The song cycle

ELECTRONIC PRESS KIT

Overview

Nick at Glastonbury

Poster and Promo

Themes & Tone Sample Reel

A snapshot of our key story strands.

Synopsis

SHORT
A documentary about veteran musician and film director Nick Kelly’s idealistic, hilarious and moving journey by bicycle to play the Glastonbury festival.

LONG
I’m Nick Kelly, an Oscar-shortlisted film maker and Choice Music Prize-nominated musical artist born and based in Ireland.

In 2022 I decided to cycle from my home in Dublin to the Glastonbury Festival in Somerset, England – carrying my guitar, my tent and everything else I needed with me on my bicycle, and playing shows in towns along the way – to prove that it was possible to be a touring musician without driving.

I was accompanied by my great friend and musical partner Sean Millar who tracked my progress by public transport, joined me onstage every night, and generally acted as a witty, long-suffering and sometimes sceptical Sancho Panza to my Don Quixote.

On the day we finally played Glastonbury I turned 60 – thereby outliving my politician father John Kelly who died aged 59 (and would never even been aware of the existence of Glastonbury, much less contemplated attending it).

So, while inspired by environmental concerns, The Song Cycle has turned out to be a film about other forms of sustainability too.

Nick and Sean on stage in Cardifff

How can we preserve the magical communal experience of live music as well as our own precious and endangered planet? How can we endure and adapt as artists and human beings as we move into later life? How can we maintain our most important relationships through all of those treacherous twists and turns in the road. How can we retain our sense of humour and perspective whatever humiliations life throws in our path?

I now realise that my film may throw up as many questions as answers – but also I hope ultimately encourages viewers to stay in the saddle and keep pedalling, whatever the weather, traffic or gradient we face.

Director's Statement

INSPIRATION, PERSPIRATION AND AFFIRMATION

I’ve been a touring musician for over 30 years, travelling between shows across Europe and America by plane, tour bus, splitter van and private car. I’ve also travelled considerably as a film maker. My first feature The Drummer and The Keeper (2017) screened at festivals all over world, many of which I was invited to attend – obviously gratifying for me as a writer-director but also guilt-inducing in terms of how much all that air travel was amplifying my personal carbon footprint.

I’d become increasingly aware of other musical artists – people like Coldplay, Massive Attack and Billie Eilish – grappling to reconcile their artistic and economic need to perform live with the harmful impact of that activity on a global environment under existential threat. I’d heard the pretty terrifying statistic that 80% of the carbon footprint of a typical major live music event is directly related to travel. 

Then, in November 2019, I had a moment of revelation when I was asked to perform a single song at a large multi-artist event in Dublin. Realising that backstage parking at the 8000-capacity 3Arena was going to be extremely constrained. I donned my rain gear (this was a very typical Irish Autumn night), strapped my guitar onto my back, threw my stage wear in my pannier, and mounted my trusty bicycle. I got a few curious looks from Security and one or two of my fellow-musicians at the stage door, but the surprising ease of this way of travelling to a gig was revelatory for me.

That show inspired me to plan The Song Cycle. As a not particularly fit, skilled or youthful cyclist, I reckoned that if I could manage to transport myself and my gear to a major musical event solely by pedal power, so could many, many others.

Nick on the way to 3 arena

For me, film and music are very similar art forms. I credit much of my success in film to my background in music. The one big difference is how remarkably more expensive it is to make a movie than a record. Even on my very modestly budgeted first feature, a typical shooting day involved 40 or more highly specialised professionals on set. I’ve spent much of the past 15 years pitching, writing applications and nagging producers, broadcasters and funders to support my film projects financially – a necessary but immensely wearing process that almost all directors have to engage in continually to make their work. 

In 1997, three years after I’d split The Fat Lady Sings and walked away from our major label deal, I funded the pressing of my first solo album Between Trapezes by writing directly to 600 fans and asking them to support my project. This initiative – way before the Internet or crowdfunding was really a thing – not only gave me the money I needed to finish my record, but also the affirmation that what I was doing was worthy of support. I’ve funded each of my subsequent solo albums in this way. 

