It starts here in New York City. Five cameras, a new city, a pass to a music festival, 8 days, zero plans and me. I don't know anyone.

It feels completely liberating being somewhere new and without the feeling of time pressures. I just started wandering for hours with my camera in hand taking shots whenever something looked right. I planned all my shoots like that.. like a big day out.

I walked for hours... you can do that here and not get particularly lost. You've probably seen a map of New York City. It's mapped out to prevent even the most hopelessly predisposed-to-getting-lost-people and allows them to live out a harmonious and on-time life. That said, the subway is as confusing as hell. It's like the streets had an erratic and hyperactive little brother with a point to prove - it's a bit cray but if you play it right you can pull off some pretty skilful traverses of the city.

First things first and hardly an unknown fact- jet lag sucks, but with it comes some pretty special things you wouldn't normally get to see. I don't remember sleeping later than 5am on any day. This city looks incredible before sunrise. There's something really special about being up before anyone else and going for stupid walks.

As soon as it wakes up though, you really need to have your shit together as it is a little bit mad and the city doesn't really wait around for anyone.

You end up loving New York for the pace. I'd just about adjusted to it when I remembered why I was there - to create a story around artists and the city and the festival. I knew I wanted to interview some people, I knew I wanted to have some key portrait sessions and I knew I wanted to go to seven or eight showcases. The following is all a bit adhd and chaotic but has heart in there.


So here we are at Day 0 of CMJ. I really don't know anyone. Be that musicians or PRs or record labels.

I started crash listening to music and asserting what I thought would make a great set of acts to see over the week. With showcases, you really are more of an A&R than a photographer or writer. I looked through the schedules and saw maybe five new British bands on the whole thing and I remember feeling pretty overwhelmed. I devoted a whole day to listening to new music from the schedules. I had travelled 3000 and something miles to have no idea what I was going to photograph or write about. Would the managers even be into the photo-shoot ideas? Would I even get replies? The music industry is very different in the US. It was like knowing how to play cricket in a place that only knew of shooting hoops, home runs and touchdowns. It was all a bit fucked as what you know is out the window but, in a 'seize the day' sort of way, you only can really go for it and fail beautifully if nothing comes off.

I fired off emails out to managements and independent artists explaining my ideas for shoots and people were pretty amazing getting back to me. I'd never experienced that. I had a couple of interviews booked in, five shoots and eight showcases sorted for the coming few days.

Day 1. My first shoot was with an artist called Son Little

With CMJ, it felt strange shooting an artist without having seen them play live so, where possible, I made it to as many shows as possible.

Son Little played the Communion showcase at the Rockwood Music Hall on the Tuesday night and I met up with him at the famous Poisson Rouge on the Wednesday for a quick shoot and interview. Here's a few shots and excerpts from our time.

It was a short walk-around photoshoot. I didn't know the part of town and light was fading fast and I was shooting on film. The shoot was a really strange learning curve and I kind of only really got to know Aaron (Son Little) once we kicked into the interview - I wish I'd done the photographs after the questions in hindsight. Here are two questions from our time:

How did we get here today?

This journey's been enlightening, you know, really starting from scratch, 0 followers and whatnot. It seemed like a crazy idea at first but as I hoped it would be... it's been exciting and I've learned some things. I've opened for R&B acts, folk acts, I've opened for monster hit-makers like Mumford & Sons. Every match I've had there have been real differences between the sounds and sometimes that makes you nervous but that's almost the greatest thing about it. Every group we've played with, I think we've found fans and connected with people regardless what the style of the music was of the headliner. My favourite part of the whole thing is sharing ideas with other artists. You learn a lot more when you're matched with people that are different from all over. We had a really crazy session after the Gentlemen of the Road stopover show in Waverley, Iowa with the guys from Mumford and The Maccabees and we were just singing at the top of our lungs that night. I just saw the Maccabees guys out in Austin again and looking forward to seeing them again tomorrow.

How do you want your sound to develop?

A lot of what I've done so far has been an exercise in subtraction. I'm really more looking forward to seeing what I can subtract and go from there, you know? It's hard not to think about it as I've had loads of ideas since the last recording but no real time to do anything with it. I kinda like letting the ideas stew in my head and when it comes time to put it all together, it's kind of interesting to see what you get.'

Son Little is playing at Moth Club in London the 14th December.


My second gig of day 1 was with Alex Vargas. I have known Alex for just over a year and his grounding is as much in performing as songwriting. One thing that has stayed with me since my shoot with Alex had been his similar discussion of songwriting to Aaron from Son Little. This idea of subtraction was important to both musicians. For Alex, I think the impetus this year has been both lyrical and musical subtraction. Musically, his setup has moved from a five-piece to a two-piece where his and Tommy Sheen's co-writes have blossomed exponentially. Alex has always been interested in finding a way to say something he's felt in a more compact form... the ability to take a story from a page to just a few lines or a memorable turn of phrase. There is a real strength to each song in Alex and Tommy's set with particular highlights being 'Giving Up The Ghost', 'Howl' and 'Till Forever Runs Out'.

My third shoot of CMJ was with Kevin Garrett. I was already running crazy late having overrun at both previous shoots and I now needed to get from Brooklyn to Central Park before darkness. I stupidly got in an uber in an attempt to beat the rush hour traffic at 6pm. It was totally fucked. I arrived an hour late and was very lucky to be greeted by the loveliest folks. I lead Eddie and Kevin to the rocks not far from the entrance to the park on 52nd and 7th and had had an idea to combine graphic design with the rock textures for a lead image.

