Sometime an album really demands attention, and ‘Famous Marches’ was one which stood out in a charity shop the other week. The music is what you might expect from a budegt label; eleven stirring orchestral marches by famous conductors, “designed to alleviate tedium and tiredness,” (amongst marchers rather than listeners I assume) performed by The Philharmonia Orchestra. But the sleeve certainly isn’t the usual hackneyed Coldstream Guards photo. Instead they went to illustrator Jan Parker and were rewarded with this gem.
Jan was born in the U.K. in 1941 to Danish and English parents, and lived for a time in Denmark before coming back to London in 1963 where his painting portfolio was taken on by the Artist Partners agency. AP represented (indeed still do) a large number of illustrators. People wanting to commission a piece could get a printed book (updated each year) to choose someone rather than try to contact lots of artists individually.
AP began to get Jan work doing commercial illustration, which included these record sleeves. He worked with AP until the end of the Sixties. By far his most talked about work during this time was being asked to follow the filming of 2001 and make drawings of the production for possible publicity purposes (in the end none were ever used but they have since been rediscovered.)
Sleeve wise, Jan’s illustrations so far documented were all for the World Record Club label. After picking this cover up I had a hunt through my WRC collection and found I had others (one or two more look like they could be by Jan but the illustrations are not credited.)
The World Record Club label was a low-cost mail-order only series, and there are a few of their releases already on the site. As far as I know nobody has yet documented the U.K. output properly anywhere beyond the patchy efforts at Discogs. If you know otherwise get in touch (The Australian releases were rounded up in a superb book, reviewed on the site). WRC were poor at dating their albums, but most here are from 1967-68 with one earlier one from 1965.
Ben Webster / See You At The Fair – T 702
This is a WTC edition of an earlier album, which showed Ben in front of a large globe. Jan Parker took a completely different tack, and came up with this great illustration showing Ben himself amazed at what was coming out of his sax. The childlike coloured shapes are set against a white background for full effect, and even the lettering is hand drawn. 1967
Big Ben Banjo Band / Sing Along With Us – T 739
You do see quite a few albums by this band, but usually they are just jokey photographs. Jan has come up with a bright rainbow of characters seemingly balanced atop one another. 1968
Boult Conducts – T665
Another very different style here from the artist, I assume there is a link to the subject of the classical pieces but do not know the composers well enough to say what! Jan has as usual signed the piece just below the gentleman’s knee and the right side of the painting has been gently screwed up and flattened to produce creases in the work. 1967
Chelsea Squares / Mike Sammes Singers – T 448
Drawing on Twenties flapper imagery, a bright cartoony illustration; Jan had worked as a cartoonist for some European magazines. This one I don’t have, so not sure exactly what the music is about, but given the singers, some easy listening reruns of old-time standards seems likely. This sleeve is from 1965.
Famous Marches / Philharmonia Orchestra – T 646
As the lead track on side two is Stars And Stripes Forever, Jan has taken the American flag and patched it together from strips of blotched and painted paper with cut out stars. He has hand drawn the titles across the top and the end result is a really excellent sleeve. Jan’s signature is at the bottom right and he is also credited on the back. 1967
Hansel & Gretel / Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – T736
The illustration here is more akin to something from an illustrated children’s book, and reminds me of some of the Caedmon label sleeves when they issued narrated children’s stories. 1968
Malcolm Arnold English and Scottish Dances / Philharmonia Orchestra – T 725
The same painted and assembled paper montage technique from Famous Marches is here used to produce an eye catching illustration of a cockerel. Once more hand-drawn titles give a unity to the sleeve which regular type might have spoilt. 1967
I shall keep an eye open for more covers and Jan is still working but his Facebook site is down. If it reopens I will try and contact him to comment on these early jobs.