A selection of photographs featuring some fine female performers.
1. Laura Marling (Cambridge Folk Festival, 2011) I first became aware of Laura Marling when I was researching the line up for the 2008 Cambridge Folk Festival, at which Laura would be headlining the Thursday night concert on Stage 2, as always, the main stage on the opening night of the festival. I knew little of the singer songwriter, other than that she was from Reading, that she was just 18 and that her debut album Alas, I Cannot Swim, had just been released in the February of the same year. She appeared on the same bill as Frank Turner, Cherryholmes and Tuung, appearing last on that bill at just after 9pm She wore her hair bobbed and seemed incredibly shy, looking out at the packed festival audience like Princess Diana looked as Martin Bashir. I got a few photographs, but none I was overly satisfied with, which was largely down to my inadequate camera. The second time I got the chance to photograph Laura Marling was three years later, when she was effectively headlining the main stage, this time going on after Mary Chapin Carpenter on the Sunday night, wearing an Iron Maiden T-shirt, which was a gift for the photographers who had gathered in the pit. The shirt provided one or two smirks from the dyed-in-the-wool folkies in the audience, but I thought it was a powerful image and certainly gave the photograph some character, especially in view of the fact that her gentle set was a million miles away from a hard rock concert. It’s not the first time I’ve seen a youthful singer at a folk festival show of her secret musical leaning, Lucy Ward having performed on stage at the Wath Festival playing an English concertina, while sporting a Sex Pistols T Shirt, so there’s nothing really new here.
2. Eddi Reader (Cambridge Folk Festival, 2014) I first saw Eddi at the Cambridge Folk Festival’s 25th anniversary back in 1989 when she was with her chart-topping band Fairground Attraction. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve seen her subsequently but I’m definitely on my second hand. In an interview I did with her once, she told me that when she had had her first child, Alison Moyet turned up in her MG, parked it outside, took her baby and said “go and have a bath”. Eddi is one of our finest singers and on stage, can be highly entertaining, especially when recalling her younger days. I took this photo when she appeared in the Club Tent at the Cambridge Folk Festival back in 2014.
3. Kathryn Roberts (Great British Folk Festival, Skegness 2015) I first heard the voice of Kathryn Roberts back in 1995, after Jim Lloyd played a track from her duo album with Kate Rusby on his Wednesday night Radio 2 Folk Show. Jim referred to the two women on the cover as ‘posing in an un-folk-like manner’. I enjoyed the track so much that three days later I headed into town to see if I could find a copy of the CD, which I couldn’t. Frustrated, I headed next to Meadowhall in Sheffield, where I eventually found the album, sticking it in my car player as I hit the M18. I could now see what Jim meant as ‘un-folk-like’ as I glanced at the CD on the passenger seat, in that these two women could easily be the latest pop sensation from the Stock Aitken Waterman stable. I didn’t even know which one was Kathryn and which one was Kate, which was made all the more confusing in Bryan Ledgard’s photograph, which like the Crosby Stills Nash debut LP, has them in the wrong order. I have to be honest here, risking excommunication from the folk world (which I don’t actually claim to belong to anyway), that I always preferred Kathryn’s voice to Kate’s, a voice that immediately stood out for me. I always thought it was like an adult singing with a child. I discovered shortly afterwards that the two would be appearing at the Cambridge Folk Festival later that summer, which I’d already decided to go to, not least for the fact that Guy Clark was on the bill. They were to debut their new band The Equation, formed with three brothers from Devon, who I had no idea about at the time. Sometime between picking up this album and attending the festival, Kate had left the group to go solo and Kathryn had the spotlight to herself and in a way, became the darling of the festival; I also now knew which one was which. Over the subsequent years, I’ve taken dozens of photographs of this Barnsley singer, got to know her family and have always enjoyed hearing her sing and perform. Of all the pictures I’ve taken, I quite like this one, taken at the Great British Folk Festival, a shot of her faffing with her accessories, something I know little about, which makes it more intriguing.
4. Eliza Carthy (Cambridge Folk Festival, 2016) I think I first saw Eliza Carthy in the Club Tent at the Cambridge Folk Festival as a twenty year-old, playing her fiddle. I remember my first impression being something along the lines of, well that’s a definite mixture of Martin and Norma right there. There was something very lively about this young performer, who gave me the impression that she can’t possibly keep still for a moment. In just about every one of her live appearances I’ve witnessed over the years, there’s always a moment, or several moments, where Eliza seems to defy the laws of gravity. The strange thing is, the older she gets, the more animated she becomes. Surprisingly, I’ve only ever interviewed Eliza once, after she appeared at the Barnsley Acoustic Roots Festival in 2010, which was brief but sweet. This photo was taking during the Wayward Band’s set at the Cambridge Folk Festival in 2016, where I tilted the camera in an effort to stop her falling over. A brilliant performer, who always puts on a good show.
