"Interview with a Vampire" - Ian Waugh, with cross held high in hand, encounters Paul Gosling, director of the video for Steve Hackett's song, “Love Song To A Vampire”. Was twilight a wise meeting time?
IW: Hi Paul, and thanks for agreeing to this interview. So, first of all, I know that, like myself, you are a long-term Steve Hackett fan. As I said in my review of “Beyond the Shrouded Horizon” (TWR #79), it was the broadcast of the 1979 Reading Festival gig that first drew me in, though our editor had to correct the date for me! It's been a long time! So, how did you come “into the fold”?
PG: Well I guess like many a Genesis or prog fan I would make the plea, "It was my older brother's fault!" He used to play tracks from albums he was really into and he said, "You've got to listen to this, it's amazing." He then 'dropped the needle' (this was 1977) on 'Los Endos from 'Seconds Out. There was a particular point where he said, "This bit is amazing - it sounds like a steam train." Subsequently I was to discover that THAT sound was the inside forearm of a certain Steve Hackett, rubbing the strings of his electric guitar! Then almost a decade later, my best friend at 6th Form did me a tape of 'Foxtrot' and I was hooked - I particularly loved 'Can-Utility...' and 'Horizons' and of course 'Supper's Ready'.
So when I should have been grooving to all the latest sounds (God, what an awful time for music - the late 80s), I was happily exploring the back catalogue of the band, and yes, I bought up Steve's LPs in chronological order - quite a musical journey! So when the opportunity came to see Steve's 'comeback' rock gig in 1990 at Central TV in Nottingham, I was in like Flynn. That was when I met a guy called Sean Marriott, who was at that point helping Steve with his 'Rock Against Repatriation' project. It was Sean who got me into the Green Room after the show and I got a chance to have a brief chat with Steve then. The next time was in '93 - I interviewed him for my local BBC Radio station - he was in town for the 'Guitar Noir' tour. Over the next decade I would hang around after shows to have a quick chat with him or Jo.
IW: Ah, well, having no siblings, I had to make my own discoveries. I guess I'm the older brother, my siblings are the forum members who have to put up with my “recommendations”. Now, it's not often a fan gets to finally work with a hero, so, of course, I have to ask, how did the opportunity come about? Who approached who?
PG: Well, it goes back to my doing a PhD a few years back - I was researching C.S. Lewis's lesser-known sci-fi novels in Oxford and had the great fortune to be allowed to stay at The Kilns, Lewis's home, where he wrote those, the 'Narnia' books and the rest. Obviously we all know Steve has been a long-term fan of Lewis and so I suggested to him and Jo that I organise a visit and a guided tour from the then Warden, my friend, Debbie Higgins. There followed various meet-ups there over the next 18 months or so - always accompanied by fantastic weather and Debbie's exceptional cream teas! So I suggested that we did a short 'featurette' linked via the Hackettsongs website to celebrate Lewis's influence on both Steve and Jo and their appreciation of his imaginative life and works.
IW: And given the old saying “never meet your heroes”, how was it for you?
PG: Well, it was very easy in fact because my wife and I were really getting to know Steve and Jo socially as very down-to-earth people, both with vivid imaginations and a great sense of humour, so when the opportunity to do some work with them came up, it didn't feel as pressurised as it might have.
IW: And so to the video itself. Love Song for a Vampire is one of my 3 favourite tracks on the album, and probably one of the easier ones to transform into a visual medium, but who got to pick this as the song you would work with. Did you suggest it, or was it Steve who wanted it to be featured?
PG: It's quite funny, that - because after the Kilns documentary was well-received, I said : "Let me know if there's anything else I can do video-wise", thinking of behind-the-scenes documentary stuff and so forth. But I was mid-way through filming my movie 'The Monochrome Spy' and I showed a few effects sequences to them. So we were invited to meet up and chat about some possibilities and Steve said that the record company had settled on 'Wolflight' as the main video (which I think is a fantastic piece of film-making, by the way!), but he and Jo were really keen to get some kind of promo together for 'Vampire'. The only problem was, they said, "Is that is lasts about 10 minutes". So it was quite a daunting thing in that way, but I thought - it's a chance to do an interesting narrative as well as a performance-based video. I should add that at this point, the album had only just been mastered and so I was then handed a CD 6 months before release. I sat through the Revisited concert that night and really enjoyed it, but couldn't wait to get back and listen to the album and 'Vampire' in particular, of course. As expected, it was a very cinematic-sounding piece and I loved that it changed gears into a much heavier song at the end as well - so instantly - as usual - the music filled my head with images.
