Copying, Confessing, Compromising and Neil Young

Dead woman tree long limbs axed

Limbless tree in River Bela

I want to tell you about “Tree Fall”.  I made this little film almost directly after the clearing up that followed the floods in Cumbria in 2015.  It follows the dismemberment of a tree that had fallen into the River Bela that runs through Heron Corn Mill where I work at the moment.  I became entranced by the image of the fallen tree and it was a focus for the few months following.  Watching the dismemberment helped me enter the more mechanical world of milling and water wheels, an area I am not familiar with since I went to school in the 60s and 70s when girls were taught needlework not metalwork, and science seemed  a hard subject, the teacher being strict and horrible, so I pursued humanities, languages and the arts.

Working with the footage I shot of the tree in the river I found something in Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush” (1970) that seemed to ring true, so I cut the “Tree Fall” footage to that track and happily uploaded it to vimeo where I keep all my film efforts.  I had checked on You Tube the number of little films using that  same track that many people have happily uploaded.  However conscience soon got the better of me following a conversation with a colleague at Heron Corn Mill who was worried about how her work might be stolen if it went out on the internet, I also got worried, not that my work would be stolen, I am not sure it is that important, rather I worried that  I may have stolen from Neil Young!  I have always thought that so long as you are not selling the item it doesn’t cause any harm but I thought harder.  I have had to pursue this kind of thing professionally only once before when I worked on the DVD that Triangle Theatre produced with Palatine and The Herbert Museum in Coventry which included a lot of World War Two music and sound bites.


I know this stuff. I know this stuff. I know this stuff.

So I made my “Tree Fall” film “private”, for my eyes only and pursued the long drawn out affair that concerns seeking synchronisation rights.  I contacted Neil Young’s publishers putting all my ethical reasons for using the track and sought permission.  I was told it would be highly unlikely and if granted would be very expensive. “Do you have any creatives?” I was asked.  In my world a creative means – the person working on the project. So I dutifully informed them that I was the only creative working on the project hoping they would detect the “low budget” heads up I was offering.  But I had got the wrong end of the stick.  In publishing “creative”  means – samples of what you are trying to do.  So this in effect meant I could show the publisher the idea (ie the film I had made).  I dutifully sent off the dropbox link for “Tree Fall” , reiterating my ethical reasons etc etc.  “I doubt it will be granted”, was the message back to me.

In the meantime I wondered what Neil Young was up to.  His music has accompanied my workshops these last few years and his work is part of “The House” as a fragment of ecstatic dance to “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”, for which the PRS fee was paid incidentally.  I remember his work from my youth but it is only in these later years that I have come to fully appreciate his work.

I knew about his environmental concerns and his political activism. In my heart I thought, I know I am only small fry but I am singing from the same hymn sheet.  Then I discovered that he was re-releasing a new concept album with strong environmental themes and that “After the Gold Rush” would be included.  Not only that, he is actually touring in Europe at this very moment.  No wonder it may have cause a problem even if I am only a little fish.

I didn’t need to wait for the answer.  I knew it would be no.

It came. “Permission refused – no reason given”.

But then I thought well this is only a little thing and nobody looks at my blog anyway.

I felt a bit heartbroken, no that’s too strong. A few years ago, when the creative work meant everything, I would have been heartbroken.  I was disappointed, but age and experience have prepared me for this particular outcome.

Then a miracle happened.  I searched for cover versions of the track and found a Creative Commons licensed version by the Anonymous Choir from Minneapolis.  I used this instead but found it missed out the instrumental section.  So, I cut the track and inserted an extract from a poem I had begun to craft at Sandra Reeve’s birthday event on “Time” in May this year.  This whole situation has now led me into a new way of working and to consider the beauty and problem of mechanisation, the potential of poetry and image, and the courage of compromise.

Following “Tree Fall” I cut another film with a mechanical theme “Mill Mechanics” again with a popular song. I wrote about this in a previous post and the story behind this demonstrates two very different attitudes to copyright and sharing common ground.  However in all cases I guess it is important to ask permission – out of courtesy if nothing else.

Please watch with headphones, it’s a bit better.

By the way if you are interested in the original version let me know or you could watch the film while listening to the original track.



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