Dec 062013

In her continuing series on the life of a pit photographer, Julie Thompson reports on an extremely busy week, taking in Withered Hand, Charles Latham and Dear Lara at The Tunnels, Toxik Ephex  Downstairs @ The Malt Mill, Pallas , Hellhouse, The June Brides, and Stanley over two nights at The Moorings, Sweet and Slade at The Music Hall, and resumes her chat with Matt Jolly, in-house photographer at The Moorings.

Withered Hand -  Credit Julie Thompson Well, I’ve been a very busy bee this week/weekend.
Sleep? What’s that? Still, I got my first pass for The Music Hall – so another step up the learning curve for me.

As you can see from my schedule, I covered 5 gigs over 4 evenings, which left me with a bit of a gig hangover.

I’ll not talk about all of them in much detail but I will just mention that the Pallas gig is covered in an Aberdeen Voice review here.

So, first up was Thursdays gig (28th November) – Withered Hand, with support from Charles Latham & Dear Lara. I couldn’t help reflecting on the difference from my last gig at The Tunnels 1. Last time I was there, the place was a sweaty, heaving mass of folk all there to see the excellent The Temperance Movement.

Tonight, there were tables & chairs in place of bodies on the dance floor – an obvious clue that I was in for a totally different sort of evening.

Dear Lara -  Credit Julie ThompsonI usually keep my camera on silent shooting mode, which reduces the shutter sound significantly but doesn’t eliminate it. As the first support, Dear Lara (a young Glaswegian called David Lan) took the stage I was a bit concerned how loud my camera sounded to me, so at a suitable break I asked the table closest if it was annoying them.

They said they’d not heard a thing and that it was nice someone was there taking photos, which was reassuring.

Dear Lara describes his music on his Facebook as ‘music for when the party’s over’ and indeed it is very relaxing and peaceful to listen to him.

He was followed by Charles Latham, who from the start had me giggling.

Charles Latham -  Credit Julie ThompsonAn amusing, confident and somewhat irreverent American, he said he was asked along as support due to Withered Hand having covered one of his songs in the past. He has a naughty sense of humour which I liked very much.
Withered Hand (the stage name for Dan Willson) is an indie rock musician from Edinburgh. His first album came out on 2009 and he’s been keeping busy with shows featuring collaboration with his friends & colleagues and recording a second album with guest appearances from the likes of King Creosote & Frightened Rabbit, amongst others.

I had to leave before the end, as I wanted to catch the end of my next gig at Downstairs – a total contrast to the evening I’d had so far.

It was a punk night, which had, by the time I arrived, descended into chaos; chaos featuring feather dusters.

This was a 4 band benefit gig for Dod Copland, whose story has featured in The Aberdeen Voice previously.

Toxikhaos Credit Julie Thompson

I arrived about half an hour from the end and Toxik Ephex (well, their instruments anyway) were in full flow. Some of the band seemed to be taking a timeout as ‘audience participation’ was… well… occurring. Drums, guitar & microphones were all under the control of audience members onstage, along with others brandishing feather dusters.

General good humour abounded though, despite an overrun on curfew time and lots of spilt beer.

I’m about 9 weeks in from my first gig shoot now, and the newest newbie of the togs in Aberdeen. Matt Jolly, as we saw last week, has been shooting gigs for over 2 years now.

It turns out he has previously photographed someone that I met and shot at a private event last night, Ricky Warwick of Black Star Riders (which for anyone who doesn’t know, is a band created from the most recent Thin Lizzy lineup, as they felt uncomfortable releasing a new album using the Thin Lizzy name).

Matt_Jolly_at_work_MooringsI think Matt is currently most excited about his recent trip with Fat Hippy Records to Los Angeles, California.

He went along, at Captain Toms invite, to document the trip. Local talents Amy Sawers & Craig John Davidson went over to support Terry McDermott at the word famous Molly Malones for a showcase gig.

During this 5 day trip he accompanied (and photographed) them shopping for new guitars and, once the gig was over, took some time out to sightsee.

His thoughts on festivals – I went to my first ever this summer at Belladrum – he loves them. His went to his first at the age of 15 and thinks they are a great opportunity for discovering new bands & music that you might not come across normally.

He said:

“Attending my first T in the Park in 1998 and seeing the likes of The Prodigy and Beastie Boys was a pretty mind blowing experience at that age. This year I went to Download festival in England, traveling down with Semperfi and Akord to cover their sets as they played at the festival for the first time.

“They had all been before as punters but it was my first time at Download which was a fantastic weekend, I’m really grateful to the guys in both bands as they have given me some really great opportunities in the last 3 years.”

I asked if he had any tips he would share.

“Well, it may be obvious but the best thing to do if you’re just starting out is just get out there and take photos. It’s the only way you’ll learn and from there you can go on to develop your style and the type of photographer you’ll want to be whether it’s for a hobby, a part time job, or a full on career.”

I had hoped to obtain permission to shoot Hugh Cornwell (of The Stranglers) on the Saturday at The Lemon Tree, however, I was unsuccessful. So Plan B was enacted and I was off to The Moorings to see The June Brides supported by local band Stanley.

The June Brides, one of the first indie-pop bands, had chart success in the early to mid 80’s and split in 1986. They reformed in 2012 with pretty much the original line-up. There was much dancing and silliness that night – I think I spent more time people-watching than shooting the bands.

I’ve not got around to processing the shoot yet, as I have a huge backlog to plough through, but I will put some photos up on my flickr page when I finally cross them off my list.

Sweet - Andy Scott - Credit Julie ThompsonSundays gig featuring Sweet & Slade was a whole new ball-game to the previous venues I’d visited in the past few days – the beautiful Music Hall.

