Designer With A Cause


I was very sad to hear about the death of designer David King last week. He was one of the greats of British graphic design and if you don’t know his name you certainly know his work, and may even have some of it in your house.

King was art editor at The Sunday Times Magazine from 1965-75 when it published serious, hard-hitting photojournalism by great photographers like Don McCullin (instead of the celeb/lifestyle fluff it goes in for now). King was always more interested in telling a story and getting a message across than he was in pretty design frippery so his layouts have a directness that still packs a punch today.



While working at the magazine King also designed album sleeves for Track Records. Just a little earner on the side that happened to produce at least two iconic classics. 



The Electric Ladyland cover only took 36 hours from concept to completion, and King’s intention was to produce an anti-Playboy image showing women as they really are in all their unpolished beauty. For his efforts, Jimi Hendrix said he had no idea what it was all about and the sleeve was banned in the USA.

When he left The Times, King channeled his political beliefs into work for the Anti-Apartheid movement and Anti-Nazi League. It was his work for the latter that had the most impact and is probably the best remembered today, especially if you were around in the late 70s when the ANL teamed up with Rock Against Racism to help fight the influence of the NF on young people.



King attempted to create a visual language for the Left in England that was bolder and more memorable than the usual hand-made, photocopied flyer. Like his magazine work, these posters didn’t fuck around with niceties and instantly grabbed your attention. There’s no doubt that his posters helped the visibility of the ANL and RAR and you can still see their influence in the typography on placards at demos in London.

He brought the same bold style to his covers for London listings magazine City Limits which he designed for a year in 1982. Heavily influenced by Russian Constructivists like Rodchenko, he made the most of the limited budget the magazine had to produce eye-popping covers that leapt off the newsagent shelves.


King quit the design business in the 80s — not surprising, given his politics and the superficial, glossy turn graphics took that decade — to concentrate on building his collection of Revolutionary Soviet design and photography which he published several acclaimed books of.

The collection grew to be the biggest of its kind in the world and David licensed images to other publications. Because of this I had the pleasure of speaking with him on the phone about 10 years ago when I needed an image for a magazine article I was designing about an obscure Russian writer. His collection wasn’t online and you had to call David and ask him for the image which he’d mail you a slide of — that was old school even then. He couldn’t have been nicer or more helpful, and it did give me a chance to tell him how much I’d loved his work over the years.

The first band that comes to mind when I think of the Anti-Nazi League and Rock Against Racism is this lot.

Download: Ain’t Gonna Take It – Tom Robinson Band (mp3)

Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fashion


Some new t-shirts on sale. Couldn’t decide between “Glam” Bowie or “Low” Bowie so I went with all of them. I started working on a Bowie design last year so there was going to be one this Spring anyway, I just wish they hadn’t ended up being posthumous.

As usual they’re only $14 for a limited time so buy one now, or two!

If you’ve never heard this version before you should lend it an ear, it’s very different.

Download: Rebel Rebel (US single version) – David Bowie (mp3)

SingalongaClash


The leading songwriters of Punk were considered the voices of their generation but there were times you couldn’t figure out what they were singing because the records didn’t come with lyrics and the production values weren’t exactly models of pristine clarity. You would think that if you wanted to start a revolution it would help if the kids could understand the manifesto, right?

This was especially vexing with The Clash because of Joe Strummer’s phlegmy, mouthful-of-marbles delivery. I don’t know if The Westway Wonders considered lyric sheets to be bourgeois indulgences or CBS wouldn’t shell out for inner sleeves, but they didn’t include one with an album until London Calling which made the publication of The Clash Songbook in 1978 such a big deal — we could finally understand what Joe was barking about on “White Riot” and “Complete Control”.



It included the words and chords of every song on their debut album plus all the singles and b-sides to date, and we studied it like it was the Bible or Rosetta Stone. To us, Strummer/Jones were way better than some poncey “poet” like Bob Dylan and I remember loving how snappy, sharp, and even jokey a lot of the lyrics were.



In retrospect it might not seem very fan-friendly to make them shell out £3.50 (in 1978 money) for a book of lyrics they could have got free with the records — especially for a value-for-money band like The Clash — but it was a nicely-done project and worth buying. According to the book’s designer Pearce Marchbank (best known for his design of Time Out) the band supplied all the images and even created the type which makes me imagine Mick and Joe staying up all night with a stencil kit and a Dymo Labelmaker.

Nowadays you could just look the words up online but that’s kind of boring when you can get this terrific print artifact for a reasonable price at the usual places since it was reissued a few years ago. Volume Two designed by artist Derek Boshier is excellent too.

Here’s a couple of those b-sides in the book.

Download: Jail Guitar Doors – The Clash (mp3)
Download: City of The Dead – The Clash (mp3)

Commercial Break



This ad from 1981 is one of those rare occasions when advertising is touched with genius.

Post-Punk Comix


The pop charts in the post-punk era was not only a golden age for the 45 but also for record company marketing gimmicks. Singles came in coloured vinyl, picture discs, wrapped in newspapers, with double grooves, and multiple sleeves and stamps.

They didn’t always work though, even for established bands like The Skids. In 1980 their third album The Absolute Game made the Top Ten of the album charts but all the singles from it tanked despite being given a gimmicky promo push by Virgin Records. The first single “Circus Games” was wrapped in a poster of the band but only got to #32, while “A Woman In Winter” which stalled 10 places lower came with an 11-page comic called Pirate Gold which starred the band in a ripping yarn about lost treasure.



It’s not exactly Stan Lee and Jack Kirby but still a clever idea and a sign of just how creatively healthy and competitive the pop scene was at the time. Those were the days when a noisy post-punk band like The Skids could appear on the cover of Smash Hits and I guess the comics and glossy posters were an attempt to sell the band to that crowd instead serious young men in overcoats.

It’s not as if these were bad records either, “Circus Games” was stonkingly catchy and “A Woman In Winter” was glorious, uplifting stuff with guitar work by Stuart Adamson that sounds like a rehearsal for Big Country. Should have been an Xmas hit. I bought it with the comic but would still have done if it came in a gravy-stained brown paper bag. Maybe Virgin should have asked Richard Jobson to make his lyrics more coherent instead.

Download: A Woman In Winter – The Skids (mp3)

Cyber Monday Madness


I hate it when Christmas becomes too commercialized. Except when I do it.

NEW DESIGNS POSTED! ALL SHIRTS ONLY $14!! THE PERFECT XMAS PRESENT!! BUY! BUY! BUY!

Download: I’d Like You For Christmas – Julie London (mp3)

Tees Up


As summer is over I wasn’t going to put up any new t-shirt designs until next year, but I’ve sold a few in the past month so I guess it must still be warm somewhere. As usual this is only $14 for a limited time so get it now. Early Christmas presents maybe?

Download: Procession – New Order (mp3)

This was New Order’s second single but is less well known than it’s b-side “Everything’s Gone Green” probably because the latter points more toward the direction the band was to take. It’s a slight song but I always liked it, especially those lovely synth washes.

Tees Up


Two new designs for your wearing pleasure down the Funky Disco. Get them while they’re only $14.

Download: Funky Music Sho Nuff Turns Me On – The Temptations (mp3)

What’s it all about?

The sentimental musings of an ageing expat in words, music, and pictures. Mp3 files are up for a limited time so drink them while they're hot. Contact me: lee at londonlee dot com

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