Motorway cities

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The process of updating the main website meant I had to check (and double-check, etc) every single page, so I’ve been looking at more of my old artwork than usual. This 7-inch single sleeve from 1983 made me belatedly realise that the wheel-less levitating car I put on the back of Joe Banks’ Hawkwind book has an ancestor here and on the cover of the third Friends and Relations compilation that Flicknife released in 1985. The continuity was accidental but Motorway City (the song) dates from the end of the period discussed in Joe’s book so it’s good to think that a vague reference to the Levitation era can be found on the cover art.

This odd drawing dates from 1980, a year when my life was in such turmoil I’m amazed I had time to do any drawing at all. I was 18 and had already burned my way through three dead-end jobs after leaving school the year before, by which point I was agreeing with Dave Brock’s Brainstorm ad lib on the Live Seventy Nine album, “I don’t want to be employed!” This attitude led to increasing rows with my mother which in turn led me to spend more time than usual in Blackpool library. Part of the inking on the drawing was done during one of these stress-free afternoons in the library reading room. I’d guess this was shortly after I’d met the group for the first time at their Preston concert on 20th October since most of the drawings I took with me were generic space art rather than pieces derived from Hawkwind songs. They’d played Motorway City that evening (the second song according to Setlist.fm) so I’m sure I would have made a point of showing it off. I say this is an odd drawing because I’ve no idea why I made it look so obviously like a single sleeve, but it’s possible that a single release of the song from the new Levitation album had been rumoured. Whatever the explanation, this was one of the first drawings I made using my new Rotring Rapidograph pen which I used throughout the ensuing decade; one advantage of the dead-end jobs was they at least gave you enough money to afford expensive German technology. A year later, looking through a friend’s copy of Centigrade 232 by Robert Calvert, I was amused to discover a poetic complaint about the tendency of fine-nibbed Rapidograph pens to become blocked with ink. You have to treat them with care and respect, Bob.

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The car on the Friends & Relations cover wasn’t intended to be a reference to the earlier vehicle but removing the wheels was the easiest way of indicating a futuristic scene without any other overt signifiers. A shame, then, that the TV in the foreground is a cathode-ray tube in a wooden case. (And while I’m being critical, the careless use of perspective makes the car much too long.) Both these vehicles look rather graceless, as did cars in general in the late 1970s/early 1980s when there was a trend for boxy design. I’m usually indifferent to the automotive world but I could at least have borrowed some of the carapace sleekness you see in paintings by Syd Mead or Peter Jones.

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The Friends & Relations album was reissued on CD in 2014 in one of the Atomhenge CD box sets: The Flicknife Years, 1981–1988. The set includes two other albums with covers of mine: Zones and Out And Intake. Zones was a compilation of recent live recordings and a few studio outtakes that includes the version of Motorway City released as a single, together with a Michael Moorcock song that’s unique to this album (and sung by the man himself), Running Through The Back Brain.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Reality you can rely on
Hardy art
Silver machines
Notes from the Underground
Hawkwind: Days of the Underground
The artists of Future Life
Science Fiction Monthly
The Chronicle of the Cursed Sleeve
Rock shirts
The Cosmic Grill
Void City
Hawk things
The Sonic Assassins
New things for July
Barney Bubbles: artist and designer

James Cawthorn: The Man and His Art

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The past year would have been busier than usual with the amount of illustration work I had to deal with, but it was made even busier with my having to design this book at the same time. James Cawthorn: The Man and His Art was originally intended to be a modest memorial by Maureen Cawthorn Bell for her artist brother following his death in 2008, but the book grew into a heavyweight volume of 448 pages containing over 800 individual pieces of art: book covers, illustrations for magazines and fanzines, private pieces for friends and relatives, and many sketches or preliminary works, most of which have never seen print before.

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Given Jim Cawthorn’s long association with Michael Moorcock, as both friend and collaborator, the task of collating the artwork and editing the book went to Moorcock bibliographer John Davey, who also serves as the book’s publisher. John spent three years locating over 3000 pieces of artwork, large and small. Some of these pieces are now lodged with the Moorcock archives in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, while others may only be found in the pages of the many science fiction and fantasy fanzines that Jim illustrated, copies of which are stored at the British Library. From this body of material Maureen and John selected a core of representative work from Jim’s private as well as public life, although no-one at the outset of the project was expecting the final picture tally to be so high.

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My task as the book’s designer involved making the text presentable (easy) and corralling the artwork (not so easy, and I also had to either clean or colour-adjust every single piece). Maureen had divided the book into several sections, beginning with a lengthy biographical reminiscence. Following this was “Jim by Jim”, a selection of interviews, magazine pieces, some fiction, essays and book reviews. There was also a lengthy extract from Fantasy: 100 Best Novels (1988), a book credited to Jim and Michael Moorcock but, by Moorcock’s admission, mostly Jim’s work. Jim Cawthorn was very well-read, especially in the genres—he was old enough and interested enough to have read The Lord of the Rings when it was first published—and could also present his erudition engagingly for a reader, so the text section of Maureen’s book is far from indulgent.

