisier acts; always brimming with energy, I really love the anything-can-happen vibe that goes on at these shows. Audience interaction/crowd surfing is common at these gigs which always makes for some really great moments! This year my faves are, 1) Frank Carter, 2) Gojira and 3) Fever 333. Others that made the shortlist include Sunn O))), The Cult, Idles, Avatar, Eagles Of Death Metal and The Twilight Sad.
1. Frank Carter. This was my first time photographing Frank Carter and after seeing so many amazing photos of his previous shows, he totally smashed my expectations! Frank was an absolute star – he was crowd surfing within the first 5 minutes and the fans were going mad for it!
2. Gojira. Ooh I do love a bit of dramatic heavy metal, and French doom masters, Gojira, are in a league fo their own. Here lead man Joe Duplantier is cracking out one of his trademark high kicks moments before the front of the stage is engulfed in flames. Awesome!
3. Fever 333. Fever 333 shows literally explode with energy and are an absolute joy to photograph. Captured at the O2 Kentish Town Forum in June, here singer Jason Aalon Butler is screaming out a vocal while guitarist Stephen Harrison is flying overhead. A live force to be truly reckoned with. In 2020 I’m looking forward to heading out to a few festivals (2000 Trees looks particularly unreal!), as well as gigs gis by Pigsx7, Foals. I’ll also be taking my camera to RuPaul’s Drag Con in January for something a little bit different.
Naomi Dryden Smith This year I’ve chosen three photos which are probably more about the fans than the artists.
1. The Cure – this was the first time I’ve shot any band abroad and my first time in Bucharest. As we’ve said elsewhere, The Cure seem to be going from strength to strength, and this show was no exception. My favourite moments of any Cure show are when Robert Smith shows flashes of his personality, whether with some trademark dance moves, in-band banter, heartfelt emotion at the end of every show (surely not a dry eye in the place at the end of that Sydney performance) and, as here, plain cheeky to his fans who couldn’t get enough.
2. Suede – featuring for the second year running, Suede are a phenomenal band to shoot. Brett Anderson puts so much into every performance, like a man possessed. This was a special charity gig, Brandaid, for the benefit of crew member and friend John Brandham, who recently had a stroke and was there in the audience, so there was an extra layer of relevance and meaning. I was lucky enough to shoot the whole show, and in this shot, Brett is surrounded by fans including The Insatiable Ones, who follow the band everywhere. I like the Jesus element to it.
3. Mika – My third shot is Mika, who returned to the UK for his first show after an absence of some years (some reports say 4, others as many as 10). The welcome he got from his fans was incredible, and when he was faced with a theatre full of signs saying “We’ve missed you” it was clear he was completely overwhelmed. He put on a great show, full of energy, colour, vibrance and his sheer vocal talent, and at this point, he had jumped down into the crowd for a walkabout. Usually, the obsessive use of mobile phones at concerts irritates me, but I like these mini, alternative angles on what I could see.
My special mentions are to Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders, who also appeared at Brandaid, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, The Struts, Kiefer Sutherland, The Who, Eddie Vedder, Kaiser Chiefs, Imelda May, the now disbanded Prophets Of Rage, and Electric Wizard.
A huge thanks to all our photographers and to the bands and the PR that made it possible.
Please note: Use of any of these images in any form without permission is illegal. Please email the respective photographer.
Photos as listed by Paul Grace. For more of Paul’s writing and photos go to his archive. Paul is on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and his websites are www.paulgrace-eventphotos.co.uk & www.pgrace.co.uk