The Good, The Bad & The Queen’s bassist talks English Gothic, dogs and iPhones: painting with light for the master group’s new video
- TextDean Mayo Davies
“When you’re filming, if you’ve got a very good performance then you really can’t go wrong as long as you’ve got the angles, everything lined up.” Paul Simonon, The Good, The Bad & The Queen’s bassist is throwing light on the band’s new video he’s directed, The Truce of Twilight. Premiered here, it has the manner of a silent film that isn’t… silent. Such an antithesis is befitting of a group riffing on what Britishness is in 2019. It’s (a bit) complicated, isn’t it? A love letter in black ink (instead of red), where music prevails. Is the kettle on? Flick down the switch.
Made of (Blur’s) Damon Albarn; (Fela Kuti drummer) Tony Allen, (The Verve guitarist) Simon Tong and (The Clash bassist) Simonon, The Good, The Bad & The Queen marks the first time in years that Simonon’s played music, having gone back and dedicated himself to his original calling as an artist post punk. Just as his eye gave impeccable style to the guns of Brixton, he continues in creating imagery laced with visual cues and signifiers.
“Something that really influences me is film noir, English gothic films which I consider Brighton Rock, or even David Lean’s Oliver Twist and Great Expectations,” Simonon says of the band’s language. The cover of the album Merrie Land features Michael Redgrave in the Ealing Studios classic Dead of Night. His character, ventriloquist Maxwell Frere, is blighted with Hugo, a malignant, freethinking dummy. A signal all might not be so merrie after all.
“Doing this video was like painting with people,” he explains. “It’s just incredible what is possible with lights and their placement. I was reading this book called Painting with Light by John Alton. Less is more, you could say.”
The economical philosophy ran to equipment too. The Truce of Twilight was shot on iPhone, proof that if the lighting is right, everything else falls into place: there’s no need for Spielberg’s kit bag.
“A couple of shots I had my son Louis stand in for me, playing my bass with my hat on,” he continues, “because I wanted to do a moving shot and not have a track. I told him to learn the bassline the night before.
“Some of the footage on my phone didn’t have the crispness of the other phones that were the latest model. But that’s OK. After filming I thought: ‘I’m gonna upgrade’ and it only cost me 150 quid. So there was a benefit both ways,” he laughs.
The video’s spiritual predecessor is a 1960 clip of The Shadows playing. Its mood is equally indomitable, that of charismatic union. Though they don’t have a cameo from Paul’s English Toy Terriers Snoop and Peanut. The world’s forever changing, yet still the best place for a lit cigarette is a bass neck.
The Truce of Twilight is part of a collection recorded in 2018 after the result of the EU referendum, over a decade since their debut. The Good, The Bad & The Queen was actually the title of the album, a tribute to London, whilst the band was unnamed. It stuck, out of necessity.
“Me, Damon and Simon spent quite a bit of time up in Blackpool and we did some recording,” Simonon notes of Merrie Land. “Words and ideas spilt out because it’s a strange place in so far one street is almost like Las Vegas, with the lights, but behind that it’s all pound shops and people sleeping in doorways. A contrast which is probably a picture of the state of our country, in a simplistic way.
“In terms of the songs and the songs coming together, they all evolved quite naturally. I’ve always had a penchant for seaside towns in winter and in the past been out painting on location. I like that sort of melancholic joy, you could say. Alright so it’s raining but you’re not drowning and maybe it’s good for the skin.”
The group play Africa Express at the end of the month, which brings together musicians of different genres and generations to celebrate the continent. Co-founded by Albarn, who grew up in Leytonstone, it’s happening on home turf: Waltham Forest, the 2019 London Borough of Culture. After a UK tour in April, culminating at the London Palladium, the band head to mainland Europe over the summer.
“My background is pretty European and English,” Simonon reflects of upcoming travels. “Some would doubt this, but there are factors that point to the Belgae being the first English settlers. My grandfather was originally from Belgium – so maybe I’m more English than anyone else.”
Which are not the last words of our conversation – but a great place to pause it.
The Good, The Bad & The Queen’s UK tour will commence on March 30, 2019. Head here for dates and ticket information.