Citóg Records is a relatively new indie label based out of Galway City. Being involved with Citóg Records is something I hold and respect dearly.
Unlike other traditional labels, Citóg Records is a collective of West of Ireland musicians who have come together under an imprint to share their knowledge, experience and ideas with one another. In my opinion, they have become a type of resource that every artist in this country could do with being a part of, regardless of one’s artistic discipline or strength in the industry.
It is something I wish I was more a part of when the last band I was in, Harrison & The Devil, decided to make a music video. . .
Nearly every move and decision we made in Harrison & The Devil was crap and glaringly narrow minded. We found ourselves deluded and satisfied with minor successes too often to see what could have been built upon progressively through simple foresight and. . . well. . . cop on.
We naively said yes to everything we were offered, disregarding artistic merit on more than one occasion. We spent nearly every cent we made from downloads, merch, gigs, etc in some pub down the west at the weekend. But worst of all, we viewed every achievement as a box ticked rather than a stepping stone.
I remember one evening we bombed through an entire IMRO payment in a handful of hours drinking down at The Blue Note. Why on earth would we use that money to fix our ailing gear, or fund another recording? Sure Dave Fanning and Paul McLoone are going to be playing ‘Bones’ forever. Right?
The rotten fruits of this carry on ripened when we went to make a video for our song ‘Mary (Had A Baby)’ in January 2014.
‘Mary (Had A Baby)’ had just been recorded as a follow up single to our moderately successful Cat Matters EP, released the previous October.
One thing that we believed hindered the EP from doing better was the absence of a promo video to accompany the song ‘Bones’ which had, at the time, been getting decent attention on national radio and in the music press.
A video for this new single was essential.
As a band made up of two part-time workers (*cough* dole *cough*) and two students, first and foremost to our thoughts in getting a video sorted was the budget. . . and how we could get away with not having one.
Our first idea for a video was to have us playing in the basement of the Cellar Bar, Citóg’s old home on Eglinton Street. The audience for our performance was going to be a collection of unimpressed women, who would leave one by one as the song crescendos to its climax.
We had someone in mind to help us create the video for a good rate, and use of the venue was secured. (Finding extras be part of the video looked to be an easy task too. Simply explaining that the premise involved them being unimpressed and walking out on us in our pomp. Most would have delighted in that. And if not that, the boxes of beer would do the trick).
Looking back, the concept and its application would have been practical and simple. Most importantly, it would have suited the song incredibly well. But as I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, foresight, was not a patch on our arrogance.
One evening about the town, in the planning stages of the video, getting fit for our new bigger boots, we came to the conclusion that the video concept was not grand enough. So we decided to go bigger! (While still trying to use a similarly invisible budget).
The location for the new video was The Shed, a 4,000 square foot art space down by the docks. I had managed to get the use of the venue for a weekend through an abject bluff. I gave the curator the impression I was from a respected company in the city who hoped to use The Shed for a small private event. This was a company with whom I had no affiliation.
Next, we had to find the person to help us make the video. The first, and only person, we talked about taking the reins was someone we were mildly acquainted with. A chap called Jim.
A mutual friend of ours, Anna, had used Jim to help her create a fantastic Final Cut Pro video, and an equally impressive visual show at the Fringe Festival a few months prior.
We approached Jim about it and were delighted when he didn’t even ponder on the thought. He accepted almost immediately. The deal, which was suggested by him, was for a couple of beers and the stipulation that the video be put out through his, not our YouTube, Vimeo, etc accounts. No money was ever really discussed. We couldn’t believe our luck.
The video concept was simple. . .
1. The video was to be in black and white contrast, with no greyscale. Just like Edwyn Collins video for ‘A Girl Like You’.
2. The band were going to stand in the middle of the large white hall side by side. Each member would have a blank expression on their face. Except for myself. I happened to sing lead vocals on that particular song and would do so in the video. I cringe at the thought of this now.
3. After the song’s second chorus, the band would suddenly be very heavily clad in slapper fused make-up.
4. During the final chorus the band would be pelted by about 120 water balloons filled with black dye. (The minor crew, which was made up of our gleefully merciless friends, would delight in providing the pelting).
5. All of the above was to be done in one take preferably, with the inevitable mistakes to be rolled with. Except for the transition between the band being fresh faced to then being plastered with make-up.
The shoot began early on a Saturday afternoon. Right off the bat, the ‘director’, as Jim was beginning to be referred to as, whipped out a story board he had crafted.
I won’t go into all the details but one aspect involved a shot of a water balloon rolling along the floor and bumping off our bassist, Rick’s, foot. At this point Rick would look down at the balloon, then up at the camera and using his facial expressions go “Uh-oh!” like Mr. Bean doing his worst Marcel Marceau impression. On viewing this, and the story board, we pointed out the five principle points of the video and how we wished to maintain them. This, we hoped, was a minor blip, but hardly the biggest deal.
