Another year is almost over and Louder Than War’s music photographers select three of their favourite shots taken this year and talk about what they are looking forward to in 2022. This year started off with many cancellations as we all know, but after summer it became a gig tsunami with so many choices, especially around the later months. Long may this continue in 2022.
Melanie Smith: I tried to be more selective in my choice of shows to shoot this year. It was a little difficult coming back, I was nervous, it almost felt like I was starting over again, but it was great to reconnect once more with like-minded people and my photography friends. The thrill of live music is like nothing on earth, its good for the soul. If I had to choose three of my favourite photos they would be from artists that I hadn’t shot before. So in no particular order.
1. Beth Hart She played Warrington Parr Hall, a legendary venue 4 miles from me. I was available and thought why not, she is a rock artist from the USA and my friend Claire (who reviewed the show) just so happened to be into her music. It proved to be such an emotional performance, which really took my breath away. This photo shows Beth lost in her piano playing, under a gorgeous beam of white light. She is a photographers dream, heartfelt passion pours out of her pores in every song she sang. Why am I only just discovering her music?
2. Erasure They played at my favourite venue to photograph – the O2 Apollo, Manchester. It was such a fabulous stage set, their wondrous electro-pop sounds ringing out, taking me back to the good old ’80s, what’s not to like. I selected this shot because it shows the full set design, superb stage lighting, the campness of Andy Bell and in the distance the unmistakable Vince Clarke and the female singer/dancers having a great time, dancing in florescent dresses. It was a really fun, colourful shoot. I wish all shows were like this. A definite feelgood show, long live pop music and Erasure.
3. Rufus Wainright I had an exclusive as the only photographer at the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester. I love this shot of Rufus, as he looks so happy and really engaged with his audience. Mostly he was facing towards the front of the stage, but on the 3rd song, he turned to the side and looked up at the audience and I quickly snapped this shot. It was a beautiful show, a simple stage set-up, but no need for anything fancy when you have the elegance and charm of Rufus or a voice that drips like honey. After the show, I had to send all images to his management and Rufus shared some of my shots after the show and even tagged me in, nice to be appreciated by such a fabulous artist.
A special mention must go out to Soft Cell and Baxter Dury, which were two other exceptional shows I photographed. In 2022 I have my hopes set high to tick off my bucket list Amyl & The Sniffers, Poppy and Billie Eilish. (although this depends on COVID restrictions). Female artists rule and we should appreciate them more.
Naomi Dryden Smith During the endless lockdown I was fully aware of just how much I missed shooting bands, but finally getting back into the pit, the rush of adrenaline, the noise of the fans, the smell of the venues, and seeing my photographer and security friends again has been the best kind of therapy. I’ve had a few favourite moments so it was hard to choose just three. Right up there as well were the legendary Patti Smith at the Royal Albert Hall, and Bauhaus at Alexandra Palace.
1. Yungblud. I’d never seen him live before so wasn’t quite prepared for the sheer force of this young performer – three songs of non-stop blistering energy, an incredibly charismatic person with a radiant spirit, I could have shot him all night. I’d also left it till the very last show of a five-night run so the pit was pretty much empty, which is always a bonus.
2. Richard Ashcroft. I still remember the first time I heard Bittersweet Symphony, the morning of my stepbrother’s wedding – I dropped everything just to watch that video, I thought it was a stunning song and I still do. Again, I’ve never heard it live. This concert was one of the best I’ve ever been to, Richard Ashcroft is at the top of his game and The Palladium gave his music the depth of sound it deserves. His performance was faultless. Shooting at The Palladium is never that easy – you’re either crawling in the aisles to not get in the way of everyone seated, demonstrating just how old and crap your knees are these days, or else the whole audience stands up and you’re confined to shooting from the sides and the back, a challenge (sometimes nightmare) if you’re short. This was a sides and back job with a zoom, and I spent at least half of one of my three allocated songs trying to help an emotionally overcome fan. But the lighting was perfect and I was happy with the photos I got. His label even bought one, a proud moment for me.
3. Snayx. Louder Than War makes a point of covering support bands too if we can, and Snayx were the first of two supports for Kid Kapichi. A hugely exhilarating punk duo from the South Coast, they blasted our socks off with their contagious energy. Scala is a particularly tricky venue to shoot; it surely has the narrowest pit in London, unless the pit is empty you’re pretty much stuck in one position as it’s impossible to move past anyone, and there is very little space between the performers and the camera. But Snayx had the best lighting of the night, and a wide lens allowed for some decent action shots.
For next year, I’m just looking forward to whoever comes across my lens, and hoping that as many artists get to play as possible.
Paul Grace. Ahhh it was so good to be back in the pit after the shit-show that was 2020. Due to the day job exploding this year (wedding photography!), I only managed to shoot a handful of gigs/festivals but I really loved photographing what I did and am hoping for a much busier year next year shooting lots of live music.
