Sunday, September 23, 2018

Louder Than Life preview... why you should be there early!

Everyone always turns up at festivals in time to see the headliners. There's no doubt that you'll be in time to see the big names at Louder Than Life: Friday's Slash, Breaking Benjamin, Limp Bizkit, Alice in Chains; Saturday's Pop Evil, Bush, Shinedown, Five Finger Death Punch, Godsmack, and Sunday's Billy Idol, Priums, Deftones, and Nine Inch Nails. But don't just focus on getting there for the headliners: there are amazing bands starting really early each day, throughout the three days of the weekend festival, worth shaking off the sleeping bag and grabbing coffee for.

Here are a few!

Stone Broken: hard rock from Walsall in the UK, opening the day on Saturday on the Zorn stage. You might want to check out their latest album, It Ain't Always Easy, before next weekend... including the song Heartbeat Away, which is hard to watch but has a very important message leading into October (Domestic Violence Awareness month) (Don't just 'be aware'... stop it happening). They rock and they will be finding new fans in the USA for certain. And they have the first of the day's female drummers, Robyn Haycock... later on Saturday you'll see Hayley Cramer with Pop Evil and that set too is going to be awesome. Is it a coincidence that both Ms Haycock and Ms Cramer are from the UK?

The Dose: indie-rock duo Indio Downey (vocals, guitar) and Ralph Alexander (drums) will be performing on the Zorn stage at 1.50 p.m. on Sunday. Below is their latest video, Saline... also check out their website for more info. Check them out!

From Ashes To New: We've covered this band for a long time, and it's wonderful to see them receiving so much more airplay--and the recognition they have worked so hard for. From Ashes To New will be on the Loudmouth stage at 3.10 pm on Saturday. Don't miss!!!

Red Sun Rising: If you haven't heard them yet, this video should be enough to get you to the barrier in front of the Loudmouth stage at 2.35 p.m. on Friday: (yes, this is a brilliant cover... also check out their other music on their official YouTube channel)

Anemic Royalty: Louisville, Kentucky's very own will be on stage on Sunday, at 12.50 pm on the Zorn stage. Check up on them before the festival here. Don't miss!

Blacktop Mojo: been waiting to see Blacktop Mojo live since early last year, when I first heard their music. Here's the review... they'll be on the Zorn stage, on Saturday, at 1.45 pm. Here's something to start your journey with them (and more music here on their official YouTube channel):

All times listed here are subject to change. For updates, see the Louder Than Life website, Facebook, or better still--install the app!

And please... stop doing the rain dance!

(I was writing this post when the news came in that the second day of Bourbon And Beyond, also held at Louisville's Champions Park on the bank of the huge Ohio River, has been cancelled due to weather concerns. While UK festival-goers are used to mud--we've all seen videos and photos of the mudbaths--extreme USA weather is not something to be jested with. The festival organizers, Danny Wimmer Presents, do everything to make sure that festival-goers, performers, workers and volunteers alike, are all safe. If you are looking for info on Bourbon And Beyond refunds, go here. Fingers crossed that the site dries up in time for next weekend.)

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Vinnie Paul All-Star tributes: Louder Than Life and Aftershock festivals

Vinnie Paul of HELLYEAH, Aftershock 2014
Vinnie Paul, HELLYEAH, Aftershock

We lost one of the greats, this summer.

HELLYEAH were due to play at both Louder Than Life (Louisville, Kentucky) and Aftershock (Sacramento, California) this fall/autumn. Now, an all-star tribute to Vinnie is planned at both festivals, organized by the festivals' Danny Wimmer Presents together with Sirius XM's Jose Mangin. 

The tribute will feature members of Five Finger Death Punch, Korn, Godsmack, Deftones, HELLYEAH, Shinedown, Sevendust, GWAR, Bullet For My Valentine, Body Count, KYNG, Cane Hill, Emmure and more and will include songs from Pantera and Damageplan.

Vinnie Paul Tribute
The tributes will happen on Saturday, September 29 at Louder Than Life, and on Saturday, October 13 at Monster Energy Aftershock.

Jose Mangin says, “Vinnie is an idol turned big time friend, and he left a massive void on this earth. When Danny (Wimmer) and Gary (Spivack) asked me to put together something special for Vin, I knew the best way to pay tribute to him would be to throw a Texas-sized jam session belting out Pan-mutha-fukkin-tera songs loud & proud! Everyone involved is doing this because they love Vinnie, and together we can all carry on his name, music and spirit forever!”

Chad Gray of HELLYEAH, Aftershock 2014
Vinnie Paul and Chad Gray, HELLYEAH, Aftershock
Louder Than Life this year is three days! Friday, September 28 to Sunday, September 30 at Champions Park in Louisville, KY. Aftershock is the weekend of October 13 and 14 with local heros Deftones headlining. Both festivals have huge, huge lineups... check out Louder Than Life here, and Aftershock here. Be there!!!

(And if you are in the UK or Europe and want to know who Jose Mangin is, check out Sirius XM Octane through their website. My favourite radio station, which unfortunately is only available in the USA. You can (sometimes, occasionally... it's quirky) listen on line for a limited time--click the Listen Now button--and hear some of the USA's best hard rock and melodic metal. If that doesn't work today, there are always recordings, top 20 and other articles on the website. I really, really wish they would make Sirius XM available worldwide!)

Vinnie Paul and Chad Gray, HELLYEAH, Ace of Spades, Sacramento

Monday, September 10, 2018

Review: Hozier, EP: Nina Cried Power

Hozier sold out Sacramento's Ace of Spades in February, 2015
Hozier. You remember. That dude who burst into our ears, and hearts, back in 2014. Take Me To Church, and the beautiful, self-titled album, Hozier... a Grammy nomination and performance with Annie Lennox, a sold-out USA tour... one new song for the movie, Legend Of Tarzan.. and since then, nothing. Crickets. Silence...

Nearly four years, and that's a long time for a young artist. It's a long time for any performer who doesn't already have a long-established fan base and back catalog. It's a time during which other new stars can appear, appeal, burn bright and fade away. Young fans become grown-ups-with-kids in that time. Where had he gone?

Just the occasional tweet promising new music... and then, a tour announcement (already sold out?), several festivals, a few rehearsal dates... and a new EP. Only four songs... but it is new Hozier music.

