Archive for March, 2010

22. THE MOUSE – Part One … ‘Drugs, the Hollywood Bowl and Team Disney’..

March 27, 2010

For those of you who missed the first LA story a while back …

An invitation to meet MICKEY MOUSE in LA confirmed my belief that Planet Disney was as bizarre and surreal as I imagined (and hoped) it would be – stories to make your toes curl, your jaw drop and to ignite your warped sense of humour … here’s a taster – arriving in LA! 

It started, I guess, how we meant to carry on. I needed help for a sojourn in LA – working with one of the biggest corporations in the world. Facing a galaxy of top executives in the Disney boardroom on the Top Floor of the ‘Team Disney’ Tower was somewhat daunting and potentially intimidating – so I took a great friend and colleague to help and advise throughout the challenging project. Danie Brant was someone with a wicked sense of humour and a fierce intelligence. We arrived at LAX airport very late, somewhat the worse for wear it has to be said. A particularly heavy Customs Officer spotted our erratic behaviour (lurching and laughing mostly) and honed in on us immediately. ‘Do you have drugs?‘ he sneered, taking off his Ray Ban’s and searching deep into our eyes. ‘Oh, I’m sorry,‘ said Danie. ‘If I’d known you were short – I’d have brought some with me.

Here we go,’ I thought …

Later … Danie and I managed to find ourselves in the infamous biker bar Billy Idol used to hang out in. We needed a nightcap. Maybe not such a good move being jet-lagged and drunk … but hey, we were in LA to meet the Mouse and needed to prepare for our meeting the following morning with the ‘team’ from Disney. 

They’d asked us to ‘phone-in’ on arrival to confirm we’d be at the meeting. Executives and artistic directors attending numbered a dozen or so we figured. There were only two of us which was a little intimidating. After a few Butterscotch Schnapps at the biker bar (yes – Butterscotch Schnapps – hey, I don’t know why!) – we had an idea. We called in to confirm our arrival. ‘How are you guys?‘ ‘Good’ we said, ‘but if it’s possible we’d like to change the time of the meeting tomorrow.‘ ‘No problem,‘ was the courteous reply. ‘Should we make it 12 instead of 10? You guys must be exhausted.‘ ‘No,‘ we said. ‘We’re a little concerned about how much time we have to organise what needs to be done. Can we bring the meeting FORWARD an hour?

As English art directors we were allowed the luxury of a certain eccentricity. Eccentricity, by nature, is fairly unpredictable. That was our ace card we decided to act on. To give Disney its due they complied with grace and generosity of spirit. We knew the moment our conversation ended – a flurry of phone-calls to those attending the meeting would inform them of an earlier start. We figured that simple shift out of their comfort zone could work to our advantage. We figured ‘Who the fuck are these guys?‘ from them, couldy conceivably put us on a more even footing. Our move wasn’t threatening – a bad idea – but did mean they’d realise they were dealing with an unknown quantity .

I’ll get to the meeting later  ….

… but I need to lay the groundwork for the project. It was Gerry again who was responsible for our involvement. Somehow he’d persuaded Disney they needed his team to provide the merchandise for a tour of America – that they needed to move beyond their traditional approach and allow him to provide the attitude their ambitious project demanded. Gerry was good – challenging the most conventional and most conservative corporation in the US to trust his judgement and, in turn, to trust his design team was no mean feat. He’d convinced them that we would not only provide brilliant visual solutions but were sassed and experienced enough to handle the complicated internal politics we would inevitably have to deal with.(You’ll see just how complicated in the next blog!).

Gerry’s confidence was well-founded but even he had no idea what Danie and I were like together. As you’ve gathered from Danie’s exchange at the airport – he manages to get away with comments most of us would be arrested for – or at the very least be viewed as seriously confrontational. Somehow (and even now after working with him for decades) I still can’t figure out how he gets away with what he says. Humour is the key I know, but what he says is delivered with such audacious honesty and wit that people are reduced to helpless disbelief – unable to react with anything other than good humour and laughter. So …

The Project …    


With the Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra, a choir and over two hundred Disney characters – singers and dancers – the Disney Corporation was ready to launch its ‘SYMPHONIC FANTASY‘ – a wildly extravagant theatrical production of its ‘greatest cinema achievements’. It would open at the Hollywood Bowl and then tour America, visiting dozens of major cities. We’d been selected to organise photograhs at rehearsals at the Bowl and design and produce the lavish programme for the tour.

