Tim Pope directs video for new track by Tim Burgess

Burgess is in angelic form in the beautifully shot video for The Ascent of the Ascended, which features on a new EP by the singer. We talk to the duo about making the promo and more

The new video marks the first time that the two Tims have worked together, after they joined up in the summer for one of Burgess’ much-loved Twitter Listening Parties, where Pope talked through some of his videos for artists including David Bowie, The The, Iggy Pop, and, of course, long-term collaborators The Cure.

Alongside keeping the nation going via the Listening Parties over lockdown, Burgess released new album I Love The New Sky. The Ascent of the Ascended features on a follow up EP, which is out in November.

Below, Burgess and Pope talk about making the video – which features Burgess flying a glider in full angel regalia – and also reflect on the state of both music videos and the wider music industry today.

Creative Review: How did the video come about? Have you worked together on videos before?
Tim Pope: No, I never worked with Tim before, though of course knew The Charlatans. My dear friend Matt Johnson of The The did a couple of Tim’s great Listening Parties, and I guess perhaps my name must have come up in conversation because of course I did many The The videos from 1986 onwards to present. Tim invited me to do a Listening Party, too – well, a Watching Party, as we put together ten of my vids from Bowie, Iggy, Neil Young, The Cure – and people were able to hit a link at the agreed time as I commented by Twitter. Anyway, I offered in one tweet to help Tim with a video if he produced my lad’s band, Opus Kink. Tim took the boys to Rockfield Studios in Wales and I shot his video.

Tim Burgess: It all started back in 1982 when I guess I saw the first of many Tim Pope videos – at first I didn’t know there was a link between these amazing promo clips for Soft Cell and The Cure – I was already planning on being a pop star and when I found that it was another Tim that had made them, I knew destiny would bring us together. Fast forward 38 years, to a Twitter Listening Party I hosted with Tim Pope’s great friend and collaborator on many a video, Matt Johnson – a conversation broke out and among the chat came the idea that we should work together.

Top and Above: Tim Burgess on set for the video. Photos: Richard Lynch

CR: How did you come up with the idea for the video? Did you work on this together?
Pope: It was one of the easiest exchanges ever, that occurred by two texts. I think I mentioned the idea of someone walking on a chalky path, ever scrabbling upwards – a bit of a John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Tim Burgess came up with the angel, which was the genius bit, especially as I think he makes such a good one. Don’t think I ever worked by text before, but social distancing and all that demanded we did.

Burgess: The song we settled on was The Ascent of the Ascended – after one listen Tim came back with some ideas and they blew my mind. It’s the best experience I’ve had making a video in the last 30 years. Tim has boundless ideas and energy and is so good to spend time with.

CR: Where is it shot? What were the challenges in making it? And is it really Tim flying the glider…?
Pope: We shot in a place called Firle, which is part of the beautiful South Downs Way, going from Winchester to Eastbourne. I actually can see part of the hill where this path is from my house in West Sussex. The main issue really was the weather, as I wanted to tell the story of an angel going home and eventually flying into the sun like Icarus. We really needed the sun and therefore we had to delay the shoot two or three times, but still the weather was unpredictable – it’s the UK, after all.

On set. Photo: Victoria Scarborough

The start of our day was pretty overcast, and basically I shot in order for the finished film. By the time we got to the top of the hill, the sun burst out of the clouds. I love the final shot where the microlight with the angel flies into the sun and although this looks like CG it is totally real. I remember the pilot’s voice crackling over the radio, saying, ‘I can see fuck all.’ He survived though.

Burgess: Yes it is me flying the glider – I needed a little bit of persuading but not too much and there was a co-pilot (ie the real pilot who let me have a little fly), but I had to sing too which was a bit difficult. I have just learned how to play guitar and sing, but flying and singing is harder.

CR: Tim looks great as an angel – how did you come up with the look? Is it based on any angels in particular?