He's back. He never went away.

From the first notes of Nina Cried Power, you know it has been worth waiting for...  Featuring R&B, gospel and hall-of-fame singer-songwriter Mavis Staples, the song is so full of soul it's bursting. And that bass line...

Leaning more to soul, more soul, and folk than blues, the EP is a tantalizing tease, a reminder that we are still waiting for a new album; it's a promise of more to come, and it's a hope that there will not be three more years to wait.

Take a listen to Nina Cried Power here. Not only soul... it's protest, and activism, and human power, and the legacy of so many great singers who stood up for what they believed in.

Every artist has their own creative cycle, some longer than others. And just because someone is a musician, a performer, it doesn't mean that the rest of their life stops.Whatever the reason for long times between releases, it's all worthwhile. Just ask any Tool fan.

For more information, check Hozier's website or Facebook. Tour dates--if you can manage to get hold of a ticket--are here.  I assure you, you're in for a treat.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Album preview: New studio album from Finnish band, Korpiklaani: Kulkija

Saying you like music that's sung in a language that you cannot understand is a bit like deciding to have a tattoo done in a character set that you can't read or write: it's a huge leap of faith that they are not singing about how much they enjoy abusing women and children, or inking you with insults and stupidity and grammatical errors. However...

I like this band. I like the sound of the songs, the feel of the music. I like the vocals. A mix of rock, metal and folk... but I haven't the faintest idea what they are singing about.

Korpiklaani's new studio album, Kulkija (it translates to 'The Wanderer' or 'Wayfarer') is coming soon on September 7th... you can pre-order it here. It will launch the band on a huge, and I mean ginormous, tour, taking in many cities and towns in Russia, the USA, and then all over Europe. (There's a date in Sacramento, California at Holy Diver, and in London, UK, Islington Assembly Hall, among all the others--see them all here.)

Here's their latest single, Aallon alla (sorry but Google doesn't seem able to translate that... there are times when machine/automatic translation just doesn't work):

Find out more on Korpiklaani's Facebook and website:

(And please... if you speak Finnish and English, let me know if I have anything to worry about! I'm as comfortable with Finnish as I am with Hungarian, i.e., there are zero clues in the words that someone who speaks English, French, and a smattering of Polish and German can understand... yet it's a tease, because we share the same character sets!)

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Nothing More... new album??? But this is a lot less than Nothing. More inside!

Nothing More
Nothing More, Aftershock 2017
I woke up this morning, picked up the phone and started drifting through Facebook, looking for something interesting on a Saturday morning. What???? Nothing More released a new album??? How the heck did I miss that? (Muttering about not being easily able to find Sirius Octane radio... muttering at self for not being totally on-the-ball...) Jumped out of bed, straight to the PC (I search better with a real keyboard)... and nothing. Nothing on Nothing More's website, nothing on iTunes, nothing on Amazon.

Did I dream it? Was I really still asleep when I thought I was looking at the phone? (I have dreamed stranger things. I once dreamed about someone's height, and had to go Google it to find out that it was a figment of my imagination.)

Jonny Hawkins, vocals and drums, Nothing More
Jonny Hawkins, Nothing More, Louder Than Life 2017
Went back to Facebook, and sure enough, as usual... the stoopid algorithm had magicked away whatever I thought I had seen... or hadn't.

Dismissed it as wishful-thinking (that's better than senility or hallucinations, anyway). Carried on with the day. Pretended I wasn't going mad...

Ten hours later, my daughter pings me: "Nothing More have a new album????" She saw it too. It's wasn't a dream or too-little-sleep. It was a real announcement.

But wait...

We tracked it down. There is a band in France, also called Nothing More, who have been around for a few years, but who are nothing, and I mean nothing, like the Nothing More who were nominated for two Grammys last year.. Click here to find out about them and to sample their music. I'll let you come to your own opinion. The French Nothing More have, indeed, just  released an album, called Game of Truth, and from the rather negative comments now appearing on the "teaser" for the album on YouTube, it looks like they have also managed to have the music mixed into the USA Nothing More's Spotify channel.

If you want to see the French band's album teaser, it's here. and you can buy their album, Game of Truth, for ten Euros here. I guess they are getting more listens, if nothing else...

Jonny Hawkins, vocals and additional drums, Nothing More
Grammy-nominated Nothing More
I'm off for a walk with the Nothing More that I know and love. iPod and beach and Jonny Hawkins.

(The USA-based and worldwide stars Nothing More are on tour in the USA, dates with Five Finger Death Punch, Breaking Benjamin and Bad Wolves, and then have several dates over here in Europe. Find all the dates here on their website. And I am sure that at some point in the not so very distant future, there will be a new Nothing More album. It's just not called a Game of Truth. Or maybe it will be... now that would confuse me even more!)

For many, many more photos of Nothing More, see the Alison Toon Photographer Nothing More photo galleries!

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Album review: The Magpie Salute, High Water I (and they are on tour)

I've been looking forwards to The Magpie Salute's debut studio album, High Water I, since hearing a song a while ago: first attracted by the band's name (such an evocative image, a salute to magpies, those cheeky, beautiful, noisy and thieving birds... while there are black-and-white-and-sometimes-blue magpies around the world, did you know that the there is a special species of magpies with bright-yellow beaks unique to the Sacramento valley, California?), and then hearing the mix of finger-picking folk, southern rock, country, bluegrass, blues and hard rock... it all results in a unique, beautiful and timeless sound.

This is Send Me An Omen from High Water I:

The album is a beautiful and varied collection of songs, ranging from the modern-British-folky sound of Send Me An Omen, through the almost-pure bluegrass of Hand In Hand to the west-coast-USA sounds of the closing song, Open Up, whose harmonies would not sound out-of-place on a Jefferson Starship or Fleetwood Mac album.

One of my favourite tracks is this one, Sister Moon:

If you're a fan of the Black Crowes, you'll recognise several of The Magpie Salute's bandmembers: the band was formed in 2016 by former Black Crowes guitarist, Rich Robinson, and also includes Marc Ford and Sven Pipien together with Rich Robinson band members Matt Slocum and Joe Magistro.