No pressure there then …

NEXT … The first meeting … Goofy … The Hollywood Bowl … and photographing MICKEY 


AXL ROSE throws wobblies and tables in a London hotel bar …
and MUCH more …



March 9, 2010

Random post … Tuesday 9th March

Well, very good news on two related fronts which is exciting. The first – that vinyl is making a serious comeback  …

and secondly – so are FUZZBOX. Working with them in the Eighties was a joy – mad, challenging, original, hilarious and inspiring. The original artwork for the sleeve ‘Bostin’ Steve Austin’ was completed, literally, by dozens of people. I planned the colour sections in ‘Painting By Numbers’ style and transferred the image onto a 3-foot canvas. Anyone who appeared in or near the studio was given a paintbrush, asked to choose a number, handed a pot of colour and told to fill in the corresponding numbered section of the design. Cleaners, bikers, couriers, an occasional bank manager, salesman, telephone engineers, passing pedestrians, well-known musicians, friends and random visitors all willingly contributed. It still took over a month to complete. It’s one of my all-time favourite sleeves. Here’s a section of the original planning sketch …


and here’s the new FUZZBOX logo I’ve just completed …

and from 1986 …

In the groove …

In 2009 – 2,800,000 vinyls albums were sold in the US.
In 2009 – the UK sales of vinyl increased by 5.2 per cent.
In 2009 – CD sales dropped by 20 per cent.
In 2010 – some indie labels are axing CD’s completely to release 7″ & 12″ vinyl and downloads only.
In 1979 – UK singles sales hit 89,000,000. Twenty years later they were below 180,000.

From the SATORI Dungeons…

March 6, 2010

Just thought I’d mention – I sorted out some boxes lurking in the depths of the studio archive area and found a bunch of rare  programmes – some over twenty years old. My WebMuppet, RCM, has dropped a few onto e-bay if anyone’s interested. Amongst the variety of stuff, going back 20 years or so, was a 1989 McCARTNEY Japanese Tour Programme I wrote about in last blog – also a programme of the STONES tour I did when I lost all my hair – the ‘URBAN JUNGLE’ Tour in 1990.  Check them out … HERE


March 4, 2010

After DEF LEPPARD we need to go back aways to meet GERRY BARAD and to learn a lesson from PAUL McCARTNEY

First though I need to say a quick ‘HELLO’ to Lucy who’s just gone back to Australia.



There were of course other projects I worked on during the LEPPARD years and many of them involved working with the Canadian merchandising company BROCKUM – run in Europe by the inimitable and legendary Gerry Barad, who became a great friend and mentor. He was a whirlwind of energy, very very funny and a formidable force in the industry – constantly pushing the boundaries of merchandise production. As disillusionment set in for me (with the demise of vinyl) I was looking for a new creative outlet to express my talents. When I first met Gerry we immediately hit it off. We recognised we both had similar, if demanding, philosophies of how things should be done. I wanted to experiment with new formats to stretch my creativity and Gerry needed someone to help him design innovative merchandise to entice the biggest artists in the music industry to sign with his company. Over a period of many years he and I worked with GUNS’N’ROSES, THE ROLLING STONES, AC/DC, BON JOVI, METALLICA and many others. His initial introduction to such musical heavyweights led to work with many of them on different projects – probably the most prolific being METALLICA who I worked with on albums, tours and DVD’s for over a decade.

Gerry introduced me to PAUL McCARTNEY in 1989 – someone else I’ve worked with over many years since, including the design of the lavish 3-DVD Box Set ‘The McCartney Years’ as recently as 2007.

Gerry was as brilliant as ever. I was a little nervous (who wouldn’t be?) but as I’ve said before – I had work to discuss which makes situations much easier. Gerry and I were waiting in Paul’s dressing room during rehearsals for his first tour as a solo artist. His last tour had been with WINGS, ten years previously in 1979. Linda McCartney looked after us – she was always wonderfully gracious and hospitable – while we waited for Paul to arrive. I sat on a sofa patiently whilst Gerry paced the room psyching himself up for the meeting. Paul arrived and Gerry swung into action immediately – talking furiously as he continued to wear out the carpet. Paul looked at me, raised his eyes to the ceiling, winked and smiled. He obviously knew Gerry well. Gerry sat down next to me. ‘Paul, ’he said. ‘This is Andie Airfix. His artwork is so good – if you were dying, you’d want some of it in the same fucking room. Trust me.’ Paul burst out laughing. It was plain-sailing after that. Gerry’s enthusiasm, confidence and crazy sense of humour was inspirational and his commitment to providing his clients with the best and most innovative merchandising was second-to-none.

