Our lives are packed full of moments. Many of them ordinary experiences. Forgotten in an instance.
And yet, there is a power and beauty behind those moments that do happen to transform into unforgettable ones.
A single experience, a moment, shared between friends, that can shape the future of a band and point them in the right direction for their lives together.
A gig watching Pete Williams, a founding member of Dexys Midnight Runners, at the Glee Club is reminiscent of Paul Weller’s trip, with his Woking mates, to see The Sex Pistols in London and a lightbulb moment for his vision of The Jam.
That PW gig led to a conversation for Neil Sheasby and Neil Jones to reconnect to their musical ambitions with their band – bring in a horn section, 7 piece band, soul section – and fast forward to a working relationship that is now heading into its 25th year.
Rise Above It is a new feature length documentary film that looks back on those moments, and celebrates, the journey of the band Stone Foundation, with lots of rare and previously unseen footage from early demos to their 2022 Top 40 album release “Outside Looking In”.
Directed by Lee Cogswell ( Podcast Guest 5 ) and Produced by Mark Baxter ( Podcast Guest 2 ) at Mono Media – the team behind Long Hot Summers – The story of The Style Council documentary, Tubby Hayes – A Man in a Hurry and John Simons – A Modernist.
For me, a successful music documentary needs to work on two levels.
One – provide something special for the fans – new things to discover, stories told for the first time, unique insights, surprising footage, unearthed memories from key players on the journey.
Two – for it to really stand out, it also has to work for those people who haven’t heard of the band or discovered their music – or have only dipped in at times – can a film stack up as a story for music fans without that connection?.
I’m delighted to say that Rise Above It does both jobs perfectly.
In a way it’s a good old rags to riches story (although style has always been important to both of the Neil’s so let me rephrase that). It’s essentially Rocky. With an even better soundtrack…
“Best band on the circuit at the moment…”
It’s a bold claim, provided in vox pop form by a Stone Foundation fan, early in the film, but it’s a comment that sets up this story perfectly. A story of hard graft and great friendship ultimately. A shared passion. Connections. Talent. Musicality. A story of belief. From within and from outsiders. People like Paul Weller. Yes. But it’s more than that. The band are so much more than the Weller connection and this documentary gives a great insight into why and how.
“Something very special and unique about every single one of them…”
The story begins with Neil Sheasby, playing in a band called Mandrake Root – and a chance connection supported by Neil Jones and his band Walrus Gumboot… Sheas soon finds himself with a new sparring partner with a shared love of soul music and we’re on to the creation of a band named via a Beastie Boys magazine!.
Through the hour and half together, we witness footage from so many brilliant key moments – kudos to whoever thought it wise to originally capture this stuff so early on in the bands timeline.
From the sharing of their first cassette of sessions from June 1998 and an incredible performance on a TV shopping channel 😂😂😂 – flogging their CD – an early EP. Please tell me that at least one of you discovered the band watching this on the Ideal World channel… a wonderful moment in a film packed full of them (It was lovely to see Janice Long running an early Radio 2 session with the band).
In my time as a Stone Foundation fan, I’ve always enjoyed the fact that the band are so open to creating such special collaborations. It’s something that has become their calling card on recent albums, working with the right people on the right songs – much like the introduction of a Honorary Councillor into The Style Council – often a fleeting moment of brilliance to add something different to the song.
It’s wonderful to see some of these special moments on film, like their first partnership with Steve Calloway… “That meeting of minds was brilliant…” and the magnificent Nolan Porter who had such a big influence on the band… a man who Neil Jones talks about as their “brother in music”… and a genuinely hilarious wonderful moment, captured om film, that involves a “jazz cigarette” and soul legend, Joe “Pep” Harris.
Key moments in the film for me include the story and footage of them supporting The Specials in 2012 (complete with a pre-Gareth Southgate’s waist-coat fashion statement from the two Neil’s) and the feeling of moving through the gears that Neil Sheasby talks about has real emotion and you can now see a band with a real confidence starting to ride a wave, the reaction on their first gigs in Japan is just incredible (again echoes what I’ve heard on the podcast about The Style Council).
For Paul Weller connections, it was lovely to see footage of Carleen Anderson at Black Barn Studios in Ripley (Paul Weller HQ) in 2015 and the band’s first meetings with the likes of Charles Rees (Studio Engineer), Dr. Robert (Blow Monkeys, Monks Road Social) and Steve White (DrummerWhitey, The Style Council, Paul Weller Solo).
Their connection with Paul Weller in 2016, sets up the final third of the film.
It’s a really lovely section of the documentary, as we see them tell the full story of their musical connections and collaborations and clearly what has been a great friendship, formed through the creation of magical songs together.
Paul’s viewpoints are shared along with the visuals of the actual music-making down at Black Barn, of what became their Street Rituals album. You can see and hear the emotion from Neil Jones as he talks about that initial writing process with Paul.
Sheas telling his very personal story of the making of Your Balloon Is Rising brought a lump to my throat too.
It was also interesting to hear from Paul about the speed at which they all created songs together – how something just clicked between them in the studio – really inspiring stuff.
Although we don’t get to hear the Mod-Gypsy-Bastard story from Paul’s angle sadly! 😂😂😂
A film packed full of podcast guests…
The film obviously features Stone Foundation founders Neil Jones (Episode 26) and Neil Sheasby (Episode 44) but also look out for a wonderful moment with Mick Talbot (Episode 35) properly going for it on the piano – wonderful!. The duet between Neil Jones and, the always fabulous, Kathryn Williams (Episode 49) is a exquisite moment for the beautiful song Don’t Walk Away and the arrival of The General – Steve Trigg (Episode 47) clearly adds a new dimension to the band’s horn section.
“There’s something real about them – and they mean it”
Rise Above It is a really enjoyable watch. It’s as much of a celebration of 25 years of music and memories as it is a friendship that has grown over a quarter of a century, as the band too has grown – getting better and better with each album and live gig.
As Neil Jones puts it “I’m really excited about the stuff that we’re creating and everything that’s ahead of us.”
You can buy the DVD of the documentary here.
The film is directed by Lee Cogswell and produced by Mark Baxter with executive producers, Queenie Smith, Jean Baxter, Louise Baxter, Paul Weller, Martin Freeman, David Rosen and Lee Cogswell.