Mike Hammer

This great sleeve came from a bunch of odds and ends I bought off a Canadian dealer last year. It dates from 1959 and I thought it was fabulous abstract sleeve, with cool jazz imagery.

Micky Spillane soundtrack RCA 1956.jpg

The art is credited to Jason Kirby (his signature is seen bottom right) who I’d not heard of (Jack Kirby yes!), but seems to have been an early album designer working for Columbia from 1950 onwards. Like other designers of the time it’s likely he did more sleeves than he gets credited for. This particular album dates from 1959, but I hope he got repeat fees as RCA used it as a generic design for at least dozen or so releases between 1956 and 1959!  So it crops up quite a bit on covers for Honky Tonk Piano, Henry Mancini, Duke Ellington and others. I suspect this was a way for RCA to reissue older material in contemporary packaging, but using the same cover must have caused some confusion in-store. Frustratingly Jason’s work is not well documented online, with just a few interesting book jacket designs and some commercial magazine cover work seen.

 

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Detour To The Moon

Mary ann mccall.jpg

With all the news hype* over the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing the past few days, here’s a nice sleeve sort of on topic which I picked up a while back! Mary Ann McCall’s Detour To The Moon actually avoids any of the sci-fi imagery you might expect from a 1958 long player, even though most of the song titles manage to feature the word moon!  Instead we get a great cover photograph by Charles Varon, showing the singer, lit from behind, sat on a large abstract studio background (done in the style of Pollock), looking up into the lens. For a time Mary Ann was rated as one of the best white female jazz singers, and had worked with many of the famous big bands before and after WW2 ahead of cutting this. The finished design was by Sy Leichman but to be honest with a cover shot as good as this he didn’t have to do too much work.

* not that I’m knocking the actual event; I’m old enough to have sat and watched the grainy monochrome coverage live as it happened, we even got a day off school specially. One of the most inspirational events I’ve ever witnessed.  My first long player purchase wasn’t some hip rock album, but a record of the Gemini capsule’s flight recordings! The second was the 2001 film soundtrack…

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Sheffield shop

Spinnings Discs record shop in the city (below) is added to our list of places to visit at last! Our modest list also updates Jumbo Records in Leeds which has moved back into the Merrion Centre just across the road. Not had chance to visit yet, unless you count going there in 1978 before they first moved out!

spinning-discs-sheffield.jpg

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Carrying The Beatles

Beatles carrying case

I picked this Beatles record carry case up at a junk shop a couple of decades ago for a few shillings. These sort of carriers were very popular in the late Fifties and into the Sixties, with plastic pockets inside to hold sixteen 7″ singles, and retractable handles, so you could carry your singles to a friend’s house or party. Most of them had jazzy designs printed onto the plastic outsides, but here they had a printed photo of the group sealed into the plastic. A nice bit of memorabilia, I was fascinated to spot an advert for it in an old music magazine I was going through recently.

Beatles-7'-record-holder

This is from March 1964, so dates the case really closely. The case was licensed by PYX but it was being sold by Mod Fashions in London, some time before Mod became a social / fashion trend. It wasn’t cheap either, 12/6d in 1964 (a loaf of bread was around 1/- or 5p) – but you did have a money back guarantee, plus it was “dainty, light, yet hardwearing”! The group had already produced four or five of their biggest UK hits by this time and everyone was wanting to cash in with merchandise, reportedly with the band losing out on some very poor deals. It is one of my few items of Beatles memorabilia and does remind me of when I first heard those singles on the radio as a school kid and traded the bubble gums cards in the playground!

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Ready for stereo?

BSR stereo cartridge advert 1968.jpg

Back in 1968 when this advert appeared in Melody Maker, stereo was still a pricey upgrade for most pop music fans, and many were playing records on older mono record players even though the stereo format had been around for a decade by this time.  And this worked OK given the tiny speakers. But BSR here were trying to educate people into upgrading to a stereo cartridge, as this would read stereo discs better and improve the sound.  The advert is typical of the era, especially the illustration of the dolly girl with the elaborate hair do. But as the cartridge was going to cost the best part of two quid I doubt many could afford it.  I know I played my early stereo album purchases on a mono player, the Fidelity HF43, and doubt it would have made much difference. Instead, I used to sneak in and use my Dad’s modest Sony stereo deck when he was out!

HF43 fideilty record player.jpg

The Fidelity was a smashing looking machine though, probably launched in the late 60s (I got mine around 1970), and identical to this photo (above) I found online. To stop arguments my brother also got one, in the alternative grey colour scheme. The case was thick solid plastic, as was the lid, so they were very robust.

To my regret we both got rid of them later when we upgraded, but found replacements in junk shops since. As one has just been auctioned for over £100 I will look after it better!

Thanks to Tonny Steenhagen for the advert scan.

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Classical sleeves

Three nice illustrated sleeves which I have stumbled across in recent months, all for classical music and issued in the 1950s and 1960s.

