You thought The Maccabees were gone, right? Not frontman Orlando Weeks, who's just released his very own book.
What do you do after thirteen years in one of the UK's most successful bands? Well, if you're Orlando Weeks you spend The Maccabees' celebratory swansong year creating a magical fairy tale, naturally. Now that The Maccabees have graced the stage for the final time, Orlando is ready to bring The Gritterman to life and reveal what he's been plotting over the last year.
When The Maccabees announced they were to be no more, it sparked a fertile period of creativity for Orlando as he began to cook up the tale of The Gritterman, resulting in the beautiful Snowman-like whimsy of the book and its accompanying album. "I started really working on The Gritterman around the same time the announcement happened," he begins. "I'd written a song about a seasonal hero as the theme, and I just fell for the character. I thought it might be something that I could develop. The idea of this stoic, slightly happy go lucky, solitary figure felt like a good voice to try and write in. I started writing some more music, and a story to go with it and I thought I could do some drawing to go with this."
Creating The Gritterman was partly borne out of frustration with touring and a desire to do something a little bit different. "I started writing stories a few years ago. It wasn't for anything; I just realised it was a way of spending time that would otherwise be wasted on tour. There's so much hanging around. It felt like a good way of getting to the end of the day and feeling like I'd done more than just do the gig. After a while, you start feeling like you need to do more stuff."
The tale of The Gritterman is an everyday story brought to life as a melancholy fantasy as the soon to be redundant hero takes his final voyage doing the job that he loves. In the Gritterman character, Orlando recognises someone who has a deep love for what he does although it's, y'know, a bit different to being a rock star. "I suppose in a sense it gave him great pleasure in the same way that making stuff gives me great pleasure," he says. "I totally understand the character's feeling for loving what he does."
The way Orlando writes about the character is such that he has enormous respect and empathy for him. Something anyone who does a similarly nocturnal and unheralded job can relate to. "So many people do jobs that don't get recognition. I'm in a peculiar position in that my job in some ways is only successful if lots of people are interested in it. There's something very special about someone finding a job that they love if that job doesn't get recognition. There's something romantic in that."
The way the story really comes to life though is through Orlando's illustrations. Art has long been a passion, going back to his days studying at the University of Brighton. Here, he combines his musical and writing skills with the drawing to create something wonderful. First, though, he just needed to go somewhere to find the perfect place to work. "I'd moved to Berlin to just be somewhere else," he begins. "The Maccabees had been at the NME Awards, and that night I put all my gear on Foals' tour bus because they were in Berlin a few days later and I had flown in and met them. I didn't know a lot of people and thought, I need something to do with my time. I didn't want to get stuck on anything. I thought that if I could find a way of using these three things that give me pleasure – writing, music and drawing - then I'm going to feel good and use my time well."
From there, things swiftly moved forward. "Each of the disciplines helped develop the other in terms of forming the story and the look and sound of it."
Musically, the accompanying album is informed by the setting of the night and eerie calmness that goes along with it. It's evocative and full of rich imagery. "The music could afford to be more atmospheric and quieter," he says.
The beauty of The Gritterman is that you can attach your own ideas and imagination to it. There are lots of subtle details. "I thought it was nice and neat that in the summer he could sell ice cream and in the winter, he could get rid of ice. With any of those things where you have a bit of an idea if it's a good enough idea you'll notice these little things will fit together and you roll with those punches."
Giving voice and gravitas to The Gritterman was Paul Whitehouse, ex-Fast Show star and genuine comic royalty, who plays a striking role as narrator. "We met and had a cup of coffee, and I felt very shy," laughs Orlando. "I've grown up watching his stuff. There was a programme that he did recently called Nurse. There were a couple of characters in that that were so gentle and had a bit of a tragic element to comic characters, so I thought he could do this. It was a pleasure because he was a real gentleman. The amount of time, energy and patience he had with the project and with me made me feel very lucky."
The Gritterman is an ambitious project encompassing all the distinct aspects of Orlando's buzzing creative mind. Following the end of the Maccabees though it feels the right time to indulge in something a little bit special and unique. "It's not a solo project. It's not what I'm going to do for the rest of my life," concludes Orlando. "I just wanted a project that I could really become absorbed by. I wanted to use all the bits that gave me pleasure when making it. It was about trying to make something that made me feel good."
Taken from the October issue of Dork, out now. Orlando Weeks’ debut book The Gritterman is out now.