During that same project PAUL McCARTNEY taught me an invaluable lesson – one which I never forgot and have endeavoured to practice throughout the whole of my career …

There are serious logistical problems working on world tours, particularly with tour programmes. The obvious problem is that there are no live photographs of the tour when it opens. Dress-rehearsal photos can often be used but the timing has to be spectacularly well-organised to print in time for the opening night. The McCartney tour was heading for Japan at some point – a huge fan-base for McCartney – and I was asked to design a special concert programme for the Japanese dates. (In Japan, 90 per cent of audiences buy tour books, compared to an average of between 15 and 30 per cent in other territories.) The text had to be in Japanese. I don’t read or speak Japanese, unsurprisingly, so the typography process required serious organisation. Each title, heading, and piece of text was translated and given a number relating to each page and the sequence it had to appear in. This was 1989 and therefore each of the 48 pages had to be created on boards, pasting each piece of text onto the relevant page in the correct order. I could have designed something simpler I suppose but the challenge was impossible to resist. I did a lot of research into the layouts of Japanese magazines to give the layouts authenticity. To give you an idea of the complexity …

The McCartney management hired a gaggle of top photographers for a week (imagine the cost?) to provide live photos of the tour to include in the Japanese large-format  programme. This was pre-digital so all photos were on film. I was sent over 4,000 transparencies to select the best for the book. It took nearly two weeks to work through them and make a selection to show Paul at our next meeting. At the end of the two weeks, as much as I adore him, I never wanted to see a picture of Paul McCartney ever again. I had a call from his  manager. ‘How’s it going?’ he said. ‘How are the photos?’ ‘They’re good,’ I said, ‘but after my conversation with Paul about exactly what he wanted – I’m not sure what he really wants is there.’ There was an excrutiating silence. I could feel I was on dangerous ground and sensed anger. ‘You can’t tell him that.’ ‘Tell him what?’ I said. ‘That the pictures aren’t good enough.’ ‘I actually said they were good,’ I replied, ‘but what he really wants to see isn’t there. That’s something different. If he asks me what I think – I have to tell him – that’s my job.’ The ‘instructions’ I was given were very clear – I should keep my opinion to myself.

I had my meeting with Paul and the first question, predictably, was ‘So … what do you think of the photos?’ I took a deep breath. ‘There are some great pictures,’ I said. ‘Do you remember the conversation we had about what I wanted?’ said Paul. ‘Of course I do,’ I said, realising exactly where we were going. ‘And …?’ he said. ‘There are some great pictures,’ I repeated. ‘The tour book wil be fabulous – trust me, but … you’ll be disappointed – there aren’t any of the gritty, sweaty shots you wanted, at least not any that are good enough to use.

Paul sat down on the sofa and spread his arms across the back of it. ‘I HAVE seen them you know, or a lot of them – before they were sent to you. Everyone has been telling me how brilliant, fantastic and exciting they are. I wasn’t quite so enthusiastic, but thought perhaps I’d missed something. The terrible thing was – I began to doubt my own judgement. Thank you. My disappointment was justified wasn’t it?’ ‘Probably,’ I said, ‘but I suspect the photographers were given a different brief, if they were given one at all. I guess if we’d had our conversation before the shots were taken I would have thrown in a few ‘suggestions.

I began to doubt my own judgement.’ That honest revelation hit me so hard. Many famous ‘stars’ work with people who constantly want to please them, who want to avoid confrontation – for obvious reasons. I have to say, the photo-incident was a one-off experience with McCartney – he surrounds himself with people confident and talented enough to be honest with him. What most ‘stars’ want is to be challenged on occasions. The lesson about the photos is clear. In potentially difficult work circumstances like that one – always, always, say what you really think – that’s why you’re there. You never know what goes on in the complex politics behind the scenes. Avoid getting involved – it’s none of your concern, nor should it be.

The Boy still Rocks! … Glastonbury 2004 …

Another thing …

… People often ask me ‘Do you meet the artists?’ It’s situations like the one with Paul when I realised – it’s essential. No-one can brief me as well as the artist and there are questions I need to ask which are very important, questions no-one else would think of asking. A manager or ‘go-between’ can always tell me what an artist wants (or an interpretation of it more likely) but rarely do they tell me what the artist doesn’t want – one of the first questions I ask at an initial meeting. People are often unsure of what they want – but are more confident disclosing what they dislike. On many occasions, finding out what people don’t want or like provides more clues on how to approach a project than being told what people think they want.

One of the most stressful jobs I ever worked on was for THE ROLLING STONES – precisely because there was not the opportunity to meet them all together. More on that later but enough to say on the next morning after I’d delivered the final piece of artwork, I woke up to find half my hair on the pillow – literally. It was an egotistical nightmare.

Speaking of egos … we’re about to head to LA, and the HOLLYWOOD BOWL to work with THE MOUSE. You don’t believe a mouse has an ego? – think again. Check out TEAM DISNEY HQ

MICHAEL FOOT (1913-2010) – A Great Loss

March 3, 2010

We have lost a politician of deep conviction, a man universally regarded as a man of intellectual brilliance, personal warmth and decency  – the last true spirit of great causes. His legacy has to be that he believed substance was everything. He must have been appalled by our current de-valuation of political principles which favours politics driven by fear, the media and unforgiveable compromise. Sad, very sad.