Till Deaf Us Do Part

Continuing the Bandmates project, last week I donned the Lycra and went cycling with my good friend Richard (henceforth to be referred to as Boris).

Boris and I have a long history of making a racket in pubs with our guitars stretching all the way back to the mid 90s when we formed Blues Assembly, or Blues Academy as one pub advertised us, which made us sound like Rock School affiliates offering courses on waking up in the morning, fixing to die and trying to find your baby.

Our twin guitar assault, powered by the compact yet obscenely loud Mesa/Boogie MkIIb and MkIII respectively, was the scourge of many a landlord keen not to upset his neighbours with antisocial levels of noise after nightfall. The way we got around this was to turn the amps down for the sound check and then incrementally turn them back up throughout the night with a kind of simmer to a boil effect. To be fair to Boris he was, and still is, half deaf and so couldn’t be blamed for cranking it up as it was something of a necessity really and in my own defense, I was just trying to keep up.

Were we really that loud? Well, I remember one night looking up to see the audience all as far away from us as they could possibly get without knocking a hole in the back wall, all wearing a strange kind of grimaced look on their faces. I also remember playing at an outdoor beer festival and my wife returning from the park half a mile away to tell me that she could hear the guitars clear as a bell while she pushed our son on the swings. Then there was the time that Boris’s amp was set up on his ‘deaf’ side and he turned it up so loud that I thought I might faint at any moment. So, yes, we were probably that loud but, as I’ve stated in the past, nobody really minds loud so long as the band’s great, which we were.

These days Boris equally enjoys the sound of the air rushing by as he hurtles down dirt tracks on his mountain bike at a gazillion miles an hour. Never one to do things by halves, Boris.


The Air That I Breathe

I am ON FIRE with the Bandmates project at the moment. Today I was fortunate enough to be deep in the belly of The Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield photographing Phill Arnold who, as well as being and incredibly technically gifted drummer, works as a member of the maintenance team there. Phill and I played in a band with Russ Smith (of ‘The Grand’ fame) back in our college days when we were young and fresh faced. Well, Phill and Russ were anyway.

While we were shooting Phill was telling me all about the climate control system that he helps to maintain at The Hepworth, how it controls the air temperature and the humidity in the galleries above so as not to cause any damage to the many priceless works of art that they have on display. No pressure there then. The data collected can then be used to prove the gallery’s suitability to house future exhibitions, on loan from other galleries, however, the slightest deviation from the perfect climate can sometimes be cause for alarm bells on the donor’s side apparently, so again, no pressure there then!

So the next time you visit The Hepworth, and if you haven’t you really should, think of Phill and the pressure he’s under to prevent millions of pounds worth of art disintegrating to dust and try not to breathe your body temperature air out into the gallery space. Much appreciated, thanks.

Here you are Phill, a nice one for yer mum!




Those Were The Days

Been back on my Bandmates project recently. The latest shoot was with Neil Laird, a super talented bass guitarist who I used to be in Homegroan with.

We met up a) so that I could take Neil’s photo and b) so that I could give him a copy of a studio recording we made together almost 20 years ago. One of the great things about this project is that it allows me to re-establish old friendships and have a good catch up, find out what folks have been up to since we were last together. I also enjoy getting other people’s points of view on the bands we shared together, what made them work, why they didn’t succeed as well as we’d hoped, why I, they or another member left the band etc… I quite often learn something that I never realized at the time or find myself re-assessing my own point of view. Pretty much always I arrive at the conclusion that what seemed massively important at the time, in the grand scheme of things, really wasn’t.

Neil and I were both members of Homegroan at a time when things were getting serious for the band on a number of levels. Firstly, we were writing some great songs, finding our own voice and had become, musically, really tight. We had a ‘co-manager’ called Steve who had, allegedly, music industry connections. In the small pond that was/is Wakefield we were one of the bigger fish. Secondly, however, two of our number had become addicted to heroin during this time, something that both parties managed to successfully conceal, from myself at least, for the whole time we were in a band together, but which ultimately led to the demise of the band (both members are alive and well so far as we both know by the way).

Talking through all this with Neil, with the benefit of 20 years hindsight, was really interesting and enjoyable and it certainly put a lot of things into perspective. Although we were both in Homegroan together for a relatively short period of time (around 12 months I think) both our lives were altered for better and for worse by the choices we both made at the time under the intoxicating influence that being in a great band can place upon you. I don’t think either of us would change too much about the past but I think we’ve both taken what we learned by those experiences to make our present musical ventures all the more enjoyable.

