Vinyl tourism

Away from the big name sleeve designers, I’ve always been interested in the work of those who toiled at or for labels, mostly uncredited and forgotten.  But when you bring some of these covers together they start to tell their own story.  We all have our own often stereotyped images of people from other lands, and the sleeve designers were no exception.  As it is holiday season, and having just got back from doing a bit of work / sight seeing in Switzerland (where I was dismayed by the lack of alpine meadows, milkmaids, dancing cows and cheese with holes in it), I thought to dig out one from my ‘so bad it’s good’ box, The Sound of Switzerland, which quickly led to me putting together a selection of similarly stereotyped covers.
You can view the full gallery on the site, and let me know of any similar sleeve you have!  Meanwhile, I’m back down the travel agents to get my money back.

Mood Latino, Sound of Switzerland, Learn Spanish, Italian Hits

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jewkbox jewish museum

The title of what looks to be a really fascinating new exhibition in London devoted to “exploring the experience of the 20th century through shellac and vinyl, celebrating the history of Jewish inventors, musicians, composers, music producers and songwriters. See early examples of phonographs and gramophones and immerse yourself in the sounds of the 20th century; from Jewish folk music to Yiddish theatre songs, from Broadway musicals to rock‘n’roll via the rebels of punk and psychedelic rock.

jewish album art exhibition

What most interested me (and gets it a mention here) from the preview was the display of some 500 records and covers, and if you like seeing unusual graphics and images on your sleeves, and how vinyl art was approached in a different country, then this looks like being a must.  You can read more about it on the Jewish Museum’s website, and download the exhibition brochure there as well.  I think the exhibition originated at the Austrian Jewish Museum.

It runs from July 14th to the middle of October

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Leave or stay?

Howie B Switch no sticker

Howie B Switch single front sleeve

This Howie B single is an elaborate package for a 12″, with a diecut printed inner sleeve, but a dirty great sticker on the front which ruined the designer’s work for me, so I spent half an hour carefully removing it from my copy. The dilemma of whether to leave a sticker or not is one which troubles some vinyl collectors. Personally I feel if the designer or musician didn’t want the information from the sticker printed on the sleeve, then it shouldn’t be there, especially if as is the case here it spoils everything. My only worry is can it be removed safely, or will it – especially when it has been on the card for a couple of decades – leave a mark. Others may argue that it is much part of the purchase as the label or the inner bag. Anyway, this is what it looks with and without.
Howie B (and his label) put a lot of effort into packaging this single, with various promotion versions, one of which was actually hand stencilled. These are covered on the site.

As for the other leave or stay debate – I’m just old enough to have voted in first time around and still feel the same today. When I ran a full time record label we ended up pressing in Europe as it was our best market, we even ran a bank account in Euros. Our main distribution people were in Germany and we made friends there, and enjoyed being part of something much bigger than would otherwise have been the case. So for the sake of existing and future small businesses everywhere I’d like to keep those opportunities and freedoms open.

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Pressing vinyl

I moan about The Guardian as much as any other longterm reader, but can’t see me going anywhere else. And not sure which other paper would publish a set of photographs documenting how a vinyl album is pressed. I think they’ve been taken for one of the big photo agencies rather than organised by the paper itself (by Brian Cahn) but this series of photographs covers everything from cleaning up the master tape to printing the sleeves. I rarely buy reissues but they do seem to be a huge part of the vinyl market these days, and this is a low-key Blue Note album cover they’re working on. I love the shot of a lady actually polishing off the dust from the sleeve sheet before it gets cut and formed, reminds me of my days working at a printers (nothing as glamorous as album covers sadly).  The shot below shows the pressing plant’s test copies stacked up.

album test copies.jpg

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Colour me pop

illustration by Jan Parker for Ben Webster album sleeve

What a fantastic sleeve illustration!  I like the dreamy look in Sax player Ben Webster’s eye as he tries to make sense of it all. The work is by illustrator Jan Parker, who did a number of excellent covers for the mail-order budget label World Record Club in the Sixties. Read more about these and see half a dozen more examples of Jan’s work on the site.


Art Direction : David King

Following a link about the Anti Nazi League posters I came across the recent obituary for photographer and designer David King the other day, mainly as I was interested to learn who designed those brilliant graphics for the ANL posters and flyers (and badges, I still have a small collection I amassed at the time) which were a big part of the late Seventies for me and many others.
I had not made the connection between him and sleeve design before though. David King’s day job in the Sixties was the art director at The Sunday Times Magazine, which again I always admired back in the Sixties (goodness knows what he would have made of the awful advertorial mess it has become these days.)
David was friends with Chris Stamp, who got him to design and art direct a few sleeves for his label, Track Records. A few sleeves. For Hendrix and The Who.
I can still show you the record shop window in Sheffield where I first saw The Who Sell Out sleeve on display. I was too young to understand what it was really, but it clearly made an impression! Hendrix’s Axis Bold As Love is again a very memorable cover, even if David misunderstood which Indian heritage Jimi wanted it to reflect. Electric Ladyland needs no introduction (and I won’t repeat the cover here!), but what a cover to have been onvolved with, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown is less well known, albeit just as clever and particularly timeless. You could easily imagine it appearing on one of the Stone Roses albums 20 years later.
For all these covers, David acted effectively as art director, commissioning the photographs (from David Montgomery) and illustrations (by Roger Law) and giving them the brief. So for Hendrix, David sourced an original Indian poster and explained to Roger how he wanted it redoing and adapting.
I like to keep this blog to material I own normally, and I do not have originals for any of these covers, so have sourced them from the web.
You can read The Guardian obituary here. I was very depressed to see I was the only person to have commented but I guess that is because it’s buried away amongst the clickbate which passes for The Guardian site these days.