The low light streetlights setting really suited the feel of Kevin's soul electronica music so I'm glad with how the shoot worked out. I shot both on film and on digital to get a mix of looks and, soon after, we headed down to the Rockwood Music Hall for his showcase performance. I really enjoyed this shoot. Kevin was really great with direction and was game for doing crazy shit despite the fact it was cold and there was only a couple hours until his set.

I had been recommended Kevin's music by the Communion Music office out in New York and had missed his London dates only a few weeks back so it was fantastic to see him play in a 50 capacity, packed out room. I had gone into the set really loving this song which is worth your love.

After the set, I chucked across some questions for KG:

What has been your favourite live show to date - what do you remember best about it?

There have been a few shows that have been favourites of mine so far. Playing at Rockwood in New York is always special to me. Getting out of the states to places like Montreal and London has been really exciting too. The festivals were a really fun experience this year. I can't wait to get back to those.

How do you see your sound developing over the coming years?

I think I'm constantly asking and answering this question to myself every time I write something new. I'm always trying to bend my influences and challenge what people are used to. So I'll probably keep flirting with pop as I continue to grow and develop.

What are your favourite and least favourite aspects of touring as a musician?

Socks are a thing on tour. When you run out of socks for whatever reason before laundry day that's usually a point of no return. Eating well is also a fun and difficult adventure when on the road. But my favourite aspects of touring all probably deal with meeting new people and getting to perform. That's the most fulfilling part of it all, getting to connect with new faces each night. I like to sell my own merch after my set too, so I get to meet anybody who wants to say hey. Oh also waiting until the end of the night and taking whatever is left on the headliner's rider.

Who are you listening to at the moment?

Too many names to narrow down. We are all going to be listening to Adele pretty soon and we're all going to want to quit afterwards. Right now I'm back on a Nick Hakim kick, Alessia Cara is really special. I finally got to see Alex Vargas perform. Big Sean is on the list too, duh.

Kevin's most recent release is called 'Refuse'


After Kevin's show, I was wrecked. It had only been a day of shooting and I'd been travelling constantly for 13 hours with my camera bag in tow.

The next day I took it much easier and caught just five acts - The Joy Formidable, Marlon Williams, BORNS, The Maccabees and Ben Abraham.

Both Marlon Williams and Ben Abraham had travelled pretty much a globe to get to New York hailing from New Zealand and Australia respectively. I caught up with Marlon just before his Sofar Sounds in the East Village.

Given the nature of CMJ, I only had a few moments at his set until I was rushing across town to get to the next set. It was genuinely my most stressful part of the week was how much you miss from clashes between showcases. I'm going to catch Marlon's set at the St Pancras Old Church on the 21st January to make up for it as what I saw was fantastic. You can listen to Marlon Williams here.

Ben Abraham's set was one of those sets where you re-realise why you fell in love with new music in the first place. It's simple storytelling, guy and guitar married in with an amazing voice with absolute control - the basics of singer-songwriter very much nailed. One thing that made it even better is that you could tell that he absolutely loved being there. It was his first show in New York and the response was fantastic. He beamed at the end of every song. You'll definitely hear about this guy before too long. My particular favourites were a 'Songbird' and 'Speak'.

After Ben's set, I caught up with one of my favourite bands 'The Joy Formidable' before their set at The Brooklyn Bowl before closing out my CMJ with The Maccabees at The Mercury Lounge.

I particularly loved TJF's new track 'Passerby' and it kind of brought CMJ to a nostalgic close hearing 'Whirring' again in their encore and feeling that far from home where I first saw it played.

In my final flurry of energy, I caught The Maccabees which felt pretty far from where I'd photographed them only a month earlier at the top of Scotland at Mumford & Sons' Aviemore Stopover. We were in a tiny space that could have only been 250 people compared with the 20,000 strong crowd at Aviemore. It was set where there was a strong British ex-pat crowd reliving 'Colour It In' and 'Walls of Arms' mixed in with their fourth studio album Marks To Prove it which had just dropped stateside.

Like The Great Escape, the CMJ venues get packed out pretty much instantly and if you're not there 30 minutes early, you're unlikely to make it in without higher levels of accreditation.

CMJ as a round-up was absolutely strange. I don't remember having to show my pass twice the whole 4 days of shows. I remember feeling a little bit amazed how it is swallowed up by the gargantuan city surrounding it - if you didn't know it was on, you wouldn't notice it. That said, if you do know it's on, you will find yourself seeing some pretty fine music over four days. I stumbled into a lot of great showcases but the general rule was to get there early and in New York as an out-of-towner it was pretty hard to always get somewhere when you planned. That said, there's some pretty incredible stuff to look at if you do get lost or miss your show. As a Brit going over, it felt like a very widely landscaped Great Escape festival with more of a balance between the public and industry - it's certainly not an industry focused festival which is a great thing. I would have loved to see more British acts out there but realistically out of the two expensive trips for new bands to make, the real focus gravitates to SXSW hosted out in Austin in mid-March. If you want to catch great new American music, CMJ NYC is certainly the right place to be in October.