Behind the Lens with Joe Connor
It is a soft October evening, and we are sat in the vast auditorium of the Royal Festival Hall on London’s iconic Southbank. The air is thick, almost electric with atmosphere as though we were sat deep, deep underground. The weight of the greatness that has graced this stage hangs heavy in the air, as if recalled by the collective memory of the very walls. It is still, now, but in a matter of hours this great expanse will be teeming with activity. Tonight one of the luminaries of English rock and roll will play the first of two landmark-performances to celebrate the release of his brand new studio album, True Meanings.
The end of The Modfather’s restless 50s heralds the release of a new, pensive record. Having returned wearily from the global tour of A Kind of Revolution (2017), Weller decided to mark his latest offering with a different kind of spectacle. A one-off, two-date, full-album performance, accompanied by a live orchestra, to the six thousand expectant eyes of London’s Royal Festival Hall. The performance will be documented by young-director, Joe Connor, and all around us, film-crew and an extensive production team scurry in preparation.
Joe Connor, 31, has seen himself undergo a meteoric rise since his early days of shooting low-budget music videos on the back-streets of Manchester, and has this year shot blockbuster music videos for the likes of Sam Smith, Mumford & Sons and Jess Glynne, as well as shooting commercials for Land Rover, Etihad & BBC. A musician himself, Joe seems to possess an almost clairvoyant understanding of artists’ desired self-image and his, thoughtful, intriguing work has seen him three times nominated for a UKMVA, and shortlisted for both Cannes and British Arrows awards.
Q> Joe, thank you very much for taking the time to chat to me today. Let’s start with an easy one, shall we? How long have you been making films and, how did you start out?
Joe> Hello! You’re very welcome [with a gentle smile]. So, I started making films almost straight out of university. I went to the Central School of Speech and Drama to study theatre directing. I studied mime and silent theatre as a focus hoping to make pieces of theatre that told stories in images instead of using words. Through a late night job as a projectionist in a cinema in Islington I started to think about performance not on stage, but in frames and moving images... and so I began making music videos for friends and slowly started to develop my cinematic voice.
Q> Tell me a little bit about your relationship with Paul how long have you known him, and what’s it like working with such a legend?
Joe> Paul is a genius songwriter and a gentle and gracious human. I met him through a friend of mine, Andy Crofts, who plays in Paul’s band. I used to make music videos for Andy’s band The Moons and he then got me involved with Paul around 2014/15. Since then we’ve just kept in touch and spoken about different projects. Paul’s music is the bedrock of British culture but the best thing about him is his desire to push boundaries and not rest on that ‘legend’ status at all. He’s a true creative spirit. He actually inspired me to create my own album and even offered his own studio for me to work in.
Q> Yes! You’re a musician yourself! I know you released an album last year. Tell us the story there.
Joe> Yeah, I’ve always written music and played as a way of keeping my creativity piqued but upon chatting to Paul and being offered time in his studio it really galvanised me into forming these songs into a collection and curating them into one single form. I put the album out last year and it seems to be doing well. I’m proud of having undertaken something so ridiculous.
Q> So, what drew you to this project?
Joe> Well, the chance to capture a one off event like this, where I knew Paul was stepping out of his comfort zone was too good to miss. Plus the album, Aspects, is a stone cold classic. Songs like Books and May Love Travel With You are astounding pieces of work, it’s English folk music at its best.
Q> This is your first feature-length project too, how did it differ from the short-form of music video direction?
Joe> All expression has its medium. So it’s not that a longer form project is better or worse but just that it has different facets. The joy in this project was to capture the on stage and the off stage, to reflect the two sides of the artist from the consummate showman onstage to the inquisitive, creative, explorative human in rehearsals. This project came with an element of risk for Paul and that was something that I thought was so interesting, I knew that this show scared him. As you’d expect though, his anxiety belies his genius and he pulled it off perfectly.
Q> You’ve been flying over the last couple of years, what’s next for Joe Connor?
Joe> I like the idea of staying creatively nimble. I don’t like to ask the universe for certain types of projects, but enjoy the surprise of what presents itself so I’m not making any formal plans except to enjoy telling stories about people, characters, to reveal drama in subtle ways and to continue my visual education in the human condition.
Q> Finally, what (if any) advice would you have to young film directors starting out?
Joe> I really think the best advice is from the old sage Becket: Ever tried, ever failed, no matter, try again, fail again, fail better. It just sums up what happens to all of us; we all fail upwards. So don’t be afraid of failure, or even let fear stunt you into in-action. Another old Chinese saying: if you can’t see the snakes, beat the grass. To me this means, if you don’t know the way forward, energy, movement, instinct will present the way. The art of doing will always guide you so my advice is to keep doing and not to get too caught up in what people think about you, or your work, or how many likes or hits it got.
The film hits cinemas across the country on February 28th for a one night only screening. Book tickets here.