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Deram DSS sampler sixties fashion

Initials to cause a shudder to any who has had to grovel for their monthly dues (and for not having posted anything for a couple of months – moving the album collection around to decorate has played havoc with my filing ‘system’), but here this 1968 DSS compilation showcases the first Deram DSS orchestral albums. I’ve always been a bit of a sucker for groovy Sixties mini-skirted disco dolly sleeves. It’s a Belgian pressing though I think the UK sleeve was the same, but the French did use a different cover for some strange reason (a beaten up copy I found on the web is shown below).

Deram DSS sampler sixties fashion
The old Decca Deram label always had a cool look about it thanks to the clean design and typography (our old friend Microgramma) but struggled identity wise.  Most of the label’s early releases were light orchestral easy listening, but they then switched tack and began signing up some cutting edge progressive pop acts instead. I first came across the label thanks to the innovative Moody Blues albums, the label’s initial rock signing, but the first single on the label I bought was the great cover of House Of The Rising Dun by Frijid Pink.
SOUND IN THE ROUND • Most of the orchestral titles were issued with the smart futuristic Deramic Sound System DSS logo on. This system used two four-track recorders to record paired stereo tracks, then mixed them.  DSS kicked off in 1967 but was dropped just three years later. According to a label history (at Deramic Sound was a contraction of Decca Panoramic Sound.
In company with other labels of the time, sleeves had a large white space at the top to incorporate the large logo, album title and other information, plus the Deram logo.  The orchestral sleeves had moody colour photographs of sunsets and cloudy skyscapes, and make a great collection (I’ll try and post some anon). When it came to the Prog bands, the DSS band was soon dropped and the label issued some really eye-catching sleeves. I don’t have many of these as they now fetch big bucks.
The inner bag as this is very typical of the time, swamping the buyer with technical information and dire warnings of ruining stereo records by playing them with the wrong stylus.

Deram DSS sampler sixties fashion

There is a standard Deram single sleeve on the site.

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Sparks and Clarkes

Another trio of shopping bags from long gone record shops; click on each bag to find the full entry – though not much is know about Sparks or Clarkes!

Wilson Peck Sheffield 1974

Wilson Peck Sheffield 1974

Clarkes-Records-Wisbech and Spalding

Clarkes-Records-Wisbech and Spalding

Sparks Records Worcester

Sparks Records Worcester

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Stitched up


As anyone who has spent some time nosing around this site will know, I am always interested in the way people have adapted or made vinyl sleeves to suit themselves; a cover made from a vintage pre-War Kelloggs box, others made from old sheets of wallpaper.  But this find takes it to a whole new level; a home-made hand-stitched record sleeve.  A must admit I found the stitching a little disturbing, the chaotic way it was done reminding me of those protesters who have stitched their mouths up for some cause or other…
Anyhow! I found two of these sleeves in a box of 78s at a rather overpriced junk emporium in the back streets of Llandudno a while ago so feared the worse price wise, but was pleased to be asked a modest £1 a disc so went away with these and a handful of other 78 rpm odds and ends.
Most of the stock was from the thirties, so this is probably of a similar vintage.  As the stitching is quite primitive, I could imagine a child or young teenager being responsible.  The card itself has stencilled markings on the inside which seem to be from a recycled trade sheet of some sort, but I don’t want to pull it apart to check.  The final sleeve shape is fairly challenging (and again suggests young hands getting to grips with a pair of scissors for the first time) but it did the job, and has been protecting the record for 75 years or so.
Of course some commercial makers of 78 sleeves for record shops stitched the edges up rather than use paper tape, so perhaps this was the child’s inspiration?
The rather swanky but cleverly refurbished and always interesting Mostyn Gallery was only just round the corner; if I was their curator these would have been framed and hanging on their wall!

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Ashes To Ashes

Inevitably we’ve been thinking about David Bowie today. I was never an obsessive along the Bowiemania lines, a heading which cropped up in the music papers during by youth,  but remain a big admirer of his output.  One of my favourite tracks by him without doubt is Ashes To Ashes issued back in 1980.  Needless to say Bowie was an artist who paid a lot of attention to his sleeve art and worked with interesting people throughout his career (his last album was done by another of my favourite graphic designers, Jonathan Barnbrook)

Ashes To Ashes A Ashes To Ashes B Ashes To Ashes C

The 45 rpm single sleeve was based on photographs taken during the video shoot for the track, dressed in a Pierrot outfit, by Brian Duffy, who had worked on covers for Bowie before.  There is no actual credit for the design on my copy of the single (the back of which is shown below), but I assume it was by Bowie and Edward Bell, who did the Scary Monsters sleeve. The hand-drawn lettering is very impressive, a hard trick to carry off properly.

Ashes To Ashes back

As well as the photograph and the lettering, the single sleeve makes use of a series of ‘stamps’, each seeming to use a sketchy visual for the album project, though they may just have been done en masse for this cover.  The UK press adverts (below) for the single credit the artwork to Bowie himself, so it seems likely he did the stamps.  I didn’t realise that they issued three variations of the cover (shown above), each with a slightly different version of the cover shot.  In addition, the first 100,000 copies also included a sheet of the stamps (below), with four sets available.  No wonder RCA could afford to spend some money on packaging with sales figures like that.

Ashes To Ashes stamps

But then this was the era of collecting vinyl, and fans thought nothing of buying multiple versions of a single to get the set, and I’m sure I would have wanted the lot too (as someone who got all six versions of the Andy Warhol Debbie Harry album cover – albeit cheap US cut-outs).
And for Bowie, this was just one single, from one album.

press advert

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