Josienne Clarke Live at Bush Hall, London 19.11.19

Last night, Josienne Clarke assembled a dream cast of accomplished musicians & performed to a packed house at Bush Hall in London. It’s a lovely venue, beautifully faded but with attention to detail in all the right places. It has a wonderful sound system. Roland, the guy who comes & sets up tables & runs the bar is there to make it as good a night as it can be. The owner was there early to make sure everyone had what they needed & genuinely cared that it went well. The security bloke was just the right amount of friendly & terrifying. The sardonic girl on the door wouldn’t have let in anyone not on the list. It was a textbook load in & setup.

The band were total professionals & (according to someone who shall remain nameless..) total babes, so really, what’s not to like? Mary Ann Kennedy, who was going to play the harp, couldn’t make it as she wasn’t well. I am hoping her & Josienne will plan another show for sometime in the future… anyone else think thats a good idea?

Immy from Green Note, who was promoting the event, was gleeful to be involved from the start and her excitement shot the whole thing through with an infectious vein of delight. Thanks for everything, Immy!

It was beautiful to see so many friendly faces & loads to meet so many folks I know but had not met face to face before – I’m sorry that I didn’t get time to have an actual conversation with anyone, but I know you could all see that I was headless chickening 🙂

I spent the evening tweeting, instagram living, ferreting around, loading in, carrying things, making sure there was someone manning the merch desk – though, usually there wasn’t – I thought everyone would want to buy things at the end, but no, you wanted to buy things all night! Thanks to the folks who helped out selling & thanks to everyone who grabbed a CD, record or book. You are appreciated. I also tuned guitars, took photos, held microphones, retuned guitars, and generally looked encouraging. Josienne played two sets, so there were lots of low-level things to do.

The first set was some old classics of hers and a few new ones, then, in the second set, the band played the whole album. The encore was a Sandy Denny cover, ‘The Sea’ and then she finished solo with a new original called ‘Unbound’.

It was a beautiful evening. I’ve lived inside of Josienne planning & executing this, and I have to say, even writing about it now is kind of hard. I tweeted this from the side of the stage last night:

“can you see, it was always her, there never was anything else, she just can’t tell you that, but I can. last time i saw her sing Chicago in front of an audience, she was broken & now she is not, I am sat at the side of the stage shaking with pride…”

I don’t think I can say it better than that without being more explicit than I can be. You saw her. You know. It was perfect.

Thanks for coming, everyone. I’m humbled by it & I know just how deeply grateful Josienne is for you all, too.

Here’s my night in roughly chronological order…

Bush Hall Rehearsal Sessions

I spent some time today in the underground rehearsal studio where Josienne Clarke had assembled a bunch of musicians to rehearse for her Bush Hall show tomorrow. It’s the launch gig for her album ‘In All Weather’ and it was always going to take some serious talent to bring those songs to life. It was fascinating to see how the songs are reverse engineered from the record to perform them live. It sounds just like you’ll want it to, the encore alone is going to bring you to your knees, like it did me today.

If you don’t have tickets yet then I strongly suggest you get them here, now.

This is Josienne in the hotel room after the rehearsal, she looks ghostly through the glass, like she’s only half here, a waif spirit from another time, long gone. Maybe that’s kind of right.

This is Dave Hamblett on drums. Go follow him on Instagram here.

Next up is Matt Robinson on keys. He wasn’t half as tired as this unfair but stylish shot looks… here’s his twitter, go give him a follow.

This is Will Harris, the bass player. He’s got a great Instagram, go give him a follow…

This is Alex Monk on guitar – he’s a tweeter, go follow him here.

And here’s Josienne at the rehearsal. She’s relaxed & excited for the show.

I have nothing else to say. It was great. I’ll be there, ferretting around, plugging in plugs, running cables, tuning guitars, taking photos, selling things at the merch desk, loading the car afterwards and then driving far away. Please, do come say hello to me if you get a minute, and also excuse me if I’m too busy to talk for long, I’m working, you see.

I look forward to saying hello, even if it’s only for a second.

That ticket link, one final time.

Seconds On The Beach

When planning the release of ‘In All Weather’, Josienne & I discussed how effective the Rough Trade Sessions videos were. I loved the intensity of those performances, the closeup, harsh, high contrast, like the sound of the song under a microscope of light.

And Josienne felt that we should do something similar for the new record. I love to see well recorded live performances of the songs, but how to do this? And where?

Where part was easy. Cat Stevens took that photo at Ettrick Bay, a long, deep, sweeping beach on the Isle of Bute, it’s a special location to the creation of the album that I’ve written about before. So, we knew if we could record there, it would be perfect. But a windy beach? With birds & dogs & kids & grownups, all running around, yelling & the sea hissing & waves splashing all around?