Having applied for a photo pass a couple of weeks ago, I finally got the go ahead a couple of days before the event. Surprised, much? Yes, I was.

I was also excited and a bit nervous. When I arrived I went to the box office prepared with an email printout in case my name wasn’t actually on their list.

Luckily  all went smoothly and I was in. While I was waiting for the place to fill up, I bumped into a couple of togs I knew, so there were 3 of us in total for the shoot.

There was no pit setup so we got to wander in front of the stage for the first 3 songs from each band. If anyone reading this was there in the front couple of rows, I’ll apologise now if I got in your way!

Sweet 1 -  Credit Julie ThompsonSweet was the first onstage – with guitarist Andy Scott, the only original member, getting the loudest cheers and we togs went to work.

They went down a storm but I was too busy shooting to notice the tiny old lady, who had been sitting near where we were hanging out when not shooting, had at some point decided to join us up at the front of the stage – she was dancing away, oblivious to us folk dashing about with the cameras. Good on her!

By the time Wig-Wam Bam began, pretty much the whole place was up and jumping about. Other old favourites followed – Block Buster, Ballroom Blitz – fun, toe tapping and well executed.

The ice-creams were wheeled out at the intermission and the tiny old lady had two – obviously needing sustenance after her dancing exertions.

Slade were next. They still have 2 of their original members – Dave Hill on guitar & Don Powell on drums.

Noddy Holder was replaced as lead by Mal McNulty (also on guitar) with John Berry providing bass and, also violin. What interested me about this was that Mal swapped his guitar for a bass when the violin was in use.

It seems the tiny old lady either wasn’t a Slade fan or she’d used all her energy in the first half. She didn’t leave her seat for Slade.

Slade - Don Powell -  Credit Julie Thompson

One problem when you have a high stage to shoot are the floor monitors – those short but wide black speakers that sit at the front of the stage in front of the band members  providing sound to them, so they can actually hear themselves.

With Sweet there had been spaces between them, which you could use to get full length head to foot shots of the band members. Slade filled those gaps with boxes. However, they did stand on them for time to time which gave us some opportunities; otherwise you’re somewhat limited on angles.

There was dancing in the aisles, dancing in the seats – most folk were up and moving at some point. They, of course, ended on an old favourite chart topper which, considering we had just entered December was not inappropriate.

Donning seasonal headwear for the finale, Mals Santa hat specially designed to fit over his original hat and Don wearing a large chimney hat with Santas legs poking out of the top, they belted out Merry Xmas, Everybody.

The big shoes & outrageous garb may no longer be there but there was still the glitter & long hair and it was a fun evening, one I suspect I’ll try to do again (hopefully better) if they return at some point. We all know the old saying about practise…

So, what’s coming next on my schedule?

Well, one was a bit of a surprise and a thank you for some work I’ve been doing elsewhere – an acoustic evening with Ricky Warwick at a private event at Musa, I’m waiting to hear about a gig at The Lemon Tree and I hopefully have a four band gig, with headliner Enuff z’Nuff, coming up at The Moorings (if my body hasn’t given in by that point).

Lastly I’ve decided George Mackie (one of the two I bumped into at the Music Hall) will be my next tog in the spotlight.

More Photos:

Withered Hand/Charles Latham/Dear Lara


Matt Jolly Photography on Facebook
Matt Jolly on Flickr

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Nov 282013

In her continuing series on the life of a pit photographer, Julie Thompson takes in The Boomtown Rats gig at the Beach Ballroom, Hells Bells at The Lemon Tree and has a chat with Matt Jolly, in-house photographer at The Moorings.

_87A6911While Matt Jolly was mid-Atlantic, returning from his jaunt to the US with Fat Hippy Records, I was at the Beach Ballroom to see a band from my youth.
The Boomtown Rats formed when I was 9 or 10 years old.

Growing up, they weren’t my favourite band – just not in my genre at all.

Still, I figured there was no harm in seeing if I could get a photo pass for the event and as luck would have it, I could and did.

I’ve only seen The Boomtown Rats live once before, on one hot summer day in 1985. It was a memorable day where many other bands played, all around the world.  

Since then a new generation has emerged and musical taste has changed, so most of the folk at the Beach Ballroom were of the generation who grew up around the time I did.

There was no photo pit at this venue, so getting there at doors open time meant a chance to grab a spot up front but, once you have it, you stay. I was lucky and got a spot at the stage left.

Next to me was local tog, Andy Thorn. Dod Morrison was with us briefly before wriggling his way to centre stage front. I also spotted a couple of other togs on the far right – George Mackie & Craig Chisolm.

The support act was not what we were expecting – but from what I’ve since found out it wasn’t the support act they had previously and seems to have been playing just on this particular evening. Why the change, I don’t know, and it was unfortunate that it was for the last night of the tour and also the last appearance of The Boomtown Rats with Bob Geldof fronting.

_87A7014Still, all was forgiven when the reason for us all being there appeared. Laser beams created galloping rats on the speakers, there was a flash of a Pedigree Chum advert (which was an apparently an in-joke regarding one of their crew, who had been a ‘Top Breeder’ in the advert) and then the show began.

I had, of course, seen those photos showing Bob looking old, tired and sad – well, all I can say is it is easy to make someone look bad in a photo. The real trick is to make them look good.

There was plenty of energy that night – both on and off stage.

I’ve heard about, but not experienced, the sprung dance floor at the Beach Ballroom, but I thought I was going to be catapulted onto the stage a few times from the way it was reacting to the crowd jumping about.

