Clash Live: Laurel and Anteros at Metropolis Studios

Laurel is an accomplished wordsmith with a heavenly voice, Anteros a brutally exciting pop rock band ("bitter dream pop" in their own words), both are set for great things. The gig was a massive hit- such a contrast of styles working so well is testament to the curatorial nouse of the teams at Clash Magazine and Metropolis. Click the image below to link to an exclusive gallery of my photographs over at Clash now

Natasha Miren Photoshoot

Here are some images from my recent photoshoot of singer-songwriter Natasha Miren, a rising star of the London music scene. The shoot took place on the streets around Bethnal Green and Hackney Wick at the end of Summer.

A highly talented and charismatic artist, Tash was great to work with - exploring the environment, seeing what sort of images we could come up with. We tried to avoid the traditional graffiti backdrops of East London photography, although  one little piece did inevitably creep in. 

Like any art form, photography is a process, so I like to take a peripatetic approach to shooting rather being tied down to one location or studio whenever controlled lighting is not absolutely necessary. It rarely is when you are trying to capture the detail and nuance of reality, rather than remove it.

Have a listen to Tash's soundcloud page, or try and catch her performing live in London if you can. Also, we have an exciting project collaboration in the pipeline, so watch this space...

Over the bridgeSinger Natasha Miren

'Finding Freedom' - Some New Rehearsal Shots and the Duet Music - 'Breaking Through'

'Finding Freedom' Behind the Scenes

Here is a clip of Dane Hurst and Amy Thake working on a duet for 'Finding Freedom' in the rehearsal studios of Rambert.

'Finding Freedom' Rehearsal©2014 Tom Rowland / Dane Hurst Choreography by Dane Hurst. Music and Film by Tom Rowland. Performed by Dane Hurst and Amy Thake

The piece is about a man locked in prison, separated from the woman he loves. He is tortured by being unable to reach her. He holds on to the slender thread of hope of being reunited with her, but ever struggles with the fear she will leave him while he is helpless in prison.

When Dane was creating the choreography, he conceived of a section where the man and woman dance a heart-rending, intimate duet where the couple move together so intimately, but without actually making physical contact. This tension of restraint builds until it is finally released in a beautifully tender lift at the end.

The music to which they are dancing is from a piece which I composed for the performance. It is called 'Breaking Through' and forms the musical centrepiece of 'Finding Freedom'. It accompanies this encounter between the prisoner and his love as she tries desperately to reach him through the armour he has donned to protect himself from fear.

This fear is represented elsewhere in the piece as a daemon aggressor, an incubus who comes to torture the prisoner in his dreams, threatening to steal his love while he lies incarcerated and helpless.

The piece is about a struggle. It feels like a struggle with an external adversary, but really it’s a struggle within yourself. Inside the heart of every artist - every person- if you look deep enough you find your greatest enemy and your greatest love. Carl Jung described them as archetypes: the Shadow and the Anima. Finding these cut off parts of our souls and rejoining with them, Jung thought, is the great journey of opening up to all our potentialities as a human individual. It’s the barriers in the mind between them which form our prison. The key, the way to break down these walls is creativity.

'Finding Freedom' will be performed this coming Saturday night (27th September 2014). Tickets are in short supply but you can watch the performance streamed live to all the billions of people across the internet by following the link on the Wilton's Music Hall webpage.

'Finding Freedom' Rehearsal

I have written the music for a new dance piece choreographed by Dane Hurst called 'Finding Freedom'.The piece is going to be performed at Wilton's Music Hall on Saturday night (27th September 2014).

As a sneak preview, here are some shots I took at a rehearsal in the Rambert studios.

Due to Dane's heavy schedule, I stood in for him at the technical rehearsal last night working on the lighting and so on, and I have to say that Dane's choreography is looking beautiful. Wilton's Music Hall is a stunning venue - an authentic 19th century hall with a magical atmosphere, embellished with ornate details in every boss and column, and a tangible sense of East End theatrical history which you feel the moment you walk into the hall.

