Hard-Fi Autumn Tour 2023: A Photo Diary

Hard-Fi London Troxy 211023-005

Troxy, London - capacity 3,100. A full house (Simon Reed)
Troxy, London - capacity 3,100. A full house (Simon Reed)

Hard-Fi were the soundtrack to my youth. Well, I say my youth. I was 37 when their debut album Stars Of CCTV dropped; but when you’re now in your mid-50’s, you’ll claim just about anything you can get. I loved that record, plus the two that followed: Once Upon A Time In The West and Killer Sounds.

My wife and I were regular attendees at their gigs. We were at The Astoria when they filmed the In Operation live DVD. We were at Brixton Academy when they played a record equalling five consecutive sold-out shows. We were at Southsea Parade Pier when the somewhat dodgy old floor was bouncing up and down so much, we thought we’d end up in The Solent – and then all the lights failed.

Hard-Fi @ Bloomsbury Ballroom

Richard Archer of Hard-Fi at the Bloomsbury Ballroom in 2014 (Kalpesh Patel)
Richard Archer of Hard-Fi at the Bloomsbury Ballroom in 2014 (Kalpesh Patel)

In February 2014, Hard-Fi played the Bloomsbury Ballroom in London. That was a hell of a night, as can be seen here. It was also expertly captured by our very own Kalpesh Patel. What nobody knew then, was that it would be their last live performance for eight, very long years. In fact, the fact they came back at all was a revelation. I, like I suspect many fans, had interpreted their official long-term ‘hiatus’ as ‘the end’.

So, when they announced in the spring of 2022 that they were to play a pair of reunion shows that Autumn, I was all over tickets and all over a press pass to photograph the London date at The Forum, Kentish Town. I was lucky enough to obtain photo accreditation and it was a spectacular night. The long-term recharging of the batteries had resulted in the band sounding even better than I ever remembered them.

Hard-Fi Forum Kentish Town 011022-001

Hard-Fi performing at The Forum, Kentish Town on 1st October 2022 (Simon Reed)
Hard-Fi performing at The Forum, Kentish Town on 1st October 2022 (Simon Reed)

I wrote a review of that night and it got picked up and shared on the band’s social pages. This in itself is quite rare; you’d be surprised how infrequently bands (or their management) show interest in sharing reviews – even the good ones. Shortly afterwards, I received a direct contact from the band very kindly thanking me for the review. Now that really is rare.

Time passed and in August this year, Hard-Fi played a special guest spot at Victorious Festival, an event I’ve photographed for a number of years. I re-opened communications, offering to do some extra photos for them if they would like. I didn’t expect a reply if I’m honest. If I had a pound for every such email that goes unanswered, I wouldn’t need a day job to supplement the music photography. Sure enough, my expectations were realised and I can hardly complain. At the time of writing, I’ve got 55,093 unread emails in my inbox.

I photographed the band at Victorious anyway – just a standard ‘three songs from the pit’. The performance was great, though the photos were uninspired. There’s only so much you can do at 1pm on a grey day when even stage lighting can’t compete with natural ambient light. And that was that. I assumed my brief correspondence with Hard-Fi was at an end…

Hard-Fi Victorious Festival 2023-001

Richard Archer of Hard-Fi: Victorious Festival 2023 (Simon Reed)
Richard Archer of Hard-Fi: Victorious Festival 2023 (Simon Reed)

… and then, several weeks after Victorious, I did get a reply. It turned out that my previous message had been missed but that in fact they would have appreciated some extra photos. This was obviously a shame, but I was asked whether as an alternative if I’d be interested in photographing some shows on the upcoming Hard-Fi tour, their first in the UK for 12 years.

I refrained from excitedly typing “Does a bear shit in the woods?” at warp speed and instead gave a measured reply in the affirmative. This was a good thing, because it transpired the person I was actually communing with was Richard Archer, frontman and songwriter.

I was offered every date on the tour. I’d have loved that, but existing commitments meant I could attend just five. Bristol, Oxford and Brighton would be bookended by the opening night in Cambridge and the closing night in London.

I arrived at Cambridge Junction not really sure what to expect. There could have been a regular ‘three songs, no flash’ sticky-backed photo pass for the venue in an envelope. Instead, I got presented with a shiny tour laminate good for every venue with ‘AAA’ (Access All Areas) written on it. It’s the same one the crew have, it’s the same one the band have. The stuff of music photography dreams.