One intrepid lady sneaked onto the stage for a quick cuddle & dance with, a clearly pleased, Bob before being chased by security and hustled away.

Between songs there was some chat – tales about how certain songs came about and how they’re still relevant today – nothing much has changed.

_87A8205BW‘Banana Republic’ written after a trip to the Republic of Ireland. Due to Geldofs ‘denunciation of nationalism, medieval-minded clerics and corrupt politicians’ during an interview, the band were blacklisted from playing anywhere in their home country. The loudest complaints apparently coming from a priest who had a lovechild in the US, as it turned out.

‘Someone’s Looking at You’ – eavesdropping on phone calls, emails, cameras on all streets. No privacy for anyone these days. And then there is ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’… ‘nuff said.

So, 2 encores later, some new tracks from their album along with many of the old favourites, much hand shaking along the stage front and it is all over. My biggest gig to shoot so far – it was great fun and good experience.

I’ve bumped into Matt Jolly a couple of times since his return from the California, where he travelled with Tom Simmons (Captain Tom of Fat Hippy Records), Amy Sawers and Craig John Davidson. Usually busy when we meet, we finally managed to find time to have a chat.


Matt Jolly at work at The Moorings – Credit: Julie Thompson

Matt spent a year studying for a NC in Visual Communication and Photography at Aberdeen College, before entering a 2 year long HND course.

He’s now in his final year and is using his recent experiences covering the Fat Hippy Records trip to the USA as a course project.

He spent 10 years working as a chef before deciding it was time for a change.

He began started filming friends who were working in the local music scene, putting the videos up on youtube, and taking stills using his phone.

Unsatisfied with the results, he decided to revisit an old desire to study photography.

He bought himself a Nikon D3100 and took off on tour with Semperfi, covering their summer of 2010 tour before starting college that autumn.

He began working at The Moorings that Hogmanay – working the bar and practising his photography skills.

The most difficult part (or challenging, as he prefers to put it) of working the venues is shooting in low light – adapting by using slower shutter speeds (itself a challenge, as antics on stage can move fast leading to blurred action) or flash.

Part of his reason for moving on from his previous work was that he wanted to travel. He’s now travelled on various tours with Semperfi – most recently their 2012 European tour. He’s also travelled as far as California, to Molly Malones – who knows where they’ll go next!

I’ll continue my chat with Matt next time, when we take a look at the bands he’s had chance to shoot.


I’ve been to quite a few gigs over the last few weeks – I won’t bore you with them all but will just mention Hells Bells – an AC/DC tribute band – which played to a packed out Lemon Tree last weekend.

The place was jammed to the rafters and the crowd was there for two reasons – to have fun and to make as much noise as possible.

I had the pit to myself – a nice luxury – and the band had their parts down pat.

I’ll just mention a few set pieces: a striptease from ‘Angus’ went down a storm and also as far as what appeared to be a black thong (I was up the back of the venue and it was, unfortunately, hard to see); ‘Brian’ carrying ‘Angus’ around the audience on his shoulders for one long guitar solo; the two cannons blasting during the finale.

All the boys were sporting Movember facial hair – a comment on their Facebook page referred to them as looking like ‘70’s German porn stars’ – their words.

Some people are scathing about tribute bands, but it was an entertaining night, with well performed songs & lots of happy faces leaving at the end – which is surely the whole point.

Coming Up.

I have some gigs lined up for the end of November – Withered Hand, Pallas (which will be reviewed by Suzanne Kelly) and maybe another, which I have yet to hear back from (fingers crossed). Also, if I can fit it in after Withered Hand, a gig at the Malt Mill featuring our very own Fred Wilkinson and his band, Toxik Ephex.

More on how things went next week when I conclude my chat with Matt Jolly and I decide on which tog will be my next ‘victim’.

More Photos:

The Boomtown Rats
Hells Bells


Matt Jolly Photography on Facebook
Matt Jolly on Flickr

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Nov 212013

Julie Thompson takes in The Dillinger Escape Plan at The Garage in her continuing series on the life of a pit photographer.


The Dillinger Escape Plan – Image Credit: Julie Thompson

Do you ever wish you’d brought your sunglasses to a gig? Certainly someone on Twitter recommended that others do, regarding one gig I attended recently. I’ll come back to that.

After an unusually quiet, gig-free weekend, I headed back to The Garage on Monday 4 November for The Dillinger Escape Plan,  a five-piece American mathcore metal band with a reputation for crowd involvement, amongst other things.

I had been looking forward to this for some days.

The two supports were Maybeshewill, a lively Leicester quintet, and Three Trapped Tigers, a trio, as their names suggests, from London. Unusually, both bands were vocal-free.

Maybeshewill have gorgeous tunes underpinning their work. All their material is self-recorded and fantastic to listen to. I recall one of the later tracks had spoken words playing over it, as if a film was being heard in the background.

Andy Thorn, another local *tog , arrived between Maybeshewill and Three Trapped Tigers. We had a brief chat while he got his gear ready and he said he was looking forward to shooting Dillinger.

3trappedtigersThree Trapped Tigers are mostly instrumental too, using their voices as instruments rather than for delivering lyrics.

Trying to match names to faces, when labelling my photos, I came across a youtube video which stopped me dead.

It was beautiful – a simple piano version of one of their songs, Cramm, played by Tom Rogerson on piano on London’s Millennium Bridge.

The piano was part of the 2011 Play Me, I’m Yours art project, where pianos were installed in the streets, parks, bus shelters, markets and general public spaces of cities worldwide. What a fantastic idea.

Tom Rogerson of Three Trapped Tigers plays a version of ‘Cramm’ on a street piano at Millennium Bridge, London 2011.