'Finding Freedom' features performances by Dane Hurst, Amy Thake, and Owen Ridley-Demonick, and will be streamed live worldwide via the internet. You can find out details about tickets and a streaming link on the Wilton's webpage. I'm supposed to be interviewed in the interval too, so please tune in to see me drunk, incoherent, happy, and mumbling something about Jung.

Down in the River

My friend Jack and I walked around the river Thames last Sunday. The greyness of London at this time of year soaks through your pores. Last Winter I wrote a piece of music, called ‘The White Sky’. With all that anaesthetic blankness overhead, Summer can feel as distant as a house you you moved out of years ago.

I have written before about the South Bank, and how much I love its blend of expansive modernist architecture, ragged but lovely humanity, and the timeless industry of the River. Its faded and renovated squalor embodies the grandeur and the humanity of the capital. When I was young, my parents used to take me to see Bach’s St Matthew Passion at the Royal Festival Hall every year. Even back then, I felt how strong the character of the South Bank was: this thriving concentration of artistic output in the midst of urban dereliction (it used to be a lot seedier twenty years ago, believe me). Nowadays, I like to meet up with friends there. There is always something interesting (and free) to stumble upon such as a musical performance in the RFH lobby or a photo exhibit in the National Theatre balconies. It is the quality and the abundance of this sort of thing where you really see the advantage of living The Big Smoke.

So we wandered round the Thames. We met a girl on (what used to be called) the Hungerford footbridge who was trying to sell dream-catchers. She was somewhat furtive about the fact she wanted to money for them. Jack fancied her. I have no idea what a dream-catcher is. At the foot of the bridge we went straight in for a free hug (were they the same troop as at Glastonbury?), watched the skateboarders, and discussed Joanna Newsom. A girl was down on the beach beneath the Oxo tower, combing for something or other. Then Jack mugged a child, and we had a look at some more stuff, and parted company.

With some more time to kill I headed back onto the bridge by Embankment for the second time that day. It was getting dark and I was tired so I stopped to listen to a morbid yet persistent steel-drummer. The West Indian clangs sat weirdly with the gloom, but it was a nice way to take in the end of the day over the Thames, since I was cold and tired. Looking across to St Pauls, the Barbican, and the Natwest Tower made me think about the persistent grind of London. Working and surviving in this city can really feel draining although people do not often like to admit it. Actually, come to think of it, sometimes it’s all we talk about, perhaps because it is something we all share. The city looks awesome of a Winter dusk. Shelley wrote of the eponymous mountain in his poem ‘Mont Blanc’:

Power dwells apart in its tranquillity,

Remote, serene, and inaccessible

The lines could have been written for those fortress casinos in the square mile. If good old Percy Bysshe were writing today, he might well write about the city instead of Mont Blanc, and he could have picked a worse spot than the Hungerford bridge to reflect man’s relation to the vast and awful power down the river.

I looked over to the terrace on the South Bank where the free-huggers had been. The crowds had mostly gone home. It gets cold down there when the sun goes. I noticed there was an arc of people performing. The double amputee at the end of the bridge was still begging after hours in the bitter evening, poor sod.

I approached the horseshoe of singers by the river bank. There were a few people stopped to listen despite the cold so I took a seat on a bench. Close up you could see that they were a dozen or so young ladies probably around the age of twenty. I realised they were American immediately when they started to sing. Not from their accents. Everyone sings in American accents. The clue was in their quality and understanding of performance, of which Americans are the masters. They are just better than everyone else at entertainment. It’s like when you see Russian ballet dancers, Italian drivers, Australian cricketers, Spanish Flamenco dancers, British football hooligans, French pickets, or German nudists: as far and wide as you travel, when you see one there is something inside you which clicks and thinks: ‘They’re taking it to a whole different level. Shit, that comes from the source.’

The girls (a troupe from Princeton Universty NJ called The Tigressions) were singing a capella standards, and their own arrangements of modern pop hits. Rich harmonies, perfect tuning, packaged with all that American charm. Perfect to warm the proverbial cockles. I recall them singing an arrangement of ‘Happy Ending’ by Mika. It was surprising to hear something so luscious and personable amidst all the cold riverside concrete. Singing just for the joy of singing. No pretensions to fame and stardom, that bane of true music. Just a group of young ladies on holiday in a ridiculously grey city, enjoying singing with each other.