I like a challenge, and so I rose to this one. I realised, sound could be recorded in such a location, if you had the right kit. People do do it. So I used money I didn’t have to buy a Sennheiser MKH416, a Rode Blimp to put it inside & a cheap boom to connect it all to a little Sound Devices recorder. I set the Canon up on a tripod with a 24mm 1.2/f L lens and pointed it all at JC, who stood there & did three takes of each tune. They’re all perfect. I chose my favourite, synced it up in Premiere, a tiny grade and then export! Boom. Course, you need the right eyes & ears to bring all that magical professional kit together into the finished thing!

There’s a funny outtake where a wasp flies inside the guitar and she starts yelling & freaking out & I just stand there, holding the microphone, not knowing how to help, but I won’t embarrass everyone by uploading that to youtube. You’ll just have to imagine. Thankfully, you don’t have to imagine the songs, because they’ll all be on YouTube soon.

For now, here’s the first one: Seconds.

I love the sound of this. I didn’t process it at all. It’s straight out of the recorder. Such a natural sound, exactly what it was like to stand there as she performed.

A family wanted to know who she was & could they find her on the internet, yeah, I said, as I tried to hold 6 kilos at arms length for an hour, without a solid base to put it down on. Got loads of sand in the XLR jack sockets. Pressing all the right things, getting it all in focus & recording properly, just me, was a hilarious challenge! I’ve still not cleaned everything out properly, but nothing seems to care. Listen to the seabirds singing along. Doesn’t it make you want to as well?

There are two more of these to come. One next week, one soon after. Another original song, and then something else, a cover, a deep cut for the old school fans. I’m so excited for you to hear. You won’t be disappointed.

And then – I can do this again! For you! The microphone sounds so good. If you’d like a location shoot of a live song of yours, then please do ask me. I’d love to make more. It doesn’t cost the earth, depending on what you want and where you want it. So it’s well worth asking. Get in touch. Thank you x

Come to see this done with a full band at London’s fancy Bush Hall – this is going to be one for the history books, don’t miss it!

My Video for ‘The 1970s’ by Paul Mosley

I made another video, this time for Paul Mosley, premiered by Folk Radio UK.

Paul asked me to make the visuals to accompany his beautiful song, ‘The 1970s’ from his album ‘You’re Going To Die!” From the first bar, it’s a show-stopping driving song that I’d put on a playlist next to ‘Thunder Road’ by Springsteen in a stuttering heartbeat, so I felt an immediate connection with it. That made the task of doing it justice a little disconcerting, but Paul had the core of a concept of what he was after and we worked it out from there.

Firstly, I filmed his band, The Red Meat Orchestra, as they rehearsed for the launch show for the album at a London studio. A photogenic bunch, they are, so this was an easy one!

Here’s a couple of my shots from the launch show, I was too busy with other things to shoot that night properly, but these give you a flavour…

Then, we arranged a location shoot in the Midlands for the following week. It’s a long song, I had over six minutes of story to tell, which was a fun challenge. Paul entertained the idea of making a single edit, but I think that would have been a shame & having seen the footage, I was convinced I could do the full song justice.

The lyrics really say it all. Sometimes, you just wanna sing along with the saddest song on midnight radio. Paul describes the song best himself, his words & the way his memories seem to work for him are so similar to mine. How thrilling to hear your own self described back to you. Paul says this stuff so we don’t need to.

“This whole album (‘You’re Going To Die!’) is about grief although it’s oddly up beat. Grief does funny things to your sense of time; lots of looking back but your memories are changed by the new knowledge of the loss. When I think of my mother’s life now, I think the heart of her story, when she was the most herself, is in the 1970’s when I was only small and my siblings were all at home. We often seemed to be in the car, at night, as a family. Somehow that’s the snapshot I have of her and us as our most together.
 
“Josienne Clarke is one of my favourite people. I wrote the part of “Delores’ in my folk opera ‘The Butcher’ especially for her and brilliantly she stuck around to be a full member of the Red Meat Orchestra alongside Jack Harris and ex-Mediaeval Baebes Esther Dee. ‘Sometimes you just want to sing along to the saddest songs on midnight radio’ felt like a very Josienne thing to sing – and as ever she brought an intelligent melancholy to it that I love.”

So, we needed to be moving. Reminiscing. Remembering. Not dwelling, stressing, or living in the past. A trip down memory lane, but with eyes facing forwards into the misty light, whatever it may bring. It’s a brave & bold song, firm, resigned & I wanted my video to do that, too.

