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Making the Jimmie Jones video

Forty years ago this week saw the release of the band’s sixth (and final) single ‘Jimmie Jones’, taken from the ‘Magnets’ LP, which Liberty had decided to commission a promo video for. Clearly they felt that it had a better chance of radio & TV coverage and commercial success compared to the previous single ‘Spiders’. We thought that it would be interesting to focus on the making of the JJ video with anecdotes and memories from those who were there on the day, including all four band members.

Julien Temple, who was most famous at that time for his work with the Sex Pistols, was approached to direct it. The band met with him to discuss the video at their record company in central London, as Ed recalls: ‘I remember meeting Julien Temple at the EMI office in Manchester Sq… yes the one with that reception. He was easy going, we talked through some ideas’.

The storyboard for the video was drawn up with a young Victorian lad chancing upon a prehistoric longbarrow which, as he peered inside, contained the band playing in front of a gathered congregation in a church. Luckily, given the morbid subject of Jimmie Jones, the video wasn’t planned to climax in the audience downing Kool-Aid and all collapsing dead on the floor…

Two locations were chosen, the first one was Wayland’s Smithy in Oxfordshire, a Neolithic monument near the famous Uffington White Horse (more info), for the opening outdoor scenes. The second was the Tabernacle in Notting Hill, West London, a stunning circular old church (info), for the ‘live’ footage. The Tabernacle provided a perfect location for the band to preach to the converted from as the walls behind the stage were decorated in various passages from the bible. To keep costs down and meet the timescale required, the shoot would be completed in a day with the Oxfordshire location being visited first and the London one for the evening.

A young child actor called Chris Byrd from a stage school in London was recruited to play the Victorian boy. Chris picks up the story: ‘I got the part having gone to an acting school in East Acton called Barbara Speaks. I had had a few parts in TV shows and adverts but, by far, The Vapors shoot was the most creative and interesting and a mass of new experience’.

Clearly, a ‘congregation’ was going to be required for the performance scenes and the band’s manager Barry Saich set about ringing around fans to get volunteers to come along, including Suzanne Krasnowska: ‘Barry had phoned my mate Melissa to ask if we’d be interested in being in the video. Of course!!!’ Word of mouth quickly spread through the band’s fanbase, enlisting more people for the shoot including Elaine Bevan and Mike Philpott, both of whom only had a day or less notice. Elaine’s teenage diary notes: ‘Linda (my friend from college and fellow Vapors fan) got a letter from Melissa that said about The Vapors recording a video today’ whereas Mike was contacted by his mate Kev about it whilst at his girlfriend’s house: ‘Her mum came running out and unexpectedly told me that Kev was on the phone and had wondered if I was there because he needed to talk to me urgently. He explained that he’d had a call (no idea who from, possibly Ed Bazalgette?) asking if we could get to the video shoot in Notting Hill the following night’.

For their preparations, the band had to visit a costumier to select their outfits for the shoot. Howard picks up the story: ‘I do recall beforehand we went to the theatrical costumers Berman’s and Nathan’s in Camden to get the outfits. What seemed like a huge warehouse of handmade vintage clothes. Amazing place. I quite fancied one of those Hendrix-style military jackets but we were under pretty strict instructions on what to wear. We also had to return them of course so we never got to wear them again’. Ed was less taken with the clothes: ‘As for our costumes… and make up. They speak for themselves, don’t they?’ With hindsight, it might have been lucky that they had to return those slightly new-romantic outfits or, as Elaine’s diary refers to them: ‘Spandau Ballet type clothes’…

The filming was to take place on the 13th of May 1981 and everyone was up at the crack of dawn to get the coach down to the first location, Steve remembers: ‘Insanely early start to the day’ and Ed noted that Chris was already on set when they arrived: ‘The young lad had been doing his bit since before dawn’. Chris commented: ‘The start was very early as we had to catch the sun rise for the opening shots, very cold and wet, but I got to play a boy who I felt was on an adventure’. Chris spent his time peering into the depths of the prehistoric monument whilst the band perched on top of it individually miming with their instruments. First location in the can, they all piled back on to the coach bound for West London, although, according to Ed, they didn’t seem to be too rushed that they couldn’t stop off en route: ‘We all bundled into a quaint country pub after the first location…’

Whilst the band and film crew made their way, so were the fans and friends who were to form the flock in the Tabernacle that evening, all travelling from different parts of the country. Elaine’s diary reads: ‘I caught the 1.30pm train to London, got to Notting Hill and found the Tabernacle’, Suzanne recalls: ‘So, on a lovely spring morning we got the train from Cambridge up to London and made our way to the Talbot Tabernacle in Notting Hill’ and Mike travelled up from the south coast: ‘I’d imagine we got there stupid early, we always did’. Once the band, crew and congregation all assembled, filming started at 6pm. Suzanne recalls her first impressions of the venue and the scene that greeted her: ‘I remember this cool building with a very high stage that you could walk beneath and a few rows of pews high up and opposite the stage. It was all pretty exciting and very hectic, people everywhere and the guys all dressed up’.

