Saturday, 17 September 2011

John Grant - Royal Festival Hall 7 Sept 2011

It's been way too long since I last shot a gig for Ragged Words... it's been a bit of quiet summer, not having been to any festivals this year either. My first gig for them after the summer 'break' was a bit of a blinder. John Grant was sublime when I photographed him earlier this year at Shepherds Bush Empire, so the stakes were high, especially as Midlake, the band who played on last years 'Queen Of Denmark' were playing with him and at one of my favourite venues.

Mr Grant & co did not disappoint. Not only that, they fully surpassed even my high expectations.

The thunderous applause that greeted him was huge, although nothing compared to the standing ovation at the end. He opened with two new tracks from his forthcoming album, warning the audience that they were really big downers. After the first 7 or 8 minute song (beautiful but yes, depressing) he sang the next accompanied only by his own piano playing. "This one makes that last one sound like zippedy do dah" he quipped. 

After he bought out Midlake the tempo picked up as they launched into songs from last years Queen of Denmark. The set was also interspersed with solo tracks from his days as The Czars frontman. The other thing that I love about John Grant (apart from the songs of course) is his wicked sense of humour, mostly at his own expense. Not only is there great humour running through his lyrics ("I feel like Winnona Ryder, in that movie about vampires and she couldn't get that accent right and neither could that other guy" never fails to make me smile) but between songs we are also treated to stories about working with Midlake and when he first met the band... "Now when I first met Tim I thought he was an asshole... turns out, I'm the asshole" followed a song later by "Now when I first met Paul, I thought he was an asshole..." I love hearing him speak almost as much as the songs.

The highlight of the night is undoubtedly the main set closer 'Queen of Denmark' so perfect it took your breath away. With three Midlakers working the same drum kit the sound was incredible. As they played the last note there was a second of silence before the entire hall was on it's feet, clapping and cheering. Spine tingling stuff indeed and one of my personal highlights of 20 years of gig going. Ten out of ten & then some.

I was the only photographer shooting support band Lanterns On The Lake. I never understand why, if you have a pass to shoot the whole gig, you don't turn up for the support. It's quite common for photographers to be at the gig in time & just not bother in fact. Now, I understand the publication they're shooting for may not require them to, but I always think it's worth it. Who knows, they could become The Next Big Thing or the headliner could come out for a guest spot, or as in the case of Lanterns On The Lake, you could discover that they are an amazing band, and who would want to miss out on seeing that?

I was seriously impressed, this was their biggest UK show to date & I'm glad I was there to witness & capture it. The Royal Festival Hall is perfect for these bands, the acoustics capture the sound of a solo voice, every note of piano or violin, every breathy word. Lanterns On The Lake have a very delicate post rock/chamber pop sound... no wonder they've been the darlings of the summer festival circuit this year.

They have a couple of EPs out, and their full length debut for Bella Union 'Gracious Tide, Take Me Home has just been released. I for one can't wait to hear it & I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the pass to shoot them supporting Yann Tiersen at the Roundhouse next month comes through.

All in all then, one of the best gigs I've ever had the pleasure to be at... this is what live music should be. For the full set of photos, click the link to the Ragged Words site here...

Glad I remembered not to wear a skirt for this gig (all seated gigs with low stages are awkward to shoot) but I really should fashion some jeans with serious padding as the low stage requires 15-20 minutes per set, scuttling about on your knees. By the end of the gig, my thigh muscles were really burning... maybe I need some gym sessions to go with those knee pads?

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