Shooting Promotional Portraits of Antler

I met Chris on Twitter. Turned out, he lived in Nottingham and we knew all the same places to eat & drink, so I’m certain our paths had crossed under the anonymity of the city before we connected online over a shared love of music & reasonableness. He was a voice of sanity in a loud crazy faceless internet crowd, always chipping into discussions with words that kept me from thinking I must be going nuts. He introduced me to Amie, his bandmate in Antler and together they asked me to help them with promotional / artwork portraits for new music they were working on. They were a pleasure to work with from the off, their brief was interesting & realistic – their EP was nearly finished and they had an idea of the kind of visuals they wanted & so they walked me through that and I took their guidance & ran with it.

We discussed Snake Pass & Winnats Pass as two possible shoot locations – somewhere green, a little foreboding, nicely lit, outside but not too bucolic, a dramatic & bold landscape to place these two musicians inside to make a statement about their pastoral, progressive acoustic music. They wanted no trees. I never asked why. I just made sure there were none. I like a clear requirement. You gotta go where the art takes you, eh?

We met in a great cafe nearby & spent 3 or 4 hours wandering the stunning Winnats Pass, exploring caves, corners & slopes, looking for light. We found it, too. We were lucky with the weather – the first date we arranged was called off in torrential downpours, but the second date was everything, low, grey clouds with moments of piercing sun. Chris & Amie were both naturals, posing naturally, solidly & patiently without lots of experience, so that was really easy & I think the results bear that out; there were no bad shots, only good & great ones, if I do say so myself… 🙂

I shot them on my Canon 5D mkiii with a mixture of 85mm f/1.2 prime & 24mm f/1.4 prime lenses, and shot a few rolls of Portra 400 35mm film on an AE1 with a sticky shutter. I reckon the best shots are on a roll that isn’t developed yet, I need to finish it first. I’ll add to the post if there’s anything handy on there. Josienne got me a darkroom course for xmas, so hopefully, they will be my first self-developed shots.

So here’s a few favourites from the day. I don’t want to share everything because they belong to Antler, but Chris & Amie kindly agreed to let me share a few favourites here & now. Watch this space for more & hopefully the end result accompanying new Antler music soon!

If you’d like a photo or video shoot, please do ask.

Find me on twitter, instagram or shoot me an email – let’s make things!

Sam Lou Uncased Episode 4: me…

I did an interview with Sam Lou Talbot, the enigmatic music scholar & multi-disciplinary artist who called me a ‘master of narrativising the narrative’ which was brilliant & terrifying & intriguing, so I agreed to talk to her via skype for an hour & a half. She wrote a terrific instagram post about it, see:

“December 12, 2019, and the Red Wall has fallen. But there are still albums to be made! And podcasts to be heard! In this festive Episode 4 of Sam Lou Uncased, Sam Lou Talbot heads into an alchemical new decade in conversation with the self-proclaimed “master of nothing” and “council house Leonard Cohen”, Mr Alec Bowman. Laying it all bear, the self-deprecating musician, songwriter, film maker and photographer gets to grips with the ways we’re supposed to talk about ourselves today; the right chords and the right words and the right notes, said in the right way; Premier Inns; and the grit of Rothesay; the vulnerable defiance of John Moreland live; the untouchability of the character that is Gillian Welch; second chances; and what it means to be raw, brave and bold through song en route to 2020.”

Thanks for having me on, Sam! I hope you get everything you deserve in two thousand & twenty.

The Making of Josienne Clarke's 'Host' video

There’s a tune on Josienne Clarke’s ‘In All Weather’ album called ‘Host’. It’s a short, disturbing, eviscerating thing.

Samantha Whates called it ‘Truthful, brave, fresh & wild’ which is a quote I love. Thanks, Sam.

When Josienne plays this song live, she stands there, opens her mouth and ‘Sorry…’ sounds & resounds in the silent room and I see folks faces think… wait, what? and she goes on ‘is the key to a door, that you will come through, and hurt me some more’ and everyone has to pick themselves up off the floor. She doesn’t let them, though. She says it again. Holds them just there. It’s always a low point. Or a high point. Both at once. She’s good at that.

