Hi-Fi Living!

I don’t go raiding the web for sleeve jpegs, but equally I don’t have any of the sleeves here. However they do all appear in a detailed new book which is getting decent reviews all over the shop, including from us! “Designed For Hi-Fi Living” looks at 150 often great sleeves in the context of American post-war or Mid-Century living.  It’s a fairly new approach, and seems to have struck a chord with people who just love sleeve art for it’s own sake. You can read our lengthy review and see some bigger images on the site.

Designed for Hi Fi Living book review

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Vinyl vote in Barnsley

Exhibition • Barnsley / The Civic Gallery until Jan 20. 2018 (closed Sun/Mon)

Barnsley, Best Vinyl Art exhibition 2017

Album sleeve exhibitions of any sort are such a rarity that it’s hard to resist going a bit over the top about this one, but frankly if you have any interest in the subject then it is an absolute must.
Yet despite living not far away, I might easily have missed it. We were visiting Tallbird Records in Chesterfield and I spotted the exhibition leaflet which just said “Best Art Vinyl, 12 Years On 12 Inches.” It looked like it might be a display of 12″ singles, so I took it away to read. It turned out to be about an award I’d never heard of, devoted to finding the best vinyl sleeve of the year (no running for twelve years.)

Barnsley, Best Vinyl Art exhibition 2017

Needing a break from the computer screen, we took ourselves off to sunny Barnsley. The exhibition is at The Civic, which I’d also never heard of. It turns out to be the town’s splendid old Civic Theatre which got regenerated a few years ago. I did get to a few rock gigs there back in the Seventies (an awesome solo show by Tony TS McPhee will stay with me forever). The building has now been smartened up with new extensions and exhibition space, though do get directions from the FOH staff or you’ll never find it.
Once inside though, it’s a large space and a quite eye-popping display of album sleeves greets you. Frankly the leaflet just does not do it justice. I didn’t think to count them but there must be around 300 covers on the walls, and it was difficult to know where to begin. As said, the basis of the exhibition are the 50 sleeves nominated for this years ‘best vinyl cover,’ and you can vote on paper for your favourite three.

Barnsley-sleeve-exhibition-4

As well as this, the curators have made selections from the last 11 years of the award, nine from each. It was great to look at these, simply because a lot of these covers are from obscure bands, or were simply pressed in very small numbers. Inevitably you will find your own favourites, and puzzle over why some ever got this far, but that’s art for you.
The gallery also has free standing displays where the curators have managed to add supporting material – alternate early designs; original art, and so on. So The Cribs sleeve sits alongside the original Bert Hardy photograph – see below (and shows the designer could have handled the typography a lot better!).

Barnsley, Best Vinyl Art exhibition 2017. Bert Hardy, The Cribs

Nicely displayed is the Fleet Foxes LP sleeve which reminded me of covers from the past when I first saw it; and the curators have picked up on two of them, showing much older covers by Monty Python and Black Sabbath which also used Breughel paintings!

Barnsley, Best Vinyl Art exhibition 2017. Fleet Foxes, Black Sabbath, Monty Python

The main sponsor of the exhibition is artvinyl.com, who make those posh metal album display frames which we all covet but can never afford, and they do indeed look impressive on the wall. You have to applaud them for helping keep this award going.
So, all in all, highly recommended. The gallery has added a second smaller exhibition downstairs which highlights a dozen vinyl sleeves with connections to Barnsley, and once again winkled out original drawings and material used in the production of the covers. Some were familiar, Saxon for one, others are new to me, and how a local electro artists secured Barnbrook’s services for her album isn’t explained, but it looked great printed on silver foil (even if the design was something Matthew Leibovitz might have turned out for Caedmon Records 60 years earlier – see our gallery on this site.)
Funnily enough one my favourite sleeves of the day was here, done by local designer Jamie Briggs for a band called Exit Calm, an oil painting reduced to red and monochrome. Both the cover and the painting are displayed.

Barnsley, Best Vinyl Art exhibition 2017

As for my favourites from this years nominees, I probably spent more time trying to fill in my voting form than at the last general election. If you can’t get along in person, you can see all the sleeves and vote online at http://www.artvinyl.com/award-year/2017/.
Any negatives? Well bad access aside, one big niggle; the sheer number of typos, grammatical errors, bad punctuation and what not in almost every other caption would have Lynn Truss foaming at the mouth, and while we all make mistakes, this would have me hiding behind the Mac in shame – even the brochure was not exempt!
A handful of the sleeves turned out to be jpeggy colour laser prints. I asked about this, and curator Jason White (who has done a great job) explained that these had not been kept by the Vinyl Art crew, and proved either too difficult or too expensive to replace.
Which I can sympathise with; to get just the new covers here which I liked would set me back several hundred pounds. Fingers crossed then that the town manages to host this on a regular basis. The same exhibition is being staged simultaneously in Budapest and Bolgna (and in stripped down form in London.)

