Music's Unsung Heroes- Part Two
WITH musicians getting a lot of credit- and being at the forefront of attention- I was keen to highlight those behind the scenes: the managers, labels (photographers and venues) that promote new music; work tirelessly- to get great music to you.
Pat McGuire- Music Photographer
Hi Pat. For those unaware of your (good self), tell us a bit about where you came from/what you do?
I'm originally from a small town in North Lanarkshire called Viewpark- which is half-way between Bellshill and Uddingston. All 3 towns (and North Lanarkshire in general) were a hotbeds for bands in the early ‘80s when I was a teenager. I was involved in a few myself until the mid-90s when I kinda dropped out of music and started doing "normal" jobs (and raising my family). In fact for maybe 10 years I didn't even go to gigs or buy much music at all. Then around 2011 my wife bought be an entry level D.S.L.R. as she knew I was bored with my job and needed a creative outlet. I had shot on 35mm film cameras in the early ‘90s and studied design and photography for a while- so it only took a week or so for me to get back into photography.
By this time I had moved into Glasgow so I knew that there were lots of venues and bands out there and a bit of a vibe going on as usual. But I was still outside the loop.
Initially I was just shooting abstracts and architecture and just walking around the city. I got into street photography for a while too as a kind of therapy to de-stress from my boring day-job. But then I did some pictures of a friend's acoustic set (at a gig in town) and after that I was asked to cover a 4 -and fundraiser by some friends from my workplace.
After that it escalated quickly: I got hooked on doing live band photography and started getting back into music in a big way again. But I think one of the turning points for me was bumping into an old friend of mine outside my house one day. Duglas from The BMX Bandits. He was playing at the Oran Mor all-day-er so I asked him for a photo pass and he arranged it for me. I turned up expecting just to be doing shots of The Bandits but the pass was for the whole event- so I got to photograph a lot of bands, including Fatherson (who have just recently signed a record deal ) The Twilight Sad; of course The BMX Bandits, and a few others. I think this was 2011 but I'd need to check my photo gallery for the exact dates as my memory is pretty bad.
So after that people like Duglas (and other friends I knew from the ‘80s and ‘90s) were still playing. So he was a bit of a catalyst for me to start approaching people (for photo passes and getting to shoot at gigs). It's really thanks to him and people like him that I got a portfolio together and the confidence to do live band and promotional photography.
So now I just keep doing live band photography and sometimes write gig reviews too. Essentially I owe it all to my wife and my friend Duglas.
Currently I'm working with a few up-and-coming bands. Have had some of my work featured in national and local press and online, have done some cover shots for a C.D. - The Beat Movement "Another Piece of The Puzzle". I have another record cover in the pipeline right now too but I can't talk about it too much as yet. I've also shot and had press for bands like Sleaford Mods (N.M.E. used one of my pictures of them. But the band are mates of mine now so I had lots of access) who are supporting The Who at Hyde Park this weekend (and playing Glastonbury too). I have slow weeks and busy days, sometimes I'm booked for too many gigs and other times I'm sitting about wondering if I'll actually be doing any photo work at all. But anyone who does live music reviews or photography has to get used to that. What we do is always a bit of a stop/start occupation. But the pros outweigh the cons in my opinion.
Based out of Glasgow- and knowing many great bands from the area- what is the music scene like? Are you seeing a lot of promising acts coming through?
I am seeing lots of great bands playing a lot of gigs and making a lot of music yes, but as to "coming through"; if that means getting recording deals or being able to actually make a full time career out if it I'd say no. But that is where the 'Arts' in general and music in particular are right now. Fatherson recently got a deal and they have been playing and touring and working day jobs for ages. Likewise Gerry Cinnamon has got signed too, but it wasn't like in the movies. One gig and someone gives you a deal. He played his arse off and also did and still does open mic. nights (at The Priory on Sauchiehaul St., used to be Wednesday nights but now it's on a Thursday as of this week). You have to put the work in and be good (and have songs to even have half a chance at getting anywhere now). The days of breakthrough bands are over and the music scene has to adapt. The music "industry" too, but right now the industry is still making too much capital on legacy bands (or established acts to care).
Photographing some great bands- and having done so for many years- any particular acts/moments stand out in the mind?
