I spent a long wet Sunday exploring the Iron Giant, Bennerley Viaduct, a spectacular, 1/4 mile long, 60 feet high disused wrought-iron railway viaduct in Ilkston, Nottinghamshire.
I was there with Kingsley Ravenscroft & Josienne Clarke, sort of location scouting and sort of shooting a music video I’m making for him. He’s a magician, you see. An actual one. He does magic, I mean. He thinks it’s stupid & hilarious but also real & will explain to you why & how it works. Kingsley is an enigma wrapped in a riddle hiding in plain sight behind a fallacy that even he doesn’t really believe & does not need to. Meet him, and it all makes more sense. He’s one of those people who it’s just good to have around. He asks little & gives a great deal & it’s a pleasure to make things with him. I believe him. Here’s a few random stills from the day.
There’s my new RoninM gimbal with the Canon 5d mkiii in it. First time I’ve used it on a shoot, and it was beautiful to use. I use it with a 4K monitor which means I can control so much more easily what I’m shooting. It was an exciting thing to use for the first time. It felt very creative, it suited my workflow well. The footage is something else. I’m very happy with what we shot, and we just need one more shoot to get this story told.
Here’s a couple of snazzy & garish iPhone snaps I grabbed.
And here’s a reflection of the star of the show:
We’re showing Kingsley as a disruptor of the strange topographies in which he finds himself, somehow fighting to affect change on his surroundings.
Our aesthetics have long been in a strange kind of sync, meeting perfectly at points every so often on a wild pulsating curve that stretches over the timeline of our lives, yawing off & on like a crashing helicopter. Having seen the raw footage I shot yesterday, that was one of the times when it all works, if a crashing helicopter could be said to be working, in any meaningful sense? Here he is, anyway, the assassin, the conjuror.
And here’s Josienne; she was on second unit/umbrella duties, see her carrying her rucksack & mine. She’s so inspiring to have around, too – there’s never anything that can’t be done, just a series of tiny surmountable things to figure out. I love working that way. Anything’s possible, if only we can think of it, which we can & usually do. Or not, and then we just stop and leave and thats fine, too. I shot this picture of her as she was waiting for one of the smoke bombs to clear. She’s so easy to do this to, but that doesn’t make it less satisfying.
Here’s a couple more stills from the day, this is the bridge that takes you over the railway tracks near the viaduct and that’s the evening canal that you walk alongside to get there.
I’ll leave you with this shot of me that Kingsley took of me. I can’t wait to show you what we made.
I spent a week in January 2019 exploring the hypnotic topography that surrounds Watercolour Music, an exceptional recording studio nestled in a perfect location among the valleys & rivers near Fort William at the foot of the majestic Ben Nevis.
Since I wasn’t performing on the record, I had plenty of time to wander the breath-taking landscape surrounding the facility. I took these long, wide, colourful & sweeping photographs of the mountains, lakes & hills alongside close-up shots of the objects I found inside the studio. The connection between these sharply contrasting viewpoints seemed an integral part of the way the music was made.
I felt privileged to witness an artist of Josienne’s calibre create her craft and a strange, unexpected sense of isolation, of being apart from things in a way I could not really understand. I had a powerful compulsion to express that in the only way I knew how, and this set of photographs is my attempt to justify my own presence in such a heady, inspiring & intimidating atmosphere. I left better than arrived, having discovered that everyone was a part of this, in their own way. I learned how to be kinder to myself, how to give myself credit for what I was rather than punish myself for what I might never be. This is a still from the video diary I shot that week, that became the video for the first single from Josienne’s LP, ‘If I Didn’t Mind’. You can read her discussion about the meaning of that song here and I recommend you do so. It’s a harrowing but incredibly important read.
Josienne had a direct line of sight to the summit as she performed the vocal, guitar, recorder & saxophone parts on the record, isolated in a sound-proofed room, alone yet connected to the landscape in ways I could never explain. To see her wrestle with her incisive, emotional lyrics as she stared out of the window at the mountain was a powerful thing that my video for her song tried to capture. Or maybe, she was looking at me, all weather clad against the cold. Or perhaps she had seen one of the many wild animals that roam the sparse landscape around the studio. I felt, at the time, that it made little difference – I was all of those things, too. It’s funny how quickly one becomes nothing but a wild roaming animal or a part of the scenery.