So we got in a car and drove about ’til the light ran out & everyone went home. Here’s a couple of stills from the video, and then the main attraction.

I won’t analyse what it all means. Who is where & why. Who leaves & when. Where they are going. What they find when they get there. It’s just a journey. There is a reason & a destination, a point to it all. I hope it shows Paul’s vast internal well of humanity & the sheer size & weight of his beautiful soul.

You can stream ‘You’re Going to Die!’ here though I’d recommend buying it on Bandcamp here – if you’re quick, you might even get a free balloon like in the video! Are you team red or team yellow?

Thanks for reading, please do share, follow & ask me if you’d like to work together on whatever it is you are making, I would love to help.

My video for ‘Slender, Sad and Sentimental’

My latest video production was released into the world yesterday.

This one is for the new Josienne Clarke single, ‘Slender, Sad & Sentimental’ on Rough Trade Records. It’s a lurid & fun play on the self-referentiality in Josienne’s song. We see her in a series of strange scenarios, in each one, she’s watching herself in the others, reacting to what she sees. It was great fun to plan, film & edit. We still have the clouds, hanging up in our little house.

Those are the two pictures that the record company used to trail the video. The first was a shot of Josienne I took with the lightning tree and the second is a still from one of the scenarios. The song sort of explains why she’s sat in a crows nest that we made out of a builders rubble tub, cardboard & cotton wool.

Did you realise that the tree scene was a reference to a previous video of Josienne’s? Things go pretty wrong in the Fire & Fortune video. Thankfully, this time, all these years later, she has a fire extinguisher & a nice can of fizzy pop to cool her down! Things are looking up!

Here’s a gallery of the other stills from the video that I suggested could be used for the thumbnail. In the end, Rough Trade went with the crows nest. I think that was the right decision. Which one is your favourite?

We planned this for a couple of months, sketching out scenarios in pencil & paper, fleshing out the various scenarios and how they would relate to each other. My original concept was for us to see through Josi’s eye down the telescope, looking at herself from one place to another. I painted in a psychedelic kaleidoscope inside a toilet roll, and it’s the same telescope, but I couldn’t get it to look right under all the lighting conditions we would face, so in the end, you’ll just have to imagine what that would have looked like.

Interestingly, and this has been the subject of a furore of discussion on social media, it isn’t a toilet roll at all, despite my vast collection of those. I had been collecting them for this purpose, and now have hundreds, but it turned out that a standard Andrex size one was too short & a kitchen roll size one was too long to do the trick of the light I was aiming for. So, I purchased a card tube from hobbycraft that was just the right length. It was also slightly narrower & slightly heavier card. I know, you’re going to say, I could have cut one down. I tried that, but it messes with the integrity of the tube and anything that did that meant the paint didn’t look right. I had to cut it open to paint inside, and the eagle-eyed among you will have noticed the join, fixed with duct tape. That was all part of why I could never get that shot to work. So, that’s the fascinating backstory of the card tube telescope.

Here’s the speech bubble from the ‘poet’ scene. Josi wrote it in sharpie & we still have it. It has all the lyrics to the song on. It’s still here, but I tore it a bit, taking it down at the end of the day.

It took a week of making the props & getting the right colour backdrops, cakes, balloons, etc, then we shot it in a day & a half in a village hall. We had two days planned, but thanks to careful planning & slick execution, it went almost perfectly & we finished early.

Here’s the video! This is the part of the article where you have read enough of my words that you get to watch it!

Here’s a couple more stills from the ‘Slender, Sad & Sentimental’ set, I love that sky & her beaming smile. She’s not acting, this was a hilarious shoot on a scorchingly hot day. Good times.

For all you technical folks, let me answer the FAQs…

I shot most of this video on a Canon 5D mkiii at 1080p / 24fps. I used a 24mm 1.4ii L lens for most of it. I think. I had my 85mm 1.2 L but I don’t think any footage from that made it in. The close ups from the dancing scene and the DJ footage is all iPhone XS matched at 1080p / 24fps. That garish pink light was what happened when a spinning disco light hit the lens just so. The iPhone is great at things like that, but the outdoor shot of the tree, for example, is pure Canon.

And here’s a still from the edit, putting things together in Premiere Pro.

Now, the song & video have been out for a day and folks seem to like it, which is very gratifying.

Visit http://www.josienneclarke.com for more of this, and don’t forget, preorder the album here.

Also, do get yourself a ticket to the Bush Hall London album launch party on November 19th. Josienne will be playing with a full band and believe me, you do not want to miss this rare show. It’ll be beautiful. Come say hello, tickets are here: https://www.ticketweb.uk/event/josienne-clarke-album-bush-hall-tickets/9714885

Thanks for reading, I hope you like what we made, tell your friends!

