Comsat Angels

I was sorting out my Comsat Angels vinyl the other day. We had a new office built over the garage not long ago, so half our old office space is now a sort of blokey music room (the other half a more girly library space!), and I can finally get our LPs and CDs into some sort of order, decide what to keep, what to trade or sell and what might go back to the charity shops! Hence getting all the Comsats albums (keep pile) to reside together at last.

comsat angels my minds eye front cover

So some thoughts here on what turned out to be the band’s last vinyl LP sleeve, which I was involved in co-ordinating. The group usually had interesting covers (we’ll draw a discreet veil over the Jive years) so it was great to help realise Steve’s vision or this one.

The My Minds Eye album was a return to the fray for the group after five years in the wilderness. In that time they’d lost a sympathetic home at Island Records after one album (Chasing Shadows) and were also struggling with litigation from an American corporation over their name.

As a long term fan, and based in Sheffield, I had approached the group about releasing some of the vintage Comsat’s BBC sessions for our reissue label (RPM). Afterwards they asked if we would be interested in issuing their new studio album in the UK, in partnership with a Dutch label they had signed to.

Singer / guitarist Steve Fellow had been responsible for many of the band’s album covers – either directly (the montage on Fiction) or indirectly. He had a number of visuals for the new record, including photocopied images of a planet into which he’d worked pastel crayons, which really stood out. I think this huge part of issuing a record is what is rapidly vanishing with the download era; bands wanting to package and present their work, the visual side almost as critical as the music. 

Although it was 1992 and CD was the market’s preferred format, we all still wanted to see a vinyl edition (indeed Steve says the track sequence was designed with vinyl in mind). The Dutch guys (who held the purse-strings) agreed, so the artwork was planned to work on both formats.

For the name and title Steve had just scribbled across his visual in silver marker pen, but on one of the try-out sheets he’d doodled it in felt pen, and this looked really graphic. I asked Steve to fill a sheet with repeats in the same style, and we then spent an entire morning over a photocopier in our attic, copying and recopying this to get a nice degraded look, then cutting out the best individual letters from each to produce the final version, which we recopied onto tracing paper to test against the artwork.

I did want the lettering to be silver and black on the cover, but the Dutch label didn’t fancy the extra expense, so we settled for a grey. Ironically this didn’t work at CD size so they had to use silver!

I was using an early Mac at this time but it didn’t have enough storage capacity to handle big jobs, so it was put to work preparing the typography layout in Pagemaker (the track titles on the back were twisted using Illustrator to give a perspective look). This was then taken (on floppy disc of course) to a bureau in town to be played out.

In those days most art was still prepared on board, with the type stuck down in place, plus paper overlays with photostats of the various pictures in situ. Both of Steve’s pieces of art (there was a smaller one on the back) I had photographed onto colour transparencies by a mate who had a large format camera, and then these were scanned at the repro house in Holland along with the other images to produce the final filmwork for the sleeve printer.

The CD edition had a fold out square inlay sheet which is how the LP inner bag would have been, had the Dutch not dropped it for cost reasons. There is a photograph of the group on, one I took opposite their studio in Sheffield on a building site for what later became the infamous Centre For Popular Music (RIP). Comsat photoshoots were not easy. To me it wasn’t easy trying to get a bunch of blokes I didn’t know that well to stand where I wanted, to them it was a chore as they’d done it so often in the past, plus they wanted to vet the final choice of picture. One or two passed muster which I was pleased with (especially as the last photographer to cover the band in depth was Anton Corbijn – not an easy act to follow). It turned out to be the last photoshoot of the four piece too as Kevin the bassist decided to leave to concentrate on his recording studio work a few weeks later.

The inlay also showed an early visual for the accompanying single Driving (12″ and 5″CD). In turn I used Steve’s original visual for the My Mind’s Eye album sleeve quite small on the back of the 12″ (always fun to do these little things for the hard-core fans to spot).

On the reverse of the CD inlay was one of Steve’s art pieces, a great montage of planetary images and other themes which reflected some of the album lyrics. The central band photo on the montage, again treated by Steve, looked so good that I nicked it for the BBC Sessions CD cover.

My Mind’s Eye was later reissued (1998) on CD (only this time) by the Thunderbird label. They were unable to get the original material back from Holland, so it was rescanned from the first edition and showed it. The album was later reissued on CD by Renascent (2007), but as they couldn’t be bothered to send me a sample, I can’t be sure how it was packaged.

Who cares; track down the vinyl instead!

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