So, we decided to make a video for it. I put her face front & centre. I was thinking of that Radiohead one. Someone else said it was like Rammstein. Cool. The proximity of her face is uncomfortable. Intimate. Vulnerable. She doesn’t look ok. The flickering electric lights of the cellar we shot in were working weirdly. There’s a wispy spider, I shot him, too. It wasn’t a set, we didn’t have to even dress it. The shoot took about 3 hours, the edit was longer because the song is so short and I had lots I wanted to do. Here’s a few shots from the cellar we used. You can see her mark in that first one.

Lots of folks asked me about the shaky camera. It makes it hard to watch, doesn’t it? Sick to the stomach, an unsettling & inescapable mess of a video. I tried to never let you rest. I interrupt sentences. Cut away at inappropriate times. Pull the carpet out. Turn the lights off, then on again. Is she being tortured, or has that already happened? Some people have expressed concern. Is Josienne OK? She is. It’s a song that gets delivered that way every time she does it live, and in the studio, and when she wrote it, and in demos. It just goes like that.

An interesting anecdote is that during the shoot, there were lots of cobwebs. You’ll see them, because I tried to keep them there. Well, she inhaled lots of them and vomited in the sink. Spiderweb puke. This was obviously bad, but she took a break, had a coffee & on she went. So, yes, she’s as OK as can be expected, under the circumstances, and we made some art which I’d like to invite you to enjoy without feeling guilty or voyeuristic. She’s a great actress & a fearless & dedicated artist, conveying some difficult stuff with her face & voice. It’s ok to click like on it but I’ll understand if you don’t.

Here’s a few stills that we didn’t use as the start card. We went with the glitchy blue one because it’s so strange & lucky, but these ones are interesting, too.

So, yeah. Not much else to say. It’s different to the rest of the videos from ‘In All Weather’. We are making more. Watch this space, then take hold of someone close to you & tell them how much they mean to you. Be open & brave & honest. Here’s the video.

Day 5: Making I Used To Be Sad & Then I Forgot

And lo, the recording is complete.

So here’s a little gallery of yesterday when I left my camera at the studio so you can keep seeing things in the right order.

Here’s Josienne’s single-handed woodwind orchestra…

And here’s Josienne screaming at the strings of an upright piano…

And today! Paul Mosley joined us! Paul Mosley is playing on my album! I am so humbled. It’s such a pleasure to watch him work, he’s an actual magician. A musician’s musician. If you haven’t heard his album ‘You’re Going To Die!” then please, right that wrong, it’s a masterpiece.

He played the Wurlitzer & Rhodes pianos, the Hammond organ & the little wooden harmonium, mainly on songs called ‘Long Goodbyes’ & ‘My Kind Of Chaos’. It really gave things a kick in the feels. I hope you winced at that shit phrase but I could think of no other quick way of expressing what Paul does.

So, what happens next?

I have MP3 demos. They need to be mixed then mastered.

I am more delighted than I could ever express to tell you that Richard Littler of Scarfolk fame is designing the sleeve based on a photograph by Trevor Hamilton. I’ve seen a mock up & it’s a doozy.

I hope to make CD copies in January / February and release it in March onto bandcamp. I have no label support or cash. There is no promotional PR budget. There is no crowdfund. I’m saying this, myself, with the help of some dear friends who care enough to help. I’ll live or die or sink or swim by my own hand, but it will be all mine, and we all know how important that is. I’ll be sticking it in envelopes & begging for reviews & gigs & bookings & press & interviews, so you know what to do. Yell at me if you’d like to help! Anyone who enjoys it & shares it or likes it or writes to say they like it, well, you’re the best.

Me, I’m just the right hand of the cross & if I can do it, anyone can.

Day 4: Making I Used To Be Sad & Then I Forgot

Disastrous news: I left my camera at the studio, so you’ll just have to have the two iPhone photographs, then I’ll tell you about today and share all the pictures tomorrow in one go. Sorry!

