Opening A Fresh Chapter: Clash Meets Orlando Weeks

Moving from the Maccabees shadow to embrace his twin roles as a father and a songwriter...

Concluding a chapter in life whilst it seems to be at its very peak appears to be an absurd ploy, almost like leaving your protagonist fist pumping the air in elation far before they are met with the subsequent cliffhanger. The Maccabees were the humble, soft spoken assets of the indie realm; a South London quintet who had a particular flair for capturing the essence of young romance whilst teetering on the prospect of adulthood.

From fumbling over words, blushing at the brush of a hand and good night toothpaste kisses, their transformative discography saw them weave between styles, growing both physically and audibly over the four albums and fourteen years they spent together. 

In the August of 2016, the band bid farewell in an announcement that coincided with the shattering of hearts up and down the country, hurtling each member into the abyss of something that can be quite frightening; a blank slate.

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Four years later, frontman Orlando Weeks reflects upon that time with a bittersweet smile. “It felt big. It also felt like the right thing to do and that remains how I feel about it. I’m incredibly proud of what we achieved and grateful to have spent time making stuff with those people and have had my eyes opened up to so much because of them… but I think it felt like the right time and we did it in a way that honoured the amount of ourselves that we put into that band”.

After the curtains closed for the last time at their poignant Alexandra Palace finale, Orlando began seeking out new possibilities. Since then, he has illustrated and written The Gritterman, a festive book with album accompaniment that sings the melodies of unsung heroes, detailing the life of an ageing labourer who works lonely through the night, and has dabbled with mixed-media artwork for the likes of fashion designer Daniel W Fletcher and Bristolian rabble-rousers IDLES.

However, this June he prepares to debut his first solo offering, ‘A Quickening’, an album that documents another unfamiliar adventure in his life; fatherhood. Inspired by the anticipation of his son’s arrival, Orlando captivates the excitement intertwining with the anxious preparation of a life-changing event in the gentlest of fashions.

“I don’t know if I felt excitement or fear, it just is. I think particularly when you’re waiting for someone’s arrival, there is a beginning, middle and end to that experience, or at least in your head. That’s what you feel is happening; there’s a conclusion to this period of time. You feel like you’re heading towards something, and in life I don’t feel like you get many moments where you’re consciously moving towards a moment, moments seem to happen to you a bit more, or you chance upon things. The title is referencing the momentum of building towards something”.

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Opening with the echoes of ‘my son’, Milk Breath is a song swaddled in cotton wool, a beautiful depiction of a father and his newborn baby discovering the wonder of life from an entirely new perspective. “You’re a beginner / I’m a beginner too”, he sings, a hushed tone as to not disturb or unravel the precious moments spent cradling him to sleep.

“It’s definitely the most personal that I’ve written for a long time. I find the practice of making music, art and anything along those lines incredibly beneficial to my headspace and it became clear over the course of a few months that I couldn’t not write about this. Once I knew, I felt a responsibility to the subject to try and make it feel like something, the best record it could be, which is slightly different to just making good music. It’s about something that’s about to be, and that’s all a long run up to something. There’s a song called Milk Breath which is the only song that came after my son had arrived, and the rest is all a parent in waiting, trying to document”.

A captivating listen throughout, Orlando’s aptitude for elevating the ordinary into a body of work that transports the listener into the toe-tapping shoes of an expectant father is sublime; from the impatient wrestle of being caught between launch and landing in Safe in Sound, the vast, cinematic vitality of Moon’s Opera to the tender lullaby and brass harmonies of St Thomas’, it is truly all-encompassing.

“There’s a song called St Thomas that I feel really close to, and it’s maybe the most evocative in the terms that it takes me back to a moment in that time, and a really specific ten minutes after waiting all of that time”. He is of course talking about the signified end to the quickening, a beloved serenade to the Central London hospital where both he and his son were born.

Before a new release was even teased last year, Orlando announced a string of September shows in some of the UK’s most incredible yet small-scaled venues. A couple hundred capacity handful as opposed to the pint-slinging, limb-flinging rowdy crowds that would’ve poured into standing areas many moons ago, there was an air of trepidity as to what to expect of a show where the audience were oblivious as to what they were about to witness.

