We started the year with a healthy project portfolio, a bounce in our collective step and a full and happy studio, looking forward.
Musically we had a punchy guitar riff building, just awaiting the kick drum to creep in. As the January targets were embraced, Moving On Up by Primal Scream, seemed a fitting track as the post-Christmas blues subsided and we set off with an independent film to score, a travel campaign and a strong pipeline. The only niggling distraction was the distant noise coming out of China involving a ‘new flu-like virus’ in a city called Wuhan, and the potential spread was, at best, a chin-scratching concern.
It was like trying to sense when Muhammed Ali’s left hook was going to land as you lie on the canvass asking yourself ‘where did that come from?’.
As we moved into February, the virus noise got a little louder and, business-wise, we started to experience the language of ‘hold on, let’s take a position on the short-term production cycle’. As ever, for any business, we had to start to consider the impact on us. In the absence of any clear guidance we pressed on, Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town was a fitting soundtrack as we stepped tentatively into March.
Above: The Boss was a fitting sound track as we headed into March.
March to April
The month of March seemed to be rolled up in a time warped loop, it seemed to last forever and yet pass so quickly. From out of nowhere we were all ‘working from home’. The playlist was jamming up, What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye at one end, and Debussy’s Prelude 10 at the other. The last of the work projects were finished off and the forward-looking pipeline of campaigns for travel, holidays, drinks was suddenly turned off: ‘on hold’ became a byword for everything. In summary, it was like trying to sense when Muhammed Ali’s left hook was going to land as you lie on the canvass asking yourself ‘where did that come from?’.
We listened to the three wise sages who appeared to deliver updates via the ‘motifs of three’: Work From Home, Stay Home Now, Hands Face Space.
Easter never happened and as a nation we huddled daily around our TV screens and at 5pm. We listened to the three wise sages [Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty, and Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir Patrick Vallance] who appeared to deliver updates via the ‘motifs of three’: Work From Home, Stay Home Now, Hands Face Space. Social media went berserk and the whole country behaved as though we’d been isolated forever. We clamoured for social contact; When Will I See You Again by The Three Degrees. The streets were deserted, this called for The Specials’ Ghost Town.
The workload pipeline - now a sad, closed tap - was revisited only to enter the phase of 'awaiting client feedback', to 'on hold', to 'postposed', to 'in the bin'. End user positivity enters the valley of “yes, yes, yes, yes – no”. We’re looking at our financials as much as we look at the news updates. The nation is getting to grips with Zoom. Remote this and remote that. However, the pain exposed by the lack of human contact is starting to hurt. This stands as the first real message to us all: we need each other. We value each other. Friends and family. Work colleagues and the strangers in the street. Let us hold that thought.
Above: Prime Minister Boris Johnson flanked by Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty [left], and Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir Patrick Vallance.
May to June
As the not-so-merry month of May arrives, the work pipeline has been turned off and dismantled. What can we do? The project plan is an historical relic. We look internally, we look to re-align our work ethic. What can we do? How can we survive? When we set up the business five years ago, it was because it was our dream, it was ‘what we wanted to do’. We love music and we wanted to build a music business we loved! The hard work and the belief in getting here would not be undone. So, we rolled up our sleeves and looked internally. We self-assessed, we dusted down, we checked our weight and wardrobe, we re-set: Focus, we need to focus.
If we love what we do then what could be a better tonic than actually talking about it with other people who ‘love what they do’?
We affected our social media channels and website, we looked to strengthen the team as both ends of the financial constraints of our business were challenged, and we wanted to reach out to the wider industry. The vehicle to doing this was a podcast series Having a GAS. Talking to the good and the great across the creative industry. If we love what we do then what could be a better tonic than actually talking about it with other people who ‘love what they do’? Musically we had two very different shoes on, one was dancing positively with The Beatles’ All You Need Is Love, the other skating on Pink Floyd’s Thin Ice of Modern Life.
