Nick Stephenson Music – ‘Let the new enlighten me’ exhibition
London is so often revered as the pinnacle of success and ambition for singers and songwriters — or anyone trying to ‘make it’ for that matter. After moving to the City in November 2015, I decided to document Nick’s first eight months of 2016, one photo a month, as he began the first year of his London-based music career.
A mixture of turbulence, excitement, grief, comedy and the occasional sense of distrust, I tried to take a series of portraits that showed the reality of the circumstance, rather than glamourising the truth. There is much fun to be had using London as one’s ‘playground’ and it was important to epitomize some of the energy, triumph and hopefulness that the last eight months has encompassed too, after all, so many of the world’s greatest songwriters cut their teeth there.
I think the main aim really was to reveal a sense of the artist without just creating a bunch of portraits of him mid-song, strumming on a guitar in front of a room full of people under some pretty coloured lights. There’s far more to the humble musician than that!
The passing of David Bowie at the start of 2016 felt like a personal grief to so many. It also felt like the Earth shifting its plates, challenging the next generation of artist to step forward and embrace their individual selves.
The single ‘One Thing’ — planned opening track on the next album and finalist entry in the National Songwriting Competition 2015 – was recorded as a single in January. It’s release felt like a triumphant start to a year filled with possibility.
Nick lives among his inspirations and idols. He is always curious and admiring of other artists and I believe that to be a huge facet of his musical output.
When a complicated relationship with the songwriting process – and indeed the performance aspect of a musician’s life takes over, there is a sense of ‘the performance’ beginning long before the first steps are taken onto a stage.
I saw a curious thing at this summer festival. Song after song, belted out proudly and defiantly, but for a second or two, he became subdued and his expression looked unconvinced. Just a tiny, very human moment in a very deliberately crafted set. I never asked why.
Inspiration gathering. This record sale, set up in an old church, became the ideal environment to pray for – or just praise – the God of music. A moment of silly relief, to poke fun at how serious the whole business of music can be taken at times. I think there’s a lot of times where Nick just has fun with it and laughs at himself!
One the interesting things about living with a songwriter is the way that the song writing process can challenge the artist’s identity; how often do you have to write songs to be a songwriter, and not just a singer? How can the tool that liberates and carries the career suddenly become the mocking intimidator?
Hammersmith Bridge: the new symbol of home and always feels like a privilege – albeit a hard-earned one. The Zipheads are a band from the city Nick grew up in; St Albans, and Nick was invited to perform some gang vocals on their debut album. We’re lucky to cross paths with so many people who offer wisdom, support and opportunity.
It was really great to have these photographs, and the story they told, displayed at the Charles Burrell Centre recently as part of Nick’s exclusive album preview night.