November 18, 2010 – Shooting the video for Well Well Well, in the Drawing Office at Titanic House
Few buildings in Belfast have the sense of drama and history that the old Drawing Office at Harland and Wolff exudes - from every creaking door.
The building, owned by Titanic Quarter Limited, is now seldom used, and is accessed from a nondescript green door, which creaks open to reveal a gloomy corridor lined with locked doors and blocked stairwells.
But if you follow the glow, it draws you towards two magnificent rooms, flooded with light from windows set in a high, vaulted ceiling. These are glorious rooms where the naval architects worked at long tables as they designed the ships that sailed from Belfast Lough out into the world.
To be honest, I’m not entirely sure if the plans for the Titanic were drawn in this room or not. I’m too scared to claim that they were – there are too many experts out there to correct me.
It doesn’t really matter, though – the building is intoxicating enough. The sense of history, of lives lived and decisions made under these magnificent arched ceilings, is dizzying. Few public buildings have such monumental proportions these days, such grace. I know there are plans to refurbish and restore the rooms, but I’m actually kind of glad I saw it in its ruinous state – the atmosphere is simply wonderful, all the more so with the wind rattling the panes, draughts chilling my ankles and rainwater leaking in from the corners.
Large parts of the building including the upper floors, are blocked off, but the rooms that are accessible are redolent of industry and bygone style now gone to seed. Glass doors etched with the Harland and Wolff logo gleam from the shadows. Staircases ascend into shafts of light. Plants grow through the cracks in the ceiling, there are puddles of water underfoot from leaks. And here and there, a red carpet glows in the gloom, an empty room boasts a superb parquet floor.
(At some points, wandering from dark, dingy corridors into ruined old rooms flooded with light, my breath rising in clouds before me, I’m reminded of the old Fawcett’s Royal Hotel in Portrush, where I rehearsed one afternoon with a band that never actually got to play a gig. By that time (it must have been 1982) the hotel was closed, and had started to get cobwebby and draughty. But it still had magnificence – an old dining room, chandeliers, one of the last revolving doors on the north coast. And upstairs, floors and floors of empty bedrooms with grimy windows staring out at the Atlantic)
Our access is to the Drawing Office is kindly permitted by Titanic Quarter Limited, and I’m there to film a video for ‘Well Well Well’, one of the songs from the Duke of Oklahoma album. Filmmaker Darren Lee from Maverick Renegade productions has agreed to shoot the video, and I managed to get us permission to use the room for a couple of hours. I must have chosen the stormiest and coldest day of the year. After only half an hour of filming, I can feel the circulation starting to leave my fingertips.
At least I’m the centre of attention, which makes me notice the cold slightly less. My heart goes out to Darren’s girlfriend Lana, who has come along for the shoot only to find herself in a corner waiting for two cold hours, and his sister Suzanne, who applies some make-up for the shoot but then is recruited as the person to press ‘play’ repeatedly on the CD player, as I mime and stare meaningfully into various middle distances.
Darren is methodical – he films the mime from thirteen different angles, so he has plenty to cut from when the time comes. By the time we’ve used up the two hours, our fingers are numb and it’s obviously cappuccino time. Despite it all, I find it hard to leave – I realize I may never get to see the inside of this building again, and I keep taking film and snapping pictures, as the light starts to fade above us.
I know I’ll remain smitten with the place. Like a beautiful girl you got to spend an afternoon with once, a long time ago.