Promonews - 17th Feb 2020

He's sleazy, greasy, a bit scary, and not well at all... that's Baxter Dury in two memorably scuzzy videos by Tom Haines - who tells us about how these contrasting yet complementary videos for Slumlord and I'm Not Your Dog came about.

These two new videos mark a welcome return to music video after a long hiatus by Tom Haines, who has previously directed acclaimed videos for the likes of Jon Hopkins, Nick Cave, New Order, White Denim and Tunng.

The video for Dury's Slumlord - his first for nearly four years - is studio-based and highly stylised, and takes an unapologetically lurid approach to the compelling character at the heart of Dury's narrative song.  

That was closely followed by Haines' video for I'm Not Your Dog, which takes a quite different, very cinematic approach. It's created like a moment from a longer narrative, filmed on a Meditteranean beach at dawn. But it is also a vehicle for another of Dury's supremely seedy characters.

So we asked Tom Haines for the background info on this particular morning glory - and it's theatrical predecessor...

PROMONEWS: How did your long-awaited return to music videos with these two Baxter Dury videos happen?

TOM HAINES: The Slumlord video was more of a straight pitch, although I’d been bugging everyone to try and work with him for a while as I’m a fan. But in both cases we had some long and sprawling conversations more than written treatments, and from that we found some nuggets to start creating ideas around. I’ve managed to have that approach with a few artists I’ve worked with and it’s way more satisfying than going in cold with an idea you hope they might click with.

I’d been bugging everyone to try and work with Baxter for a while - I’m a fan.

You clearly understand his performing persona very well, so do you have any ‘previous’ with Baxter?

Ha, no, not that I know of. But I think for whatever reason we’ve hit it off and found a good place creatively, or maybe there’s shared interests - hard to say.

I think a lot of it is down to him being open and accessible, and with it being more of a performance thing, me trying to match that openness too. It’s his persona on screen and he has to own it, so I wanted him to be 100% comfortable with it. The great thing about Baxter is he’s excited about the result, he’s an active collaborator, he brings a lot to it - which is refreshing.

Above: Baxter Dury in character on the set of the Slumlord video: somewhere between "'80s Serge Gainsbourg" and "Zoolander’s Derelicte look."

Can you explain the process of turning the character of the Slumlord in the song to his on-screen incarnation? How much cajoling did it take for Baxter to make him so horrible?

Baxter’s thing is characters. He is a character, each song presents a kind of a character. So he was up for pushing that and embracing it. So in reality, very little cajoling, he was just enjoying it, and giving us free rein to push it.

We talked about things like '80s Serge Gainsbourg, Night Of The Hunter, Biggie Smalls, and Zoolander’s Derelicte look... so a pretty heady cocktail which all fed into it. 

How did you arrive at the idea of creating the Slumlord’s world in a studio space? What were the challenges with that approach?

This was my first video in ages, and I wanted to break with the past in a way. I wanted to play with something more expressive and less bound by realism.

[Slumlord] is supposed to be this weird inverted hip-hop video... but it also somehow reminds me of Bottom.

We had small budget so the idea of these negative space sets came about and then, using different colour tones to define them. It’s a tricky approach as you’re filling a large studio with just a few items, but once you embrace the theatricality of that, it’s freeing.

It was supposed to be this weird inverted hip-hop video, with the pennies as bling, the car, the dancers and so on, in a "Downtown 81" world - but it also somehow reminds me of Bottom. Baxter has a rich sense of humour, luckily. 

The ‘chorus’ is so important as a foil for Baxter – as in most of his songs – and they are crucial to the success of the Slumlord video. How did you cast the chorus?

We worked with a brilliant choreographer Anna Engerström who also cast it, the brief was to cast more on personality in a way, than looks - it was about what they could bring as dancers, what ideas they had. Again playing with this hip-hop/new jack swing vibe, but just throwing a whole load of left-field energy at it, so it comes off weird and a bit disturbing.

Filling a large studio with just a few items is a tricky approach, but once you embrace the theatricality, it’s freeing.

Was it the original plan to make two videos? Or has the I’m Not Your Dog promo happened as a result of your collaboration with Slumlord?

I was tied up with some other projects when they were trying to figure out [what they were doing on] I’m Not Your Dog. But for whatever reason that stalled and I became free again, and then it was so fast.

