I doubt there could have been a better gig for me to kick off 2018 with. Following a string of intimate shows at the end of last year, Marmozets were back on the road debuting their outstanding sophomore album Knowing What You Know Now.
It was great to be back in a photopit, but more importantly, it was great to be back in a photopit for a small, raucous, sweaty rock gig. I've found myself a little desensitised to music photography over the past year or so, favouring easy, well lit Arena shows over dim, rammed, sweaty mosh pits. In a bid to re-energise myself a little, it made sense to head back to the shows where I cut my teeth ten years ago - working with tough lighting, mental crowds and tight photopits.
I was under no illusions - this was going to be a tough show to shoot. I'd not shot the Leadmill before, but it would be unreasonable to expect a 900 capacity rock club to be lit as well as a 20,000 seater arena, and I was a little out of practice.
*Caveat - this is camera gear talk, which may get boring. Photos are further down*
I'd managed to get hold of an AAA pass for the show, which took some of the pressure off me - I didn't have to nail all my shots in the first three songs, which is always great. Given I had a bit more time to play with, I took the opportunity to try something I'd been itching to do for years - shoot a show with a prime lens.
I remember seeking advice from Andrew Kendall backstage at Kendal Calling (no pun intended) back in 2010 when I was having a particularly rough time with my old Canon 24-70mm f2.8 lens. He recommended I give primes a go, and it had been something I'd wanted to try ever since - the sharpness, boken and colour you get with primes is pretty much unrivalled, but shooting primes does come with a cost - Literally, money. For a couple of high quality fast Canon L series prime lenses, you're talking easily £1200 a lens. That's a lot of brass on glass, and it's a luxury I can't afford. That was, of course, until Sigma went and released their own range of kick-ass prime lenses back in 2013. I picked up the first of their new 'Art' range to be announced - the 35mm f1.4 - pretty much as soon as it was released, and it's been a lens I've always carried with me 'just in case', but it hasn't seen much gig action. My Canon 24-70mm f2.8Lii has been my glass of choice for several years as it's sharp as heck, and if I was ever shooting a dark show I'd whack a flashgun on my camera (back in my NME days) and light the room up. For whatever reason, my weighty lil Sigma 35mm f1.4 had only been called upon for portrait work - what it was designed to do.
This show seemed like the perfect opportunity to final have a go at shooting with a prime lens. Using flash wasn't an option, and the extra two stops of light you get with a f1.4 lens could have been really handy. I still had my old faithful 24-70mm on one body as a fallback, but given I had a full set to shoot it made sense to experiment a little.
So how did it do? I'll be honest - not well. The slightest bit of back light, and the poor little bugger couldn't find a thing to focus on, and by the time it did find something to focus on the slow AF and the unforgiven tight depth of field you get at f1.4 meant nothing was in focus. In it's defence, the lens isn't designed to work in gig conditions, and it's pretty clear now why the Canon workhorse equivalent is twice the price. I've read a few reviews that say the newer lenses in the range - such as the 24mm f1.4 - have a much better AF, so I might trade in my 35mm. We'll see. Anyways - enough about me and my lens geek speak, back to the gig.
I had high hopes for this show - every time I've seen Marmozets live their performance seems to have developed and refined itself further, into a frantic-yet-well-oiled machine. It was also my first chance to hear most of the second album Knowing What You Know Now in person (go buy that damn album. It's amazing). I wasn't disappointed. All the hits from Weird and Wonderful.. made an appearance, but the new stuff really stood out for me. Don't get me wrong, I love the first album, but the direction they've taken with KWYKN really resonates with me - complex compositions, with catchy melodies and huge choruses. And to pull it off seamlessly in a live environment shows just how ruddy talented the Bottomleys and MacIntyres are. Had an absolute ball shooting this show, and can't wait for them to return from the States.
Thanks to Tom for being rad, and to Ben and the security guys down at The Leadmill, who were super accommodating, and did a fantastic job of ensuring I didn't get clattered by one of the many crowd surfers. Legends.