By Simon Shoulders, Rock At Night London Correspondent
The thing about photographing live music is you can have all the gear in the world, but if you don’t have the eye to frame the shot, or you fail to press the shutter at just the right time to capture the action, the “decisive moment” as Cartier Bresson would put it, there’s no amount of post processing that’s going to save the shot. Of course, decent kit, and the technical skill to use it makes a big difference to the final photo, but if you either don’t anticipate the movement of the artist, or react quickly enough to the action then you’re going to find some fairly mediocre images on that memory card when you get home. In effect, the gig photographers moment of true creativity lies somewhere near the confluence of technical ability, the artistic eye to frame the shot, a split-second of perfect premonition or super fast reactions, and no small amount of luck! The point is, the experience is immediate and intense. You get the chance to capture each moment once, there’s no going back and refining your position to get that glossy magazine-worthy shot. You can move position and change your technique on the night but if you’ve only got three songs in the pit, you better do it quickly. There are times when it wont work out. You can learn lots from those occasions and adapt how you approach the next shoot, but you can’t go back and try again.
I guess it might be because I spend a fair chunk of time in that quite intense and compressed creative space when I’m photographing that I find how different artists take the longer road and find inspiration in all sorts of unlikely places along the way utterly fascinating. So when Bristol-based duo, Brockley Forest got in touch with Rock at Night sharing their new video for their a track called “Taboo” from their EP “The Die Has Been Cast” and explained that their inspiration came from “The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are” by Alan Watts my curiosity was suitably piqued. Just how do you go from a book, to a song, to a video? I set out to discover more…
Brockley Forest are life-long friends Dec Burdge (on guitar and vocals) and Seb McCheyne (drums and vocals). Together they play a melodic, groove-laden rock that’s insidiously catchy. They’re starting to cause a lot of interest on the Bristol music scene and completed two UK tours in 2015 and 2016 and performed at festivals including Dot to Dot, BBC 6 Music Festival, Green Gathering, Farmfest, Bristol Harbourside and Bristol Balloon Fiesta.
How did Brockley Forest start?
We started our first band when we were 16. Dec played bass and Seb played guitar. After five years of playing in different line-ups and traveling America, we realised that every time we made significant progress that the third band member would either get lazy, not turn up to rehearsal or want to play gigs so we decided to form a two piece called The Fix. This then developed into Brockley Forest and we’ve never looked back.
Where did the name for the group come from?
Brockley Forest is an area of woodland just outside of Bristol in a small village called Cleeve where we grew up. After America, we took a hike through Brockley Forest when we decided to become a duo so it made sense to name the band after it.
What music did you grow up listening to and how has this shaped your musical style and identity?
We used to be into all the Californian 80’s and 90’s bands from Guns n Roses to Rage against the Machine. Initially all the bands that inspired us were ones that had a strong work ethic and treated their band like a family who prioritised touring and making good music over everything else.
My next stop was “The Book” itself. Alan Watts was a philosopher and writer famed for interpreting eastern philosophy and popularising it within western culture. He published extensively becoming somewhat of a countercultural icon during the 60’s and 70’s before his death at the age of 58 in 1973. Alan’s work ranged very widely, but “The Book”, published in 1966, concerns itself with a criticism of personal identity in western culture through the lens of Vedanta, one of the six orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy. Alan’s thesis in “The Book” is that the modern human believes that they are separate individuals, that “I” am not anything outside my skin, rather that the alternative that is we are each an active part of an interlinked whole whereby any single facet can only be experienced in the context of everything surrounding, influencing and interacting with it. As Alan puts it “…just as no organism exists on its own, it does not act on its own.” In effect, we’re part of one massive “IT” and thus by extension we are “IT” too. Only by recognising this, and accepting that we define ourselves in terms of everything around us (eg: all winners need losers for them to have triumphed over!) can we really come to terms with the world we find ourselves in.
How did you come across Alan’s writing?
A friend sent me a recording of a lecture by Alan Watts, and I (Dec) quickly became obsessed with Alan’s philosophy and way of looking at the world.
What effect did “The Book” have on you personally?
It helped me understand for the first time that most of us confuse who we are and how we look at the world with the symbols and signs that represent them. In the same way that we confuse money with actual wealth or our thoughts about ourselves with who we really are.