1. JOHN – Nocturnal Manoeuvres. Without a doubt my proudest moment of 2021. I’ve worked with those lovely guys JOHN for a couple of years on their press shots and was stoked to be asked to shoot the cover of their latest album, Nocturnal Manoeuvres (which coincidentally was voted the second favourite in LTW’s top 100 albums of the year!). A dark and brooding image that was shot inside the iconic Crystal Palace Bowl stage, and an aesthetic that fits with the cinematic mood of the album really well (big shout out to the Crystal Palace Bowl community group for their help with this shoot).
2. Working Men’s Club. Working Men’s Club are such an exciting live band and they tend to use club-lighting for their shows rather than traditional production with spotlights, etc. As a result, this was a particularly challenging shoot with heavy backlight and strobes but it resulted in some pretty dramatic images.
For next year I hope that Covid-19 continues to sling its hook and normality resumes so we all get to experience lots more live music events.
Simon Reed: This is my first full year taking photographs for Louder Than War and I feel extremely privileged to have returned to live music photography post-Covid lockdowns, with such an excellent publication. Although things inevitably started slowly as restrictions came off, it’s been heartening to see musicians giving it their all again in front of wildly enthusiastic audiences. Here is my top three, though notable mentions also go to Scott Lavene, The Alabama Three and Cardinal Black, all of whom were great fun to shoot.
1.Cradle Of Filth: Bloodstock Open Air is a feast for photographers eyes and I could have picked any number of artists and photos from the festival, but this was the one I liked the most. Dani Filth appearing from behind a wall of pyro as he fronted an epic set from Cradle Of Filth.
2.Tankus The Henge: Tankus The Henge are an amazing band to photograph – especially their frontman Jaz Deloean, who manages to play a smoke billowing piano whilst contorted in positions I’d never get up from. Here he is giving it the full beans from when the band recently played Scala in London.
3.Kasabian: A true bucket list shoot, Kasabian’s Serge Pizzorno came out of the traps at Brixton Academy at warp speed and some very challenging lighting made this an extremely hard gig to photograph. Our efforts weren’t helped by security miscounting and removing us one song too soon. I honestly came away from it wondering whether I’d got any usable pictures at all, so it was great to find at least a small number of diamonds in an awful lot of rough!
Obviously, things remain challenging for the events industry going into 2022 and I’m deliberately not setting my sights too high for what might be to come – just happy to see how things fall into place. That said, one of my all-time favourite bands, Counting Crows, are set to return to the UK for the first time in a few years for a set of sell out gigs and I sincerely hope I’ll manage to wrap my lens around one of them if at all possible.
Trev Eales: I’m new to Louder Than War and only began contributing in October, but can’t help but be impressed by the quality and professionalism of the publication and its contributors. To date, I’ve only completed four photo assignments, so my choices are inevitably limited.
1. Brett Anderson was a constantly moving target in harsh white lighting with deep shadows. It was almost impossible not to get an “action” shot but there’s always pressure to be in the right place and press the shutter at the right moment. Although he wasn’t looking directly at the camera there’s an intimacy and energy that he brings by leaning forward toward the lens on his hand and knees.
2. Richard Thompson: This choice is all about Richard Thompson’s expression. I took plenty of photos of him singing and playing the guitar, but this wry smile/smirk as he began his first number seemed a good summation of his pleasure at being back in front of an audience after so long and a visual expression of the dry wit of his between-song banter.
3. Orla Gartland: It’s always good to shoot someone whose star is rising, playing to a wildly enthusiastic audience who seem to know every word of every song. Visually, the Irish singer/songwriter presented a range of expressions to match her music. I could have chosen her beatific smile, wide-eyed appreciation or several others, but I’ve selected Ms Fierce.
Moving ahead to 2022 I’m hopeful of getting to shoot some bands I haven’t previously covered; Gojira are currently at the top of my wish list. Their current album really impresses and visual clips of their live shows just ooze energy and power. They should be great to photograph.
Thanks to all our hardworking photographers, without whom our reviews wouldn’t come to life. Our photographers are as diverse as the shows we shoot, from pop, rock, folk, punk, post-punk and beyond.
Please give it up for our main photographers: Melanie Smith, Naomi Dryden Smith, Paul Grace, Simon Reed, Trev Eales, Micheal Bond, Kenny Brown, Svenja Block and others who have submitted photos for Louder Than War this year Andy Von Pip, Gareth Burroughs, Micheal Brumby, Hels Millington, Ian Corbridge, Keith Goldhanger, Neil Winward, Phil Newall, Paul Clarke, Shari Denson, Tony Palmer, Neil Chapman, Steve Hampson, Mel Butler, Sal Gig Junkie, Simon Lee, Nidge Trust A Fox – hope we haven’t missed anyone off the list.
Our thanks also to all the PRs who arranged our passes.