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

knitted-sleeve

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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Columbia Eye

Columbia-Bonus-album

The Columbia ‘eye’ logo is a great piece of graphic design from 1955 when it first appeared on Columbia album labels, repeated six times around the edge of the label. Label collectors use the name ‘eye’ though I suspect the concept was of the letter R with an oval shape on top, usually with a small circular disc inside with a tiny centre hole.
The logo lasted into 1962 when it was made fussier by repeating the oval shape smaller and smaller inside the outline. There is a design credit for this, to S. Neil Fujita. I do not know if he did the 1955 original but it seems possible; he had been hired by Columbia in 1954 as a chief designer, and worked on many sleeves of that era as well.
The particular Columbia sleeve here looked like a sampler when I picked it up, but is actually a Bonus Record, available only to members of the Columbia Records Club. It’s a full album by Harry James & His Orchestra, rather than a sampler.
The Columbia Records Club was in operation by 1955. Once people joined and had bought four or five albums (conditions varied over the years) they then got one bonus album for every two more they purchased (with a minimum order of 4 discs a year). Some were issued in proper sleeves, others in this generic design. The club was still going in 1965 and advertised in aspirational magazines like Life in the US.

Columbia-Records-Club-1955

I would imagine the same sleeve was used for a number of these bonus releases (this has the number CB10 on the label but discographies go up to CB16). Maybe at the time it was a disappointment not to get a proper cover, but to me it’s a great piece of work. The sleeve is credited to Graber-Mann Associates but I cannot find anything out about this agency.
It is printed in solid gold with black (and in black and red on the back.) It is undated but by tracking the LP titles on the back, they were all issued in 1955 so it looks to me to date from the launch of the club.  The advert shown here also dates from 1955 and introduces potential buyers to the benefits of joining (you should be able to read the text if you click on the image.)

Columbia-bonus-LP-back

There were a few record clubs in the UK in the Sixties, but America being so much bigger they flourished there. I recall Warners in the U.S. having similar offers on their inner sleeves well into the Seventies, where you could send off for exclusive compilations not available in stores.
Today of course you can go and listen to just about anything on YouTube and not have to pay anyone a bean!

There are a number of posts on ST33 relating to Columbia sleeves, just use the search button.  A piece about an early Columbia shipping box is also on the site.

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Scandinavian Songs With Alice and Svend

Alice and Svend

This album dates from 1970 and was issued on the Interdisk label in Norway, although it is sung mostly in English. The cover looked quite unusual so I thought I would investigate.
The abstract image of the viking long boat and the hand drawn lettering all look distressed against a rough fabric background, and it’s actually printed in ‘specials’ rather than CMYK. So we get a nice gold ink, plus blue and black.
The illustration is credited to Derid and Tavla and the design to Derid, but try as I might I cannot find anything about the pair.  But what did surprise me is that I’d picked up a 1970 reissue of a 1964 album, and the original (below) was silk screen printed onto a sort of hessian or burlap fabric.  So this explains the texture on the reissue.  And also means I now want to find an original.

Scandinavian Songs With Alice and Svend

The musicians aren’t much better documented but Svend Asmussen is a Danish jazz violinist, and teamed up with Swedish singer Alice Babs (who died in 2014) for this album and others as well as many solo projects.  The rather nice late Fifties Polydor EP sleeve below by Alice is one I spotted while researching.  Look at the way some clown has hacked off the price sticker and ruined it!

Alice-Babs-45

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Maureen in Mono.

Maureen

Maureen O’Hara‘s passing has to be marked by ST33, as she was my favourite of the golden age screen women.  And as with many other Hollywood Stars, record labels attempted to cash in on her film success by putting her into a recording studio. Maureen’s first album was a jazzy, easy listening offering, Love Letters From…  issued in 1959.  I’ve never found this album, which seems to have been a US only release. dustygroove.com have had a listen: “Dreamy vocals from Maureen O’Hara – a singer who definitely shows her Irish a bit in this rare set of work for RCA. Backings are by Bob Thompson, who’s a bit more subtle here than in his own work – and he nicely supports Maureen’s trilling approach with some lightly jazzy instrumentation – all in a way that puts the singer right up front in the mix, and preserves a personal, up-close atmosphere on many numbers.”

Maureen-O'Hara-Love-Letters album RCA

A couple of years later in 1962 Maureen had another go and played it safe by going back to her Irish heritage on what was a bigger selling album, Maureen O’Hara Sings Her Favorite Irish Songs, on CBS. This was also issued in Europe and does turn up more readily in second hand shops in the UK.  It is what you might expect, but she does make a good job of the material.

Maureen-OHara-Sings-Her-Favourite

The covers to both albums are great, Love Letters a carefully (albeit uncredited) posed image, heavily retouched, with Maureen in a low cut dress which reflects her bosom-heaving persona in some of the lively swashbuckling films she starred in. The titles are nicely hand-drawn and being on RCA the cover carries their OTT Living Stereo logo across the top. Film buffs might be interested in the back sleeve notes, which are by director John Ford.
The Irish Songs sleeve is a little less overt, and she wears what for Hollywood probably passed for an Irish peasant top. The label also gave Maureen the most immaculate make-up job of just about any album sleeve ever. The image had to make room for a large panel listing all the tracks, quite why they needed that I’m not sure! And yes, the colours on the scan here really are accurate.

