Ben Folds - London - November 2023

Seldom does standom and photography crossover, but every couple
of years or so this hardened hack gets sucked back to 1997, when life was
simpler, the world was for the taking and I was introduced to the music of Ben
Folds Five for the first time.

As a nearly eighteen year old kid who was deep into the Metallica
/ Guns ‘n’ Roses / Sepultura phase of life that every teenage boy goes through,
I remember the exact moment that I first became aware of The Five. It was a
Sunday morning in February, and The O-Zone (a rubbish Pop World hosted by Andi
Peters) was on BBC2. Ben was being interviewed to promote their now seminal
album Whatever and Ever Amen, and played a cover of Champagne Supernova on the
piano. I don’t why it piqued my interest, but I was hooked.

That Wednesday, after an audition to get into drama school,
my mum and me went into Our Price in Windsor and she bought me the album as a
congratulatory present. As soon as I got home, I put it in the CD player and…It
didn’t get played again until June. I guess my ears were too attuned to power
chords and three minute guitar solos cranked up to eleven to appreciate piano
led punk rock for sissies. But the seed had been sown that would transform the
greasy rocker into the self aware nerdy indie kid. By July, when the bouncy paeon
to longing, Kate was released and I phoned into the Chris Tarrant Breakfast
Show on Capital FM to request it, that album had taken hold of me and changed
my life.

It is said that you don’t choose music, music chooses you. It
was the first time I’d discovered music that my friends were not into or I had
been exposed to over years and years via my parents (demonstrated by the
permanent scarring of knowing every single word to every single Phil Collins
song up to and including But Seriously. Thanks mum).

The relationship we have with music is unique. There is no
other artform that has the ability to emotionally connect with us as deeply or as
often as it does. Music literally soundtracks our lives.

Ben Folds’ music is so intertwined with my adult life that it
would be impossible to separate the two. It is part of me. It reminds me of the
best summer of my life; it got me through the death of my mum a few months
later and the years of grief that followed; the first flushes of love when I
introduced my girlfriend to my obsession; my wedding day; the birth of my
children (though I will also forever associate the pathetic Keane with the
birth of my eldest son, as I shot them the day he was born. Fuck you Keane); my
subsequent divorce, where we both sat in a pub in Cheltenham to agree custody
of our kids over a pint an hour before the most beautiful Ben Folds show in a
tent, where the rain made the whole concert sound like a warm, crackly vinyl;
and every other major moment of my life since, underlined by three and a half
minutes of profound and incisive perfection.

I was eighteen years old when I first saw Ben Folds Five in
1998 at The Kentish Town Forum. 1500 shoe gazing, cider drinking indie boys and
glitter faced indie girls and it was magical. It was mine, ours. A collective sense
of togetherness and comradery. The feeling that we’d all stumbled upon this
secret that we all desperately wanted to share with anyone and everyone, but at
the same time yearned to keep selfishly for ourselves.

As the years have gone on, that feeling stays the same – but
those same teenagers are now parents, some of whom bring their kids (who
probably feel the same contempt towards Folds as I do towards Phil Collins). We
prefer seating these days to the sweatiness of unreserved standing and a nice glass
of wine.

When I started photographing shows, I had a bucket list of
shows and venues to one day tick off. Ben Folds has been ticked off many times
over. From theatres to rock clubs and festivals – but The Royal Albert Hall was
special. It’s the most beautiful venue in the world and I had never shot a show
there before.

I was in the audience for Ben Folds Five’s last UK show at
the Albert Hall in 1999 before they split the next year, so photographing his
return twenty four years later was a nice moment. It was even cooler that he
played up to us to give us a bit of variety to our shoot, pretending to throw
his piano stool at the keys, harking back to his punk rock for sissies of years
gone by, before climbing onto his grand piano to flip the bird to the rapt

Folds has hinted that he has recorded his last album,
preferring to leave record making to the kids. I really hope that isn’t the
case because it would mean that I would then be living in the past, relying on
nostalgia for my kicks and that little bit of magic of photographing music will
be gone. 

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