Band Duty - Antenna Album Launch
And what a great night it was!
Having been recently refurbished, The Bedford in Balham was the venue selected to launch The Gift's brand new album 'Antenna' which was a superb choice. Personally, it was nice to return to the venue again as this was where my journey into band photography began, where I discovered The Gift, and they discovered me. A once grungy venue has now been transformed into a clean, modern contemporary event space, a long way since Progtober Fest 2017.
The new album promised to bring a more classic rock edge to the sound of The Gift, taking a gentle side step away from the world of prog with shorter, punchier tracks. A brave move to make when you are known for one thing, but it was always obvious (to me anyway) that the tracks they played that are rockier with more energy really get the crowd going, even dancing (at a prog gig, I shit you not). Along with many, I was looking forward to hearing the guys play out this new material and shoot in the venue again.
As kick off drew near, the crowd grew larger feeding the buzz of anticipation that had begun to take over the previously empty space. But before the main event, there was a little surprise in store, and the night of two halves began...
Supporting the band was solo cellist Jo Quail, a somewhat unusual choice in my opinion as the music was contrasting rather than complimentary, but I honestly couldn't care less. Capturing Jo was one of the most enjoyable event photography experiences I have had, which is evident in the large numbers of final images from her set. Usually, I have between 25-40 images of a band once all is said and done, but for Jo, it was 70, for a solo performer! Seems a little crazy, but there is a good reason for this.
Because Jo was stationary throughout the entire set the in center of the stage with her beautifully crafted cello, it was so easy to maneuver around her and capture all angles. I only anticipated a handful of shots with little variation due to the static nature of the performance, but how wrong I was.
Jo's passion for her music, the relationship she so clearly has with her instrument was truly inspiring. For those that don't know, her performance is not set to any backing tracks and isn't a simple recital, but full-blown track production all through the single stringed instrument and a sampler. By patting the neck of the cello she records a beat and then layers samples over this beat and gradually builds atmospheric tracks that are then played over with intense energy. Technically brilliant and amazing to watch, and to photograph.
With each stroke and change of light, I was treated to another unique shot that contributed to the story of Jo's performance. With no need to rush from individual to individual, I could explore many different points of view and add variety to the shoot which includes more traditional eye level straight on portrait shots, but with many close wide-angle shots to immerse the viewer in the drama of her performance.
Having close access to the stage, and plenty of time to work I saw an opportunity to focus more on the striking instrument and take some detail shots. The lighting complimented the striking shapes of the cello and provided great images to compliment the set and add to the story.
The lighting was perfect and only increased the atmosphere and mystique of her performance. The perfect balance of highlights and shadows and Jo's powerful yet graceful playing made capturing consistently perfect shots almost too easy, which gave me a nice problem. Usually, I would be looking through my shots having imported them into Lightroom and have a very little problem sorting through and eliminating mages from the editing phase of my workflow. This time it was not so easy. With so many great images, I just could not discard them and struggled to get the final number down. Painstakingly I got the number down to 80 shots, of which 70 were finally edited and published.
Because the lighting was so good, I was able to process many of the shots in color. Harsh lighting can lead to oversaturation that leaves blocky patches of color on the skin which can be saved by black and white treatment, but not always. For the instrument details, I used black and white to emphasize the curves, lines, and shapes of the striking cello.
Once all was said and done, I can say with conviction that this was a great experience. Sure, some compositions could have been marginally improved (a couple of instances of chopped arms/hands), and I would have preferred a cleaner background, but I can't do much about the latter. With Ms. Quail wrapping it up, it was time to move on to the main event...
For the band, this was the end of a long journey as the new album 'Antenna' went from an idea through to this grand launch in front of an eager fan base and critics alike. It's an honor to have been involved in this journey if only the final sprint from the last phase of rehearsals to the gig. With new material and a new direction, I was very excited to get underway.
Any night wouldn't be the same without some sort of glitch; somehow the running time of the gig had been miscommunicated and the venue was imposing a close to proceedings at 22:15, instead of 22:30 as expected, and they were pretty firm about this. Come the end of the night it was quite literally over and out. This meant dropping a track from the set, which was a minor disappointment but didn't affect the night significantly.
As Jo left the stage, the guys took to their positions in front of the biggest gathering I have seen them play too. This was immensely satisfying in itself having seen the guys play to some pretty meager turnouts in the past, which is totally unjustified in my opinion. Tonight though, the auditorium was full and had a great feeling about it.
Just as things were about to kick off Mike, the band's frontman, encouraged the audience to come closer to the stage and to fill the area in front of it, which is great and lifts the energy in the room, but it does prove a bit of a problem for me. The Bedford doesn't have a backstage area, or transit paths other than the floor in front of the stage and the balcony above via a back staircase.
I already had a film crew to navigate around, and what was a clear path across the front of the stage was now filled with bodies. With all the obstructions it was difficult to get some of the shots and angels I would have preferred, and moving around was pretty tricky as I did not want to spoil the performance for anyone watching. The music and the crowd are the most important elements of the event, so I can't complain really, but it does make my life considerably harder when there's little space to work with.
