A New City

Looking out of a window on the first day in a new city

For me visiting a new city follows something of a regular pattern. For the first few hours, I don’t like it, wherever it is. That’s pretty much a given. It could be the holiday destination of your dreams – I won’t like it. They could be scattering orchid petals in front of me on the street – I still won’t like it. Period.

I’m generally the trip organiser. I tell myself I do it under sufferance but in reality, it’s a control issue – I think something would get forgotten if I didn’t do it. So because I’ve arranged everything I have this performance anxiety thing going on. My wife won’t like it, the hotel’s going to be a roach infested pit and we’re going to get mugged – the usual stuff everyone worries about.

A woman waiting for fries in a Berlin fast food store

However, once that’s passed and it is generally only a few hours. Then fairly quickly after that, I want to live there. Not lock, stock, and barrel sell our house and move. Just live there for a while, three months seems ideal. Long enough to get to know the place.

My fantasy, which is fully developed by now, generally involves renting a small apartment. I like the idea of an apartment because it’s easy to maintain, there are no distractions from the work in hand. I don’t want to waste my time gardening or sweeping the yard. I’m going there to be an artist nothing else. Once settled I’d spend my time wandering the streets with my trusty camera documenting the life of everyday man. In the evening I drink red wine and eat at a pavement café.

That’s not so unusual, I hear you thinking, everyone does that, from time to time. But for me it’s not time-to-time it’s every time!

A woman working late at night seen through an open window

This fantasy doesn’t always end when I leave the city. When I got home from visiting Eugene, Oregon, I spent several hours trawling rental properties online. Deciding which one I was going to rent like I was actually going to do it. I like the view from that one, but it’s a long walk from the town, that’s no good, I tell myself.

I picture myself like W. Eugene Smith trying to record the whole of Pittsburgh.

One property consisted of a small cottage at the bottom of the owners garden. I developed the story I was going to tell them about why I was there. As long as there’s no gardening required that would be fine. I’m not going to have time for gardening.

Hands tending a plant through an open window

The latest object of my desire was Berlin. We visited last month and stayed in a great hotel in Neukölln. We loved it. The streets behind the hotel were jammed with suitable apartments, it was ideal. A new city to explore my imagination ran riot. There are lovely little bars and a really welcoming atmosphere. I don’t speak more than the very basics of German, but that’ll come, I told myself, once you’re living here, chatting to people every day.

A group in a bar watching a football game

Maybe this fantasising is the sign of some malcontent in my life as it is. Could it be I just have an overactive imagination? I’m going to Bristol for the weekend soon, so if you’re interested in the state of the rental market give me a few days and I’ll be the man to ask.

A woman waiting on a u-bahn platform.

Multi-Story Orchestra Rehearsal

Multi-Story Orchestra in their Peckham home

About this time last year I attended a concert by the Multi-Story Orchestra who perform, you guessed it, in a multi-storey car park. The orchestra is part of a wider arts project, Bold Tendencies, who have taken over the car park in the centre of Peckham, south London.

During the summer each year Bold Tendencies host a series of talks, concerts and art events. The roof of the car park is turned over to a great café and bar – Frank’s Cafe. As part of all this, the Multi-Story Orchestra play a series of classical concerts in their ’auditorium’ on the 8th floor.

Bassoonist with the Multi-Story Orchestra

…  several hundred Londoners joining in on the chorus of Wonderwall.

It’s quite a surreal experience. Imagine the typical multi-storey car park, low ceilings, harsh lighting. It is open on all sides, there’s concrete, lots of concrete and an orchestra! The day of the concert is one of those wonderful all too rare London days when the air is warm, there is barely a breeze and somehow all feels right with the world.

Mult-Story orchestra in their Peckham home

I’m guessing much of the audience aren’t familiar with Gérard Grisey’s Les Espaces Acousitiques, as I’m not. Never-the-less we sit entranced. My enduring memory comes in one of those unscripted moments. The other side of the railway is another building with its own roof top bar and their own performance – an Oasis cover band. As there is a lull in the music, across the tracks comes the unmistakable sound of several hundred Londoners joining in on the chorus of Wonderwall. Smiles spread across the faces of the audience. For a few seconds, two slices of London life are merged. Then as the orchestra continues those countless Noel’s and Liam’s gradually fade away.

Young musician working with the Multi-Story Orchestra

This year I’ve been lucky to work with the orchestra in shooting their rehearsals. The day of the rehearsal pictured here is very different from that day last year, thunderstorms were spreading across London, the rain hammered down. However, all that concrete isn’t easily intimidated. In that way the car park makes the ideal concert hall. It’s as though there’s no rain falling on the roof two floors above us.

Multi-Story Orchestra working with young musicians

For the second half of the rehearsal, the orchestra is joined by young musicians from local schools. It was great to see the musicians working with the next generation. From what I saw this year’s performances should be a treat.