Shortly after, during our dry run, a crew member began getting heated with Jim. We stopped and asked what the problem was? While near the camera, the crewman noticed the angle of the light above covered our faces in darkness, the director hadn’t noticed.
Unlike our faces it was clear as day. We looked like minstrels. We were flabbergasted. What was going on? A sinking feeling started brewing about the experience before it had really began.
You see. . . unbeknownst to us at the time, the videos Jim had worked on to create for Anna’s projects were exactly that. . . our friend Anna’s projects. Not Jim’s.
We incorrectly assumed that Jim had taken our friend’s ideas and turned them into the stunning visceral pieces they were. When in fact, Jim had really just began his adventures in the audio visual world. It was our friend Anna who created those pieces almost entirely. Jim’s input seemed to go no further than the fact that he had an expensive camera he was happy to lend and man, and that he enjoyed editing.
Had we asked Anna in the first place. . . who knows how things could have went?
Jim was almost certainly viewing the creation of the video as a stepping stone, learning curve even. We were unaware of this and thought we had hired the next Spike Jonze. What we asked of Jim was unfair. And in fairness to him, at no point did he give the claim or impression that he was the brains of the projects we had, incorrectly, credited him with creating.
This put a whole new context on our initial discussions with him, and the “sweet deal” we believe we had acquired off him for creating the video.
Anyway, with the initial minor hiccups of the shoot past, although not sorted by any means, we arrived at the make-up part of the video. It was at this point a member of the band expressed his dislike at this aspect of the video. He thought it was pointless, and unrepresentative of the song.
This infuriated us. Why had he decided now. . . the moment of filming. . . to bring this issue up?
In another massive oversight on my part, he politely reminded us that he was given no input, or even knowledge, at any point, of the video’s concept until the day of filming. He was correct. He hadn’t. Now I was causing tension between the band, along with disappointment in myself. This was venom to our moral. Venom born out of our own failings and arrogance. My own in particular.
Eventually we arrived at the water balloon scene. Ja volunteered to take the first shot of a balloon to the head. After that, we would be struck with them consistently for 45 seconds. How bad could it be? It was only a balloon at the end of the day. . .
The first balloon knocked Ja off his feet and sent him flying out of shot. He had headaches for a few days and a minor black eye. Unexpected, but again. . . in hindsight. . . unsurprising.
We were too deep, and generally fed up, to call halt on the farce the video shoot had become, so we just rolled with it.
The thick black barrage of balloons came and conquered. What, in our heads, was supposed to look like The Edge in the video for U2’s ‘Numb’ looked more like student protesters get slapped about by riot police water cannons.
I take no shame in admitting I cowered throughout. They fuckin’ hurt.
Eventually that was that. I don’t remember much after the balloon fun except for being desperate to leave the second we wrapped.
I do remember at some point during the video shoot Rick tore his jeans; groin to knee. Heaven knows when and how.
The next day, 2 or 3 of us returned to re-paint the walls we had ruined with the black dye filled balloons. The second day was originally set aside for reshoots, but we were so down trodden and crestfallen by the initial shoot we decided to fuck that notion out the window. This was made difficult by the head colds we had all received for our endeavours in the long water soaked shit show from the previous day.
A number of weeks later we received the final product. Jim had decided to add some sort of security camera effect to the whole video; discarding the black and white concept. It made the thing look like that video by Nordic boppers Aqua. The one they did for one of their songs, not ‘Barbie Girl’, the other one, the one from that shitty Gwyneth Paltrow film Sliding Doors.
On top of this, the climatic water balloon scene had been sped up. Who knows why? It now resembled a Benny Hill sketch. It lasted a pitiful 7 seconds of the video.
It is the worst thing I have ever seen.
We looked at the video. . . and then never looked at it again.
Well. . . except for one time when I showed it to a mate of mine who described it as “The Room of music videos”. I deleted the master shortly after.
We essentially broke up later that year, in part, from an inability to get over our faults. Jim, I believe, has never made another video.
Whenever I think of my time with Harrison & The Devil, I almost instantly think back to the video for ‘Mary (Had A Baby)’.
Creative ways to use a limited budget, contacts to production companies, advice on location and practicalities, emphatic extras, etc. These are all things Citóg Records would have afforded myself and Harrison & The Devil.
I often wonder how much differently things would have been, not just with the video but, with everything if I had access to the mountains of knowledge my future peers at Citóg Records give people like me.
Having a network of support and advice is crucial to progression and proper representation of yourself in every facet of life, and most certainly in music.
Without it you’ll end up in a freezing shed getting black eyes from water balloons. David Hickey