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: