The Good Will Out
1st July – The Piece Hall
Three days had passed since the Huddersfield warm-up gig(s), and I’d slept, worked, and revisited shots in between while thinking ahead to The Piece Hall show, along with memories of that experience back in 2019. I sensed this show was going to be even more poignant to the band than before.
The walk approaching the venue always feels good. The rain had cleared, and the sun was breaking through the clouds. With anticipation, I made my way to the nearest entrance. Walking through into the courtyard, it was business as usual, with curious visitors milling around, along with people eating and drinking in the surrounding cafes and bars. The obvious elephant in the room was the stage. It was MASSIVE. A beast of a set-up, so much taller and wider than before, I took a moment to stop and take everything in, almost doing a 360, then watching the crew setting up the stage, arranging the kit and plugging everything in… You know. Yes, I know, I’m sure it’s more complex than that!
I arrived early at the venue, around 3pm or just after, as I was arranging to meet an old ‘radio’ friend for a drink. I was loaded down with camera gear, hoping I could offload it safely backstage somewhere. For a couple of minutes after I’d been refused entry, thankfully, Tom (the tour manager) Mike and Sarah arrived to save me, supplying me with the various passes I needed for the day. Everyone was quietly buzzing with energy Tom showed us to the dressing two floors up. Well, I say dressing room, this was more of a suite – an absolute upgrade from Huddersfield. A large contemporary space, with funky sofas and an area where food and drinks were served. A well-lit room, surrounded by huge windows and a balcony. I’m not great with heights, later I only went out there for about 10 seconds to look over the edge, maybe checking if I still have that fear. Yes, I was right, I still do.
I found a spot to keep my gear and sat down for a brief catch-up with Mike and Sarah. It wasn’t long before I left them them to chill and enjoy the space so I could go and meet up with Andy and his group.
Back in the day when I worked as an audio producer, Andy Stanson was one of the regular voiceovers that I used, and we’ve stayed in touch since. Incidentally, as an actor, he was telling me how he’d come to land a small part in the new Full Monty Series. Originally from Bradford, Andy was working with his old mate from drama school, Robert Carlyle, as his dialect coach for the series. During a script read, Andy’s delivery was noticed, and he was subsequently cast as the group therapist in episode 3. That was a fun conversation. He’d travelled back North for a visit with his partner to see the show as he was also friends with Starsailors Benjamin Byrne, who was also performing. It was great to see Andy again.
When I returned after an hour or so, a few more people had arrived – Steve, Mickey, and Tony Perrin, along with various friends and partners of the band. Mike, Mickey and Steve were milling around the food. In the fridge, they discovered each member had been gifted a Pork Pie from a local supplier. Each pie was massive, almost family-sized. They cut one up and shared the wedges. I don’t even like Pork Pie, but having not eaten so far that day, I couldn’t say no. Mickey passively suggested that Piccalilli would’ve been a good shout to accompany the Pie. I offered to run out and get some from across the road, but it really wasn’t an issue. Those times when you just start laughing at yourself as it reminded me of the backstage catering arrangements scene in “This Is Spinal Tap.” Thankfully, Mickey is a professional and he rose above it. He didn’t let it affect his performance.
The pre-show vibe was pretty much like it was earlier in the week, but this time with a much bigger sense of occasion. I’ve shot a few weddings before, and I can only compare it to the pre-ceremony – yes, there’s laughter and chatter, etc. but there’s also a slight underlying tension at the same time. Only after the wedding and speeches are complete does everyone truly relax and let go. Saying that, at this point, there was nothing really to photograph, nothing appropriate anyway. Not everyone had turned up yet, the people that were there were just chilling, either chatting, drinking, or pottering around signing bits of merch or whatever. I left to go on a recce of the venue to re-familiarise myself with what was available and where I could shoot from during the show. By this time, the security guys were emptying the venue of all daytime visitors as Soundcheck was approaching. Embrace was due to soundcheck at 5pm, followed by Starsailor, and then finally Ellur finishing the checks before the doors opened at 7pm.
