The Old Grey Mare

Bamfords postcard LP shop small

A nice piece of social history, referencing popular music and showing the inside of a record department back in the day. Artist Brian Fitzpatrick joined the famous firm of Bamforth’s in 1954 and worked for them for twenty years. Although it looks older, this card must be from around 1963 and references Cliff Richard (managing to add an ‘s’ to his name as many mistakenly did), The Beatles, plus dance crazes such as Rave and Twist.  The Old Grey Mare is the title of an old folk song first recorded in the early 1900s, and provides the card with the punch line here, as well as perhaps dating the illustrator himself somewhat!

The local Kirkless council used to have a fabulous museum devoted to the famous postcard firm in Holmfirth (where they were made) but closed it some years ago fearing in these PC times we’d all be traumatised by the content.

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The Fidelio label was part of the same U.K. group who issued the Concert Classics albums. Both were dubious budget operations, and cavalier over where the recordings came from (some were later found to be lifted from East European radio broadcasts!) Fidelio was owned by William Barrington Coupe, who was eventually jailed in 1966, and then resurfaced nearly 40 years later … to do it all over again on CD, passing off stolen piano recordings as being by his wife until he was found out.

As they were playing fast and loose with content, you’d not be surprised they didn’t pay much attention to the packaging either. The Fidelio sleeves were a mixed bunch, a few are good, many are dull, others are just very strange and are worth keeping an eye out for, including these two.

That there isn’t one mention of Tex Morris and The Ranchers on the web outside this album suggests they were a bunch of session men, or the label had lifted some country tracks and disguised their origins. I picked it up as a great example of a low budget sleeve illustration; the work is signed, but who Y.E.E.B is or was remains a mystery to me.

The album came out in 1962 but remarkably there is an alternate sleeve which is even weirder, and comes across as some sort of gay Western illustration (see below). The back cover and label are very similar on both versions. I cannot work out which came first, or indeed why a budget label would even want to produce two sleeves on what must have been a relatively small pressing run. The rope lettering is brilliant, and looks like something Malcolm McLaren would have made great use of.


The only other Tex Morris offering out there is an EP on the children’s label Beano Records, which suggests they too were part of the Fidelio set-up.

Issued only a little while later, Can-Can has another Y.E.E.B sleeve illustration and again it replaced an earlier cover (shown below ), this time what looks like a still from a TV light entertainment programme. The new cover copies the original lettering, but then just does it’s own mad thing.


Can Can fidelio alternate sleeve

Y.E.E.B did at least one more sleeve for the label (which I don’t have), a very strange portrait for a cheapo version of the Gigi soundtrack. Once more this replaced a photographic cover from an earlier edition. One can only guess that Y.E.E.B perhaps teamed up with the label for some commissions, but disappeared after just a few months. If you’re out there, get in touch!

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Lego Record Store Day 2018

Lego has been part of my life for over many years, thanks to a forward looking Grandmother who bought me one of the very early sets, and it is heartening to see how the brand has weathered the vagaries of children’s changing interests and come out the other side.

Record shop made from Lego

I also follow the Lego developers site, on which aspiring designers submit their own models in the hope of getting enough support for the company just to consider putting it into full production (it is archived on the site
This cute record shop interior (above) sadly failed to reach the magic support number, but is great fun. Designer Ryan Howeter says he based it roughly on a store called Twist and Shout in Denver, but it could be any indie store.
Needless to say as well as models there is a big scene in recreating classic sleeves using Lego figures and bricks out there, this one of Pulp’s Hardcore amused me! I also like the take on Deep Purple’s Made In Japan.