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The book design isn’t as elaborate as some I’ve worked on but it didn’t need to be when the pictorial material is rich with what Moorcock calls “wizardry and wild romance”. Maureen wanted a particular picture of Moorcock’s Elric character on the cover so I took details and motifs from some of Jim’s many Elric illustrations to give the book a thematic thread and internal consistency. Cawthorn was present at the creation of Elric in the early 1960s; he not only provided Moorcock’s characters with their first illustrations but even helped plot one of the earliest stories, Kings in Darkness.

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Page numbers are framed by the swords from the Elric stories.

Using motifs such as the sword silhouette and Elric head is something I frequently do with book designs but for this book I also went to the trouble of creating a one-off font for the drop capitals based on Jim’s hand-drawn lettering. Jim drew titles and other lettering throughout his career, so again this was a decision warranted by the book’s contents. The few times we met I never asked him about this but I’ve always thought his lettering designs were derived from the stylised titles that J. Allen St. John created for many of the early Edgar Rice Burroughs books. Jim spent most of his life drawing Burroughs’ characters, and was very familiar with the work of Burroughs’ original illustrators. I was hoping to find a title design of Jim’s that I could rework for the book’s title but none of the examples worked as well as I hoped. For this reason the title lettering is based on different styles from the John Carter novels that were Jim’s favourites among Burroughs’ works.

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Other features include a foreword by Alan Moore, an afterword by Michael Moorcock, a gallery of Jim’s Lord of the Rings drawings and character sketches from the early 1960s (which predate all others bar those by Tolkien himself), artwork for Hawkwind (including Dave Brock’s “Meliadus” T-shirt), and even a handful of photos from the set of The Land that Time Forgot (1975), the ER Burroughs-derived feature film scripted by Jim with Michael Moorcock. The page samples here are necessarily few given the size of the book.

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For the moment James Cawthorn: The Man and His Art is available exclusively from publishers Jayde Design at a special pre-publication price of £20. After publication on 6th August the price will rise to £35. Further page samples follow.

Continue reading “James Cawthorn: The Man and His Art”

The Chronicle of the Cursed Sleeve

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A copy of the cover art that I attempted to colour-correct some years ago to compensate for the poor print reproduction.

This month I’m in Record Collector magazine talking in a sidebar feature about my work on the Hawkwind album The Chronicle of the Black Sword. The issue is Hawkwind-heavy, with a Nik Turner interview, a history of Flicknife Records (the label that released COTBS), and a retrospective feature on the Black Sword album which was released in December 1985. My words were slightly cut to fit the allotted space but I can run the full text here in which I describe my ambivalent feelings towards this particular cover.

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The Black Sword album for me has always been a combination of pleasure and disappointment. I was very pleased initially to hear that Hawkwind were writing a concept based on the Elric books, a series I’d enjoyed for many years. Cover discussions were a little more detailed than usual since this design was sketched out beforehand then approved by the Dave Brock and co. Prior to this I’d been creating something vague after equally vague requests; communication back then was all done via post and call box as I didn’t own a phone.

This was the first album where I was able to create an integrated front and back cover design. A friend had recently found me a copy of George Bain’s Celtic Art: Its Methods of Construction (1951), a study of the creation of Celtic knotwork, and I was keen to use this somehow. Rather than do a cover that looked like a fantasy paperback the idea was to use the knotwork style to create something that was suitably Hawkish whilst also fitting the Elric theme. The front cover has some nods back to earlier Hawkart in the winged sphere—which goes back to Barney Bubbles and his obsession with Ancient Egypt—and the eye-in-a-triangle, a symbol which first appeared on the cover of the Hawklog booklet in the In Search of Space album, and which I scattered throughout many of my Hawkwind designs.

All the lettering on the album was hand-drawn (not very well in places) using letterforms based on Bain’s examples from the books of Kells and Lindisfarne. I drew the track listing onto the artwork for the back cover, a decision that later proved to be a bad one when the band decided to change the running order of the songs, hence the large purple square that spoils the design. My lack of any direct contact with the record company made problems like this inevitable; I was trying to do graphic design at a distance without having any communication at all with the printers responsible for the sleeve. Before digital design, the creation of an album cover could be a complicated business involving photo-mechanical transfers, knockout areas, overlays, typesetters and more; if you weren’t in direct contact with the printer (or somebody who was) then you simply had to hope for the best.

This process of design-at-a-distance led to the disaster with the cover printing, the front of which has an unwarranted blue cast that dulled the impact of the sleeve and, for me, ruined the whole thing. You can see how the cover should have looked by comparing the background colours of front and back; the front was also printed in its true colours on the back page of the 1985 tour programme. It was this, and the messy appearance of the lettering on the back, that pushed me further towards ending my involvement with Hawkwind and doing something of my own over which I’d have complete control.

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The retrospective feature in the magazine includes a picture of the back cover of the tour programme (above) so those familiar with the album can see the difference in reproduction. The difference isn’t so noticeable on the copies posted here after I tried altering the tones of the cover. Over the years I’ve grown used to the blueness but the back cover remains blighted by its purple boxes.

