The clock is ticking down the final hour of the Irish summer and a tent full of restless fans are waiting for three people to take to the stage at Rankin's Wood Stage. The atmosphere is charged with an electricity that crackles through the crowd. I'm backstage, tucked behind a six-foot speaker patiently waiting for the same thing. There's a 16 wheeler truck backed up to the gangway behind the stage and from the darkness of it's belly emerge 3 swaggering figures, walking straight out of the 1953 Brando film like the gang that gives the band their name, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club have arrived. I'm frozen to the spot and I watch them hidden in the shadows. I seem to have completely forgotten the camera by my side although the idea of photographing them now would feel like breaking some unwritten rule. They are all black leather, cowboy boots and total indifference. They are the epitome of rock 'n' roll. Hayes takes a pack of smokes from his pocket and lights one up, then they walk out on to stage as the tent erupts.
Let me add some context. In 2008 I was at my 3rd B.R.M.C. gig, in Dublin's Academy. The concert was unreal but I noticed that there wasn't a photographer so afterwards I went up to the manager and asked him why nobody was taking photos. He told me their guy hadn't bothered to show up and I so I asked if I could shoot the gig the next night. He told me he'd go one better and that if I got 3 decent photos I could have your man's job. Needless to say I jumped at the chance. Turned up with my piece of shit camera the next night and somehow managed to get 3 half decent shots. Tony, the manager, was impressed enough that I got the gig so the next day I went and bought a decent camera and have been photographing my favourite bands since.
Five years later and it's a full circle moment: the chance to photograph not only my favourite band but the first band I ever shot. Add to that the fact that I got myself an Access All Areas pass which now finds me behind the speaker as Leah Shapiro, Robert Levon Been and Peter Hayes take to the stage. The sparse clicks of Shapiro's sticks, the hammering drive of Been's bass and the blues-soaked drawl of Hayes guitar herald 'Hate the Taste' and the highlight hour of my Picnic. This is the music that makes music cool. This is rock and fucking roll and the crowd devours it as though they haven't eaten for weeks. I get one good shot of the light folding around Been before I race back around to get down into the pit. The opening twang of 'Beat the Devil's Tattoo' is followed by the thumping, driving riff that lurches out of the speakers and pulls at the crowd, dragging them into a primal stomp. There are smiling faces everywhere as it dawns on both the crowd and the band that the next hour is going to be something very special.
Rippling drums roll into 'Let the Day Begin', a cover The Call's late eighties hit and a touching tribute to Been's father, Michael. If you check out the video for the original you might recognise a certain short-strapped, machine-gun style of guitar playing, proof that rock 'n' roll is genetic. Next up new song 'Rival ' careens around the tent like a siren, a call to arms and the fans welcome the newcomer like an old friend.
I spent some months living in South Carolina a few years ago. I had my iPod with me but the car I was driving only had a CD player. The only CD I had with me was Howl and those of you that know their 3rd album will appreciate how perfect this was as I drove long, wispy roads, Southern Oaks arcing overhead, draped with long, wispy beards of Spanish moss; full of songs that are both raw and romantic, it's a love letter to blues rock and is drenched with the imagery of the deep south and the wild west. It's is the rhythm of the railroad and with first the jangling chords of 'Ain't No Easy Way ', rippling through the gathered masses, steam begins to rise from around the bend. The steady beat of the drum. The gritty heat of the verse. The engine picks up speed. The crowd join, in full voice. The train comes hurtling into view. The tent explodes in harmonica-drenched noise.
The audience are ecstatic, throwing themselves from one song to the next, from the licking, kicking guitars of 'Berlin ' to the clapping, stomping harmonies of 'Shuffle Your Feet '. From the ear-bleeding riffs of 'Conscience Killer ' to the soul-feeding beauty of 'Weight of the World '. We're closing in on the finish line now and my camera is firmly back in it's bag, allowing me the freedom to join the mass mosh as the crowd leaps into the air as one to the air-raid opening of 'Whatever Happened to My Rock 'n' Roll '. This is not a question that anyone here is asking, our rock 'n' roll is right here and we give it our hearts and our souls willingly. Frenzy is the only word that even comes close to describing the scene in the tent as the unmistakable bass of the final track triggers an avalanche of swarming bodies, bouncing and rolling like an ocean of unrestrained joy. That something special, that magic that can happen between band and crowd has swept through us all like a fever and it it's irresistible. Robert Levon Been leaps off the stage and joins the front of the crowd for the final song. 'Spread Your Love Like Fever ' will ring in our ears as we leave and head off into the night, but for now, this moment lasts forever. Rock 'n' fucking roll.