I find the backstage area and am introduced to Jo, the Tour Manager, who kindly prints me a setlist. I chat with the guitar techs and ask about stage access. They show me it. It’s tight. In fact, it’s very tight. We collectively conclude in light of it being so cramped and it being the first night of the tour, they could do without me being an additional complication. I’m fine with that. I absolutely don’t want to be an additional complication. Instead, I find the lighting tech front of house and ask whether he could accommodate me for a few songs stood next to him on a step stool I’ve brought along so I can see over people’s heads. He says it’s fine as long as I promise not to fall off the stool. I promise to do my best.

Before the show starts, I decide to get a shot from the photo pit of the crowd with a flash and a fisheye. I ask the front few rows if they would, on the count of three, go nuts as if they’ve not seen Rich and the band walk out on a stage for over ten years. Of course, most of them haven’t, so it’s a nice little ice-breaker and they oblige with a photo for me. This becomes a ritual at the other shows I attend.

Hard-Fi Cambridge Junction 051023-005

Cambridge: The Audience (Simon Reed)
Cambridge: The Audience (Simon Reed)

The band come out. Archer is wearing a camo jacket, though he jettisons it after a few songs in favour of a plain tee. I’m very much finding my feet in this first show – getting a sense of the lighting. Much of it is backlit with some bright white lights at waist level, which is tricky. Beyond that there are some colour themes for various songs: Middle Eastern Holiday is very orange. Tied Up Too Tight is very green. Cash Machine is very yellow. Stars Of CCTV is very blue. Living For The Weekend is four minutes of strobes.

Hard-Fi Cambridge Junction 051023-006

Cambridge: Middle Eastern Holiday (Simon Reed)
Cambridge: Middle Eastern Holiday (Simon Reed)

Hard-Fi Cambridge Junction 051023-002

Cambridge: Richard Archer (Simon Reed)
Cambridge: Richard Archer (Simon Reed)

Hard-Fi Cambridge Junction 051023-007

Cambridge: Ross Phillips (Simon Reed)
Cambridge: Ross Phillips (Simon Reed)

Hard-Fi Cambridge Junction 051023-001

Cambridge: Kai Stephens (Simon Reed)
Cambridge: Kai Stephens (Simon Reed)

I do a few songs from the pit, revelling in not being thrown out after the first three of them, and then head to the back and my prearranged spot next to the lighting guy. I get a few nice ones from the back – including Archer playing the melodica. He uses this at the start of Cash Machine and Better Do Better. They’re both classic Hard-Fi tunes and the melodica is a very recognisable part of the sound. A shot of him playing it is a prerequisite.

Hard-Fi Cambridge Junction 051023-012

Cambridge: Richard Archer plays the Melodica (Simon Reed)
Cambridge: Richard Archer plays the Melodica (Simon Reed)

In the choruses of Suburban Knights, there’s a spotlight effect that starts on the band and sweeps into the crowd. It looks great from here. I make a mental note to try and capture it at some of the other venues too. My lighting friend asks me if I’d like more spotlighting on their faces. That’s never happened before. It appears the AAA laminate bestows other privileges beyond simply accessing all areas. And then he obliges me with a shot of the frontman extending a hand through a shaft of light from above. I think this one is my favourite from the whole tour.

Hard-Fi Cambridge Junction 051023-011

Cambridge: Suburban Knights (Simon Reed)
Cambridge: Suburban Knights (Simon Reed)

Back to the front for the encore. Archer performs Move On Now on his own. Just a solitary guitar and a sold-out auditorium to help him out. This turns out to be a key moment in every show.

Hard-Fi Cambridge Junction 051023-013

Cambridge: Move On Now (Simon Reed)
Cambridge: Move On Now (Simon Reed)

The band close with Living For The Weekend. Richard picks up the mic stand at the start and gives it a wave to the crowd. It transpires that he’ll do this at every performance. I capture it with the fisheye.

Hard-Fi Cambridge Junction 051023-014

Cambridge: Living For The Weekend (Simon Reed)
Cambridge: Living For The Weekend (Simon Reed)

So that was Cambridge. The band seem to like the photos and they get a share on their social pages. It’s a few days before I get the chance to catch up with them again, this time at the O2 Academy, Bristol. My wife Sally comes with me and we re-live our mid-thirties together at this one. We arrive to find the band have given us wrist bands for the after-show party, which is a lovely touch.

Hard-Fi Bristol O2 Academy 151023-007

Bristol: The Audience (Simon Reed)
Bristol: The Audience (Simon Reed)

Security in Bristol refuse to allow the step stool into the venue as apparently, it’s a health and safety hazard. Lord knows how they approve use of the stairs. Finding that even with the privileges of a AAA pass, you cannot take a collapsible step inside is a blow, until I actually enter the auditorium and discover the place has more decks than the QEII.

