As potential stars of the future continue, week in, week out, to cut their teeth at local independent venues up and down the country they are supported by an army of promoters, photographers, brands, bloggers, DJ’s, webzines/magazines along with their swarming legions of fans growing by the minute. There is an abundance of talent right now across the board and glimpses of huge optimism for guitar music are becoming more and more apparent. One thing is for certain, a sense of community and loyalty in the grassroots venues are the lifeblood of the music scene and we must take all steps necessary to preserve this. Every single day we see bands working hard, trying to do what they can to make great music and hopefully create the next generation of a successful music industry; where the mainstream music media fail to cover these bands journeys, the unsigned army step up.
The camera is almost seen as the equivalent of a pen these days with almost everyone giving it a go. There’s some fierce competition out there but with low payment – if any – it leaves only the dedicated and passionate ones standing.
Each and every one of these people involved in the scene have one thing in common – they do it because the passion for live, new music runs through their veins. We all have favourite bands that have broken through and gone on to play to thousands in the big arenas up and down the country – but they didn’t start there. Without the supporters at the beginning of their journey, bands would not have had the platforms to get their music out there. If supporters – like photographers – at grassroots cease to exist then that right there, is the true threat to the life of live guitar music.
The following selection of photographers are capturing and documenting timeless slivers of stillness amid all the madness and boy are they doing a good job of it.
I asked a handful of them about their thoughts on the live music scene and what their current personal favourite photograph is…
(You can follow and admire their work by clicking on their name header)
(THE) ALAN WELLS
‘Britain’s underground scene is overflowing with talent, a tidal wave of bands ready to engulf the mainstream with their own sound and make their mark. It’s a special time to be involved if you’re a band, and for those who support them. The promoters, zine makers, bloggers and new music fans who have been championing dozens of these bands for months (or in some cases years!) are about to get the reward of seeing them succeed at the highest levels.’
RHONA MURPHY PHOTGRAPHY
‘I think people get locked into what their favourite music was when they were teenagers and don’t get to watch/listen to new music now. Their view then becomes that there’s no decent music out there. WRONG on so many levels as all the bands/promoters/bloggers/photographers will tell you. Go to any number of venues big or small anywhere in the UK and there’s real talent just looking for the opportunity to break through and get recognised and even paid to do what they do. Any one of the sold-out This Feeling gigs around the UK is testament to the buzz and appetite for today’s up and coming musicians. The army of unpaid supporters pledging their time and expertise to help bands get the publicity they need to break through into the music industry speaks for itself. If the passion and belief wasn’t there then none of us would be writing/shooting/watching the gigs would we? We’d take the easy option and tell everyone there’s no good new music out there! I love to shoot The Blinders and thats why I choose this photo at the Isle Of Wight Festival as my favourite.’
The unsigned scene in Manchester seems to be very healthy and alive. So many bands. In terms of photography I’ve been involved with Blossoms, Cabbage and The Blinders. I know they’re signed now but they weren’t when I first saw them as stand out subjects. I’m also involved with Proletariat and Strange Bones.I took some very early photos of No Hot Ashes and it’s great to see them doing so well through sheer hard work. I took the picture below in Oxford. I spotted that wall and everyone who was with us or walked past got photographed against that wall. As soon as I saw this one I loved it. There were a couple of out-take versions but this was the killer for me. Don’t even know why. Don’t need to know.
I left school then I went to photography college and worked for various photographers. Some years later I put the camera aside to concentrate on my university work. It was then that I found the underground dance music scene and I became a promoter/DJ in an attempt to raise the profile of the excellent talent and music that was out there. Nowadays, having taken up photography again some five years ago, I’m regularly seen photographing bands on the unsigned music scene. At present we are so lucky to be part of an incredibly exciting time with guitar bands and the talent is just mind blowing. It’s great to see bands, promoters, venues, the media and photographers all working together to try and push the scene and give it the platform it deserves. I believe that without the likes of This Feeling, the unsigned scene would be in almost non-existent and I applaud them for what they do. As a band photographer, I get to see, first hand how bloody hard these bands work. They receive little global recognition for what they do, except from their loyal supporters and the hard core music lovers from the unsigned circuit. But like everyone who is supporting this scene, we’re luckily not in it for the money (as there is none), but purely for the love of what we do. I think that keeps everyone pretty grounded, including the bands. Most I have come across genuinely appreciate all the support they get and at the end of a gig, I can’t but feel slightly euphoric from the utter excitement and buzz that the bands feel. Just like my underground music days and my attempts to raise the profile, I hope that I can make a small contribution with my photography in contributing to making people aware of the fantastic bands that are out there and what an incredibly exciting time live music is going through right now.