5. Ruth Patterson (Beverley Folk Festival, 2015) When I announced on social media that I had just seen Holy Moly and the Crackers for the first time, Andy Atkinson said “Where have you been?” It’s true, I had to ask myself the same question, how did I not know about this band? This was at the Beverley Folk Festival in 2015, when the band had already been around for four years. Formed by Conrad Bird, Ruth Patterson and Rosie Bristow in Leamington Spa, the Newcastle-based band have built up a reputation as a major league live band with their unique blend of rock, soul, indie and Balkan folk. Immediately after their Beverley set, Conrad and Ruth sat down with me for a chat, where they explained their music, which Conrad described as ‘gypsy Balcan reggae’ and Ruth went on to emphasis ‘it’s music for people having a good time, having a few drinks, losing it a bit’. Despite being a wheelchair user and having to tackle the things that many of us take for granted, crossing muddy fields and getting on stage for instance, Ruth takes it very much in her stride and once in the spotlight, claims the stage as her own. You can’t take your eyes off her. This is one of several shots I took of Ruth before a single note had been played. It was almost like a studio session with perfect natural light, where I couldn’t possibly get it wrong.
6. Polly Perry (Great British Folk Festival, Skegness 2015) When I first heard the debut album by the Winchester-based band Polly and the Billet Doux, Fiction, Half Truths And Downright Lies, I began to show an interest and did the usual googlie mooglie searches online for more info. When I discovered the titular songstress was almost a Julie Christie double, my interest increased for a brief moment. In 2011 the band had been booked to play in The Den, the newly established stage at the Cambridge Folk Festival, closing the Saturday night session. During the afternoon, quite accidentally, I bumped into Polly in the middle of the main field on the diagonal path and I asked if we could get together for an interview at some point. She said ‘sure, how about after our set tonight?’ Directly after the band’s set, Sam Lee immediately started a singers session and so I couldn’t get to Polly or indeed her band and therefore I abandoned the whole enterprise with a slightly fatigued some you win some you lose attitude. When I saw Polly again, it was at The Leopard in Doncaster, where I discovered that her roots were very much in the town, with her grandparents living close by. I could’ve saved myself the struggle in Cambridge and just met up with her around at her Grannies. I took this electrifying shot of Polly at the Great British Folk Festival in 2015.
7. k.d. lang (Cambridge Folk Festival, 2008) When k.d. lang appeared at the Cambridge Folk Festival in 2008, I was determined to get a photograph of her. I wasn’t part of the media team in those days and had to get what I could from the audience. After being elbowed out of the way by a group of women who clearly thought I should be somewhere else, I bobbed down, leaned on the metal rail and from between two excited fans, got just the one snap. The photo was blown up and displayed in the VIP bar the following year along with several other great photos from some of the other ‘official’ photographers. It was really my introduction to becoming part of the media team. k.d. lang has one of the most distinctive voices in Canadian music who spends most of her time with her activism. More albums please.
8. Rhiannon Giddens (Derby 2013) I first saw Rhiannon Giddens with the Carolina Chocolate Drops at the Cambridge Folk Festival in 2010, where I got to chat with the three musicians (well, two of them, one was particularly quiet) backstage. Three years later I saw Rhiannon at the Derby Folk Festival, when she appeared at the festival as part of a duo with Layla McCalla. This photo is from that series.
9. Charlie Dore (Beverley 2010) Music Photographer Rule 37: When the girl in the band wears a flower, be at the right side of the stage. This was taken at the Beverley Festival back in 2010, when Charlie Dore appeared with the Hula Valley Orchestra to play one of the sweetest little sets of the weekend. I’d made arrangements with Charlie to meet up after the show for a radio interview and she asked if she could bring a friend along. Ten minutes later, I was invited to sit in the back seat of Charlie’s car, with Charlie in the driver’s seat and her friend in the passenger seat, who was none other than Barbara Dickson.
10. Josienne Clarke (Cambridge 2015) I first saw Josienne Clarke in The Den at the Cambridge Folk Festival playing a recorder the length of a Belisha beacon pole. Once I heard her voice, I was immediately drawn in to her world of melancholy, which was always interspersed with a biting humour. I became a fan and have since had the pleasure of introducing her on stage, engaged in brief but entertaining chats with her, occasionally over a whiskey or two and now consider her a friend.
11. Becky Unthank (Cambridge 2010) No one sings quite like Becky Unthank; there’s something in the timbre of her voice that is totally unique. I first heard Becky sing live in an upstairs room at The Salutation pub in Doncaster way back in April 2006, when she appeared on stage with her sister Rachel and the rest of the Winterset (Belinda O’Hooley and Jackie Oates). Having Becky serve me and my son breakfast in Northumberland on one of The Unthanks’ singing weekends was a surreal moment, then going on to open for The Unthanks a couple of times remains a cherished memory.
12. Emmylou Harris (Cropredy 2015) I met my wife in 1975 and we made Emmylou’s version of “Here, There and Everywhere” our tune, which is what young couples did back in those days. This was taken at what could only be described as a “difficult shoot”, when she brought Rodney Crowell and half of the Atlantic Ocean over with her to play at the Cropredy Festival. I have never been that wet before or since, including bath and shower time. Her duets with Gram Parsons remain somewhere in my top ten records of all time.
13. Martha Wainwright (Cambridge 2008) I once saw Martha at around midnight in a Glasgow hotel bar, shortly after she’d presented Ali Bain with a lifetime achievement award at the BBC Folk Awards. I was casually looking around the room and then our eyes met. I imagined she recognised me, especially when she smiled. She was probably looking at the person behind me! It didn’t stop my knees turning to jelly though. Five years earlier, I took this photograph of the singer on the main stage at the Cambridge Folk Festival, my knees were surprisingly much steadier on that occasion, while hers were covered over with pink football socks.
