Last summer, when Dan came down from Reading for the weekend, the two of us set about doing some video work, as we often do when he visits. However, that day it was wet outside and we were short on inspiration, so we sat around for a bit trying to come up with a project.
Eventually, we came up with the following film. The title is taken from a (very good) Pamela Hansford Johnson novel, but the rest is really just a result of a bit of brainstorming and improvising. We needed to shoot the whole thing indoors, with only the two of us as actors, and we didn’t want to get caught up in dialogue as neither of us can act. Also, we didn’t want to spend ages doing lighting and sound and stuff like that, so the whole thing is pretty much shot run and gun, with just a little bit of extra lighting to help us in the hallway shots. Consequently the whole thing looks very scruffy, with plenty of bumps and whirrs caught on the camera’s in-built microphones, and a few nasty variations in light – but given that it took us about 2 hours to film, and then about the same time again for me to edit it together (this week, after the files had sat on my hard drive for six months) I think it looks pretty good.
I’m very interested in the idea of exploring what goes wrong after one person does something foolish; I’ve another idea for a film which I want to make this spring which concentrates on something similar. It’s easy, after all, to act without thinking.
One of the most inspiring Green organisations I’ve come across is based on my doorstep right here in Sussex. My girlfriend Lyndsey has been volunteering at The Green Centre, situated in East Brighton, for the last three years, and at a recent Open Day & Recycling Bonanza I helped out and, working with a fellow film-maker, Dan Corns, made this video about the centre and its amazing Creative Director, Melanie Rees.
Mel has turned the centre into a real community project, working with local people to create a sustainable, open and inspiring space. The Green Centre market is full of nice objects which keep the business ticking over, but the heart of the Centre is the amazing recycling resource it offers, helping to ensure that practically nothing goes to waste, but is re-used, re-cycled or re-purposed. Out in the back of the Centre, a new pond provides social housing for the local wildlife.
Here we all are, on set – this video was created by Dan, who when he wasn’t helping set up, or making coffee, or doing sound, could reliably be found hovering in a corner with his camera in hand. Every time he put it down, I scampered over, switched from video to stills, and took a photo or two. When he returned he’d look at the settings, tut loudly, switch back to video and resume filming. Then some important audio check would prove necessary and I’d switch back to stills. In this small way I chipped away at his all-pervading good humour.
Annoyingly, his video turned out much better than the photographs I took.
This little collage of activity shows us on days 1 and 2 of the Amina shoot. Thanks Dan!
So, two months ago my friend Sam emailed me and mentioned that he was planning on spending a couple of weeks in Brighton in August, and he suggested that we grab a bit of time while he was over to make a short film. This wasn’t totally unexpected. Sam and I spent some time with our friend Dan in the spring, working on a few projects around Brighton, and Sam has since worked on some terrific videos for Depaul International, a homeless charity who do some amazing work. And he’s weighing up film school later this year. Nevertheless, for reasons of time, expense and logistics, a big project was never on the cards.
But it happened anyway. Following a series of excitable Skype conversations, I completed a first draft of a screenplay on the 29th June, which was repeatedly revised until we had a complete script, a little over a week ago. Sam set about assembling the crew, casting actors, securing locations and planning the look and feel of the picture. Ten days ago he arrived in the UK and we sat down with our cast – two Richards and a Kate – for the first time and began rehearsing, chipping away and sculpting the script along the way. I’ve never written a screenplay before, and the insight and improvisations of the actors – plus amazing ideas from Sam, Lyndsey and Vic – helped immeasurably in creating something I was proud of.
And then, aided and abetted by the most good-humoured, enthusiastic, patient and talented group of people imaginable (particularly Eva, who from behind the camera provided some stunning shots and filthy Greek phrases), we made ‘Amina’. We started filming on Saturday morning and worked four consecutive 12 hour days, shooting and re-shooting, concentrating, laughing and joking, half-falling asleep – until at around 8.45pm last night we hauled our lead actor, Richard, out of a cold bath and shouted ‘It’s a wrap’.
