Anarchy In The UKulele

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This is not a record I would have normally given much time to were it not for the excellent and eye catching packaging. I spotted it at a friends house recently and we ended up listening to most of it!  Full marks to designer Philip Powell, who has paid proper homage to the work of Jamie Reid, the Sex Pistols visual artist, in adapting George Formby to the punk idiom. The music is a great fun although the recordings are quite old, and have only been issued recently (to be sold at concerts). It also shows what decent graphics can add to a package, and nice to see them actually going with the special inks for a self published CD rather than skimp. I can see the market for a vinyl edition might not be viable but it would look great full size!

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The orchestra  have issued a lot of self pressed CDs including an early punk themed one (below) which is not credited. My friend Alan saw the Ukulele Orchestra live recently and says they are much more dynamic on stage so we shall make an effort next tour.

http://www.ukuleleorchestra.com / thanks to Alan Coventry

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Special offers

One trade associated with vinyl which did die out in the Eighties was the discounted singles market.  Back in the Sixties some wholesale traders realised that with huge pressing numbers in pop singles, record labels would inevitably get stuck with excess stock from time to time. So they set up a network selling this stock to newsagents and similar smaller shops who wouldn’t normally sell vinyl. The best known was a company called Pop-Ex, who had metal racks made up and thrown away all original packaging and stuck the singles into their own Pop Ex bags. They would typically sell for half the price of a regular single. But a few other firms came and went, as these two wholesalers’ bags from the Sixties show. A big source of this cheap stock were jukeboxes, and the firms would collect discs as they were being removed from these and sell them on. In this case buyers had to watch out for wear and tear! Some of the bags do own up to where the records have come from. Lastly there were deletions, although at the time many singles were kept on catalogue for several years. However I do recall EMI sending round monthly sheets of records they were deleting even in the early 1980s.

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This inspired me to dig through some similar offerings and I realised Supermark must have been going for some time. I would think the name explains all, and they pushed wholesale stock into the many smaller supermarket type shops which existed on the high street in the Sixties before the big boys decided to go for the mega stores. Note the price difference too, and the way the blue bag copies the Topline idea of listed the big name artists round the centre. I suspect the 2/11 is the later price.

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Finally Pop Ex had a few different designs over the years, but this is one of the last, probably from the early Eighties.  Needless to say the decline of vinyl singles in that decade brought an end to this trade.  I certainly don’t recall anyone selling on CD singles in the same sort of way!

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Weekend – For all the family

Tommy Steele 78 label.jpg

Weekend Magazine was published in Britain during the Fifties and Sixties, a tabloid size illustrated title with lots of photos, glamour, stories, showbiz news and other entertainment. It also had full colour on the cover (often a pretty girl or starlet) and sometimes inside. The magazine was owned by the same company who published The Daily Mail, and they have kept the title in-house but now use it for their weekend newspaper magazine supplement rather than a stand alone.

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Although bought mostly by adults, lots of teenage children also read it. Because of the youth angle, the magazine negotiated for the rights to three pop interviews which they made available to readers via a coupon in the magazine, plus a 2/- postal order , and pressed on 6″ hard vinyl singles. These appeared in 1956 and 1957, featuring Elvis Presley, Frankie Vaughan and lastly Tommy Steele. Tommy is less well remembered these days but his influence on a generation of would be British pop musicians should not be overlooked. June Norris from Parson Cross, one of the large pre-War council estates in Sheffield, sent off her P.O. and kept the single in it’s postal envelope for safety for sixty years, until it ended up in a local charity shop.

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The only graphics are the label itself, which included the magazine masthead, and the bright red and black design which is very much of the time. The Frankie Vaughan single had a similar design, while the earlier Elvis one was much more basic. As you can see in the close up the vinyl pressing is fairly crude, and single sided, so you probably don’t get much for your two bob!

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Elvis Presley Truth label.jpg

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RK Record Club

RK Record Club EP.jpg

Another dance EP, but this one issued through the Rice Krispies Record Club based in the UK. Kellogg have had a few attempts over the years the associate their breakfast product with pop music, including flex discs moulded on to the box on one occasion (and famously having The Rolling Stones cut an early jingle for them), but this is one of the earliest.