The Magpie Salute are currently touring and will be appearing around the USA over the next couple of months, including a festival date at Louisville, Kentucky's Bourbon and Beyond... and this morning I was notified of a show here in the UK, at the Waterfront in Norwich, on December 9th (tickets go on sale this coming Friday). To see all the tour dates, including many newly-announced dates in Europe and the UK, check out the band's Facebook tour page. You won't want to miss this!

("Good morning, Mr. Magpie. Give my regards to your wife and children", I learned to say, as a child growing up in England. I still think the greeting in my head, when I see a magpie today. Sometimes you might catch me saying it out loud. That's a magpie salute!)

Monday, August 20, 2018

Album review and tour news: The Future, From Ashes To New

A few days ago, a car, stuck in traffic on the main street through town, windows down, and blasting, seriously blasting, From Ashes To New's song from a while back, Through It All. That was a first, I thought, a first for this town. May there be many more...

What's so special, you may well ask. We've been hearing From Ashes To New for a while, and they deserve blasting. They deserve being heard, and loud, from cars, at festivals, in concert halls, on our music systems.

What's so very special about hearing From Ashes To New blasting from a car here, is that this is not a town in the USA where they have toured, nor is it where they grew up in Pennsylvania, nor anywhere people have heard them on USA satellite radio, Sirius XM Octane. This is Cromer, a little seaside town on the beautiful, quiet and gentle North Norfolk coast in England, far from any venue or festival where hard rock and metal is played. The closest you get to hearing anything heavy is bleeding from my earbuds when I remove one, walking on the beach, so that I can hear if a cliff is going to drop on my head... or if the wonderful Bloodshake Chorus have a gig in town. You might hear a whisper of 70's punk when you wander past the community hall on Garden Street, if the record fair is in town. Other than that, it's tribute bands at the pier theatre and Cromer Hall... so yes, it was a big deal, and it made me smile.

I first heard From Ashes To New in 2015, when they were on tour and opening for Five Finger Death Punch, Papa Roach and In This Moment in Reno, and I saw them again at The Boardwalk in Orangevale in 2016. Since then, there have been some changes to the lineup, and a couple of weeks ago, the bands new album, The Future, was released on Better Noise. (Find it here.)

Matt Brandyberry, vocals, From Ashes To New
Matt Brandyberry, From Ashes To New
It's an excellent album, and well worth adding to your collection. Powerful lyrics, sung and rapped vocals intertwining, hooks to hang onto and several earworms... From Ashes To New expertly blend hip-hop, rock, metal, spoken word, pop... mixing it all with their own unique magic to create something that will appeal to wide audience.

Take a listen to Broken here:

And I particularly enjoy:

I expect to hear the entire album blasting from many more cars, both in the USA and over here in Europe, for very much of The Future. Because the Future is Now. (Couldn't resist...)

From Ashes To New are on tour and will make stops at San Antonio's River City Rockfest, Louisville, Kentucky's Louder Than Life, and at New Jersey's Rock Allegiance festivals, together with other dates around the USA. Find all tour details here on the band's website or the From Ashes To New Facebook. Not at Aftershock in Sacramento this year, but wait... they'll be at the Golden 1 Center on 13th November, supporting Five Finger Death Punch and Breaking Benjamin!

From Ashes To New are Matt Brandyberry (vocals/guitar/keys/programming), Danny Case (vocals), Lance Dowdle (guitar), and Mat Madiro (drums). Find out more! (And I really must catch up with them soon... time for new photos! All the 2015/16 gigs are here.)

Lance Dowdle, guitar, From Ashes To New
Lance Dowdle, From Ashes To New

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Review: Bloodstock Open Air, Saturday, and the music

Lzzy Hale, vocals and guitar, Halestorm
This is NOT Alestorm. This is Halestorm, Aftershock 2017
See below for the real Alestorm info! (any excuse to include
one of my photos... any excuse. Pirates make a good excuse.)
Before anybody asks: I do not have photos from Bloodstock Open Air this year. I was there to enjoy the music as a festival-goer, not as a photographer... but that didn't stop me wanting to grab a camera each and every time I saw a picture... next time!

Saturday's lineup at Bloodstock Open Air: spread across four stages, from early until very-very late. These are the performances that most drew me in to their musical being. If you were there, you may have different favourites: that's part of the joy, we all find something to celebrate.

Orphaned Land  (Sophie Lancaster Stage)
I'll start with these guys because of all the Saturday bands, they were who I had travelled to see.

Would the show be as inspiring live, as Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs? on record? You bet it would... from the opening notes of The Cave, through songs from earlier albums including Mabool, to the very-last, post-midnight notes, they kept the audienced entranced, clapping, cheering. Such a presence. So very happy I heard Orphaned Land's music. And so very glad I made it to Bloodstock Open Air.

Performing on the S.O.P.H.I.E. stage, Orphaned Land performed immediately after main stage headliner Gojira's set on the main stage; unusual timing at the end of the night, but it allowed everyone to return from Gojira and hear the entirety of Orphaned Land's set. Brilliant move!

Next year in Jerusalem. It's a date. If you know what I mean.

Power Trip (Ronnie James Dio Stage)
Huge energy from Texas, Power Trip were on the main stage, early in the day. Inspired the first Wall of Death on Saturday at 12.13 p.m. You know, where the crowd splits in two, like the biblical Red Sea... and then rushes at each other. Never seen one? Google it and see. Ignore the motorbikes. There are no motobikes involved. Not one. Just a million crazy metal-heads having fun.

Septicflesh (Ronnie James Dio Stage)
Melodic-symphonic-death-doom-metal from Greece, with a wonderful, booming vocal. And cool artwork. Very, very cool artwork. Giger-esque but more organic. If that makes any sense as a description. I'm doing this without photos... mind pictures. Check out Septicflesh here.

Vola (Sophie Lancaster Stage)
Very interesting sound inspired by everything from 70's progressive through industrial to extreme metal; the band hails from Denmark. Take a listen here.

I totally fell in love with their set: the industrial, get-up-and-dance beat that went on, and on, and on. The two drummers, pounding, pushing the music. The makeup, the thrown and caught drumsticks, the runaway bass, the vocals. Not always the most-eloquent lyrics of all times, but hell who cares when you have that beat. We were dancing. Great set. I want more Combichrist.