14. Peggy Seeger (Cambridge 2015) There’s something very special about photographing people of a certain age, both men and women, and I always look for signs of the boy or girl within. The inevitable signs of ageing is never an obstacle, rather a bonus, especially when looking to capture the character in the subject. Peggy Seeger is a beautiful soul and her smile is always priceless. I once stopped to chat with her, then lost the ability to speak and said something like “blughblaghpith”, whereupon she called for medical assistance.
15. Sinead O’Connor (Cambridge 2014) Although I was semi-aware of her earlier records and TV appearances throughout the 1980s, I first began to take notice of Sinead O’Connor after seeing the video promo for “Nothing Compares 2U” on Top of the Pops back in 1990. I was super fascinated by John Maybury’s extreme close ups, which formed the bulk of the film and wondered whether the tears that ran down each of her cheeks were in fact real. Sinead claims that they were. Two and a half decades later I was standing a few feet away from her at the Cambridge Folk Festival, looking for my ‘close up’ and noticed that those tears had now been replaced by two faint tattoos, which appeared to read ‘B&Q’, presumably because she’s a DIY enthusiast and ‘Homebase’ didn’t quite fit?
16. Laura-Beth Salter (Barnsley 2017) The first time I met Laura-Beth was when she was playing with Sharon King and the Reckless Angels in a shed just outside Barnsley. During the interval, I approached the stage to have a closer look at her mandolin, which was lying on a stool. She came up to me and said “pick it up, have a play”. I humbly declined, knowing full well what a clumsy buffoon I can be at times, but I never forgot the gesture, which had certainly never happened with any other musician before (or since). I took this shot at the Underneath the Stars festival just outside Barnsley during a performance by the Kinnaris Quintet. My favourite live shots are those that look like they could’ve also been taken in a studio.
17. Anaïs Mitchell (Cambridge 2012) I once interviewed Anaïs in the car park at The Greystones pub in Sheffield, with a motorcycle doing a twelve point turn right next to us. The gig that followed was organised by the much missed Sheffield promoter Rob O’Shea, who was subsequently taken from us much too early. During the interview, I was drawn to the singer’s striking, almost piercing blue eyes as we talked. Strange then, that I should choose a shot with her eyes firmly closed, from a set of pictures I took a month later at the Cambridge Folk Festival.
18. June Tabor (Cambridge 2012) I first heard the voice of June Tabor after buying A Cut Above, an LP she made with (and was co-credited to) Martin Simpson, my favourite guitar player at the time. Shortly afterwards, I saw them both together at the Rockingham Arms in Wentworth and was once again taken by their music. Known also for her ultra serious facial expressions, I was fortunate to catch a rare smile at the Cambridge Folk Festival, when she appeared with Oysterband. I was aiming for a similar coop when June played in Leeds with Quercus a few years later, but received instructions before the show – “First two songs, no flash, and not while June is actually singing” (!)
19. Bella Hardy (Cambridge 2015) A couple of days before I took this photograph, I found a spot of grass near the Internet cafe at the Cambridge Folk Festival to chat with Bella, who was just in the process of handing over the youth band project to Rosie Hood, after a long spell as the lead at The Hub, where nurturing young people in folk music is the focus. It was possibly the most personal interview I’ve ever conducted and I was humbled at just how open Bella was with me. The year before, Bella was responsible for taking a record breaking 145 strong choir onto the main stage, to sing with Ladysmith Black Mambazo. A lovely young woman with a generous spirit.
20. Polly Bolton (Driffield 2016) Polly has always been generous to photographers over the years, who will always treat those lenses to plenty of expression, lots of smiles, hair-flicks and action-packed mandolin pyrotechnics. I’ve taken dozens of photos of this Yorkshire singer and musician over the years, in various combos and outfits, but on this occasion, at the Moonbeams March Weekend, I was looking to catch her in meditative mode. I believe Polly used this shot for her mandolin tuition publicity for a while, which was sweet of her. Polly’s star is on the rise, so watch this space.
21. Elaha Soroor (Whitby 2017) I first heard Elaha’s voice when she appeared with Kefaya at Musicport back in 2017. The band’s highly emotive performance resonated throughout the room as the waves rippled along the shoreline a few dozen feet below. The Afghani-born singer’s folk songs are handed down through generations, yet performing them hasn’t been plain sailing, having endured repeated death threats from fundamentalist groups for singing such songs as “Sangsar”, which criticises the “stoning law”. When Elaha appeared at Musicport, her performance was nothing short of mesmerising. It was therefore heartening to see her pick up the Newcomer gong at the annual Songlines Awards the other night.
22. Radie Peat (Whitby 2016) When I saw Radie’s melancholy expression in my viewfinder, I was immediately reminded of Dorothea Lange’s iconic 1936 Great Depression-era photograph ‘Migrant Mother’, which shows Florence Owens Thompson surrounded by her children on a campsite in Nipomo, California. In my photo here, Radie is surrounded by her Lynched (now Lankum) band mates, rather than hungry children, performing on stage at the Musicport Festival, yet there’s something profoundly sad in her expression. This picture will never be as famous as Dorothea’s, and rightly so, but it’s my own personal Migrant Mother nevertheless, a photograph I continue to love.
23. Allison Russell (Wath 2013) One of the most approachable and likable musicians I’ve even met, here photographed at the Wath Festival in the spring of 2013. Allison, (Po’ Girl, Birds of Chicago, Our Native Daughters), radiates warmth both on and off stage and always seems to have plenty of time for the people who come to see her. One of my most treasured memories of Allison and her partner JT, was when they joined a bunch of friends for an all night (well almost) Soirée in my chalet at the Great British Folk Festival back in 2011, where we all exchanged songs in a spirit of friendship. Allison is a fabulous singer, even at 3am, who also plays a mean clarinet and banjo and does a perfect impression of Babar, the cartoon elephant.
