Posts Tagged ‘Chelsea’

50. LOU REED – ‘Life-Changer’ (1942-2013)

October 29, 2013

At the end of the night, he (Lou) told us we’d been such a crummy audience we didn’t deserve an encore. and he didn’t do one. That I decided was a true rock’n’roll star.”
– Neil Gamen in The Guardian.

There is nothing to say and everything you want to about Lou Reed.
This album sleeve sums it all up for me …

lou reed

I never met Lou Reed (though loved his music and attitude) but I did meet Holly Woodlawn, the ‘he was a she’ in Lou’s ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ …

… “Holly came from Miami, F.L.A.
Hitch-hiked her way across the U.S.A.
Plucked her eyebrows on the way
Shaved her legs and then he was a she
She says, “Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side”
He said, “Hey honey, take a walk on the wild side

Holly Woodlawn

When I say I ‘met’ Holly Woodlawn – it was rather more than that.

Holly was one of the stars in the Warhol Factory in New York. If Lou Reed hadn’t brought her additional fame by including her in his song, then Holly probably wouldn’t have developed the extraordinary cabaret act she brought to London in the late 70’s. If she hadn’t come to London I wouldn’t have met her – I happened to be working in the place where she would be performing – the innovative ‘supper-club’ Country Cousin on the Kings Road.

I noticed she had her eyes on me during day-time rehearsals for the opening night but didn’t think much about it. After her late-night performance that night though – I was ‘summoned’ to her dressing room. She curled her finger and I was, quite literally, ‘hooked’. She insisted I become her escort for her two-week stay in London. There really was no choice – she was extremely persuasive. I thought it could be fun.

It was more than fun. There followed two weeks of hilarity and wonderful times. I met her manager and entourage, had dinner with her friends, hit the newly-emerging night-club ‘scene’ springing up all over London, danced the night away as she continually shocked, enlivened and challenged those whose lives we unsuspectingly swept into. I cruised around town getting into serious mischief with the explosive diva that was Holly Woodlawn and it was one of the most precious, entertaining and exhilerating experiences of my life.

essential Lou Reed

If it wasn’t for Lou Reed  – those extraordinary two weeks would never have happened. Lou Reed changed my life. I’m convinced there are many, many others who would say the same thing. He not only changed lives directly but indirectly too – through the diverse and left-field challenges he continuously presented to us in his music and in his own life.

Thank you Lou Reed. Thank you a million times over.

Peace.

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16. DEF LEPPARD – Part Three

December 3, 2009

Blog responses were brilliant and very interesting. So many of you enjoyed seeing the original print-ready artwork – so there’ll be more of that later – and also requests from fans for an exhibition of that stuff has made me take the idea more seriously. What a discerning bunch DEF LEPPARD fans are. I also realised, out of all the comments and e-mails I’ve received over the last couple of weeks, more than half of them were from female fans. DEF LEPPARD have a huge fan base of women – Rock was no longer a boy’s-only territory. Sure, there were female followers of other bands in the 80’s and earlier but DEF LEPPARD’s appeal was broader and intelligent enough to include many more.

So … where were we? Oh yes – no album sleeve. ‘Animal Instinct’ had become ‘Hysteria.’ It only took a few days to convince Adrian to climb down from the parapet on the studio roof (the studio is on the top floor of a five-storey building) and to tell him we were all getting pissed off with our endless trips to the supermarket to buy him more Kleenex. He was fine in the end. The band did pay him for all his work so that was some compensation.

A few weeks before I’d met the band in Amsterdam I’d taken a photograph of a friend of mine and, as I clicked the shutter, he was distracted by a noise and turned his head very quickly to the right. The resulting portrait was one of those brilliant ‘accidents’ that often take you by surprise. If I sit down to invent an image, whatever I do is limited by – well – me. Experimenting with different techniques has always been inspirational and many of my ideas are the result of something unexpected appearing – not knowing what the outcome of an experiment will be. Engage in the ‘unknown’ and you’ll be constantly surprised.

(In-between this Def Leppard blog and the next, I’ll tell you about something that happened to me in India that totally blew me away – when I saw a natural phenomena my imagination couldn’t have invented in a million years.)

The headshot of Robert contained a double-image. Because he’d moved his head very quickly the camera, on a low shutter-speed, had recorded a full-on image of his face – but also his profile. I noticed that his left eye had moved to become his right eye in profile. There was something very disturbing about the overall feel of the photograph. It doesn’t sound like a huge step in designing the final sleeve, but it was. I had a direction to explore which I was very confident about. I still had no idea where the illustration would lead but I was very excited about the possibilities.