So lead vocals were all done, nearly. We’ll finish that tomorrow. We started today with bowed bass guitar. Ever done that? It really rumbles, digs in, bites your hand off. You can feel it as well as hear it. Then I bowed some cymbals which are a distant scream, we chose a large Istanbul one that sounded particularly screamy.

What then? It’s hard to remember without the photos. Josienne sung some backing vocals. It’s hard for anyone to sing in tune & time with me, my delivery is rough as a butchers dog, so she really had to work for her pay for that, thankfully she’s a field tested professional thats performed better in more challenging scenarios. She’s doing these distant echoing angelic harmonics, not taking over. You have to be careful how many vocals you give to her in case every review says “shame that bird with the great voice doesn’t sing more” which it probably will anyway, but hey ho. She did a lovely thing where she screamed into the strings of a piano, that made some truly beautiful noises & we used them on a song.

I played some electric guitars in places we weren’t sure needed them, sometimes they stayed, and sometimes they didn’t. The places they stayed, I think they really were perfect.

Then it was time to breathe. Josienne played saxophone on a song called ‘A Ditch Worth Dying For’ and then again on a tune called ‘Leaves’. She then piled on clarinet & a few recorders, she built an entire orchestra section out of just herself. She had this concept for a kind of patchwork Steve Reich-esque collage of sound built across takes and was kind of worried it might be hard to realise. Turns out, she just did it one go. It’s a pleasure to watch her work, a rare combination of talent, judgement & hard work. I can’t recommend her highly enough if you’d like a producer to bring a little eloquence & grace to your project.

Next, I played Andy’s old Hammond C3 with it’s spinning speaker containing Leslie cabinet. It was an ambition of mine when I started this project to get to sit at this stool and play this beast. It’s stunningly loud, so powerful. A mammoth, a mountain of music. You wouldn’t believe it in the room. This is religion in a box. You couldn’t not believe anyone singing along with this instrument. It takes so much maintenance, it’s so complex with so many strange and rare and intricate parts, it’s a rare & precious piece of work that rewards the effort with its rich & deep tones & tactile keyboard that no modern machine can match.

Tomorrow, we have a handful of vocal takes to work through, then the rest of the day is for dirty Rhodes, a very exciting special guest superstar musician is joining us, someone I am flattered would even consider bothering to make the train journey from London to take part in my project. I’ll tell you who tomorrow, but in the meantime, any guesses?

Also, I’ll remember to bring my camera home so you can see all this 🙂

Hope you’re all having as much scary fun as we are.

Day 3: Making I Used To Be Sad & Then I Forgot

Well, that was a day I won’t forget. I started off with vocals for a track called ‘Patience’ (yes, I know Take That & Guns N’ Roses both have a song called that, that’s a reason to do it, not a reason to not) and it just about killed me.

It’s an important turning point, that track, half way through the album. A realisation / resolution moment. It’s fragile, bitter, a pledge, a statement of intent, a low point but facing up, not down. I’m talking to myself, thinking nobody else is listening. I found it pretty hard to subject it to the intense scrutiny that the studio brings. To perform it that naked. To be so vulnerable. It came out so much weaker than I hear when I sing it to myself. I thought it was a brave battle cry of a flesh-wounded but still fighting man, in fact, it’s the dying whimper of a struck animal, begging to be put out of his misery, resigned & unsure of the nature of the light at the end of the tunnel. So it took a lot of takes to get right. I have to adjust to how this one actually sounds, rather than how I thought it did. I’ll be nervous to share it, and hopefully that is a sign that it has some value.

Then I did two more tunes pretty easily, they came out sounding nice and then recorded the album’s final track in practically one take. Again, it sounded so much more vulnerable than how I hear it. In my head it’s all powerful and defiant, a triumphant finale. In playback, it’s so diminutive. I’m a tiny dog on a summers beach, leashed & shouting at the top of my voice at all the other bigger ones, apparently unaware that I’d be skinned alive in a heartbeat if they got loose as the adults look on adoringly, aw bless, look at his angry little teeth & paws.

