Not since Aphex Twin decided to set up home in a disused local bank vault has Elephant & Castle cropped up in musical conversation so frequently.
Shining a light on the South London region at the moment are The Maccabees, who recorded recently-released Number One album ‘Marks To Prove It’ there. And now the band are readying a visual companion piece to the album that digs further into the character and characters of the local area: feature length documentary Elephant Days. “On the last record [2012’s ‘Given To The Wild] we made a 10-minute trailer which was supposed to help give some context to explain the mood and we wanted to try and build on that,” says frontman Orlando Weeks. “Also, at that time we thought the record was going to be done in nine or ten months and obviously it took another two and a half years. We didn’t think it was going to be such a mammoth undertaking…”
The project was undertaken by directors James Cronin and James Caddick (who did the band’s ‘Can You Give It?’ and ‘Feel To Follow’ videos respectively), and is set to premiere at the BFI Film Festival at London’s Southbank tonight (October 12).
As well as following the band during the making of ‘Marks To Prove It’, it also focuses on the simultaneous stories of five other E&C residents, each working towards their own creative or community goal: local youth basketball team The Peckham Prides, 100-year-old local institution Arments Pie & Mash, community gardeners Richard and Leyla, faith healer BB and a local tailors opposite the band’s studio. “A sense of community and diversity is a big thing [about the area] and what community can mean,” says Cronin. “People’s passion is another thing, and a set of values that you don’t often see on the surface of an area but they seem to be quite embedded in the place. With the threat of redevelopment and these things potentially disappearing then you start to wonder what the place might become.”
Though the initial intention of Elephant Days was to highlight the changing face of an area that influenced so much of ‘Marks To Prove It’, the film quickly shifted into a film about people more than place. “It became a backdrop to a film about people trying very hard to make something that they’re proud of, whether that’s us with the record or the basketball team trying to represent themselves as best as they can or Richard and the tailor trying to do something good with the area,” says Orlando. “That’s what surprised me – that after all that time, it’s not even about Elephant & Castle in many ways, but it’s a better film for it.”
Touching and oddly nostalgic given its modern day setting, the documentary sews the patchwork of these individual stories together to create a picture that’s positive and inspiring: a group of good people doing good things against the tide of a world enslaved by screens and a government that’s trying to price them out of their homes. And at the centre of it sit The Maccabees and their three-year labour of love, which soundtracks the whole thing as their stories are told.
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The righteous punchline is that as you’re watching footage of the quintet worried and fretting over the record, we all know how the story ends (Number One, massive tour, more success than ever). But really, Elephant Days is about the little victories of character and commitment that tie a community together, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a sweeter document of it.
‘Elephant Days’ premieres at London’s BFI tonight