What a treat – two support acts both really enjoyable to listen to and shoot.

So, back to the sunglasses question.

When The Dillinger Escape Plan came onstage my eyes started to blink madly – good grief, strobe-tastic or what?

No time to worry about that though, as total madness ensued. Frontman Greg Puciato, and his radio mic, were off over the pit wall and gone. OK, focus the camera elsewhere until he returned. Except for the blinding white lights of course. In between the strobes was darkness, occasionally some OK light but there was a lot of smoke.


Now you see see it, now you don’t. Two pictures from strobe sequence. Image credit: Julie Thompson

Hmm, strobes are a new experience for me – this was going to be tricky.

At points I remember sharing a look of amazement with Andy, and throwing my head back and laughing like a hyena; despite the difficulties it was awesome fun!

Up close and very personal at times, a guitarist over my head with  one leg on the stage, the other on the pit wall, and the pit wall shaking like there was an earthquake going on, due to a very energetic crowd.

dillinger2From the few images I managed to peep at on the back of my camera while in the pit, I wasn’t very confident I’d have many of use.

Still, I hope I’ll have a better idea of how to handle this sort of situation next time I come across it.

Once out of the pit, I picked a spot out of the way, on the stage side stairs to the cloakrooms, to watch the rest of the show. Andy stayed down by the pit exit, well-positioned for one unexpected event.

Ben Weinman, lead guitar and founder of the band, has a habit of hanging upside down from the ceiling to play. Unfortunately, when he tried it here he fell into the pit.

I’m not sure if he couldn’t get a good grip or if something in the ceiling gave way. It must have hurt. It certainly broke his guitar, but he picked himself up and carried on with another guitar. I watched, with interest, the regular guitar swaps, for fresh strings, or for charged radio transmitters.

The roadie working below me was certainly kept busy with gaffa tape and the like.

maybeshewillI remember little details, Ben Weinman kneeling down to grab a water bottle, and using it to knock his guitar strings to keep the rhythm going while he unscrewed the top. The Garage house photographer, climbed the speakers, like the frontman did, to try to get some good shots.

Greg Puciato headed off into the crowd again while they stampeded in a ring around him and security tried to herd him back onstage. It looked as if  the crowd launched him over the pit wall as there’s no way he could have managed that leap unaided.

A remarkable show that made me feel tired just watching it. By the time I got home my head was throbbing from a strobe-hangover.

So two Nurofen and off to bed, whilst the photos transferred to the laptop.

Next time, I talk to Matt Jolly, house tog at The Moorings, who has been recording the events of a US trip with Tom Simmons of Fat Hippy Records, Amy Sawers and Craig John Davidson, who went over to support Terry McDermott.

*tog – short for photographer and much easier to spell.

More Photos:

Three Trapped Tigers
The Dillinger Escape Plan

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Nov 142013

Julie Thompson takes in The Crazy World of Arthur Brown at The Moorings and Fatherson at The Garage in her continuing series on the life of a pit photographer.

Arthur Brown1

In the past nine days I’ve been to see and photograph three very different types of bands.

What can I say about Arthur Brown? If and when I get to 71 years of age, I hope I have the energy he does.

When I arrived at the venue, they were preparing the stage area.

There was a single chair carefully placed by the stage – not something normally left there.

The support act was Lifecycle, a three-piece band from London who were really very good. The lead singer played guitar and took live samples of his vocals and guitar, via a device attached to his guitar strap, to loop back over the song. Very interesting stuff and fascinating to watch.

Their set ended and the rush to prepare the stage for the main act began. The chair was moved to centre stage at the front, so I guessed it was to help Arthur get onstage. I was never very good at guessing, it seems.

lifecycleAt this point another tog*, Dod Morrison, moved forward and shortly afterwards George Mackie arrived. We all had a brief chat before resuming the wait.

Flash, The Moorings’ owner, hopped up onstage with a small cushion after everything was set. It amused me that he looked a bit embarrassed, and shoved the cushion under the keyboard before hopping back down.

Shortly afterwards, the side door opened and the band appeared. Some were robed and all were masked.

The show was about to start.

As it turned out, Arthur Brown was more than capable of getting onstage without help of a chair. However, the keyboard player was a little encumbered by a plaster cast on his left leg. The cushion, it turned out, was for his foot to rest on.

Eventually everyone was onstage and settled, the chair removed and the show began. It was a show, with some amusing, well-rehearsed elements, like the theft of a keyboard, which the keys-man continued to play with his crutch. You can see a three-photo sequence of this in the Flickr photos linked.

Arthur Brown2I was unaware at the time that there was a hidden band member, Angel Flame.

She popped out of a small room at the back, each time in a new costume. A golden-winged elemental for Fire, a Flamenco dancer, or as Temptation.

A truly excellent show; the queue to meet the band afterwards took a long time to disperse and everyone I saw was grinning. Even Flash.

Arthur Brown seems to visit Aberdeen quite frequently, so do try and catch his show next time.

I certainly will.

Three days later I found myself in The Garage photo pit for Fatherson. The Garage usually has two support acts and kicks off quite early compared to other places, as they re-open the doors at 2200 or so for the nightclub sessions. This means it’s a good venue to visit on a weeknight when you have an early start the next morning.

caramitchellBoth support acts were from Aberdeen, Cara Mitchell, a 17 year old who I’d caught playing in HMV a couple of weeks before, and Forest Fires, a five-piece alternative rock band formed in 2011.

Cara was first on as the place was only just starting to fill up. She seems a very confident and accomplished performer and I was pleased to be able to see her onstage at last. I got my three songs in the pit. Cara is a pretty lass and easy to shoot.

