Simon Fisher Turner On Derek Jarman’s Blue

As the BFI launches a major season Derek Jarman's live and work, longtime musical collaborator Simon Fisher Turner talks The Quietus through 'Blue's genesis, creation and release, and his subsequent part in keeping Jarman's memory alive.

We were at the Edinburgh Film Festival and Derek had this crazy idea one morning, walking down the hill. He said ‘I’ve got this idea for a film, which will all be blue, Dolby stereo, no image, are you interested?’

I said ‘Yeah, absolutely’. He said ‘It’ll be about Yves Klein’. I thought ‘Who’s Yves Klein?’ It was instantly – OK, let’s find out who this man was.

We did the very first concert to raise people’s awareness of it at the Lumiere cinema in St Martin’s Lane. Initially there was no script at all. Derek would make lists of anything that was blue: blue helmets, blue movies, blue whales, blue stories, blue poems, blue films, you name it, anything to do with blue. There was a dancer involved, there were two narrators – Derek and Tilda Swinton talking on stage. They were really improvised and mad, and then gradually a script emerged, which was based on a story Derek had written at school, which was a very political script, very good. It was his personal politics really, raging against the times.

Eventually, when he was diagnosed with AIDS, he decided to change the whole concept and make it about his life. It became an AIDS-related project which you can take one of two ways: you could say it was very depressing or you could take it the opposite way as very celebratory. So that’s what happened, it became this unbelievable piece of writing. ‘Blue’, the film, the concept, and everything, what it’s about is the writing, beautiful writing.

It turned into a very personal piece of work and he still couldn’t get any interest to make the film, because who could possibly finance a film with no pictures and a script about AIDS?

Anyway, we got a phone call from Brian Eno, saying ‘What can I do?’ Brian gave us some money, he gave us the facilities to be able to record. I met up with Markus (Dravs, Eno’s engineer) and we had a window of about four weeks after Christmas. When Markus and I went down to see Derek about ‘Blue’, he was saying ‘What’s the fucking music going to be like? You start recording next week.’ And I’m like, ‘I can’t tell you. All I know is we’ve done these concerts, and we’re just going to make it.’ And he really was quite angry about that. Then Markus reassured him, it would be OK, ‘cos we’d lined up musicians, we’d got singers in, we’d got string players in. But he couldn’t hear it, there was nothing to hear. ‘But there’s nothing to see Derek, what do you want to hear it for? We’re going to bounce off the words. The words make the music.’

We had to record the words quite quickly so Derek had to go into the studio with another engineer and record all the vocals. The script came to 22 minutes of spoken word, so once everybody was happy we took it to Eno’s house in Woodbridge. We had a blank Blue and we spaced the dialogue out over 75 minutes. Musicians came up when we needed them, we got hold of people who seemed to be interested, and it worked out beautifully, we were very pleased. It was a great experience.

We showed it in the Camden Plaza when it first came out – big cinema, big Blue perfect. After that it was like: we’re not really interested in making films anymore, we’re not interested in making music for films anymore because we’ve kind of done it really. You know it is the ultimate film, you can dream, close your eyes. The film was incredible, it’s more than cinema. Because there’s nothing to look at apart from the blue, it gets your aural senses going.

With the live remix, we’d transferred all the DAT tapes from the film onto the Mac, so I had the masters of the music without the dialogue. I could take bits that were recorded for the film and use them in a live context. Live I just try and make up an atmosphere or relate the film to how I feel. You’ve got to keep remembering, don’t complicate things, keep it moving along, but I do like to play sound effects, it’s not just music.

You could do a Blue concert with a piano only, easily. I’ve always wanted to do ‘Blue’ with a woman narrating, Patti Smith would be ideal. I’d love Bob Dylan to do it, you know how he sounds, he’s got a beautiful voice. He could do ‘Blue’. Absolutely fantastic. It may sound far-fetched, but have a woman do it, have Bob Dylan do it, they’re not so far apart. Derek was a poet, Dylan’s a poet. Maybe if we could get to him it would work.

I’m really glad Cine-City asked us to do it in Brighton. I tried to do it in New York, December 1st [World AIDS Day], and no one’s gone for it at all. I don’t quite know why, it’s such a good day to do it. I think people have to keep remembering about AIDS. Annie Lennox is about the only celebrity, spokesperson, whatever to talk about AIDS. It’s quite forgotten. It’s off the map.

I love to hear the words. I need to hear them because I really need to be reminded not just of the words but of the person. I think it’s still important to play it, and for people to see it. I really do.

It’s a wise piece of writing. Derek was a wise man. And that was always astonishing, you never felt he was talking down to you. Incredibly open. A life changing person. And a sharer. And a teacher without teaching. There was something very Zen about him you know. He was very humble, really interesting, a giver, his energy was unbounded. He always had a million ideas. He was a gardener of people, of ideas.

What I like to think is we’re spreading these thoughts we’re talking about, we’re spreading his mindset. And keeping people still thinking about him. It’s a really nice thing. And it makes you think. It’s not often you go to a concert and you come away thinking about things.

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today