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selected from shoot diaries spanning three decades

Summer of 2010: the thoughts of tyro star, Cosmo Jarvis

1st June 2010

​June 1st 2010

Richard K has indicated, as subtly as ever, that he might take my bait and consider a film about popster wunderkind Cosmo Jarvis. I want to tell the story of the Next Big Thing while it’s still small, before success spoils everything, and also observe the agonies of the mentors at the record company whose job it is to deliver the Proto-Thing intact, brilliant, free to create like rockstars do, but with clean nails, and an interest in Punk not Skunk.

I believe singer-songwriter Cosmo Jarvis is it, and so do his weary record-company minders, Barry and James.  But getting him to the spotlight is not easy. He writes poetically and obsessively, but refuses to make songs that fit into acceptable boundaries and don’t contain non-Radio One language. I like him a lot.

a genius, home grown and on YouTube
a genius, home grown and on YouTube

Tonight I’m at the O2 Hammersmith, backstage, Z7 in hand, for The Garden Productions. Cosmo is performing two numbers at a Radio 6 concert to mark Tom Robinson’s 60th birthday. Like any young animal, Cos is restless and hard to pin down. One minute he’s all limbs, sprawling in a sofa that looks as though it was recently on fire. The next he’s piling up and down the backstairs trying to meet people. I’m trying to tease out just enough off the cuff moments to convince BBC 4 that he’s a child genius we have to capture now – or never.

And none of this is legal of course. The O2 Hammersmith has said I can film the show, but backstage will cost £1500. It’s a shithole and costs the same as the V&A.

kindred spirits: Tom and Cosmo pose for the BBC
kindred spirits: Tom and Cosmo pose for the BBC

Cosmo finds Tom Robinson is another dank dressing room that smells of a battle lost by Shake n Vac in the face of overwhelming forces of urine and vomit. But they are kindred sprits, and it’s rock and roll.  Tom is getting ready to go on. A man in headphones is ironing a shirt in the corner, and Tom, grey, tall and august, is getting into black garments. Parked outside there might be a Porsche or a pushbike, I can’t tell. Cosmo and he talk, and Tom pales beneath his moon-tan on discovering that the shaven-headed youth is just twenty.  I crash-zoom in: is this a moment in rock history? Tom tells me to camera, that Cosmo is the shape of things to come and has penned the greatest love song of the year, a glorious anthem, in Gay Pirates. That’s what I call a soundbite. I want to kiss him.

In the wings, end of the lens, Dbs cranked up into the illegal non-transmittable zone. Cosmo may be discernable amidst grain the size of rice, but Pennebaker never worried about that. You can smell the history.

Cosmo leaps to the mike, which howls. He’s gong to play two numbers, one slightly crapper than the other. They can of course have Gay Pirates. The crowd go nuts. He’s off. It’s all going down – check playback between songs – and I’ve got at least two varieties of shot, with only a bit of cabling and a bit of fire curtain in the way. Get down onto the Lager-smelling floor and shoot up his nose for half of the piratical number, and force my way back to get him coming off.

What does the star feel, how was it for him, is this the big nite, just give me bloody something and then preferably smash the ukulele on the floor and say a bad word.

“I was shit”. Great, that’s going to be fine if we then cut to you relaxing at home in Penzance with a cat and your ma making coffee while you reflect on your future, but this might be our first and last rendezvous for this little film.

But then there’s a last gobbet of news. He’s taking the summer off to direct his first feature. He's already sent the 190-page screenplay of The Naughty Room in my inbox. Maybe BBC4 will buy the story of a young director and give this old one a break.