Working on ‘Pretty Peggy’ with Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys

Working on ‘Pretty Peggy’ with Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys

On January 1st, a depressingly stereotypical ‘goal-setting’ day, I found myself writing down goals.

(Yeah, I’m one of those annoying types…)

One of the lists I wrote was called ‘musicians I’d really like to work with this year’. I pulled together a list of people I’d enjoyed working with before, people who I’d met through the stuff I’d been doing for FRUK or Big Comfy Sessions but not worked with yet…and a bunch of people who I’d actually never met at all, but who’s music I liked.

After some deliberation I narrowed my list down to five names. One of the names was Sam Kelly.  I’d met Sam about eight months previously when he visited the Big Comfy Bookshop (I also interviewed him for FRUK).  I really enjoyed the set he and Jamie did at BCB, he was clearly becoming a big deal on the UK folk scene and I was a fan of his ‘Lost Boys’ album, so I wasn’t particularly surprised when he made it onto my list.

Once I’d written the list, I then did…nothing.  Zilch.  In fact I pretty much forgot about it until…(and I shit you not here)…three days later when I received this message from Sam:

At this point I’m slightly freakin’ spooked; I hadn’t spoke to the bloke for eight months, I write his name on a list and then this appears?!  Despite my slight unease at having perhaps just seen ‘universal power’ in action (honestly, I’d love to believe in that stuff but I’m tragically cynical), six weeks later I was heading down the M5 with Mrs redwood, Lauren and a car full of camera gear.

Chatting to Sam online beforehand, as well as the promo shoot we’d discussed me doing some filming while I was down there; maybe shooting some interview footage with the band, a bit of performance footage, with a view to doing some sort of ‘making of’ video.

After a five hour drive from the Midlands, we met up with Sam in a Starbucks close to the studio (‘cos we’d have never found it otherwise) at which point he said ‘We thought we could shoot a music video as well while you’re here.’

No worries.  Roll with it Rob…

Arriving at the studio, Sam and the rest of the Lost Boys were in full flow doing their studio stuff.

“Do you want to hear some of the material?” they asked.

Er, yep!

The first track they played me was ‘Chasing Shadows’ at which point I was thinking Ok this is already the best thing I’ve heard all year and we’re only on the first track…however in parallel I was searching for something more cool and musical to say about it that would endear me to the rest of the creatively talented folks in the room.

Realising, however, that given my obvious lack of musical talent I was probably better off keeping my mouth shut, plus I was actually supposed to be there doing something with cameras and not just chilling out listening to music….I made some garbled and slightly confused comment about it ‘sounding like a single’ and then shuffled away to leave them to it.  I left Lauren filming while I attempted to blend inconspicuously and ninja-like into the studio surroundings to capture what was going on.

Our plan was to do some location style promo photos on the first day, however unfortunately Archie had been called away from the studio on other business and by the time he returned, it was already mid to late afternoon.  There was some surprisingly beautiful light outside for February, but it was dropping fast.

Packing bodies and instruments into cars, we set off convoy style through the narrow cornish lanes.  Our intended location was a nearby viaduct, however it soon became apparent that there was no actual public entry onto said viaduct, nor was there any apparent way to get anywhere close to it.  Having made repeated forays into someone’s driveway after mistaking it for a shortcut (I’m guessing he wasn’t a folk music fan), we made the collective decision to abandon the viaduct idea and look for something else.

Back in the cars and now travelling slightly too fast for the width of the roads, I observed the light starting to fall and noted that I really should have done a better location recce for this job.

Unperturbed, we headed for a nearby beach.  Folk music, cornwall, beach…I could make that work.  After dumping the cars and charging down to the small bay carrying instruments it became painfully apparent that the tide was in and hence…there was no feckin’ beach.

Having been in this position before i.e. shoots not going quite to plan, but at the same time always having been able to pull something out of the bag, I’m a firm believer in keeping the faith and something will happen.  Maybe I’m more cosmic than I give myself credit for.  Sure enough, someone in the band said ‘Can we get up there?’ pointing to a nearby cliff-top.

Everyone looked up.  Not only was there a path leading up to the cliff, unlike the rapidly fading daylight down in the bay, the tops of the cliffs were still illuminated by the last of the February sunlight.  In fact the light looked amazing.  ‘Let’s go’ I remarked, impressing even myself with my authoritative leadership.

So it was that Sam Kelly and The Lost Boys snaked their way up the narrow cliff path with me, Lauren and Mrs redwood in tow.

Now, I know they were carrying instruments but look…I had a big camera bag, plus I’m twice their age, so by the time we get to the top of this cliff I’m knackered and frankly would have welcomed a rest.  I immediately realised however that 1) the evening sunlight up here looked even better than it did from down in the bay and 2) it was falling fast, so I had about fifteen minutes (if that) to pull this off.

‘Shoot into the light’ the voice in my head said.  Barking orders in a slightly militaristic fashion, I got Sam and his lost boys standing between me and the sun.  I looked through the viewfinder; Band, Cornish hills, Golden-hour sunlight…Get in! This works!