The band’s equipment was set up on stage in the usual gig layout but with added straw bales and hay on the floor and the band mimed numerous times to the playback of the track. As members of the assembled congregation, Mike recalls that they were directed to act like a mesmerised flock whilst the band preached at them from the stage: ‘I remember standing with everyone else who had come along in the main hall of the Tabernacle being instructed to respectively sway, stand still, jump about a bit, wave our arms about a bit more, punch the air quite a lot, and then to do all of these things, repeatedly, over and over again’. Elaine confirmed the director’s instructions to the congregation: ‘I don’t remember much about the crowd shots that I was in apart from bunching up with everyone and swaying a bit then heading up to the balcony for some more of the same’.

Amongst the gathered flock, a couple of members of The Chords, namely Buddy Ascott and Chris Pope, were also in attendance and, seemingly, led a couple of teenage fans astray during the shoot. Mike elaborates: ‘at their behest (undoubtedly I am sure), Kev and me snuck off with them up a set of stairs to a creaky and I suspect long-since repaired balcony area where we chanced upon a couple of wheelchairs stashed away and amused ourselves for what seemed like ages but was probably five minutes pushing each other up and down trying (without success I still believe, unless anyone can spot otherwise) to get seen at the back of the final video arseing about’. Allegedly Buddy can’t recall the incident: ‘I’m sorry I have virtually no recall of the JJ video shoot but can remember we were all blotto!’

One incident stuck in Dave’s mind, where the powerful lights onstage caused an unexpected issue: ‘My main memory of that video was accidentally setting fire to my guitar – a treasured Gibson Melody Maker. I was posing with one foot up on the hay bales at the front of the stage and was completely unaware that the neck of my guitar had swung down into one of the Super Trooper lights pointing at the band. When I stopped posing, I stepped back and the headstock was on fire. With all that straw about I panicked, but we managed to waft it around enough to put out the flames without setting fire to anyone or anything else. I subsequently sold that guitar to the guitarist in Adrian Edmondson’s band the Bad Shepherds’. Ed doesn’t recall the guitar incident: ‘Flambée’d guitars haven’t stayed in the memory’.

One thing that everyone, without exception, recalls from the Tabernacle shoot was the omnipresence of poultry. To highlight the ‘countryside’ feel of the venue, there were loads of chickens strutting about onstage, some more willingly than others or, as Dave puts it: ‘My other main memory was having chickens thrown at me’. Even Steve remembers them: ‘You’d believe chickens could fly!’ According to Suzanne: ’The chickens weren’t following script and wouldn’t stay where they were meant to be and I have this abiding memory of various people on the periphery chasing them around the set and gently ‘helping’ them back into shot’. Typically, more wordy are Mike’s memories: ‘A bunch of free range (at least at that point) chickens that had been granted carte blanche to strut the sawdust strewn stage in a way that grown men with cables connecting their guitars to their amps could only dream of’. Chris grabbed a fitting souvenir of the day while he was there: ‘From the day, I had found an egg, not sure if it was a prop or even laid by one of the chickens in the video, however I kept it for a long while after as a keepsake. Strange the things you remember’.

Whilst filming carried on, it appears that Mike had grown tired with arseing about in wheelchairs: ‘Buddy and/or Chris (I would imagine both) decided they were bored, and suggested it was time to f*** off to the pub. Kev and me were star-struck sixteen-year-olds (actually Kev was 17 by then but I never really got over him being four months older than me), so we had little choice other than to follow them, and I have no idea how much longer the shoot went on for or whether anything else happened during it. Having seen the final version, I suspect it didn’t, so I guess, in reality, we had the best of both worlds’.

Chris’ memories of the filming the video have stayed with him to this day: ‘Although I saw the band they were massively busy shooting so I didn’t get a good chance to meet them full on as they were working hard. Moving into the care system halted my acting but I remember this and love the fact with the Internet I’m able to show this to my kids. Some fantastic memories and a wicked band, The Vapors, just awesome’.

With filming completed within a day, editing and post-production was finished rapidly and the video was delivered in time for the single’s release later in May. Despite making a promo video, and a subsequent appearance on flagship music show Top Of The Pops, the single performed disappointingly, reaching a measly number 44 in the UK chart. Sadly for the band, with various issues around the record company and management coming to a head around that time, they decided to call it a day shortly after the release of ‘Jimmie Jones’.

You can enjoy the fruits of the day’s labours here

In case you are unaware of the story of The Reverend James Jones and the Jonestown Massacre, you can read all about this charming character here

Thanks to Dave, Steve, Ed, Howard, Elaine, Suzanne, Mike, Chris and Buddy for their memories of that day. Mike has, as always, asked us to remind you that he has a book of his teenage adventures available to buy: ‘I recounted my memories of the ‘Jimmie Jones’ video shoot on pages 123-125 of my extraordinary debut publication “Time’s Gonna Make Me a Man Someday (Trailing The Vapors)”, full copies of which are still available here

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