Along the way we were helped out enormously by people who gave a very generous amount of their time – Eva, Dan, Jackie, Lyndsey, Victoria, Louise, Marina, our fabulous cast – and lots of tolerant by-standers who allowed us to film outside their homes and on their high streets and resisted the urge to wander into frame, rebuke us or interrupt. (Although a lot did stop to tell us about the history of Shoreham’s Norman churches.)
So – will probably describe the process in more detail; but in the meantime here are a few snaps taken on set…
Posted 28 Jun 2011 — by Jonathan Category Photos, Video
This timelapse was done on my phone, so quality is not amazing – but it’s still quite nice I think. Brighton darkening out of my back window. There goes Brighton. I can sit and look out of my window for ages, provided I have a beer. It’s sort of more interesting in the flesh. But imagine you’re me for a moment.
Instead of just saying, here is my latest song, it’s about… I thought I’d use this week’s post to describe something, if I can, about my experience of writing lyrics. Specifically about the way that songwriting in this way is very different to any song writing I’ve done previously. I’m writing a song every single week of this year, and doing so, with all the time limitations that come with it, means adapting my technique according to circumstance. Previously, it would have been quite normal for me to occasionally get my phone, or a notebook, out, and jot down lyrics on the train, with the knowledge that, one Saturday in the future, I could sit down with my guitar and spend a few hours cycling through chords and looking for ways to hang the words on interesting melodies. In that scenario, there’s no urgency at all in the equation; you think through, abstractly, a few ideas, until the opportunity presents itself to do something with all that unguided preparation.
Having a deadline, naturally, changes everything. It’s unavoidably true that while, in the greater scheme of things, I regard lyrics as being unarguably more important than music, I can do less at the end of a week with a complete set of words and no tune at all than I can with a chord progression, a melody and no words to use. For that reason I sometimes idly fantasise about spending *next year* writing no music at all, and concentrating exclusively on writing words which I can come back to the year after. But this is planning gone mad. Either way, the fact remains, I’m now having to write chord progressions, bass lines and drum patterns on the train, and until Sunday afternoon, lyrics are forgotten. (Thank heavens for my iPad, which enables me to do this stuff – otherwise it’d be pretty impossible).
So I’ve had to approach words in a different way, and the whole song-writing process has changed as a result. For example, imagine that I had started off with the notion of writing a song about, say, being haunted by ghosts. Starting with the idea, it’s deeply unlikely I’d have opted for a bunch of cheerful major chords, and would instead have opted for eerie minor chords and a stilted, atmospheric rhythm. But writing the other way around, the scenario is reversed. I create something bouncy and optimistic sounding? There go lyrics about the First World War.
What happens more and more is a kind of free association, and it’s an oddly accurate way of working. I’ll record the bare bones of a song, with a few suggested melodies picked out on my guitar or in garageband, and from then on it’s the case of looping the recording and singing nonsense over the top, repeatedly, looking for harmonic clues that get me nearer to having a finished song. On almost every occasion, in doing so, I find a phrase that seems somehow apt, and it’s from there that the lyric springs. (Sometimes I leaf through a book of poetry while I’m searching for vocal melodies, so quite often the turn of phrase which sparks my imagination is not my own at all).
Anyway, this week’s song worked in the following way. I wrote the chord progression on the train between Kings Cross and St Neots on Wednesday, embellished it in the kitchen of my parents’ house in Cambridge on Thursday, added guitar at home in Brighton on Sunday morning, and worked out some lyrics that afternoon. The free association here came from finding something in the music which had that kind of mournful, country rock grief which centres on a failed relationship. There’s a wonderful lyric on the (terrific) Caitin Rose album which goes:
“remember the day that the whole thing started / and the little black box in the glove compartment”.