Well, it is what it is. I then got to play some bass, which is a first love situation for me. I learned on my old schools battered double bass. I miss playing double bass. Maybe I’ll do it again one day, who knows. Andy has this 60s Precision with a neck like a knife that plays & sounds beautiful. We used his Ampeg combo (I don’t recall what model) in the live room and I played it from the control room. It’s a trick which means you can play along with either headphones or with studio monitors or both, and the microphone in front of the cab just gets 100% sound from the box. It’s a strange but satisfying way to record. I think 3 tracks of that. Maybe 4. Nothing showy, just lovely warm rich roots to grow the guitars on.

Then Josienne & I played some more electric guitars. The album could be really covered in bits like this but we’re using it sparingly, subtly, carefully.

Josienne took these photos, apart from the ones of her, which was me. It’s my Canon 5Diii with an 85mm prime set to f/1.2. Pretty handy at such close quarters in such nice light. Funny things that happened today included all Josienne’s instagram stories, which are pretty good, she’s an Instagram story professional & also when the cleaning lady (who was working on her day off and when I asked why, she just sadly shrugged) said my pot noodle smelled like ‘the donkey that carried baby Jesus’ which I thought was a kind of beautiful thing to say.

Then she asked me how long I’d been singing for. My whole life, I replied.

My whole life.

Thanks for reading. Tomorrow is for overdubbing bowed things, woodwind, keys, bass, hitting pianos with sticks & just generally splashing strange pitches around the room, so I’m looking forward to that & don’t worry, I’ll share all the details here tomorrow!

Day 2: Making I Used To Be Sad & Then I Forgot

Today was my first day of vocals. I feel like I’ve been x-rayed, my skin flayed, laid bare under the harsh industrial lights of a post-mortem table. Every ounce of meaning I wrote into those words has to be strangled out of me, collected in a vial for infinite scrutiny by the wide world, forever. The door is closed on changes. If I didn’t mean that, it’s too late. If I don’t sound bitter enough, or if I sound too bitter, well, it’s tough shit time, sonny. Suck it up & that’s what I’ve started to do. It’s such a strange kind of draining, almost literally.

The most terrifying thing about today, though, was nothing to do with me at all. Imagine. I’m surrounded by folks who are sympathetic to what I can do & what I cannot, who understand what my limitations are & care enough to help me overcome or work around them. This is a valuable & precious thing. They understand art enough to know that people who make it might have requirements for the conditions they need in order to create things. They value me & what I am trying to do enough to support & care for me, create a safe space for me to fail in if I need to, they help me keep my exits wide. That lets me get it wrong & wrong & wrong again & then a magical take that does everything I need appears. They say I’m good by the fourth time round.

Imagine how that would feel if you didn’t have that tight circle of care & nurture. Imagine being so exposed, giving so much of the core of yourself to people who took it for granted, who couldn’t nurture you, who didn’t know how just how to hold you, who just used what you made as an excuse for their own access & advancement. Who, rather than nurture you, told you what you had was nothing and that without them, your art would be meaningless. Who did that in such small ways, over such a long period of time, that it couldn’t be described or captured or seen. That would be a nightmare, wouldn’t it? My heart is still a fist in my chest in empathy for someone I know who faced that situation. But it’s over now. It’s all done, & here we are.

Here’s Josi (producer) & Andy (engineer) wrestling the alchemy from my veins, see how easy it looks:

Here’s me looking totally fine & relaxed!

And Josienne playing the harmonium; honestly, you’ll need to sit down when you hear how this part sounds…

And here’s me playing Super Mario Kart on Andy’s SNES while they do a thing called comping that i have never heard of but you wouldn’t believe it was real. Maybe I’ll tell you about that tomorrow. Superfly is a great place to make a record.

It’s sounding nice. They have microphones that make my voice work how I want it to, keeping my songs & lyrics front & centre, putting that sense straight into your ears. We’re five vocal tracks in the can with five more tomorrow, then we can start overdubs. Keep me in your thoughts, my beautiful friends & I’ll do the same for you.