Well...while I'm 46-years-old and have only really been doing live band stuff for 4 years, I've had to catch up a lot with other photographers (who are either younger than me and have more energy), or the folk who are the same age as me (but have been at it for longer) - which is a bit of a challenge as there are some very fine photographers out there. But to answer the question...loads! Act/bands-wise I have a few favourites of course, but any band that is playing live and giving it a go even if the venue is not as full as it should be get a lot of respect from me. I've taken some shots that blew me away when I looked at them the next day and then remembered that the venue had more bar staff than fans; but the band played the same as they did (a month later with 400 people) and the front rows going mental. That takes a lot for a musician/singer/group to do and I've been there myself so I understand that if your audience is me- with a camera and 5 pals- it might not be the best gig of your life. But if you play it like you mean it, I'll try to get you some nice images.
Universal Thee are a case in point. They came over to Glasgow for a gig once (and the gig wasn't as full as it should have been). But they were excellent as usual. Then not too long ago they played at Nice ‘n’ Sleazy and had the comedian Phil Kay dancing about like a maniac in the crowd.
But I'm rambling as usual...so favourite acts/moments include but are not limited to...Stu West (bass player from The Damned) - He gave me shots while I was stuck at the right-hand of the stage and everyone was shooting Captain Sensible and Dave Vanian on the left (in the photo pit at the O2 ABC, you get first three songs then chucked out; usual rules for medium to large venues). He must have felt sorry for me and came over so I could get some images :)
Also Gerry Cinnamon at King Tuts last year when he was over the barrier and the faces in the crowd are all just staring up at him.
Lyall Mooney of The Beat Movement (at Nice n Sleazies a few months ago) was another good one. He is a guitar hero in the classic sense and we are pals- through me shooting the band a lot. He gave me a classic shot and knew to let me get a few while he was doing his thing so I'd have options later on. He wasn't posing as such. He plays his guitar the same way all the time and is very mobile. I think after a year or so of seeing my shots he trusted me to capture a nice shot.
I could literally go on and on but any band or singer or player or whatever that just does their thing with passion enthuses me and makes me want to get a great shot of them. My main ethos is to try to get shots that I like first, the band or act like too and that show them as they want to be seen.
Musicians get a lot of glory. For those wanting to go into band/live photography, what advice would you offer?
Don't expect any glory at all. Or much money either. It's the bands and musicians that people pay good money to see. Not a guy with a camera who got in for free. If the band and the fans of the band like your pictures then you are doing it right. After that you can look forward to maybe getting a mention now and then. But from the point of view of a new photographer I'd suggest asking a mate's band if you can do some shots live and at rehearsals just to get the practice. After you get confident you can approach bands you don't know and show them your previous work. Approach venues and clubs, use social media and email. You need to build on your portfolio and keep doing it to get better at it.
Don't worry about equipment too much: my camera gear is less than professional but it does the job. The main thing is to use what you have and do the best work you can. Also get used to rejection. You won't always get a photo pass so just move on to the next one. Don't be afraid to email a band directly (easy to do with social media). You might be lucky and they might say yes. But if they say no, accept it and move on to the next one. Bands need good live and promo. shots and if you can do work you will start to get asked directly to cover gigs.
Also, this is the big one: be nice. Sounds easy but I know bands that will point-blank refuse a pass to a photographer who maybe annoyed them during sound-check (or by emailing them 3 times a day for a pass). Even if that person does good work, the band don't need to have to worry about a photog being a plonker. I'm lucky in that people tend to like me (after they get over how scary I might look). I try to keep conscious that the gig is for the band and their fans, and I'm there to try and get some nice pictures.
Using that approach, which comes naturally to me, I end up becoming friends with a lot of the bands I've covered. Most bands are nice people too so it kinda works out. So yes, don't be a plonker, practice a lot and do the best work you can with the gear you have and the lighting the venue uses and so on.
You clearly have a huge passion for music: what motivated you to become a photographer?
I covered part of this in question 1. But for live band photography I think I used to read lots of weekly or monthly music magazines- even before I played in bands myself. Pictures of Joy Division or The Jam or The Clash always seemed to look exactly as the bands sounded. I'd spend just as much time looking at the photos as reading the gig/single/L.P. reviews or interviews. So many years later this has influenced how I try to make my photographs look. If I can I play some music from the band whose pictures I've taken when I'm working on my shots the next day.
But the other reason is bands are cool. Middle-aged photographers like me are not. I get to re live my youth, see some cool bands playing and do pictures of them. I love doing street photography and abstracts too, but I still get a buzz when I'm shooting a live band. I sometimes feel nervous too and get the shakes. But then the band starts and I start shooting and my nerves disappear. Within 30 seconds or so I'm too busy doing my stuff to worry anymore. It's almost as if I'm playing the gig but not if you know what I mean?
In terms of capturing that ‘perfect image’ what would you (defines it); is it a particular moment or something else entirely?
