The Most Barren, Desperate, Desolate Place

I scouted a promo for Stoke-based All The Young,  up-and-coming indie-rockers tipped for 2012. The brief asked for epic landscapes and rolling skies, not too far from Manchester. Time-lapse landscape shots were to provide a backdrop to the band’s performance.

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I headed up past Oldham and into Saddleworth in full wet-weather clobber, but for a November day in the Pennines, I had some lovely weather . It was quite liberating to know that for once we would have a very small crew with no massive lighting or camera trucks, meaning we could go for locations a little off-piste.

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We had to source six different landscapes for the time-lapses, as well as a hillside location with an epic backdrop for the singer’s performance to camera. You know you’re in luck when the clouds break just so as you press the shutter.

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Although within Oldham Borough, many locals still vociferously consider Saddleworth a part of Yorkshire. Judging by the amount of shots of Chew Valley and Dovestones on Flickr, you would think Saddleworth a very busy place, full of photographers, but although it’s a short drive from two big cities and just off the M62, it’s still pretty quiet.

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This summer, the infamous Saddleworth Beer Walks have been cancelled, but you can still visit the amazingly popular Brass Band Festival on Whit Fridays (just don’t expect to find a parking spot!). On a winter’s day – away from the troops of goretex-clad ramblers – it can be a lonely place.

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For many people the name Saddleworth Moor conjures up one event – the Moors Murders, committed by Ian Brady and Myra Hindley between 1963 and 1965. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about Keith Bennett every time I drive over the Holmfirth Road.

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Although Hindley died ten years ago, Brady’s attempts to gain parole still attract strong media interest. In 2006, the ITV television drama See No Evil brilliantly captured the seductive menace of both Ian Brady and the Saddleworth landscape, with vivid performances from Sean Harris and the brilliant Maxine Peake. The same year Tom Hooper directed Channel 4 drama Longford, looking at Hindley’s earlier appeal for parole (shot for the most part at nearby Birch Hill Hospital in Rochdale).

The place of the Moors Murders in popular culture was controversially cemented by  Suffer Little Children, the closing track on Manchester band The Smiths‘ eponymous debut album. Morrissey has spoken often about his fascination with the murders, and referred to Saddleworth as “the most barren, desperate, desolate place”.

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The director chose his favourites from the locations I scouted, mostly near Dovestones and Yeoman Hey reservoirs.

Later that week I spent a chilly day back up on Saddleworth with the DP and camera team, shooting the time-lapse backgrounds. These were achieved using a Canon 5D Mkii stills camera and the splendid Portable Motion Control Rig. Timelapse fans should check the tracking sequence below, shot with one of Justin’s rigs outside the Warehouse Project nightclub in Manchester:

The wonderful DP George Tiffin graded some of his recce snaps (below). It was interesting to see the locations shot by such a talented photographer!

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The crew filmed performances by lead singer Ryan (looking suitably moody)  on  farmland overlooking Middle Edge Moss. The following day the band elements were shot in super slow-motion on the Red One camera at a slightly less windy Manchester location, using rain FX to recreate that bracing Pennine atmosphere.

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Checkout the finished product below. I think the promo works really well for this type of track:

 

Many music promos are produced by (scarily-young) film-school graduates building a showreel on tiny budgets. In this case, however, it was exciting to work with Andy Morahan, who has been directing game-changing, legendary promos since the golden age of music videos:

(If you’re into promos, the recent book ‘I Want My MTV‘ is an entertaining history of the music video and its origins, full of quality anecdotes about 1980s excess.)

After reading an article on Pitchhfork about The Big Music, I started to wonder why indie-rock tracks with big chorusses should so often be associated with epic skies and big landscapes.  An ex-NME photographer I know told me it was because lazy 1990s music press photographers,short on inspiration, drove whichever baggy Manc flavour-of-the-month they were shooting that week half-an-hour into the Peak District, and knock the shoot off in Edale or Ladybower.

Whether or not you believe that, loads of successful guitar bands shoot videos out in the open, singing directly to camera in the Great British Countryside. Off the top of my head, here’s a few student disco classics which use location rather than narrative:

An example of a local band with a history of brilliant music videos are Manchester’s Doves, whose tracks M62 Song and Winter Hill sound infinitely better when driving fast across windswept moors. Spot the Pennine and North-West locations in their great road-trip promo below:

It does niggle a bit that the North-West in general is so strongly associated with quite straightforward guitar music. For me, Saddleworth and the Pennines are places to go to clear your head, or get a little freaked out by nature. If you fancy a day walking (or driving) through them there hills, I’ll sign off with a few suggestions for an atmospheric Saddleworth Moor playlist from local(ish) bands or labels:

And remember, stick to the roads…

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