Then I got to hang out to watch and  grabbed a drink.

forestfires2Forest Fires are a lively bunch of lads, great fun to shoot and just as good to listen to. I enjoyed them very much and actually went online to buy their EP a few days later. I really hope to catch these guys again soon.

In the gap between Forest Fires and Fatherson, I spotted Cara Mitchell, guitar case in hand, heading through the crowd to meet up with a group of people. She passed her guitar to someone I can only assume was her mum, and gave her a big hug.  Mum left but Cara stopped on to enjoy the rest of the show.

Fatherson are officially a 4 piece band from Glasgow, seet at T in the Park in 2012 was aired on BBC2.

fatherson2However, on this tour there is a fifth person, Elaine Glass, playing cello and providing some vocals. They’ve been getting good reviews everywhere and I can understand why. Bouncy and energetic, the crowd loved them.

After my time in the pit, I went and hung out behind the sound desk, where I could see the band, watch the soundman dance and the lighting man have a ball with the spot controls.

All in all, it was a very good way to spend a Wednesday evening.

(*tog – short for photographer and much easier to spell.)

More Photos:

Arthur Brown
Cara Mitchell
Forest Fires

Next in Aberdeen Voice, Julie covers the eagerly anticipated American mathcore metal band The Dillinger Escape Plan at The Garage.

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Nov 012013

Julie Thompson shares her experience as a fledgling music photographer, and a few of her pictures taken at The Old Granite Whistle Test at HMV between August and October 2013.

Leanne Smith at HMV - Pic by Julie Thompson

Leanne Smith performs for The Old Granite Whistle Test at HMV – Pic by Julie Thompson

Here’s a little quiz for you. What do Gerry Jablonski, Craig John Davidson, Amy Sawers, The Lorelei and Little Kicks have in common?

If you answered ‘Fat Hippy Records’, then you’d be right. But were you also aware that they, and several of their Fat Hippy siblings, have also played free gigs in HMV on Thursday nights for the last few months?

Let me present The Old Granite Whistle Test:

“The Old Granite Whistle Test is a weekly event at HMV in Aberdeen. It occurs weekly on a Thursday evening at 6:00. The band night was initially set up by HMV as a platform for new rising local acts to get some publicity, but quickly became a partnership between Captain Toms/Fat Hippy Records and HMV Aberdeen. As of the present moment, Steven Spencer and Tom Simmonds are dual organisers of the weekly event.”

The Old Granite Whistle Test sessions began on 1st August 2013 and were kicked off by Daniel Mutch, a young acoustic singer/songwriter.  The second week showcased Craig John Davidson, whom I have since had the privilege of seeing play, when he supported The Lorelei at Meldrum Town Hall.

Sadly, I was unaware of these sessions until the third one, when The Lorelei came down to entertain us.

Robbie Flanagan at HMV - Pic by Julie Thompson

Despite complaints from a neighbouring vendor that they were too loud (just how is that possible?) they did their thing with that exuberant joy for their music which they seem to have, whenever I see them play; and, as a bonus, they got complimentary juices from the Juice Bar.

First Leanne Smith, a bonny girl with a sweet smile and voice to match, and then Amy Sawers, amazing voice, entertained us on the following Thursday evenings, bringing August to a close.

September’s line-up began with Robbie Flanagan and his guitar, and the following week, the twin rappers SHY & DRS, accompanied by Dave Brown on guitar.

Shy and DRS at HMV - Pic by Julie ThompsonThey also filled Sandi Thom’s vocals on their Top 40 hit, The Love Is Gone.

The non-acoustic part of their set was sadly cut short due to technical problems.

The third session, featuring Uniform, had a delayed start as their frontman was caught in traffic.

Unfortunately, I only caught the very start of their set as I had an appointment elsewhere.

The fourth week was a blast, with Gerry Jablonski and the Electric Band bouncing around HMV, fresh from their new album launch at The Lemon Tree; which was, incidentally, my first official music shoot, providing images for the Aberdeen Voice.

The Little Kicks at HMV - Pic by Julie Thompson

What an excellent way to wind up September.

October opened with The Little Kicks, well, half of them, who are always a favourite. As they were playing later that evening at another venue, the drummer and bass player were not performing, although I did spot them lurking in the crowd.

I first encountered, and shot, this band at the Brewdog AGM in August. I was attending that event to provide images for an Aberdeen Voice article.

In fact they were, along with The Xcerts, the first live music I’d shot, apart from at the Belladrum Festival a couple of weeks earlier. Confession time: it gave me such a buzz that I wanted to do more.

Cara Mitchell at HMV - Pic by Julie ThompsonCara Mitchell played the second session of October. It was the first time I’d had the pleasure of hearing her.

The third week was supposed to be the Polish band, CETI, fresh from their Lemon Tree album launch.

However, due to illness they were replaced at short notice by Jon Davie.

I’d come across this singer/guitarist before when he played a solo acoustic set at The Lemon Tree.

He’s the frontman for GutterGodz, who I went down to Stonehaven Town Hall on Oct 25th to shoot, along with Deadfire and The Ruckus.

Colin Clyne at HMV - Pic by Julie ThompsonColin Clyne, back home from a long stint in California, played the fourth week.

He has a good voice, which he accompanies with his guitar and mouth organ.

Having built up a following in the United States, he is hoping to repeat his success back home.

Over the weeks, I’ve chatted with Captain Tom of Fat Hippy Records about these sessions.

I put a few questions to him:

Q:  Who came up with the idea of The Old Granite Whistle Test, and the name?

