Half Formed Things: Live From Leith Theatre

Reuniting with their production team for the first time since the COVID-19 outbreak, experimental pop four-piece, Half Formed Things undertake a unique live music video shoot in Edinburgh’s Leith Theatre. Lighting Designer, Sam Jones reflects on the experience…

Having recorded their debut album, To Live in the Flicker, just around the corner from Leith Theatre, the Edinburgh-based community and arts space seemed like a fitting backdrop for local experimental pop four-piece, Half Formed Things to join forces with touring personnel for the first time since March last year to embark on a unique live music video shoot for the track, February. Helping drench the band in the ‘natural reverb’ of the venue was Lighting Designer, Sam Jones; Sound Engineer, Jane Datony; Videographer, Sandy Butler and Photographer, Lewis Milne.

Having spent the best part of the COVID-19 pandemic designing music videos and livestreams in the Leith Theatre, Jones picked up the story. “The venue is magnificent,” he began. “I have worked in Leith Theatre a fair amount over the past few years and have been lucky enough to be a part of its ‘rebirth journey’ that is still ongoing. It has so much character and putting on live shows in there has a special sort of atmosphere. I tried to translate that energy into the design.”

Technical suppliers for the shoot included Edinburgh ShowTec, DM Audio and JMP Productions. “My working relationship with Half Formed Things is relatively new, having only collaborated on a few live shows before the pandemic struck,” Jones commented. “Since then, we have done a few livestreams and music videos. For me, complimenting the music with the design is always important; Half Formed Things’ music is so dynamic, it’s a job keeping up with them most of the time!”

Despite being a relatively new member in the camp, Jones instantly acclimatised to the task at hand, referencing the “epic” and “dynamic” nature of the band’s music as the driving force of his lighting design. “I’ve discovered that sweeping looks, plenty of fanning beams and strobing bumps as well and very soft single spot moments compliment Half Formed Things’ music,” he said.

The LD specified a range of Martin by Harman lighting fixtures for the shoot, including Quantum Washes, Viper Profiles, VDO Atomic Dot WRMs and MAC Auras. “I love working with Martin fixtures. The optics are fantastic and reliable,” he explained. “The Quantum Washes on the floor upstage were perfect with zoomed-in chunky beam looks that can equally be zoomed right out, creating a silhouette heavy wash blinding effect. The Quantum Wash beam twister effect worked really well on the breakdown sections of the song; I think that this relatively simple effect adds so much to the unit.”

He coined the Viper Profiles as the “workhorse” fixture of the lighting rig. He continued: “Vipers have been the workhorse of the rock ’n’ roll industry for a while now. They are a great all-round unit, with fantastic colour. There were a lot of fast flyouts, zoom and animation effects in the show but the Vipers stood up great.”

Jones described the Auras as one of his favourite lighting fixtures on the market. “The colours they produce are incredible despite being on the market for some time,” he said. “The Auras on the floor delivered sharp dramatic angles that worked with the music. There were a lot of shades of white in this song and they delivered well.”

Having utilised VDO Atomic Dot WRM hybrid lighting and video fixtures on a series of projects due to their “versatility” and “useability”, Jones used the fixture with barn doors rigged onto a microphone stand to imitate a “Fresnal special effect” with eight-, four- and two-cell mole imitation linked together to create a “dot bank effect”. He said: “They are simply brilliant in each scenario. Their output was brilliant, delivering in replicating incandescent fixtures with a fantastic liner fade and colour.”

Reflecting on the successful shoot, Jones commented: “I love working with bands that have a great visual presence. “Half Formed Things have some great energy on stage which, combined with the musical talent, creates quite a show.”

Off the back of a difficult 12 months for the sector, working through the COVID-19 pandemic has been a turbulent process for Jones and the rest of the crew. “I am incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to have some work. Doing projects at this time is fraught with last-minute complications, even more than our industry is used to,” he reported. “Even for this project, one of the camera operators had to pull out 22 hours before the shoot to isolate. Thankfully, he was fine. However, I feel for the production companies that have kit sitting on the shelves that are gathering dust and some of which is still being paid off.”

Having successfully wrapped up an in-house livestream project that is due to be aired over the course of three weekends in late March, Jones was looking forward to the so-called ‘roadmap to recovery’ for the sector. “There are few projects I worked on last year that are just about to be completed and released,” he noted. “There are also a few more livestreams and music videos in the works with various artists. However, I am missing live music a lot and can’t wait to start doing things with an audience again.”

In a closing statement on Facebook, the band shared [sic]: “It’s hard to believe that it’s been an entire year since our last hometown gig. As you can probably tell, we’ve tried not to let COVID stop us from working on the Half Formed Things live show quite a bit in that time, and we’re so, so ready to put this on a stage in front of people… We dedicate this video to Marc Freeman, who worked harder than any of us to get it all to where it is now… We’d like to thank Edinburgh ShowTec, JMP Productions and DM Audio for providing equipment, and everyone at Leith Theatre for their enthusiasm and accommodation. Lastly, thanks to all of you for the love and patience. More stuff to come.”

This article originally appeared in issue #259 of TPi, which you can read here.

Photos: Lewis Milne