Photo story: A night with Sage Francis


I’d been excited about seeing Sage Francis for months. Only a couple of nights before the show it was announced that Scroobious Pip would also be there. After much anticipation, the night of the sold-out gig finally arrived.

Gorilla isn’t your standard gig venue; with it’s own bar/restaurant it was tempting to warm up and grab some grub while waiting for the doors to open.  However there was no time to relax, within a few minutes of walking in, a lady on the security team showed me to the performance area.  While I was unpacking my camera and getting set up I bumped into Scroobious Pip, who had just done a video interview about his interest in Mixed Martial Arts.


I chatted to Pip for a while, who was now setting up the merch stand. I introduced myself and while trying not to sound like a typical fangirl or put him on a pedestal, I had to pass on my respect for his words, his rhymes, his video production and his beard (for any beard/gaming fans out there, there’s a beard flash game on his website, go check it out). Although I’d heard Pip was a pretty down to earth guy, I was surprised when he asked me about my photography and how I was feeling about the night. After talking lighting and publishing we had a hug and a photo and I let him get on with sorting the merch.


Eventually the support act D’Lyfa Reilly came, on half an hour late, but dropped some quality tracks which got everybody’s head nodding with a few giggles in between. I bumped into them after their set, told them it was banging and asked if they knew where the smoking area was. They just tried to direct me onto the stage!


After a brief break allowing for drinks to be bought and cigarettes to be smoked (after finally locating the smoking area), Sage Francis took the stage. It had been ten years since he’d played in Manchester but he looked very much at home, showing unstoppable energy as he opened with ‘Escape Artist’, jumping around the stage with his Srange Famous Records flag draped around him like a wizards robe. This set the tone for the rest of the show, the crowdbouncing with him.


The big hits came one after another as the fans got louder: ‘Crack Pipes’ sent the crowd into chaos and ‘Jah Didn’t Kill Johnny’ (a tribute to Johnny Cash) had everybody yelling out ‘holler at your boy’.

The hightlight for me was ‘Makeshift Patriot’, which was introduced by a chorus of the ‘Team America: World Police’ theme tune; you could feel the whole crowd come together as everybody sang along with their fists in the air. This was one of Sage’s most fierce political raps which sent waves through the underground hip hop scene and still has people talking. Slamming the hyped up patriotism and racial profiling which fuelled distorted media representations of ‘the war on terror’, Sage (a journalism graduate) picks apart the politics behind the media reports. While this track was written over a decade ago, the multi-layered streams of wordplay still held their punch, and the sentiment behind the song remained to capture people’s anger and distrust of the press and the political power structures.


‘Sea Lion’, ‘Civil Obedience’ and ‘Dance Monkey’ came next. The crowd was moving, despite being a packed like sardines, but Sage had more up his sleeve.


During ‘Make Em Purr’ the atmosphere took a more melancholy feel. It’s a heartbreaking track about feeling isolated, having little self worth, and struggling to find positivity to keep you going. It seemed like a surprise to hear those things coming from someone so fierce and successful, but they affect everybody in all walks of life.

Sage’s ‘fuck you’ attitude had become ‘what the fuck’s wrong with me?’, which everybody who’s ever made a mistake can relate to. As he spoke about avoiding people and living in a self inflicted prison, the whole room was with him, chanting the hook ‘my twenties were a roar, my thirties were a blur, my forties I’m not so sure’.



While Sage performed the song there was a video of his cat playing behind him, which served the reminder that everybody is vulnerable and people need things like cats and hip hop (or friends, family, and a holiday) to help them through dark times.



At the end of the show Scroobious Pip got up on stage for a few songs, starting with ‘Let Em Come’. The opening notes got everybody excited, with the lines ‘when it’s cold, we bite the top of our zips, pull it up with our teeth, till it covers out lips’. By the chorus, the crowd was in a frenzy and even without the Minnesota MC P.O.S there to spit his part of the track, Sage and Pip had nailed it. Sage’s verse came around and everybody laughed at his reference to Philadelphian punk rockers the Dead Milkmen ‘Why do you think they call it a borrowing owl now anyway?’


Finally Sage thanked everyone for coming and gave Pip a big hug. He said there’d be no encore but instead he would hug every fan, so he jumped into the crowd to hug every single person there. He listened to why everyone had come, what his music meant to them and did pictures and autographs. The venue was sold out that night, with at least 450 fans there, and he must have met nearly every one of those people. What a guy.


Eventually I got to speak to Sage,  told him I loved the show (and his work) and thanked him for doing the SCAN interview earlier in the year.

His face lit up when I reminded him of our last question; “What’s the best question you’ve never been asked?” His response was: “How did you get so handsome?” He said that was the best answer he’d ever given. So I asked him how he got so handsome, and he replied, “With age”. Everybody surrounding nodded their heads, smiling. I hugged him, thanked him and of course got a photo with him.


Sage now continues the rest of his world tour, following the release his latest album Copper Gone, and Scroobious Pip has just begun a UK tour with artists from his own record label, Speech Development Records.

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