Alan argues that the social environment which we inhabit, teaches us to think in languages and images that we didn’t invent and which reinforce the separateness of the individual from the whole. The community of which we are each necessarily a dependant member defines each of us as in independent member. It’s the experience and related expectations (which society instills within you and others around you) of being both dependant and independent simultaneously leads us to live within paradoxical situations that parallel the world of Joseph Heller’s character Yossarian in the book “Catch 22”. As a U.S. Army Airforce B-25 bombardier flying missions during World War II. According to the novel, people who were crazy were not obliged to fly missions, but anyone who applied to stop flying was showing a rational concern for his safety and was, therefore, sane and could not be excused from the next mission… Follow the logic within the rigidly-controlled setting of the military, and crazy or sane, you have to fly. A classic example of Gregory Bateson’s “double-bind” theory: There’s no confronting the issue, there’s no resolving the situation and there’s no opting out. In effect, it’s societies carefully constructed “double-bind” compounds the idea that “I” the individual, “…comes in to this world, and is thrown out of it, in such a way to have no essential connection with it.” “I” is just a transient visitor, rather than a part of “IT”, the whole, of everything.
What was it that inspired you to create a song from the concepts within “The Book”?
Often when trying to share this understanding of ‘who we are’ with other people, I would either struggle to express myself in the right way to fail to establish the fundamental principles of the theory. Writing songs forces you to condense what you understand about a topic or theme in a creative way and hopefully when people really listen to the lyrics, they’ll be able to understand the concept on their own terms.
Did the song and the visual narrative grow together, or sequentially?
We wrote Taboo over two years ago now. We always had an idea of Seb running in the back of our minds but nothing more detailed than that.
Do you jam together to create songs, or do lyrics and melody evolve separately?
Sometimes both but usually either Dec writes a song and will bring it to practice and then both Dec and Seb will finish the song together or sometimes the best songs have come out of jamming and listening back to the recording.
You worked with filmmaker Zoltan Sandor Zagy and breakdancer HoWing Cheung on creating the video. How easy was it to persuade them to come onboard?
Zoltan has filmed and photographed all of our gigs, video and photoshoots since we met him at The Stag and Hounds (rest in peace). He’s a great photographer who is always up for working on our new ideas. HoWing Cheung we met through a friend of a friend and considering he had just an hour with us in total, we were really happy with his performance.
What did they each bring to the film?
Zoltan understands lighting and is very meticulous with filming. He has professional equipment and isn’t afraid to break a few rules to get the right shot. Also he’s very patient and open to everyone’s ideas that crop up on the day of the shoot – an important quality for any photographer/video cameraman filming with a band. HoWing Cheung just turned up, did his thing and said ‘Thanks very much, let me know when it’s done’. It was all quite straightforward and professional.
The video itself has quite complex narrative which intertwines with the lyrics of “Taboo” really smoothly. How did you go about sketching out the story and deciding how to piece together the scenes?
Dec storyboarded the video, then we filmed a ‘test footage’ version of the video in one day that included all the same scenes that made the real video except they were filmed on a low budget camera with friends. This helped gauge whether the proper video narrative would work before we invested lots of time filming the real thing.
The video starts with Seb standing in front of the mirror. Drumsticks tap on the rim of the drum creating a staccatto tick-tock count-down. The picture shift between Seb’s face, eyes closed behind his glasses with hair neatly tied back, the crisp shirt and tie, the perfectly ironed trousers and the the briefcase.
As the track bursts in to life, the shot shifts to Seb’s pained and exhausted expression as he runs towards the camera down an early morning suburban street. As the shot cuts back to a wider view you see that the street is nondescript, devoid of life, there’s nothing else moving.
At the beginning of the video we see Seb dressed smartly, perhaps for work, but looking exhausted and unhappy. Is this scene-setter a comment on our daily lives?
If you walk around any city at rush hour, you will see some people that are happy to go to work and some people that are not. When we see the people that aren’t, it makes you wonder what would make them happy and whether they are actively pursuing happiness, passions, dreams etc or whether they’re so lost in their own routine and lifestyle that they don’t know how things can change. I think this has always been relevant for any human population throughout history.
How early in the morning did you have to shoot these early scenes with out anyone around?
6am wake up call. 7am is usually the best time for filming conditions.
As the vocals for the first verse begin, the scene which has so far been shot up and down the road, switches to face across the road. The suburban landscape has suddenly been replaced by walls covered in street art, and there’s a guy breakdancing on the road accompanied only by his rucksack and his ghetto-blaster. Seb enters the scene from the left and runs straight through the shot as the camera remains stationary.
