Shane Meadows on Gavin Clark: ‘He was naturally gifted and I was faking it’
The Living Room, a 2007 film about Meadows’s singer friend, will be screened ahead of an upcoming Dublin gig. It shares something with the director’s film about the Stone Roses
Shane Meadows, whose 2007 film The Living Room, about musician Gavin Clark, is ‘about our friendship and relationship and seeing him trying to overcome a massive demon and perform live solo for the first time’
Gavin Clark. Photograph: Paul R Bednall
It’s time to take a look at one of Shane Meadows’s back pages. The English film director may be best known for such dark treasures as Dead Man’s Shoes and A Room for Romeo Brass, as well as This Is England, which begat the television series of the same name, but there is plenty of work from Meadows’s past that deserves another airing.
Today, Meadows is talking about The Living Room, a film he made back in 2007 about musician Gavin Clark, which will be screened for the first time in Ireland this month. The musician – who has worked with bands such as Unkle, Clayhill and Sunhouse – and the director go back a long time.
“I first met him at a party when we were both working at Alton Towers,” says Meadows. “He was selling chips and I was painting faces. We were both 16 or 17 years at the time. I was in a band with Paddy Considine and Nick Hemming, and I thought I was going to be this big success as a musician.
“Not long after meeting him, Gavin played me this song he’d written and it floored me. He had such a unique voice, and when I heard that coming at me, I realised this guy was naturally gifted and I was faking it really.”
Music’s loss was film’s gain. Meadows found his way to a camera via a photography course and began making films like they were going out of fashion. Looking back now, he sounds a little amazed at how prolific he was at the start.
“The film-making was accidental, but I found I’d a knack for doing it because I was training myself. My aim at the start was to make a film a month to get good at doing it and to try to turn something half-decent out.
“I made 13 or 14 films in my first year. It didn’t seem quite that fast at the time – they didn’t seem fast to me; it felt like they were quite far apart – but by everyone else’s standards, it was pretty unusual. You get people now who might make one short every five years.”
If Meadows had a DIY approach to film-making, the same modus operandi applied to screening the finished work. “I set up my own film festival called Six of the Best in Nottingham to show these films. My aim was to show one of my own films and get other people to put stuff in. Nowadays, you have YouTube and downloading, but back then the internet didn’t exist so you needed somewhere to show that work.
“I did everything on really rubbish video tape, and most people would only show film. People would ask did you shoot it on 16mm or 35mm and I’d go, ‘It’s shot on tape from Boots’, so I had to set things up myself in this seedy cinema which used to show pornos. It’s still running, it’s called the Bang! Festival now, and its legacy goes right back to those films.”
His work with Clark is not the only time Meadows the music fan has come to the fore. Last year, he directed Made of Stone, a documentary about the Stone Roses’ reunion tour.
“The Stone Roses film and the Gavin film share something, in that there’s unfinished business to both stories. The Roses were my idols, and I’d always wanted to see them play live, but you got a sense that they never fulfilled their potential. Gavin had been doing that singer-songwriter thing back in the late 1980s when it was not the done thing, so he was ahead of his time and missed out.
“With the Roses, you can see that I was like a child in a sweetshop to be making a film about them. With Gavin, it was more personal, more about our friendship and relationship and seeing him trying to overcome a massive demon and perform live solo for the first time.”
Music has also been a strong badge of identity for Meadows, something he acknowledges is no longer the case in pop culture to the same extent.
“When I was a kid, there was about 50 different tribes you could belong to, and movements were evolving every month. I was five or six when punk kicked off and you were fully aware of the visual effect that was having on your town. Then you had new wave and post-punk and new romantic and so on, all these massive pop-culture changes which were often massively political, as well with the skinheads and CND.
“I don’t really see that anywhere now with music since hip-hop and rap. It’s like pop music has been through all possible changes. But growing up in the 1980s, it was like a non-stop thing which was always changing. [Music] is now not as tribal or as important in giving kids an identity.”
While Meadows may be no longer be turning out a film a month, he’s still got a lot on his plate. This interview takes place during a break in filming for the upcoming television series This Is England ’90 (“I want to make it now so they’re not all 65 when they’re meant to be 25”) and there’s a cycling film in the works too.
“I’ve got a screenplay by Billy Ivory about Tommy Simpson, which I hope to do next year. Tommy died on Mount Ventoux in the 1967 Tour de France. The Tommy Simpson film might have been made this year, but there’s been a slew of films around Lance Armstrong and Marco Pantani. It’s not that you can’t get it made, but you find there are optimum times to make certain films or else they might get lost.”
The other variable when it comes to filming is financing. “Any working director has to have a couple of ideas floating around because the nature of financing films means things can blow hot or cold.
“Of course, things are massively different to how they were 20 years ago. Back then, you’d have one financier like the BBC or Channel 4, and you might have to take some American money.
“Now, you’ll have 10 or 15 names at the beginning of a film because you’re taking 5 per cent from that pot or 10 per cent from there.
“Mark Herbert has produced my work since Dead Man’s Shoes, and he’s the mastermind when it comes to financing. It’s massively complicated and I’m not very skilled at that so I stay clear of that and leave it to Mark. He’s the numbers man.”
Gavin Clark performs in the Button Factory on Friday. The gig will be preceded by a screening of The Living Room