Making a Record with Josienne and Lukas

I’ve shared a few photos of the sessions but not said much about it. Busy, busy, busy.

First time I met Lukas has significance to me, I’m an imprinted baby duck. I was walking around London with Josienne, feeling thoroughly out of my depth, a little scared of how big & proper it all was, when this famous bloke said hello to us both. Not just to Josienne, though he seemed to mean his hello to her as well, but also to me, like I had just as much right to be there as her and like he was pleased to see us both! In a town where most people at best treated me like I was in the way or on many occasions, openly expressed derision at my presence & involvement. Here was Lukas frickin Drinkwater just casually saying hello to me, in the street! I probably didn’t even say anything back because I couldn’t believe it. Later, we went to the Americana Music awards and Emily Barker treated me like an old friend. I could’ve cried. I might actually have done, because Patrick Stewart’s partner asked me if I was alright while I was standing at the bar and I said I was, it was just a bit overwhelming and thanked her for her kindness and I thought to myself, damn. Maybe I can do this, maybe some people won’t mind me being in the room, one day.

Anyway, here we are a few years later & I am doing it. Living some kind of life. Being the person I appear to be. Living in an honest way that I wrestled from the jaws of loss. Surrounded by love & support. It takes a while to recognise it when it changes, but lives can & will change and I think it’s important to call it what it is when it happens.

And so I wrote some songs about that, about that hope, about that progress, because what else am I going to do? I didn’t have lots, but it felt like a whole thing regardless, a signpost of where I live right now, still yearning for more, hoping the stairs lead up & that there is a reason to climb, however distant it might seem.

My last album, ‘I Used To Be Sad & Then I Forgot’, I once described as like that tiny dog who goes around starting fights with all the bigger dogs, barking in their faces as they look on bemused. That’s how I feel I sound, listening back, now. I’m still very proud of that record and what I achieved with it. It grounded me, made me certain of exactly what my place in things was. I had as much right as anyone else to exist. Songlines Magazine reviewed my record & didn’t hate it.

But these new songs, they’re bigger. I knew I needed more instruments than I had last time. And there was really only two people I needed to help me. Josienne was going to produce, that was always clear. What else would I want to do? It’s her decision making. Her discernment. Is an idea good, or bad? She just knows. But I had this dream that Lukas might be able to help, too. What a line up that felt like. So I out & asked him and he went and said yes.

We spent 3 days in his studio, Polyphonic Recording, in Stroud. It’s a dream location, and I don’t just mean because it’s a one minute walk from a waitrose with a sushi counter, though it is that too. It’s a perfect playground. Tbh, it’s everything I ever dreamed of that I never made happen for myself. I don’t really understand sound like I understand light. Light is obvious, sound is a twat. But not to Lukas – his level of skill in every instrument he plays (which is, best I can tell, all of them…) is unsurpassed. His judgement, creativity, approach to creating a safe space, sense of humour, it’s all perfection. I knew it would be. He’s funny & serious at all the right times. It’s hard to get me to perform stuff, vocally. These lyrics are pretty raw to me. I can’t do it just anywhere, in front of just anyone. But I could do it easily, with him. If this all sounds a little saccharine then, good, it’s meant to. When I called him one of my favourite people, I meant it. If you’re considering making a record then you should have him & his studio on the list. I can’t imagine a thing he couldn’t do. Recording is such a weird type of magic, but not if you understand it intuitively, in a way that I don’t. Lukas does.

We recorded 5 songs, an EP. Lukas is mixing it now. It’s a bigger sound than the album, a full band. I don’t want to say too much about it other than that for now, but I do have (…no shit…) lots of photographs from the recording sessions. I took these because I loved it, and taking photographs / using cameras & lenses is fun, like microphones & guitars are to Lukas, and also, so Lukas could use them on his website.

See what happens if you work in an atmosphere of mutual respect, lifting people up & being lifted yourself? See what can happen if you work, free to fail, free of shame, free of threat? In an atmosphere that encourages individuality of expression, where some ideas are awful but have them anyway and believe that your friends will have your best interests at heart when they say “do it” or “shut up”? What if that led to everyone being a little better after than they were before, to some kind of personal growth & the making of honest art?

Well, here are some photographs of that happening.

Thanks for working with me, Josienne & Lukas.

Field Testing a Pentax 67 120 Medium Format camera…

A few weeks ago in a blog post, I asked if anyone was up for a free photoshoot in Glasgow to give me a chance to practice with my new Pentax 67 120 medium format camera. I got a willing volunteer, more below… but on the day it arrived, I shot a roll of the stone mermaid who lives in the garden & got these two wonderful photographs with it.

That’s with the 105mm f2.4 lens fully open, shutter speed of either 1000 or 500, hand held, on Portra 400. They say this lens renders legendary bokeh and clearly, they are not wrong. The meter in the prism isn’t really TTL (because the sensor is on top of the body, so if you use an ND, you have to manually compensate) but that is easy enough and I was pretty excited by the potential shown in these early results.

The day was clear blue sky, almost too sunny, so we spent time looking for shade on the streets of Glasgow.

Here’s a pile of old mattresses, some peeling walls, a chair & an ominous hole filled with a brick, but I wasn’t trying to make Jenn seem gritty & urban. I wanted something cleaner, so we kept walking.

These first shots of Jenn were taken on my Canon 5D mkiii with a 24mm f/1.4 for metering. In real life, using the P67, I don’t think I need to meter with digital again. It’s so intuitive to use on it’s own. From the look of the mermaid, the meter seems reliably calibrated. So next time, no digital comfort blanket. I thought I’d share these here, because, whilst they are really only light tests, I like them & reckon they’ll be an interesting comparison for when the 120 stuff comes back from the lab.

I decided to us ND & pro-mist filters (1/4) on the 105mm f/2.4 & 55mm f/4 lens I had with me and do the maths on what worked given whatever the sun was doing. It was kind of a thrill. Changing film in the field is 4 times more time consuming & fiddly than with 35mm, but I’m hoping the results justify it. It’s kind of theatrical, this huge loud shutter slap then, every ten frames, setting up a miniature lab under a motorway bridge and trying to move all the bits around. Next time, I’ll unwrap the film I intend to shoot and store it in a tin so I take that step out, make it a little easier on myself. The battery lasted for the whole shoot – I had been told the light meter is power hungry, but I was shooting nonstop for a couple of hours and got through 5 rolls and it’s still testing positive. So that was a nice surprise.

Jenn was supremely patient & a wonderful subject, thanks for doing this with us & I hope the end results are something we can both use!

Jenn left us to it and the excitement of the sun & of being at least vaguely around other people was too much, so Josienne & I went to find coffee. I put the 85mm f/1.2 on my 5D and shot a few by the river. If I’d have had longer, I would have liked to have done that with Jenn, too, but you can’t push your luck too hard in these situations or nobody will want to hang out with you anymore. So, enjoy these last few and I hope you’re as excited as me to see the end results!

Thanks again, Jenn, for being such a great subject.

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…

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!