During the soundcheck, everything was pretty much as you would expect. Each member checked their sound individually before playing a couple of tracks or sections of tracks collectively to get the mix right. Despite being given the freedom of the stage, some little voice in my head – I’m sure it was my mother’s voice, a recall from childhood telling me to “Keep out of the way.” So, I stood watching the checks, agonizing between my ideas and the expectations within their space. I felt I wasn’t quite ready to be as ballsy and ‘in yer face’ at that point. I didn’t want to give anyone a chance to second-guess me being there. I tend to tread as stealthily as possible when I’m shooting fly-on-the-wall stuff, so it could come as a shock to turn around and see me right there, appearing out of nowhere pointing a lens directly at you. I decided to shoot as an observer instead
I took the opportunity to shoot Ellur’s soundcheck. She describes herself as “An indie pop artist with good hair, moves, tunes, and great taste in music.” I’d agree. As she is also Rick’s daughter, I wanted to capture her story too. This was to be her biggest gig to date. Rick was there, capturing footage and shots on his phone Rather than it being from one artist to another, it became a cool father-daughter moment instead
All checks were now complete, and everyone scattered back to wherever they needed to be. The stage was literally set, it wasn’t long before the doors were open.
Before going back to the green room, I watched people enter the courtyard for a while, taking in the surrounding, and picking their spots. People-watching is great. It didn’t take long for the place to fill up, watching the atmosphere build in front of me, like a slowly expanding bubble of sound.
The green room was still very social, and Mikey introduced me to his Super 8mm camera. I noticed he was carrying it around with him, shooting short bursts of the film here and there to document the occasion. It was a beautiful thing; I love that vintage look.
“I’m taking it on stage with me, so if you fancy using it, just come and get it, it will be next to me,” he said.
“If I remember, yeah, sure!” Actually, I wasn’t sure if I was going to take him up on his invite; I had visions of creeping up to him during the gig and not being able to find it within the shadows, which could quite easily have turned into a Frank Spencer moment in so many ways on my part.
Danny was about to be interviewed by BBC Radio 6’s Chris Hawkins in a seating area literally outside the door to the green room. In fact, at one point, he had to come back in to tell us all to be quiet as the sound was carrying outside. The energy quickly resumed, though in a more hushed tone. Why is it in these situations that you always need the toilet? I would’ve to go out and brush past Danny being interviewed to get there. Anyway, it wasn’t long before the interview was over, and the other members had to go downstairs for some press shots – Phew.
Downstairs, literally backstage, there was a press area where promoters Cuffe and Taylor and The Piece Hall media team were gathered, taking publicity shots of the bands, etc. I just went down to be nosey really, and say hello to a couple of faces I recognised while watching the guys being photographed against a branded backboard along with Chris.
The day was rolling by fairly quickly, I was starving; I had forgotten to eat, as I often do. Ellur was on stage in 35 mins, and I needed to get food. I went out to explore the street food options outside; they were all busy with long queues. I waited as long as I could before I would have to run back to get my camera ready, without any food. As I was putting on my harness, I asked if I could grab a banana from the table; by this time, I was getting the shakes.
Steve asks, “Have you not had owt to eat?”
“No, I’ve not managed to eat today apart from that bit of pie,” I said.
“Go and get something to eat, have this, I can’t eat before a show,” as he handed me his meal ticket for the downstairs catering. An absolute hero. I had no idea that was even an option!
It was too late to eat at that point; Ellur and her band were already making their way down to the stage. I double-secured the meal voucher in my phone case so I wouldn’t lose it and headed off down with my gear.
Standing at the back entrance to the stage, through the haze of the dry mist, I could see the arena and balconies were packed. The band were gathered excitedly, waiting for their cue. They entered the stage with a well-received cheer from the crowd. Ellur held back to take a moment. She was visibly nervous as she prepared herself, but then, like a coiled spring, all that energy was released as she took the stage, greeted by an even bigger cheer.
The haze of dry mist. There was a lot of mist piped onto the stage; in fact, it was continuous – four machines, two on each side. This created its own challenges, photographically speaking. During the opening of their set, I was shooting from both the side of the stage and behind to capture the scene, which included the crowd. Her set was during the day, in between shade and sunshine, the light would change dramatically; everything risked being overexposed or really underexposed in an instant. Adding to this, shooting through mist didn’t make things easier – it makes everything look milky, especially against the sunlit background. I had photographed Ellur previously when she supported EMBRACE in Sheffield in September ’22. That must’ve been the tamed-down version because this performance was something else. Ellur was throwing in some moves that caught me off guard; she was dancing, twirling and shredding the guitar. She was totally owning her stage and I was missing it all. I quickly headed down to the pit to grab some front-facing performance shots. You create plans and ideas in your head, but ultimately you face unforeseen obstacles along the way, so you have to adapt quickly.
