Before we get to SECTOR 27, I must start by thanking those who ‘commented’ on the last Blog – especially ‘the man himself’, Tony Tobias …
‘This is getting to be a vital link to the past of ‘The Worlds End’ I was privileged to play a small part, having owned two Noseagents. Customers, friends really, were from all walks of life, Barry Sheen, The Rolling Stones, dear wonderful Freddie Mercury, who used to stand in the shop in full drag, Adam Ant, Marianne Faithful, The Sex Pistols, Georgie Fame, David Bowie, and many other wonderful people, and the great woman newspaper scribe, Sue ‘the floating tenner’ Carrol, were frequent visitors. How I loved all you guys, and everyone else, I am what I am because of all of you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking the time to rediscover the past.” Love, Tony.
(The Cat, by the way, was The Professor, so-called because distinctive marks around his eyes looked like a pair of glasses. His name perfectly encaptures the Beast’s deranged and fierce(!) intelligence.)
Like Tony, I believe The World’s End Community was (and still is) something very special. As our Course moves into the 80’s, the 90’s and beyond, it always plays a pivotal role in my life and work. We will return to it many times I’m sure, (including how LARS ULRICH of METALLICA managed to devastate the Australian staff who worked at THE CHELSEA RAM), but now we are heading into Graphic Design for the music industry …
Back in the early 80’s it was a fascinating and exciting world to be involved in – not just with the artists and musicians but with record companies, promoters and merchandisers willing to take creative (and financial) risks to promote original and eccentric design ideas. One in particular, Pete Winkelman – then art director and promotional genius at Arista Records, now chairman of MK DONS – was wonderfully supportive of some pretty crazy ideas. More of him later when we reach THOMPSON TWINS and the fabulous FUZZBOX.
As I said it was Tim who introduced me to Tom Robinson. Although I’d had a little experience in sleeve design, Tom was the first commercially successful artist to hire SATORI to create an album sleeve for his new band – SECTOR 27. It’s quite odd looking back at the sleeve now but it’s one I’m still proud of and, in many ways, the brief for it is still relevant today. It was 1980 and the terrifying world of BIG BROTHER in George Orwell’s ‘1984’ loomed large. Tom was a politically-motivated musician – ‘Glad To Be Gay’ was hugely influential when it was released.
He was a committed anti-racist and gay activist with a fierce intelligence. Meeting him for the first time I remember his earnest charm was totally sincere. There was also an endearing contradiction in his character which was very appealing. The rage of his concerns was balanced with a genuine need to please. I believe his success as a communicator and commentator was partly because of that apparent dichotomy. His fragility combined with his serious commitment to revealing injustice in the world made him convincing and believable. As a musician the same applied. Beneath his clean, sharp image and brilliant songs was a ‘disorientating tension’ which took you by surprise. I liked Tom very much and he taught me a great deal about social awareness and politics in general. What I learnt from him was how to present well-informed arguments which were never patronising or self-righteous.
Tom was acutely aware of the growing surveillance culture in Britain and he wanted the album sleeve to be a defiant, positive statement – one which celebrated the triumph of Innocence and Exhileration over the Grey and Faceless which threatened to undermine and sabotage it. In words it sounds somewhat heavy-handed but the final sleeve portrayed something more intuitive.
The sleeve design can be split into three distinct areas; the graphics, implying harsh corporate control; the photograph portraying an anonymous bleak cityscape and the happy innocent child who defies the impersonal environment she inhabits.
For those of you not interested in the graphic process you can skip the next paragraph …
1980 was Pre-Computer obviously so each of the three elements had to be created separately. The starting point was the SECTOR 27 logo and it’s dynamic shape and positioning. After that the other elements were roughly sketched into position. On our way to BLITZ one morning I photographed the buildings as we emerged from the underpass in Holborn, deliberately shaking the camera. The chosen image was blown up to a 20×16 print and the graphic version of the underpass exit was drawn with Rotring pens (remember those anyone?). We hired a photographer and studio to photograph the Chinese girl and proceeded to ‘treat’ the image to give it movement and vibrancy. Colour Xerox was something I was experimenting with at the time and I’d found a wonderful shop where the owners encouraged artists and designers to experiment with their colour Xerox machines by allowing them on a Saturday morning to hire a machine by the hour rather than paying for each print. This meant that experimenting was not prohibitively expensive. It was amazing how many prints you could do in an hour if you were organised! Fooling the Xerox machine was the challenge – to get it to produce effects it was not designed for. Manipulating images then was the remit of photographic re-touchers. It tended to be a time-consuming and expensive process. To print an image on acetate and tracing paper, to run an image through the Xerox machine several times, to change images as the machine scanned the four process colours produced some astonishing ‘accidental’ results. I exhibited a series of ‘paintings’ constructed using the results of those revelatory Saturday mornings.
‘Timewall‘ by Andie Airfix, 1980
DESIGN OBSERVATION 1: Get Your Hands Dirty.
Don’t rely only on computer programs alone to create interesting imagery. However ‘clever’ Photoshop and however expertly it’s used it will always be 2-dimensional – however seductively it attempts to convince you otherwise.
Finally ….. more Tom Robinson …
NEXT … THOMPSON TWINS and THE ENTHUSIASTIC GURU