Sports Team 'Happy (God's Own Country)' by Georgina Cammalleri
Rob Ulitski - 23rd Apr 2021
Georgina Cammalleri digs deep into the intricacies of British folk tradition, and sends Sports Team spinning into a Wicker Man-esque frenzy, in her video for Happy (God's Own Country).
The song - it's the band's first since the release of their Mercury-nominated debut album Deep Down Happy - is a scattershot vision of Post-Brexit Britain, and Cammalleri uses that as the jumping-off point for an irreverent metaphor, transporting viewers back to a "Merrie" old England, that is really not merry at all.
After a crop failure, things move quickly down a path where old superstition and rituals take control. And when you have a ritual, you generally need a sacrifical lamb. Or in this case, a bear.
The band play their part in these proceedings with rumbuncious energy and vigour - led by uninhibited frontman Alex Rice as the on-his-uppers squire (ostensibly playing the Christopher Lee role in The Wicker Man) and keyboardist Ben Mack, playing the 'straw bear', who's purpose is to bring back good fortune.
DoP Pieter Snyman creates a surreal, dreamlike energy to this fastmoving narrative through a heavy use of zooms and handheld camerawork, replicating the mood of the cult 1973 British film. And it all builds to a chaotic finale, as the band and the Morris dancers - led by the shamanistic Phoenix Man - and head towards a big bonfire for the final ritual.
So if anyone asks you if you want to wear a Straw Bear outfit, you should definitely refuse.
GEORGINA CAMMALLERI ON MAKING THE SPORTS TEAM 'HAPPY (GOD'S OWN COUNTRY)' VIDEO:
What was the process after you heard the song? Did you want to make a Wicker Man-style video, and then started going deeper into British folk culture? Or the other way around?
GC: When I listen to a song, I try to find a world that resonates with the band or the song, lyrically or musically. When I heard Happy, the idea of our small island – isolated post-Brexit and further isolated by the pandemic - came to mind. This idea of our world being reduced to our borough, village, street… made me think of that village-type mentality. It made me think of that song Village Green Preservation Society by the Kinks, as well as The Wicker Man, and how they receive an outsider (the detective). They’re all tongue-in-cheek observations of that British village mentality which drew me to it, especially as the band are also somewhat dry-witted and tongue-in-cheek, so tonally those worlds felt right.
This idea of our world being reduced to our borough, village, street… made me think of that village-type mentality.
Once I had found my grounding and setting, I started to look at how I could give it a twist or an angle to elevate it further. That’s when I began watching countless archive clips of English folklore traditions on the BFI database and also the documentary Arcadia by Paul Wright. People have asked me if I’m referencing Midsommar and to my shame, I haven’t seen that film!
What is the origin of the Straw Bear character that Ben plays in the video? Is that actually a thing?
During that research, I came across a quirky tradition from Whittlesea called the Straw Bear Festival. This was rooted to a 15th century agricultural practice called 'Plough Monday, which involved parading a man dressed in a straw costume to raise money around town before they end up burning an effigy of it. I thought it’d be interesting to add this to the story about what sacrifices are made in the face of a ‘bad harvest’; in our modern case, the bad harvest being Brexit and Covid.
I saw the photos of the costume from this tradition and it looked iconic - strange but also quite amusing. I’d noticed that in previous Sports Team videos Ben was quite deadpan in his expression, which I found very funny. I thought it’d be amusing to put him in the costume because it’s so rurally outlandish and yet he’s so deadpan.
So was a Straw Bear expert involved in making the ‘straw suit’ for Ben?
I reached out to the Straw Bear Festival organisers to see if they could create this costume – thought it’d be a neat idea to have it properly, traditionally weaved. The main organiser was extremely helpful but declined into being directly involved, as they felt it would cause a stir in their village. Apparently, they had fought quite hard to re-instate the festival which was deemed pagan by the church and my treatment’s heavy Wicker Man reference would certainly 'reignite debate', in their opinion.
I wanted to put Ben in the costume because it’s so rurally outlandish and yet he’s so deadpan.
At that point I was reassured that idea was perfect for the song as the themes from ST’s lyrics were almost playing out in real life. But I was also slightly stressed not knowing who could pull off such an intricate costume made with flimsy straw. Luckily Kashmir Wickham came to the rescue and, with guidance from the Straw Bear organisers, was able to create it. We did find that various other countries around the world also have a similar tradition involving men in ‘straw suits’ and that it’s not unique to the UK.
There’s the Morris dancing element - with Sports Team joining in, and looking like they know what they’re doing. How did you make that happen?
I also noticed was how much Alex likes to move and perform. Rather than keeping it rooted in narrative alone, I thought finding a dance that belonged to this world would be good for Alex and the band, and would also inject the video with an energy that goes with the tempo but still keeps it in that folklore world.
I sent about 20 emails to various Morris sides in London and only two got back to me. The Phoenix Morris group [based in Rickmansworth] were so generous and game for anything, so they became part of our team. Then the band learned the steps via Zoom before the dress rehearsal. There was a moment during the shoot when we had finished a take of the dance and we kept saying “Cut” - but they all kept dancing, as if they had been possessed by the spirit of Morris.
We said “cut” but they all kept dancing - as if they had been possessed by the spirit of Morris.
Where did you shoot the video, and what was the key to getting everything you needed for the storyline?
We shot the video in Amersham and in a charming place called The Chiltern Open Air Museum where they have medieval barns, cottages and a small church kept and preserved there. The locations were perfect because they struck that right balance between an arcadia feel against that small-village mentality – it felt very Wicker Man.
Is this a comedy, or a horror – or something else entirely?
Depends how much it made you chuckle… I’d say it’s a dark folk comedy.
Rob Ulitski - 23rd Apr 2021
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Rob Ulitski - 23rd Apr 2021