Well-deserved main-stage headliner, Gojira brought not only their huge music from France (it's so beautifully heavy, it must take a mountain to hold), but also an enormous light show, best of the Bloodstock day. I have seen Gojira many times in the USA, and they always put on a wonderful show. Gorgeous... and if you went into the Bloodstock art exhibition, there were a set of paintings by Gojira drummer, Mario Duplantier. I wanted to take them all home...

Exhibition of paintings by Mario Duplantier

Cannibal Corpse
As well as pirates (see below), there were a huge number of people wearing Hawaiian shirts. In amongst all the usual black T's with band logos and inspiring messages: Hawaiian shirts.

Just blame it all on Ace Ventura.

(Cannibal Corpse was my teen daughter's musical weapon, just as Black Sabbath was mine. I can't say that I ever learned to love their entire repertoire, but over the years, I have learned to appreciate the skill and the complexity, the vocals and the following. And my mum loves Ozzy. It all works out in the end. It's all music.)

This was my very first encounter with Alestorm. You are hearing that right: Alestorm. I'm not dropping the H. Ale (as in beer) Storm (as in thunder). Not Halestorm, who I last saw at Aftershock late last year, and who have recently released a new album, Vicious... Alestorm are nothing like Lzzy and crew! Nothing. At. All.

This is where the pirates come in. Just before Alestorm's set, when I had no clue what was about to go down, another pirate--this time a young woman in full pirate gear, from tricorn hat to swashbuckling sword, topped off by a not-so-pirate clear, plastic rain-poncho, almost barrelled into me yelling, "Where's the boat gone? Where's the Effing Boat gone?" swiftly followed by three other (male) pirates, and then disappeared back into the crowd. I looked up onto the stage, and there wasn't a boat, but there was a giant rubber duck. The crowd was excited, roiling, like a tide on the turn. The band came on stage.. perhaps the only member of the Pirate Metal genre, they are certainly unique, and we might want it to stay that way! Originally from Perth in Scotland, the band's music is a metal twist on the seashanty and other folk-inspired delights... it's rollicking good fun, and while they are singing and making the music, a whole ocean of beings swims across the surf of the crowd.

The Effing Boat reappeared on top of the audience, carrying the young piratess across the hands and heads of the crowd, right into the pit, over and again, many times with different yoyagers. Then there were at least three species of (inflatable) whale, a few sharks, and several dolphins. A swan, a flamingo, a huge, yellow duck, a few rubber rings, and a banana. There is always a banana somewhere. A large parrot put in a reappearance, looking a little deflated, hanging out on the shore up against the barrier. And the audience was full, full of pirates (somewhere in the middle, I hope, the revitalized and regenerated Comatose Pirate from the Sophie tent!

Alestorm have toured the world and have a huge following here; they've been to the USA on Warped and many other tours, but I somehow seem to have managed to miss them until yesterday at Bloodstock!

There were many, many more excellent bands; I've just highlighted those that grabbed me by the heart, eyes, ears and soul, or who are (still) holding my brain ransom for sixteen pieces of eight and a wooden leg. Full Bloodstock Open Air 2018 lineup here. Making your plans for next year yet? You bet!

See also: Review: Bloodstock Open Air, Saturday... the story, the experience, a near-miss, and a few comparisons with my USA experiences

If you are visiting Toon's Tunes/Cameras and Cargos for the first time, you can bookmark the site here. Photo galleries from many festivals and concerts worldwide, including Aftershock (California), Chicago Open Air, Louder Than Life (Louisville, Kentucky), Houston Open Air, TBD and City of Trees  (Sacramento, California), Cropredy and Cromer Folk (UK) and Marillion (Poland, Netherlands, UK and USA) can be found here. Follow @alisontoonphotographer on IG, @alisontoon on Twitter, and @therealtoonstunes on Facebook.

Review: Bloodstock Open Air, Saturday... the story, the experience, a near-miss, and a few comparisons with my USA experiences

(Note: where this article reads "USA festivals", insert, "USA festivals that members of the Toon's Tunes team have personally experienced during the past 18 years"--we don't presume to know the nuances of each and every festival held on USA soil since 2000!)

I just arrived home after driving back to Norfolk, England, from Bloodstock Open Air, at Catton Hall in Derbyshire. I was very happy to be able to attend the Saturday of the four-day festival this year: hopefully all the festival, next year. It was my first rock festival on UK soil since moving away from the country in 1988, apart from Cropredy Folk in 2014, (which includes some rock and progressive performers but is rooted firmly in folk). The first true rock festival homecoming (after thirty years... I wish I hadn't counted that!) I was expecting excellent, varied and very-heavy music, I was expecting the possibility of (a little) mud, and I was not at all disappointed!

People having fun at Aftershock
Happy festival attendees, Aftershock 2017
Festival one-day tickets are wonderful things. Even if you have other commitments or constraints that don't allow you to make a weekend of it, a one-day ticket allows you to see a favourite performer and experience all that the festival has to offer. Yes, being able to experience the entire weekend is huge, but don't ever let that put you off going for just a part of a festival. Take advantage of what the one-day ticket provides: go early, see all the bands, hear and see something new, taste the food (and drink) offerings... and see your stars. Festivals on both sides of the Atlantic offer both weekend and one-day options.

I'll get to the music soon, but let's begin with a few of the differences that I noticed between Bloodstock Open Air and the USA festivals.

Families: I saw more families at Bloodstock than at any USA rock and metal festival. While children are definitely allowed and are present at all ages at USA festivals, there are fewer families than at Bloodstock. There are two things that I believe contribute to this, which USA festival organizers might like to think about if they are aiming to become more family-friendly (and I hope they are): the pricing structure, and the ability to take strollers/pushchairs into the event. Bloodstock Open Air has significantly reduced prices for children, and those under four years old go free. That's huge. It's enormous. Taking a family of four or five to a USA festival can be a budget-breaker--and if the only alternative is paid child care, it usually means that the parents won't be there at all. If you have ever carried a couple of tired or sleeping children, and their stuff, around for hours, you'll understand how sensible it is to allow parents to take pushchairs/strollers along with the children. There's something magical about introducing children to live music at an early age (with the necessary ear-protection, of course), whether metal and rock or classical or jazz: removing or reducing the practical barriers, such as price and accessibility, is a huge stride in the right direction.