I’m pleased to say that Neil is still playing in various bands for which he has purpose built his own rehearsal room/recording studio, where our shoot took place and where Neil played me some of the music he’s been involved in making over the last few years. There is Me And My Mates, a band that Neil performs in with his brother Alan, that, frankly, bamboozled me with the many musical twists and turns that get packed into each song and you can catch him performing with his other marvellously named metal band Clown at ‘An Evening to Celebrate the Music of Ian Smart’ on September 18th at Warehouse 23 in Wakefield.






I don’t usually have much time for nostalgia. I’ve spent far too much time in the past yearning for a return to what Springsteen would call my ‘Glory Days’ without ever realizing that those days were still ahead of me, which they still are of course. To paraphrase The People’s Front of Judea, what’s nostalgia ever done for us, apart from the aqueduct, the sanitation, the roads, irrigation, medicine, education, the wine, the public baths and public order? All its ever done really is impede our progress forwards through life by fooling us into thinking that the past is some kind of unreachable utopia in which everything was fantastic as we danced and sang, got drunk and got merry, and fell in love for the first time… What we tend to forget are the parts where we got so drunk and merry that we fell off the table we were dancing and singing on, twisted our ankle and chucked up on our shoes afterwards and that the object of our ever lasting love was a complete moron. Yep, nostalgia is an anchor that is, all things weighed up, a complete waste of time.

So why was it that when I stepped into Players Bar in Wakefield a few weeks ago, for the first time in over 20 years, that I felt… well, overwhelmed by nostalgia and (whisper it) a wee bit emotional? I had some great times there, I think, and played some great gigs there, I think, but it was hardly a place where life’s profundities would bloom into your consciousness on a nightly basis, creating pivotal moments of self-awareness to be embedded in your psyche forever and ever amen. It was just a place we went to make a racket and get pissed.

Back then ‘Players Snooker Club’ was what could charitably be described as a fucking dive. It was a hot, bright, summer’s night and I was almost 17 when I first ventured down its dirty stone steps into its even more dirty and dimly lit, hot, sweaty, subterranean belly. The smoke from my Marlboro cigarette (purposefully lit prior to entry in the vain hope of adding the 12 months or so I needed to be there legally) twisted and weaved its way upwards, contributing to the general haze that hung thick in what little air had followed us down there.

70s punk was blaring out of the speaker system as a couple of old school punks sat at the end of the bar drinking Newcastle Brown Ale from the bottle, troglodyte throwbacks from a more anarchic age. As my eyes adjusted and I peered into the abyss I began to make out the rest of Players Snooker Club’s clientele, a potentially volatile mix of assorted metal fans (heavy, hair, thrash and death), the aforementioned punks and, to my relief, indie kids in their familiar looking and less threatening checked shirt/corduroy trousers combo, some of whom I actually knew, thank god.

As I recall I spent most of the night sat on the floor behind the pool table hoping not to be spotted by the club’s owner, the not to be messed with Dave Carney, drinking the pint of lager that one of my older looking mates had bought for me. A kid who bore a striking resemblance to Eddie Van Halen came over and chatted to us. ‘How the fuck did he get in?’ he asked of my friend incredulously. I felt like my time there was going to be brief, especially when at one point a member of the bar staff came over collecting glasses and took a good look at the row of youthful cherubs in front of her. Then she said ‘the boss says that if you’re not drinking you can fuck off back to the youth club’. I remember feeling quite elated at this. I was 16, in a cool bar, at night, and I wasn’t going to get chucked out so long as I kept drinking.

If you lived in Wakefield, were 16 and played in a band then Players was the place you somehow had to get a gig at. You hadn’t earned your stripes unless you’d gigged at Players. I can’t remember the first time I played there but it was probably with Rich Tea Explosion or Lung Juice, supporting an older, more established, band, sometime around 1992. Later, with Homegroan, I played there quite a lot but, again, I can’t really remember any specifics. No one gig stands out as being more impactful than another – it was dark, the stage was about a foot tall, there were old beer crates to put your amps on but no in-house PA, Dave Carney used to bollock us for being too loud in sound check, you could charge on the door and play to no-one or play for free and perform to a full house, the toilets stank, the floor was sticky, the walls were wet from the heat generated by 100 or so kids drunkenly moshing to their mate’s band and at least one Nirvana song got covered at some point in the night pretty much describes every gig I played or saw there.