24. Nanci Griffith (Cambridge 2012) Sometime in the mid to late 1980s, I began to take an interest in what was loosely described as ‘New Country’, with the likes of Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle and Lyle Lovett infiltrating my once Country-free record collection. The records of Nanci Griffith soon rose to the top of the pile and the urge to see her perform live took me to my very first Cambridge Folk Festival back in 1989, followed shortly afterwards to another show at Leeds University. Nanci returned to the Cambridge festival in 2012, this time seated and in good cheer, wearing union jack slippers if memory serves.
25. Joan Baez (Cambridge 2015) There’s a moment in the D.A. Pennebaker film ‘Don’t Look Back’ when some hapless photo journalist asks Joan Baez for her name, presumably after snapping a picture of her. When she reveals it, having to almost spell it out, he says “strewth! I didn’t recognise you, I’m sorry, I’ve been looking for you all day!” I can’t imagine how she must have felt, this leading lady of the folk revival now playing a bit part in an unfolding drama way out of her control. Even the press no longer recognise her. I knew exactly who Joan was when I stood a few feet away from her at the Cambridge Folk Festival, I was also aware of her significance in both her music and her activism. I’d also been looking for her all day and when I found her, I didn’t have to ask her for her name or indeed how to spell it.
26. Vashti Bunyan (Leeds 2015) Fifty years ago, back in the winter of 1970, I would scour the LP browsers at Foxes Records in the Arndale Centre for several hours before choosing just one affordable item that would take care of at least two weeks paper round money. My choices would therefore be highly considered and it would always take a while, going through the same ritual of reading all the liner notes on all the same records time and again. One of the LPs I would often hold in my mitt was ‘Just Another Diamond Day’, which when folded out showed a young maid surrounded by an array of farmyard animals, painted onto the white cottage walls on either side of her, like some Aquarius-age Banksy. Alas, I would always pop it back and go for the latest Deep Purple or Black Sabbath LP, something to challenge my speakers. Others had similar ideas, which inevitably forced our young heroine out of the pop music game, taking to a horse and cart and heading up to the Highlands to get away from it all. Thirty years later, Vashti’s fragile voice would return after renewed interest among new discoverers, in much the same way as Nick Drake became popular, ie. much later. Unlike Drake though, Vashti was still around and so I went to see her at the Howard Assembly Room in Leeds, where she took us back to all those diamond days.
27. Rebecca Lovell (Cambridge 2015) It was difficult not to fall in love with Georgia’s Rebecca and Megan Lovell when I first heard them in 2010, and so being the sort of bloke who doesn’t take to the difficulties in life, I just went right ahead and fell in love with ’em. I went on and on about their new band Larkin Poe so much that Hedley Jones submitted to my relentless haranguing and booked the band for the following year’s Barnsley Roots Festival and while he was at it, booked them also for one of his intimate house concerts the following night back in 2011. An unofficial Barnsley fan club was immediately formed and it soon became essential for us to see the band as often as we could, which took us up to Newcastle and down to London and just about everywhere in between. Seeing their star rise at such a rate was a pleasure to witness, from Hedley’s shed to Cambridge, Cropredy and Glastonbury almost overnight.
28. Martha Tilston (Cambridge 2007) One night, I turned up at the Rockingham Arms in Wentworth to see Nick Harper, son of the noted singer songwriter and guitar player Roy Harper. The place was packed to the rafters, which was almost always the case at the Rock in those days, so I squeezed myself in against the wall adjacent to Rob Shaw’s sound desk, just behind a young woman who was sitting on the floor, her back to the same wall. She turned and looked up, smiled, then motioned me to squeeze in behind her, which I did. I was just contemplating whether to buy her a Campari and lemonade and go through the whole “were you truly wafted in from Paradise” routine, when Rob called this young woman up on stage, revealing to us all that Nick wasn’t the only offspring of a noted singer, songwriter and guitar player in the room. Martha, who by this time was sitting on my toes, got up, picked up a guitar and sang some of her songs. Of course I was mesmerised and immediately began plotting to book her for a gig at our club in Doncaster. When Martha did come to play for us, it all went well until I got up on stage to introduce her.. “Please welcome to the Lonsdale.. Martha TITston” (!) I took this photo of Martha in the Club Tent at the Cambridge Folk Festival the following summer.
29. Toyah Willcox (Cropredy 2015) You never know quite who you’ll bump into at Fairport Convention’s annual bash near Cropredy, a small village on the River Cherwell, roughly four miles north of Banbury. There’s every possibility that you might see Billy Connolly entertaining the backstage crew or Robert Plant playing cricket with locals up on top of the hill, or even witness the odd Jethro Tull flautist (Ian Anderson) kicking a ball towards the guitarist (Martin Barre) before joining the sweltering ranks of Fortheringport Confusion on stage for a four-hour marathon sing-a-long culminating in a song about meeting on a ledge. You might also very well cross paths with everyone from Alice Cooper to Brian Wilson to Suggs from Madness. Backstage can be an eye-opening experience and anything can happen. Just as I was fulfilling a bucket list ambition of mine, by shaking the hand of Whispering Bob Harris, Mr Pegg came along and painted my nose yellow with a highlighter pen. My first time at the festival was the band’s first official ‘reunion’ event held way back in 1980, where I was lucky enough to catch Richard and Linda Thompson facing the sort of torrents of rain Captain Ahab wasn’t even used to. The last time I was there, was five years ago when I managed to get soaked through to the bone once again, this time during Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell’s set and then sunburned almost to the point of seeking medical assistance the next day during Toyah’s set. Well, despite being married to one of my all time guitar playing heroes (Robert Fripp of King Crimson), Toyah had never really found a place on my musical radar, until I saw her doing her ‘thing’ on that well-worn stage, right there among the rolling hills of Oxfordshire.