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Given the very clean design and hand drawn record title, I had it down as a Sixties release but the offer dates to 1959. You joined the club using a form on the packet, but how you obtained the discs is not documented. It’s likely to have involved collecting packet tops and a postal order!  But I do like the generic sleeve design, with a grooving couple set over stylised instruments. Each one had a different colourway and I found a few more on the web.

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The records were specially produced by Rainbow Records, but this was probably a licensing operation. I think they got as far as six releases, which all featured cover versions of chart hits, before abandoning the club.  Vintage cereal packets are very difficult to find for obviously reasons (how many have you not thrown away?) and I couldn’t even spot this one on the web, but the packet design below is from around the right era (albeit American rather than British).  Needless to say anyone with more info please get in touch.

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Valentine’s day

Never mind saying it with flowers, say it with a record token! This is a screen printed banner advert issued by the National Record Token scheme to record shops in the Sixties to promote the giving of tokens on Valentine’s Day. I found it in a pile of unused catalogues and other bits and bobs from the time. I’d forgotten about record tokens, which were similar to book tokens; you purchased tokens to a certain value and these were added to a gift card, which could then be redeemed at any record shop in the UK. I did get some myself on birthdays many years ago when parents ran out of ideas.

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Apparently EMI ran their own scheme for a time, which is recalled on the Tracklister blog, but I don’t recall seeing these myself. It’s possible these were different to the national scheme as otherwise I would expect to see the EMI name on the banner. EMI also provided stock adverts which local shops could use in regional magazines and papers. Singles on EMI also carried adverts for the scheme on their sleeves (see the bottom of this page). The lovely surviving set of tokens below is from the After You’ve Gone blog, and must be a rare survivor, after all very few kids would have not gone out at once to cash these in. The site has fun trying to think what they would have spent the money on in January 1969! (It’s a nice little blog which I would willingly follow but being run on Blogger it’s impossible to do so, or even post a comment).

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The scheme/s died out many years ago (although some shops continued to operate their own dedicated tokens), but was revived in 2018 by the firm which has been running the book token scheme since 1932.  Needless to say the scheme is operated today via a credit card like system which you can preload with a certain value at the firm’s website.

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Special Request

Special Request by Pam Shaw, EP, made by Lyntone. 1978.  Self pressed record 7"

It’s the height of post-Punk and New Wave, 1978. But over in Wigan the “Sexational” (her word not mine!) Pam Shaw is releasing this private pressing, a 7″ EP. And it’s not everyone who can boast of a sleeve note by none other than Ken Dodd. Doubtless sold at her shows (a mixture or pop, standards and comedy), this record includes the three cliches of all private pressings – being autographed and including a Walkerprint bio inside, and OTT Letraset titling.
The sleeve even credits Haigh Hall near Wigan where the colourful cover shots were taken. I often wonder where these performers are but with Pam there was no shortage of coverage on the web, including a story on Huffington Post celebrating her 70th birthday and the news that she now intends to throttle back on her career, settle down and get married. But potential suitors beware, she has high standards, having turned down Tom Jones and Englebert Humperdink’s advances in the past.
The single was pressed by Lyntone, known mainly for their flexi discs, but offering short pressing runs for unsigned acts (a service usually provided by SRT). There are more galleries of private pressings on the site.

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Vaughan Oliver

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The death of Vaughan Oliver, one half of design partnership 23 Envelope, was announced over the Christmas holiday period.  For anyone interested in vinyl sleeve art, Oliver’s name would be impossible to ignore and it seems wrong to be losing someone of his talents at such a relatively young age.  Forever associated with the 4AD label, his work as half of the design duo 23 Envelope pushed at the edges of what could appear on a record sleeve, and it wasn’t long before other bands began imitating the label’s unique look. Indeed if you look at 4AD’s early releases which are fairly nondescript, it’s not hard to see how 23 Envelope made such an impact and arguably gave the label a very serious, professional, often mysterious and dark look, which synched perfectly with much of the music. 

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Their designs went well beyond the front cover though, and Oliver gave as much importance to the inner sleeves and labels, so helping to create a unified and immersive feel for each package (as on the Xmal Deutschland cover above).  Many designers mangled type sizes and shapes as the Mac unshackled the restrictions of set fonts, but 23 Envelope always seemed to do it with purpose and an eye for what looked right. So while some of their contemporaries work now looks suitably dated, 4AD covers manage to remain largely timeless.

