Orlando Weeks, the former frontman of The Maccabees, has always been able to portray a narrative. However Orlando has spent the past year paving a new path — or rather wandering back down an old one — in a new visual, audible project The Gritterman, a book written and illustrated by the artist, accompanied by a piano-based album with narration from comedian Paul Whitehouse.
Ten years ago when The Maccabees began, Orlando was studying illustration at Brighton University, and continued the course even after the band had signed a record deal. “It was a lot to take on actually, and I’m lazy anyway, but I remember I had a couple of lovely tutors who said that what I was doing in the music world was totally relevant to what I was doing in my degree,” Orlando tells It’s Nice That. “At the time, my sort of fuddled mind thought that meant I could put some Maccabees flyers in my portfolio. But now I realise, I could write stories, draw stuff, and write songs that go with it.” The Gritterman sees each of these interests coincide. “Slowly, slowly,” says Orlando. “It’s only taken ten years.”
Orlando wasn’t continuously drawing during his time in The Maccabees, conscious of never wanting “to be the guy in the corner of the cafe drawing the passersby — that would make me feel massively uncomfortable,” taking a large break from putting pen to paper. “For the first five years you were never anywhere long enough to find a nice quiet place,” he explains. It was only once Orlando realised he could dip in and out of short story writing using notes on his phone that he began to pick it up again. “Once I was writing I became more bullish, getting into a venue early and finding a desk. That was my entry into that stuff.”
The Gritterman sees Orlando develop the narrative of one particular character, an older, friendly grandad-like figure, “a song for the unsung hero” off of his phone and into this multi-dimensional project. The storyline, illustrations and music each have a charming quality, portrayed on the surface through the artist’s hand-crafted illustration style, a mix of watercolour, coloured pencil and faint ink outlines.
“I still think I am trying to figure out a way that I am comfortable with drawing,” explains Orlando. But it is the affable style of illustration binds the different aspects of the project together. “The music is almost entirely piano-based and his narration is his voice, a personality which is pretty consistent. I think the ink outlines and lots of coloured pencil are the equivalent of those constants.” Modestly, Orlando says: “I think there is plenty of shoddy decision making in there but I still think it holds together. You get from beginning to end and don’t notice newer drawings verses the older ones, ones where I was still far away from getting comfy with a ‘style’.”
Orlando will be reading from The Gritterman as part of Gimme Shelter X Book Slam for the charity at The Priory Church of the order of St John, London on 14 September.
Orlando began investing work on The Gritterman at the same time The Maccabees decided to call it a day, the announcement of the books release followed exactly a year later. Although the artist decided to “stick everything into this one project,” he was still juggling with the final Maccabees’ shows, running from their Manchester gig to proof a dummy of the book. However, this shift in creative outlets was one he enjoyed. “It was all pleasure, but it was squeezing,” he says. “I was going from a meeting to soundcheck and then playing. I had too many things to think about but that was useful, overthinking would have only made it harder.”
By combining songwriting, storytelling and illustration within The Gritterman Orlando has surrounded himself with comfortable interests, a much less daunting task than going fully solo. “I’ve spent so many years in collaboration with other people that one of the things that was really useful with this project was that I had three very separate entities which I was trying to find a continuity between,” he explains. “My illustrator brain was sort of in dialogue with my writing brain and my music brain. Each of them were jostling for importance and all the same sort of dynamics you’d have in another collaboration were going on. In the beginning there was no part of me that thought this would be a clever way of covering anything up, but in retrospect that was a blundering astute way of coping with being on my own. Luckily.”
The Gritterman was released last week (8 September), via Particular Books an imprint of Penguin and shows Orlando courageously crafting a new creative role for himself. The risk of moulding his creative interests and pasts into one has paid off. “So much of making anything is about keeping confidence, for me anyway,” he says. “Believing that there is worth to it and that it’s any good and if you’re getting stuck, that’s your confidence getting drained. Having avenues to kind of side step those blockages is really useful.”
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