A:  It was Steve Spencer, who works at HMV, who came up with the name and made the effort to get everyone involved.

Q:  Has it been easy to persuade the acts to play?

A: Very. No one has needed to be persuaded, I think just about everyone we asked said yes, if they were available, and many more have asked to play.

Q:  Have the bands enjoyed the experience?

A: I believe so. Some nights have been busier than others, but I think most relished the opportunity to play HMV for the first time.

Q: So, was it a frustrating or fun experience for you?

A: A bit of both, I suppose, if I’m honest. It’s great to be involved in an exciting new outlet for Aberdeen’s burgeoning and talented live music scene, but it can be a frustrating business when bands cancel at short notice or there’s a lack of support for really talented artists. But that’s the same for all gigs everywhere.

Q:  Are there any amusing anecdotes you can relate?

A: Well, there have been a few interesting moments along the way. Without being specific I’ll confess that most of them involve the weekly running of the gauntlet with traffic wardens, to get parked anywhere near HMV to unload the PA. They’re very good at their job, so they are.

Q: Have HMV enjoyed giving up a bit of their floor space and time, do you think?

A: I think so. I get the impression they have probably wanted to do something like this with local music for some time, and it’s just taken a while for the opportunity to arise.

Q: Will you be doing more next year?

A: I hope so. This first 3 month stint from August to October was in some ways an experiment to see how it went, and what sort of response it got. So we’ll sit down with the powers that be at HMV over the next few weeks and see how we all feel it’s gone. Hopefully everyone’s happy and we can find a way to do another 3 month stint in early 2014.

Jon Davie of Guttergodz at HMV - Pic by Julie ThompsonSuburban Saints will complete the October line-up on the 31st, and, indeed, bring The Old Granite Whistle Test to a close for 2013. Whether it returns next year remains to be seen, but for me it has been a great way to see some of our local talent in action.

If The Old Granite Whistle Test returns next year, I shall certainly be there.

You’ve heard a little bit in this article about how and when I got started photographing live music.

In future weeks I plan on catching up with some of the local music photographers for a chat, to find out how they got started, their best and worst experiences, and maybe even garner some tips.

Click here to view more HMV Photos.

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Oct 232013

Julie Thompson shares her experience as a fledgling music photographer, and a few of her pictures from Catfish & The Bottlemen, Café Drummond, 11th October 2013, and Grzegorz Kupczyk’s CETI album launch, Lemon Tree, 12th October 2013.

bisongrass2Looking back over the last two nights of shooting, I find myself reflecting on the contrast between the venues.
I found Café Drummond, admittedly a small venue, to be frustrating in the extreme whereas The Lemon Tree was much more fun.

Why? It was all down to the lighting.

Lighting is a major factor in live music photography; dim lighting can mean you come away with nothing apart from noisy, poor resolution images. Picking through your images from the evening afterwards can be soul destroying.

If you do find any that look half ok, you zoom in to check focus and their eyes are so dilated they look like they’ve been taking something very interesting indeed. Welcome to Café Drummond – the home of ‘high ISO hell’ (as a fellow photographer put it).

catfish3The light in Drummonds was so dim that even lenses designed to work in low light were having trouble finding a focus. Orange backlights and few front spots meant that the backs of the band were brighter than their fronts; tricky to deal with because it’s the faces you’re interested in.

Café Drummond doesn’t have a photo pit or the 3 song limit. You’re in amongst the crowd, trying to keep out of the way of dancers & beer. You also have the hazard of people wanting you to take their photos as they mug for the camera.

Between sets I was approached by a girl who was interested in what camera I was using.

We chatted briefly, culminating in getting out my phone and showing her some of my more recent flickr images. She got excited over the Johnny Marr photos from last week, made a mental note of my flickr name and then went back to her friends.

redfoot2Two more frustrating sets later, I head home.

On later perusal, I have a few images that look ok, but they’re not images I will treasure and I mentally cross this venue off my list of places to shoot again.

On a plus note I seem to have acquired a new flickr follower.

How were the bands?

Well, because I was shooting the complete sets, I suffered from what I call ‘concentration deafness’. I certainly wasn’t standing there wishing my earplugs were stronger though. I do remember thinking that some of them didn’t look old enough to be in a pub, but I think that’s more an issue of my age than theirs.

velvet audio 2The support acts – Redfoot the Fence and Velvet Audio were well received and enjoyable to listen to. As for the headline act – Catfish & The Bottlemen  – they were pretty tight and well-rehearsed.

They did seem to be struggling with their sound at one point, as the lead singer kept asking for volume increase.

As it turned out, he was getting a hum through his floor monitor so he couldn’t actually hear what they were doing.

They were plenty loud enough for those of us in front of them and the crowd was rocking.

I would go to see them again and hope (on a purely selfish note) that if they return to Aberdeen, their next venue is better for shooting.

The following evening I was expecting a much better experience. I’ve shot at the Lemon Tree before and, though the lighting can be variable, it is usually an order of magnitude brighter than what I’d just experienced.

There is a good sized photo pit here, and they generally enforce the 3 song limit.

bisongrass3There were three of us in the pit for the first band – Bisongrassand we were treated to an energetic performance from their lead singer, who spent a lot of time hanging from the light fixtures at the front of the stage and clambering around in the pit.

Some bands can be fun to shoot and some can be so static that it is difficult to get an interesting shot of them. Metal bands are rarely boring to shoot, which means I’m in for a great evening.

Between sets, I discover a few acquaintances dotted around and kill some time chatting. Back at the pit, there is a small altercation going on; some more photographers have arrived unexpectedly and one of the first photographers is unhappy that the pit will contain more people for the next sets.

