Making The Cover Art for ‘In All Weather’

On April 22nd 2019, celebrated music photographer Cat Stevens visited the Isle of Bute & spent the best part of two days shooting Josienne for the cover of her new Rough Trade LP ‘In All Weather’, out on November 8th 2019.

This is the end result…

Here’s a small gallery of other shots Cat took that are being used in press or on the inner sleeve of the album or singles.

There’s plenty of other stunning shots that Cat took. I hope they make it out into the world on a future release or poster or something because they are truly brilliant, but I can’t share them yet, because they’re not mine to do that with. Do make sure you visit Cat’s website & instagram. She is one of the truly great music photographers, she wrote the rulebook, defined a look for a generation.

Something that IS mine to share, though, is the results of the location scouting that Josienne & I did ahead of the shoot with Cat. JC had a really clear idea of what she wanted. That blue of the album sleeve? You can see how that’s the colour of the skies over the island, which is where the album was written & kind of what it was written about. She knew that from day one, we looked in B&Q for a card of that colour, but really the answer was just copy it from the sky.

She imagined herself partially submerged by the ocean, at once inside it and on top of it. Neither triumphantly emerging nor being drowned, just, existing alongside it, both her & it simply being what they are.

She described a hazy, clean, blue-grey horizon. She talked about a wooden structure, and early on, described it made in the sand in driftwood, perhaps a boat, ruined then discovered.

Eventually, she realised that the world had done the work for her and that the ruined pier at Port Bannatyne could be an ideal location.

They say Bute used to be a popular holiday resort for the well-heeled travelling nobility of Scotland and accordingly, the island is littered with the tattered relics of a faded past, once a glorious seaside holiday destination to brag about, now ‘just’ a quiet, low-key island getting on with being itself. Nothing sad about it, though; Bute changed and carried on existing, grew, adapted and seems to be thriving nowadays. If that isn’t a perfect image to backdrop Josienne’s inscrutable expression on the cover, then I don’t know what is.

She bought that red coat knowing exactly the shade that would set her against the sky, stand out from the landscape whilst standing right inside it.

And we explored that coastline for days, looking for the right place to make this image. We shot some tests & sat with Cat and a tumeric latte on the morning of the first day of the shoot. Here’s a gallery from our early excursions, exploring the shore & finding out how the sky would look. She didn’t have the red coat yet and we hadn’t realised how perfect the pier would be. We just tried a few different things.

Then we decided to try the pier out and this is what we found.

There’s a bloke who lives in Port Bannatyne called John Williams, he’s one of those perfect photographers, everything he does is beautiful & he shoots this pier a lot. I felt kind of cowed even going near it with a camera, in his backyard, but he’s a solid artist (you can buy a book of some of his best work from his twitter profile and I strongly suggest you do) and he did not seem to mind, so that was inspiring & empowering. Thankyou, John!

And you can see how close I came; no cigars for me but no shame either. A few different colour treatments & some better framing and technique & I’d be good to go.

Here’s one from the same day, Josienne found me in front of a perfect pantone 2717 sky in my christmas socks with Barney the ratcatcher sniffing for a different kind of treasure on the beautiful beaches of Bute.

And here’s the finished product. You can pre-order ‘In All Weather’ from Rough Trade Records & on Friday 8th November, it will be live, streaming on all platforms. So much hard love went into this piece of art. My own part was infinitesimally small but I’m so proud that I got to see it happen & I hope you enjoy listening to & looking at it as much as I do.

Making ‘In All Weather’…

I spent a week in January 2019 exploring the hypnotic topography that surrounds Watercolour Music, an exceptional recording studio nestled in a perfect location among the valleys & rivers near Fort William at the foot of the majestic Ben Nevis.

Rough Trade Records artist Josienne Clarke had assembled a band of musicians to hone her latest solo LP ‘In All Weather’ and I tagged along, documenting proceedings through my lens.

Since I wasn’t performing on the record, I had plenty of time to wander the breath-taking landscape surrounding the facility. I took these long, wide, colourful & sweeping photographs of the mountains, lakes & hills alongside close-up shots of the objects I found inside the studio. The connection between these sharply contrasting viewpoints seemed an integral part of the way the music was made.