You had it all
Because everything that you wanted to be
Was just a lie
That grew inside
Made you project your insecurities…”
As Dec’s vocals reach the lines “Because everything that you wanted to be was just a lie…” the scene shifts to face Seb again. His blurred figure slows and comes in to focus as he stops running, breathing heavily. His brow is furrowed, as if on the verge of a decision…
Where did the idea to include HoWing in your music video come from and can you tell s a little bit about him?
The only other character we had in the story board was a breakdancer. We asked a friend of a friend who was into dance and they recommend Ho. He has breakdanced for over 10 years and is a true professional to work with. He just showed up, did his thing and that was it.
HoWing’s dancing in front of the walls covered in colourful street-art, and its effect on Seb’s character, appears to be a key moment in the video where he is inspired to make a decision to change direction. How did you build the idea for this scene?
Usually when someone makes a change in their life, it stems from a moment of clarity or significant event. In this case, Seb sees Ho expressing himself through dance and this creates the chain reaction of prop and location changes from the briefcase to the ghetto blaster and the city to the countryside etc. As the majority of the film is based in our hometown of Bedminster/Southville, it made sense to incorporate the vibrant street art scene that’s happening around it.
The shot snaps back to the breakdancer. He’s still dancing as Seb steps backwards in to the scene from the right of the shot still clutching his briefcase, but instead of his attention being focussed on the road ahead, he’s looking away from the viewer and is completely focussed on the breakdancer.
As the vocals reach the end of the first verse, the shot cuts back to Seb running towards the viewer, but now there’s a look of determination on his face.. As the camera angle widens, it’s revealed that the briefcase has been replaced with the ghetto-blaster… Seb’s now running past shops and slightly startled pensioners waiting at the bus stop. His stride is firmer and more purposeful, the fatigue seems to have fallen away from him…
The camera snaps back to a view across the street as the second verse starts. This time the frame is filled with the shop front of Friendly Records. As Seb enters frame from the left so does a car from the right, the two cross in the middle of the view and Seb leaves the shot.
Look at you now
What you’ve become
How long before you take responsibility?
Admit the truth
So you can prove
Your true values determine your beliefs…”
As the Dec’s vocals reach the lines “How long before you take responsibility?” the scene snaps back to face Seb again. Again his blurred figure slows and comes in to focus as he comes to a halt in front of the camera. As Dec’s sings “Admit the truth…” we see that Seb has a very different expression, perhaps one of realisation…
The scene switches back to the front of Friendly Records. There’s no hesitation as Seb rushes inside only to reemerge a moment later. Gone is the shirt and tie. Gone are the glasses. Seb runs out of Friendly Records a different man in a loose fitting olive green shirt, his long hair has been freed, and instead of clutching the ghetto-blaster to his chest, now he runs forwards confidently with the stereo on his shoulder.
Can you tell us a bit about Friendly Records and it’s significance to you?
Friendly Records is an independent record store on North Street, Bedminster. We needed a shop of some kind for Seb’s clothes change sequence and the owner of Friendly Records lent us the boombox for the video so we repaid the favour by including his store in our video.
I really like how most of the filming happens in line with the direction Seb is running (either directly towards you or away from you) and that the shot follows the action, but that for the shots where Seb encounters HoWing, and when he dives in to Friendly Records the viewer sees things from 90 degrees to Seb’s direction of travel and a static shot is used for each of these scenes. How did this idea develop and what were toy looking to convey with it?
With the running shots, we wanted to create a sense of urgency reflecting the momentum/effects of change and growth that Seb is experiencing. However, the static shots are during the time that Seb actually makes the active change (either by his attire or props that he’s carrying) and in real circumstances, it’s usually only when you slow down and reflect, that you are able to make the fundamental changes in your life before trying to keep up with the consequences of that change.
Seb runs on encountering greener, more tree-lined streets. The road seems to be getting steeper, but Seb maintains his resolve. As the track shifts to a surging guitar solo Seb crosses a suspension bridge and leaves the town behind. Surrounded by grassy fields and green trees the climb again steepens with Seb’s efforts reflected in the howling discordance of Dec’s guitar work.
The path narrows as the climb begins to even off. The howling guitar settles in to a low, grinding thunder. Fences and railings have been left behind, trees and bushes begin to crowd the path and shut out the light.
You’ve clearly though very carefully about how you want to use location in each section of this film. How long did it take to find and scout out all the different locations?
We know Bristol pretty well so it wasn’t too time consuming. Doing the test footage gave us an excuse to try out all the different locations we’d shortlisted. Bristol has some great filming spots if you know where to find them.
Were there any locations that proved particularly difficult to shoot in?