I also wanted something as a background which placed the head in a strange environment. I knew, by the time I got what I wanted, the head would show a primitive fear so I decided on total contrast – something futuristic. What I decided to do led me innocently into the bizarre (and hilarious) world of ‘computer graphics’.

We started here …

We have to remember it was the mid-80’s and using computers to create images was primitive to say the least. Each time-consuming (and expensive) process was so basic it was about as exciting as eating a warm lettuce sandwich. However, the end result was the thing and I was determined to learn something about the emerging digital world for the ‘Hysteria’ sleeve. I spent days drawing the design for the ‘circuit’, stretching my draughtsman’s skills to the limit with pens, ink and a drawing board. There was a company in London which professed to be on the ‘cutting edge’ of a new creative phenomena and I went to see them to explain what I wanted – to convert my drawing into something more futuristic. ‘No problem‘, they said.  I had an image in my head of the computer operator – a rather geeky character obsessed with perfection. Wrong. I returned with my artwork and met my ‘mentor’ who had just returned from an extended pub lunch (VERY extended by the look of him). He stumbled into the room, introduced himself and I followed him as he lurched off drunkenly towards the room that contained the state-of-the-art computer. The set-up was professional but resembled something put together by a lunatic inventor attempting to build a time-machine. There was a camera the size of wardrobe, TV monitors were scattered all over the room and a congestion of unrecognisable electronic instruments were connected together by miles of different coloured cables and wires. My drawing was photographed and somehow magically appeared on one of the monitors. The amazingly innovative procedure followed – we painstakingly coloured in the white areas of the circuit like children with a handful of electronic coloured pencils – ‘No that one should be blue, change that one to green, get rid of the red completely,  more yellow ...’ Eventually after several hours we had the image I wanted. The wardrobe was wheeled in front of the screen and the image was photographed. There was no way then to transfer the final image to another computer – what I was given when I left was an 8x10ins transparency of the screen we had created the image on. The pixelated texture within the circuit wasn’t designed – it was the result of photographing the TV monitor – but it was exactly what I’d hoped for.

At the same time, I worked on the the main image. When I began to sketch it out, using the eye as a focal point, the illustration began to take on a life of it’s own. I swear what appeared surprised and shocked me but wherever it came from I knew it was undeniably powerful and perfect for the sleeve. Although I still had to find a way to combine the illustration with the dazzling computer graphics (!) I showed the band the first draughts of the head and a resounding ‘THAT’S IT!’ was music to my ears. The level had been set and the required intensity of the rest of the design fell into place comparatively easily. There are so many disparate elements in the final sleeve – the head, the circuit, the demented title lettering, the band logo and the triangle – it shouldn’t really work, but it remains one of my favourites and most memorable I worked on. I completed the illustration, in coloured pencils, within two weeks and the final result was definitely not ‘laboured’. It’s worth mentioning here that historically,’Hysteria’ was the first album sleeve  to contain computer graphics.

STEPHEN MAYNARD CLARK (1960 – 1991)

It’s difficult to say much more about Def Leppard without writing about Steve Clark. The second major tragedy to befall the band was the death of their amazing lead guitarist. During the recording of ‘Hysteria’ Steve often showed up to rehearsals or recording sessions drunk. Alcoholism became a serious problem. In 1991, on a six-month leave of absence from the band, Steve was found dead at his home in London. An autopsy revealed the cause of death to be accidental – a lethal mixture of anti-depressants, painkillers and alcohol. Steve lived in London, only a few streets away from where I live in Chelsea, and we often met in a small old-fashioned but wonderful pub called ‘The Cross Keys’ – so I knew him better than the other guys in the band. I really liked him and we became close in a haphazard, occasional kind of way. Steve had a generosity of spirit and a vulnerability which was very attractive, but something deeply troubling was never far from the surface. Whenever I travelled to meet the band Steve always took the time and made the effort to look after me – the perfect gentleman, always aware of nervous or uncomfortable situations. Whenever I met him in ‘The Cross Keys’ I always felt the need to look after him. It’s hard to explain why I felt that way and, despite his reputation for heavy drinking, he was rarely out of control when I saw him. I guess I just felt the need to protect him from a world he often found terrifyingly complicated and difficult to deal with. Away from adoring fans and where he did what he loved most – play guitar – he was usually quiet, sensitive and introspective, He obviously found it difficult to reconcile the two extremes. Don’t get me wrong, he was rarely miserable or depressed – we often had evening of non-stop laughter – but there was always a nervous undercurrent of someone who could easily be thrown off-balance. What I felt with him was a responsibility to help maintain the balance. There are people in all our lives we feel privileged to meet and Steve was right up there with the best of them in mine.