30. Olivia Chaney (Cambridge 2015) I first became aware of Olivia Chaney around eight years ago when I heard the Florence-born singer perform Joni Mitchell’s untouchable “A Case of You” in an online video promo, which for once, didn’t make my toes curl. It was such a good performance that immediately drew me to her voice. I then had to wait a full twelve months before the opportunity arose to see her play live, when she was fortunately added to the line-up for the Cambridge Folk Festival as a late addition to the programme. During her performance in The Den, Olivia once again ventured into dodgy toe-curling territory by singing Sandy Denny’s “Who Knows Where the Time Goes”, yet came somewhere close to matching the original. No mean feat. It wasn’t a case of Olivia being forgiven for traversing sacred territory, more a case of me being forgiven for ever doubting her. I had to wait a further two years before hearing her debut full length album The Longest River back in 2015, for which I was only too pleased to wax lyrical, awarding the album all the gold stars I had left in the box (when I still did star ratings that is). I got in touch with Olivia after reviewing the album and arranged to meet up for a good old natter in Cambridge, where she’d been booked for a proper main stage appearance that summer. I also tentatively asked her whether or not she would be including “There’s Not a Twain” (a personal favourite) in her set, to which she told me she wasn’t planning to. On the day though, when she appeared on Stage Two at the festival an hour before we met for the first time, she included the song and so I obviously considered it a personal request fulfilled. The last time I bumped into Olivia Chaney for a chat, was at midnight in a Manchester hotel after the BBC Folk Awards last year, where she was utterly charming. What an extraordinary talent.
31. Sarah Smout (Shepley 2013) Sarah might not be known necessarily as a front person on the folk and acoustic music scene, but is perhaps better known as a musician who enhances the songs and music of others, including Michael Chapman, Bridget St John and Gren Bartley. Often seated behind her cello, Sarah brings something special to a variety of diverse song arrangements in both the studio and on stage. I first heard Sarah when she played as part of Rosie Doonan’s Snapdragons a few years ago and have subsequently seen her with several notable musicians and songwriters, including Jess Morgan, Rachel Ries and more recently in monochrome, as one of the four members of the all-female quartet The Magpies. I’ve taken many photographs of Sarah over the years, but this one from Nikki Hampson’s Shepley Spring Festival back in 2013, where she appeared with Gren Bartley, is possibly my favourite, which I think brings out both her character and her beauty. I always prefer the mixture of natural light and stage light that comes with an afternoon marquee concert, which is probably exemplified in this photograph.
32. KT Tunstall (Cambridge 2013) In between first seeing KT at the Cambridge Folk Festival guesting with the band Oi Va Voi in 2003 and then again as a solo artist fronting her own band a couple of years later in her breakthrough year 2005, something very spectacular occurred, which could be described as life-changing, especially for her. Appearing on Later… with Jools Holland in 2004, the Edinburgh-born singer won the hearts of many when she performed a note perfect “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree”, surrounded by her gadgets, pedals and tape loops, immediately impressing the studio audience and fellow guest Anita Baker, while forcing the surrounding bands to look up and gaze at this young Lulu for the new Millennium, rather than their own navels. I was also suitably impressed as I watched from the comfort of my armchair and looked forward to seeing her at the following year’s Cambridge Folk Festival, where she has played a couple of times since, including 2013, when I took this photograph.
33. Raevennan Husbandes (Sheffield 2015) It was the opening song to the Adrian McNally-produced Harbour of Songs CD, a creative collection of works by such diverse artists as The Unthanks, Janis Ian, Villagers, Guy Chambers, Nick Hornby, Ralph McTell among others, that first drew my attention to this young musician. Raevennan would go on to join the art band Moulettes in 2015, where she can often be seen wielding an electric guitar like some female reincarnation of Jimi Hendrix. This photo was taken on stage at the Sheffield City Hall back in 2015, when she was supporting The Unthanks, with whom I would later share a squashed backstage elevator, while enroute to an after show get together with several other musicians. Being in such close proximity to all these talented people was so enjoyable, that had the elevator broken down, I wouldn’t have been in the least bit concerned. I obviously can’t say the same for them.
34. Kanene Pipkin (Cambridge 2015)The Lone Bellow is one of a long list of acts that I first became aware of at the Cambridge Folk Festival. One of the joys of attending festivals is that you often come away with a new bunch of acts to think about, in fact, if I don’t achieve this, I would see it as a failure on my part and would probably think that I’d attended the wrong festival. Names that spring to mind of the acts I first discovered at the Cambridge Folk Festival over the last thirty years include Anders Osborne, Eric Bibb, Tim and Mollie O’Brien, Imelda May and The Waifs to name but a few, though the list is actually much longer. These days that list grows even longer with the introduction of The Den, which provides a greater opportunity to catch new names. I was taken by the Brooklyn-based band The Lone Bellow five years ago when they appeared on the main stage and in particular the trio’s animated mandolin player Kanene Donehey Pipkin, who treated those of us in the pit to a challenge, to catch her in focus and devoid of blur, which I evidently failed to do.