The same can be said for the stage as well, which the band had all but filled in. There were a couple of tiny spaces that required careful timing to access without disrupting the band's flow, so all was not lost. Knowing the band as well as I do I am able to bob and weave around them to get closer, wider shots. It's these shots that make all the difference to the overall set, especially scenes at the rear of the stage which the audience cannot see.
True to form, the guys absolutely rocked it, unfortunately, my focus was elsewhere so it was difficult to focus in on the content of the new material, but to a casual listener, it did sound great and was well received. Having been witness to the rehearsals only 2 weeks before the gig (see blog post here) it was truly astounding to see how far the guys had come in so little time. On stage, the work seemed effortless, well, except for Dave who always looks like he's doing quantum physics calculations in his head despite his extraordinary abilities with a guitar.
A little surprise that had been thrown in (for myself included) was a duet with guest vocalist Serena Rose Zerri, a first in my time with the band. This being such a rare event it was essential I captured it, and it is just by a stroke of pure luck that I was in the right place at the right time, with an adequate lens attached to capture the moment.
Everything happens so quickly; the lighting conditions change constantly and people are always moving around so it's fair to say that there is always an element of luck mixed with judgment to capture great shots. This time it was far more luck than judgment; had I not been anywhere near the stage whilst a guest came and went it would have been catastrophic to the overall story of the night. I must make more of an effort to sniff out these little details before the gig begins so I can be more properly prepared and reduce the risk of missing important highlights.
One thing that I have little to no control over is the lighting. Provided there is adequate lighting on stage to see what's going on most of the time, the human eye is satisfied. For photography, however, it is a totally different story. The lighting for The Gift was totally different from Jo Quail's set which made processing the files extremely difficult. Blanket blues and reds are particularly difficult and have to be desaturated and manipulated to restore detail and contrast.
The white spotlights are great for breaking up the blocks of color, but due to their angle, they had the effect of casting strong shadows over the eyes giving an almost goth like appearance. Not ideal, and there was little I could do to counter it short of shooting with a flash, but this isn't my style.
On the other hand, there was smoke, and smoke always looks good! Catching it with the right lighting the background provides the perfect moody and atmospheric backdrop, but again this comes down to luck and timing. As the stage fogger was behind Leroy I was only really able to capture him in this setting, which is a shame, however, the results are pretty satisfying.
Having shot the band a number of times in different venues it would be very easy to get complacent and fall into a routine producing the same material. To this end, I am always looking for new and interesting ways to capture the action. At this gig capturing Mike's stance over the monitor with the lights beaming through the crowd was a new and unique series of shots for the portfolio that really captured the atmosphere of the night.
Despite the endless pursuit for something new, I still can't help trying to capture some tried and tested angles and compositions. Nothing is perfect, so I am always seeking to improve some existing shots with a better facial expression, a slight adjustment to the angle, better lighting, or a different depth of field to better a shot captured previously. This is part of the reason why I love this work and photography in general; every single photograph as it's own unique puzzle with unlimited solutions, you just have to find the right one for that moment in time.
This is definitely the case for both Neil (Drums) and Gabs (keys) as most of the time they are obscured by shadows which makes capturing a half decent crisp images extremely difficult. Drummers are especially neglected being positioned at the back of the stage, so when the opportunity presents itself, I work my way behind the band to capture some action on the skins. I'm always rewarded when shooting Neil as he has got the rock star look down to a T.
In my experience, keyboards aren't the most exciting thing to photograph. Let's face it, an individual standing/sitting in a dark corner in front of a Casio doesn't make for the most evocative image. I do hate to say it, but it can be said for Gab's also until he has his moment in the spotlight. The huge ballard'esk 'Tuesday's Child' brought the show to a close with his monster signature keytar solo that blows the stiffness of keyboards right out of the place.
Gabs dominates center stage grabbing the final three and a half minutes, thrashing the keys and demonstrating that the ivories can be rocked out just the same. From out of nowhere, a level of energy akin to the Chernobyl disaster erupts on stage which is always a nightmare to properly capture on camera. Here, the small stage became a blessing as I was able to get nice and close and get some wide action shots.
With the last notes still ringing in the air, it was time to take a bow and call time on a fantastic night of music, and a spectacular end of a long journey for the band. The new direction seems to have paid off with the tracks having a lot more punch and rock to them which easily get you up and moving.
If you were there I'd love to know what you think of the new music and photos. Have I done the night the justice it deserves? Drop your comments down below.
If you're still new to The Gift, don't worry, I've got you covered. Head over to their website here and check them out: www.thegiftmusic.com
Full image sets from the night can be found here.
For more information about Jo Quail, visit her Facebook page here.
Thanks for stopping by and sharing my experience. To keep up to date with future blog posts be sure to stop by my Facebook page and drop a like. I've also launched a brand new Instagram account dedicated to my event work, all support there would be truly appreciated!
Until next time, keep rocking! 🤘