One of the great things about this past year for me has been having the opportunity to work extensively with Chris Cleverley.
I think I met Chris for the first time in 2014. I’d gone to the Red Lion Folk club in Birmingham to interview Martin Simpson for Folk Radio UK and as I recall, Chris was playing a support slot. I don’t recall saying much to Chris that evening other than ‘alright’, but I do remember watching him soundcheck and thinking ‘blimey, he can play’. Since then I’ve worked with Chris a number of times including doing some filming last year for his fantastic trio project.
Late last year Chris approached me about helping him to create content for his next album release, a project that twelve months later would materialise as the release of ‘We Sat Back And Watched It Unfold’, Chris’ second solo album. Leading up to the album release, Chris needed photography and a number of promotional videos. Having been really impressed by just about everything I’ve heard from Chris, coupled with the fact he’s just a lovely guy, meant it wasn’t a difficult decision for me to get on board.
We met up on a fairly cold day last Autumn in Birmingham to get cracking on some photography. It’s funny how shoots can just seem to take on a vibe of their own and that was definitely the case on this day:
We shot a bunch of images on a stairway that connected a higher area of ground with the road below. It was super-dark in there, but because the stairway was unusually narrow it channelled this really strong back-light down on Chris which looked interesting. I decided not to mess with the ambient light by adding flash and instead just pushed the exposure about as far as it would go to see what would happen. I ‘just’ about managed to get some images out of the scene. The pictures in the stairway were on the edge of what I’d normally deem usable, but Chris saw them and really liked them; one of them later got adapted for the cover of the album.
A few months later we met up again to start work on the video for ‘In A Dreamlike State’, an ear-worm of a track that Chris wanted to release as the first single from the record. To support the lyrical theme of the track, we wanted to create something that was slightly disorienting and confusing, but that still hung together as a linear journey. We decided to film in a bunch of different locations around Birmingham, particularly in and around Digbeth.
One of the key features of the video is the sped up choruses. It’s quite common in music videos to shoot in slo-mo, where you film the artist performing to a sped up version of the track then in post you slow the footage down so it’s in synch with the track. For the choruses in the video we decided to do the opposite; Chris performed to a slowed down click track and then we sped it up in post to create this sped up look that’s still in synch vocally. On and the start of the video is a definite nod to the famous MOVE video, just Birmingham style…
The video was a definite labour of love; we spent a whole day filming and walked for miles, only to decide in post that we wanted to re-film most of it. So we went out again for a second day armed with some lessons learned and got the footage we wanted.
I’m super proud of this video; it ended up pretty much as we originally envisaged it and it was just a privilege to be asked to work on such a great track.
Chris’ album was released in October and it’s a work of art. I’d encourage you to go an have a listen; it’s co-produced by Sam Kelly and features a bevy of class musicians including Graham Coe, Luke Drinkwater, Evan Carson, Marion Fleetwood and Hannah Martin.
Our project however is still in progress; in September I went down to Stroud for a day to film Chris playing some tracks in Lukas Drinkwater’s Polyphonic Recording studio. The first is this live version of Scarlet Letter (more Chris Cleverley content coming soon)…