35. Shirley Collins (Cambridge 2017) I came to Shirley Collins in the early 1970s, when she and her elder sister Dolly were effectively rubbing shoulders with such label mates as the the Edgar Broughton Band, Third Ear Band and the Battered Ornaments, all of whom appeared on the legendary Harvest sampler LP Picnic – A Breath of Fresh Air back in 1970. I wasn’t really aware of how important Shirley was on the British folk scene at the time and didn’t really discover the album she made with Davy Graham until I delved deeper a little later. I was at the time (and still am) a huge Amazing Blondel fan and therefore Shirley and Dolly’s use of such ancient instruments as the rebec, the sackbut, the portative organ and the crumhorn seemed to be right down my street, although those down my street were at the time grooving deliriously to Blue Mink, Norman Greenbaum and Edison Lighthouse. Having lost her voice through personal trauma sometime in the late 1970s, I thought the opportunity to hear her sing live had long passed but fortunately, her voice returned and in 2017 I found myself sitting at her feet during her main stage set at the Cambridge Folk Festival, with my back against the crowd barrier, when I should have actually been taking photos. This one was from a couple of days earlier, during an onstage interview with the proper music journo Colin Irwin.
36. Kami Thompson (Cambridge 2014) I’m well aware that this is the eighth musician in this little series of fifty women, whose father I either know, have met or am an admirer of and in one or two cases all three. Without having to scroll up I’ll recap for you; Mick Roberts (Kathryn), Martin Carthy (Eliza), George Unthank (Becky), Loudon Wainwright (Martha), Pete Bolton (Polly), Steve Tilston (Martha), Graham Smout (Sarah) and now here Richard Thompson’s daughter Kami, who I first saw at the Cambridge Folk Festival back in 2014 with her band The Rails. In all the above cases, I don’t really think of dad when it comes to their daughters’ talent, although I’m sure some of that paternal talent does inevitably rub off. These singers and musicians have their own unique musical merit and I base my admiration on this alone, especially Kami, whose dad probably comes up in interview conversations ad nauseam. Although my admiration for Richard Thompson is huge, I never once think of him when I listen to The Rails, Kami’s partnership with husband and Pretenders guitarist James Walbourne. Having said that, if thinking about Richard when listening to Kami was at first an obstacle to climb, then further effort had to be made of not thinking about her mum Linda either, but alas, I managed to do both. My favourite three minutes of the 2019 Cambridge Folk Festival was listening to Kami and James perform an acoustic “Mossy Well” just for me at the end of our interview.
37. Sharon Shannon (Cambridge 2017) I think I first became aware of Sharon Shannon in the early 1980s when I saw her on the box playing with the Irish band Arcady, who stood out among the others in the band. Since then, I’ve seen Sharon Shannon several times over the years and if I’m not mistaken, it’s always been at the Cambridge Folk Festival. Sharon is perhaps a bit of an institution at that particular festival, who delights her audiences with those incredibly fast fingers, always right on the button and always wearing that inimitable smile. Besides her own solo work, Sharon is a much sought after session player, having worked with everyone from Steve Earle, Jackson Browne and John Prine to Moya Brennan, Kirsty MacColl and Sinéad O’Connor, among others. I’ve been told that she’s not too keen on having her photo taken, yet she always manages to make a photographer’s job seem so easy.
38. Hilda Tloubatla (Whitby 2016) When I arranged an interview with the Mahotella Queens founder at Musicport back in 2016, I also invited along the writer and broadcaster Ian Clayton, who was evidently just as impressed with the South African singer and dancer as I. I think we both found her to be great company as she shared some of her stories with us. Towards the end of the interview we turned our attention to Whitby’s colourful past, Ian chipping in with stories of Captain Cook, while I briefly mentioned Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which momentarily freaked the singer out. “I don’t like the Dracula” Hilda confessed with a nervous laugh. I decided not to mention Whitby’s famous son Arthur Brown. A lovely lady and unbelievably fit and agile for a 74 year-old as was demonstrated shortly afterwards on stage with the Queens.
39. Rosanne Cash (Cambridge 2014) Yet another daughter of another famous father, though this time I never got to meet him or indeed see him play live. Johnny Cash did in fact visit my hometown at least once, where he allegedly greeted his audience with “Hello Donchester, I’m Johnny Cash”, a story I’ve told so many times that I’m no longer sure whether it’s true or if in fact I made it all up. Rosanne though, I have seen, and on more than one occasion. She married one of my other heroes Rodney Crowell in the same year that I got married and if they’d stayed together, they would’ve been celebrating their 42nd anniversary this year, but sadly, that was all over and done with back in 1992. I think many people (quite mistakenly) take Rosanne for a Country singer, simply because of the name, but she’s so much more than just that. There’s so many influences in Rosanne’s body of work, which now stretches to fourteen albums, several compilations and a boat load of singles. I first saw her in 2003 and then again at the 50th Cambridge Folk Festival, where this photo was snapped and I very much hope to see her again.