Barnsley-sleeve-exhibition

And Barnsley? Well it keeps going. Sadly the fab brutalist shopping centre is being shorn of the pebble dashed concrete cladding, and revamped with nasty cheap surfaces, but if the aged busker is still there, just wait until you hear him tackle Donna Summer’s I Feel Love – extended 12″ version, on a banjo. If it were me he’d be offered a turn in the gallery right away!
If you need any more incentive to visit, just a few yards from The Gallery there’s a smart new vinyl shop called Vinyl Underground, so if the exhibition leaves you needing a fix, sorted.

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More Caedmon Records

Our friend Vince Chong has been staying for a few days, flying in from Canada for a much needed break, to catch a couple of rock concerts and check out of few record shops while he was here. He managed to get through UK customs with a box full of albums on the Caedmon label to aid me in my research into their pioneering album sleeves! In return we were able to get him to the excellent Vanishing Point and Tallbird Records shops in Chesterfield, although when I put three hours on the parking meter for this I thought I had erred on the safe side; not a bit of it! So he went off with the same bag stuffed with industrial rarities.
Anyhow, I’ve been adding his welcome contributions to the ST33 collection and this has spurred me to do a gallery of one of the label’s most accomplished designers, Matthew Leibowitz. The cover below looks like something from the swinging Sixties, but is a decade older. Read more on the site.

Matthew Leibowitz, Boswell's London Journal (TC 1093, 1959, Caedmon)

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Fonola la la

I have no real knowledge of what the Italian Milan based Fonola label was all about, and given they seem to have specialised in cover versions of local folk tunes, saucy ballads, sentimental love songs and anything they thought might sell to an older more conservative market in the swinging Sixties, it’s not anything I would normally seek out, except…

Polenta e Baccala

Fonola released dozens of singles, starting around 1962. The lowest number I have is 1229 and the highest 2097, which if my maths is OK suggests that by the early Seventies they had issued around 800+ of these 45s, all in colour sleeves.
And it is the strange amateur and sometimes downright primitive art on the sleeves which catches the eye today. I found a wedge of them in a charity shop not long ago, and couldn’t resist the covers. Illustrated by some barely capable painter (I cannot decipher the name but it could be Fait Camillo), they are almost all done in a sort of naive style.

La Villanella

Many depict idealised buxom Italian women running around the countryside in scenes vaguely relating to the song title, so must have been painted specially for the label. It’s not as if Italian labels shied away from photographic nudes on their sleeves, you only have to check out Fausto Papetti’s jazz covers, but clearly Fonola didn’t quite want to go that far.

Il Sidecar

There are variations from the rural idyll; a few grim war scenes, someone hanging from a lamp-post (no I’m not even going there!), street urchins, and so on. They even issued a few singles in photo covers, but for the most part the painted glamour art wins out. Some show comedic scenes, verging on the seaside postcard art beloved of Bamforth, albeit not nearly so well executed, while others remind me a little of the early Mills & Boon romance paperback painted covers.

Fonola label, strange painted sexy sleeve, 1960s, Italy, 45.

The back of each 45 lists the artist, and includes a catalogue of ‘altri dischi della serie’ to collect. I’ve scanned my covers and added a few found on the web. There are four shown here and a full gallery on the site if you can’t resist seeing more!
If there are any Italian collectors out there who can throw more light on the label’s early output or have more of these please get in touch. The label is still going, albeit just issuing trad music on CD these days.

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Balalaika Ensemble

London Balalaika Ensemble

This cover caught my eye recently, and the Deram DSS label always has an appeal. The painting (which looks like something from a very elaborate children’s book) had a very Sixties feel to it, and used a really interesting set of pastel colours to evoke Russian traditional dress, fabric patterns and architecture, with the Balalaika players of the ensemble in question stepping across the cover.
Happily Deram credit the artist, Alex Jawdokimov, on the back, and it turned out to be from 1968.
Looking at his biography, Jawdokimov had a grim childhood, surviving the holocaust with his mother, both ending up in refugee camps before finally moving to England in 1947. These days of course the authorities would probably turn them right round again at the border but happily we had a better grasp of things at the time.
Jawdokimov went on to train at Somerset College of Art and soon began to get work as an illustrator and designer doing book jackets, as well as working in the performing arts (and even appeared in a couple of films). Amongst his commercial work was this album sleeve. I can but assume he had connections with the Ensemble. The only other LP cover I can find him credited with is another one related to his home country, Songs Of Russia’s Gypsies (below), issued by a folk label in the 1970s, which might take a bit of finding.