“The main reason was to give me confidence in what I’d done so far and believing that something was there. In terms of the audience, the gigs were so still and I didn’t expect that at all. I thought I would feel more of the restlessness, and instead there was a real stillness to the rooms and I wasn’t used to it. It felt very novel and I was incredibly grateful for the people that came and to be in that position.”

“I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy playing live and it required a lot of energy, patience and comprehension of what I was making to get the music to a place where it felt like when we played to people, it wasn’t going to fall flat on its face. Holding my nerve in terms of booking the gigs and not knowing if it was going to work, I’m so pleased that despite where we’re at now, I enjoyed it and look forward to doing more.”

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His often bashful, introspective yet endearing stage presence is still intact, however his decision to shuffle from the spotlight and become fully immersed in his band both musically and positionally is a welcoming change. “I think what I do is I look at people who are extroverted performers and think, god! That must feel amazing! If you watch a Yannis or a Jarvis or a Florence, they’re loving it and having a wonderful time doing it. It doesn’t come easy. I like where I am in the set up of the live shows at the moment but I would really like to be better at that. I’ve tried it at various points throughout being somebody who goes on stage and every time I’ve felt like a bit of a phoney!”

In regards to the musicians who aided in him in creating the tranquil yet mighty melodies on ‘A Quickening’, he feels somewhat indebted. “With The Maccabees, we all learnt how to play together. We were all trying to pretend we knew what we were doing at the same tim. Setting up with the band that I have now, I’m 100% the least competent member of the band and I’m trying to hold onto their coattails a bit. I’m allowing their strengths to decide what the style is in terms of how we’re trying to recreate the records, and they’re all so good in their individual ways that I’d be missing a trick if I wasn’t playing up to their strengths and highlighting them”.

The visual components to ‘A Quickening’ feature obscure, Stonehenge-esque patterns that contort over the course of each single cover to form an elusive pattern that questions a further meaning. An art form that he graced upon during his pause from musical endeavours, Orlando explains: “It felt like something I’ve looked forward to all the way through making the record. I was trying to figure out if there was some visual accompaniment to it and how I’m going to make that work”.

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The way that I make music quite often is I’m always trying to upcycle stuff, so little elements of songs that don’t work will survive in others, and with the visual stuff I would collate and scrapbook. I came across these stamps over Christmas that suddenly had this nice thing where there were a few elements you could rearrange, and each rearrangement would create a different composition, and each composition, if I retrieve it right, had its own identity; all the same but they all felt different.”

It felt like they hint at something and were suggestive of three dimensional objects, and in a way, all through waiting for our son to arrive, that’s our experience of when you know it’s going to be a living, breathing, three dimensional person, but at the time you just get these funny, grainy, black and white 2D renderings of that, and these prints had a little feeling of the same quality. I like that they feel like hieroglyphs, like little precious objects or amulets. They felt abstract enough in a way that they could be interpreted as lots of other things too, and I fell for the way they align and lent themselves to being printed, and answered a lot of these questions I had”.

After mastering the intricacy of several art forms, it’s intriguing to wonder what direction Orlando will steer into next. “With the shapes, I would like to find a way of getting them made into 3D objects, so maybe I need to do a night class at ice sculpture!”

At the moment, my focus is trying to give the record the best opportunity to get out in the world; there’s a song on the record called Moon’s Opera that I’m trying to illustrate a book that is led by what I see when I listen to that song. Another project like Gritterman would be great, there’s a lot of reading in my life at the moment, and as for my son I’m very relieved he’s into Maurice Sendak which makes my life easier, so a lot of Where the Wild Things Are!”

As ‘A Quickening’ arrives into the world next month, Orlando prepares for the long forgotten nerves of anticipated reactions. However, the passion he has for music itself is something that he has never quite managed to shake off. “It’s hard to put down. It’s really difficult to stop doing it once you’ve had the thrill of making something that you think holds its own. I can’t imagine not doing it at the moment, and then in terms of playing live, it’s that awful thing of not knowing what you’ve got until it’s gone.”

“It feels brand new to me; a different set of challenges and atmospheres and new places to play. I hope in the not too distant future, there's an opportunity to do more of it!”

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'A Quickening' will be released on June 12th.

Words: Becca Fergus

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