Matt Rakowski
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The Story Behind the Picture: Keane 2004

Posted On Sunday, 3 May 2020

When I began the journey of putting together a broad-ranging selection of pictures for the gallery pages, I had no idea how extensive and absorbing the task would be. I sifted through hundreds of folders on external hard drives, USB sticks, old computers and even a couple of CD ROMs. After several days of browsing, I finally found most of the pictures I was looking for. Admittedly, I’m a little agitated not to be able to find some, but I guess that’s a consequence of having such a haphazard filing system. Hopefully I’m not the only one?

Sifting through almost twenty years of work is an emotional experience. I unearthed pictures from unforgettable moments in my life, as well as discovering photos from events I’d long-since hidden away in the far corners of my memory.

All photographs are simply a moment in time, frozen forever. The majority of which were insignificant or bear little difference to the multitude of other shots—but every now and then one jumped off the screen and has its own story to tell. Not just about what’s happening in the picture, but how I got to be in the position of taking it and the wider reminiscences of that moment in time. Musing this thought for a few moments, I had the idea of writing some blog posts detailing the story behind some of my pictures. Some will be photos I’m incredibly proud of—pictures where the creative and technical aspects were spot on. Others won’t be so impressive to look at—but my God, they’ll have a story to tell.

There’s no better place to start than back in 2004, and the birth of my career as a professional music photographer. In the early 2000s, photography ceased to be merely a hobby as I invested in better equipment, took my craft more seriously and managed to get freelance work with several newspapers covering local news and sports.

I squeezed this extracurricular work in alongside my full-time job as a Chief Projectionist at a multiplex cinema in Solihull, dedicating most of my free time to my new vocation. One of my colleagues at the cinema played bass guitar in a band called Chase. The idea of getting into music photography hadn’t crossed my mind, until one evening when he asked if I could come to one of their gigs at Birmingham Academy and take pictures. It was one of those moments, when I questioned why I hadn’t thought of the idea myself.

The gig was incredible. I was pumped with energy and inspiration and I realised—this was the genre of photography for me. Before long I was touring the UK with Chase, playing all sorts of venues including the iconic Cavern Club in Liverpool. The more gigs I photographed, the stronger my attraction to becoming a bona fide music photographer. I experienced a thrill and passion unlike any I’d ever encountered. Waiting in the pit before Chase came on stage, my body was flushed with endorphins akin to being on some potent narcotics. It wasn't long before Chase were no longer enough for me. I needed to do it more often, with other bands.

I emailed my portfolio to various magazines and venues, asking if I could cover any gigs for them. The first to reply was Richard Maides, then General Manager of the Carling Academy in Birmingham. He invited me to take pictures of Keane in the Academy 2 venue on 5th May 2004. I was ecstatic. Not only had I secured my first professional music photography project, but Keane were a band whose music I really admired. I’d seen them support Travis at the NEC in March and was impressed with the unique sounds of their debut album, ‘Hopes and Fears’. An indie-rock band without any guitars? What an intriguing concept.

I probably prepared better for that gig than I did for any subsequent concert I photographed—yet unbeknown to me, I was still na├»ve of how a gig photographer should behave in the pit. The band emerged onto a colourfully lit stage, opening with ‘Can’t Stop Now’ and I started clicking away. Reviewing the pictures on the back of my Nikon D100, I hurriedly changed the settings to ensure I got the best pictures I could. Live music photography is a tricky game. Not only do the band never stop moving around on stage, but the lighting is always changing too. You have to focus your mind and not let complacency slip in, even for second. A lot was riding on that night, Richard had put his trust in me to capture great images for the Academy—I didn’t want to let him down.

The gig was spectacular. They sounded so fresh and energetic; the stage was lit beautifully for such a small space which only held 500 people. When I’m in the pit, I’m totally in the zone and not affected by any emotion other than the ineradicable desire to produce the best work I can. Even still, I couldn’t help feeding off the passion and energy from lead singer Tom Chaplin who was less than a metre away from me. The atmosphere was extenuated by the two pedestal fans either side of Tom’s mic, blowing his long hair around and ensuring an even spread of smoke across the stage—which I really appreciated because it gave solid blocks of really bold colours in most of the pictures.

I was on such a high by the time the gig finished. As I left the pit and made my way towards the dressing rooms, one of the security guards tapped me on the shoulder and said: “You know you’re only supposed to do the first three songs, and not use flash?”

“Oh really?” I’d never heard of this rule before, because all the previous gigs I’d photographed I’d been working for the band and could do pretty much whatever I liked.

“Yeah!” He laughed. “But you looked like you were having a good time and the band didn’t seem to mind.”

I have no idea how I’d managed to get away with it, thinking back I did wonder where the other photographers had gone, but I was too caught up in the moment to dwell on it. Fortunately, I got the opportunity to photograph Keane again a few weeks later, during an album signing at HMV Birmingham, which I covered for the agency Camera Press. I mentioned my faux pas to the band, and they saw the funny side of it.

Reviewing the pictures on the back of the camera before leaving the venue I was really happy, but when I got home and uploaded them to my laptop I was blown away. With enthusiasm and a sense or urgency, I selected the best shots and opened them in Photoshop 6 (not CS6, but 6) to make some basic adjustments. My Photoshop skills were in their infancy then, but I’ve not made any additional changes since that first edit.

I’d probably taken about 800 pictures and got a dozen or so really great images from the gig. Fellow music photographers will hopefully appreciate, that’s a decent return for concert photography—particularly for a debut gig!

Looking at the pictures now, they seem a little soft and grainy, but let’s not overlook that they were taken with a Nikon D100, which at the time was one of the best DSLR cameras you could buy. However, it only had 6.1 MP and the dynamic range was virtually non-existent.

This picture of keyboardist Tim Rice-Oxley is my favourite photo from that night, because of the colours and how the light behind him forms a kind of halo. I’m too modest to say it’s an iconic image—but to me, it has an air of the iconography you see in Russian Orthodox churches.

I gave the band a copy of the pictures which they used on their website. I photographed Keane another four or five times after that, and they were gracious enough to sign some of my pictures which I still keep in a treasured place.

Of all the hundreds of gigs I went on to photograph, that night in Academy 2 is still one of the closest to my heart. I have fond memories because of the pictures I took, the thrill of photographing my first band professionally and the manner in which I learnt the golden rule of gig photography—first three, no flash.

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