Here’s a video from 1988 which shows his distinctive style and incredible talent – just brilliant.

On a lighter note, for those of you who enjoyed the ‘sketches’ and original art, and loved the new edition, I’ve created another new one using various ‘working drawings’ created on the journey to the final sleeve. Check it out at my website for more detail.

Next we move onto the joy of the single releases from ‘Hysteria’. Can’t wait.

and finally for Part Three …

2. CHRISTOPHER HUNTER

September 9, 2009

Actually, perhaps designing my first album sleeve may be a little premature in terms of how my design experience developed into an extreme sport. We need to go a little further back …

After living in the Himalayas for 2 years (that’s a whole other story) I arrived in London in the glorious summer of 1976 with two dozen paintings I’d carried back overland from India. Seriously culture-shocked and barefoot still, I moved in with friends who lived on the borders of Chelsea and Fulham. It was, and still is, a community I love.

Then it was full of drug dealers and gangsters, terraced houses, children playing in the streets and a crew of local characters with more stories to tell than the Ancient Greeks. It’s still pretty much the same though it’s probably the kids in the street selling drugs, some of the terraced houses are inhabited by a more sophisticated breed of gangster and the characters are even more extreme, though often too ‘out of it’ to tell their stories.

I noticed a couple of weeks after I’d moved into the Lots Road area and made friends with the gangsters (obviously, you would wouldn’t you?) that a new club was opening inside what is still The Furniture Cave on Kings road. (The club is now the appallingly suburban Crazy Larry’s.)

There was a sign outside the entrance to the club which said ‘COUNTRY COUSIN, Supper Club, Restaurant and Gallery’. I nipped home to collect a few paintings. ‘Give it a go’ I thought. I met the owner – a wonderful and (I realised later) very well-connected restauranteur called Christopher Hunter. He’s probably the only true anarchist I’ve ever met. He did whatever he liked (you really don’t want to know) and his friends who filled the club were the likes of Danny La Rue, Freddie Mercury and Shirley Bassey. ‘Darling’ he said ‘I love your paintings. I need an exhibition when we open. The walls are yours’.

To give you an idea of why I loved Christopher so much is easily explained through one incident. I arrived at the club one morning and Christopher was sitting alone in an ocean of empty tables, his head buried in his hands. ‘Why Chris, what on Earth’s the matter?’ I said. ‘Dear boy,’ he said, taking both my hands in his, ‘some awful awful news. My bank account’s in credit. I’m spending my own money!’ I looked at him and he was genuinely devastated. ‘Come on,’ he said ‘we’re going out to buy a red convertible Mercedes sports car.’ And we did.

What is this to do with design you might well ask. As the stories keep coming, you’ll see, you’ll see.

Being the place it was, Country Cousin needed staff who could deal with the arrogant rich, could flatter the famous, humour the terminally drunk and, at all times, be themselves. They were an amazingly flamboyant and intelligent bunch – confident, beautiful and irrepressibly energetic. They enjoyed themselves hugely and their good humour was infectious. That was Christopher’s skill. No matter how potentially successful his ventures might be, he knew he needed to oil the machine with talented individuals as important as his personal vision of The Great Life.

I practically lived at CC for nearly two years and quite early on Chris asked me if I would join the Country Cousin Family as it’s resident designer. ‘Chris,’ I said, ‘I have no experience at all in design. I wouldn’t know how to start’. He laughed at me. ‘Darling, darling,’ he said, ‘If you really want to do it, there are people out there who will show you how. Learn, dear boy, learn.’

Where next? Probably meeting the astonishing diva – Holly Woodlawn

5th September 2009. Serendipity.

As I sat writing this blog at a Fulham riverside pub, a white-haired older gentleman approached me. He wore a wide-lapelled very smart pin-striped suit, a pink silk tie and the same colour handkerchief blossoming out of his top pocket. ‘What are you writing?’ he said. ‘About Chelsea and Fulham in the 70’s’ I said. He sat down and told me about his past, living in the Fulham area. He was 78. ‘My friends used to call me Al Capone’ he said with a twinkle in his eye. ‘Now because of the alcohol I consume – they call me Alka Seltzer’.