IW: And who came up with the storyboard for it?
PG: Well, the great thing about this opportunity was that Steve, Jo and I had a great dialogue about visuals and moods etc. I went straight off to recce locations and was able to e-mail or meet up to discuss ideas - we did a lot of tests particularly for Sam B, who was our Vamp - the make up artist was our friend, Yasu Nishikiori, who had worked on 'Monochrome'. We sent off photos of her and Rob and added ideas as we went. In terms of a storyboard, though - I tend not to do those, but I do filming recce's, so I know what's possible with the camera in our locations. So there's no real surprises technically when we roll up to film the real thing.
IW: I know I've always had ideas for videos for songs, though sadly, neither the talent nor the resources to do them! In Steve's case, “Twice around the Sun” is one I'd like to do. There are 4 main sections to the track, and my idea would be that the first part would be a scan along the space ship, something like the look at the new Enterprise in one of the Star Trek movies, then the take off and escape from Earth’s gravity and atmosphere, then the calm section which would be the journey from Earth to the Sun, and finally, the majesty and thrill of going into the double orbit of the Sun. I guess Down Street would make a good candidate too. But, what I'm leading up to is, are there any songs of Steve's you'd like to make a video for?
PG: Yeah, I love both those tracks a lot. I love the detail in Steve's music and it's always interesting to listen to his work on different systems or headphones - they bring out all those musical textures that he and Roger must spend hours and hours layering and tracking up. There's so many tracks that would be great - he's a very 'visual' artist. I have to say I have always loved 'Taking The Easy Way Out' from 'Till We Have Faces' (another nod to Lewis). And 'Sleepers' is one of my all-time favourite tracks (at least that's what my I-Pod data tells me!), that's fantastically visual music. Oh and of course, I'm forgetting 'There Are Many Sides To The Night' - agh! You see what you've done now? There's so many!
IW: And, for that matter, any other musicians you'd choose to work with, given the opportunity?
PG: I am a big fan of John's 'Checking Out of London' album - the title track in particular is so beautiful - short but sweet and I hear John's bringing a new album out later this year. I love the work he and Nick Magnus have done over the years on each other's albums.
IW: I guess Steve and Amanda were present, for they both appear in the video, but who else from Steve's entourage were present? Jo, his wife, I guess would be there, but anyone else, such as Roger King?
PG: Yeah, 'the entourage'! That's funny because my Crooked Hand crew who helped film the performance parts of the video were a bit shocked when it was just Steve and Jo turning up for the shoot in January! Yes, Amanda was a treat to work with - it was great to have her involved and it gave the video another dimension with her appearing in the choruses - she had a great look on the day - very Ingrid Pitt, I think someone said on facebook - it was just right for the video. Roger wasn't around at the Twickenham end of the shoot, but I caught up with him briefly at the album launch. I have to say that the work Roger does is phenomenal - he's the perfect musical foil for Steve and it was great to see him get to grips with the Genesis material on tour. And let's not forget his brief career as a football pundit on Breakfast TV (he was in a vox-pop report on Capello's appointment as England manager - he played 'bloke at the pub' in that one)!
IW: Maybe it's just me, but there are a couple of moments in the video, when Steve and Amanda are doing the chorus, that put me in mind of the video for Bohemian Rhapsody, the head shots in the dark.
PG: Ah, yes - I do specialise in 'noir'-type stuff and using low light in darkened rooms and that does lend itself to that kind of old-school video-making - but I think they both looked great and the lighting effects gave some animation to what could have been something a bit static - we were shooting in quite a small space.
IW: And a little background on the actors in the video, Samantha Birnie plays “The Vampire” and Rob Leeson “The victim”. Who chose them? Were they people Steve or his team had in mind, or did you suggest them, or maybe a mixture of the two. Is there any other work we can see them in?