This issue is resolved by staggering the group into two sessions, although the pit is certainly big enough for 5 people in one go.

Thrashist RegimeNext up is Thrashist Regime.

Before we go into the pit, I chat to another photographer who has shot them before.
He warns me that the lead singer has a habit of disappearing into the crowd with his radio mic, sometimes even into the street outside.

Sure enough, he’s over the pit wall and off into the crowd. The band is a fun shoot with lots of crowd interaction.

At one point the singer jumps into the pit next to me, startling both of us as I don’t think he’d noticed me there.

I get given a microphone to yell into (I declined to comment) at which he laughed and moved on to a more willing participant.

Once more out of the pit and watching the rest of the set from behind the rail, I’m left roaring with laughter as a gentle ballad to an explosive event a few years back in Auchenblae is announced and then thrash metalled out.

CETI 1Finally the headline act arrives onstage.

Grzegorz Kupczyk’s CETI are a well-known Polish
old-school heavy rock band that have recently signed
with Fat Hippy Records and are tonight launching their
new album, ‘Ghost Of The Universe Behind The Black Curtain’.

With a fairly large Polish community in Aberdeen, they attract many tonight who are familiar with their work.

Unusually, the most flamboyant band member on stage
is the Bass guitarist. Later on he performed a fascinating solo, something not normally seen these days.

It is obvious from watching, that they are familiar with performing to a larger crowd than they had tonight; audience interaction is constantly sought.

CETI 2Indeed some of their gigs in Poland include festivals attracting 20,000 people. They are known as the ‘Polish Iron Maiden’; not a bad description.

They were a joy to shoot and fun to watch. Despite the language barrier I found them entertaining; some of the largest laughs on my part were purely from body language and one occasion where Grzegorz asked, ‘How are you doing Aberdeen?’ to which a lone Aberdonian voice replied ‘Not so bad’.

More photos:

Redfoot the Fence:
Velvet Audio:
Catfish & The Bottlemen:
Thrashist Regime:

Oct 042013

An Optimistic Sound – The Songs of Michael Marra, Dundee Repertory Theatre, 28 September 2013. David Innes reviews.


It’s difficult to believe that almost a year has passed since Michael Marra was taken from us, and the world was deprived of a supremely talented writer, artist and performer.

The affection and respect which poured out from fellow artists, fans and friends in October 2012 validated his status and the esteem in which he was held.

Such was this esteem that Celtic Connections, only three months after his death, featured an evening of celebration of his music and influence entitled All Will Be Well.

Quite what he would have made of this we can only guess; but as a fiercely proud Dundonian writer and performer, one can imagine that a further commemoration, An Optimistic Sound, played to a sold-out Dundee Repertory Theatre, would be the finest accolade that he could imagine.

Whilst the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall event was emotional and celebratory, by contrast the Dundee event had a more relaxed feel. It was as if Michael’s ‘bairns’ The Hazey Janes, with son Matthew on bass and daughter Alice compering and performing, and wife Peggy, had invited friends round for the evening to sing a few songs and share an anecdote or two.

That spirit of inclusion extended to the audience, loudly appreciative of every artistic effort extended for our entertainment.

Whether it was Rod Paterson telling of Michael’s generosity in completing a muse-deserted Paterson song overnight, Peter McGlone blowing heart-rending saxophone, or Saint Andrew declaiming Woodwork Woodwork  and revealing that its refrain was based on the late Gus Foy’s school timetable, standards of performance never fell below outstanding.

Could Muscle Shoals have assembled a more soulful backing chorus for Eddi Reader’s white-hot Here Come The Weak than Alice Marra, Karine Polwart and sisters Fiona, Gillie and Eilidh Mackenzie?

Dougie McLean has thankfully preserved a song, never recorded, which Michael would sing in his early performing days at Blairgowrie Folk Club, and took obvious delight in performing it.

These are merely a few highlights among many. The whole was indeed greater than the sum of its parts.

Michael had always shied away from stardom. As our national Makar Liz Lochhead reminded us, he once said, ‘I don’t want my name in lights; I want my name in brackets’. Ever the songwriter. His generosity was well-known and he would have been proud, without doubt, that all profits from the evening are to go to Optimistic Sound, a Michael Marra Memorial Music Trust for the young people of Dundee.

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Nov 302012

A student-run music website based in the Northeast of Scotland is set to release its third annual compilation of the best music in Aberdeen, free of charge. With thanks to Eoin Smith.

Following the success of two previous releases, Hercules Moments, a student-run online music magazine founded by Eoin Smith and Russell Thom, both 21, is ready to unleash a brand new compilation featuring nine top Aberdeen artists.

The creatively named Hercules Moments: Vol. 3 will be released as a free download on on 5 December, in a variety of digital formats.

To celebrate the release, Hercules Moments is holding a Christmas-themed launch party in The Tunnels, on Aberdeen’s Carnegies Brae, at 8pm on 5 December.

The evening will feature four fantastic acts who also appear on the sampler – Das McManus, Orienteering, Cara Mitchell and [ ] (pronounced ‘Wall’) – as well as the debut of the Hercules Moments DJs.

Boasting a wealth of talent from around Aberdeen and surrounding areas, the sampler was mastered by award-winning producer Iain Macpherson and also features tracks from Marionettes, Forest Fires, Brothers Reid, Ashley Park and Boy With Compass.

Eoin, an English student at the University of Aberdeen, said:

“We are very excited to be releasing our third sampler this December. There’s a really eclectic mix of music on there, and we can’t wait to let people hear it!