So, you see, the strength of emotion that I felt returning to Players after such a long time took me quite by surprise, as I couldn’t pinpoint any one moment that had left a lasting impression on me. I only knew that I had been there during a time in my life when I was trying to figure out who I was and what the fuck I was going to do with my life and that some vaguely important shit had happened along the way.

Tried to find some vintage Players footage on YouTube but, given that camcorders then weren’t as prevalent as smartphones are today, it’s not surprising that I couldn’t really find any. Above are a few videos that will give you an idea of what Players was like circa 1992-93. You can catch Two Man Cuppy at Players as part of Wakefield’s Long Division festival on Saturday 13th June, kick off at 2pm.


You might remember a blog I wrote a little while ago about my good friend Jonny Firth, Wakefield’s former answer to Keith Moon. I say former because Jonny put down his sticks a long time ago in favour of the electric guitar, upon which he’s been belting out his own particular brand of warped, howling, blues ever since, most recently with Crybabycry, a three piece band from Leeds/Wakefield.

Last Friday saw the launch of Crybabycry’s brilliant ‘Spin City’ EP at The Brudenell Social Club in Leeds, which I hasten to add was completely sold out thanks in no small part, I imagine, to the band’s relentless work ethic and social media presence. I’m not sure I know of another band that puts as much effort into promoting themselves (without label support it must be said) as Crybabycry do, so it was nice to see them reaping the rewards of their labour with a packed house to play to.

The gig itself was brilliant. It was a performance by a band who obviously work as hard in the rehearsal room as they do out of it. Heavy, visceral, intense and pummellingly loud riffage to rival anything that Fu Manchu ever wrote one minute followed by soft, hypnotic, soothing vocal melodies a la Nina Persson the next. Crybabycry play with extremes and they do it to great effect pulling their audience this way and that, lifting them up and bringing them down – to paraphrase Janis Joplin, I do believe Crybabycry were toying with our emotions… This was a group effort in which all three members achieved something much more impressive than individual brilliance, collectively transcending their own contributions to generate a truly electrifying performance.







Incapacitated, Ill-fated and In Love

The Grand are launching their debut album ‘Incapacitated, Ill-fated and In Love’ on May 24th at the legendary Players Bar in Wakefield, where they will be performing live for the lucky few punters that manage to get hold of tickets that will, before the month is out, be as rare and as prized as those sought by Charlie Bucket et al.

A few weeks ago I received a memo from Andy Jennings, head of The Department of Drums and Cymbals at The Grand, asking if I’d like to write a blog about said album to coincide with said album launch, which, naturally, I agreed to do. So, here I am and there you are, and as this is a blog and not a review as such I’m going to start at the very beginning. We’ll get to the album in a bit.

Before The Grand were The Grand they were Shakeshudder.

Around 2008, if I recall correctly, Shakeshudder had a bunch of fairly average indie rock tunes that didn’t really set them apart from any other local band of a similar ilk. It wasn’t offensive to the ear by any stretch, but then neither is the sound of cows mooing in a field. All was not lost, however, because Shakeshudder had one song entitled ‘Blue In My Heart’ (http://www.last.fm/music/Shakeshudder/_/Blue+in+my+heart) that was, by a country mile, the best song in their set. It must have been, because I listened to all of it, listened to all of it more than once – because I wanted to – and consequently committed it to memory.

Now I’m not usually given to remembering songs by average local indie rock bands, I mean, who is, aside from singer’s dad, A.K.A. the band’s manager, but this song managed to enter my lugholes, sneak beyond the security eardrum and the road manager cochlea and worm itself firmly into my backstage brain. I couldn’t stop singing the opening bass line to myself but, more importantly, the vocal line in the chorus stuck also, which is the absolute minimum requirement of any song if it is to instill the desire to hear it again.

In short, that one song showed that Shakeshudder could write a memorable tune (a towering achievement for an average local indie rock band and a major leap forwards in an unsigned band’s career, trust me) and that given time to develop they could break the bonds of averageness and become a good local indie rock band, the kind of band people would go see for reasons other than obligations of friendship, kinship or sexual relationship.

Sometime in 2010 Shakeshudder ceased to be. Along with the change of name came a certainty of purpose and an assuredness that comes to a band when they not only begin to write consistently good material but also consistently write better and stronger material, each song more accomplished than the last.