Cuckoo and Nightingale Columbia sleeve.jpg

The first cover design is a real work of art, produced for Columbia’s classical label in 1963 by Henrietta Condak, who did sleeve designs for them well into the Eighties. The later covers tend to feature mostly photographs of the performers, probably dictated by the label and the market, but many of the earlier designs when budgets were less constrained are typographical or illustration based.
Here the two bird illustrations turn out to incorporate smaller images of other birds when you start to look more closely, all taken from old Victorian engravings. This is then set amongst some beautiful calligraphy credited to Irene Trivas. She was also an illustrator, but appears to have worked less often on record covers, and mainly in the Fifties, although her output is always really striking.

scheherazade RCA sleeve 1951.jpg

The Scheherazade cover is yet another interpretation of the ballet based on the narrator of the Arabian Nights. There are dozens of recordings of this work out there, all presenting different visions of the story, and it’s fascinating to see how designers tackled the challenge. This is one of the earliest LP versions on RCA Victor, dating from 1951. I was quite surprised at the excellent condition, the multi-coloured printing with solid black, pink, turquoise and blue inks has survived without the usual ring wear associated with paper sleeves from North America (it’s actually a Canadian pressing). Even better it was a garage clearance (all LPs £2) find at a local market. Frustratingly the cover artist is not credited anywhere, but it is a real gem.

Guisti Command sleeve design.jpg

The last of the illustrated sleeves is an abstract design by Italian born George Guisti, for the Command Classic series. I picked up the Pye UK issue from 1966 but the album was first issued in this cover in 1961 in America. Guisti did around 50 sleeves for the label across the Sixties, most are excellent. Guisti emigrated to America in the late Thirties as he was offered so much work there whilst visiting. As well as the sleeves, his work graced books, magazines, corporate material and advertising, as well as sculpture and even architecture (I’ve just been drooling over one of his 1964 houses which is up for sale!). The image is very abstract, seeming to depict a pine tree on a hill, but I’ve no idea if there is anything in the music which inspired it. All his sleeves feature the recognisable signature.

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At The Palace

The Palace Theatre in Manchester was one of the many rock venues available to me as a student there, but tended not to have as many groups as The Free Trade Hall. However if a band needed a deeper bigger stage, then it was the best option. I saw Genesis there doing Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. So when Yes were touring their elaborate Relayer show in 1975 it was about the only venue in the city which could take their set, with large fibreglass installations designed by Roger Dean. I was lucky enough to see the show, which was the first with new keyboard player Patrick Moraz. I also managed to get my 135mm lens in to take some shots from the stalls, including this one of Howe and Moraz.  Yes are not everyone’s cup of tea being too proggy for some but I really enjoy their work up to this era.  The photo and a few more will appear in a new book of dedicated interviews by journalist and broadcaster Jon Kirkman, The Yes Interviews, published early in 2019 (by Easy On The Eye books).  Having been sat in my archive for so long it’s nice to see them in print!

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77

I absolutely played the debut album from Talking Heads to death back in 1977, having taken a risk on the single after rave reviews in the NME. The LP sleeve is good too (it can be seen on the site) but the band had wanted to use proper silk screen quality inks to give the jarring optical clash between the day glo green and orange / red (inspired by supermarket packaging I seem to remember).  It seems a shame none of the recent vinyl reissues have not gone that extra mile.  However you get a better idea of how it might have looked from this original Sire Records promotional in-store poster issued in the UK, which is done in the industrial inks.  I blagged it from Virgin Records back at the time.

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Christmas sleeve

James-Russell-Xmas-bag

I cannot trace James Russell & Co. This charming Christmas sleeve printed for their record department looks to be from the 1930s judging by the stylistic outline drawings of the man and woman who are carrying the letters which make up the word Greetings. On the other side they are carrying parcels. I thought at first that they might simply be metal blocks from the typesetters (most of whom stocked a wide range of seasonal images in their catalogue) but looking closely it is clear the figures are individually painted as there are differences between them. So, it looks like Russell’s designers did this specially, which suggests a department store; I doubt a record shop alone would go to those lengths. Either way, it’s a lovely image and the only 78 rpm Christmas sleeve I’ve found to date. There was a Russell & Russell shop in Sheffield around 1910, but whether there is a connection I don’t know.

James-Russell-Xmas-back

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Beresford’s Birmingham

beresfords-birmingham

This vintage paper bag turned up a few weeks ago at an antique shop, and for £3 I couldn’t resist. Lovingly crafted from brown paper with string handles, and complete with the HMV and Columbia record logos, it must be pre-War, so just who kept it mint for all those years must remain a mystery. All this crap about plastic bags destroying the planet could have been avoided if they had stuck to this sort of carry-home!

I can’t find out much about the record shop. The web doesn’t help; the shop is listed on the Birmingham Music Archive website (which doesn’t seem to have updated for over a year), and a record sleeve from the shop is shown (see below). This gives an alternate city centre address, but the Erdington one is the same. All I know about Erdington is that it was the home of the famous Mothers Club live venue in the 1960s.
As with other shops selling records at the time, Beresford’s seem to have been a general electrical dealer. It’s a sign of the time that the Erdington branch is now a Polish food outlet.

Beresfords-Birmingham-sleeve

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