Running down the middle of the Clifton Suspension Bridge was tricky as we had to get the timing of the barrier right and not run anyone over. Also carrying a drum kit up in Ashton Park on a hot summers day was hard work but the hardest factor in filming was always keeping natural lighting consistent.
What’s the significance in your narrative of the gradual shift away from the suburban city towards the green of the country-side?
The rural environment represents the sense of clarity and peace that is found when one finds their passion.
The view steps back to a sunlit grassy field looking down towards a dark brooding tree-line from which Seb bursts as Dec begins to scream in to the mic. There is no more path, but that’s not stopping Seb as he powers up the hill past the viewer.
“Shout it. Louder.
Shout it. Louder!!!”
The viewer turns to see Seb reach the crest of the hill and come to a sudden stop facing away from the camera. Something has stopped him in his tracks. The volume and tempo of the track drops away completely as the camera catches up with Seb.
Confessed it all
Your heart and soul
Made peace and swore an oath to honour what was true
Your frame of mind
To overcome the ultimate taboo…”
Dec begins the third and final verse singing gently with a slow pulsing rhythm accentuated by light, but sharp guitar strokes. Seb’s still facing away from the viewer as the camera begins to move round his right shoulder to reveal what it is that is holding Seb’s complete attention.
A Drum Kit…
The camera circles Seb as he walks towards and around the the drum kit, his facial expression one of rapture and amazement, his focus completely held by the drum kit. As Dec reaches the final line of the song “To overcome the ultimate Taboo” the ghetto-blaster is placed reverently on the grass and Seb takes his place at the drum kit looking out over the city he’s run through to get here spread out before him, and unleashes giving himself over to his drumming completely having reached the end of his journey.
That’s quite an ending to the track, and the video! The viewer gets the impression that the final scene is shot a long way from anywhere! Did you really haul that drum kit to the top of the hill for that shot?
Yes, it was one of the hottest days of the year too… We should probably credit Greg Want for helping Brockley Forest as well who carried the big bass drum. Thanks Greg!
So there you have it… It’s taken over two years to pull all the pieces that make up “Taboo” together. First came the initial stimuli in the form the response to Alan Watts’ incisive writing. Writing and ideas that have proved to be equally as relevant today as the 1960’s when they were first conceived. From this came the inspiration to communicate the impact of what had been learnt, and that led to the song “Taboo” and eventually, the winding journey, one that has perhaps, at times, verged in the general direction the obsessive, towards a visual accompaniment for the song. Creating the video took the enlistment of willing and talented collaborators whose skills and creative drive could be applied to help realise Brockley Forest’s carefully thought out vision. It’s a process that’s clearly taken no small amount of dedication.
Has the making of this film helped you come to know yourselves better?
It’s definitely enforced the themes of the song more and made the narrative more visual which makes things easier to understand and digest. It’s also started more conversations about the idea of ‘who we all really are?’ and that will inevitably help us self reflect and grow.
What response have you had from your fans?
It’s been really great and even better than any of our past videos. I think a lot of the Brockley Forest fans have respected a video with a narrative this time and we’re really grateful for all the positive energy and support they’ve given us.
What were you trying to achieve with this film and are you happy with the result?
To create a good quality DIY video with a narrative. To make people question the concept of who they really are. To have fun working on a creative project with like minded local people.
So what’s next for Brockley Forest?
Currently, we are working on new material that will hopefully be recorded and released before the year is through. We have a studio live session in the works that we hope to release sometime soon and a European tour is on the cards in 2018 but we’ll keep that under wraps for now.
If you had to recommend three bands you think we might not have heard of to the Rock At Night readers, who would they be and why?
– Ho99o9 – For their twisted blend of Rock, Punk, Hip Hop and sadistic lyrics
– No Violet – An upcoming Bristol four piece with a great grungy fuzzy rock sound. Looking forward to hearing more from this band.
– Seven Colour Drive – Seb’s latest side project. A new style of post-rock mixed with heavy guitar riffs, time sig changes and ambient heartfelt melodic sections. Soon to release their debut EP ‘…And then a gust of wind took me’.
A band like Brockley Forest that has the creative vision and dedication to put something like “Taboo” together has clearly got the potential to produce some very exciting music in the future. I expect it’ll be music that challenges and reaches out on many levels. Personally, as someone who is beginning to imagine the creative spaces that lie beyond the 1/100th of a second when I depress the shutter button I find this the story of “Taboo” really quite inspiring! I’m very much looking forwards to what comes next…