Pulp Hardcore sleeve in lego

Deep Purple Made In Japan in lego

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Rock writ large


Back in 1980 this compilation was issued of live recordings from the first Monsters Of Rock festival in the U.K. Originally Rainbow planned and prepared a double LP of their full set, but this was shelved when drummer Cozy Powell and singer Graham Bonnet left the band in quick succession. Instead Polydor U.K. decided to recoup some of their recording costs with a ‘best of’.
The cover is a real in your face affair, using the logos of all the bands and the word ROCK writ large, just in case you assumed these were all folk bands. This was also the first time the festival had been staged, so the name was not as familiar as it would become.
The logos were all set against a contrasty cloud-covered landscape, hand tinted to give the idea of a setting sun (the Hipgnosis influence is clear). The sub-Roger Dean dragons from the festival publicity complete the image. The designer was Rob O’Connor at the Shoot The Tiger agency, who worked for a lot of U.K. labels in the late Seventies and into the Eighties. Most of their work was fairly unadventurous due to label restraints, but every so often they were able to do something a bit more exciting. The back was a real hotch potch, cramming in twenty or more small shots of the bands over another tinted image, this time of a crowd.

Monsters of Rock back

Despite the flaws though, it’s actually quite an eye-catching sleeve overall and still stands out today. Interestingly Shoot The Tiger used a very similar tinted sky background for a reggae sleeve a few years later which I found on the web (see bottom of the page).


Polydor U.S. had an option on the album and although the festival was unknown there, some of the bands had a bit of profile. They decided to do their own completely different sleeve, designed by Robert Heimall. Robert had worked for Elektra for five years, starting back in the late Sixties, then for Arista, before setting up his own design studio. One of his skills was searching for just the right photo for an album cover (Patti Smith’s Horses, Carly Simon’s No Secrets were both his designs; I need say no more.)

Monsters of Rock US back

He decided to use photographs taken by Aerofilms Ltd, who have been taking photos of the U.K. from planes for decades, selling them to news outlets, etc. Robert put together four of these, which really gave a good idea of the size of the event. On the back he found a great news photo of a short sleeved Policeman directing traffic. Notice too how the American cover opts to push the venue rather than the festival name, although they spelt it incorrectly (as did the U.K. cover, albeit in small print on the back.) So a more subdued sleeve certainly, but quite a smart piece of work considering it was probably not a priority release for the label.
In the years since this album more excerpts from the Rainbow recording have been added to CD reissues but it still hasn’t appeared in full.

Black Slate Sirens in The City

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for hire

easy exhibition 2

Looking around the 2017 Sleeve of The Year exhibition in Barnsley (see post below) reminded me of a sleeve art exhibition I was involved in back in 1999. Somehow we persuaded Blackpool’s Grundy Art Gallery to host this based on a shared interest in Easy Listening music; myself and Vince Kelly had been picking the stuff up for a while, and Vince worked at the City gallery in Manchester and had a few contacts. Plus the music was coming back into vogue at clubs and also live.


Blackpool seemed an ideal town somehow. We checked out the gallery space and worked out how many sleeves would work round the walls, and then worked through our collections to whittle the choice down to around 50 album covers. The idea was to showcase the cover art but also feature a number of different genres. Most of the albums were British recordings and artists from the 1950s and 1960s. Each sleeve was mounted and framed by the gallery, and then captioned with notes about the music and the sleeve.
It was called Easy On The Eye; the Art of Easy Listening. We had huge fun making the choice, and spreading them all out on our living room floor once we’d selected the final covers.


The fun sort of ended when it came to mounting the exhibition. Four of us travelled over, ourselves from Sheffield, Vince and his partner Eileen from Southport, on what turned out to be the hottest day of the year. The gallery was roasting, and we had to do everything ourselves. They didn’t even offer us a glass of water.
But it did look fantastic when finished, and a few glass flat top displays were added which we filled with suitable memorabilia – contemporary magazines, recent CDs, etc. Vince also organised the evening launch do, and was able to track down a local keyboard player who had featured on one of the albums and came along to entertain us and invited guests.
There was quite a bit of local press, this was largely pre-website days, and the gallery said it was very well received by visitors while it was up. It was also pre-mobile phone and digital camera days too, but Eileen took her SLR along and despite the very low light levels managed to get a few images of the event which I dug out recently and scanned. The Grundy’s own website does cover past exhibitions on their web site but even that doesn’t go back this far!
It was great to see these sleeves displayed like this, very much out of their original context yet being recognised for their design and photography, and their impact on the social history of the era.
If any other gallery is daft enough to want to repeat the show we do have the sleeves and mounts so could put it together quite readily!


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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.


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, 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
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.

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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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