With Noel Fielding’s Australian and New Zealand live dates due to start soon, here on the other side of the world, Noel’s recent live shows have been frozen in time in the photographs which currently line the walls of Gallery Maison Bertaux.
All Work And No Play, featuring the photographs of Joseph Lynn, is an exhibition of images captured during 2014’s critically-aclaimed An Evening With Noel Fielding tour. We spoke to ‘Pirate Joe’ about his exhibition, and what working with Noel is really like. Velveteer Mog reports:
I was fully prepared to dislike Joe. Having taken several years to earn the right to poke my own camera lens into Noel Fielding’s face, I was, at best, suspicious of this young upstart. Joe’s first commission was to film the behind the scenes documentary for series 2 of Luxury Comedy; since then, he has accompanied Noel on various warm-ups, interviews and shoots, always with camera in hand. He has also worked with TVO-connected artists, Dee Plume and Joey Page, amongst others. So who is he and what has he got?
When I finally meet Joe and get to know him better, I realise that disliking him simply isn’t an option. Down to earth, respectful, and warmly personable, he’s a pleasure to talk to.
Although half my age, he exudes the gentle confidence, wisdom and common sense of someone much older. Fired by creativity and fascinated by ideas, it’s easy to see why his presence was so welcomed on Noel’s tour. Joe explains how his involvement came about: “I was brought on board to document the tour and then picked up a few other jobs along the way. The original idea was to film behind the scenes for a DVD, but then I ended up photographing it for press and running Noel’s Instagram…and then looking after him when fans were attacking him for selfies!” He laughs. “I tried to give myself more jobs to do, because I wanted to make sure I had a purpose on the tour.”
Joe has been filming and photographing Noel for over a year, so has amassed a huge volume of footage: “I can’t keep doing it endlessly, it has to stop somewhere. The hardest thing has been deciding what not to shoot. I have hours and hours of footage – I want someone to see it!” he laughs.
The title of his photography exhibition, All Work And No Play, is a recognition of Noel’s work ethic: “I’ve got some great footage of him writing jokes, then the progression of the joke – how he builds it and works it,” Joe explains. “It’s a side of him that no one’s really seen. Some people think he just tosses about, but he’s really humble and works hard. It’s not glamorous.”
They’ve discussed turning the behind the scenes footage into something which goes beyond a straight documentary approach, something more akin to Nick Cave’s 20,000 Days on Earth. However, Joe realises that it would require even more filming, and he worries that it might never be completed. “It’s often the case that things are started and not all of them get finished, unfortunately. Because I’m young, I get really excited that something’s happening, but then people are busy…” As his voice trails off, you start to appreciate that this is a common frustration for people and projects in the creative arts. “But Noel’s quite good – when things get started they tend to get done. He takes his ego out of it easily.”
The images that make up the photography exhibition demonstrate how deeply integrated Joe was in the mechanics of the tour and the friendship group that sat at the heart of it. Anyone who followed Noel’s Instagram at the time will have seen four faces repeating across the photos which were posted: Joe, Noel, Tom (Meeten) and Mike (Fielding), like a weird boy band on tour.
“It was like being a family,” explains Joe, “We used to joke that Noel’s my dad and Tom’s my uncle. It was a bit like that, because Noel does mentor me, but he’s also a bit irresponsible, a bit cheeky, whereas Tom’s a bit more responsible.”
He is full of praise for the group: “Mike’s hilarious. He’s the nicest and funniest man – without realising he’s being funny. Tom’s so polite, lovely, switched on and hilarious. Everyone on the tour contributed more than they needed to to.”
How does Joe feel about working with a group of people whose creative output he has long admired? “I was a Massive Mighty Boosh fan. Me and my sister used to quote it to each other. Sometimes I go ‘these are my friends’, then at other times I think ‘woah, wait a minute!'” He shakes his head, still slightly disbelieving of his good luck, and grins.
One of Joe’s favourite jokes from Noel’s live show is the already infamous ‘Chicken Man’, which sees Noel strutting around the stage, possessed by…er, a Chicken Man. It began life written out as a children’s picture book, then developed further during a Cure gig at The Albert Hall (“He was in the box moving about, going ‘I’m a goodamn Chicken Man!” laughs Joe). Some people were sceptical about whether the joke would work, which encouraged Noel to work even harder to get it right.
We discuss how the margin for error on a joke like that is so small. “That’s what’s so terrifying, I don’t know how he does it,” Joe says. “There are so many factors that make a difference. It depends how he’s feeling, what the audience is like, if the lighting is right, the seating…one night a coach trip didn’t turn up which left an empty front section in the audience; we had to move people around – so I put the people in costumes there!”
Talking about the people in costumes brings us to the subject of Noel’s fans; his fanbase is notoriously dedicated and colourful. Joe notes that it’s almost impossible for Noel to go anywhere without attracting attention and being hassled. He mentions a recent episode filming in London Zoo, which they eventually had to abandon, due to the ever-increasing crowd who surrounded them.
Hearing these stories makes you appreciate how difficult it is for someone as distinctive as Noel to lead a normal life in public. “The fans are mostly really lovely though,” Joe says. “I hope I’m not rude to them, but if I’m trying to transport Noel from a venue to the bus I have to get a bit stern.”
I point out to Joe that he’s started getting his own fans – how does he feel about it? Once again, his grounded common sense comes to the fore: “When you’re 21, your world is quite ago-centric anyway, so it’s not good for you to have fans.” Then he adds humbly, “I think they just associate me with Noel.”
Joe’s particularly delighted to be holding his photography exhibition at Gallery Maison Bertaux, one of his favourite places in London – under the watchful expert eye of art dealer, Tania Wade. “Tania’s really positive. She puts everything into every project she does. Even if the show ends up costing me more money than it makes, it’s such a nice thing to have done. I come here every week – it’s the best coffee in London, so to have my stuff on the wall here is amazing.”
We asked Joe to share his favourite five shots from the many images in the exhibition, and to explain why he likes each one in particular. Here’s what he had to say:
Interval. “This is perhaps my favourite shot of Noel. Completely candid and during an interval at Leicester. You have the glamour of showbiz in the mirror and lights next to the mundanity of him eating some crisps. Also some beautiful paintings Noel had done of himself, Tom, Mike and me in the background.”
Big Chief. “Perhaps my favourite shot of the whole collection. I honestly can’t remember taking this or at which gig it was. Tom looks so serious, almost solemn, as if he is questioning some of the life choices which led him to be on stage in a marigold headdress.”
Fur Coat No Knickers. “This shot was taken recently during a Guardian interview Noel did at Maison Bertaux. I like this one because he reminds me of a classic Hollywood actress here. Also reminds me of how open ended this collection is, it is ever-expanding!”
Steph Silhouette. “One of the only shots that was staged. I asked Mike to pose for me here round the side of a car park in Wolverhampton, I believe.”
Chicken Man. “I just think this is one of my most clear and dramatic shots. Goes to show that photography is a just a gamble. You click away and in a split second you can catch something strong.”
All Work No Play runs downstairs at Gallery Maison Bertaux (80 Greek Street, London) until the summer. You can buy prints direct from the exhibition website or from Tania Wade. Keep an eye open for limited edition specials too.
Don’t forget that you can also see Noel Fielding’s exhibition of watercolours He Wore Dreams Around Unkind Faces upstairs at the gallery too.