Photography is not my profession, it’s a passion and just a privilege to photo-shoot. I started snapping at school, but that was a long time ago. Having been young enough to been around for punk I regret not being street-smart enough or brave enough to drag a school-borrowed Practika camera along when I first saw the likes of The Clash and The Pistols in the ’70s. My photography was undeniably crap then, and probably it was a wise decision to leave it to the likes of Kevin Cummins and not to make it a career. Practice helps though, and I started squatting in the mosh pit about eight years ago after seeing Liverpool legends, Sound of Guns, at Leeds Festival. During that time I’ve shot just about every genre of photography some for money, some for fun, but when the fun stops what’s the point? Right now, I can say there’s nothing more fun than feeling the hairs on the back of your neck stand up when your favourite band clambers on stage and fires up those anthemic first chords. Exciting?! Without a shadow of a doubt, so much so you sometimes forget to adjust the focus (sometimes!) I think the unsigned music scene is thriving. Undeniably the path away from mainstream music is a hard-won journey, but the number of bands who constantly front up with exciting and different new music is exhilarating for someone who saw their first concert, ahem, more than 40 years ago. There’s a number of catalysts that stitch this together and make it happen, but it’s there, it’s palpable. I’m not saying it’s any easier for the current crop of musical talent, but without naming names or bands, then there’s platforms, promoters and precociously gifted people who are the essential ingredients of creating opportunities for getting out on a weekend for vicarious musical thrills or for tearing it up at a festival in the summer. Those that count, they know who they are, more power to them. My favourite current photo would have to be this one of SHEAFS stage invasion, shot at Party In The Pines Festival in sunny Scunny last summer.
We all know how brilliant these boys are, and every SHEAFS gig is manic mayhem, musically outstanding and a photographer’s dream. Thanks to Lawrence for staring into my 10mm lens from a few inches away, this photo adorns my office wall. It’s my current fave.
I never consciously made a decision to become a music photographer it’s something that materialised through my love of watching live music. My partner in crime bought me a little point and shoot camera a few years ago with the idea of capturing some of our gig experiences together from there it developed into a real passion for live music photography. Through platforms such as A Music Blog Yeah and Popped Music, This Feeling and working alongside bands such as The Jackobins I’ve had the opportunity to develop this hobby, create amazing memories and meet lots of wonderful people. The music industry is at times tough, but it’s also amazing and extremely rewarding to be a part of something you love so much. Guitar music is dead or for some reason they’d have us believe so, however get yourself to any local venue across the country pretty much any day of the week and you’ll find it’s the exact opposite – not only is it thriving there’s an army of bands supporting bands, promoters, writers, photographers and music lovers all out in force supporting grass roots music and each other.
I properly started taking photos at gigs in summer 2016, my first job was spending the day following Cabbage around the day when they played their first ever London show and I took some promo shots off and on stage for The Zine UK and I still have a lot to learn and improve. I was taking photos for years before but mainly street photography and snap shots, I am fascinated by people watching and capturing moments. With concert photography I was able to combine my two passions as I have always been fascinated by the intensity and the emotions and intimacy that take place at a gig, how people react, interact, how the light of the stage moves to the music and the way you can paint with the light and create something new each time. Working in the unsigned music industry has introduced me to some of the most amazing and inspiring people I have ever met, on and off stage and how we are all in a way a family, there for the thing we are passionate about and it is a wonderful thing. What I like about the current state of the industry is the shift that is currently happening with all the women who are doing their DIY thing and pushing to the forefront, and getting shit done proper and badass. Especially, because it isn’t easy as a woman in the industry, being talked down at, not respected, being seen as just a groupie even when you are a professional and right now I can see a very wonderful change happening with this. I much prefer going to smaller gigs because the rawness, the passion, the wild nature and realness is still there, something you don’t see with the big bands very often anymore. There is so much talent lurking behind every corner and being able to be there from the start and part of the journey then hearing the same bands that were just playing in a small pub in front of 3 drunk people then suddenly being played on big radio stations and festivals is one of the most wonderful things and sometimes I feel like a proud mum when I am in a shop and I suddenly hear my mates play via the speaker.
When it comes to her favourite photo Sandy said:
Live its probably got to be this one of The Kills because I got to photograph my idol but quality wise it isn’t great because the stage light was shocking and we only had a short amount of time and no space to get photos done, I’ll always love this one because they are one of my favourite bands ever and the entire day is unforgettable and I will never ever forget it. That was the moment that really got to me and made me realise how amazing life is.
I applaud and thank each and everyone of the following for their dedication to the scene and urge every single band and artist to appreciate the time and effort these people put in – as a photography novice myself I know how many hours are spent travelling to gigs and editing photos.
These articles are part of a series. Part one is a focus on how you can support the unsigned scene whilst part two above highlight’s some of the photographers who work relentlessly week in week out to support new music.
There will be more to follow on Northern Exposure…