Download: Sweet Thing – David Bowie (mp3)
Before Neville Brody made his name as Art Director of The Face he designed a series of very distinctive sleeves for the left-field indie label Fetish Records. This was at the beginning of the 80s when post-punk was getting in the jungle groove with the likes of A Certain Ratio, Rip Rig & Panic, Pigbag, and the Byrne/Eno album My Life In The Bush of Ghosts making a tribal, rhythmic racket that sounded like funk music being put through a blender.
Fetish act 23 Skidoo were on the extreme cutting edge of that scene, tearing apart funky beats and using the pieces in a abstract collage with electronics, samples, tape loops, white noise, and African percussion. Their sound was like Fela Kuti having a fight with William Burroughs and Brody’s sleeve for their debut album Seven Songs perfectly captured its voodoo stew of the ethnic and industrial with its iconic image of disfigured clay hands playing an African drum against a background of chicken wire. All done with real objects either found or made by hand of course, but I would think that even if Photoshop had existed back in 1982 Brody would still have done it this way because he couldn’t have achieved the same raw, made-by-aborigines feel on a computer.
Fetish had a whole roster of similar arty punk-funkers and No Wave noise merchants on the label, and the rest of Brody’s work for them had an equally ragged, primitive feel, often using his own bold paintings (as did his early work for The Face.) But he evolved out of that style as his design became more formal and clean with the slickness we know as “80s design” in much the same way that the wild post-punk-funk sound evolved into the shiny pop of ABC and Haircut 100.
I bought a lot of weird, out-there records in those days — I was young and adventurous! — but Seven Songs really pushed what was already a very flexible envelope at the time, sounding more like a confrontational art installation than anything resembling “rock and roll” music. Being a designer I’m far more likely to buy a record or book if I like the cover and I probably wouldn’t have taken the risky plunge of buying it unheard — most likely prompted by a rave review in the NME — if I hadn’t liked the sleeve so much. The sleeve is the reason I still have my copy of the record too, because even 30 years later it still sounds like head-fucking music made by aliens and isn’t a album I play a lot (I filed it under “interesting”). But I’m glad I have it as a document of an exciting time when people were making new things out of the rubble left by punk, not just in music but graphic design too.
This cover appears to be from an alternate universe where Graham Greene is Mickey Spillane.
Though I guess technically the blurb at the top is accurate: Pinkie Brown is a psychotic killer and Brighton is a summer resort.
Download: Brighton Rock – Queen (mp3)
I did like reading a book on the Tube but now I’m no longer in London I have to make do with reading books on the Tube like this lovely-looking series of 12 books Penguin have put out to celebrate the Underground’s 150th birthday. Each one is about or inspired by a single Tube line with the authors taking a variety of approaches — historical, personal, humourous, political — to capture the meaning and, er, pyschogeography (big word!) of the system that binds the city together. I don’t think I’ll be shelling out for the whole boxset but to start I’ve ordered the ones about the lines that mean the most to me personally: the District (home), Northern (work), and Piccadilly (clubbing). Though I am intrigued by what Paul Morley has to say about the Bakerloo Line.
Download: Man On The Tube – The Passions (mp3)
This is from The Passions debut album Michael & Miranda which I wasn’t crazy about at the time (think I sold my copy) but its very 1980, nervy indie jangle sounds really good now. It appears to be out of print which is a shame, I guess they didn’t get “rediscovered” during the recent post-punk vogue.
Wonderful article here about the long-standing Gardners’ Market Sundriesmen shop in Spitalfield’s Market whose owner in the 1960s used to design and print his own greengrocer’s price tags using type that he’d hand-drawn (beautifully) himself. I hate to say they don’t make them like that anymore but in this case they really don’t make them like that anymore.
Besides the lovely typography and the warm glow you get from thinking about the care this man put into his work, the names of the produce sound almost like poetry to me now: Ripe Williams, Dunn’s Seedlings, Rome Beauty, Cox’s Orange Pippins, and conjure up childhood memories of the ruddy-faced fruit and veg sellers at North End Road market in Fulham calling out their wares and prices in thick working class voices trying to entice the passing housewives to buy. Which makes it all sound like some rosy Victorian Mary Poppins fantasy but thankfully that’s one thing that they still do.
Download: Apples – Ian Dury (mp3)
I’ll let someone else do the sleeve talking this time, and who better than Mr. Peter Saville (who, as usual, looks like he’s been up all night.)
I had an Unknown Pleasures t-shirt and badge back when Ian Curtis was still alive but I would have thought a tattoo was a bit excessive even at the age when I lived and breathed for the bands I loved. A mate of mine had a Theatre of Hate tattoo on his arm, something he thought was stupid the minute they broke up. I wonder if he still has it now that he’s nearly 50.
I’ve been on a lot of photo shoots and they’re usually very enjoyable, but it can also be bloody hard work getting the shot right. Never done anything like these though, the last model I shot was a bloke. Sigh.
Download: Editions of You – Roxy Music (mp3)
There’s an excellent interview here with Nick Logan, the man who was editor of the NME during the punk late 70s (where he hired two unknown kids called Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons) and then went on to independently create Smash Hits and The Face which must be about as brilliant a track record you can get in the yoof culture business.
I was a keen NME reader when The Face first came out in 1980 and carried on reading them both for a few years, but increasingly it was the glossy newcomer I looked forward to getting the most. As a design student I ate up the influential, envelope-pushing layouts of Neville Brody and it’s slick production values which were a lot more attractive than a smudgy, inky newspaper. In comparison the latest weekly news about The Smiths wasn’t that interesting to me anymore and The Face just had it’s antenna and attitude better tuned to the new decade.
Looking at back issues now is like opening time capsules of the trends of the 1980s, and the contents of my own wardrobe too. The cover of the “Hard Times” issue above is exactly how I was dressing circa 1982: ripped 501s, studded belt, deck shoes, vintage 1950s shirt from Flip. Then a few years later, I (along with every hep young man in London) was wearing my 501s (always 501s) with chunky Doc Marten shoes and an MA-1 flying jacket, a look credited to the magazine’s fashion stylist Ray Petri. I still have the dark blue MA-1 jacket I bought 25 years ago, still in very good nick too.
I don’t know if Logan was a genius or just lucky, but The Face hit the streets at exactly the right zeitgeisty moment (Smash Hits too), catching the start of a style-obsessed decade when the word “designer” was applied to everything and a pop star’s haircut and trousers were considered worthy of serious notice. But the most inspiring thing I got from the interview was that The Face was never market-researched or focus-grouped or any of that bollocks. Logan just had an idea for a magazine he’d like to read himself and filled it with stuff he thought was interesting — that was the only criteria. As someone who’s suffered through hundreds of interminable and depressing marketing meetings that suck all the life out of any good idea, that seems like a dream come true and the only way anything great ever gets done.
Download: Look Sharp! – Joe Jackson (mp3)
Multimedia Bonus: I vaguely remember seeing this ad in the cinema at the time but don’t think it was ever on television, I can’t imagine they’d have the money for that.