Belfast Telegraph

Paul Stafford used Belfast background to create film that's cut above for top awards show

Belfast hair salon owner Paul Stafford has taken the industry by storm with his movie inspired by Seventies NI as the backdrop to his stage show, writes Stephanie Bell

Paul Stafford at his and Leisa’s Belfast home
Paul Stafford at his and Leisa’s Belfast home
Images from his film This Modern Life at The Fantastic Hairdresser Awards in Dublin
Images from his film This Modern Life at The Fantastic Hairdresser Awards in Dublin
Local actor Louis McCartney at the stage show in Dublin’ in November
Local actor Louis McCartney in a scene from Paul Stafford’s film This Modern Life
Fleur Mellor

Top hair stylist Paul Stafford turned movie-maker to create his latest show which wowed an audience of top industry professionals and set social media alight. The film, influenced by his own life growing up in Belfast in the early Eighties, formed a dramatic backdrop to a spectacular stage show which had a 1,300-strong audience in Dublin's RDS on their feet for a standing ovation.

The multi-award-winning stylist has staged shows all over the globe, but his finale last month at The Fantastic Hairdresser Awards - the highlight of the hairdressing calendar in Ireland - was in a league of its own.

Paul has been overwhelmed by the success of the film, called The Modern Life, which was professionally cast and shot in Belfast and has been shared online all over the world.

He says: "The response since November has been incredible with numerous interviews, requests to take the show further, nearly 15,000 views on Facebook and shared worldwide with literally hundreds of messages from people describing how it touched them in some way.

"The scale of the show was huge with 1,300 Irish hairdressers in the RDS on a Sunday in November.

"From the moment Paul Weller's famous guitar intro for 'That's Entertainment' kicked in on the opening of the film, the audience reaction was incredible.

"They joined us in the journey of a young Belfast kid called Millie, and as the final bars of 'Eton Rifles' grinds to a halt at the end all you could hear was the euphoric sound of the audience's thunderous applause which took the RDS roof off.

"The standing ovation for the cast and team lasted more than five minutes."

Paul was invited by Italian hair brand Alfaparf Milano to create a finale presentation for the prestigious event on the theme of modernism and the Mod culture.

Known for his sharp Mod style of dress, it appeared to be right up his street but, as he explains, initially he was hesitant: "They wanted me to do a show celebrating the whole influence of the Mod culture from the Sixties right up to the modern day, a theme very close to my heart.

"Initially I just felt that everything there was to be said about it had been said and there was no new angle.

"So in terms of saying something new I really struggled as I thought there were others much more educated and better equipped to speak about it than me.

"I decided to write a story that had always been in my mind, based on a young boy growing up in late Seventies Belfast whose life was surrounded by conflict, not just the Troubles which were ripping the city apart but every aspect of the boy's life - a world divided by gangs, tribes and flags, from the schools to the football pitches to waste grounds and the streets."

Paul discussed his idea with local filmmaker Jim Crone who immediately suggested filming it as a standalone project, with the narrative to be woven through a series of live "dream sequences" played out on stage.

Casting the show was a complicated process, as Paul had already a strong idea of who the characters were.

Working with Fleur Mellor who produced and choreographed the film, an extensive search for the cast was launched last March, with the first casting in London in May.

The role of the boy finally went to a local child actor from Helen's Bay, Louis McCartney (15), with his older brother in the story played by London actor Zac Stonehen.

Paul gives an idea of the work that went into it: "Jim Crone and I planned the film shoot set for late September.

"The project started to take on a life of its own with numerous meetings, castings and tests.

"One of the most difficult areas was the soundtrack as it was important to convey a sense of the period and I felt that the music of post-punk Britain was vital to give the urgency and brutality of the times.

"A selection of tracks by The Jam was edited to create a musical narrative.

"We also felt the usage of old footage showing the darkness of the times was important to reflect an era where the world was a smaller place, and information and knowledge had to be sought out as opposed to clicked on to."