Nick directing on set

When I decided to film my journey to Glastonbury, I chose to embrace a similar alternative aesthetic, not least because both the ethos and the practicalities of the project demanded it. If I could gig minimally, couldn’t I also film that way? Travelling on bikes necessarily rules out heavy cameras and lights – but actually the technology now available allowed us to create a cinematic experience with tiny cameras and natural light. 

I’ve maintained this approach by running a Kickstarter campaign to fund post-production. Over the course of one month – October 2023 – nearly 250 pledged between €5 and €2500, smashing our target of €25,000 and not only enabling me to pay for editing, archive footage and sound design but also encouraging me to believe that many people really want to see our finished film.

I’m proud of what we’ve created, grateful to all of the people who’ve supported us on the journey so far, and very excited as we roll forward.

Nick at Glastonbury sign

Bios

MY OWN BACK STORY

Having studied law I gave up my legal studies on the day I qualified as a Solicitor to focus on artistic and creative pursuits.

Music

I’ve been described as “uncompromised and ever-shining, precious” by NME and “the most visual songwriter Ireland has ever produced” by Hot Press. I first came to prominence as frontman with The Fat Lady Sings, with whom I released two acclaimed albums on EastWest / Atlantic Records in the early 1990s and toured extensively in Ireland, the UK, Europe and North America. I’ve subsequently released four independent solo albums on my own Self Possessed label, the latter two as Alien Envoy. Most recently, I’ve been collaborating with my great friend and fellow songwriter Seán Millar as Dogs. Having toured sustainably around Ireland and the UK, including playing Glastonbury in both 2022 and 2023, we’ve now recorded our debut album Joy which we’re planning to release in the coming months. At various points I’ve been awarded Best Solo Artist at the Irish Music Critics Awards, nominated for Irish Album of The Year at the Choice Music Prize, and voted Ireland’s #3 Best Songwriter in the Hot Press annual Readers’ Poll.

Film and Television

I began writing and directing films in 2003. My second short Why The Irish Dance That Way was selected by New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) for Shortfest: Outstanding Shorts From The International Festivals in 2006. My third short Shoe was Oscar-shortlisted at the 2011 Academy Awards. My debut feature The Drummer And The Keeper (2017) won 18 awards on the international festival circuit. In 2018 I set up The Story Works, an innovative independent TV writers room based in Dublin with the aim of generating new television drama with global potential. Bedsitterland, a new drama feature written and to be directed by me was selected for the Berlinale Co-Production Market in 2020 and is currently in development. My drama feature screenplay The Sea Lion was a Quarter-Finalist in the 2023 Page Awards. Red Ted Media have recently optioned Welcome To Hell, an epic period TV crime drama written by myself and Carl Austin.

Advertising

I’m one of Ireland’s most highly-regarded advertising creatives and commercial directors. As a copywriter, I won a Clio for my Guinness ad Tom Crean and cast a young Michael Fassbender in another epic Guinness spot Quarrel. Working pro bono I wrote the Party Political Broadcast for the Irish Green Party in the 2007 Irish General Election which was credited by many with helping the Greens achieve participation in the subsequent Coalition Government, and wrote and directed a fund-raising appeal for the Irish Film Archive featuring Saoirse Ronan. I’ve directed spots for (among others) AIB bank, Barry’s Tea, Newstalk Radio, Clonakilty black pudding, SSE Airtricity and homeless charity Simon.

Dogs on the beach

MY TRAVELLING COMPANION

SEÁN MILLAR has been described as “an Irish National treasure, the Poet Laureate of Dublin’s dark side” by The Irish Times and as “Ireland’s greatest lyricist” by the RTE Guide. Also known as Doctor Millar, Seán has released six critically-acclaimed solo albums, and has been nominated for many awards for his work. He is an internationally-acclaimed theatre maker and composer. Silver Stars, his song cycle for theatre, was listed at #1 in the Irish Independent’s Best Theatre Shows of the Noughties. Since the late 1990s he has worked as an artist/facilitator on many community-based socially-engaged collaborative music and theatre performances. In 2022 he was invited to curate and perform Love Song Part 1: Communities of Dissent, a retrospective celebration of his theatre and community work at Ireland’s national theatre, The Abbey.

