Justine Catterall - Paul Weller at The O2
08 May 2009 09.30 BST
Justine Catterall talked to Mark Cunningham about her video production for a one-off Paul Weller show at the O2 that gave a distinctive new edge to the modfather’s live presence...
Pinstripe-suited and sporting his trademark feather cut, he walked on stage looking every inch the cool style icon... and left it grinning from ear to ear, a sweaty, satisfied hero.
This wasn’t the same Paul Weller we saw in Southend last year when he introduced his latest album, 22 Dreams, and a new touring line-up. This was a re-energised model, revived by fresh confidence in what 21st century production savvy can bring to the party — after years of resistance.
March 21 saw the former Jam & Style Council frontman play his first headline show at London’s O2 Arena. Featuring The Wired Strings and a brass section, this was a one-off affair that for the first time in Weller’s career featured a full-on video production with superb content created especially for the gig by Justine Catterall, enhanced by Jonny Gaskell’s lighting design and Matt Askem’s live camera cut.
Backstage at the O2, whilst wincing at the fate of her beloved Welsh rugby team against victorious Ireland, Miss Catterall explained how she made her entrance into Weller’s world in a creative director’s role.
“Paul’s very good friends with Oasis and he knew I’d worked with them,” she said. “I also knew a couple of his people socially, including Roger Nowell, his backline guy, who suggested me. I think enough people might have mentioned my name!”
Weller toured video for the first time last year in the form of a 16 x 9 Barco MiTrix block but very little time and expense went into the actual content. Playing in such a large space as The O2, however, it was inevitable that the visual design would have to be expanded.
“Initially, they were talking to me from a content point of view and I was overflowing with ideas because 22 Dreams is such an evocative album,” said Catterall.
“The cover image is constructed from a number of photographs and I think that must have triggered the design which is like a single surface that’s exploded into small pieces and frozen halfway through that explosion. It was a case of taking that 16 x 9 block a big step forward.”
The eventual fragmented look was achieved with 36 panels of MiTrix LED screen arranged at jaunty angles, suspended on three overstage trusses, providing additional depth and dimension to the stage.
“I met Paul once to see if we gelled and that was all good,” continued Catterall. “Then I went back a week later with my design and a bunch of ideas for video content. I told them that I could either just be responsible for the content that went on the screen, or I could come in as the creative director and deliver the full package.
“Paul’s always been a very raw performer and this was going to be a huge move for him, so I think he was slightly cautious of it looking too polished. But he relaxed a lot more when I gave him the option of moving back to the simple 16 x 9 block if he hated what he saw in production rehearsals at Black Island Studios.
“Once he signed off the design, the ideas came flooding in because there’s so much you can do with it.
“What’s equally fascinating is that there’s a different view from every seat. Front on, you get more of a picture; further around the sides, you get this really mad perspective thing going on.”
Although Catterall worked alongside the I-Mag video director Matt Askem, the two didn’t cross paths creatively.
“I have some camera pictures going up on my screens but I chose to use five robot cameras on stage [operated by Joe Makin] rather than Matt’s six cameras.
“In this instance I just didn’t think that you could do justice to both
areas with one set of cameras — the concern is that one becomes a slave to the other.”
Content-wise, Catterall used existing material for two numbers from 22 Dreams. “There was a beautiful promo made for ‘Echoes Round The Sun’ with some great, fast-cut effects, so I asked for the rushes and I’ve worked in elements of them. The other number is ‘Have You Made Up Your Mind’, which plays with the album cover artwork and I reconfigured it for this screen format.
“Other than that, all the content came from my head through listening to the music, coming up with visual ideas, putting them down as stills, getting them approved by Paul and then making them as video pieces to be uploaded to two Catalyst servers.
“Paul’s brief was ‘Modern Psychedelia’. He didn’t want to go back to the Mod thing. He’s more interested in moving forward. It’s really exciting that he’s on an up again — he’s got a great new album, a new band and I think he’s leapt forward musically... and now visually as well.”
The Robocam images adorned the screens from early on in the set but nine songs in, ‘Porcelain Gods’ heralded the start of the new video content. This featured a subtle blend of I-Mag and vibrant, multi-coloured playback which spread from the MiTrix tiles out to the O2’s Arenamation LED signage system — a spectacular effect that surrounded the entire arena.
“I wanted to let Jonny Gaskell’s lighting breathe for a while before the main video content came in,” said Catterall. “I think that’s important — video shouldn’t be on all the time. It’s such a big, amazing effect that gets diluted if you use it too much.
“In fact, on this, we often just use a few sections of the screen panorama, or just the centre panel. On one song, ‘Sea Spray’, we don’t have any content but we light through the MiTrix panels instead.”
Lighting a screen but not feeding any video content to it? “Yes, I know it’s not the kind of thing you’d expect to hear a video producer say but that’s the creative director talking!”
Taking the literal route for the nu-tango of ‘One Bright Star’ was not Catterall’s style. “I didn’t want to go for the obvious castanets and flowing Spanish skirts. Instead, I hired a dancer who does an amazing dance with a swirling silky dress. She’s like a butterfly moth with massive bright red hair.
“Another nice moment comes in ‘Push It Along’ which is a very ‘chuggy’ song and I thought about emphasising that with images of cogs and pistons, all cut to the music.”
XL Video supplied all the hardware including the Barco MiTrix LED tiles, Catalyst control, two camera systems, projection and PPU, project managed by Des Fallon. Stuart Heaney was chief of the XL crew which included Catalyst operator Richard Stembridge, projection tech John Hooker, video engineer Dean Ruffy and screens rigger Chris ‘Carrot’ Harris.
Matt Askem’s I-Mag mix was beamed to two 25’ x 15’ side screens by Barco FLM20 projectors.
“It was a very ambitious design to conceive and achieve in a one-off scenario,” commented XL’s project manager Des Fallon, “Justine showed a lot of creative daring in going for it rather than playing safe with something conventional, while our crew worked seamlessly to make it happen in the really tight timeframe.”
SOUND & LIGHTS
Long-time Weller FOH engineer Ange Jones mixed the gig on a Digidesign Venue D-Show console, supplied by regular rental company Canegreen who rigged a main/bleacher PA of Meyer Sound self-powered Milo line array cabinets, with Mica boxes and 600HP subs on delays, and a front fill of Micas and M’elodies, and 700HP ground row subs.
Annette Guilfoyle engineered monitors from a Yamaha PM5D, sending mixes to self-powered PSM wedges, and Lab.gruppen-amplified EAW SM15 wedges and a SB412 drum fill. Mike Savage was system tech.
Neg Earth supplied all lighting including 30 VL3000 spots, 38 MAC 2000 washes, six MAC IIIs, six 4.5kW Big Lites, 16 Atomic strobes, 34 2-lite Molephays and 36 Source Fours — run by Jonny Gaskell from a Wholehog II and wing.
Weller more than made his point with his solo material at the gig, both with his new album tracks and ’90s gems such as ‘You Do Something To Me’ (dedicated to lovers everywhere) and the tastefully re-worked, almost trip-hop ‘Wild Wood’.
But his inclusion of a ferocious ‘Eton Rifles’, along with ‘Shout To The Top’ and the roof-raising ‘Town Called Malice’ suggested that, bit by bit, he appears to be gradually mellowing to the idea of embracing earlier examples of his 32-year back catalogue and dragging them into the present.
The retro additions didn’t include ‘Going Underground’, but it was just as well. With the Jubilee Line out of action that night (and all the frustration that went with it) it might have incited a riot!
Louise Stickland & Mark Cunningham