40. Vera Van Heeringen (Whitby 2017) When I first heard Vera’s debut solo album Standing Tall back in 2012, which had been sent to me for the purpose of reviewing, I was immediately drawn to one particular song, “His Own Way”, which features a guest appearance by Tim O’Brien. The song has remained on my playlist ever since and I see no reason for taking it off just yet. After listening to the album a few times, I dug up some background information to see who I was dealing with and not for one moment had I equated this singer, guitarist and mandolin player with the Dutch comic entertainer, whose Keatonesque antics in the New Rope String Band had delighted festival audiences over the previous four years. I’ve since reviewed all three of Vera’s solo albums and have seen her several times on stage with her trio, which is always a treat, especially the show they did late one Sunday night in a room overlooking the Whitby coastline at the Musicport Festival back in 2017. I was tired, fatigued, worn out and made it my business to stretch out on one of the front row seats with my first and last pint of the weekend and let Vera’s music wash over me.
41. Ruth Notman (Maltby 2010) One of several folk singers to have emerged on the British folk circuit over the last fifteen or so years, though we don’t get to see quite as much of her these days as we’d like to. No one sounds quite like Ruth, a singer and multi-instrumentalist from Nottinghamshire, who I first heard on the radio back in the winter of 2007/8, prompting me to go out to buy her first album immediately, the sleeve of which was designed by my good pal Bryan Ledgard. This photo is from a couple of years later, when she played a solo gig at The Rock in Maltby. Her support act had failed to show up, so Ruth asked me if I could open for her, handing me her guitar. I got up on Rob Shaw’s stage and did a few songs, then handed the guitar back to Ruth, completely forgetting that I’d tuned it differently for my final song. After playing the intro to “Billy Don’t You Weep”, Ruth stopped playing, looked in my direction and said “Allan, what have you done to my guitar?”
42. Lucinda Williams (Cambridge 2009) The odd thing about this photograph is that it was the only one I took during this ‘first two songs, no flash’ session. It was taken at the Cambridge Folk Festival back in 2009, just seconds after Lucinda walked on stage. She approached the microphone, took one look at the bank of photographers and then turned around and called for us all to be removed. Without having to be asked, all the photographers swiftly vacated the pit, therefore I was left with just the one shot, which was only really a test shot. Ten years later, the singer returned to the same stage and this time she was okay about being photographed and I took over a hundred shots from all angles and curiously I prefer none of them over this one. Perhaps capturing her true mood that day was more important to me than capturing the smiles of 2019.
43. Imelda May (Cambridge 2010) In 2009, I made my way down to the main stage at the Cambridge Folk Festival to take a few photographs of Paul Brady, who I hadn’t seen since the 1995 festival, when I attended as a regular punter. This time I was part of the media team and was looking forward to taking a few snaps, especially in view of the fact that a couple of hours earlier I’d been allowed access to his backstage cabin for an interview, which I conducted while he walked around the room playing his guitar, almost oblivious to my presence. The point is, on this occasion, I soon realised that I was the only photographer in the pit and began to wonder if I’d got my times wrong. As Paul walked on stage, I was certain that my regular cohorts had been abducted by an alien craft or had spontaneously combusted in unison. Where were they? I later discovered that the lot of them had gone to the other stage to gawp at Imelda May, who they all later insisted was the single most exciting act ever to have graced a stage at the festival, and that includes the Cambridge Crofters, and I missed it all for Paul Brady! The following year this young dynamite Irish Rockabilly singer returned to the festival with Sharon Shannon and this time I made sure I was there. They were right, dynamite.
44. Natalie Merchant (Cambridge 2010) The former 10,000 Maniacs singer appeared on the main stage at the Cambridge Folk Festival in 2010, the first time since her band appeared there back in 1988. I was always a big fan of Natalie’s third solo album Motherland, which came out in the wake of the Twin Towers attack back in 2001. I remember the title song being in the repertoire Solace, a duo I formed with a singer called Michelle sometime in the late 1990s. I found Natalie to be a difficult subject to photograph, and remember spending much of the three song time allocation just listening to her with my camera on my knees. I also remember her performing the haunting Richard Thompson/Dave Swarbrick song “Crazy Man Michael”. Lovely singer with a very distinctive voice.
45. Caitlin Rose (Cambridge 2011) Back in 1979, I would subscribe to a weekly magazine called You and Your Camera, each issue of which I collected, then inserted into one of several special grey binders, then placed up in the loft to gather dust for several years, eventually to be chucked out when it came to converting the loft into bedrooms for the offspring we managed to produce. One of the issues included a feature on rock photography, illustrated by a fantastic live shot of the musician JJ Cale, which made me wonder if I could ever take a photograph like this. Up to this point I’d never taken a camera to a gig, doing so being a capital offence at the time, punishable by death (or was it confiscation, I can’t remember). So sadly, no shots of Led Zep, no Deep Purple, Stone the Crows, Alex Harvey, Curved Air, Wishbone Ash, Mott the Hoople, Budgie (etc) for your pleasure. Anyhow, I was far too shy and wouldn’t have dared to carry a camera down to the front at Sheffield City Hall, being too nervous to even look at someone, let alone stick a camera up their nostrils. In those days the extent of my photographic experience was to take shots of robins in the snow in my back garden with my Praktica LTL, risking the wrath (and subsequent lawsuits) of the robins in question. Some years later though, I managed to take this shot of the Nashville singer Caitlin Rose at the Cambridge Folk Festival, the resulting photo actually reminding me of that old JJ Cale shot for some reason, albeit I dare say, much easier on the eye. I was quite pleased with myself in an odd sort of way. Incidentally, the shades would come off shortly afterwards (as they often do – unless you’re Ian Hunter or Jeff Lynne or for that matter JJ Cale) but I reckon the shades make Caitlin look mysterious here and in turn, makes the photo one of my personal favourites.
