Music Videos

Don has made near enough 400 promo videos. His very first was for John Lydon’s P.I.L followed by The Clash’s ‘London Caling’ (he would go on to do all their videos). He went on to make music videos many on location, for a diverse mix of artists including Freeze - The Jungle Brothers - The Pretenders - Elvis Costello - Aswad – Ratt - Baaba Maal - Black Uhuru - The Slits - Maxi Priest - Big Audio Dynamite - Musical Youth - The Pogues, S’Express - Black Grape - Beenie Man - Deep Forest - Apache Indian - Eddy Grant - Sly and Robbie – Yaz - Linton Kwesi Johnson – FFF w/George Clinton and Bob Marley. Obviously there is a story behind each, too numerous to tell, well…..

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Old School Showreel

….I decided to shoot the video for ‘London Calling on a pier in Battersea on the River Thames, not exactly a quantum leap of an idea as the lyric of the song is ‘and I live by the river’! But it was for me as my first video for P.I.L had been shot in the relative safety of studio. I decided to have cameras on a boat to get the right angles. Now I didn’t know anything about tides so when we got there to set up we were fifteen feet too low as the tide was out. Then there was  the current which causd us to drift further and further away from the pier! By the time we had sorted out all these problems, it started to piss down with rain bringing further havoc to the shoot. Turns out it was the best thing that could have happened as it created an atmosphere I could never have planned for. It was a textbook punk situation, turning your problems into assets…. 

Palma Violets - 'English Tongue', dir. Don Letts (Spring 2015)

….in 1982 I was asked to direct the  video for ‘Pass The Dutchie’ by a new UK reggae band Musical Youth. I shot the band’s performance complete with red, gold and green speakers outside the Houses of Parliament  to create a new kind of postcard from London – a new image of what London was about. The song/video was a massive hit getting to number one in eighteen countries around the world. But the biggest source of pride for me was the fact that my video was the first featuring a black artist to be played on MTV, beating Michael Jackson ‘Billie Jean’ by several months…..

 

…..the “Radio Clash” video was cut out of the ‘Clash on Broadway’ footage film during the bands legendary 17 back to back dates at Bonds in New York City. A few years later I got to show the video to Federico Fellini at a film festival in Italy. After seeing the video Federico said “ I have the vision of a terrorist”. He was smiling at the time, so I guess it was a compliment…

…..Black Grape, where do I start with those guys? I survived making three video with them. For ‘Reverend Black Grape’ I remember one scene where Shaun Ryder dressed as a preacher is dancing with two Bunny Girls.  In the middle of the take he waves his arms signalling for us to keep rolling. He then leans over throws up, wipes the spew off his face and continued to sing. For ‘In the Name of the Father’ I took them to Jamaica. Now over the years I’ve taken a few bands to the island and its always left a big impression on them. Black Grape is the first band that left a big inpression on Jamaica!....

 

…..When I shot the Pogues video for a track called “Summer in Siam”, I had to write two scripts. One if Shane McGowan turned up, and the other if he didn’t. I had known Shane from the Roxy days when he was in his first band the Nipple Erectors so there was a bit of mutual respect. Luckily Shane turned up and we propped him up on a tea chest, he did about two takes and he was off. It was a great looking video with a Thai concept and a host of Thai boxers….. 

….whilst working for Limelight in Hollywood I got offered to do the video for heavy metal outfit Ratt’s ‘Round and Round’ not my normal fair but one of the band was related to legendary American comedian/actor Milton Berle and I relished the opportunity of working with old-school Hollywood royalty. The video came out when they were on tour supporting Mötley Crüe and did so well Mötley Crüe ended up supporting them!....

 

…..I shot the video for The Gap Bands ‘Party Train’ on Santa Monica beach back in 1983. Now these guys were so out of it when they arrived on set all they could do was walk twenty yards along the promenade a couple of  times and that was it. One of them even bit the make-up girl on the arse. Luckily lead singer Charlie Wilson pulled it together and we ended up making one of my favourite clips…..

…… Jimmy Cliff’s “Reggae Nights” had to be shot in Jamaica and I do love a plane tickets and palm trees but so do tourists. Consequently when I was trying to get a sunset shot by the sea the water was full them. What’s a director suppose to do/I grabbed a megaphone and announced (in Jamaican) ‘Please leave the water, there is a shark in the area’. Caused wide spread panic but I got the shot….

 

…..picture this: A dread filming an armadillo, an Arab guy, a Jewish guy and a limousine with huge cow horns. When I made ‘Rock The Casbah for The Clash in Texas it was the most talked about thing in Austin that week. The bands performance was filmed in front of an oil derrick, and I was amazed when Mick walked onto the set wearing these red long johns and black DM boots. Mick was pissed off about something and that was his way of letting us know, so I pulled him to one side and said, “Look Mick, you look like a matchstick, and don’t forget film lasts forever, so if you look like a dick today, you’ll look like one forever.” Mick got changed…...