Tuba player with Multi-Story Orchestra

Adventures in: renting camera equipment

Fujifilm XT1 with battery grip and 23mm f1.4 lens

For the first time, I decide to rent some gear for a shoot. In the past, I’d always managed to borrow what I needed or get by with what I had. But there’s only so long you can live off of the generosity of others. Conventional wisdom says you don’t buy the gear you’re only going to use occasionally, it’s better to rent what you need. If you find you’re using it a lot, then you buy.

I used to be a Project Manager, where you quickly learn, that if your plans can go wrong they generally will.

So I contact a local ‘professional’ dealer who’s handily about a mile from the venue. I was going to be a bit pushed for time the week of the gig so I arrange to pick up on the way there, allowing me to drop it back a couple of days later. I need a Fuji camera body and a lens (an XT1 and a 16-55mm f2.8, if you’re interested). I assume they probably won’t hold as much Fuji stock as the more popular Canon or Nikon, so I book nice and early. I’m all set, quite excited by this new way of working.

I used to be a Project Manager, where you quickly learn, that if your plans can go wrong they generally will. With this in mind, I make a note to call a month before the date.
“Hi, I’m just checking on my booking.”
“OK, let me just look for you ….., oh, sorry Sir, we’ve got it down for the wrong date,” they say.
“But don’t worry, I’ll change that for you now. There all done, see you on the 21st.”

My Project Manager cautiousness steps up a gear. I schedule another call for a week before the date.
“Hi, I’m sure it’s all fine (patently not true, or I wouldn’t be calling), I’m just checking on my booking for the 21st?”
“21st, let me see here. XT1 body…” (drawn out pause).
“What date was it Sir?”
“The 21st, I phoned”, (twice as it happens) “and you said it was all ok?”
I then launch into this slightly out-of-control stuttering repetition of my name and the date like some down-market DJ. “Rumsey, on the 21st, 21st, Rumsey, 21st…”
“That’s strange Sir, we don’t seem to have a record of it, but don’t worry I’ll book it for you now.”
I’m just on the verge of pointing out that I’ve already booked it when he says..
“Oh, I’m afraid that body’s already booked for the 21st”.
Yes, by me! Twice!

I can hear myself sounding like a dick.

I do my best to explain that I booked it first before the other booking, that should be my name on the list, not theirs. But I can hear myself sounding like a dick. After all, it’s not the other guy’s fault and it’s obvious my arguments aren’t going to cut any ice anyway.
“I can do you the XT-10, but it’s a little more expensive.”
At this point I’m resigned to my fate, I don’t even ask how renting a cheaper camera can be more expensive. My options have run out, I need a camera. No, I need this camera.
“Yes,” I say, “that’ll be fine.”

The logic behind renting the same camera as you already use is a sound one, all the buttons are in the same place, it’s just muscle memory. So much for that plan. However, the shoot goes fine, I don’t use the rented body that much anyway.

My question dear reader, is what do you do? Have I just been unlucky? Does renting gear need to be this difficult? How many times do you need to use a piece of gear to make it worth buying – at the moment, for me, that number is two.

I love this picture: a smile on her face

The band Lux Lisbon on stage at the Scala

I was going back through my pick of the shots I took for Lux Lisbon trying to decide which I prefer. I love this picture, it isn’t technically the best shot and it’s probably not the one most people would choose, but it works for me.

What it does is embodies the mood of the night. The Scala is the largest venue Lux Lisbon have ever played, it is sold out, the place is rammed, the band have just played a great set, it is the last date on their tour and everyone is having a great time.

I love this picture … a smile on her face, says ‘we did it!’

Most of the evening I was sitting in the pit in front of where Charlotte was playing and she had an amazing smile on her face. It was obvious she was having the time of her life and this moment towards the end of the night where she lifts her hands above her head, the smile on her face, says ‘we did it!’

That’s why it works for me. If you get the opportunity go to see Lux Lisbon play live, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. There’s more info on their website and you can even download a free 10 song EP, how many many bands do that.

Lux Lisbon at the Scala, London

Lux Lisbon on stage at the Scala, London

It’s great to get to shoot a high energy live gig, but even better when it’s a band you like, so I was more than a little chuffed to get to shoot Lux Lisbon’s largest gig to date at the Scala, in London.

Michael Kilbey on stage at the Scala, London

Michael Kilbey

There were two support acts starting with singer-songwriter Michael Kilby. I’d not shoot at the Scala before so it gave me a good chance to get a feel for the venue – singer-songwriters don’t generally move around too much and I’m pleased to say Michael followed in that honourable tradition. Michael has a great following, the ‘Sea Queens’, as they’re known, really enjoyed themselves!

Orlando Seale & the Swell on stage at the Scala, London

Orlando Seale & the Swell

Next up were Orlando Seale and the Swell. In addition to a guitarist, Orlando was playing with two great violinists and a very lively group of backing singers. It’s easy to tell when a group are enjoying themselves on stage and they were really enjoying themselves. I had the pleasure of meeting Orlando, he’s such a nice guy and was happy to chat to the audience in the bar after the gig.