PG: Well, again I talked to Steve and Jo about the idea of the ambiguity of that unhealthy relationship described in the song and the 'who-needs-who?' aspect of it. Sam I'd done a bit of film work with and was always going to be perfect as our vamp, but we wanted a strong-looking male to be the victim - because at the start he appears to be the hunter and she the prey - the idea was that she is entrapping him but it only gets inferred until the chorus kicks in. I've done loads of work on film and stage with Rob Leeson - he played Patrick McGoohan in 'Magic Number 6' - a stage play I wrote and produced about the making of 'The Prisoner' that we took to the Edinburgh Festival and then last year he was our leading man in 'The Monochrome Spy' - there are trailers on the Crooked Hand website if people are interested. (www.crookedhandproductions.com)
IW: It seems ironic, given that it's a music video, so, in a way, the soundtrack is the most important bit, but for the action shots, what you are making is, in effect, a silent movie. Any message you want to convey has to be visual, so that must add its own constraints and problems to the production. Is this how you approached it, as a silent movie? Does it give an extra buzz to have to approach it differently from, say a short movie with sound?
PG: It was a really interesting project, because, first and foremost, I'm a playwright and screenwriter, so dialogue and narrative through words and conversation between characters is my passion - so as you rightly say, I sort of found myself directing a silent movie - which is a tricky one. I mean - there's a thin line between something evocative of the Gothic title and the imagery of the song and something a bit too clichéd. I hope I struck the right balance. I mean, Yasu and Sam spent a couple of evenings doing 'vampire' test make-up shoots with me and yes, we went down the more traditional horror route - even used fake blood at one point! But it was just too much, so we reigned it in a bit - but then of course we went with the cape and the hood - a sort of modern Gothic look was what we were after. I did do a shooting script, but really it was tricky - I was explaining a narrative to Rob and Sam as we went and they trusted me to make it work. But, yeah they were both perfect for it. Maybe I'll do a silent movie one day!
IW: I've always thought it must be an odd thing for a musician who hears a track of theirs on the radio or wherever. While the general public might have a memory associated with a song, be it where they first heard it, a memorable event that happened while they were listening, and so on, for an artist, I guess they are more likely to recall something to do with the session. “Remember when so-and-so nearly dropped the tambourine mid-session” or “Thank god that coffee cup was empty when I knocked it over on the mellotron!”, but I guess it is a similar thing for you with this video. Any particular memories, good or bad, that spring to mind when you see it? Any amusing anecdotes?
PG: Oh, well we had our share of setbacks. I was trying to source about 60 candles online for the performance shoot when an e-mail come through confirming that the theatre I'd booked didn't allow naked flames on stage! And the guys who owned the amazing café we shot in at the start of the video had to cancel the first planned shoot because one of the managers had gone home with the keys a few hours before we were due to film with all our make-up, costume and extras booked! But we got there eventually! The shoot in Twickenham had one funny moment - Steve and Jo had been loaned a ventriloquist's dummy by a friend and we all thought this could be really quite disturbing and very effective, but when we got it out of the bag, we fell about laughing - it was really cute-looking and not as we'd imagined - like that horrific doll in 'Magic'. But I think just the feeling that Steve and Jo and I were on the same track visually right from the start and we all added ideas as we went - that was terrific.
IW: And finally, in what our editor would refer to as the “Shameless Plug” moment, after all, what is an interview for if not promoting your work, what else have you in the pipeline, in your capacity as a film and theatre writer/director?
PG: Well, I'm still grafting away as a writer and won our local one-act play festival for best original play again last month, so I'm looking to do the hat-trick there next year and 'Monochrome' was very well received by fans of 60s cult TV (to which it is a homage), so currently I'm writing a follow-up to that entitled 'The Spy Who Loved Himself' which we are hoping to shoot later this year with Rob, Sam and all the usual suspects.
IW: Well, good luck with that, Paul, and thanks for your time and sharing your story with us!
PG: It's a pleasure, Ian - and I'd like to add, because I forgot earlier - that I was thrilled when I saw a paper copy of 'The Waiting Room' in the Virgin Megastore in London - must have been very early on in '88, when Alan and Ted Sayers were getting this whole thing underway - it was great to see the fans producing insightful material for other Genesis fans - it's great how it's kept going and involved more and more people over the years! Well done, Alan!