I don't know if I have as yet captured a perfect live band image. I'm still working on it. I'm working with and against my own limitations all the time. But essentially music is all about emotion. So if an image emotes in the viewer's mind and they get an idea of what the band sounds like and are about, then that would be close to perfect. Saying that, what you or I or even the band think is mediocre, the fans might think is brilliant and vice versa. It's all subjective I guess.
Of all the (great acts) coming through, which would you recommend? Who are the finest acts coming through?
Loads. Really too many to mention but right now I really like The Beat Movement, The Blue Lena's, Universal Thee (of course) Jamie and The Giants, Gerry Cinnamon; a cracking new band from Manchester called Alias Kid. A Math-Rock band called Lamina; Lola in Slacks are great as well. Too many to mention really and I've probably missed out a few (and they will email me shortly and pull me up) :)
On that subject, what/which music/musicians influenced you? Which albums are especially important?
Since playlists and computers happened I tend not to listen to albums from start to finish the same way as we used to. But when I do I'd say things like all the L.P.s by The Jam or The Who- as they seemed to be track-listed to be a journey or a story. The La's by The La's became influential to me though maybe 20 years after it was initially released- just because of where I was at the time and what was happening in my life. I loved it when it first came out, but it became more relevant to me as a 40-year-old than a 20-year-old for some reason.
At the same time The Jam and Joy Division kinda cover both ends of the same thing that I can relate to as well. It's actually a difficult question to answer and my answers may be different depending on what day or week I answer it too. I'll need to ask my wife to be honest ;)
Knowing acts like Universal Thee- who recommended you- Scotland is producing some tremendous talent. What is about the country- as opposed to other parts of the U.K.- that produces such unique talent?
Scotland is producing excellent bands and talent in general. But I actually think that the entire country is- well outside London and the "music industry" anyway. I'd say that Manchester or even Nottingham is just as vibrant with new bands as Scotland is. I feel that bands outside London have to work that wee bit harder to get anywhere (and that creates a filter that forces bands to decide if they are doing it for the right reasons), or if they should be playing weddings and functions instead (nothing wrong with those types of bands by the way.... ) So the end result is that groups and bands form and split up and then form new groups (until they get it right musically), but still they have to slog from gig to gig and try somehow to keep a full time job to support their music. That means that to be into playing music you really need to be "into" it. The days of the big record deal are over. The music industry is stuck in nostalgia mode (with a few exceptions) new groups have to adapt and work so much harder now than ever before . But if you don't give it a go, you won't get anywhere so you need to keep going.
So yeah, I've totally not answered the question as I don't really see Scotland as being any different culturally or musically as the rest of the country (apart from London of course ;) )
As you work so hard- and continue to photograph the best and brightest- name any song… and I’ll play it here.
Tiger Tiger - Universal Thee. Seen play it live a few times and this video is lovely too.
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The Dutch Guy- Music Blogger/D.J.
Hi (The) Dutch Guy. For those new to you- or unaware- tell us a bit about yourself; how you got started.
I've been a fast-moving radio personality for 20+ years, starting of as a baby D.J. on a pirate radio station here in Holland- only to become 'The Dutch Guy' on an oldies station in Dallas Tx., U.S.A. years later. During those years, my love for music just grew stronger and stronger and I would play independent music whenever I could and was allowed to.
In 2011, I lost my last radio gig and decided to devote my time to promoting these hot and upcoming independent artists (and bands through my blog). Because, let’s face it, there's so many great music out there, but the mainstream media outlets simply won't pay any attention to these artists. So, I like to think I'm doing my little part, in my own 'unique' way...
We know- have reviewed and adore- Ellene Masri. You take a lot of time to promote the women of new music: how important do you think it is to do that (in an industry where men get a bigger say)?
It does seem that I'm promoting the independent sisters more than the brothers. But to be honest, I don't pick and choose. When I hear something that I personally dig, I like to run a feature on it. It's about the talent and their music, not their sex or looks...
Having been in the business- reviewing and radio- for over 20 years, what keeps driving your passion; how do you find the energy to keep going strong?
It's hard at times, I'm not gonna lie. I've been taking time off (line) twice since I'm running the blog. But I always keep an eyeball out for new music and that's what keeps me going, the music! Whatever is going on in my personal life, it's the music that always finds a way to pick me up again (and show off those dance spasms) I'm known for whenever I dig a tune. Thank god webcams weren't around when I was still doing radio, ha!..
Bloggers and D.J.s are slightly unsung- when the musicians get a lot of credit. For those wanting to follow in your footsteps, what would you say to them?