There were others who were enjoying this spontaneous performance as well. I noted a slightly gruff looking cyclist who seemed absorbed by the music. He sat there intently, taking it all in, clutching his bike frame. Also there was a little girl who went right up to the singers and stood right in front of them. She was young and uninhibited, bathing in the overlapping vocal lines. I hope the young ladies from New Jersey enjoyed their vacation in London. At least they looked like they were having fun, despite the gloom. It is indeed cool that they were able to contribute to and even become part of the life of the South Bank in their visit. I was grateful, at least.

Why Bin Men Are Like Photographers

I don’t know if you have ever noticed of the monkey-business bin men get up to. They work in the twilight hours when there ain’t many folks around. Rooting around in bags of used nappies, then scampering back to base before sunrise. I happen to know that bin men regard themselves as being a breed somewhere between vampires and a tramps.*

It must be an intensely antisocial yet highly social job. Imagine how popular you would be if you turned up in a caff / in bed/ at the opera after work at 8 in the morning smelling of fish poo and radishes? However, the teams of refuse-collectors always seem to be fairly tightly knit (I once saw one jokingly hold a razor blade he had just found to his mate’s eye then cut off some of his hair with it- ahh, the japes!). 

 Why do they do it? 

 The begged question. 

 There are the extras I suppose. They turn quite a bit of a side business by doing trade collections from scurrilous builders. You know how they will never take away that old fridge / tv / coffin that has been lying in your front garden for months? Next time they come round, pull on your pants (and bra) and run outside into the brisk morning air, and bribe them with a fiver. They will happily provide you with a bespoke waste solution. They probably make more by leasing the council’s civic facilities than by their regular pay. It all sort of balances out when you think about it. 

 Then there is the foraging. They love spending hours sifting through your rubbish like it is an episode of Bargain Hunt, looking for a nice figurine / desk set / wedding present. Check out these furtive snaps I took of the binmen, who jackpotted on our neighbours’ pile of about a dozen bin-bags. 

They really relished it. First the clear the rubbish from the tray of the lorry, then they tear open the bags. They proceed to rifle through the stinking booty, with priority pickings ordained via a pecking order. This chap made a nice little pile of gayly coloured boxes, which he then stuffed into a recycling bag (fittingly). He then somewhat coarsely advise his colleagues that they were not to copulate with his stuff on pain of death.

 They spent a good fifteen minutes outside this one house. It was like they had found a fresh roll of lottery scratch cards in there. Now I could make out some of the tat they were rescuing from landfill. I cannot believe that anyone could find any financial value in any of it. But I reckon it is not about money. It is about the fun of hunter-gathering. Just like young boys hunting for conkers. Or the incontinent rush for bargains at a car boot sale.

 It is funny how the hunter-gatherer habit comes back so naturally to us. Our ancestors, when gathering probably used every drop of daylight walking along, staring at the ground, discerning grass from edible leaves, poisonous berries from fruit. Every time they found something good to eat, they would have felt that that little pang of accomplishment, just like when a schoolboy finds a big shiny conker in the grass.

 I think this is also the feeling a photographer gets when he is out doing is thing. Whenever you know you have found a good composition, an interesting subject or the like, you get that tiny dose of endorphins. You carry on walking and hunt for more. It is totally engrossing. Your eyes start becoming sensitive to composition and colour, just like when you are searching for blackberries or mushrooms, your eyes become tuned to the shape and colour of those fruits. You get your eye in.

 I first became aware of this parallel in Burnham Beeches, a forest west of London. I like to go there hunting for porcini mushrooms. But this time I had my camera, and I became addicted to taking photographs of the shapes and compositions thrown up by the black trees against the autumn sky (not the most interesting pics, I know, but I weirdly find them fascinating).

Now this is not the first time I have taken photographs obsessively. I do that more often than sitting on things. But it was because of the association with mushroom picking that I noticed feeling a similar sense of gathering-pleasure. As though I was looking for bereft cutlery / door furniture / children’s toys in a pile of rubbish.  

*this is clearly a lie