I felt privileged to witness an artist of Josienne’s calibre create her craft and a strange, unexpected sense of isolation, of being apart from things in a way I could not really understand. I had a powerful compulsion to express that in the only way I knew how, and this set of photographs is my attempt to justify my own presence in such a heady, inspiring & intimidating atmosphere. I left better than arrived, having discovered that everyone was a part of this, in their own way. I learned how to be kinder to myself, how to give myself credit for what I was rather than punish myself for what I might never be. This is a still from the video diary I shot that week, that became the video for the first single from Josienne’s LP, ‘If I Didn’t Mind’. You can read her discussion about the meaning of that song here and I recommend you do so. It’s a harrowing but incredibly important read.

Josienne had a direct line of sight to the summit as she performed the vocal, guitar, recorder & saxophone parts on the record, isolated in a sound-proofed room, alone yet connected to the landscape in ways I could never explain. To see her wrestle with her incisive, emotional lyrics as she stared out of the window at the mountain was a powerful thing that my video for her song tried to capture. Or maybe, she was looking at me, all weather clad against the cold. Or perhaps she had seen one of the many wild animals that roam the sparse landscape around the studio. I felt, at the time, that it made little difference – I was all of those things, too. It’s funny how quickly one becomes nothing but a wild roaming animal or a part of the scenery.

These foam spikes, attached all over the walls & hallways of Watercolour Music, are part of keeping the sound on the inside in, and perhaps some of the outside out. They worked well for Sonny Johns, the bass player & co-producer; he can hear all the better what notes he should play, how hard & for how long. I also feel they also work the other way around, too – they protect the pristine forest & lakes from the intensity of the music. Absorb some of it, lessen it, soften it. If you hear the album, you might need some of that for yourself.

Elliot Galvin, famed jazz pianist, struck chords on the copper strings of the baby grand with those same mountains right in his eye-line. Listen carefully and I think you’ll hear the distant majesty of the ice, snow & altitude in the notes he conjured with his hands. You can see the hammered brass of one of Dave Hamblett’s cymbals and the torn cloth & rusted screws inside a harmonium. Mary Ann Kennedy played the harp on the record but I didn’t take any photographs of that. I was too busy listening.

The sense of scale felt all out of kilter with reality that week. I felt both incredibly grounded, examining every life decision I had made up until the point that led me to that room at that time, and untethered, free to roam this wild & vast land, miles from anywhere, just another wild white hare. Either too close or too far away. It was beautiful & it was sickening & I wasn’t expecting that dissonance. I’m not sure I always coped well, but in retrospect, I think that anyone would be the same, with the microscope of sound & self-examination that such an environment fosters. It’s hard not to disappear, seasick, down a hole, and everyone but the properly grownup kids do it. This is an underpass at Fort William that leads from the wild to that strange distant town. The lights a landing strip on some island of lonely familiarity.

This next photograph was a favourite vantage point of mine, that week. Away from the proximity to lifetimes devoted to being the very best musician a human being could ever be, close but no cigar to every dream of mine. I just have to have different dreams, or work harder. And I knew the folks the other side of the wall feel the same; it’s really not a grand prize. Being a professional musician is, in many ways, a total shit sandwich. It’s a human way to be, never satisfied, always filled with regret, greener grasses behind unscalable fences. Maybe the most important lesson I learned that week was not to take that out on others & to show the resolve to change it rather than wallow. That hurt was mine. Nobody did this to me but me. I can change it, if I want to. I can be anything I want and so can you. Just make you’re a maker. I wasn’t, then, but I am now. And I’d like to thank Josienne for helping me find that strength. This is the view at the place that I started to realise that she was right.

Here’s the video I made that week. I shot it on an iPhone, an old Canon DSLR & an old military rangefinder. If you look, in some scenes, you can see the scale in the glass of the viewer. It’s not mine, it belonged to Nick, the engineer on the record & he left it lying around so I played around with it. I hope it gives a flavour of what it was like to be there, in that room & outside of it, with those musicians. A rare thing that I will never be grateful enough for & I just hope what I made goes someway towards letting other people peek in, too.

The album comes out on the 8th November 2019. You can pre-order it here.

I hope you enjoy the album, the video, my photographs & this piece of writing about all of it. Thanks for reading. Here’s the last photograph I took at Watercolour Music in January 2019. Look carefully and you’ll see a tiny seabird, all part of the same landscape as the rest of us.