Mike Bamford, Founder of String and Tins take us behind the scenes of the charming advert
Ahhh the optimism and innocence of the late 1980s, summed up neatly by Stock, Aitken and Waterman’s simple pop hits. All you needed for a whole afternoon of fun was a Rubik’s cube, an etch-a-sketch and Rick Astley’s album on your Sony Walkman.
Fast forward 30 years and things seem to have got a lot more complicated….. but luckily the crafty team at Droga5 and Biscuit Filmworks’ Noam Murro are on hand to re-imagine one of their biggest hits, as a love letter from Europe to UK, for Ancestry DNA.
When String and Tins was brought on-board, the song was already locked in and we had time to experiment with different ways of combining the many voices of Europe. Should we cut between scenes? Should everyone gradually join in a growing chorus? My scribbled graph below shows our initial musical idea and i’m pleased to report that in the final reckoning we’re not far off.
Once locations (but not shot order) had been storyboarded, we demo-ed vocals in a variety of European accents. We needed to be confident that cutting between countries and groups worked musically before we set off for the shoot. I was lucky enough to be able to attend, to oversee the actors’ vocal performances and make sure the audio was captured in a way that would edit together coherently. In a world where ADR is readily available, it would have been possible to redo it all in post, but there’s something satisfyingly real about the recordings we captured on set, even though this approach presented it’s own challenges.
Recording on a creaky metal harbour, in the rain, with seagulls overhead was tricky to say the least. Our Ninja sound recordists Sergiusz, Bernard and Piotr had every base covered, utilising well shielded clip mics, a boom and in-ear music playback. Unfortunately one of the fishermen didn’t like the smell of the fish and whilst leaning over the boat edge to get some fresh air, dropped his ear-piece into the murky waters, never to be seen again. Thankfully there was a spare to hand.
There was a mixture of actors and non-professionals in the film, so we had a full day of vocal coaching to run everyone through the lyrics. In a few cases the cast weren’t English speakers at all and I had to direct them through translators. Our Italian grandmother, one of the most charming people on the shoot, had her husband write out the lyrics in Italian phonetics for her to learn.
The tram scene was particularly fun, all pretty cramped in the front carriage, driving round town at full pelt. All the gear was strapped to hand rails to protect it from falling over as we rallied round the corners and playback was wired to a second carriage with more space for everyone else to view the footage.
Safely back at String and Tins HQ, we brought together the vocal recordings and worked on bedding them into our music track. I was particularly pleased with the way the clip mics had minimised external noise in the Fishermen and echo-y reverb in the museum scenes. We had explored 3 x music routes for our music bed and ended up combining elements from each into one mega-mix-version, big ups to Rohan, Andrea and Jim! The final piece of the puzzle involved adding an orchestral section, to bring some soft brassy warmth to the middle 8 and a rousing lift in the final chorus.
We recorded full string and brass sections with The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, capturing some softer flugelhorn and solo string parts for use in the shorter versions. I know they’re professionals and they do this every day… but I don’t think I’ll ever tire of hearing an orchestra sit down and nail a piece – by sight – in the first take.
I’m very proud to have been part of this project and would like to give massive thanks to Gemma, Rick, Dan, Charlene, Natasha and the rest of the Droga5 crew for getting us involved.
Whatever your political leanings, I hope you agree that satire is important in times of change and I hope this film adds to the lighter side of the debate.
Mike Bamford is Founder of String and Tins