So, after the album artwork wall, the Every Teardrop video came next? Yeah, that came very quickly after, just before the Glastonbury performance.
Were you officially the band’s artist in residence by then? That was around about that time, I think. That was a real honour. Phil termed me as a “longterm collaborator”. And then very quickly I got more and more work. It was funny with the Teardrop video, because when we did the graffiti session in the Bakery, I was like, “We need somewhere bigger! An abandoned building where we can really throw some paint around." And then before you know it, that’s what we had. Were you a fan of Coldplay before you become involved? Graffiti is perhaps more usually associated with hip hop. Yeah, I don’t really like the stereotypes of that kind of backpack hip hop thing. I’m very open-minded to all kinds of music and art, I just happen to paint with a spraycan. I loved Yellow back around the time I was at university. And I saw them at Glastonbury a long time ago. But I don’t really follow music that much, so I didn’t realise how absolutely massive they'd become in the last ten years. I did some homework and I was like, “Oh my goodness”. Mindblowing. I do follow album cover art, and I recognised all of theirs.
The Every Teardrop video looks like a big job. It really was. It was a very fast turnover too. I had a meeting one day with Mat Whitecross at the site, Millennium Mills, and we had a walk around. He had a vision very early on and I had a team of about five and all of us had five or ten runners to help us. There was a theme and it was very tightly planned, but then we were also given the opportunity to interpret things for ourselves. We were told what had to happen - like the pulsing heart - but how we did it was up to us. So my girlfriend, Milk, worked on animating that heart. It was two or three days of non-stop work. The fluro room took at least a day to create. That was one of my favourite bits.
Is all that still there? No. The team of helpers that I talked about, as we would finish in one room and move onto the next for filming, they would be in there with emulsion and cleaning products getting rid of it all! And you’d step back in the room literally an hour later and find it was all gone. Such a pity. There were bits you could’ve opened as a nightclub. It was beautiful.
And then, of course, you painted the stage sets for the tour. Yes. That came really quickly off the back of the video. We did a few drapes - there was a smaller one for the Q Magazine shoot, I think - and then they started sending us stages and bigger drapes and it started growing and growing. We were getting pianos and guitars and all sorts.
It sounds like it must’ve been quite a surreal few months for you. Yeah, we barely had time to think about it. I live a fairly rural existence in Bristol, doing my own thing. Then suddenly we were catapulted into this other world. But the briefs were always just so much fun, with the fluorescent paint. If I made it too graffiti, they’d send it back and say, “No, rough it up a little bit, make it look looser” and that was what I wanted to hear. It was brilliant. And I didn’t say no to anything. It just kept coming!
It’s a pretty amazing commission to get. Oh, it’s the ultimate dream job. If you’d asked me last February what I’d have done by the time 2011 had finished, I could never have guessed it in a million years.
Have you travelled around with the band? Yeah. In the run up to the album launch we had an incredible couple of months, doing the work in Madrid for the show there, working on the adverts in the build-up to that and also going to New York a couple of times, helping out with the Today show and Saturday Night Live and all of that. It all happened really quickly. It actually took me a while to get a copy of the album because it was happening so fast! I was seeing posters everywhere, in New York and London, and getting text messages from people about it.
Is the album cover recognisable as a Paris work? Yeah, I think so. It doesn’t say Paris in big letters across it, but that style is. When everyone saw Glastonbury live on TV - with the instruments and the backdrops - my phone didn’t stop going off all night.
Presumably you were at the Glastonbury show? Oh yes. We actually went out and watched it from the fields, because we’d worked on all this stuff, we wanted to see it in action with the lasers. It was breathtaking. That’s when all the pieces really fit together - when the music started playing and the boys did their thing. We realised then how big a thing we were part of.
Have you enjoyed the shows you’ve seen? Absolutely. And it always changes. Y’know, the artwork that we’ve been doing, I always try and give it volume so that it’s eye-catching and powerful, that’s my style anyway. But when I see that as part of their live show, where I’m creating a stage set to their music, it’s just incredible.
Do you go on tour with them? No, we’re not on the tourbus or anything, which is sometimes a relief. But they’re always so welcoming when we are at a show. We can hang out with the band. It’s wonderful.
Are you working on the stadium tour now? Well, we’ve created an incredible amount of work already. There are lots of pieces. And some of the work for things like the Grammys and the X Factor, I actually created quite a lot of it in Bristol and then it was sent out. So I’m holding my breath and it won’t surprise me if I get a last minute phone call. I’ve been at Heathrow several times, painting things to be sent off to wherever, with like a day’s notice. It’s incredible. So I’m just ready to do whatever, wherever. And it must be amazing that these pieces of art you created have been seen by millions and millions of people. It really is breathtaking. I think it’s a wonderful thing, because my artwork now, in conjunction with the band, has got to an audience that would maybe never have seen it. It’ll hopefully have opened a lot of people’s eyes to that kind of art. I’ve definitely got a bigger following for my work now. It’s incredible.
Has more work flooded in for you? I’ve been able to concentrate on my studio work, which I’ve always wanted to do, but as a self-employed artist, you’re often just hopping from one job to the next. With everything that’s happened in the past year, everyone’s been having a little bit of a rest after all the touring last year, so I was able to rent a studio in Bristol - and it’s an abandoned college, so there’s lots of walls I could paint on. I can spread out, I’ve got canvases everywhere. It’s a dream for an artist to just be able to do your thing and focus on that and not worry about paying the rent. And that’s the opportunity the band have given me.
Presumably the folks back home in Hull are very proud of you. Oh yes! My mum’s become a huge Coldplay fan now. She doesn’t stop playing the album. I got her a signed copy - she’d been asking me pretty much since the start if I could - and she was over the moon. And now all the family are on the website reading Roadie #42’s blogs and everything. So, yeah, that’s been great.
For anyone reading this who is interested in graffiti, what’s the best way to start? I think it’s good to work big if you can. I started on my old garage. I actually found a spray can in the street, which I think had literally fallen off the back of a lorry. We were about to pull our old garage down, so my parents said I could spray on it. So even if you can just get a big piece of old wood, just mess about on it. Graffiti doesn’t have to look like what you see on the subway. There’s a style that’s become synonymous with a certain type of graffiti, but for me graffiti is just having fun with making marks. So you could use oil paint if you want! But if you’re messing around with a spraycan, it’s good to wear a mask. And just have a doodle and see what it does. Splash some colour around, use brushes as well, drip some paint, even scratch into it.
We’ll have a whole generation of Coldplay-loving graffiti artists. I hope so! Just make some marks where you can. Don’t worry about the kind of hardcore element. All the graffiti for this campaign has been very much just having fun. And just do it where you’re meant to do it. That’s the bottom line. Even if it’s just your pencil case or customising your clothes or rucksack. That’s another great way to start - just developing your own style and becoming an individual through it.
Final question, as always, is what is your favourite Coldplay song? Well, as I say, my favourite from the back catalogue would be Yellow. But currently it’d either be Paradise or Princess Of China. You know on the stage sets, I’d been writing lyrics to a lot of these songs, long before I heard them. So I know the album off by heart from writing the lyrics. And Chris often jokes about the fact that he needs to give me some new lyrics to work with! But those are my current two favourites.