Hard-Fi Bristol O2 Academy 151023-013

Bristol: The O2 Academy (Simon Reed)
Bristol: The O2 Academy (Simon Reed)

At this point, Hard-Fi and their crew have delivered seven gigs and have noticeably settled into it. There’s similarly limited room for a photographer on stage, but this time, I get approval to shoot some pictures from behind the band.

Hard-Fi Bristol O2 Academy 151023-011

Bristol: The Melodica shot - this time from behind (Simon Reed)
Bristol: The Melodica shot - this time from behind (Simon Reed)

A noticeable absentee in any of my pictures from Cambridge was drummer Steve Kemp. I’m able to rectify this from the stage.

Hard-Fi Bristol O2 Academy 151023-010

Bristol: Steve Kemp (Simon Reed)
Bristol: Steve Kemp (Simon Reed)

By now, Ross is comfortable with me being right under his nose with a wide angle lens and Kai even gives me a shot on one knee.

Hard-Fi Bristol O2 Academy 151023-009

Bristol: Ross Phillips (Simon Reed)
Bristol: Ross Phillips (Simon Reed)

Hard-Fi Bristol O2 Academy 151023-006

Bristol: Kai Stephens (Simon Reed)
Bristol: Kai Stephens (Simon Reed)

Elsewhere, there’s a nice opportunity to capture the sweeping lights in Suburban Knights from the balcony.

Hard-Fi Bristol O2 Academy 151023-012

Bristol: Suburban Knights (Simon Reed)
Bristol: Suburban Knights (Simon Reed)

I remember from the good ole noughties days that Richard always liked to bounce during Hard To Beat, which is the final tune before the encore. It’s reassuring to see that he still does. Back in the photo pit, I catch him getting some air.

Hard-Fi Bristol O2 Academy 151023-014

Bristol: Hard To Beat (Simon Reed)
Bristol: Hard To Beat (Simon Reed)

It’s been a great night, with a really good audience. Before we leave, we get a chance to say hello and to say thanks to the band.

Hard-Fi Bristol O2 Academy 151023-015

Bristol: Sally with Richard Archer (Simon Reed)
Bristol: Sally with Richard Archer (Simon Reed)

Onwards and eastwards. Oxford is next and it’s the O2 Oxford Academy, another venue under the umbrella of Academy Music Group. This venue is everything Bristol wasn’t. If the Bristol Academy operated on many levels, the Oxford version operates on one, and it’s a very oppressive one at that. Bristol was wide, but didn’t go back that far. Oxford isn’t that wide, but seems to go on forever. Add to that the fact it’s got an implausibly, claustrophobically low ceiling and if you’re any more than about half way back, it feels like you’ve been locked in a shipping container. And it’s a shipping container navigating the Persian Gulf because it’s unbelievably hot in here. One positive: 24hrs after my step stool was deemed a public health hazard, it gets waved through security without a second glance.

I do my ‘act like you’ve not seen Rich for 10 years’ patter. A guy on the barrier tells me he’s seen him 10 times today. “How’s that?”, I ask, genuinely a bit taken aback. It turns out he’s been queuing with his wife outside the venue since 9am. Now I’m really taken aback. That’s commitment. Commitment reinforced by the fact that his wife has a CCTV camera tattooed on her arm.

Hard-Fi Oxford O2 Academy 161023-007

Oxford: The Audience (Simon Reed)
Oxford: The Audience (Simon Reed)

I’ve had enough exposure to the setlist now to be able to preempt a few cues. I’ve noticed that in opening song Middle Eastern Holiday, Ross Phillips has a tendency to crouch when he plays a particular power chord. It’s always accompanied by a bolt of light from behind. I set out to capture the moment and it comes off OK.

Hard-Fi Oxford O2 Academy 161023-008

Oxford: Ross Phillips, Middle Eastern Holiday (Simon Reed)
Oxford: Ross Phillips, Middle Eastern Holiday (Simon Reed)

The lighting in Middle Eastern Holiday seems extra orange tonight. It all helps add to the desert warfare atmosphere, as does the sweltering heat. It’s October. I’m glad I’m not shooting a gig here in July. Richard dispenses with the camo jacket extra early tonight, but despite the temperatures, there’s no let up in the intensity of the performance – at least from the band. I feel like I’m in grave danger of passing steam.

Hard-Fi Oxford O2 Academy 161023-001

Oxford: Crowd participation in Hard To Beat (Simon Reed)
Oxford: Crowd participation in Hard To Beat (Simon Reed)

Everything looks extra soupy from the back whilst Richard leads the audience in a rendition of Cash Machine.

