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