Making The Cover Art for ‘In All Weather’

On April 22nd 2019, celebrated music photographer Cat Stevens visited the Isle of Bute & spent the best part of two days shooting Josienne for the cover of her new Rough Trade LP ‘In All Weather’, out on November 8th 2019.

This is the end result…

Here’s a small gallery of other shots Cat took that are being used in press or on the inner sleeve of the album or singles.

There’s plenty of other stunning shots that Cat took. I hope they make it out into the world on a future release or poster or something because they are truly brilliant, but I can’t share them yet, because they’re not mine to do that with. Do make sure you visit Cat’s website & instagram. She is one of the truly great music photographers, she wrote the rulebook, defined a look for a generation.

Something that IS mine to share, though, is the results of the location scouting that Josienne & I did ahead of the shoot with Cat. JC had a really clear idea of what she wanted. That blue of the album sleeve? You can see how that’s the colour of the skies over the island, which is where the album was written & kind of what it was written about. She knew that from day one, we looked in B&Q for a card of that colour, but really the answer was just copy it from the sky.

She imagined herself partially submerged by the ocean, at once inside it and on top of it. Neither triumphantly emerging nor being drowned, just, existing alongside it, both her & it simply being what they are.

She described a hazy, clean, blue-grey horizon. She talked about a wooden structure, and early on, described it made in the sand in driftwood, perhaps a boat, ruined then discovered.

Eventually, she realised that the world had done the work for her and that the ruined pier at Port Bannatyne could be an ideal location.

They say Bute used to be a popular holiday resort for the well-heeled travelling nobility of Scotland and accordingly, the island is littered with the tattered relics of a faded past, once a glorious seaside holiday destination to brag about, now ‘just’ a quiet, low-key island getting on with being itself. Nothing sad about it, though; Bute changed and carried on existing, grew, adapted and seems to be thriving nowadays. If that isn’t a perfect image to backdrop Josienne’s inscrutable expression on the cover, then I don’t know what is.

She bought that red coat knowing exactly the shade that would set her against the sky, stand out from the landscape whilst standing right inside it.

And we explored that coastline for days, looking for the right place to make this image. We shot some tests & sat with Cat and a tumeric latte on the morning of the first day of the shoot. Here’s a gallery from our early excursions, exploring the shore & finding out how the sky would look. She didn’t have the red coat yet and we hadn’t realised how perfect the pier would be. We just tried a few different things.

Then we decided to try the pier out and this is what we found.

There’s a bloke who lives in Port Bannatyne called John Williams, he’s one of those perfect photographers, everything he does is beautiful & he shoots this pier a lot. I felt kind of cowed even going near it with a camera, in his backyard, but he’s a solid artist (you can buy a book of some of his best work from his twitter profile and I strongly suggest you do) and he did not seem to mind, so that was inspiring & empowering. Thankyou, John!

And you can see how close I came; no cigars for me but no shame either. A few different colour treatments & some better framing and technique & I’d be good to go.

Here’s one from the same day, Josienne found me in front of a perfect pantone 2717 sky in my christmas socks with Barney the ratcatcher sniffing for a different kind of treasure on the beautiful beaches of Bute.

And here’s the finished product. You can pre-order ‘In All Weather’ from Rough Trade Records & on Friday 8th November, it will be live, streaming on all platforms. So much hard love went into this piece of art. My own part was infinitesimally small but I’m so proud that I got to see it happen & I hope you enjoy listening to & looking at it as much as I do.

Anna Tivel & Jeffrey Martin

We visited Cafe#9 in Sheffield last night to see Anna Tivel & Jeffrey Martin, two of our favourite singer songwriters from the US on the last date of their European tour. What a night. The kind of show that reminds you why you go to shows. They both played greatest hits sets with a few new songs that I can’t wait to hear recorded. They were welcoming, warm, friendly, tired, charming & their voices & songs filled that little room in the haunting way that only a few people can do.

First up was this local lad, went by the name Robbie, had a line in quiet, pristine, precious little songs about his exes. Photogenic & enigmatic, he was.

Then Jeffrey played a solo set, then Anna joined him, then Anna played a solo set and Jeffrey joined her, here’s a little gallery.

Read more about Jeffrey here, he has one of my favourite musicians websites, his biography is a work of perfect genius. Listen to One Go Around. It’s a masterpiece.

Do the same with Anna here, whose website is also very nice, that main photo of her is one I sure wish I took & her ‘The Question’ LP stands shoulder to shoulder with Jeffrey’s, what a combination they are.

They’re two of the very best, catch them if you can.