The many acts of Johnny Daukes
When his surreal TV series The Message ended, Johnny Daukes proceeded to direct his debut and critically acclaimed film, Acts of Godfrey, while working on music projects. Mat Osman catches up with him following the release of his second solo album, A False Parade
Johnny’s a man of many hats – comedy writer for radio and TV, including the BBC series The Message, musician with the band Fin as well as solo stuff, and now film-maker. I chatted to him about some of his projects, old and new.
What’s the story of The Message?
The Message was supposed to be this hybrid of Channel 4 and BBC2 – featuring the strange public service stuff they’d do; we’d have features on the ‘nation’s favourite password’ or the ‘nation’s favourite massacre’ where different celebrities would make a case for Culloden or the St Valentines’ Day massacre. I think the incoming controller just didn’t understand it. We had a lot of good reviews saying: “This is mental – it’s so close to reality that lots of viewers are going to think it’s real”. The idea was that it was this TV channel that spent more on the trailers and promos than on the programmes (which is bloody close to reality).
So after the new controller not really promoting it, you decided to go back to music making?
Yeah, I rerecorded a couple of things that I’d written before The Message, made The Promise [first solo album] and just got 1,000 copies made up. I half-heartedly gave a few to a mate who used to be in music PR and took a couple down to Nigel at Rough Trade and that was about it.
Then I got a myspace message from someone purporting to be the music editor of the Sunday Times saying “I love this record, who’s your PR?”
So I myspaced back “Yeah yeah fuck off, who is this really?”
And it took an email from their picture desk saying “You’re album of the week in the Sunday Times, can we get a picture?” before I knew it wasn’t a wind-up. The review actually began with: “Before we start here’s a message for Johnny Daukes who doesn’t believe I’m who I say I am”.
So it was only then I got a PR and everything but it got a really good response and I started thinking of myself as a musician again.
So you immediately went off and wrote a film instead?
Well after The Message, which I’d worked my ass off on for two years and it was almost like it never happened – like watching a car crash in slow motion – I got really ill, I got this weird disease of the nervous system – Guillain–Barré syndrome. You get partial paralysis and in serious cases people end up on a ventilator. I was incapacitated for 10 weeks and I pulled out this old script I’d written, Acts of Godfrey. I’d written radio and TV series before and I wanted to write something longer, something that mattered.
So why, for your first foray into film did you write in rhyming verse?
The trigger was seeing a Racine play called Britannicus in Glasgow, which is written in verse, and I didn’t understand a word of it – it was just inscrutable and boring. It gave me a perverse challenge; I thought “It’s got to be possible to write something in rhyme that isn’t cutesy”. One writer who saw the finished film told me “That was like watching a musical, but without the embarrassment.”
And after it winning accolades everywhere, and featuring at the Raindance festival, you went back to music again?
I spent 2008 to now finishing Godfrey: getting it produced, raising the money. But at the same time we built this studio [the interview’s taking place in Johnny’s shed-cum-studio-cum-edit-suite] and the record got made over about two years with friends dropping in to play guitar and drums.
And the gigs?
Well it’s going to just be me, a guitarist and a cellist – songs from the two records we discussed here and some from a new record I have coming out next year. In February, I wrote a set of nine songs in nine days. A friend of mine played them to her husband, Gareth Jones, who’s produced Depeche Mode, Nick Cave and lots of other people, and he came over and we did a couple of rehearsals. He wants to try and record them live, here.
And what’s next?
I’ve written a film called Ghost of a Chance – it’s a psychological thriller and also I’m working on a film where a lot of the dialogue will be sung. It’s called Goodbye Mother and it all takes place in one day.
Photo: Tom Medwell