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It’s Smiths It Is

Smiths Crisps flexi disc Lyntone

For those too young to remember, flexi discs were the vinyl equivalent of free MP3s or YouTube clips. Used by advertisers, magazines and groups to give people audio tracks at a relatively low cost by pressing the music on very thin flexible plastic 7″ records.  Fidelity was pretty low and they weren’t designed to be played too often (and usually required a weight being placed on the label area to stop them slipping.)
This example is typical, issued on the back of an advertising campaign for Smith’s Crisps (then the dominant crisp maker).  It features two hip tracks designed to appeal to teenagers, based on music from a contemporary TV and radio advert.  Unusually this flexi actually had a paper label affixed – most just printed text onto the disc itself.  But the cover is very Sixties, and features high contrast images of dancers from the TV advert, while the blue and red colours relate to the design of the crisp packets themselves. Amazingly it turns out that a young Phil Collins appeared in the advert as a dancer, and appeared on a promotional tour of the UK for the company dancing to the record on stage – he would be 15 at the time (the disc came out in 1967.)  DJ Simon Dee fronted the advert, suggesting kids send in three empty crisp packets and 1/6d (7.5p) to get their free flexi disc.  Smiths had form in this area. Richard “Hard Day’s Night” Lester had directed an earlier commercial for the company, featuring a young Pattie Boyd.

Smiths Crisps flexi disc Lyntone

The single was probably made by Lyntone, the famous flexi firm, as it carries one of their catalogue numbers (Lyn1022) but is credited to Audio Plastics, so may have been done around the time the two firms merged.
I can’t get the disc to play on my deck (in the old days I would balance a couple of old coins on the cartridge!) but those who have listened to it report a vaguely white soul and mod influenced track, but with utterly daft lyrics. As far as I know the dance – or indeed the record – never took off in the clubs.  Thanks to the archives of one time TV commercial director Ian Rough, we can now view the original monochrome commercial which features the sleeve very prominently!

Other flexi discs on the site – a Paint promo and Birthday flexi discs

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Hawaii 233 Fulwood Road.

Record Collector shop Sheffield with Lost Garden

Fed up with Barry chiding me that I only ever add shops to this site’s local index after they’ve shut, we finally tag the legendary Sheffield record shop Record Collector onto our listings! Read more about it under Record Collector.

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Beautiful Tru-Sound

Al Goodman Porgy & Bess Gala records

London based Gala Records are poorly documented but began around 1958 as a budget label, and remained so through the Sixties.  Much of their recorded output seems to have been bought in from America, often along with the artwork. They were unashamedly low-price and their sleeves are always quite brash with very saturated colours.  This cover is a worth looking at though. Based on the central tenement set of the stage / film, it’s a combination of an impressionistic cartoon-like painted background and characters, with overlays of fabric and some half-tone images cut out from magazines. Over this the designers have laid lots of type, though the actual title gets rather lost placed where it is.
The sleeve does look very American (and the recording certainly is) and I can’t believe it wasn’t first issued there but I’ve not been able to find an original. The release is not dated, but the film which really brought the story to the public was issued in 1959 so this is likely to be very early Sixties.
The musical was enormously popular and as well as the official albums, there are lots of cover versions by 101 Strings, Hank Jones, Percy Faith and many more.

There is another Gala sleeve design for a Bullfighting album on the site.

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Ah! Men

Ah Men Contour LP collection 1974

Ah! Men is a strange concept, and a bit of a weird mix musically unless your play list switches between Val Doonican and Jerry Lee Lewis by choice.  Still the concept title must have seemed fantastic at the Polydor brain-storming session, even if the religious pun doesn’t really work in the cold light of day. The cover girl is clearly in some sort of seventh heaven at the thought of all these hunky guys (‘supermen’ according to the cover); about to swoon over Harry Secombe perhaps?  It’s a great studio shot though, and as an advertising led cover design it works perfectly.
Contour, Polydor’s budget label, put this together in 1974.  The design was by Jack Levy, who did a lot of work for Contour in the mid-70s, including overseeing their 16 Chart Hits series which ran for some twenty or so volumes. But he did start out doing more ‘progressive’ covers for the likes of Manfred Mann and Renaissance. Jack seems to have come over from America, where he worked at Dot Records as their advertising / merchandising director in the late Sixties, and probably returned later (there was a big advertising agency in Chicago, Jack Levy Associates, in the 1990s.)
The cover photograph is by John (or Johnny) Clamp. I cannot find too much work by him, but he did cover shoots for a couple of great albums by Kaleidoscope and Dave Kelly in the late Sixties, and worked with Jack Levy on the Manfred Mann cover I mentioned earlier.  It’s not impossible Clamp is an assumed name (maybe a pun on photo gear?). Like Jack he probably moved on into more general agency work.
The cover model does look familiar, and may have appeared on some of the hits albums too.  The button up sweat shirt top and peaked hat are very of the time.  As is the pin-on badge which frustratingly catches the studio light so cannot be read…
This copy is mint and looks unplayed, so may have been an unwanted gift!

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