Hard-Fi Oxford O2 Academy 161023-011

Oxford: Cash Machine (Simon Reed)
Oxford: Cash Machine (Simon Reed)

Hard-Fi Oxford O2 Academy 161023-006

Oxford: The venue and 'that' ceiling (Simon Reed)
Oxford: The venue and 'that' ceiling (Simon Reed)

OK, so I’m not going to turn my nose up at any live music, least of all when it’s being produced by one of my favourite bands, but Oxford really felt like hard work. Undeterred, I roll onto Brighton with a spring in my step. Firstly, it’s a great town, secondly, I know Chalk to be a great venue, thirdly, it’s only an hour from home. This is my third consecutive gig in three days so it’s as close to feeling like a bonafide tour photographer as I’m ever going to get – except I’ve got another job and I’m sleeping in my own bed every night.

Hard-Fi Brighton Chalk 171023-001

Brighton: The Audience (Simon Reed)
Brighton: The Audience (Simon Reed)

I know what I’m looking for now in terms of the performance, but I’m conscious of not wanting to take the same photo every night. The world only needs so many pictures of an extreme close up of Ross Phillips’ Gibson SG taken with a very wide angle lens, as much as I love that kind of shot. So, I go looking for different targets. There’s a backlit microphone patch box on the edge of the stage with XLR cables sticking out of it. They’ve got ‘Rich’, ‘Ross’ and ‘Kai’ written on them. It makes for something a little different..

Hard-Fi Brighton Chalk 171023-004

Brighton: Personalised XLR Cables (Simon Reed)
Brighton: Personalised XLR Cables (Simon Reed)

Tonight I’m able to get stage access to Steve Kemp’s right and that affords some different views. I quite like a wide angle of the ‘CCTV logo’ back drop. To get to this point, I have to walk past the backstage production office and I bump into Jo, the TM. It’s quite far into the performance and I’m glowing again. She kindly finds me a towel. I’m glad she didn’t spot me last night around this time. She’d have had to track down a sponge.

Hard-Fi Brighton Chalk 171023-005

Brighton: CCTV (Simon Reed)
Brighton: CCTV (Simon Reed)

Freshly towelled off, from this position I’m also able to see a clear path through to Kemp himself with some nice lighting behind.

Hard-Fi Brighton Chalk 171023-009

Brighton: Steve Kemp (Simon Reed)
Brighton: Steve Kemp (Simon Reed)

From the back I can (and do) get images looking through the crowd towards the stage, but tonight also go for a focus on the sound engineer working his magic.

Hard-Fi Brighton Chalk 171023-011

Brighton: Sound engineering (Simon Reed)
Brighton: Sound engineering (Simon Reed)

Some nice light this evening on Richard when he delivers Move On Now.

Hard-Fi Brighton Chalk 171023-012

Brighton: Move On Now (Simon Reed)
Brighton: Move On Now (Simon Reed)

It’s a Tuesday night. I’ve noticed at the previous gigs that as Richard introduces Living For The Weekend, he points to his head and says: “In here it’s always Friday night!” I resolve to get that moment.

Hard-Fi Brighton Chalk 171023-013

Brighton: "In here, it's always Friday night" (Simon Reed)
Brighton: "In here, it's always Friday night" (Simon Reed)

Long before this all started, I already had plans to be at the final gig of the tour at London’s restored Art Deco beauty Troxy, and accordingly already had tickets for myself and the family. But by now I’ve been fully bitten by the bug and the lure of the biggest venue (and by far the biggest stage) on the tour is too much. Accordingly, I brush off my treasured AAA laminate and give it one final outing. This makes my final crowd shot on the tour a little special because my family are in it.

Hard-Fi London Troxy 211023-001

London: The Audience (Simon Reed)
London: The Audience (Simon Reed)

I’m aware that this is my last opportunity to get Richard Archer coming out on stage at the start of the performance, and to date, I’ve still not got it. So, I make it a priority. He obliges me by coming out with a flashlight on his phone as (presumably) he’s recording the moment himself.

Hard-Fi London Troxy 211023-002

London: Richard Archer's Entrance (Simon Reed)
London: Richard Archer's Entrance (Simon Reed)

The Troxy stage is colossal compared to any of the others I’ve experienced on the tour. This means access is far easier both stage left and right. You can also access both sides from one door by walking behind a blackout curtain. I check it out before the performance and it’s clear that there is actually room to stand behind Steve Kemp on the drum riser and get a fisheye shot of the whole band. This is the sort of photo that tour photographers always get. It’s one I’ve always wanted. I ask Steve if he would be ok with me getting the shot during the performance. He’s very accommodating about it.