These foam spikes, attached all over the walls & hallways of Watercolour Music, are part of keeping the sound on the inside in, and perhaps some of the outside out. They worked well for Sonny Johns, the bass player & co-producer; he can hear all the better what notes he should play, how hard & for how long. I also feel they also work the other way around, too – they protect the pristine forest & lakes from the intensity of the music. Absorb some of it, lessen it, soften it. If you hear the album, you might need some of that for yourself.
Elliot Galvin, famed jazz pianist, struck chords on the copper strings of the baby grand with those same mountains right in his eye-line. Listen carefully and I think you’ll hear the distant majesty of the ice, snow & altitude in the notes he conjured with his hands. You can see the hammered brass of one of Dave Hamblett’s cymbals and the torn cloth & rusted screws inside a harmonium. Mary Ann Kennedy played the harp on the record but I didn’t take any photographs of that. I was too busy listening.
The sense of scale felt all out of kilter with reality that week. I felt both incredibly grounded, examining every life decision I had made up until the point that led me to that room at that time, and untethered, free to roam this wild & vast land, miles from anywhere, just another wild white hare. Either too close or too far away. It was beautiful & it was sickening & I wasn’t expecting that dissonance. I’m not sure I always coped well, but in retrospect, I think that anyone would be the same, with the microscope of sound & self-examination that such an environment fosters. It’s hard not to disappear, seasick, down a hole, and everyone but the properly grownup kids do it. This is an underpass at Fort William that leads from the wild to that strange distant town. The lights a landing strip on some island of lonely familiarity.
This next photograph was a favourite vantage point of mine, that week. Away from the proximity to lifetimes devoted to being the very best musician a human being could ever be, close but no cigar to every dream of mine. I just have to have different dreams, or work harder. And I knew the folks the other side of the wall feel the same; it’s really not a grand prize. Being a professional musician is, in many ways, a total shit sandwich. It’s a human way to be, never satisfied, always filled with regret, greener grasses behind unscalable fences. Maybe the most important lesson I learned that week was not to take that out on others & to show the resolve to change it rather than wallow. That hurt was mine. Nobody did this to me but me. I can change it, if I want to. I can be anything I want and so can you. Just make you’re a maker. I wasn’t, then, but I am now. And I’d like to thank Josienne for helping me find that strength. This is the view at the place that I started to realise that she was right.
Here’s the video I made that week. I shot it on an iPhone, an old Canon DSLR & an old military rangefinder. If you look, in some scenes, you can see the scale in the glass of the viewer. It’s not mine, it belonged to Nick, the engineer on the record & he left it lying around so I played around with it. I hope it gives a flavour of what it was like to be there, in that room & outside of it, with those musicians. A rare thing that I will never be grateful enough for & I just hope what I made goes someway towards letting other people peek in, too.
The album comes out on the 8th November 2019. You can pre-order it here.
I hope you enjoy the album, the video, my photographs & this piece of writing about all of it. Thanks for reading. Here’s the last photograph I took at Watercolour Music in January 2019. Look carefully and you’ll see a tiny seabird, all part of the same landscape as the rest of us.
I was honoured to be asked by Russ Clark to take photographs of the thousandfurs launch gig at the Bodega in Nottingham last night.
First up was Ali Bonsai. He’s a beautiful musician, funny, disarming a voice like a steamtrain. Catch him if you can.
Then, Chloe Rodgers sung a duet with Ali of ‘Fade Into You’ by Mazzy Star, followed by a solo set of her own tunes. She won’t be playing venues this small, this early, forever.
Finally, thousandfurs did their thing. I don’t wanna be a gig reviewer, so I’ll just show you the photos I took and you can wonder how it sounded.
Because I know some of you will want to know, I shot all these with a Canon 5D mkiii and they’re mostly a 50mm 1.2 L prime lens, though I did have a 24mm 1.4 prime along too. I didn’t take my 85mm and I missed it, but i’m pretty pleased with how they came out nonetheless.
Here’s a strange aside – Iconic Artist Magazine & Vogue Italia published a couple of pictures that Trevor Hamilton took of me… we did this shoot to get an album cover for my record (have I mentioned that before?) and it turned out, a couple of them were so strange that the worlds most important fashion houses wanted to share them with their readership! A weird looking skinny bearded guy with tattoos standing moodily in a bed of roses, whats not to like? Yes, btw, I know I look like a corpse in the second one. It’s a look I suit, I think…
We succeeded in our goal – one of the shots from this session was a standout, exactly as we planned & I can’t wait to share it with you.