The film, which is narrated by well known local actress Maggie Cronin, a friend and client of Paul's, was shown on a big screen behind the stage where dancers modelled stunning hair styles created by Paul to reflect the era.

Various parts of the film and story were based on specific memories from Paul's own life in the post-mod revival era of early Eighties Belfast.

He says: "I'm the eldest in my family. I remember my friends' older brothers, their style and swagger and though I was too young for punk and the Mod revival I was old enough to see the effect it had on the kids I grew up with.

"There was the escapism and excitement of being part of something for a short period before ultimately resigning themselves to the harsh reality of life as a young adult."

Paul's creativity didn't stop at the film.

For the stage show, he based the entire cast on real people he saw around Belfast in the early Eighties.

"They were based on faces in crowds who stood out because of their bravery and courageous attitude," Paul says.

"The dream sequences were styled on the underground clubs that we used to frequent and, although dingy and not fit for purpose, they seemed like the most glamorous outrageous secret societies that only the very cool, beautiful and informed knew about and, yeah, we are still talking about Belfast!"

He continues: "I was reading books like Colin Macinnes' Absolute Beginners, and magazines The Face and ID, so I drew on the people and the language I read to give a sense of what was going on in my head at the time.

"Ultimately I lived in a world of my own - aware, curious and voyeuristic - and though I think I was never really part of the Mod clique I was very aware that being a Mod was not about a hairstyle or a pair of shoes, it was about a certain attitude."

The film tells the story of a young boy whose life was one of confrontations and hostility, hatred and exclusion.

He lives in the shadow of an older sibling, a Mod. His parents are proud of their eldest son with his smart suits, good looks and popularity.

The younger boy is constantly reminded of this and feels inadequate and insecure. He sees the Mod scene as inspirational but knows he'll never be like his older brother. There is also reference to how gender identity was an issue at that time.

Paul explains: "We follow the boy as he becomes aware of his identity and the struggle to be accepted, the underlying sexual uncertainty that in the Eighties was the ultimate taboo.

"I drew on friends of mine who fled Belfast or were subject to horrendous beatings because of their sexuality.

"I felt it was important to address the fact that being a Mod, Punk or Skinhead ultimately meant fitting a type or tribe, the very thing he was trying to escape from.

"What difference was wearing a parka or biker jacket from wearing a football top or a uniform? We move the story on to identify the true identity of Millie, the person the boy ultimately becomes .... brave, unique and liberated from the social confines and class divides."

Just as much creativity went into creating the stunning hair styles modelled on stage during the dream sequences.

"It was important for me to try to create hair that epitomised the spirit of the times in a contemporary way and to pay homage to the DIY approach to late Seventies and early Eighties teenagers and club goers," says Paul.

"My team and I looked back at footage, magazines and my own past to recreate looks that looked relevant today. Hair back then was your identity, your badge. It said more about you than any other feature of your look, so each character was assigned a look and we created modernist versions of street styles."

Paul, who runs Stafford Hair salon with his wife Leisa on Belfast's Lisburn Road, is in the British Hairdressing Association Hall of Fame, having won the Northern Ireland Hairdresser of the Year three times.

Leisa is equally well known and respected globally for her talent, and is also a multiple award-winner including Northern Irish Hairdresser of the Year 2004, and is a seasoned session stylist in constant demand by magazines and ad agencies.

This year alone the couple have staged huge shows in Moscow, New York City, Chicago, Valencia and London, but Paul says the Dublin show was without doubt the biggest of them all.

He adds: "Creating This Modern Life has truly been a career high. Before I started the project Jim, Fleur and I knew that if we were to do this properly then it had to be authentic.

"I hope that's what people say about it. I've been asked to bring it to Belfast and we will be talking to a few people to see if we can get that organised."

The show is available to watch on the Paul Stafford page on Facebook

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