Pope: The costume designer we worked with, Sarah Walpole, did a marvellous job with the wings and the costume. She worked in such amazing detail, literally sewing each feather on by hand. I always like to work with people who put in as much as I do, and I expect the best as I know my artists have put their total trust in me and therefore I need to deliver.

Burgess: I am not sure if I am based on anyone, but thanks for saying I look good – I felt good. I was channeling Gabriel and Michael Landon in Highway to Heaven, it was the most virtuous I’ve ever felt – it was definitely a modern angel, the footwear gives that side of things away.

Photo: Tim Pope

CR: The Twitter Listening Parties have been a lifeline for musicians and fans during the pandemic. What have been some of your favourite moments from them? What are your plans for them? Plus, what was it like taking part in one, Tim P?
Burgess: That’s very kind of you to say so. The listening parties have been a lifeline for me too. There have been so many amazing moments – Gary Kemp tweeting about writing the songs from True in the bedroom he shared with Martin and them planning on becoming pop stars, Mansun revealing that John Motson unknowingly helped write their biggest hit, Alex Kapranos saying that he hadn’t heard their debut album since it was mastered, Run the Jewels getting in touch and agreeing to host one, Shirley Collins saying yes. It’s been such a brilliant trip. The plans are to carry on doing them – loads of festivals have asked us to do a live version if we ever get back to going to festivals. A few book publishers have been in touch so maybe something there. We just carry on – listening party number 500 is on October 25, hosted by Nick Mason.

Pope: I am used to doing interviews for TV, but the sensation of doing a Listening Party is weird – not like anything I have experienced before. I went to my lovely garden and sat on my bench and with a smoky whisky to hand began to Tweet. I had no idea if anybody was watching or listening, until my mobile phone began via Twitter to ping like mad, literally every second for an hour and beyond. I enjoyed the experience so much I am doing my second one this coming Saturday at 9pm UK time. I think the genius and simple idea is that it connects people at a time when they really need to feel this.

Photo: Victoria Scarborough

CR: What do you think of music videos today, Tim P – do they still hold the power they once had in your view?
Pope: Hmm, shall I be frank? I hardly ever watch music videos any more as they don’t really interest me in general. You do see the odd one and you think to yourself, ‘Oh, that was rather good.’ I do love shooting videos and think I have a special connection with music, and I especially like my connections with my artists, some of whom, like The Cure, I have worked with for 40 years. I often describe myself as a bespoke tailor, because that’s exactly what I do – I build things to fit people perfectly. I’ll be forever grateful to the form of music videos as for large swathes of my life I have been able to create things I really enjoy and hopefully others do too. For me, now, it’s feature films – and I am currently casting one I have written called Drone. I also plan to work with Tim B on longer form projects, but that’s a bit of a secret. Whoops.

CR: Tim B, do you think the government and the music industry is doing enough to support musicians at the moment – if not, what would you like to see them doing?
Burgess: There’s just been a round of funding so lots of venues have a lifeline. The situation is ever changing so as it seems people have been left in the cold, a lifeline is announced. What is certain is that live music and events will be the last industries to get back to how they were, in some cases that might be a long way off still. The ‘retrain’ thing sounded blunt and then it was kind of denied but it’s hard to see how musicians can continue if there is nobody to perform to yet. From Live Aid to charity records and benefit shows, musicians were often the ones helping. Now they are the ones in need.

CR: Are you optimistic about the future of the music industry?
Burgess: We have to be. There is always hope. We started Gorilla TV to try to help bands find an audience and to work with freelancers who had no work – we sold enamel badges and we got nearly £30,000. Enough for quite a few shows. That came from necessity but it’s grown into something amazing. Streaming services need to look at helping create a future – they hold a lot of the cards. Without new bands, their well will run dry. Maybe they could step up. It’s hard to know what the future holds but musicians are creative and resilient people – we’ll do anything to not have to get a proper job.

Tim Burgess and Tim Pope on set. Photo: Richard Lynch

@TimBurgess; timpope.tv