I found myself forming a mental picture of a couple sat in a restaurant, with the guy opening up a jewellery box to reveal… not a ring but a necklace. That was all really. But from that sudden image, summoned up through sheer free association, I present this:
Posted 12 Jun 2011 — by Jonathan Category Music, Video
Hot new musical trends so fast fade, so fast feel nostalgic. Me and most of my friends spent much of the middle part of the 2000s listening to the rash of bands that blossomed around LCD Soundsystem; The Rapture, Radio 4, !!!, The Juan McLean. This was artful, muscular, American music which had echoes of the forceful angularity of post-punk and hardcore, but which drew most of it’s energy from club music – funk, disco, electro and house.
It was brilliant; and it soon felt passé.
Holy Ghost are signed to LCD Soundsystem’s label, DFA, and ludicrously, their sound – which draws heavily from 1980′s italo-house – somehow feels more nostalgic for 2005 than 1985. No criticism implied though. Having heard their name vaguely, but not knowing what to expect, I caught them at The Great Escape last month and they were absolutely terrific – all the more so because events conspired thoroughly against them. Big technical problems at the start left them facing an unusually hostile audience, and the frustration on their part was only too apparent. At first I misread their body language as anger at the audience’s impatience, but once they got started it quickly became apparent how keen they were to play a good show, and what looked like anger was mortification at the thought it wasn’t going to happen. They came to party, not to fight. And once things got going, their set was awash with relief; consequently sweat-drenched and delirious – one of the best live shows I’ve seen in ages.
Considering the incredible volume of the PA that night, it’s kind of incredible that I ended up with any audio at all, given that I thoughtlessly lobbed my sound recorder up on top of the speaker stacks, but despite the throbbing bass, this came out kind of well.
The Holy Ghost website is here. Their LP is bloody great.
Cours Julien is a wonderful artisan quarter in the 6th arrondissement of Marseilles; a bustling square full of cafes, bars and boutiques backed by a series of graffiti-covered streets which boast a treasure trove of bric-a-brac shops, record stores, and a sequence of restaurants specializing in just about cuisine you could name. I’ve tons of photos to share, but in the meantime this video speaks volumes for the spirit of the place. Set up in the middle of the square, on Saturday afternoon, amidst dozens of happy hipsters, trendy dads and insouciant teens, was a guy with portable piano. At one point, two kids stepped up and shyly took a microphone each – and summoned up the following collaboration.
So, week three of my song writing project. For those late to the party, I’m writing a song a week this year and publishing them on my blog. You can find the previous vids here (week one: ‘Inertia‘, week two: ‘Overseas‘).
For this week’s song I should perhaps attribute Pete a co-writing credit, as I was working under commission – here’s the exchange that led to the song.
And here’s the song itself. The video was crowdsourced over Twitter so I must acknowledge that there are 40 odd wonderful drawings in this which are the work of others – I was really touched by their collective goodwill and willingness to help. The song itself was written at my parents’ house in Cambridge and recorded on iPad and iMac, using the customary spread of programs (check the youtube page for info).
Here’s the song – hope you like it, especially if you contributed a drawing. Credits after the jump.
There are so many people I have to thank for supplying contributions to this: my dad; my friends Laura, Sam, Anne-Sophie, Dan, Lyndsey, Siobhan, Ali, Iain and Ellie, and the many other people who, mainly through Twitter, sent me a drawing; Antony Harding, Adam Buxton, Anika Mottershaw, Rachael Smith, Mark Burgess, Mike Phillips, @ktmatey, David Gregson, Lee Garland, @macdog73, Richard Connell, Elaine Sheehan, James Hood, Edward Bear, Bob Wolf, Missy G, Carlos Garde Martin, James Cawkwell, Rin Räuber, Jo Jarrett, Hammo, Wayne Johannsen, Huw Barrett, Meg Jones, Dan (Hero of Switzerland), David Chamberlain, Adrian Barber, Jennie Maizels, Laura Solé Albors, David Ashley, @caitabee and Stacy Jacks. One or two others, for reasons of file quality, I had to exclude, I’m afraid – really sorry. But thanks for your effort.
