The Good Will Out
28th June – The Picturedrome
EMBRACE, amongst other bands that exploded onto the scene into the 90s, initially ‘passed me by’ during that period. As a teenager, I was still discovering music, inherently, I was more into Metal, Classic Rock and…The Beachboys, yeah, that’s right. As I’ve gotten older, like many I’m sure, my tastes have diversified. Especially since I started photographing music in 2015, being lucky enough to have been able to shoot concerts in whatever form, there is no better way for introductions and rediscoveries. Over time I’ve found myself looking backwards, visiting more of the bands that I didn’t listen to at the time. As a result, my playlist has since become more eclectic. For the better, I might add.
A quick recap of how this all happened. (insert the Scooby Doo wavey transition)
My introduction to EMBRACE was when I was occasionally shooting for Rock ‘n’ Load Magazine. Spring 2019 if I remember correctly, at the Leeds O2 Academy. Supported by the brilliant Land Sharks, fronted by Mikey Shiraz, Sam Wood on guitar, and shared EMBRACE members, bassist Steve Firth and drummer Mike Heaton – double shift!
It’s worth pointing out for the sake of background that Mikey Shiraz, is the promoter for The Parish in Huddersfield. A really cool intimate 350-capacity venue, where Mikey pulls in some major names. I was introduced to him via a mutual friend either before or just after this gig I can’t remember, but this was the first time I saw the Land Sharks perform.
The EMBRACE set, now forget the first three songs, I was in the pit, eyes locked to the viewfinder, from the moment they hit their first note and for the duration. The music serves more as a background, hearing without listening, as you navigate the pit, time the lights, and wait for the shot. After my time was up in the pit, I stayed for the whole gig as my partner at the time was also writing the review for the magazine. So without my camera, I just enjoyed the show. It was a classic scenario of “Oh I didn’t realise they sang this?” peppered amongst the ones I didn’t. The energy the crowd gave back was impressive, something that I’ve come to appreciate is the bands connection to their connection to their fans. The gig finished with an explosion of confetti cannons. It was fantastic. I found a new respect and appreciation for the band, the power of live music. I was still finding pink confetti for weeks later in the most unusual places.
After this gig, thanks to Mikey Shiraz, I still occasionally shoot at The Parish for my portfolio or for fun in exchange for shots. Shooting past shows, such as The Virginmarys, Coolio, Whitfield Crane and of course Land Sharks. In fact, I would shoot a few Land Sharks shows both at the Parish and a couple of other venues. A mishmash of a band, and who better than the man himself, Mr Shiraz describe the band…
“What do you get if you take the vocalist from a hyperactive punk rock band (Mikey Shiraz – Mr Shiraz), take the rhythm section from a platinum-selling indie rock band (Mike Heaton – Steve Firth – Embrace), add in the guitar stylings from one of the UK’s fastest rising rock acts (Sam Wood – Wayward Sons, Blackstar Riders) and drench it all with the piano wizard and crazed mind of one the best funk/soul bands around (Steven Beever aka Lord Beeves – Nu Popes)? You get Land Sharks, a whole new monster of a band. The very filthiest in rock n’ roll come together to deliver a serious slice of twisted steel and sex appeal”
Filthy rock n roll, with twisted sex appeal you say? Im in. Over the course of shooting these shows, I guess I became a familiar face, without intrusion. Just manly head nods and the occasional passing pleasantries. However, I did become friends with Kitty, Steve’s girlfriend at the time and now fiance. With a mutual love for photography and music, we would often bump into each other at both Lands Sharks and EMBRACE gigs.
A few weeks after the review was published in Rock n Load Magazine, I received an email from the band’s manager. He asked if I would be happy for a couple of my shots to be included amongst the inlays for their newly recorded “The Good Will Out’ Live album special edition which they released later in 2019. I was flattered to be approached. In shock. I didn’t even think any of the shots were worthy of consideration for anything like that. I was asked how much I would want for the release of the images. Well, I had no idea, this was new territory. At the risk of out-pricing myself with some random number, instead, I took a chance and offered him the shots in exchange for an AAA pass at their upcoming Piece Hall summer gig. This particular gig was a big deal for the EMBRACE family, not only was it their homecoming gig, playing to a sold-out 5,500 capacity crowd, but they were also celebrating 21 years since the release of their double platinum debut album “The Good Will Out”. The Piece Hall is one of the most beautiful and exciting venues for music in the country in my opinion, the perfect venue for a birthday party such as this.
Tony accepted! This was to be my first real all access shoot experience at this level. I was granted full venue and stage access for the entire show, with the only condition, that I stay away from the dressing rooms. That was fair enough, I wasn’t going to risk the privilege of the pass by stepping out of bounds for the sake of trying to get some unsolicited shots. The whole venue was my playground, that was enough, it was to be an amazing experience.
Actually, I still never found out if those shots for the album were ever used in the end.
