Strange sights at a Hastings music video shoot

From left: James Traherne, Sonya Cullingford and Augustina Seymour. Photo by Lawrence Smith
From left: James Traherne, Sonya Cullingford and Augustina Seymour. Photo by Lawrence Smith

London-based folk-pop outfit The Greeners created some surreal scenes in Hastings last Sunday (February 2) during the shoot for their new music video.

The filming of ‘Old Street’ took place in Gotham Alley, next to The Printworks, and featured three musicians performing strange, slow-motion dance routines while dressed up in rather sharp suits.

From left: Mark French, Ben Cole, Justin McCarron, Bindu De Stoppani (front), Cathy McKinnon, Debs Hall and India Park. Photo by Lawrence Smith

From left: Mark French, Ben Cole, Justin McCarron, Bindu De Stoppani (front), Cathy McKinnon, Debs Hall and India Park. Photo by Lawrence Smith

Passersby might have spotted the band playing their instruments, holding old photographs up to their faces or even getting lifted away by white party balloons.

The quirky yet poignant video is directed by Hastings-based filmmaker Bindu De Stoppani who also directed the 2017 comedy drama Finding Camille, as well as the romantic 2012 movie Jump.

It stars the band members Sonya Cullingford (violinist and vocalist), Augustina Seymour (cellist) and James Traherne (guitarist and vocalist).

“I was introduced to The Greeners by one of the musicians that recorded the album with them called Justin (McCarron),” said Bindu, speaking to the Hastings Observer during the crew’s lunch break. “He’s the line producer on this and he sent me the song.”

“The music is right up my street,” she continued. “I had a meeting with the band and we talked about various ideas and the inspiration I might have had from listening to it, and what their ideas were around their vision of the song and what the song meant to them. Through that I created a sort of mood board of pictures and photographs.”

The main idea then emerged, one of a woman singing about her childhood, what it meant to revisit that, and what a child might think of her adult self.

“There’s a sort of child-like melancholy that runs through it,” said Bindu, highlighting the symbolic use of balloons and revealing that there will be one dance sequence where the woman duets with her younger self.

So why did the musicians and filmmakers choose Hastings?

“I’ve lived here for the past 13 years and quite a lot of the crew are from here,” said Bindu. “There’s the DoP Ben Cole, he lives here in Hastings, and Mark French who’s the gaffer, Justin McCarron the line producer and Cathy McKinnon who stylised this shoot and did production design.”

“We’re all local and the band are from London, and we just thought ‘well, it’s easier to shoot down here’.”

Practicalities aside, the look of Hastings, particularly of Gotham Alley, was an important factor too.

“We thought that would look great with the fire escapes,” said Bindu. “Some of the themes around this had a West Side Story-esque feel and I think this alleyway definitely has that.”

“We wanted to merge the grittiness of Gotham Alley, and the location with the graffiti, with something that was much more polished and aesthetic.”

Organising the shoot was a real community effort. The Printworks offered the cast and crew a space to work from on the day and let them film the band’s live gig there the night before (Saturday, February 1). The alley association also gave them permission to film outside and various shops donated costumes.

The gig footage from the night before could become part of the music video but nothing’s certain at the moment.

“We have so much footage for this new music video that frankly we could shoot a ten-minute, 15-20 minute music video,” said Bindu. “It was just nice to have that contrast, should we need it, to have something that has an audience in it and a live moment.”

“We dressed it and it looked beautiful. It had fairy lights and candles and it just looked very atmospheric.”

Whether the live footage gets used or not, Bindu explained that the atmospheric lighting techniques would definitely be used for the evening shoot in the alleyway.

“Once it gets dark we’re going to light it a bit more like West Side Story,” she said. “Sort of La La Land meets West Side Story.”

“Sonya, the lead singer, has a big dance number. She’s going to be coming down the fire escape with an umbrella and she’s going to have some fairy lights so we need it to be dark.”

“We’ve had some great support and such great talent,” she added. “We’re really shooting this music video as if it was £100,000 budget, really going for it and making it look really lush and glorious.”

Sonya said that it’s been rewarding but challenging to give control of this project to someone else.

“A lot of our previous videos have been made on a complete shoestring by us, for us, with friends,” she explained. “This is still with friends but, essentially, we’ve got a bunch of professionals doing what we would usually do for us. That’s great but it’s also really difficult to hand it over.”

However, Sonya, who is a professional actor and dancer as well, has been in charge of the choreography for this piece.

“It’s all very simple and slow and we all come from a performance background, not just music, so I think it’s all in our skill-set.”

“I’ve always loved folk,” said Sonya, when asked about the band’s music. “I think our vocal combination lends itself very much to folk and folk-related pop music, but I don’t think folk has to be excluding in any way. It could be seen as this kind of ‘olde worlde’, fusty, traditional thing, but I think we’re trying to recontextualise it by making it a little bit more of a popular music style. And we do use a lot of different sounds and timbres and rhythms and beats and stuff like that. We’ve been called contemporary bluegrass before because we use an upright bass sometimes. We use piano, we use a sax, we use a drumkit...we’re a big mixture.”

Guitarist James agreed: “People have said a few things about us. People have said we’re like Fleet Foxes, people have said Fleetwood Mac, people have said folk, or that we’re just like a classical folk band.

“But actually I don’t think we really do sound like that,” he added, explaining that folk is a rather broad term. “Someone said The Beautiful South the other day but then that’s because they wrote a lot of songs with male and female vocals.”

So what ambitions does the band have at this point?

“The overall goal would be total world domination obviously,” James laughed. “Aside from total world domination, well we just want to be playing more festivals and have a bigger profile. Like anyone nowadays it’s very hard. Music’s incredible because it’s so varied now but also the music industry’s kind of disappeared or become homogenised.”

“We’re trying to make the music we love making but we also hope that it reaches a wider audience,” he added. “That’s what we’d like to do – maybe make enough to buy ourselves a drink.”

For the moment though, like the other cast and crew, Justin said he was simply thrilled with the video and the location.

“I haven’t been to Hastings for a long time, so it’s great to be here,” he explained. “I think it’s an amazing place. I mean I came down with my daughter yesterday and just thought the architecture was incredible, so many beautiful buildings, and this alley where we’re filming, we’re really lucky because it looks great and it really sets off the song well.”

Find out more about The Greeners at www.thegreeners.org or follow the band on Twitter or Facebook.

Inspiring workshops with Claire Martin and Guy Chambers: Hastings International Piano Festival. Click here to read more.

Craig David at The Oval: R&B and garage legend announced for Southern Sunset Festival. Click here to read more.

Judy Collins and the James Taylor Quartet, review: St Mary in The Castle, Hastings. Click here to read more.