Richard Powers – Pagan Festival

Dominic Frontiere And His Orchestra’s Pagan Festival : An Exotic Love Ritual For Orchestra (Columbia ‎CL 1273, 1959) is (apart from being one of the longest spine titles I’ve seen) widely regarded as one of the best ‘exotica’ recordings of them all, and someone must have decided to go to town on the packaging. I found this in a great little record attic in Ludlow.Richard Powers illustration Pagan Festival sleeve

Even though it wasn’t cheap I couldn’t resist the packaging, which has a fabulous cover painting that reminded me a little of Tretchikoff. The illustration turned out to be by Richard M. Powers, possibly the most prolific and respected American sci-fi illustrator of the C20 (his signature is bottom right). Born in 1921, Powers painted hundreds of great covers for paperback sci-fi novels and magazines from the mid-1940s onwards, and you could easily imagine this album illustration on a paperback. The woman’s face draws the focus but then you start to see how it blends into an exotic background full of pagan imagery (one of his signature devices). To add even more impact, the art is printed onto silver Alcoa Foil which gives everything a metallic sheen. I have a few sleeves which use metallic papers, the most well known are probably the early British Motown Hits series (which began in 1967), but this is much earlier and one of the most impressive. It would be interesting to know what problems had to be overcome to print litho onto such a difficult surface at the time. Sadly the foil is subject to surface rubbing so most examples of this sleeve are badly scuffed, but it must have looked amazing when new in the record racks.
Although I’ve got a few of Power’s paperback covers, I’d no idea he did any album sleeves, so had a hunt around the web but could only find a few examples; two classical albums for the Metropolitan Opera Record Club (which are interesting but much less typical of his abstract style), and a retro sleeve for a 1996 album by Man Or Astro Man. It’s a great vintage design but I do not know if the art was commissioned specially or they just used one of his earlier pieces. Powers himself died the year it came out.

Andrea Chenier Powers sleeve Astro Man Powers sleeve Mozart Powers sleeve

There was a book published devoted to his work, The Art Of Richard Powers (2001), which you can find second-hand. Bizarrely XTC’s Andy Partridge has issued a CD of music inspired by Power’s work, but couldn’t afford to license one of the images for the sleeve… so he did a piece himself in the style of.

There are lots of sites reprinting Power’s book covers out there but my favourite is:
http://powerscompendium.tumblr.com/archive
which also has what seems to be an exhaustive list of his book cover work if you want to start collecting. Here’s one I have:
They Come From Space illustration Richard Powers

The Ludlow record shop is Mod Lang, in the attic room of an old works off Corve Street next to the library.

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