“We started Hercules Moments as a way to share the music we love with a wider audience, and the samplers are really a logical extension of that. We hope everyone who hears the latest one is as passionate about the bands on it as we are.”

Hercules Moments editor Siobhan Hewison, 22, also studying English at Aberdeen University, added:

“Joining the Hercules Moments team in the last year has helped me expand my music collection and awareness of local bands which, as a music lover, is something I greatly appreciate.

“The wide variety of bands covered on the site, the special features, and the professionalism of the whole team make working on Hercules Moments great fun.”

It was in March 2009 that then-school pupils Eoin and Russell launched Hercules Moments: a blog dedicated to the music they loved listening to. The website has since grown into a thriving online music magazine featuring international stars and smaller local artists, and has been nominated for a variety of awards along the way.

Eoin said:

“Looking back on the journey Russell and I have taken to get where we are now, I sometimes have to pinch myself. What started out as a hobby for us has surpassed our wildest dreams: we now work with a four-strong editorial team and an ever-expanding group of enthusiastic and talented contributors.

“Everyone at Hercules Moments is absolutely thrilled with, and humbled by, the feedback we have had over the past three and a half years. We can’t wait to see what the next year will bring.”

Sep 032012

Fifty members of HM Royal Marine Band will be playing at the International School Aberdeen on Wednesday 5th  September to benefit the charity, Combat Stress. With thanks to Susie McKay.

Combat Stress helps service veterans who live with the unseen scars of war.

Many veterans find it difficult to move on with their lives; for some, their lives change forever and due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), they may lose their families and end up on the streets, homeless.

Too many end up in prison.

The concert will be a very intimate event with only 250 guests. There will also be a pre-concert reception at 6:45 pm.

Tickets are £30 and are available in advance from Catherine at 07879 854 927,

Combat Stress would like to hear from any potential volunteers, fundraisers, or from anyone who may benefit from its services.

Aug 302012

Interesting Music present an exciting night of music at The Tunnels on Carnegie Brae on Friday 31st of August featuring THE UNWINDING HOURS, OLYMPIC SWIMMERS, and FOXHUNTING.

THE UNWINDING HOURS release their new album ‘Afterlives’ on 20 August on Chemikal Underground Records. Influences such as the Flaming Lips, Max Richter, The Cocteau Twins and Laurie Anderson filtrate the album throughout.

After releasing their debut album, touring and support slots with Idlewild, The Twilight Sad and Biffy Clyro, the duo took their time writing and recording any new material.

Craig B went back to university to study Theology and Sociology while Iain Cook, concentrated on production and recording in his studio.

Craig would bring new demos once a week for them both to work on, and their sophomore effort slowly took shape.

Spurred on by a new found excitement for study, Craig claims this hugely influenced the writing process.

I felt I was finally able to learn and absorb as much as I could but also use it to be able to articulate what I had been trying to express for years. Working with Iain at our own pace allowed us to experiment, try out new ideas and make sure we didn’t repeat ourselves”.

“We tried to tie ourselves to different time signatures, made some songs specifically guitar orientated, made others more synth based but also stripped it all back when necessary. We basically just had a ball throwing ideas around. You can hear a kitchen sink being battered by a piece of metal near the end of the first song, so yes we had a lot of fun.”

The album artwork was taken from an etching by an American artist called Jack Baumgartner. It depicts the biblical story of Jacob wrestling with the Angel.

Craig explains,

“We thought Jack’s depiction was perfect for the front cover. I love the fact that the biblical story is so enigmatic and open to so much interpretation. These stories, as all things capable of stirring the imagination, continue to have an afterlife.”

With a strongly held belief that an album should be consistently engaging from start to finish, The Unwinding Hours have produced just that and have plans to continue making music for as long as it remains possible. They just might take their time doing so.

OLYMPIC SWIMMERS are a Glasgow band who recently released their first album ‘No Flags Will Fly’ on 4 June.

“I would describe our music as shoe-glancing indie that goes down the quiet/loud path, but with lots of wandering around along the way” says vocalist Susie. “We’re all agreed in our admiration of Low, Pavement, The Wedding Present, The National and Bonnie Prince Billy.” (The Skinny)

“Their familiar yet endearing sounds pay homage to myriad Scottish forebears, notably the Cocteau Twins, whose yearning distortion, disembodied vocals and celestial guitars are echoed on In This House; and perhaps indirectly, the picturesque folk-rock of early-90s Pearlfishers (Bricks of our Building) and the unsung guitar-pop of Wild River Apples (Apples and Pears).” (Nicola Meighan, The Herald)

FOXHUNTING is the solo project of one Joe Sutherland, a teenage singer-songwriter from Aberdeen, Scotland. Dealing mainly with acoustic guitar and vocals, he provides a visceral edge not often found in the folk-pop scene. Live shows combine energetic, foot-tapping music with soulful, emotional lyricisms.

He has supported the likes of Withered Hand, Woodpigeon, tUnE-yArDs, Jim Lockey and the Solemn Sun, Juffage and Esperi since his first proper show in 2011.

Debut studio album ‘Come On Sweetheart, Take My Hand’ in October 2011 saw Foxhunting experiment with electronic music, providing a contrast to the organic and homemade noise captured on earlier EPs.

After a year’s stay in Australia, Foxhunting is due to return to his home town in August.

Friday, 31 August 2012, Doors 7.30pm 

The Tunnels (Room 1),
Carnegies Brae,
AB10 1BF.
Phone (01224) 211121

Advance Tickets £8 + bf / £10 on door
Available from One-Up Records, Belmont Street, Aberdeen. Phone (01224) 642662 or online