Belongings: There are fewer restrictions on what can be taken into Bloodstock than into most USA festivals. As well as the strollers/pushchairs: what stood out was the folding chairs. You can take chairs in, and you can buy them inside the festival (about 8 pounds/11 dollars US). People were sensible about where they put their chairs; around the periphery of the crowd for the main stage, towards the back inside the tents for the secondary stages. If you don't want to, or can't stand all day, it sure as heck beats sitting on a blanket on the UK soil when it's been raining (and I'm guessing the Bloodstock folks are really pleased to have brought their chairs today, after an evening and night of rain). I also saw people bring in various other things that they couldn't attend the festival without... a horse's head on a stick (which was, I believe, searched), various inflatables of all shapes and sizes, a giant pull-along rubber duck... (all will be explained in the music review, see the next post).

Comings and goings: I was surprised by the action of the audience after each show on the Ronnie James Dio main stage. While many people moved on to see performances on the Sophie Lancaster stage, the Hobgoblin New Blood Stage, and the little Jaegermeister stage, there was also an exodus, back towards the main gates. After it happened three times early in the day, I just had to follow and find out what was going on: was there another stage that I had missed? Nope... people were going back to their tents, or cars. In-and-out is managed differently at Bloodstock to USA festivals. (What this also meant was that nobody was glued to the barrier from 11 in the morning until the headliners took the stage, which is often seen in the USA. At least during the first half of the day, the barrier crowd changed with each band at Bloodstock. I don't know if this is good, bad, nothing special or just-because a lot of people were still nursing their heads from the night before. It was simply different and surprised me enough to comment on.) (NOTE: If you don't know about S.O.P.H.I.E and why the stage is named after Sophie Lancaster, click here.)

Sophie Lancaster stage
Food and drink: They let you keep the top on your water bottle at Bloodstock. You have no idea how happy that makes me, unless you are used to running from one end of a festival to another in 100 degrees F with 15lb+ of equipment and a topless water bottle. THEY LET YOU KEEP THE TOP ON YOUR WATER BOTTLE! The variety of food on offer was yummy and included quite a few vegetarian and gluten-free options (I sampled loads), while there was plenty for the carnivores too. I was a little surprised that more people were not queuing to buy food: the service was good and fast and that's part of it, but maybe this is the downside (to the festival and vendor accounts) of people returning to their tents and campers so often?

New friends and old: I went on my own. Don't ever be afraid to go to a festival on your own. (Don't be afraid to go anywhere on your own, for that matter, unless your spidey senses say it's not safe.) There are new friends there, just waiting to meet you. We all meet up in music! And you always, always bump into an old friend. Mine? How random is this. I was directed to park in the overflow parking, as the main lot was full. I pulled in two cars away from my pal Thomas, who I know from my coverage of USA festivals and who runs AntiHero Magazine. He was over from the USA to cover Bloodstock. I'd driven from Cromer, Norfolk, by way of a family event and a funeral; he'd flown in a few days earlier from the USA, and we end up one car apart in the distant parking field. Check out and bookmark AntiHero because they will have photos, interviews and reviews from the entire Bloodstock Open Air weekend, very soon!

Tented stages: While Bloodstock's main stage is out in the open, the three other stages are inside tents, and by "tent" I mean "circus big top" size and construction tents. Of course, this is practically a requirement given the changeability of the British weather, but what it also meant was that early in the day, the Sophie Lancaster stage had the best light show. The drawback was that because of the change from the bright sunlight outside to the darkness of the tent, you had to be careful to avoid falling over the dead pirate who was lying behind the sound desk. Yes, a dead pirate. He might have been a Comatose Pirate. I hope he was Comatose Pirate. What-shall-we-do-with-the-drunken sailor type comatose, or just-having-a-nap comatose? There were pirates everywhere. More about them later, when we get to the music.

A near-miss. I nearly washed my hands.  OK, everyone's favourite question: "what were the toilets like?" At Bloodstock, as at USA festivals, there were lines of portapotties, and they were all kept very clean, stocked with loo paper and with hand sanitizer. The first time I checked them out, as you do, I saw that the sinks, for washing your hands were all at the end of the line of portapotties. But as there was hand sanitizer aplenty, I used that instead. As I left the loo, out of the corner of my eye, I swear I saw a dude peeing in the sink. Too much beer too early in the day, I thought, but goodness... a couple of hours later there was a whole line of men, peeing in the sinks. Then the penny dropped... they were not sinks, they were urinals. The urinals at Bloodstock looked just like the hand sinks at USA festivals, I am so glad I realised before I barged in to wash my hands!

Conclusion: Wonderful festival! Bloodstock is not so enormous as to be overwhelming, but it's a serious-festival-goer's event with a big attendence and long history. The music is on the heavier side of the metal/rock spectrum, with something for everyone's ears and with performers from around the world. It takes place within beautiful settings in the middle of England, not far from the birthplace of heavy metal in the West Midlands. There are lots of camping and ticket options, the pricing is family-friendly, and if it rains, which you know it will at some point, there's a big top or two complete with music. Put Bloodstock on your calendar, in your diary, for next year. If you are bringing your own tent? Bring a waterproof one, not a beach shelter! (My gem of wisdom for today, based on a couple of conversations after the rain began. Yes, people do that.)

Anyone who has been to one or more of the USA metal and rock festivals would feel at home at Bloodstock Open Air, and vice-versa: if you love Bloodstock, why not experience a festival on the other side of the pond, too? There are several happening soon over there: Louder Than Life (September 28-30),   Rock Allegience (October 6th), Aftershock (October 13-14) to name but a few. Just... guys please don't be confused by the sinks by the portapotties, OK? The ones at USA festivals are for washing your hands.

A few thoughts on the Saturday music at Bloodstock Open Air are here.

If you are visiting Toon's Tunes/Cameras and Cargos for the first time, you can bookmark the site here. Photo galleries from many festivals and concerts worldwide, including Aftershock (California), Chicago Open Air, Louder Than Life (Louisville, Kentucky), Houston Open Air, TBD and City of Trees  (Sacramento, California), Cropredy and Cromer Folk (UK) and Marillion (Poland, Netherlands, UK and USA) can be found here. Follow @alisontoonphotographer on IG, @alisontoon on Twitter, and @therealtoonstunes on Facebook.