46. Fay Hield (Cambridge 2010) I was just looking at Fay Hield’s Wikipedia page and noticed they use as a representative image, a photograph of the singer taken at the Warwick Folk Festival, which shows the singer with a microphone grill smack bang in the middle of her left eye! I adhere to the Mies van der Rohe school of thought, that less is more and try to avoid microphones and in particular microphone stands, which are often an unavoidable hindrance when it comes to stage photography. Having said that, you might have already noticed that of the 46 photos so far in this series, 15 show covered mouths (or partially covered mouths), which is at times unavoidable, especially when the subject is actually singing. In this shot, which I took from the side of the stage in the Club Tent at the Cambridge Folk Festival back in 2010, I think just three elements is enough; a face in profile, a few buttons and an expressive hand, which I think expresses a certain mood. I don’t really think we need much more than that.
47. Amy Montgomery (Cambridge 2019) I met up with this young Belfast singer twice prior to her appearance at the 2019 Cambridge Folk Festival. First I had a brief chat with her during Graham Nash’s set, where she appeared as what I would describe as a pretty normal festival going 21 year-old, then again the next morning, where she appeared before me for an interview in full Amy Montgomery regalia, complete with facial war paint and Bohemian home made jacket, made up from bits and bobs the singer had picked up along the way. Despite the feral child stage act she would demonstrate on stage shortly afterwards, Amy was a joy to interview, wide-eyed, wide-awake and clearly enjoying the attention. She gave the impression that she really didn’t mind being there, chatting away to this old geezer, when she could’ve been off somewhere else having lots of festival fun. One of my favourite interviewees and a treat to photograph, a girl who can make the simple routine of plugging her guitar in look interesting.
48. Kate Rusby (Barnsley 2017) I once made my way down to the photo pit at the Cambridge Folk Festival, completely clean of alcohol, illegal (or indeed legal) drugs, mind altering psychedelics or any other intoxicating substances, yet still could be seen sporting a blue cardboard superhero mask ready and prepared for a key moment in the performance. Once that particular moment arose, I raised my arm to form a skyward pointing fist just as this singer reached the first chorus of a song that celebrates a brave and totally fictitious local Barnsley hero, who apparently “drinks Yorkshire Tea all the time”. Of all the women that I’ve featured so far in this collection, Kate Rusby is probably the only one I would’ve done this for, such is the power of her influence. I hasten to add that it wasn’t just me. Phil Carter, my sometime partner in crime, did exactly the same thing and I believe there’s photographic evidence out there to prove it. This photo was taken almost a year later on Kate’s own turf, in a field just outside Barnsley, underneath the stars as it happens, where we went and did it all again!
49. Norma Waterson (Cambridge 2009) I was familiar with Norma Waterson long before I got to see her on stage, the first time being at the Rockingham Arms in Wentworth some time in the mid to late 1980s. I had no real interest in folk music in the 60s and 70s apart from a few brief moments entertaining Folk Rock (Fairport, Strawbs, Byrds), while completely avoiding unaccompanied folk warbling at all costs. In 1980 things began to change, possibly when I borrowed an LP from my local library, which was (and still is) just at the end of my street. Released on the Topic label, The Good Old Way features Martin Carthy, Nic Jones, Dick Gaughan, Martin Simpson & June Tabor and others, with the title song performed by The Watersons. I played this record to death and then went out and bought Frost and Fire, the Hull singing group’s first LP. The rest, as they say, is history. I now have all those LPs by The Watersons and many of the records that shoot off branchlike in all directions from this particular family hub. Whenever I see vintage black and white footage of the group performing in the smoky pubs of the 1960s, I imagine that if I’d been in the audience, I would’ve kept my eyes firmly fixed on Norma Waterson and would’ve felt the power of her completely unique voice as she belted out another chorus of Hal-An-Toe. Gotta love Norma.
50. Sonja Kristina (Skegness 2013) I wondered whether it was possible to get through the festive season by limiting my dailies to just one portrait and a few accompanying words for fifty consecutive days, which quite surprisingly I’ve managed to do. As you can imagine, my desk is still littered with dozens of photographs of singers and musicians who didn’t quite make the list, for no other reason than that fifty is clearly not enough, but alas, continuing with this would be silly. So, the final photograph I’ve chosen is in fact the only one of those fifty to feature a former pin-up of mine. Back in 1972, the Curved Air singer took pride of place on my bedroom wall in the form of a giant Pace poster, surrounded by a cluster of lesser beings. I always thought the poster marked a turning point, as The Monkees came down and up went Sonja Kristina, resplendent in her purple velvets and furs and not forgetting the unfeasibly high boots that made June Tabor’s look like slippers. It certainly made a difference when I tacked up the poster; to look at Sonja Kristina before turning out the lights at night, rather than the Thunderbirds wallpaper that lay underneath. Though I saw Sonja with Curved Air a couple of times in the early 1970s, as she appeared on the poster, I didn’t get to chat with her until 40 years later, just after this photo was taken in fact, when we met up in the back of the band’s tour van, which was parked up on the street behind the venue on the freezing North Lincolnshire coastline, where we spent the next hour or so chatting away like old mates. Back Street (unrequited) Luv!