I made a video for the new Josienne Clarke song ‘If I Didn’t Mind’ and it’s live now on the Rough Trade Records YouTube channel.
I shot it at Watercolour Music studios near Fort William with Nick, Mary & Rycote the dog helping out, a long week in the shadow of Ben Nevis. In my video, you’ll meet the cast of characters Josienne assembled to help her make this record: Mary Ann Kennedy, Elliot Galvin, Dave Hamblett, & Sonny Johns. I’ve never before been in the presence of musicians of this quality. What a privilege it was to be there, behind the scenes, looking in from the outside at a process that not many people get to see. I think you’ll love the results; the album is a perfect thing & I hope my video gives at least a vague sense of what it was like to be close to making it.
Last week, I promised I’d share a new song when I got to a follower count milestone on Twitter. This was either a vacuous piece of shameless social engagement engineering strategy designed to leverage & monetise valuable digital assets or a genuinely engaging way to make the most of those kind enough to care about what I’m up to, giving something back whilst setting myself an arbitrary target in order to achieve a goal that I should be able to achieve without giving myself a false finish line along the way. But which! Who knows.
Josienne & I filmed this at Rufford Abbey last Wednesday morning amid a hale of noise. She held the microphone on a boom & we used my Canon stills camera on a tripod for the video. A couple of takes were interrupted by baby birds learning to fly & old ladies touring the damp, beautifully lit underground room that they let us use for free. I’m pretty pleased with how it sounds & looks. Nice & simple. I uploaded a low quality H264 video to my YouTube channel (which I made just for this!) and now I wish i’d used a ProRes upload since it looks kind of blocky. But hey ho. Live & learn. Here it is.
I wanted to share the lyrics from the song & try to explain what I’m on about. I started out trying to write about this and it was a real challenge, since I’ve seen this behaviour, I’ve been around all sides of it. My guess is, we all have. In a relationship, business, personal, wherever. Things are the way they are, then you get closed down on, or you close down. The safe mode I’m on about is when you are about to take off for a long flight and you flip your phone into the little plane mode so nothing can connect anymore. It’s a hard cut. Severed. Nothing works, nobody can ask & you can’t tell. What if a person could do that, as well as a phone? This might happen for lots of reasons, you might do it or you might have it done to you in ways & for reasons I can’t imagine, or for ones that make perfect sense. You’ll know when it happens, though, and it never feels good, whichever side of the departure gate you are waiting at. This song, it’s not a warning. I’m not saying don’t do it or do. It isn’t advice. I’m not preaching, or at least, I’m trying not to. I’m just trying to give a perspective on a thing, to show it, to hold it out in my hands, to express it maybe diminishes the power of it, to describe it is to reduce it. Maybe. Maybe not, who knows, don’t ask me, I’m not your therapist. I hope you enjoy the song, either way.
‘Safe Mode’ (demo) Lyrics
by Mr. Alec Bowman
When the time for talking’s over & the silences begun
You can’t come up for air & the words
have all been done
When you’re out of time, losing every
Out of your mind & out of more than
can’t face the music so let it fade
can’t win or lose if you don’t play
When the only sound that’s left is the
blood rush in your ears
& the phone-lit face of a stranger who won’t
Who leaves you speechless for anything you
For all your useless power, you’re angry and afraid
can’t hear the sentence if you don’t wait
can’t do the time if you’re away
Use safe mode, it’s
easy that way
Cut the cord & hide away
Pull the plug & pretend that you can’t hear
It’s bad advice that won’t save your life
I’m sick of losing losing fights
Close your eyes and turn away from your fear
Where’s the sense in messages, let them all
If you try to answer, you’ll have to use
words to tell the truth
I helped PicaPica make this video for their song ‘Day To Day Parade’ – they had some footage and an idea of kind of a story, and I shot & edited the rest. I’m pretty proud of how it came out. If you don’t know their Rough Trade Records LP ‘Together& Apart’ then I would highly recommend grabbing a copy, the vinyl is particularly wonderful. Enjoy.