Others helped, meanwhile, by sharing the link and encouraging others – particularly Darren Hayman and Graham Linehan, who marshalled their followers to help. Thanks so much to you and to everyone else.
Lastly – I’m so happy that Adam Buxton contributed. Thanks Adam. And I got Ant from Hefner to draw me a stonechat; what right-thinking indie kid wouldn’t like to be able to say that?
I’m going to write, record and release a song, via Assistant Blog, every single week of 2011. Most will probably be faintly tuneful, slow indie rock, in the manner to which you are probably now accustomed, although I reserve the right to scamper down some blind alleys and post anything that takes my fancy, from found-sound compositions to abstract electronica. Most will be recorded through my mac, using a Zoom recorder, or my old 4 track, and some may be sung into the tinny microphone on my phone or composed on my iPad.
In other words, I’m making no promises for audio quality or aiming for perfection. Barring disaster, however, every song will be produced with a lot of care. Where possible, I’ll pull together a YouTube video for each one, as I think that makes them easier to consume. If anyone would like proper mp3s of them, they should drop me a line. All songs will be on soundcloud, too. I’m going to post them every Friday or Saturday, all being well.
Here’s the first.
It was, rather uniquely for me, composed, recorded and uploaded to the web soley using my iPad – I used four programs; Multitrack DAW, BassLine, DrumTrack8 and ThumbJam. This doesn’t exactly place me at the bleeding end of recording technology, but iPad music is at the earlier stages of its development, so I’m quite proud to have produced a song this way. This is, for the record, my first ever effort at composing with an iPad, which is why it’s a bit ragged. Given more time, I’d probably go back to it – but the point of this exercise is to be productive, so I’m not going to linger. Nevertheless, I think it’s quite a nice song.
When I was recording it I was thinking of small towns, autumnal feeling: twittens and cat’s creeps, overgrown canal-banks, waste paper wafting around. I meant for the song to be slow and wistful – possibly it ended up too slow. But there it is.
Posted 22 Feb 2010 — by Jonathan Category Music, Video
For my money, Sunderland’s amazing Field Music remain the best band in Britain at the moment. I can’t think of a better LP released in the 2000s than their ‘Tones of Town’ (closest competitors; PJ Harvey’s ‘Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea’, Gorillaz’ ‘Demon Days’) and their new record, ‘Measure’, is terrific too. The other day I wrote a preview for a local show over at the Bored of Brighton blog, where I described them thus:
Their sound is intensely musical; gorgeous North Eastern harmonies, abrupt tempo-changes and unusual time signatures, with orchestration which varies from lush and pastoral to aggressive and loose.
Not at all surprisingly, their set – they played an instore at Brighton’s Resident Records – was every bit as brilliant as I thought it would be. I didn’t exactly have the best position in the world, for the shop was crowded, but the following video does I hope do justice to their wonderful sound, if not their stage presence.
Here’s the entire set in mp3 form. Hope no-one minds me posting these.
Field Music live at Resident Records, Brighton Friday 19th February, 2010 (right click and ‘save target as’ to download)
Well, I’d like to say that the relentless kicking which The Persuasionists has attracted from the media over recent weeks wasn’t deserved, but sadly I think it probably was. Nevertheless, I still love Adam Buxton unreservedly. Here he is reading through the reviews.
Loping carefully down snow-covered pavements; watching My Sad Captains play a set of melodic, fine tuned indie rock; playing with my friend Claire’s cat; watching the trains negotiate through the bad weather; Curly Hair live at the Freebutt, everything perfumed with Xmas; constructing stop animations from the window at work; watching adults and children throw snowballs; gasping at the lovely, sonorous sound of Foxes! live; admiring cat-leaps on Boxing Day; talking shit at parties; lunch with my friends; housebound in Brighton; surrounded by my favourite people; watching the new year land.