Alex Jawdokimov sleeve illustration

His signature is clear to see on both. Alex Jawdokimov is still an active and sought after painter, working on large landscapes of trees or butterfly heavy fields in oils and acrylics, and examples can be readily seen on the internet, albeit mostly with a sold sign beside them.

There are some more Deram DSS sleeves on the site.

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Casatschok!

CASATSCHOK-vacaciones-spain

Here’s another Vacaciones sleeve (see our previous posting below), which is quite timely given the growing tourist trade boycott some Spanish hardliners are stirring up right now. A Casatschok is a Ukrainian traditional dance which was lifted and adapted for one of those summer holiday hits in 1968, itself much covered across Europe. The original French single sleeve (below) had a helpful set of photo instructions on the dance steps, which has been copied for this Spanish holiday hits album. They have helpfully added what passes for a Russian looking hat and boots for the bikini photo shoot! The back cover (at the bottom of the page) reproduces a set of holiday postcard views of Spain.

CASATSCHOK-dimitri dourakine
My thanks to Joe Robinson for the photographs.

CASATSCHOK-Vacaciones-espana-BACK

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Covered

I was involved in a terrific book called Covered a few years ago, which looked at several hundred album and CD sleeves which either lifted, borrowed or paid homage to older classic cover art.  Amazingly a band called The Weight have produced a great video for their new album which does a similar sort of thing, but with animation.  The whole video is just a seamless montage of classic album sleeves but adapted to include the group or individual musicians.  It would take someone with more time than I have to spot them all, but it would make a great party game.  Everyone from Dylan to Deep Purple!  The track itself?  Well, see what you think.  The video lasts just under three minutes, so give it a go.  My thanks to Tim Summers for the heads up.

If you want to read more about the Covered book, nip over to the publisher’s website, it’s still in print.

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Blazin’ Squad

Blazin' Squad Flip Reverse

Sometimes bands get far better sleeves than perhaps they deserve, and this hip hop crew – Blazin’ Squad – might be an example, though please don’t ask me to listen! It reached the top five of the UK charts in 2003, and this 12″ pressing (which turned up in a local charity shop) was put out to accompany the CD formats which had the usual trendy portraits on the cover. The 12″ may have been an attempt to get them some acceptance amongst an older age group or DJ market credibility, and the cover was handled by the Tom Hingston Studio. They went very much into the more rarified 12″ sleeve arena, with a grey rough surface card and a bespoke design using their excellent logo (Hingston had created this for their first record.)
The single was titled Flip Reverse, so they took this, filled the cover with it and… flip reversed it on the front and back. For added impact the type was foil blocked onto the card, with a line pattern added to the repeat. The result was a very eye catching cover which varies in visibility depending on the ambient light. It also picks up refractions, so you get lovely rainbow colours at certain angles. It must be the magpie in me.
As with any cover printed on card, the original price label has left an adhesive mark while the label boss (East West Records, owned by Warners) has also insisted on a barcode sticker on the back; the original design just printed the number itself amongst the credits on the back.
Hingston Studios have worked on some great sleeves for big (Stones, Robbie Williams, Massive Attack) and less big names, starting back in 1997, although this is only part of their work. Whether the band understood the genius of the design I’m not sure; a free-gift in the form of a rather non-descript felt pen graffiti-style band sticker fell out of the cover when I looked.

Tom Hingston Studio

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in the post

Warner Brothers US album size promotional envelope 1974 Deep Purple and Frank Sinatra

I do like vinyl art spin offs, and this was scanned for me by Pericle Formenti. Older collectors will be familiar with the blizzard of promotional material which labels sent to record stores during the 1970s and 80s, much of it now very collectable. It would be dropped off by label reps in the UK, who would then take back older material to be destroyed as legally it was not allowed to be sold (I think because it was written off against tax.) America being a tad larger, a lot would go out by post, and this is an album sized generic envelope from Warner Bros. used to do just that.
This one was shipped in November 1974 and contained album size window banners for Deep Purple and Frank Sinatra albums. It was shipped Fourth Class (whatever that was!) to the Bargain Warehouse, a vinyl outlet in North Carolina. I like the way the front just has ‘promotional material’ on but the label’s famous logo appears on the flaps at the back of the envelope. There is a sticker to let the store owner know what was inside, and in this case they clearly couldn’t be bothered promoting either Deep Purple or Frank Sinatra and it just got stuffed in a back room for 40 years!
I’ve also discovered that Pericle has kept a bag from every record shop he used in Italy and abroad, so will be pestering him for pics of those before long.

Warner Brothers US album size promotional envelope 1974 Deep Purple and Frank Sinatra

 

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you spend your holidays in Spain

As the Bonzos once sang.  A new sleeve gallery of half a dozen budget Spanish holiday albums like the one below to mark the summer!

bikini cover girls

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