With a flurry of those shots in the bag, we looked further up the hill and saw what appeared to be a little derelict industrial space with a chimney and some kind of mill in the background.  It was like a friggin’ folk band studio set perched on the top of this random hill!

Having squeezed the last of the golden light we headed back down the hill as the day started to fade into evening.  We passed a little open space looking out to sea that I hadn’t noticed on the way up.  ‘Let’s grab a few here to finish off’ I said.

As is so often the case, what was virtually the last photo of the day ended up as the album cover….

We’re now back at the studio and after a welcome takeaway we decide to start on the music video.  I’ve been up since 5am and following the emotional energy of the photoshoot, at this point I’m starting to feel a bit punch-drunk.  I’m here to do a job however, so; let’s make a video.

We’re making a video for Chasing Shadows, the track the guys had played me earlier.  The idea is pretty simple.  Ciaran (the Lost Boy I already knew ‘cos I’d worked with him before) had this idea of a single, fixed camera filming the band individually performing the song and then chopping the performances together.  Sounds good and achievable in the time and space we have.  Let’s get it done.

The process is a bit of a blur but I remember noticing and even commenting to Mrs redwood how engaged the guys are in the process.  They’re keen to be involved, keen to throw ideas in, keen to make a good video…but at the same time there doesn’t seem to be any egos in the room.  They’re easy to work with.  At this point I start to understand why this band is as good as it is.

At one point when we were setting the lights up, we just had the edge light on.   While I was fiddling trying to adjust the power and someone (I can’t remember who, it might have been Lauren) said that it might be good to start the video with just the edge light on.  That suggestion made it’s way into the final video.

So we film everyone’s part but Sam’s really keen on this idea of zooming tight into him, then zooming back out with the band all appearing in shot.  He’s persistent; again Sam’s easy to work with but at the same time I’m also feeling that he doesn’t give up when he’s got something in his head (another reason why this band area probably as good as they are).

I’m struggling with it though…none of the lenses I have with me have a long enough throw to go right in and then right back out again without moving the camera and I’m worried that’s going to ruin the whole ‘fixed camera’ perspective of the video.  We dick around with this for a while.  It’s late and I’m not thinking clearly at this point.

Someone (again I can’t remember who) suggests that as we zoom out the band could walk into frame and sit down.  That could work.  We try a take; Ciaran falls off his stool as he sits down.  We try another.  Everyone gathers around and watches the playback on the back of the camera.  There’s some discussion about tweaking the timing.  We do it a third time.  Feels good.  Sam watches the playback.  He’s happy.  Job done.

It’s late but we shoot a few more promo images using the Chasing Shadows set.  I’m tired and it shows in my images.  We won’t be using these.  We head off to a local hotel and leave SK&TLB doing their thing in the studio.  I get the sense they’ll be in there right through to morning.

The next day we return to the studio feeling refreshed.  The guys are drifting in; it’s evident they had a late night session involving alcohol and the recording of some curious backing vocals.  Having fun is another big feature of this band and clearly why it works.

Geoff Lakeman turns up to record some spoons for ‘Angeline the Baker’.  Lauren and I are filming and photographing what’s happening.  Geoff comes over for a chat; he’s a nice guy, we talk about the promo shoot from the previous day (I’d done a rough edit back at the hotel and had the images playing on a slideshow so the guys could check they were happy).   Geoff’s also bought his dog with him; everyone loves the dog…

The guys carry on working and recording, meanwhile I drag them off individually to film interviews.  They all oblige, they all say interesting things in front of the camera.  Easy to work with.

It’s time to shoot the performance video that will be included in the ‘making of’ video.  The band are going to do ‘Greenland Whale’, one of the more kickass tracks on the new record.

I’m on familiar ground here, it’s pretty much like recording a Big Comfy Session except I haven’t got Rich with me.  I don’t miss his piss-taking, but Rich is the master of the interesting close-up shot which I could do with for this; he’s much better than me at close-up shooting (but don’t tell him I said that).

Fortunately I have Lauren who does a great job on this video; she shoots stuff that I don’t see.  Framing and composition can seem like a simple thing, but it’s deceptively variable.  Tell two people to photograph an apple and inevitably you’ll get two completely different photographs.  Everything I’ve filmed with someone else has benefitted enormously from having another perspective…another frame of reference.

The band completely smash the performance.  It looks fantastic on camera.  It later ends up being a promo video in it’s own right.

We’re done.  24 hours and we have three videos, a promo shoot and a catalogue of behind the scenes images in the bag.  We’ve had a complete blast.  Sam, Jamie, Evan, Archie, Ciaran, Graham and Toby couldn’t have been nicer, more welcoming and easier to work with.

Roll forward a few months and Sam’s been gracious enough to let me listen to a pre-release version of the final record.  It’s an incredible folk album that just oozes talent.  I feel humbled to have played some tiny part in it’s creation and honoured to have spent time in the company of such talented musicians.

And, by the way, Chasing Shadows turned out to be the first single to be released from the album.  So hey, maybe I know what I’m talking about after all 😉

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