We got on the phone and talked through some tiny strands of ideas I had, and then literally a week later we were all in Benidorm prepping for the shoot. Having been in the world of film development for a while, that kind of helter-skelter turnaround is pretty liberating.

You mentioned the influence of Serge Gainsbourg on Baxter’s work – is he channelling Serge in the I’m Not Your Dog video, or some other character?

He calls himself, or maybe people call him, the Cockney Gainsbourg, and maybe there’s a bit of that. But the character is more this kind of faded European club owner. He’s a construct - the rest is Baxter. 

We got on the phone and talked through some ideas... a week later we were all in Benidorm.

What was the germ of the idea you had when you heard I’m Not Your Dog that you discussed on the phone with Baxter?

I think I had a sketch of the location, and an element of his character, but then Baxter was mentioning an old Alain Delon film, and it kind of blended into that. So he became Alain, the ruined nightclub owner left for dead in off-season Benidorm. We talked about other films too, and I sent him Killing Of A Chinese Bookie, which he loved the look of, and that was something to draw from - it was all about finding the fine line between decadence and sleaze. 

Although Slumlord requires Baxter to play the character, I’m Not Your Dog required a different level of performance from him – proper acting. How confident were you (and how confident was he) that it was going to work?

It’s funny, we didn’t get into too much detail until the shoot, and he’s so busy with tour and promo stuff, but I wrote a whole backstory and Baxter responded to that. But I think, just having spent some time with him, that he’s a natural performer in any situation, so it really wasn’t a stretch in my head. For him, he’s always saying, 'I’ll do my thing’ - but I felt I could push or pull him in the right direction.

We knew we wanted to stop just before the sun came up fully - so we started an hour and a half before that good light to rehearse 

It’s a one-shot, filmed at what appears to be the perfect moment of the day - how did you achieve that? Did you need many takes did you get to nail it? 

This is a shoot that very nearly didn’t happen. There was a huge storm coming in on the actual shoot day, and for a moment we were like: that could look cool on camera, but the police called our fixer and warned us against shooting, so we pulled it forwards and shot at dawn.

It is hairy. The single shot idea means it’s way more finite, and you are at the mercy of a few factors. We knew we wanted to stop just before the sun came up fully, as the light starts looking too ordinary, and also the beach lights turn off. So we started an hour and a half before that good light to rehearse, and also get some safety shots just using the beach lighting. We only got two in this good light, and this was the penultimate.

There was a huge storm coming in on the shoot day... so we pulled it forwards and shot at dawn.

I need to add that once the storm came in, the airport shut and we spent the next day driving 800 KM to try and outrun the storm and get home. Baxter was with us the whole time, and if there was ever someone you wanted to be stuck in a storm in Benidorm with, it’s Baxter. I have a funny video of us dancing with some Spanish grannies after a bit of blitz spirit drinking.

Did you have an alternative plan if this one didn’t work out?

We’d sourced a couple of other locations for weather cover, but it would have been such a different video, way more average. So I’m really glad we didn’t fall back on those. But it’s a very strange feeling when you wrap at 8am having only been working for two hours. 

I wrote a whole backstory [for the character] and Baxter responded... he's a natural performer.

Steve Annis was the DoP on this one. What did Steve bring to the project? 

I haven’t worked with Steve in a couple of years and he’s done some huge projects in the interim, so he’s become very slick in terms of organising his crew, his vision and so on. But beyond that, he’s just super generous. He came out for free, he had an instinct that it would be a good project. He’s also done a few one-takes before, so that experience was invaluable in terms of making it achievable, and being realistic about what we needed. 

Not so much about the video-making process, but Baxter of course has a famous father. Did Ian Dury ever come up in your conversations ? Do you think he is an influence on the fact Baxter has increasingly gone for a character-based approach to his music?

Baxter volunteered some stories, but I didn’t want to ask him too much about that, as he’s so much an artist in his own right. But he’s quite self-reflexive about it, especially because he’s writing a book at the moment about his childhood. So I think he has a lot of it swimming around his head. I don’t honestly know how much it directly influences his music, or his characters, but it seems he’s lived a quixotic life full of characters, which probably emanate from that.

• This has been a co-production by Promonews and Agile Films

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    Promonews - 17th Feb 2020

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