The Grand’s first EP (http://thegrandwakefield.bandcamp.com/album/the-grand), released that same year, showed that Blue In My Heart was no career defining high, no fluke, no anomalous tune that got caught in the net while the rest slipped through. In truth, it’s a cohesive yet transitional body of work. Across the six tracks echoes of Shakeshudder remained, predominantly in Tom Peel’s overdriven guitar, but the roots of certain other key, musical, lyrical and sonic themes, which would later come to define The Grand’s sound, can also be found here. It’s the sound of a band changing their wardrobe, finding out what’s new, what still fits and what’s off to the charity shop.

I was fortunate enough to be at the launch of The Grand’s second EP, ‘Harbour’, released in the December of 2011 (http://thegrandwakefield.bandcamp.com/album/harbour) and even more fortunate to witness them perform the title track during their soundcheck. I confess, until that night I hadn’t made the effort to go see them play live in quite some time, so it hit me even harder just how much better they had got in the 18 months since the release of their eponymous first EP.

What I heard was a huge stylistic and aesthetic departure from previous works. Most significantly, I believe, was the absence of the frenetic, overdriven, guitars that filled every available space on previous recordings and the introduction of a cleaner, more concise and considered, minimalist approach, allowing space for the tighter than tight rhythm section to breathe and the vocal melodies to shine. In a lot of ways it is this single change that makes Harbour the moment that The Grand became a unique proposition.

Incapacitated, Ill-fated and In Love picks up the baton where Harbour left off and, frankly, fucks off into the distance with it. Everything about this album is a step up and a step forwards. Tighter arrangements, bigger hooks, a higher level of sophistication in the production, greater lyrical depth, inspired performances… It is, in every sense, a far more accomplished and complete body of work that, much like all great works of art, inhabits its own space and time into which you are invited to delve as deep as your desire to explore the world created within will take you.

If The Grand’s first long player were a city it would probably look like Los Angeles, as seen in Ridley Scott’s 1982 classic sci-fi thriller, Blade Runner – epic, yet claustrophobic, all the while taking a pounding from an oppressively, hard, hard, rain. This dystopian world that The Grand have built of concrete monoliths under black, brooding, skies is inhabited by dark hearts, flawed characters and victims of circumstance, each living as best they can, or not at all, with whatever uncomfortable truths keep them awake at night.

Indeed, Incapacitated, Ill-fated and In Love is a brutally stark study in the frailties of the human condition, set against a backdrop of vice, lust, regret and failure, where folks get whatever they can get and guilty secrets are revealed like a film noir detective shining a flashlight onto the seedy underbelly of modern life. This is a city where the darkness on the edge of town has spread inwards, enveloping every neon lit circus and side street in its wake, seeping in through the cracks of a million bedroom windows to induce feverish dreams in those who sleep therein.

And yet, there is also hope to be found in the cruel, long forgotten, corners of this world, in the sense that for every silver lining there is a dark cloud. Even in the most desperate of times love can be found in the lowest of places, albeit an imperfect love shared by imperfect lovers. Fears can be overcome in the face of the most certain of ugly fates, so long as the courage to imagine a better outcome is not crushed by them, and, even if it comes too late, weak men can be forgiven their trespasses if they truly seek redemption.

Lead vocalist and bassist, Russ Smith has, quite simply, the most unique voice in popular music since John Fogerty and he uses it to give voice perfectly to the players in this bleak crucible of futility. Howling, straining, wrestling with every line as it fights back, struggling against its own difficult birth, you can almost see the tendons prominent in Smith’s neck as he delivers each nuanced syllable of each and every word. On the opening lines of ‘I Don’t Want To Make You Happy, I Want To Make You Cry’ when he sings ‘Last night I slept, bruised and twisted in your arms/Loneliness crept, trailing her fingers through the dark’ and the lines that follow you know that our protagonist is one unfortunate, tortured, bastard but you know also exactly how tortured by virtue of the authenticity of the performance.

Lyrically, Smith explores the theme of dysfunctional love, doomed to failure, on pretty much every track where tides of betrayal sweep the powerless away, lovers become unwilling voyeurs in the breakdown of their own relationships and the harsh realities of the godless apocalypse in which they find themselves living brings them to an emotional and moral breaking point. If that all sounds a little too intense for you do not worry, the music itself will keep you well away from the brink, it being the sound of the melodic, infectious, intelligent and irresistible synergy between three people who are quite obviously meant to be making music together. Have a listen to Love Will Tear Us Apart again and tell me that after hearing that performance by those four musicians you still don’t feel some level of euphoria, in spite of the lyrical content.

At this point you may be imagining something akin to Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem For A Dream meets The National’s Trouble Will Find Me meets Ryan Adam’s Heartbreaker and you wouldn’t be a million miles away in terms of the multiple narratives that run through all three with rarely a happy ending between them. However, the saving grace here is that you will not care how bleak things seem to get because, like all three, Incapacitated, Ill-fated and In Love is a complex, engaging and thought provoking work that will have you returning for another hit, another crack at peeling back the layers and another attempt to reconcile that which you know to be true of the human condition with the unpalatable truth that it all might just apply to you, time after time after time.

Yes, Incapacitated, Ill-fated and In Love is thematically challenging and, no, it isn’t Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes, but to paraphrase Julian Casablancas, interviewed for the NME shortly before the release of Is This It, they’re ‘young, good looking and the music’s fucking great’.



Let’s Dance 2

February 28th saw the second ‘Let’s Dance for the NSPCC’ event held at Horbury Academy. Last year Let’s Dance raised around £10,000, which is an impressive amount whichever way you look at it. This year, incredibly, that amount was surpassed with nonchalant ease, like Mr Bean gliding past the peloton on his pushbike complete with shopping basket on the front, raising a whopping £16,000 to help vulnerable and disadvantaged children across the region.

For the second year running I was there to document the event and for the second year running I thoroughly enjoyed overcoming (or at least trying to!) the technical and logistical aspects of such a hectic shoot. I also managed a little socializing with a couple of small beers and some cake so it wasn’t all go you’ll be relieved to hear.

While shooting I had one eye on capturing the event as honestly as I could so that I could present the NSPCC with a bunch of images that would reflect the true nature of the evening, that it was a fun and exciting night charged with energy and anticipation – which it was. However, I also couldn’t resist taking the odd shot here and there for myself that, while being no less an accurate document of the nature of the evening, presented a slightly different narrative on the events that unfolded as the night progressed. I’ve posted some of the former on my FB page and below you will find some of the latter.

Thanks for reading.







Blame It On The Boogie(men).

It was a big responsibility, being a Boogieman, and not one to be taken lightly, as lead singer of The Boogiemen, Jim Pitchforth, well understood. There were birthday boys/girls, wedding parties and charity event attendees that needed entertaining, whether they want to be entertained or not, in some cases. As the frontman it was Jim’s sole raison d’être to get the party going, to rouse everyone, young and old, into letting go of their inhibitions and shaking it down on the dance floor – a serious business. However, Jim bore these responsibilities with a certain degree of irreverence, often to the delight of myself and my fellow Boogiemen, after all, its supposed to be fun, playing party tunes, right? If the band don’t have a laugh and enjoy themselves how can the punters be expected to do the same?

My personal favourite ‘Jim’ moment was during the breakdown of Blame It On The Boogie, the bit that goes ‘I just can’t, I just can’t, I just can’t control my feet’, in which Jim would be whisked away across the dance floor as if being carried against his will by his suddenly disobedient, unruly, rebellious feet. In that one moment, which had me laughing till I cried every single time without fail, Jim quite often broke down the invisible barrier between the audience and the dance floor. If he could make himself look a little bit silly then so could they. It helped that the band and the set list was great too but much of the credit should be given to Jim.

Jim is still entertaining the masses, as crooner extraordinaire Jamie Forth, and he’s available for birthdays, weddings, bar mitzvahs etc… armed with his silky smooth baritone and a whole bunch of easy listening classics. Recently I did some promotional shots with a very dapper looking Jim, one of which you can see below. Thanks for reading.




Cum On Feel The Noize!

Here’s a pic from the latest MJW Amps shoot. This particular amp rocks like a good ‘un. For those of you that are into such things, its somewhere between a Vox AC30 and a Marshall Lead and Bass 20, the kind of amp you just crank up and start playing, and glorious it sounds when you do. Just one more session to go and the new MJW website will be one step closer to completion. Exciting times!


For Your Eyes Only

I never really intended for these shots to be put on public display, it being a test shoot and all, but, having revisited them for the first time since the shoot in early December, there’s aesthetically something about them that I quite like, despite the shonky looking gaffer-taped background, the suspended ceiling and the lighting stands that are all clearly visible. Or maybe its because of all those things that I like these shots enough to share them with you? Anyways, hope you like them too. Thank you to the lovely ladies at Rainbow Pole Fitness for taking part.