New Chum Press / Australia / 2010 / ISBN 978 0 9578972 1 2
Not even a history of the World Record Club, but a history just of the Australian arm of the World Record Club. Doesn’t sound too promising does it? If I tell you this is by far one of the best books on album sleeve art I have ever come across (and I’ve seen a lot) you could be forgiven for raising an eyebrow. After all who has ever heard of the Australian World Record Club, never mind seen any of their sleeves? There is of course a good reason for this; like the parent UK label, the AWRC was by and large (a couple of showcase stores aside) mail-order only, so you weren’t coming up against the sleeves in regular record shops. Added to which Australia hasn’t hitherto been seen as a hot-bed of quality album sleeve design. So outside the country these records are largely unknown. This book will change all that.
I’ve covered the very brief outline of the WRC on this site before (see link at bottom of the page). What I didn’t know is that after it was set up, the AWRC – established a little later – more or less went their own way. They made use of recordings from the UK operation but decided early on to do their own covers. It was partly a cost consideration; many of the UK sleeves were four colour and Australia wanted to economise. Staff and free-lance designers were used, and before long they were turning out sleeves of impeccable design. Smart typography, sharp graphic images, experimental use of treated photographs, and wonderful commissioned illustrations combined to create a body of work which it would be hard to find equalled by any other label.
This book has the advantage of being compiled by someone who was both close to the original operation and who has a clear mission to make sure this work is properly documented. Geoff Hocking worked for AWRC in the mid-sixties, and is a design name some sleeve collectors may recognise, appearing as it did on a lot of EMI MFP budget sleeves in the early seventies, when Hocking had moved to live in London. He returned to Australia in 1975.
In brief, the book contains some 500+ of what Geoff regards as some of the most interesting sleeves. All are very well reproduced, and turning the pages of the book is a delight, with cover after cover to admire. The book has been themed by era and sub-genre, AWRC having beside their classical releases a number of themed labels for children, teenagers, musicals and others. Hocking has written a nice introduction to each, and also presents profiles of many of the regular designers, with photographs and examples of their other work. To kick all this off is a fascinating history of the label with pictures of the designers in the AWRC studio.
Apart from the actual content, the book itself is designed with confidence. Clearly Geoff, who is now a respected illustrator, hasn’t forgotten what good graphic design is all about. And it’s never easy trying to present a book which will primarily be devoured by other designers, all with their own take on the scene. It’s a hefty book too, over 300 pages, and has been published only in Australia, so it’s not going to be cheap to get hold of. Whatever you do though, if you have any interest in the art of record sleeves, make the effort.
Have I any criticisms? Only one really, the lack of proper dating for the albums. We get a rough idea of when they appeared from the accompanying history, but given the pioneering work on show here, the extra effort (and as many of the AWRC catalogues are shown the information must you would have thought the data was available there) would have been well worth it. We don’t even know exactly when the AWRC label began (the UK operation started in 1958). It’s a small gripe however (and perhaps there are reason I’m not aware of).
I have to say a huge thank-you to Geoff for being generous and sending me a review copy (he has even done some nice promo stickers which adorned the packaging, see inset photo!). I’m hoping he can supply us with some jpegs and if he does we will put a sample gallery of covers on this site.
(check out British artist John Piper’s UK World Record Club gatefold sleeve on ST33)