After the set was finished, I knew I only had 20 mins or so to eat before the catering inside The Trading Room bar would be closed, situated directly behind the stage. Crew, artists, and guests were dotted around various tables, eating, drinking, or just taking a time out in the calm. It was a hot buffet, obviously, I had pie, chips, mushy peas, and gravy – the cornerstone of any Yorkshire tea, with lashings of ginger beer. Actually, that last bit turned out to be fruit juice. I hoovered it down as though I’d never eaten before making my way back to the stage to catch the Starsailor set. I guess you’re reading this, thinking that I’m under such pressure – you’re right, I am, and it’s the pressure I place on myself. No one really has any expectations of me; I wasn’t obliged to shoot everything that day. I did it because I wanted to. Besides, the pressure stops me from becoming complacent.
I used the Starsalor set as an excuse to explore the venue, shooting from different positions as the mist was still blowing from the wings. Later I made my way back down to the pit when Rick joined the band on stage for the collaboration.
Shortly after I was back upstairs in the dressing room, Starsailor had finished their set. Final preparations for the stage were being made ready for showtime at 9 pm. I was swapping my batteries and memory cards, and just generally getting myself prepared for the show. These 20-30 minute windows in between sets pass by really quickly. I asked Beeves for a playlist so I could mark out the songs where there would be SFX such as fireworks and the confetti cannons. This served both as both photo opportunities and warnings. I’d hate to be in the wrong place at the wrong time for either scenario. I was preparing myself for the guys getting ready, I figured I would stand in a corner of the room making most of the space, observing, and looking for those moments to capture during their pre-show routine. As 9pm approached, Steve respectfully asked everyone in the green room to leave, so the five of them could come together on their own to get their heads wherever they needed to be without distractions. I never did get to snap these more private moments between them as I’d planned but hey, sometimes you just have to go with the flow.
I decided to go and wait downstairs in the backstage area. It didn’t take long before they all came down, performance ready. I took some simple shots of the guys before I headed off to the arena. I wanted to catch the confetti blast that was to open the show. My zoom was no good, but it did have my wide angle, perfect for capturing the whole scene. I made my way through the expectant crowd towards the sound desk. There I could stand on a platform, slightly above head height without getting in anyone’s way, capturing the explosion of colours as the first beat landed on ‘ All You Good Good People’ as Danny welcomed the crowd with open arms. After the rain of confetti had settled, I made my way back to the pit area to catch a couple of the opening tracks before going back to the stage area.
The stage was so much wider than the years before; now Ellur’s and Starsailor’s kit had been cleared away, and everything felt much bigger. EMBRACE was set in the centre, which seemed a fair way from the wings.
Before the gig, Mike requested a couple of over the shoulder shots with the kit included looking out to the arena. I had the exact shot in mind, a wide-angle from high, looking down and out was my plan. From the edge of the stage, I made my way over to Mike whilst he was fully in the moment, and found a suitable spot on the riser behind him to get the shot. Dammit! I couldn’t get enough height behind Mike to get the angle I wanted, so rather than be there longer than I needed to be, I crouched down out of sight and waited for the moment of sufficient waving arms before opting for a wide-angle slightly off-centre from behind. I think I got away with it.
Working as many angles and positions as possible, the gig rolled on smoothly, from one song to the next. It was the quintessential EMBRACE show with confetti, fireworks, and crowd participation. Even a bag of Tangfastic or two was thrown onto the stage, which I didn’t see again, obviously hidden away.
As quickly as it had started, the show had come to an end. People were making their way back upstairs to the green room on the second floor; the room was already full. I could sense that moment of relief – once more, they came back to Halifax and nailed it. Everyone was buzzing and ready to continue the celebrations at the after-show party down in the trading rooms where immediate crew, family, and friends were already gathering. People didn’t start drifting down there for another 30 mins or so while they decompressed and re-climatized from the show. I had stopped shooting by this point; I had packed away my gear in order to rest and hang out with friends, some of whom were already feeling the effects of the day.
Later on, as I was working my way around the bar to say my goodbyes, I remembered my playlist, which was still folded and battered in my pocket. Rather than throw it away I asked each member to sign it as my memento of the two days, which I’ll frame to add to my ‘Wall Of Claim.’ I think the tares and creases improved the look.
Looking through the shots, inevitably there are things that I would have done differently or places where I wish I had spent more time. Photography is one of the things that you never stop learning, it’s impossible to master, but the fun lies in the journey.
The main thing is, over the two days the guys were happy with the shots, and I had some great feedback, including a nice email reply from Danny which made me smile.
During the time I spent with the band, I came to realise that they indeed, were one big family, with its own family dynamics included. Everyone from the Crew right through to management was amazing, they were perfect hosts. I felt privileged to be a small part of it.