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It was label signings The Cocteau Twins which first hooked me and it was a treat to go out and purchase each new release; you knew you owned something special.  I loved the way 23 Envelope covers played with seemingly abstract or wrongly exposed photographs, material which would be rejected by most, and got these to work.  There was a willingness to experiment with out of register images, overlaid typography and later on special colours and metallic inks. 

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I would struggle to think of another label who so consistently came up with as many great covers during the Eighties.  Indeed I think Oliver was lucky to be involved at the peak of vinyl design, because although there is still scope for great individual covers, the ability to so firmly help shape a label in this way is unlikely to occur again. Although I have a modest collection of 4AD’s catalogue (and of course own the great anthology of his work published a few years ago which I must add to our site’s book section), many bought just for the sleeves, I thought it would be nice to just run with a handful of my favourite designs to mark Oliver’s contributions to album design, and I’m sure there will be many other sites doing similar posts.

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Twist

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I got a few 7″ EPs scanned recently including this great cover from 1962. It’s a dance offering from band leader Victor Sylvester, providing older ballroom addicts with a lush alternative to the more hectic pop records pushing the twist craze. The cover illustration is very deft, done pin pen, pencil and rough crayon – this as an orange overlay.  The EP title is given a nice barley sugar twist too, though the name of the artist, done in a cartoon credit style hand lettered format, is perhaps less successful, if very much of the era.  The illustrator is only credited by the letters N.D. down by the girl’s ankle, but the style does look very similar to the art used by HMV on their 10″ record sleeves of this era (see below), so both might be one of the in-house staff. Otherwise the cover follows the standard EMI layout with the top bar having title and ‘mono’ message. The front is gloss laminate too, which has kept this example nice and pristine. There are more HMV related images on the site.

HMV 10" single bag

HMV 10″ single bag

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Flamingods

I must confess the resurgence of vinyl during 2019 actually pushed me the other way. So many reissues, a large percentage of which don’t take enough care in their reproduction anyway (and judging by the percentage of limited editions still clogging the racks I’m not alone), plus new releases I might have bought on vinyl with below par art which put me off the expense.  But this sleeve stood out amongst many I spotted over the year…

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Not a band I know, but the illustration took some familiar ideas (the outline drawing trend isn’t that new and can be seen on sleeves in the Seventies) and really made something interesting and visually engaging out of them. It was pressed on vinyl, a sold out glitter gold edition with embossed cover (400 only), a ‘marigold’ colour edition (500, see below) and then a black run as well (both still available from their own website).

The work is by Jakarta based illustrator Kendra Ahimsa, who operates under the name Ardneks (work it out!).  Having been influenced by the work of the 60s San Francisco poster designers, he is now doing some really great posters for the local music scene as well as lots of non-music graphics.

He has seemingly done some other sleeves but his website was offline when I was writing this, and I don’t want to join umpteen social media sites (what is Linktree anyway? I only just got around to deleting my Linkedin page!) but you can see more ‘stuff’ on this page and even order a few bits and bobs, though not sadly the posters.  As for Flamingods I shall have to check them out too, and hope the music lives up to the sleeve!

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Don & Faith

Unto Him Don and Faith Dunlap.jpg

Religious records are a category which I do find grimly fascinating, as much for the pious sentiment or illustrations on many of the sleeves as anything.  Georgia dwelling Don and Faith Dunlap here are at first sight a curiously matched couple, strolling toward the camera in front of a clinker built chapel of some sort. But the pair are still going strong and you can now find them on Facebook (they’ve even been over to visit Downton Abbey if the heavily redacted image they posted is anything to go by!) celebrating their 50th anniversary. Don has signed the back sleeve for a former owner, although instead of “best wishes” has suggested a Bible passage to look up. I’d imagine the album dates from the early 1970s. I did find a box full of this sort of stuff a couple of years at a charity shop in the godless wastes of South Yorkshire which I picked over to make a selection, I’ll get some scanned eventually. They were all about 50p which is fine, but I was surprised to see one of Don and Faith’s other second hand albums being sold for $69.99 on Amazon. Especially as it still has the thrift shop price sticker for 99 cents clearly visible on the back.  I’m sure the Bible has something to say about profiteering like that!

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