This one's for the fans: photographing the live music crowd – a picture essay

Cornerstone Christian Rock Festival
  • Singing along to Amazing Grace with the David Crowder Band on the main stage at the Cornerstone Christian rock festival in Bushnell, Illinois

Music has that special ability to be all-consuming, taking us back to a memory, a relationship, a loss, a summer holiday or even a belief system.

Dolly parton fans. Pyramid stage, Glastonbury 2014.
The crowd sings along with Snoop Dogg at the Live 8 concert in Hyde Park in London in 2005.
  • Left, a young Dolly Parton fan at Glastonbury in 2014. Right, the crowd sings along with Snoop Dogg at the Live 8 concert in Hyde Park in London in 2005

More than often, I’m drawn to the music crowd rather than the performer. It’s here that we can see the meaning of the music we hear. We can see how the music feels. That most intimate of moments where we are lost in the occasion; the memory or meaning of songs; the personal played out in the most public of ways.

Metallica fans at Glastonbury in 2014
  • Metallica fans at Glastonbury in 2014

Young couples in love singing along to Paolo Nutini; George Ezra holding the gaze of adoring fans; the consumed abandon of House music or Nigerian fans in awe of the Game and the guttural sounds of American Christian thrash rock music creating a mosh pit of stomping teenage physicality.

Cornerstone Christian Rock Festival
Watching singer-songwriter Asa at the Mamas, the inaugural MTV Africa music awards in Abuja, Nigeria, in 2009.
Dancing to Gong at Glastonbury, 2014
Watching Big Thief performing at the Albert Hall, Manchester, UK, earlier this year.
  • Clockwise from top left: watching Flyleaf at the Cornerstone Christian rock festival; seeing Asa at the Mamas, Abuja, Nigeria, in 2009; Big Thief fans at the Albert Hall, Manchester, this year; dancing to Gong at Glastonbury in 2014

Fans on the front row, standing for hours and dressed to be seen, the anticipation becoming unbearable. Friends in the crowd peering for a view. Fans on shoulders, as the crowd sing and move in unison. Occasionally the light reveals a moment, a look, or a mood.

Cornerstone Christian Rock Festival
  • Above, the Cornerstone Christian rock festival. A member of the crowd takes a photograph of Travis at the Live 8 concert in Hyde Park, London, in 2005. Below, Gong fans at Glastonbury in 2014

A member of the crowd takes a photograph of Travis at The Live 8 concert in Hyde Park London.
Dancing to ‘Gong’ at Glastonbury 2014
Dancing to Gong at Glastonbury 2014

Live music: The gig. The venue. The crowd. In the faces and reaction of the music crowd we can read and see that mix of live sound and shared personal experiences. There for all to see, all wrapped up in our reactions as we hear, see and feel the music.

Dancing at Glastonbury in 2014
  • Dancing at Glastonbury in 2014

Generations are often labelled by the musical experiences of the time. House music, Garage, Punk, Britpop. During this Covid moment, the Spotify generation is being deprived of the live music they love.

Dolly Parton fans. Pyramid stage, Glastonbury 2014.
  • Dolly Parton fans at Glastonbury in 2014

Looking in on musicians’ living rooms, listening to virtual concerts, deprives us of the visceral feeling of the bass, the drum beat, the comradeship. It’s an experience empty of meaning to the human condition.

Black Country, New Road fans at YES, Manchester
  • Black Country, New Road fans at YES, Manchester.

Even in ordinary times Glastonbury on TV is not the Glastonbury in the flesh.

Live music is that moment, as the sun dips, and the Who starts a set with their huge chords and lyrics to My Generation and a young woman, wearing a trilby hat and engulfed in the fall of stage lighting, lets out a huge cheer, raising her left arm and two fingers aloft.

A woman in the crowd cheers The Who at the Live 8 concert in Hyde Park, London, in 2005.
  • A Who fan at the Live 8 concert in Hyde Park, London, in 2005

It’s a connection made only at the gig. Without the live audience, music is weaker. And it is these moments that I’ve been seeking.

Fans cheer rapper The Game at the Mamas, the inaugural MTV Africa music awards in Abuja, Nigeria, in 2009.
  • Fans cheer the Game at the Mamas, the inaugural MTV Africa music awards in Abuja, Nigeria, in 2009.

A singular experience, in a communal event. The joy of music. In these Covid days the gig may well be dead … but long live the gig.