Don't do it because you want to be the next hot blogger or D.J. Do it because of YOUR love for music. The music business is nasty and people will just use you or burn you to the ground when they are done with you. Sure, I've made awesome friends in the process, but I also got used by artists, big time!
Do it for the music, do your own thing; come up with something that sets you apart. Don't do it for the fame, the so-called credits, the quick cash or the numbers of visitors/followers.
Don't expect your blog or show to become an overnight success: it's hard work! Pick a schedule and stick with it. Sure, you can change or try things, but overall, stick to the schedule, so people know when to expect your new stuffs. Don't over-promote yourself; promote the music. Do an ego-check at the virtual door; don't expect anything and be grateful to the ones who do show you love, one way or another.
I never paid any attention to my website hits, or when I was doing radio to my listener stats. People usually don't believe me or find it strange, but the way I see it, even if there's only one visitor or listener who digs the music I'm promoting, my job is done! It's about the artists/bands, not me... Sure, I'm having me some fun in the process, sure, it's nice to know that people dig what I'm doing, but that's it. Nothing more, nothing less...
Your website is incredible; your interview style is causal and unique. You have a real bond (with those you interview/feature). How important is it to not only connect with the music, but the person/people behind it?
Thank you for your kind words about my website, but it's just plain lame. I never got around to really spice things up . On the other hand, like I said before, it's about the music, not me. So, less is definitely more! But I do plan on launching a brand spanking-new website in the (near) future.
As for my writing skills, I got none. I'm not a real journalist or blogger. I can give you plenty of names who are better, more professional than me. I do like to use my own words, and that is what sets me apart, I think. Whenever I use the word 'schweet' for example, people keep pointing out that I wrote it the wrong way. I know I did, but it's one of those little things that makes me, well me. But in the end, It's about the music of the artist/band I'm promoting- and I like to let their music do the talking for me.
I do like to have a bond with the artists I promote, or with the ones who visits my website for that matter- makes writing a feature that much easier when you know what makes a person tick. 'Cause let’s face it, most journalists/bloggers ask the same questions over and over again and I'm the kinda guy who likes to know what the last furry thing was they've touched. Twisted/sick? Maybe, but the answers are usually funny as hell :)
In terms of all your interviewees/musicians, who have impressed you most in 2015?
Don't think I can answer this one. First, I haven't done many 'Wednesday Q&A's' this year and second, I absolutely dig each and every artist/band I've featured on my blog. So, take your pick J
You have your ear to the ground: any big music tips for this year; particular acts we should seek out?
Depends on which genre you like. I almost dig any genre, with a strong love for Soul and Funk. But I can go absolutely bananas on a Folk track as well. But Well-Known Strangers is one of my hottest finds this summer. Just peep the Q&A I did with them & their stuffs and you'll understand why...
You are based out of Holland. What is the music scene like there? Any great Dutch acts coming through?
It's funny how many times I get this question. It's even funnier when I see/hear their reaction when I tell them I don't pay much attention to the Dutch scene. I usually don't care about my national scene. Can't explain why, it simply is. But I do have a few that I absolutely dig and really have high hopes for, Jerusa (Pop), Secret Rendezvous (Electro-Soul), M.C.Melodee (Hip-Hop) and Rouge United (Rock)
You are a busy man; you never stop working. What does the rest of the year hold for you? Any new plans/ventures?
Plenty of plans, but with me changing 'day jobs' (to an over-the-road truck-driver to provide for my family), doesn't leave me with much time to finally launch the things I've been cooking up for some time now. Some people think I get paid to do what I do, but I don't. So, until I land a sponsor (or two), things aren't going as the way I planned it.
But with that being said, a new website will come and I eventually will launch the weekly YouTube show I've been working on; to take my independent music promotion to the next level. After that, I might even do a radio show again, who knows.
But it all comes down to time, money and my family. So, I do know how it's like to be independent, whether you're an artist or a promoter like me, it is hard work to do what you love to do!
As you work so hard for musicians- and have such passion, name any song- new or old, and I’ll play it (on here).
My list goes on and on, so I like to choose a song that hopefully will inspire people to keep following their dreams, whatever that might be. When I was a baby D.J. on a Dutch pirate radio station, I wanted to be on a U.S. radio station, and in the end, I did for years. I want to take my Indie music promotion to the next level, and I will succeed. It will take some extra time, but it will happen.
'Cause one of my radio gurus, Scott Shannon, once said: 'If you’re willing to work hard enough, you’ll accomplish whatever the hell you want to. All you really need is focus and determination; the rest is up to you.'…
With that being said: Journey - Don't Stop Believin'
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