Friday, August 3, 2018

On micro-stock photography... earnings, getting rich, and finding-out where your photos are used

Sea glass and cockle shells, for licensing through Adobe
There has been a story making the rounds this week, about a woman discovering where her photograph has been used. She signed a release allowing the photographer to sell her photo, the photographer put the image up for sale, and it has been used around the world. There's another story in the news, too: about a political campaign is using Shutterstock images to suggest that people are changing their political views. Shutterstock, along with other micro-stock agencies including Fotolia (now part of Adobe Stock), are agencies that I have been approved to submit images to, and I have had a (very) small subset of my portfolio available through those channels for a while. The photographer has zero control over who buys the images. The only way you can find out where an image has been used is to search for the image (hint: right click on the image, then choose Search Google for Image.)

You wouldn't believe how much I have earned!!! No. Seriously. You wouldn't believe it.

Receiving a cheerful email that says, Congratulations! You just sold an image! and announcing that you have just earned $0.29 is a little disheartening. (Example of what the buyer pays? Adobe charges $29 a month for bloggers and other buyers to download three images. Shutterstock charges are here. The prices are not enormous, but they are huge in comparison to what the photographer earns.)

Yes, I hear you, all the $0.29 sales add up. Full disclosure: all those $0.29's (and an occasional $2 for an extended license) have, so far in 2018, earned me less than $300. Pre-tax.

It's my own fault and I am not complaining... much. While big-scale business marketers are paying lip-service to "authenticity" in images, what they still buy, more than anything else, is the ubiquitous posed, multi-racial-and-mixed-gender-group-with-toothpaste-ad-teeth-and-at-least-one-person-wearing-designer-glasses group shot of people, and I don't do those. I don't do posed people, I'm not into "lifestyle" family images-for-hire, and I just won't sell photos of children through micro-stock sites. So I'm not really expecting to make the top-stock-seller list anytime soon. Much as I would like to earn a fair price from the photos that I do sell there, my focus (sic) is on other types of photography.

The picture at the top of this post is one of my best-sellers, as it appears today on Adobe/Fotolia. I shot it in a fit of pique one day, after studying micro-stock sites, seeing all the (what I felt were) contrived images, and trying to work out what sells. I took a dollar-store jar of sea-glass and cockle-shells, dumped them on a table, and took the shot, indoors, no studio lighting, nothing. And yeah... it sold then and it still sells. Usually for $0.29 a pop.

Baby raccoon ventures from nest
Rocky (or Rochelle) Raccoon, born under my home in New York in 2008
My other top seller? This dude! I call him Rocky, but she might be Rochelle. He (or she) has appeared on many pest-control websites, including this one, badly distorted, and on this one, and accused of being smelly and destructive and nasty. He is part of an Alligator Farm and Petting Zoo in Arkansas (see the video at the top of the page), a character in a tale about wild birds, he's apparently been to Hawaii, he (or she) is the best-looking raccoon on this rather suspect 'naval' website and many other "cute animal" sites that you probably don't want to visit. He's present on many stock and photo sites that I, the photographer, didn't directly license him to BUT those sites just buy an extended license from another site and lo... Rocky's picture is for resale, everywhere. And I promise you, he didn't sign a release form, I just pimped him out for pennies. Don't be surprised if he sets up his own Twitter feed to complain. If he does, I'll expose the story of how his ancestors Ate My Goldfish.

Baby raccoon ventures from nest
But seriously... most of my photos will never end up on micro-stock sites. None of my photography of performers, for example--they are for editorial use only (talk to me directly about those). But I am very happy to have discovered a new stock photography site,, which strives to be fair to photographers. If you buy photos for a blog, or for your company, please consider photos found there, because... they are fair to the photographers. Think of it like Fair Trade coffee. I'm waiting to see if it works.

(You can find Rocky/Rochelle here now on PicFair and on my own website for prints here, where the licensing costs for editorial or commercial use are extremely low in comparison to rights-managed Getty Images, but way higher than any micro-stock site. Confused, yet? Me too!)

All of my photos for print, and for editorial and/or commercial licensing can always be found here:  It may be easy and inexpensive to buy images from a micro-stock site; if you are concerned, at all, about fair trade, maybe it's time to consider another way of finding the images that you need.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Going to Bloodstock Open Air??? You are in for a treat!

By this time, next year, I promise to have my house in order, my ducks in a row, my boxes crossed and checked, and everything else done that I have to do to be on time, up-to-date, fully-informed and right there for all the UK and European festivals. I will have found, or created, my festival calendar. I will have my press credentials sorted, cameras ready, and my place in the pit arranged, on time and fully loaded to bring you the best of British! This year... well this year is just this year. Think Transition. If you've never moved internationally, don't judge ;-)

One festival that I should have known about wayyyyyyy far in advance, is coming up soon: Bloodstock Open Air, in Catton Park, Derbyshire, from 9th to 12th August--that's a week tomorrow! Not ony is the lineup huge, the whole experience looks amazing... including all the camping options (which, my bad, are of course all sold out now). Camping, glamping, and even beach-hutting-without-the-beach-but-with-lots-of-metal. Here's all the info on the variety that was available. Where I would have been staying, had I been awake.

Joe Duplantier, vocals, Gojira
Joe Duplantier, Gojira, at last year's Louder Than Life, Louisville, Kentucky
And the music? That's what it's all about!

Birmingham UK's own Judas Priest, heros of heavy metal headline Friday's show; Gojira from France are Saturday's top-of-the-bill, so heavy and so very, very good: with Nightwish from Finland closing the whole event on Sunday night, but there are so many bands from around the metal globe on four stages, beginning Thursday: see the full lineup here.

Check out Fozzy, on Sunday, for example. I last saw them in Sacramento, California, last year at Aftershock... another wonderful festival. Hey here's an idea... Bloodstock Open Air next weekend. Louder Than Life at the end of September. Aftershock in October? Don't mind if I do...

Bloodstock Open Air is going to be enormous. It's going to be so heavy, the planet might melt.

Me? Believe it or not, there are still a few day and weekend tickets available. I grabbed one for Saturday. I'll be right there to see Orphaned Land, on the Sophie Lancaster stage, on Saturday. Can't wait! (Yesterday, I thought that they were performing near Liverpool (fixed it now)... I need to revise my British geography. Been away far too long.)

