‘the footage is absolutely superb…it looks like an advert for the London Eye!’ – British Airways London Eye Press Office
In 2007 I received my first invitation to direct a video promo for Status Quo, after producing the commercially successful Status Quo documentary The Party Ain’t Over Yet. The song was called Beginning of the End and it was to be my first music video.
Lyrically it was superficially about politics (‘Beginning of the end’ is part of a famous wartime phrase coined by Winston Churchill[i]) with references to No. 10 and ‘we’re moving in, we’re moving out’ – Tony Blair had just been replaced by Gordon Brown as PM’s. In fact Quo bassist Rhino Edwards suggests he wrote the song about the ‘colourful’ lifestyle of Rick Parfitt, who had undergone some relationship changes of his own. But I thought the apparent political motif might have more PR mileage, especially since Status Quo could hardly be described as a ‘political’ band.
The initial (admittedly ambitious) idea was to film the band at 10 Downing Street. As they stand outside, waving to press and crowd, as though just having won the election (Rick brandishing a red ‘dispatch box’ guitar case) we cut to either Andrew Marr[ii]or Adam Boulton as they gravely announce to camera: ‘The question everyone’s asking: Is this the beginning of the end?” What follows is a romp through Downing St as the famous photos of past Prime Ministers are unceremoniously replaced with Gold discs and other rock paraphernalia – and the band clearly disagreeing about who should be leader and jostling to sit in the PM’s chair behind the big desk etc.
However, since the single release was not for a charitable cause, Downing St politely rejected the request, and a double of the property wasn’t cost effective.
Giving further thought to the circular lyrics mentioned above, and another line – ‘all change on the roundabout’ – I suggested we film the band on the biggest roundabout we could find: the London Eye. This would also give us the backdrop of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.
British Airways (BA) were happy to let us film on the Eye but limited our number of consecutive ‘flights’ to a maximum of 3 – that would give us 90 minutes to make a promo (no pressure there then). And for one of those flights we would need to have exclusive access to an adjoining capsule for exterior shots of the capsule containing the band.
I set about drawing a series of planning diagrams which broke the shoot up into clock positions with accurate estimates of where each capsule would be and the best backdrop views for that time and position. This information was also required for the cameras filming from the ground on each side of the River Thames, and dictating which side of the Eye they needed to be on minute-by-minute. Since a visitor photograph is taken on each flight, I wanted to take advantage of this as well.
The resulting schedule was hilariously complicated and wouldn’t allow for any errors of timing. I didn’t tell the band this!
Another problem was that BA didn’t want any filming of their security procedures as the band queued and boarded the Eye like any other members of the public but my own narrative would look strange without a brief shot of them doing just that so (apologies to BA) I employed a ‘mystery tourist’ who filmed the boarding incognito from within the crowd.
As the day of the shoot (Thursday August 9th, 2007) got closer, the summer weather was fairly grim. Quo has always joked that their open-air summer gigs were stalked by the ‘The Cloud’ but if we got miserable weather on the shoot day… I worried about this A LOT!
As it happened, the day of the shoot was sunshine against a gloriously blue sky – which of course meant that it was going to be VERY hot in the pods.
For a production base we had been able to hire a suite in the building directly behind The Eye and that’s where we all assembled. When boarding time arrived, I found we were to be shadowed by a GMTV crew, thought not in the main pod. All we could fit in was the band, myself, DoP Laurence Blyth, playback engineer Paul Ritz, photographer Jane Chilvers and editor Larry Catford.
This was clearly a very different exercise to the previous documentary but the band took it all in their stride. The Police sent two officers along at my request and one of them brought a carrier bag of Quo albums to be signed! There was a very strange frisson as Quo queued with other tourists of all nationalities to board the pod. Clearly many people recognised them, as witnessed by the number of mobile phones that were being brandished (at one point during the flights we realised that everyone in the adjoining pods were filming the band rather than taking in the spectacular London skyline.
For me the next 90 minutes were a blur and I really don’t have further anecdotes of the shoot itself. The band (and my crew) worked extremely hard, never complaining for a moment.
After the promo shoot we were asked to assist in filming another brief interview for GMTV on the Eye.
And then I can remember sneaking off with Rick Parfitt for a crafty cigarette.
Quo Manager Simon Porter was so happy with the final result he decided to scrub the idea of a download-only release and produced a CD of the single featuring a DVD of the promo. British Airways was equally delighted, writing in an email to me ‘the footage is absolutely superb…it looks like an advert for the London Eye!’
[ii]Andrew Marr did attend Quo’s Wembley gig that winter as an invited guest, sitting immediately behind me.