Micko And The Mellotronics released by far one of the best albums last year with ½ dove – ½ pigeon (review here). Ged Babey loves them, Nigel Carr loves them. I love them. A unique band fronted by Micko who I interviewed 25 years ago when he was The Bowling Green. He’s not changed one bit. Eccentric, charming, witty and polite. I speak to him and Ashley Jones about the making of the excellent video for Sick And Tired…
LTW: Tell us the story behind Sick And Tired
Micko Westmoreland: I thought of a vignette for each verse starting with two naysayers bitching about a harmless vicar at a jumble for scoffing too many biscuits. Chucked in a couple of hot topics for complaint for the others with the more serious tone for the final verse referencing the homeless. That one came about whilst in New York when I gave some money to a person on the street and was criticised by a local resident for doing so. He thought I was colluding with his problem! Obviously, the plight of the homeless is not his responsibility. However, homelessness is a much bigger issue than just the inconvenience of having to walk past it. Somehow this perspective had been lost and the significance was the lack of compassion expressed for the guy at his feet. I wanted to illustrate this point without heavy handed virtue signalling, Ashley (video maker) was the first to flag this, so we built the last verse delicately so as not to sound preachy.
You have that 60’s flower power sound running through yet with your own modern twist. Were these times of The Kinks, The Faces et al an influence on you?
Sick & Tired doths it’s cap to The Kinks certainly but they weren’t the first band to use a descending chord sequence in such a way & we won’t be the last! Stevie Marriott is one hell of a guitarist, mind you we have our own in Mr Jon Klein (Specimen/Banshees). Our drummer Nick (MacKay) knows Ray Davies & Twiggy really needs to meet our bassist Vicky (Carroll). The songs have psychedelic elements but within a tight structure so we generally have to work pretty hard to get to the wig out bits! The texture, form & feel is dead important, that hangs off the content, lots of work is done to make the whole thing multi facetted & the accompanying video along with the others we have made with Ashley illustrate this.
Do you see yourself as playing character roles when you write your songs?
Devising characters is a great way of evading responsibility! But seriously, characters are a really good vehicle for the imagination & they give you free reign to be creative & playful. You’re also not so limited by your own emotional reference points or intellect, as you can play into or borrow the words of ‘others’. However, you have to always be mindful of the central idea, once you have that & stay true to it, everything else, time, space & perspective can position around it. Sometimes the central idea is a tiny blip on the screen but if you keep it on your radar it almost grows by itself, if you let it..
How did Horace Panter get involved on bass?
I play in a charity band, called ‘The Spammed’ formed by artist Harry Pye & myself, we do one release a year for Specialized (Teenage Cancer Trust) We have worked with Nick Lowe very recently & Tony Visconti before the pandemic, both were truly exceptional guys. The quorum is Rat Scabies (Damned), Horace Panter (Specials), Kevin Eldon (Actor/Comedian) & myself. Neil Innes was with us but sadly passed at the end of 2019. Terry Edwards (Gallon Drunk/PJ Harvey) & the band’s own Jon Klein (Specimen/Banshees) come along as our special guests. Horace ‘Gentleman’ is aptly named, what a very nice man, he just gimme a guitar too! Horace has exemplary standards but sits very easy with them, he’s extremely talented, highly reliable, great sense of humour & comfortable in his own skin. I’d go on holiday with him any day – ha!
Any plans for a ‘Freedom’ tour?
With the George Michael covers band? We’re on it!
Next up I speak to the video maker himself Ashley Jones…
LTW: How did you and Micko meet?
Ashley Jones: We were introduced by Mikey “Vessel” Georgeson of David Devant & His Spirit Wife.
Micko and I met in a proper pub in Kentish Town. We chatted about our shared love of
Florian Schneider and Les Paul guitars. I knew we would get on after that – the Kraftwerk/Les Paul fan club is a fairly niche crowd. My favourite bit of video-making is often the initial meeting – ideally in a pub – with the artist to thrash out ideas. On that occasion we were banging around ideas for the Schmescos video for maybe 90 minutes before Micko said “I might be able to get Kevin Eldon to be in it”. “Well let’s do that!”
And we did.
What was your vision behind the video?
The song is narratively dense – there’s a lot going on. Micko and I had several
conversations about how we could tell the stories effectively. We had considered
shooting live action but we would have needed a cast of thousands and a range of
locations. All in the time of Covid. We had worked with Micko’s friend Peter W on the Psychedelic Shirt video and I thought we could intermingle live performance footage with an illustrated world. Peter and I had a few phone calls about the exact story we needed to tell and Peter completely got it. I was delighted when he sent over the drawings – they were bang on the brief. My main concern with the video was to be clear that Micko is telling the story through the eyes of a rather unpleasant protagonist. It was very important to emphasise that the protagonist is being entirely unreasonable. So, in each instance, the complaints are seen to be ridiculous compared to the offence. The kids are not flicking food and smashing plates – they’re a normal family making a very modest amount of mess.
I love the pop up theme idea. What inspired this?
Micko had asked whether we could make the band small. So I built this world where Big
Micko is watching the stories unfold. I liked the idea of each verse being a separate little
vignette with the components appearing and disappearing. The pop-up was something I
tried as a way of introducing the elements. I immediately knew I wanted to make each
verse’s diorama appear and disappear in this way. It took a disappointing amount of time
getting the physics right but I am pleased with the result. Initially I had it looking like Filmfair’s late 1970’s “Paddington” TV programme. In Paddington, the world is 2D and monochrome, the people are 2D and colourful and Paddington is 3D. But in our video, the monochrome background was too bland and I coloured in Peter’s backgrounds quite late in the process. I initially used a very saturated palette but Micko suggested something more muted and I think that’s worked out really well.
You use a lot of imagery from obviously taking in Micko’s lyrics. Is this your usual styling when creating a template?
I have some rules when making videos, which are based on my favourite videos by other
people. I always like to have the artist in the video and I always like there to be lip
syncing and performance; I think this is really important for connecting the video to the
singer and the song. Often videos break that connection – you get a lovely film but you
can’t remember the song. Ideally I want people to forever associate the song and the
video – the visuals evoke the song and vice versa.
Often my first draft is very literal. This is usually toned down as the project proceeds –
things get a bit more abstract. However, with Micko, his songs are often so narrative in
their content, it’s important to maintain a more literal path to assist in the story-telling. We
always get the band playing to balance the narrative. I think this video really helps
hammer home the points that Micko is making and emphasises the irony throughout.
I notice you like to film your favourite bands of the time. Anyone you’d
love to work with in the future?
I don’t know about the future. But I’d like to go back to 1980 to make a video for
Fad Gadget’s “Ricky’s Hand”. Can that be arranged?
Buy the album here:
Words by Wayne Carey, Reviews Editor for Louder Than War. His author profile is here