Now where the heck will I sleep...

Chris Jericho, vocals, Fozzy
Chris Jericho of Fozzy, Aftershock Sacramento, and in the Bloodstock lineup 

Monday, July 30, 2018

Review: Orphaned Land, Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs

Why, why, why, have I never heard Orphaned Land before??? Why? And what is it, about certain music, that at the very first note you know... this is special?

(You may recall that I asked the same question, the first time that I heard another band, a few years back. Same effect. Hooked from the very first note. More on that later.)

Orphaned Land's latest album, Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs, is a gigantic, gorgeous, over-the-top musical feast. On hearing them for the very first time, it's like a festival where Blind Guardian and In Flames are dancing together to the beat of the heaviest, double-bass-laden-metal drumming, with twenty Fiddlers on the roof and vocals that range from a deep growl to something from your own personal heaven. It's a fusion of western rock, northern metal, middle-eastern melody and rhythm, and a message or twenty of peace. Steve Hackett makes an appearance--you recognize his timeless guitar in a moment--and there are some very telling, poetic snippets, the final one perhaps the most famous, from George Orwell's 1984:

If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face, forever.

And then... how to stop it happening.

Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs is such a musical feast that I now have to go and gorge myself on their back catalog... and to try to catch Orphaned Land live, sometime soon. They will be here in the UK next weekend, performing at Bloodstock Open Air at Catton Park in Derbyshire.  All other tour dates are here.

Orphaned Land promo photo, 
But why, you might ask, did I only hear Orphaned Land for the very first time, today? They've been around, in one form or another--always with vocalist Kobi Fahri and bassist Uri Zelcha--since 1991. And yet... only today. I'm sorry I missed so many years. It's going to be fun catching up. Yes... the reason I heard them today: I went to vote in the 2018 Progressive Music Awards. One of the categories is Video of the Year; one of the nominees in that category is Orphan Land's Like Orpheus, from Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs... and I noticed that it features Hansi K├╝rsch, so I had to watch it, seeing as Hansi is one of my favourite vocalists (and the singer with Blind Guardian, the band mentioned above where I asked, why have I never heard this band before??)

Here's the video: there's an important message, at the very end. Don't miss it!

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Sheringham carnival: Newfoundland Working Dogs Display

Newfoundland Working Dogs Display, Sheringham Carnival 2018
Newfoundland Working Dogs Display at Sheringham Carnival, Norfolk, 2018
One of the many things that is wonderful about the North Norfolk coast is how dog-friendly the towns are--and how friendly the dogs. There's always a dog to say hello to (and I do), or to watch enjoying the beach. Whether a family retriever chasing a ball in the waves, a tall-and-graceful retired racing greyhound, a sedate corgi taking a stroll, or a springer spaniel determined to swim to Spain, dogs are welcome here. You don't, however, often see a beach entirely populated by Newfoundlands!

Newfoundland Working Dogs Display, Sheringham Carnival 2018
Newfoundlands, waiting for their turn to rescue someone

Newfoundland Working Dogs Display, Sheringham Carnival 2018
That's what happened this morning, in Sheringham. As part of the Sheringham Carnival, a group of Newfoundlands and their humans gave a demonstration of the work that these gentle giants are capable of. With their webbed feet, strong muscles, huge size and double coats for buoyancy and waterproofing, they swim, pull, tow and rescue.

The dogs swam out from the beach, and pulled people back. They carried them a lifeline. They jumped from a boat and did the rescue. Two dogs pulled in a boat carrying three humans. And two of them towed back a chain of seven people each!

Newfoundland Working Dogs Display, Sheringham Carnival 2018
And while each of the demonstrations was happening, all of the other dogs sat on the beach, watching intently, occasionally barking as if to say, I want to help, I want to rescue, here I am, I'm ready too.

A seriously-giant breed, Newfoundlands usually weigh between 50-69kg (110-152lb). They are black, brown, or black-and-white (the black-and-white ones sometimes called "Landseer" rather than Newfoundlands). They are like giant retrievers with a little mastiff mixed in. Gentle, protective and kind to children too. Did you read J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan? The dog, Nana, was a Newfoundland. They can swim a long way, and in cold water and strong seas, too. Did that springer disappear over the horizon, yet? We might have to send a Newfoundland to rescue her, too!

Newfoundland Working Dogs Display, Sheringham Carnival 2018
Newfoundlands, working dogs display on the beach, Sheringham Carnival
You can see the Newfoundland Working Dogs Display again soon, at Happisburgh next weekend and at Cromer Carnival, starting on Sunday 12th August on the East Beach (but check the carnival program for other times), and then in Hemsby. You can find all their events here.

Newfoundland Working Dogs Display, Sheringham Carnival 2018
Newfoundlands and crowd alike, watching the demonstration
Find out what else is happening in Sheringham during the carnival here. And for Cromer's carnival here!

Many more photos of the Newfoundlands here in the photo gallery. Just click!

Newfoundland Working Dogs Display, Sheringham Carnival 2018
One dog, many people rescued!

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Fairs and carnivals and circuses

Wave Swinger ride, California State Fair
Wave Swinger, California State Fair
I have been missing the California State Fair this year, after attending and covering it for so many years, and I will miss the California Capital Air Show too. This weekend is the last weekend of the state fair--have fun if you are there, say hi for me! But... I have only just found out how much happens here during carnival weeks on the North Norfolk coast in England. It's huge!!! And there are all the elements that I love from both the State Fair, and the air show!

First, the circus set up, between Cromer and Sheringham, and Circus Fantasia is set up and running from 18th July until 5th August. Then today, Sheringham Carnival begins! To keep up-to-date with everything that's happening, follow the Carnival Week on Facebook. Things are happening every day: from the Harley Davidson ride into town today, the Yak 52 air display tomorrow, the carnival parade on Wednesday... right through to fireworks next Sunday, August 5th!

Patriots Jet Team
Patriots Jet Team, California 

And then it's Cromer Carnival! With kids events beginning this week too, the main events can all be found on the Cromer Carnival Facebook page -- follow that one too! Carnival Day and The Red Arrows on August 15th!!! It's a huge week for the town... so much going on. There are signs all around with lists of the events; something for everyone.

Both Sheringham and Cromer carnivals have programs available around town--look out for them. And I will see you there!