The Piece Hall gig was perfect. A sun-drenched summer’s day. Hope and Social, Reverand and the Makers and Sleeper were all part of the show before EMBRACE headlined the party. Exploring the venue from every corner, shooting from the pit and the wings I had great coverage. It was a gift. Creatively speaking, It was an absolute buzz and you just couldn’t help but be consumed by the atmosphere. Backstage, treading carefully, especially among the crew, respecting their workspace and being super spatially aware. I’m no stranger to clumsiness, both backstage and onstage there are many cables, wires, trip hazards and very expensive equipment. Spacial awareness is imperative, especially whilst concentrating on the show. Back in the days of working in radio, I was working on a breakfast show in Tamworth. The Station was Centre Fm at the time, don’t bother looking for it, it’s not there anymore. Cutting to the chase, I managed to take the whole station off the air by pulling the wrong cable, I had no idea what I’d done or how I even did it. Turns out the station depended on being ‘on air’ via this one plug that was going into the back of a computer tower. A computer tower!! Anyway, fuck’em and their corner-cutting stupidity. I was fired a week later, but that’s another story.
I was determined, I wasn’t going to mess this up, I figured, if someone remembers me specifically being there, then surely it would be for the wrong reasons.
Moving forwards. I was developing a good relationship with Tony, (Embraces Manager) who was granting me further photo access to shows. Tony, despite his initial uncertainty, kindly granted me an interview for my Behind the Series blog series. As predicted, this interview received great feedback.
As a photographer, the key is gaining trust by your ‘subject’ or in this case the band and Tony. No matter who it is, if you are granted access, then someone is letting you into their world. As a result, I always think it’s good practice to run shots past management or members to ensure that everyone is happy with the content before anything gets released online
During the Leeds Arena Show in 2020, just before they hit the stage, I grabbed a stage walk shot in the corridor as they made their way from the dressing room to the stage. I cleared this in advance with Stage Manger, Beeves, (who also happens to play keys in Land Sharks). Out of courtesy, I would clear everything to avoid taking anyone by surprise or finding myself in the wrong place at the wrong time. I consider myself a guest, not a member of the crew or the 6th member of the band. Dressed all in black, I hope to remain as unintrusive and invisible as possible. In this case, the long corridor was white and well-lit. With a sense of raging imposter syndrome, the band did oblige me and the lens as they walked past me. An exchange of manly head nods and a fist bump from Steve. Which was ironic considering what followed globally days later.
Back in the spring of this year, Mike Heaton reached out asking would I be interested in a pass for their upcoming July Piece Hall show, as well as shooting some behind the scene stuff, soundcheck, backstage etc. They were now celebrating 25 years since “The Good Will Out’ was released. As you’d expect, it didn’t take me long to accept the invite, probably a second or so maybe. We also discussed including the Holmfirth warm-up gigs as a collective project, very exciting. For the Holmfirth dates, I could only shoot the first night as I was booked for the second, however, it would only be another 3 days after that, they would play the big show in Halifax.
Speaking of being occasionally clumsy, typically. The week before the 28th June, for the first time, I manage to drop my ‘go to’ 24-70mm lens on the floor when I was shooting MUSE at the John Smith Stadium. I picked up my bag that I thought I’d already zipped shut. Evidently, I hadn’t. So, with that lens currently in the hospital, all I had was my 14-24mm and my 70-200mm. So either Ultra-wide or a super zoom. This was going to alter my shooting routine, but I was up for the challenge, too late otherwise.
I arrived at the Picturedrome around 6 pm just after soundcheck, by then everyone had scattered. So I met up with Steve and Kitty for a pre-gig drink and a catch up.. I later split to get some food, as this would be my last chance to eat before going back to the venue. I made my way through the backstage labyrinth of corridors to get to the dressing room. Over time I’ve slowly gotten to know Steve, Mike and Rick from shooting their other projects such as Land Sharks and EEVAH including one or two brief catch-ups on social occasions ect, however, up to this point, I was yet to meet Mickey Dale and Danny McManara.
I knocked and poked my head around the door where Mike, Rick and Mickey were sat chilling with a few friends. I was invited to hang out and share the space for my camera gear. The dressing room, although not the biggest was very social with a relaxed vibe. This is good for some candid shots, but nothing wild goes on during this time despite the rumours. I’d keep popping in and out, but mainly hanging out on the patio area, where it was much cooler. This is where I later got chatting with Mickey, covering everything from politics to pizza, photography and A.I. It was all very informal. Shortly after, I decided I should go and cover some of the show opener, Tom Speight’s set. A soulful singer-songwriter who isn’t afraid to get amongst the crowd.
When I returned Danny had since arrived. I walked in wearing my harness with both cameras swinging, he was the first person I see sitting on the sofa nearest the door, he watching me walk in.
Catching me off guard, I said “Oh, hi Danny, I’m Simon, the photographer”
“Yeah your cameras gave it away” he replied reaching out his hand
Shaking his hand I said “Yeah, I’d look pretty silly if I wasn’t” or something ridiculous like that, as my Larry Davidesque social awkwardness started to kick in.