Continue reading “The Chronicle of the Cursed Sleeve”

Rock shirts

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Arriving in the post at the end of last week was this T-shirt for British Doom band The Wounded Kings. The Shadow Over Atlantis (2010) was the band’s second album, and they asked permission a while ago to use my Cthulhuesque De Profundis piece on this limited edition shirt. Permission was granted happily enough, my only concern was that the fine detail and dark tones might not reproduce well on black fabric. The printing is remarkably good, however, and the circular design and type layout works very well. The shirts are on sale here.

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All of which reminded me that I have a couple of shirts from the Hawkwind era in the 1980s. I’ve not aired these designs before, mainly because the Earth Ritual design is one of my many pieces of Hawk-art that I find amateurish. I used to put considerable effort into the cover designs (some of them, anyway; a few were pieces of art sent to Dave Brock as samples that were later used as official covers); but much of the art I produced for the tour programs and merchandise was done in haste, and should have been a lot better considering it was being used for costly souvenirs.

Earth Ritual was the title of an EP released in 1984 that was notable for having Lemmy as guest bassist, his first appearance on a Hawkwind record after being sacked from the band in 1975. I did the cover for that one but I don’t like it very much. The 1984 tour was named after the EP, hence the shirt, although the show was nothing remotely like the elaborate Space Ritual concept. The triangle with a bar on the skull is the alchemical symbol for Earth, a detail the band used in their stage set. I’ve never liked that skull which is very badly drawn, I’d have been better off using a photocopy of the skull on this drawing from the same year. The design was drawn in black ink on white paper; I had no say in the colouring which was done by the merchandise company. From the same drawing they also made small enamel badges (where the skull looks even worse!), and a sew-on patch which looks much better since they dispensed with the skull.

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This was the shirt design for the 1985 tour, one of the final designs for the Chronicle of the Black Sword project, and one of the very last pieces I did for Hawkwind. The design of this one is a little more successful although once again the colours weren’t my choice.

These aren’t the only shirts I’ve done for the music world, in addition to other occasional work for metal bands I produced many exclusive designs for Cradle of Filth from 2001–2005 but they never sent me any of those. To return to De Profundis, I ought to note that the artwork is available as a print from CafePress.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Cosmic Grill
Void City
Hawk things
The Sonic Assassins
New things for July
Barney Bubbles: artist and designer

The Cosmic Grill

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Design and illustration by Barney Bubbles.

The past week’s music listening has alternated between the back catalogue of Seattle band, Earth (who I recommend highly), and the early recordings of my erstwhile employers, Hawkwind. The latter were reissued recently in a 10-CD box, This Is Your Captain Speaking…Your Captain Is Dead (The Albums And Singles 1970–1974) which I also recommend, it’s very good value, and packages the albums in those facsimile card sleeves that now seem de rigueur for album reissues. A swathe of my rare Hawkwind vinyl got sold off circa 1990, and I’ve never replaced any of the albums or singles so this was a good opportunity to catch up. If you like this period of the band there’s the added bonus of the complete Greasy Truckers concert from the Roundhouse in 1972, a ramshackle performance that nonetheless sounds pristine (my Greasy Truckers vinyl—which I do still own—was ruined by a previous owner with a spillage of tea on the Hawkwind side); there’s also the entirety of the 1999 Party concert from Chicago which I’d not heard before.

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Listening again to Hall Of The Mountain Grill (1974) had me thinking about the origin of the album’s title. Hawkwind never took themselves as seriously as many of their contemporaries, but naming an album of ostensible space rock after a very mundane café in the Portobello Road was one of their more eccentric moments. The humour is compounded by Barney Bubbles’ cover design which for the title uses the kind of italic script (Bickham?) that you see on menus; on the inner sleeve there’s a photo of the fabled restaurant flanked by a pair of Barney’s futuristic towers. The verse beneath the photo (“from the Legend of Beenzon Toste”) refers to nearby Ladbroke Grove, and, of course, to Notting Hill Gate which in 1974 was still a haven for counterculture freaks, the antithesis of that film. The verse was probably the work of Robert Calvert who explained the attraction of the restaurant in Pete Frame’s Hawkwind family tree:

The Mountain Grill was a working man’s café in Portobello Road—frequented by all the dross and dregs of humanity. Dave Brock always used to go and eat there—which is how I first met him…because I used to eat there too, when I worked on Frendz magazine. It was a kind of Left Bank café/meeting place for Notting Hill longhairs—a true artists’ hangout…but it never became chic, even though Marc Bolan, David Bowie and people like that often went there to eat lunch.

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Photos on Flickr show how the place looked in 1977 when the sign from the album sleeve was still intact, and also in 2003 shortly before the restaurant closed down. The premises are a very different kind of eaterie today, remodelled and upmarket as befits a gentrified area.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Void City
Hawk things
The Sonic Assassins
New things for July
Barney Bubbles: artist and designer