When I was a stage actor I tended to play villains and insane people. That’s what I enjoyed and that’s what I was best at. I’ve never been the good-guy and I’ve never been the love interest (except when I was Theseus in the school play aged eight – but the girl who played Ariadne broke my heart the week of production and I’ve never been the same since). There’s a line in one of my songs that goes “he could’ve been a tragic hero, but he never had the height” – well that’s me: five feet, eight and a half inches tall… sometimes a little bit less if I’m stooping like Richard III.
Bad guys are always more interesting. In any given situation there is usually one way of doing the right thing and infinite ways of doing the wrong one. Villains are complicated. They are easy to imagine yet hard to explain. They have forged their own immoral compass. Theirs is a dark perverted alchemy concocted from riddles and intrigue. Where good is transparent, its nemesis is opaque.
And the wonderful thing is that villains hardly ever really exist. They are just a trick of perspective; their horns and hooves typically being drawn on by the opposing side.
Which is why they are so much fun to play. They are the ultimate fantasy. If you imagine someone good you imagine someone static. Someone who is entirely good cannot become even more good – their character has nowhere to go. Someone bad, however, well… the possibilities for further corruption are almost endless. It’s amazing how far one can sink.
The narrator of my songs started out as a villain. One of those moustache-twirling scoundrels that inexplicably tie helpless women to railway tracks in silent movies. I was happy for him to be two dimensional. In the Bedlam Six’s first album he is always the low-life, he is cruel and petty and vengeful and angry.
But now I don’t see him as a villain at all. I see him as someone who repeatedly gets trapped in his mistakes, endlessly entangled in a deadly mixture of pride and folly. I’ve played this character too long for him to be a bad guy. No one can be the villain in their own story. It’s an utterly impossible way of looking at the world.
I’m writing this because we just made a new music video. The song is called “Waiting For Bad News” and will be on the new album (lyrics are here if you’re curious); it is directed by Andrew Ab who made the recent videos for my label-mates Bridie Jackson (Scarecrow) and Felix Hagan (My Little Lusitania). The film portrays the disintegration of a relationship, with the warring lovers in question being performed by myself and Ellie Cowan.
In it there are a couple of moments of violent struggle. So far, so Bedlam Six music video. But for the first time I found myself really concerned about how people would perceive my character – perceive me. It seems so stupid when in the past I’ve written creepy stalker songs like “You Can’t Run From My Love” – I really should be past caring what people think. Still, I’ve become rather protective of the guy that crops up in all these narratives. Yes it is always the same man. Yes it is always me.
Ellie and I spent most of the shoot giggling as we went through the different scenarios. Particularly the ones in which we had to fight (I grab her hair, she slaps me in the face etc). But when we actually had to wrestle it just looked horribly like a rape. So we adjusted the scene so that I was seated and she was looming over me, to put me on the defensive. It was really important to me that the narrator, whilst so often an object of ridicule or disdain, is never one of outright hatred.
This man is the projection of all the things in myself that I wish to put on trial, but he is not someone I ever want to see injured in any permanent way. He is, after all, a huge part of who I am. His twitching outlook is the filter through which I compose nearly all my songs. He fails and he fails and he never learns his lesson. He is constant in his stupidity and fragility. And yet he is also that most tragic of creatures: a cartoon that has begun to notice the frame around him.
I have stopped laughing at him. I am fond of him. I am ashamed for him. I completely understand him. He is precious to me.
And I am the only person in the world who can protect him from harm.