Making the Video with Mini Me

Having finished my first full album in February 1974 the record company agreed with my parents that my school work should come first.  The decision was made that we would delay the release of the record until the Summer of 1974 when I had my 6 weeks of summer holiday to travel the country from radio station to television studio. Of course no one had made allowances for my teenage hormones getting involved and sadly for me professionally, although of course I was rather pleased personally, by July 1974 my voice had broken, and it was decided that we would start again.

I remember having this conversation with the legendary record producer Gus Dudgeon who had taken over the reigns of my career. Gus was the producer responsible for David Bowie’s Space Oddity and all of the massive Elton John albums including Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.

Not wanting to fall into the same trap of missing out on promoting the record we were making whilst also understanding my parents desire for me to continue my education Gus suggested that when the time was right we should make a ‘film’ for Top of The Pops to promote my next single.

This video contains some of the ‘film type’ ideas Gus Dudgeon had .

Fate was soon to throw another spanner into the works. This time it wasn’t my voice breaking that put paid to that idea.  By the time we were ready to take the songs to market Gus had fallen out with the rest of the Rocket Record Company hierarchy and frustratingly for both of us neither the album nor the promotional films were ever completed. It was a time of terrible teenage frustration and heartache but looking back it makes me realise that Gus was a visionary in so many different ways.

Promotional films were being made but still relatively rare in the 1970’s. One of the most famous was Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody which is so ‘iconic’ it’s hard not to visualise the pictures of that relatively simple video when you hear the record.  It wouldn’t be until the advent of MTV in 1981 that video became a necessity rather than an added extra. 24 music television had an insatiable appetite for content.  Videos like Dire Straits ‘Money for Nothing’ or the cartoon for Peter Gabriel’s ‘Sledgehammer’ made these songs worldwide hits on radio…and television.

Once the genie was out of the bottle the competition to produce the best and, or, most expensive video became part of the story of excess of the music industry in the 1990s. David Bowie’s short film for ‘Ashes to Ashes’ cost over $500,000 and the launch of the new Michael Jackson video ‘Thriller’, which was rumoured to have cost nearly $1 million, became a worldwide television event. 

Eventually in the 21st Century new world of streaming and downloading the economics of the music industry meant that it became ‘uneconomic’ to keep spending money at the same rate.  The trouble was people now expected ‘the video’ to accompany the poster and press release when launching a new band or single.  Thankfully, whilst the internet ended the old music business model it also provided the new tools necessary to keep going.  The advent of YouTube, cheap cameras and computer video editing meant making a video to accompany your new release was now relatively cheap and accessible to all.  Every ‘would be’ new teenage band could now make a record in their bedroom and then film a video to go with it.

Filmed entirely on an iPhone 14

It shows how long I’ve been in the music business because I’ve been there right through the evolution of the music video and seen the changes first hand.  My first videos were made for TV programmes.   We would turn up with an entourage of artists and technicians.  We would have make up and wardrobe, a lighting camera man, a sound man for playback or recording new vocals or instruments and riggers waiting to set up a location.  Having got everything we needed on video we would then head back to base and to the editing suite.  This where a new team of technicians worked on the edit, the titles and then dubbing. Finally you would emerge with another video tape which would be duplicated and sent to TV stations for consideration.  You could spend days or weeks making the video and in reality it might never be seen by more than half a dozen people.

For the video of my last single ‘Breathe’ I met my friend Ian Parsons early one morning in Mumbles armed with a guitar and a speaker which could play back my song for me to singalong with.  He arrived at Bracelet Bay car park armed with his brand new iPhone 14.  After an hour or so we felt we had enough material and Ian headed home to send me the footage he had over the internet.

Now, during lockdown lots of people took up new hobbies…breadmaking, painting!!  I decided to teach myself how to edit video.  I downloaded some video editing software and with the help of YouTube online videos taught myself the rudimentary aspects of the craft.  It didn’t take that long to take the phone footage that Ian had sent and turn it into a video which has subsequently been shown on TV and internet stations all around the world.

This week I’ve been making the new video for my new single ‘I Don’t Know How To Say Goodbye’.  The song isn’t new, and half of the performance is nearly 50 years old but with the kindness of Elton John returning my original 1973 tapes and copyrights, and with the wonders of technology my new single features a duet with my 13 year old self.

As with all artistic projects you need an idea to start the ball rolling. With the song featuring myself at age 13 and 63 it became obvious that we would need to find a way to let the viewer know that I was in fact both people. That isn’t easy because at the age of 13, my pre-pubescent voice sound like a young woman.  How would we tell that story in pictures?

Sometimes people get lucky finding 8mm cine footage or videos taken by doting parents showing an artist at an early age.  Our family did have a cine camera but I’m sot sure where the films are and even less sure about how to get them transferred to digital.  In the end we decide to find a ‘mini me’ to the play the part of young Maldwyn.

Steve Balsamo, Frankie Balsamo, Ian Parsons and Mal Pope

Frankie Balsamo comes from a musical family.  His dad Steve Balsamo is a wonderful musician and performer and a very old friend.  I was just scrolling through Instagram where I saw a short video of Frankie in the Studio with his dad.  What was clear was that Frankie had a confidence and self-assuredness that made him shine.  He also had a haircut very reminiscent of mine in 1973.  I rang Steve and told him what I was thinking, and he had a chat with Frankie. The answer from Frankie came back as, ‘Yes but I need a crisp £20 note and a bottle of cold shandy’.

Having spent the last week or so with Tim Hamill at Sonic One Studios in Llangennech I thought his recording space would be the perfect location.  It had the style and grandeur of those old 70’s studios and he was a mate who was easily persuaded.

Armed with Ian Parsons latest camera, a couple of boxes of memorabilia and some advice from my old friend Ed Thomas who had just returned from Barcelona where he had designed the new Netflix Blockbuster series ‘Who Is Erin Carter’, we arrived at the studio late last Wednesday afternoon.  By the end of the night we had finished, and I left for home with a couple of hours of footage all downloaded onto a USB stick.

Over the next few days I’ll be editing and changing constantly until; my deadline of next Friday morning when the film will premier on social media.  I think the song is ok and the camera work and lighting are totally fine, and I don’t look too bad in it, but the truth is the real star of the video is Frankie Balsamo and I’m totally cool with that.

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