He shortly turned back to carry on with his conversation that I’d interrupted by my entrance.
Right! The all introductions were complete.
Showtime was approaching, the mood was changing with each getting into their zone. Somewhere in a back room, I could hear Danny warming up his voice, Mike rhythmically tapping the back of the sofa with his sticks, Steve checking his notes, and Rick and Mickey supplying the banter. This was a moment of personal indecisiveness, having never intimately shared a room with a major band before they hit the stage, I wasn’t sure if should shoot it or not. I knew these are the moments where photos happen, watching people preparing, and seeing the focus take over the interactions are different. however with it being a relatively small room, with quickly fading natural daylight, I was struggling to stay out on the peripherals to get the shots I had in mind, and I certainly wasn’t going to crack out the flash – can you imagine? So thought it best to leave them to their preparation time. Instead, I used the time to get myself prepared. double checking everything. Ensuring that I have spare batteries and memory cards whilst at the same time considering ideas in my mind for the show ahead. Asking mysel questions like “Do I need the toilet?” and all that stuff.
I always like to get a pre-stage entrance shot, where they’re waiting in the wings for their cue, final preparations, ear monitors going in, and building their energy with a group huddle. These pre-showtime moments are a mixture of emotions and atmospheres great to captures if you can get them. the space was very tight, my angles were limited. I remember, during the encore, I wanted to get ahead of them to get a reverse shot of them coming back on stage. I subtly signalled to Rick that I wanted to squeeze past, with everything that was happening and me waving my hand in a forward motion, Rick led the band back on stage! So I didn’t get the shot, however, I hope this was a coincidence, and Rick didn’t take it as a direction to go back on stage! Pre show, I captured what I could, before quickly making my way to the front of the house to catch their stage entrance.
The Picturedrome is both a strange and brilliant venue to shoot. A century-old cinema, with its 700 capacity and sloping floors, there is no pit so you’re working amongst the crowd, doing your best to not outstay your welcome when blocking obliging fans. But that’s okay, this is compensated by the two-tier balcony, so there is a range of possibilities and angles. Now the fun part is the difference between stage left and stage right access. Stage left is fine, but if you need to get stage right, then it’s out the door, up some stairs, round the back corridor and back down two sets of stairs. There is no direct connection, this is made even more complicated if you’re making your way from the front of house. On a hot humid night, with my adrenaline pumping hard, working that venue turned me into a dripping wet mess. It was a great workout.
When shooting from an audience level, drummers can be hard to shoot, simply depending on the distance and height at which the kit is set up. This can reduced a drummer to a gurning headshot peeping over the snares, not the best look. With stage access, I always make a point of getting shots of the drummer from all angles if possible. It’s rare to get that close to them in full on action. Shooting from the wings, The side lights created high contrast and heavy shadows, begging to be black and white shots. The back of the stage captured the band’s POV looking out to the crowd to really set the scene. These opportunities allow you to pick your shots rather than be pressured by the clock which is any music photographer’s dream.
The show came to an end, I’d covered everything I could. Like a caffeinated bunny, I wanted to be in so many different places all at once in order to tell their story with each beat.
Making our way back to the dressing room, the energy is electric, everyone is on a performance high. Along with meeting up with friends, everyone goes straight to the fridge for hydration, usually a well deserved beer. I reached for an Irn Bru, I’ve not had one in ages. I released myself from my camera harness, and im soaked, even my straps are wet. Well, that’s a first! Nice
As I packed away my gear, the vibe of the room behind me is buzzing, totally different from the pre-show, this vibe felt more vibrant. As I finished my drink I enjoyed the vibe for a short while, before saying my goodbyes. Making my way back to the car still wired from the experience.
After every show I shoot, no matter who it is or what time I get in, I’m urged look through my shots on the Mac. I can’t possibly conceive the idea of going straight to bed. For me, with the show still in my head it’s the best time to at least select shots, which leads to editing your favourite. Then before you know it, you’ve been editing multiple photos, and the birds are singing. I will always revisit edits the next day with a fresh eye, to make any adjustments, or indeed to start again. Days later, I like to revisit my memory cards to re review rejected shots. Most times I find stuff in the photos that I hastily skipped on the night. Another productive habit is steaming the bands music on Spotify thus further keeping the high, alive and kicking. This leads me nicely back to another example of how I continue to discover new music. Becoming absorbed in the editing process whilst taking in new music.
In regards to Embrace music, I found myself listening to ‘The Good Will Out’ a lot during various editing sessions. Eventually, I became hooked on the album. The album came close to the verge of being overplayed during an otherwise glorious summer of 2020 when the whole world stopped. At both the Piece Hall and Leeds Arenas shows, the album was performed in its entirety. Even now, when I listen to it, along with the associated feelings that come with it, I’m thrown back to doing what I love most of all, almost becoming the soundtrack to my mojo. As a result that whole experience is what inspired me to start producing the Behind The Lens blog series during that long solitary existence.
The next time I was to see everyone again, would be in Halifax…