Paul, I wanted to have a quiet Sunday……

Here I was having a quiet Sunday, and Mr Cecil decided otherwise.  He had to post a blog on gig images, knowing full well if he’d been goaded into it, then I would be too.  Just had to happen.  So here goes.

It all started off with either and old school mate, Jim, asking me to photograph his birthday as he was having a few hands on – Jim was my gig buddy as a teenager – or it was another mate asking me to photograph his son’s band as they were playing in Leeds.  Dunno which way around it was as I’ve ‘purged’ the images of Jim’s birthday in a moment of fat finger.  I’m sure I could find them somewhere but I can’t be bothered plugging in one of the backup disks.  So we will start with the band Lunar, who came from Manchester, but like millions of bands that came before them no longer together.

The birthday pics may have come first but this was definitely the first time I photographed at an actual venue that had a stage with lights and everything.  Sum total of kit – a Canon 50D and a fifty fifty, which I still have.  This was taken in 2016 so not that long ago really.  The strange feeling I had about this was I could seemingly wonder anywhere as I had a camera.  Nobody stopped me and I was just ballsy enough to just walk round like I owned the place.

Next one was rather random.  I was working down in London again and on my way back to my digs.  I got off the train at Richmond and had a walk down the river to Kingston, a way of getting some exercise and sanity after a day in the City.  I ended up in a pub by the river in Kingston and by chance a band were playing and by chance I had a camera in my bag.  Again minimal – a 500D with the same 50mm lens as I was travelling light.   

The band, Follow the Crows, were an Irish folk band, based in London and were great.  It was also nice to get a free gig when I would have been happy with a pint that evening.

Jim then volunteered my services, as friends do, to Chunk the venue where he had his birthday bash the year before and I got involved in my first all-day festival.  Chunk wasn’t really a gig venue as such but a rehearsal studio and music collective right at the core of the grass roots music scene in Leeds.

What I quickly had to adapt to was the appalling lighting conditions, but on the bright side you were very much involved in everything.  It was the polar opposite to ‘3 songs, no flash’.  Flash wouldn’t have gone down well, but shoot as much as you like.  And from this you could capture the essence of what Chunk and grass roots music is about.

Jonathan singing here used a leg from a toy doll to cover up his microphone as he often bites it during his set, but when he’s not chewing baby’s legs he can put down a decent tune too…

Chunk also gave me my first opportunity to talk to bands and photograph them while they weren’t playing.  Here’s the band Chambers doing an impromptu photo shoot for me and tbh I was crap, I wasn’t prepared for that at all, lost the ability to speak and proved that I genuinely can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.

Chambers did put on an awesome set that night and to this day remain of of my favourite bands but again are one that soon parted ways I think because of musical differences.   If you want a proper kick ass tune, check out Disappear by Chambers.  It’s on Spotify and Apple Music, so it’s probably everywhere.

This is still one of my favourite gigs, very close and absolutely mental.

Everything comes to and end however, and Covid put an end to Chunk, or at least their home for the past few years and they had to pack up as nobody wanted to commit to another multi-year contract on the rent given what was going on in the world.  I did a portrait session one night for one of the bands based at Chunk.  It was supposed to be done in an old church, but changed venue right at the last second to Chunk as it was only up the road from the initial place.  It was done just as we had a tiny break in the middle of lock down and then we were all packed away again for another few weeks.  When I got there we did the shoot, but I could hear someone in one of the rehearsal rooms on drums and someone else in another room on bass, and it was just like old days.  Even that bit of live music was heaven after been in lock down for so long.  That night I took the opportunity to take the very last picture of Chunk with my mates Steve and Sarah sat on the last pile of stuff that was been taken out of the building.  The keys went back to the landlord that night.

Lighting has always been a challenge at these events and normally you just have to go with it and capture what you can, sometimes ending up with black and white as that’s all that will work, sometimes ending up with wonderful colours, and sometimes just the unexpected.

Ultimately you just have to shoot what it is in front of you.   To prove a point I not so long ago got to go to the famous Balne Lane club to shoot a band there and to say I was underwhelmed by the lighting was an understatement.

But then magic moments happen, he’s Simon the father of one of the singers I know getting ‘cleansed’ by Paul the front man of Bunkerpop, a band who I can only describe as an 80’s house party and a mid-life crisis all in one.

Once you have shot a few gigs though you realise good light is only a footstep to the side and a stop of under exposure away from what the light meter says you should do.

Gig photography is all about capturing not just a moment of history, but also the mood in the room.  Here’s the band Thank giving one of their usual exuberant performances

And the mischief in Freddy’s eyes here tells you everything you need to know

There are moments of utter joy….

Moments where the band are utterly overwhelmed, here’s Knuckle playing to a 3000+ crowd their biggest gig ever, they normally play to 100-ish people.  I was at the back of the stage as they finished their set.

You can see in this one how exhausted they look, especially the drummer Ben (middle).

As Paul has said, with grass roots music you get to capture people during their early years and sometimes you get to watch them grow.  This is the band Terror Cult at their first gig.  The bass player, Ben, is too small to fit in the same frame as the drummer Alex so I suggested the band hold their arms out and they hold him.  I had scenes where Marilyn Monroe was held gracefully by tall strong men in my mind when I suggested this, but Ben here is a bit more solid and graceful it was not – made a good photo though.

Terror Cult sound like they would be a noise metal band, but they are a bit more light hearted than that, more like Weezer – check out Snubnose Jesus or Artbreeder which is very Nirvana-ish.  Both on all major streaming platforms.

Occasionally you do get to photograph someone famous.  Here’s my one of my Toyah photos

And sometimes you even get to meet your heroes, despite the advice not to.  For me the Dead Kennedy’s have to be close to the top of my list.

Gig photography is great, and very connected.  This one takes me right back to the beginning of my history with gigs.

This is a band called CUD, who I used to go see when I was a teenager.  I probably saw them the first time when I was 16 with my mate Jim.  They got back together again a few years back and are now touring again and this photo is from one of those gigs.   I have found out recently that the guitarist Mike is my niece’s deputy head at her school, and she simply cannot imagine him ever been cool, even though she is in a band herself.

Bands and everything about them are just weird.  Fun, but weird.  

Published in Member Blogs
  1. Wow Shaun, that’s pretty impressive. Most of the bands are unknown to me so I may hunt around and listen to some. It’s weird how so much is available now at the click of a mouse. The Dead Kennedys is super cool and takes me back a few decades! I really like the Treeboy image, and I like what you do with the final Bunkerpop shot… a classic live image. And documenting the end of Chunk… those things are important in the local histories of music. I almost didn’t recognise Toyah! Anway, apologies for wrecking your Sunday afternoon. But a big thanks for sharing some great images and stories.

    • Thanks Paul. Cool that you recognised Treeboy. The drummer Isaac, I sat next to his aunt while I worked at Yorkshire Water. Have a dig around as there are some cool bands on here.

  2. Great story and some music history, Shaun and for the record there was no goading just a polite request 😜

    • Thanks Jayne – but you know my will power has the breaking strain of a kit-kit when it comes to posting gig images. Glad you like them 🙂

  3. Love this Shaun and great images. Rock on!

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