About seven years ago, Blackburn College started inviting bands to come in and record live in our television studio, with the aim to create something that was a youthful mixture of John Peel session and The Old Grey Whistle Test. The idea was to give the Art and Media students a chance to hone their general creative and technical skills in new media, with the added incentive of working with practicing musicians.
We had a catalogue of these exclusive sessions but we didn’t have a platform for them, until, that is, we partnered up with Art & Music online who helped by hosting the films and pointing bands in our direction. Thus began A&M TV. As word spread about the quality of what we were doing we started to get more established bands in, everyone from The Charlatans to Edwyn Collins, alongside up-and-coming acts like The Wave Pictures and Let’s Wrestle. It’s not unusual to see a tour bus parked up outside the art school, these days; no one even blinks.
In the time that we have been doing this, more than five hundred students, aged roughly between 16 and 20, have learned to use cameras and microphones; how to light a space or subject; record using Pro Tools so ware; vision mix, floor manage, research, interview and edit by working on these live recordings. The best bit is that they get to see them sent out into the world via the internet.
Every session is unique; we’ve had everything from Biffy Clyro on a Saturday morning to Edwyn Collins with a Sex Pistol in tow; bewildered bands who had no idea what they were doing in Blackburn, some tipped for the top and never heard of again, not to mention a host of indie hipsters with crap gear and impeccable haircuts. There have been trips to John Squire’s house, unreasonable demands from managers and more than a few days spent with some of my own heroes.
Blackburn is (according to the government) one of the most deprived boroughs in the country. There’s not much in the way of jobs or things to do if you are young. There are plenty of pound shops and bookies but no book shops. But, when Francois and The Atlas Mountains turn up in a tour bus from France, or She Keeps Bees arrive from Brooklyn, art beats geography hands down.
As somebody who has taught in art colleges through Blair’s Britpop government up to the present day, I can tell you that it is more difficult than ever before to be an art student. We live in a time where the value of everything is measured in financial returns – even education. Learning is now only deemed to have value when linked to career; and, let’s face it, art and media are hardly the strongest currencies to have in your purse when you hit today’s job market.
I could tell you about units, assessment, curriculum, transferable skills, links to industry, etc, but I’ll save that for OFSTED. What we do here is exciting because it’s real. We work directly with musicians who exist within the professional music industry and connect them to budding filmmakers, editors and artists. These encounters can have a massive impact on where students go next; and when you’re growing up in a small town, that’s a huge and rare opportunity.
Former Go-Between and acclaimed author of the book, The Ten Rules of Rock and Roll, Brisbane’s Robert Forster in interview at Lancaster library, where he performed a set for our cameras. This is a transcript from the first A&M Film (2008).
A&M— When your agent asks you to do a gig in a library, what do you think?
RF— I think it’s a breakthrough. I’m excited, immediately. I know it’s not the ‘rock box’. Not all the shows are as fulfilling as this; but I told my manager and the agent that I didn’t want to play rock boxes: I’d prefer not to play. Some of the recent shows have been at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, the Wexler Centre in Ohio, on campus; a big hall with silver wall paper all around, then a pub in New York, a basement in Glasgow and now we play here. Every show is different. I’ve always wanted to play outside the usual places and now it’s starting to happen. The big change was when I told my manager and my booking agent that I wanted to play alone, without a support act. I had made enough records to play two sets: an acoustic set for 45 minutes and an electric set for over an hour. As soon as you say that it becomes “An evening with Robert Forster” and then people start to think outside the box. I think I’ll always tour like this – or I’ll do it as much as I can.
A&M— What about the album, The Evangelist; are you surprised at the great reaction it’s received?
RF— Not Really. I thought it was a really good album, and just because of the history of the situation. I was in a band called The Go-Betweens and the other songwriter [Grant McLennan] passed away in 2006. I thought people may be interested, if only from that macabre angle; it’s a good record but you never can tell. You make a good record but it can still completely and utterly disappear; as hundreds of good records have. I knew exactly what I wanted to do, but at the same time I wanted to reach people. That’s very important to me. I recorded in London with producers I’d worked with before [Mark Wallis and Dave Ruffy]; who’re expensive. And the record’s got a welcoming sound to it. I did take it seriously in terms of wanting to reach people. It’s all another twist to the story, I guess. In a bizarre way, I’m on to the fourth phase of my career. The Go-Betweens were going along, Grant [McLennan] and I were very happy; we were working on another album when he passed away. We were writing songs. I never saw this solo career section coming at all. I had no desire to start making solo albums. When the Go- Betweens were going, Grant and I never made solo albums; it was total focus on the band. We always preferred that. It’s a surprise that I’m in this phase, but I’m very happy with the record, happy to be touring and happy to be playing in a place like this.
A&M— It’s all a kind of a cycle; of course, it’s very sad that your friend and songwriting partner died, but it seems to have heralded a kind of rebirth…
RF— It’s very sad, and [being solo is] not something I wished on myself; but I forged on.
FRANCOIS AND THE ATLAS MOUNTAINS
We first came across Frànçois playing tambourine in Camera Obscura, and then followed him fanatically while he was releasing his own records on the fantastic Fence Records (home to King Creosote, Pictish Trail et al). There was a legendary Fence gig in Blackburn at which Frànçois and Amaury performed half-naked in a freezing venue to a bewildered and excited group of Lancastrian converts. Sadly we didn’t film it. When Frànçois signed to Domino we finally managed to get him in the studio. I think it could be one of the best sessions we have recorded so far.
A&M— Tell us about the new LP, E Volo Love.
F&TAM— We recorded it ourselves with a good friend, a French guy who we met in Brighton. Then we got it mixed by a guy who worked on some African music, because we have a few African instruments [on the record].
A&M— How long did it take to record?
F&TAM— We recorded most of it in two weeks; then it took a year to do all the overdubs – which is how you arrange it to make it sound nice. The whole band played on it, but it was mostly me (Frànçois) and Amaury, the percussionist.
A&M— How has it been received?
F&TAM— We just released the album one week ago in the UK, and so far we’ve been played on BBC6 music, so that’s quite exciting. In France we’ve been on national TV and things like that. We’ve yet to reap the rewards of the UK release but hopefully they’ll come soon.
A&M— What about the choreography? It’s quite unusual… very good to watch.
F&TAM— We have to improve that, we’re experimenting but hopefully it will get better and more interesting and less and less ridiculous – or maybe more and more ridiculous…
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