You can almost imagine the jaws dropping when the marketing pitch came in. The best way to market Sheffield, so the spiel went, would be to film a band playing a gig in Manchester and then have to it directed by a Londoner. And not actually mention Sheffield.
The idea would be ludicrous if it wasn't for two vital details. The band was the Arctic Monkeys, one of the most popular bands in Britain and one of the Steel City's most famous products, and the film company was Sheffield-based Warp, the outfit behind the Shane Meadows-directed movies Dead Man's Shoes and This Is England.
It was the fact that both of the key creative parties hailed from Sheffield that convinced Brendan Moffett, the marketing director at Creativesheffield, that funding a live DVD collaboration between the two would be the best way to promote Sheffield as a city of creativity.
"Most places that promote themselves do it with pretty banal advertising campaigns that use logos and straplines, but Sheffield is a pragmatic place and that kind of thing wouldn't have washed within the city – and we don't think it would have worked very well outside the city," says Moffett. "We wanted to do something covert, rather than overt, and while this video might not scream 'Sheffield', we are confident that people will realise that the Arctic Monkeys are from the city and, if they dig a little deeper, that they will find out that Warp come from Sheffield, too. In terms of promoting the city we couldn't have run an advertising campaign that shows Sheffield in a better light."
The film simply shows the band playing their final gig of 2007. It's not even in Sheffield but at the Manchester Apollo. The doc was released for a one-night only showing in 40 cinemas across the UK last week and goes on sale in shops on 3 November. The aim was to market Sheffield as a city with a "strong media presence" according to Moffett.
"Sheffield has been known for its steel production, but I think it is a city that is creative. We are good at making things, whether that is steel or media products. We've got 50,000 students here and we are keen to attract more and keep them here. Young people here are ensuring that the city is emerging with a strong online presence and that is good if the city wants to establish itself in this industry."
The location of the Monkeys gig lends a certain irony, given the success of Manchester in rebranding itself as a modern creative centre. "People have asked whether we see Manchester as a good example to follow. That was traditionally a very industrial place, but now it is young and vibrant. It is potentially a good model to copy, but the one we want to imitate is Amsterdam, which has a really strong creative and digital industry."
To this end, Creativesheffield agreed to fund Warp Films to produce and distribute the DVD. In contrast to most promotional films, the Arctic Monkeys Live At The Apollo DVD doesn't make a single reference to the subject it is intended to advertise, namely the city of Sheffield. The film's executive producer, Mark Herbert, says omitting references to the city was deliberate. "The film is for an international audience and we were conscious of the fact that we could be seen to be guilty of harping on a bit if we kept mentioning Sheffield. Everyone knows the band is from Sheffield and that's a good enough advertisement for the city in itself."
But the DVD sits in a wider marketing strategy that includes another musical project with more obvious branding, an album called Made In Sheffield, which will see Tony Christie perform songs written by Arctic Monkey's front man Alex Turner and, another favourite son of Sheffield, Jarvis Cocker of Pulp, among others.
The live DVD wasn't the first time that Warp and the Arctic Monkeys had collaborated. Warp also made Scummy Man, a short film inspired by the band's song "When the Sun Goes Down". "We had been talking to the band about doing a live DVD and were planning on doing it at [Manchester's] Old Trafford cricket ground, but it was a bit big and we felt it would work better in a smaller, more intimate venue, so we decided to schedule a gig at the Apollo," says Herbert. "It was specifically arranged so we could make the DVD and I think that worked better than if we had just filmed a random tour night. This was a one-off gig to make a DVD and everyone knew that, so it meant that the band and the crew were working together on it."
Also working with the band for a second time was the film's director, Richard Ayoade, best known as a comedy actor in shows such as Channel 4's The IT Crowd, who also directed the Arctic Monkey's video "Fluorescent Adolescent". The DVD is notable for its lack of audience shots and Ayoade says this was intended. "The films we like were films like The Last Waltz [Martin Scorsese's 1978 rockumentary of the last gig by The Band] and you don't see the audience and it feels more immediate. I always feel that if you do [show the audience reaction] it's like you are saying 'Look, honestly, people enjoyed it. Here's a face of a man screaming.' It feels a bit too much like sports coverage." As for them band members themselves, this was their first live DVD. Bassist Nick O'Malley explains the reason behind the timing, saying "We have never seen ourselves play and we thought this was a good way to do something that can be kept as a memory."
'The Arctic Monkeys Live At The Apollo' goes on sale on 3 November and will be screened at Sheffield DocFest, a documentary festival sponsored by 'The Independent', on 7 NovemberReuse content