Lux Lisbon have no management or record company – everything is completely DIY. I later found out they’re the first self-managed band to sell-out the Scala, a great achievement. I admire them for doing it that way, it’s really hard work, all the band were on stage before the set doing what would normally be roadie duties.

Lead singer Stu from Lux Lisbon on stage at the Scala, London

Stu from Lux Lisbon

Lux Lisbon are one of those bands that really come into their own in a live setting. I’m no music journalist so I’m not going to attempt to describe the references that inform their work – happily there’s a free 10-track EP you can download and do that for yourself.

It’s a fairly easy journey home from the Scala never-the-less it was still after midnight when I started editing. I was shooting RAW + small jpeg. I’ve written before about how great the Fuji jpegs are, it’s a massive time-saver to be able to grab jpegs straight from the camera, give them a quick tweak and email them off. The band wanted a few shots for their twitter and facebook feeds so they didn’t need to be huge files, the jpegs were ideal.

Charlotte from Lux Lisbon on stage at the Scala, London

Charlotte from Lux Lisbon

I’ve been playing with using the built-in wifi on the Fuji XT-1 to download files to an iPad. Snapseed and Lightroom Mobile are so intuitive on the iPad, in some ways I enjoy editing with them more than with full-blown Lightroom. Doing it that way would allow me to get some shots out even quicker, but I’m still not at the point where I feel I could rely on it to work without a hitch.

I spent the following morning editing the RAW files, uploading the final images to dropbox by the end of the day. You can see some more shots on my website. I hope you enjoy them and thanks to Lux Lisbon for the opportunity.

Record Store Day 2016

Rough Trade East on record store day

Beyond getting to see some new bands I like to start Record Store Day with a vinyl release to search for, even if my track record in actually finding it isn’t great. In the past this has included Radiohead’s 2011 12” release of ‘The Butcher and Supercollider’ and in 2014 Tame Impala’s, ‘Live Versions’. You guessed it, I didn’t get either.

This year was likely to be no easier. The object of my desire was The White Stripes highly regarded Peel Sessions, 15 years after recording they had been pressed into vinyl for the first time. Two disks, one white, one red. Reports on twitter said record stores had received their allocation only hours before they closed the night before RSD.

Rock couple in Rough Trade East

I’d planned a route through east London which would take me past three shops ending at London’s Record Store Day ground zero, Rough Trade East. Rough Trade regularly host in-store gigs and had booked a day of bands and DJs. The real pleasure of RSD for me is not what might be for sale, it’s the chance of catching an amazing set by an artist I’d never before heard of. Even if the music isn’t my taste there’s something about ‘the new’ that’s captivating.

Inside of Love Vinyl record shop

My route starts at Love Vinyl, just off of the Kingsland Road. They have a good selection of RSD pressings, but hadn’t received any of the White Stripes. One of the staff tell me an early customer had spent over £800 – that’s a whole lot of vinyl. I speak to a group of friends outside who are frantically calling trying to track down a copy of The Slaves ‘Are You Satisfied’. RSD can get you like that, especially if your favourite artist is involved. If you’re not careful a sense of panic can set in, do I go there or that other store which is closer but may be busier – what to do?

Sister Ray Ace on Record Store Day 2016

My next opportunity is Sister Ray Ace further down the Essex Road, coffee was calling me but now is no time to be taking breaks. As Sister Ray comes into sight I see there’s a queue, my heart sinks, but maybe that means there’s something worth queuing for – a little Jack maybe! Things are very organised, a girl at the door is letting a small number of punters in at a time. Even though it wasn’t on their list I still have to ask, but Jack is nowhere to be seen.

Two bearded men in Rough Trade East

..they’d received three copies of the White Stripes all of which were sold within 15 minutes of opening. Jack White had left the building.

I pull myself up, don’t lose hope now. I push on through the now drizzly east London. Left on to Bethnal Green Road, my brain’s begging for coffee, but Jack might be alone and waiting for me! Flashback Records comes into sight – no queue – that’s a good sign right? I get inside to be confronted by a scene reminiscent of the morning after a really good student party. There are a couple of forlorn souls searching for the vinyl equivalent of an old bottle of cooking sherry at the back of the kitchen cabinet. The staff are looking slightly stunned by the morning’s events. A sympathetic guy explains they’d received three copies of the White Stripes all of which were sold within 15 minutes of opening. Jack White had left the building (sorry for that).

The queue to get into Rough Trade East on Record Store Day 2016

Record Store Day 2016 ends the same way as it had every other year, without the main prize. I walk along Brick Lane to Rough Trade, I knew any copies they’d had would be well gone by now. I can’t help but ask never-the-less.

Chilean duo Magaly Fields playing Rough Trade East

On the bright side, I saw Chilean duo Magaly Fields who were new to me play a really stonking set. I also caught a DJ set by Blanck Mass – a bit too discordant for my taste but plenty of people were enjoying it.

Next year I’m sure I’ll be doing the same. Probably with the same lack of success – but still full of hope.