Nick and Sean on tour

He’s also my close friend ever since we first met in London over three decades ago when we were trying to break through with our respective bands, and a songwriter whose work I greatly admire and enjoy. As well as the suite of songs we’ve written and recorded together as Dogs, we also perform a selection of our respective “greatest hits” at our live shows. Previous to our collaboration as Dogs, we’d briefly co-fronted The Unelectables, a short-lived supergroup of Dublin musicians who’d failed to become pop stars in the 1990s and were voted “Best Dressed Band” at the Electric Picnic in 2019 by the Irish Times.

MY KEY COLLABORATORS

  • CÉIN O’BRIEN is a cinematographer working with Collective, a cutting edge Dublin-based production and communications company, and has personally filmed content for some of the biggest artists, musical events and brands in Ireland, ranging from Boots Pharmacy to Bono, Altogether Now Festival to Guinness. Céin cycled with me from Dublin to Glastonbury, filming the preparations, journey, shows and interactions along the way.

  • ALAN GILSENAN is a multi-award winning Dublin-based documentary film-maker whom I’ve known since childhood. Alan conducted the five hour long interview with me following the completion of our journey, and another separate long interview with Seán, from which the narrative of the film has been constructed.

  • SUSAN GLEESON is a cinematographer, editor, social media content creator, producer and tireless supporter of and ally in my work in film and music for more than 10 years. In addition to filming many of the supplementary interviews for this project, and in some cases conducting the interviews herself, she played a major role in the setting up and running of our highly successful Kickstarter campaign.

  • EILEEN TIMMONS is an Editor from Dublin who graduated from the National Film School at IADT in 2015. She has worked on a variety of film, television and online projects across the post-production and camera departments, with a particular interest in documentaries. Her work has been showcased at prominent film festivals, including Camerimage, Galway Film Fleadh and Toronto Female Eye Film Festival.

  • BJORN MAC GIOLLA is an Irish-Swedish film editor hailing from Co. Mayo but based in Dublin. He has worked on a variety of award-winning documentaries and television shows that have screened at film festivals both nationally and internationally, including Paul Muldoon – A life in Lyrics (2023), The United Irishmen (2023), and The Seven Ages of Noel Browne (2022).

Soundtrack

The Song Cycle is a quasi-musical, with live performances from various shows along the journey augmented by studio recordings of songs composed and performed by me and Seán.

Dogs have recorded a debut album Joy which includes many of the songs featured on The Song Cycle, and will in effect act as a soundtrack album.

Our plan is to schedule the release of this album to coincide with the film’s release, and to schedule live performances by Dogs at festivals where The Song Cycle is screening, thereby providing a unique cross-promotional opportunity.

Here are three sample tracks from Joy which soundtrack key scenes in our movie:

DOGS Joy - Album Cover

Credits

  • Writer / Director: Nick Kelly
  • Producer: Nick Kelly
  • Assistant Producer: Susan Gleeson
  • Interviewer (Nick and Seán): Alan Gilsenan
  • Cinematographer (Journey): Céin O’Brien
  • Cinematographer (Nick Interview): Colm Hogan
  • Cinematographer (Supplementary Interviews): Susan Gleeson
  • Cinematographer (Supplementary Footage): Nick Kelly, Susan Gleeson, Mark Logan
  • Sound Recording (Nick Interview): Kieran Horgan
  • Sound Recording (Supplementary Interviews): Susan Gleeson
  • Editors: Bjorn Mac Giolla, Eileen Timmons
  • Soundtrack: Nick Kelly, Seán Millar
  • Sound Mix: Kevin Breathnach
  • Archive Research: Eoin Sweeney
  • Executive Producers: Jeannette Byrne, Amer Hilal, David Kelly, Nick Nugent.

Media Coverage

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