You may know him as John Shuttleworth or punk-era one hit wonder Jilted John. Or disgruntled rock academic Brian Appleton. Or Goole’s number one laser screeding contractor Dave Tordoff.

Over the years, writer-performer-musician Graham Fellows has had many guises, and in this new documentary, Father Earth, which he’s directed, edited and produced, Fellows explores some of the ways in which he can be himself.

It might sound like a navel-gazing vanity project, but Father Earth succeeds in transcending that while maintaining a pleasingly homemade DIY feel. It mainly takes place back in 2010, with Fellows eager to travel by electric car to Orkney where a dilapidated former church is being converted into an eco-friendly recording studio. Really, though, the trip is just what Hitchcock would call a MacGuffin. The real substance here is in the unshowy insights into his relationships with his elderly dad Derek, his son George, and even with the character of John Shuttleworth, with whom Fellows interacts, sometimes slightly unsettlingly, via dressing room mirrors.

Father Earth Q&A

As a narrative it’s barely there – nothing much happens, as such – but really, that’s the point. As in so much of Fellows’ work, the joy is in the detail, and here viewers get to spend some leisurely time with everyday folk who demonstrate a gift for poetic wit. Clearly Fellows is driven by world-saving eco concerns, but the film never becomes a (chemical-free) soap box. Yes, there are moments when he holds forth about only selectively flushing the toilet or, um, combining having a shower and washing underpants. But without ever hectoring the viewer, the film is essentially a fond lesson in what’s really important in this life as we grow older (spoiler: it’s friendships and family, or ‘people’ for short). It’s gentle, soulful and often very funny.

Having previously made a couple of lo-fi travelogue documentaries starring John Shuttleworth, It’s Nice Up North (2005) and Southern Softies (2008), there was perhaps a risk that Fellows would make this akin to one of Mike Yarwood’s toe-curling ‘…and this is me!’ moments, but thankfully he’s much more dependable than that. There’s no showboating here, and viewers are likely to agree that his father Derek turns out to be the real star. Up on screen, Orkney itself has moments of bleak beauty, but any given scene is as likely to be stolen by the postman as it is by Sooty & Sweep (yes, the latter does happen).

At present, Fellows is touring the UK hosting screenings of the film complete with informal after-show Q&As. At Sale Waterside, this is hosted by one of his oldest friends, local author and academic Dr Martin King, who does a fine, louche job of steering proceedings. Questions from the audience cover a lot of ground, from the film’s soundtrack (which makes particularly fitting use of Take Time by one-time Britain’s Got Talent semi-finalist Lorraine Bowen) to the prospects for the planet’s future. Along the way, Fellows and King reminisce about The Haçienda and consider making their own documentary on the subject as an alternative to the recent version by BBC One.

Father Earth – Sooty & Sweep

With Father Earth, as with everything he’s done, Fellows comes across as an unassuming, quietly soulful sort of figure, ploughing his own chosen furrow and happiest sharing his world view with gentle, keenly-observed humour. In the times we’re living though, this film proves to be a warm and welcome little paean to knowing your priorities and appreciating what (and who) is around you, in equal parts engaging, entertaining and touching.

By Andy Murray, Film Editor


Graham Fellows is touring Father Earth around UK venues until mid-December and the film will be available as a digital download from December 1, 2022.