Had a totally brilliant Xmas in Brighton so far; it’s been great. Some random highlights:
- Managing to actually cook my contribution to the Christmas lunch well; somewhat of a surprise. Almost messed up the chicken by accidentally putting it at too high a heat, which meant it was browning with alarming speed after just twenty five minutes. Some frenzied adjustments ensured it was a success. Yay! - Watching Lyndsey getting really angry as it became apparent that she wasn’t going to win the first party game of Christmas. She settled down once it became apparent that I’d come last. - A glorious wine and spirits contribution from Sam and Laura, which ensured that the food was never for a moment unaccompanied by fortifying alcohol. - Singing and dancing in the small hours; sorry, Brighton, if we made an unforgivable amount of noise. - Just being able to spend the day with my lovely friends is a real treat. Had a brill time.
Our soundtrack for the day was a Xmas CD courtesy of local label One Inch Badge – fittingly, then, the video below, which shows us tucking into Christmas lunch, comes courtesy of one of its contributors; ‘Christmas Song’ by The Hornblower Brothers.
Posted 08 Dec 2009 — by Jonathan Category Music, Video
Some early footage of Blur has turned up out of nowhere – brilliant. Unfortunately the embedding is turned off for this video, but it’s essential viewing anyway, so you’ll just have to follow the link below. Not quite sure where it came from all of a sudden – perhaps it was uncovered during the research for the new Blur documentary – but it’s amazing – this is Seymour (the band that would become Blur) playing ‘Superman’ in Harlow, Essex in December 1989. Twenty years ago. God.
Wish the first Blur album had sounded all fuzzy and frenetic like this – we’d have realised how wonderful they were that bit earlier…
Posted 06 Dec 2009 — by Jonathan Category Music, Video
This afternoon myself and Dan went and had a burger and a beer at Brighton’s lovely The Eagle. While we were eating, I set up my camera to do a time-lapse recording; which is presented here accompanied by some pleasing beeps and squiggles courtesy of Andrew – the track is his ‘Succour & Liquor’, credited to Bedsit Bomber.
Posted 27 Nov 2009 — by Jonathan Category Music, Video
The Texan musician David Wingo is better known as a soundtrack composer than he is a conventional songwriter – his score for the magnificent David Gordon Green film ‘All The Real Girls’ is worth checking out – but it’s telling to see that his work under the name Ola Podrida is increasingly gathering deserved plaudits. His new record, Belly Of The Lion, is out now. Dan has braved the wintery winds of the edge of England and made the following video to accompany one of Wingo’s new tunes. Aside from its matching up nicely with the music, it makes me all sentimental for Brighton. Here it is.
Right, I want this on the record that the following took me exactly twenty two minutes to make – including taking the photos, putting them on my computer, animating them and processing. I say this not because I am proud of it and showing off, but because I am a bit ashamed of its simplicity. Anyway – the goal was to see if I can remember how to produce simple animations, and it’s official, I can. Will have a go at doing a proper one later this week.
Posted 23 Nov 2009 — by Jonathan Category Music, Video
At the risk of talking about Tristram too much, Anika – whose blog, Anika in London, is well worth a read – has made this sweet video for Tristram’s forthcoming single, ‘Someone Told Me a Poem’ – which is out on Oh Inverted World records on February 15th. A tantalising snippet from what is likely to be an awesome EP.
The video makes me want to do some animation – here, for the sake of completeness, is the one attempt at it I’ve ever made. Yes, very amateurish, I know. Might have another go at this sometime.
"Me, I want to bloody kick this moronic bloody world in the bloody teeth over and over till it bloody understands that not hurting people is ten bloody thousand times more bloody important than being right."
David Mitchell, Black Swan Green