Jack in the Box Freestyle Motocross
Motocross, California State Fair 
(And yes, there is motocross here too.)

Friday, July 27, 2018

Rebirth of the protest song: Otep and Marillion, new releases

North Norfolk seascape
I do a lot of thinking on the beach. No, really. I have an ancient iPod Classic with about 30 days of continuous music, to which I'm adding constantly, and I average about eight miles walking a day. No, the knee cartilage hasn't regenerated yet due to self-imposed-heavy-wear-and-tear, but the theory is still in it's early months of testing.

Last week, I rediscovered an old playlist--one of the songs being Ritchie Haven's wonderful What About Me. Probably the ultimate in civil rights and protest songs, it's timeless--and just as valid today. If you don't know it, take a listen and read the lyrics. Released in the early 1970's on The Great Blind Degree, an album which is unexplainably difficult to find today, it was the time when America was protesting a lying, warmongering president--Richard Nixon, the only US president (so far) to resign from office. So I was walking along the beach, listening to Ritchie Havens over and over again, and wondering: where the hell are the protest songs for this year, this time, these days? Where are this generation's Havens, Baez, Dylan?

I work in your factories and I study in your schools
I fill your penitentiaries and your military too
I can feel the future trembling as the word is passed around
If you stick up for what you do believe in, be prepared to be shot down

Then I remembered: Marillion's F.E.A.R.
Then I remembered: Otep's promised release, Kult 45.

You won't often see Marillion and Otep written about on the same page, nor see many of their fans at the other's shows (though they should be). They are, by all accounts, very different. But let's imagine, for a moment, that the labels are removed; there's no such thing as 'prog' or 'nu-metal' or 'rock' or anything else. There are words, and heart, and soul, and thought and intelligence and the music that brings it all together. Then it all makes sense.

Today, both Otep and Marillion released new albums: Otep's Kult 45, which arrived on my doorstep this morning in full, blood-red, vinyl glory, and Marillion's live album, All One Tonight, recorded at their sold-out performance at the Royal Albert Hall, which includes all of F.E.A.R plus more.

We are the new Kings 
We had the keys to Old Russia's locked doors 
We are the new Kings 
Here on the corporation's top floor 
If you cross us we'll buy you and you can retire 
Your children set up for life 
Think about it... 
Greed is good... 

Kult 45 is, as its title suggests, very much a protest against Donald Trump, the USA's 45th president, and the terrible things that are happening, right now, in the USA. At a time when, as in 1972, there are protestors outside the White House and an elected president intent on enforcing hateful policies, these songs are the voice of protest--a megaphone for what so many people are thinking. Always known for speaking out--hard--against social injustice, vocalist and poet Otep Shamaya hits out with Kult 45 against racism, rape culture, white privilege, school shootings and just about everything that's wrong with the USA (and to a lesser but no less important extent, with other countries where the extreme right feels free to emerge--nowhere in the world is immune).

When was America greater?
When it was criminal for women to vote?
When was America greater?
When slaves were bought and sold?
When was America greater?
Before the Natives lost control?

Otep's songs are 'explicit' and yes, that means they contain words that my mother won't like. (But... I can't think about Trump without being explicit. I cannot hear his voice or see his orange face, without my middle finger coming up. It's automatic. What is happening is so very, very wrong. Whatever your views on people claiming asylum, surely you cannot condone the forceful separation of families. Whatever your views on gun ownership, surely you cannot ignore the almost-daily assassination of children in American schools. Whatever your views on law enforcement, surely you cannot agree with the blatantly different approach to rich white men versus minorities. Surely... )

How many people have they taken?
How many doors have they broken down?
How mny more till it makes you
feel less like an impotent coward?

If Jesus was a refugee
He'd be a target of I C E
They'd send him back to Galilee

But in the middle of so many strong, angry, hard-spoken and very strong resistance to #45 and all he stands for, is a beautiful and unexpected gem: I held my breath the first time I heard, 'Be Brave'. Made more poignant by the songs surrounding it, and in turn, making them even stronger by its gentleness. Like Marillion's White Paper, in the middle of Fuck Everyone And Run.

Two albums, both available today: Kult 45 and All One Tonight. Listen to them both. Both vocalists and lyricists are poets. Hear the message... and for goodness sake, stand up and be counted. Because if each and every one of us does not stand up for what we believe in, and speak out against what we believe is wrong, then these musicians who are putting themselves out there--right out there--and voicing the protest, then if we too do not use our own voices, then their words are just words in the sand. And in the words of Ritchie Havens: If you stick up for what you do believe in, be prepared to be shot down. (Hopefully by words. Not by some Russian NRA fiend with a Stepford wife. Use your words. Use your vote. Make a difference.)

There is a bonus track on Otep's Kult 45 digital version--it's a set of messages left by people who have heard the band's music, talking about what Otep means to them. Yes, they are messages from fans, but more than that, they are a reflection of the influence that people in the spotlight can have. In Otep's case, for the good. There are some very moving testimonies. It speaks to how important it is for any performer, celebrity, politician--anyone in the public eye--to be a power for the good. And it contrasts, once again, with what the current President of the USA is all about. One of the most moving comments? Something like, "it's amazing how much healing one tweet can do for years after". Trump should learn that. But he won't. WE ALL NEED TO SPEAK OUT.

It's OK to look at a performer as giving you a voice, but... even better if we also find our own.

Think about it. Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and others from the sixties and seventies' protest movements are legends. They are legends because people, like you and I and so many others, listened to their words, and shared them. If you hear the message in Otep's words, in those of Marillion, or of any other performer who is today speaking out against injustice, then share them. Tell your friends. Have them listen. Because despite unlimited access to music, it can be really, really difficult to find what is meaningful within a constant stream of auto-tuned, reality-TV-unreal, top-twenty-fodder sounds. Please: spread the word. And join the #resistance.

More info:
- Video about the making of Kult 45 from Otep
- Video: F.E.A.R. and making a protest album, from Marillion

(I hope that fans of Otep will now discover Marillion. And that fans of Marillion will now discover Otep. Together we can build a better world. We are all immigrants... we are all refugees. Cross the musical borders and make some new friends. We are all human.)

P. S. I forgot to mention Ministry's AmeriKKKant among recent protest songs... earlier review here!