We enter June and work to build our music library with the simple goal of producing brilliant music we love. Alongside this Having a GAS is launched, Hugh Todd, Rory Sutherland and Steve Albini are our early creative stars to share their insights. We also got a call to join the brilliant creative collaboration: The Great Reset. A welcome project which reached out across the industry with a big, brave idea (Weiden+Kennedy, McCann, Gravity Road, Thinkhouse and Iris). We get to compose the soundtrack, along with SFX and casting, recording the VO – the message is a perfect fillip for Eddie Cochran’s Summer Time Blues.
Above: Over the lockdown period GAS pivoted to produce a podcast series, Having a GAS.
How did we feel mid-year, in the eye of the Covid storm? Musically we were hearing Robert Johnson’s Crossroads; looks like we have the pandemic under control, but no one is confident enough to say so. This unease is compounded by the growing band of naysayers predicting the second wave, death and the end of the world. This notion pushed full tilt by Trump’s America: It’s the End of the World as We Know It.
Musically we were hearing Robert Johnson’s Crossroads; looks like we have the pandemic under control, but no one is confident enough to say so.
July is here and we prepare to celebrate some kind of ‘return’ not to normal, but via the well accepted notion of ‘the new normal’. The sound of this is Haircut 100’s Fantastic Day. The barbers re-open signalling the end of big, weird hair, accompanied by joy at being able to feel slightly normal again. There are signs of new work, we even venture out to produce a pop song and video.
We enter August, the month we associate with holiday, and on a frantic Saturday afternoon we grasp the nettle and go to Greece. It was a great move as the week I was away was the week work came back to life, a highlight was being told, from a grey Manchester as I sat gulping a large beer on a Greek cliff top taverna, that Taron Egerton had chosen a GAS composition for a fashion brand for which he was ambassador. The National, Sleep Well Beast, was the soundtrack of my holiday. The track? I’ll Still Destroy You.
Above: The National's Sleep Well Beast, Hilton's summer soundtrack.
September is here, and for those of us wanting to be busy Manchester bees, the pubs are open and things look to be flourishing. Trump madness, governmental U-turns and bamboozling public information bulletins squeezed out via tweets aside, we think we have this under control. Work is still holding up and amidst a record label dispute for improved royalties, we undertake a commission from Spotify. The irony. It’s great piece of creative work, the over-arching piece winning a Campaign award later in the year for Who Wot Why.
We’re starting to look forward more than we look back, the song we remember now that it’s here – Green Day’s When September Comes - would suggest we’re almost through the worst. Yet the F.E.A.R is creeping up on us; notwithstanding Ian Brown’s personal opinions about the pandemic, it’s a great track, but his outbursts are very much monkey business.
We enter Q4 and things are still very much in the balance. The Prime Minister speaks, his tiers have dried and his hair has been cut whilst maintaining the unkempt omnipresent ‘uncaring mess’. The track which captures it all lies in the reassigning of gender within the Joy Division classic, She’s Lost Control; “Confusion in his eyes says it all: he’s lost control again”.
Above: Ian Brown helps to instil some F.E.A.R.
Winter is coming
As October arrives so do the tiers, song wise we are not singing along with Smokey Robinson, there are no Miracles and, as Tears for Fears would say, it’s becoming a very Mad World. We do have a slice of good news in the form of Talisker and Johnnie Walker as we’re commissioned for the soundtracks for a series of beautiful films.
November comes and there is no bonfire, but plenty of fireworks. We start drinking Talisker. We’re commissioned for brilliant pharma work. We watch the US election. We are stupefied. We wait for the counting to end. It does, and The Winner Takes It All as Joe Biden takes back America.
If art is how you decorate space, music is how you decorate time.
December. The vaccines are here. The green shoots are showing. Things will get better. We will adapt. We are human. We work better together, but we can work apart. The year has challenged us all and we have all responded. We must ensure that we move forward together.
And, to close, the best prose I’ve heard this year: “If art is how you decorate space, music is how you decorate time.” Courtesy of [Creative Director] Sue Higgs.