Hard-Fi London Troxy 211023-012

Hard-Fi performing at Troxy: October 2023 (Simon Reed)
Hard-Fi performing at Troxy: October 2023 (Simon Reed)

On this final night of the tour, the band perform Watch Me Fall Apart with the assistance of Archer’s good friend Bruce Breakey (Good Health Good Wealth). I watch it from the wings stage right and manage a shot of the pair embracing before Breakey leaves.

Hard-Fi London Troxy 211023-004

London: Richard Archer and Bruce Breakey (Simon Reed)
London: Richard Archer and Bruce Breakey (Simon Reed)

I mix things up a bit timing wise. To date, I’ve invariably been at the back when the band play Cash Machine. Tonight, I make sure I’m back in the photo pit. The lighting for this one is always nice and Richard involves the audience in the community singing.

Hard-Fi London Troxy 211023-006

London: Cash Machine (Simon Reed)
London: Cash Machine (Simon Reed)

There’s one rendition of Living For The Weekend left on the tour so there’s one opportunity left to capture Richard Archer with the mic stand in the air.

Hard-Fi London Troxy 211023-007

London: Living For The Weekend (Simon Reed)
London: Living For The Weekend (Simon Reed)

There’s another after show invite for us at Troxy and I’m able to take the whole family, which is great. The children have grown up with Hard-Fi’s music. They might have been in the safe hands of babysitters when Sally and I were at the gigs but the music has always been in and around the house. We did a self-catering week in Strasbourg a few years ago that necessitated a drive to the Eurotunnel and across the whole of France. Killer Sounds had not long since been released. We celebrated it by playing all three Hard-Fi albums on constant repeat both there and back. I could not have imagined in a million years back then that one day I’d be photographing the band from the back of their stages.

All that’s left is to say is a huge thanks to Richard, Ross, Kai and Steve; to Jo and to the rest of the crew and to Hard-Fi’s management for taking a punt on a photographer they didn’t really know; for having me along and for being so friendly and accommodating. It’s been a wonderful experience.

Hard-Fi London Troxy 211023-013

London: A sell out crowd (Simon Reed)
London: A sell out crowd (Simon Reed)

Photo diary with Hard-Fi by Simon Reed. You can see more of Simon’s photography at his personal website Musical Pictures.

Hard-Fi London Troxy 211023-004

London: Richard Archer and Bruce Breakey (Simon Reed)
London: Richard Archer and Bruce Breakey (Simon Reed)
Crawlers @ Rough Trade East (Paul Lyme)

Crawlers Deliver A Valentine’s Treat At Rough Trade East

The queue stretches down through the glowing Shoreditch street for half a block. Someone’s cut out hundreds of pink...
Alice Cooper @ The O2 Arena (Kalpesh Patel)

Alice Cooper Announces UK Tour Including Hammersmith London Shows

Icon, pioneer, and Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame inductee Alice Cooper has achieved so much in his lengthy career. But...
Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes @ Roundhouse (Nick Allan)

Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes’ Dark Rainbows Shine At The Roundhouse

Few musicians and artists that I’ve followed over the years have evolved as much as Frank Carter has since I first saw him fronting Gallows when they opened for the MC5/DTK at the Underworld in Camden back in December 2006, back when I described Frank as a Wee Ginger Gobshite who offered out the audience for a fight, Now nearly 18 years later Frank is playing two nights At The Roundhouse to celebrate the release of dark Rainbow his fifth album with The Rattlesnakes.

Megan Moroney (David McClister)

Georgia’s EMO Cowgirl Megan Moroney To Bring Nashville To The UK

Self-described “emo cowgirl” Megan Moroney has announced her return to the UK for seven headline dates in September,...
McFly (Press)

McFly To Celebrate 21 Years With Massive O2 Arena Show

It’s been 21 years since McFly first formed, a journey which has taken them from their breakthrough hit Five Colours...
The Schizophonics @ Moth Club (Pauline Di Silvestro)

A Lesson Of Rock’N’Roll To The People Of Hackney, By The Schizophonics

It was an average Wednesday night for many people in Hackney, just trying to get through the rest of the winter while...
Mother Mother Mackenzie Walker scaled

Mother Mother Explore Their Grief Chapter

Canada’s biggest alt-rock export Mother Mother have released their highly anticipated album Grief Chapter. The album...
Freya Beer (Press)

Freya Beer Shares Latest Single Write Her Off (WHO)

West London's Freya Beer has released her brand new single Write Her Off (WHO). “You’ve got lust in your eyes and it...

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This

Share Thing