Moorcock: Faith, Hope and Anxiety

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Photo of the author by Linda Moorcock.

I mentioned a few days ago that I had another new piece of work to reveal, and this is it, a poster/promotional piece for Russell Wall’s forthcoming documentary about Michael Moorcock. The main challenge with one was to create something that would give a sense of Moorcock’s extensive career and the genre-spanning content of his many books.

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I took the 1970s as the starting point, since this was the period when his reputation as a writer was established worldwide. The decade began with Britain’s bookshelves being colonised by Moorcock’s SF and fantasy novels published by Mayflower with vivid covers; it saw a cult feature film—The Final Programme—made from his first Jerry Cornelius novel, and it ended with the fourth Jerry Cornelius novel, The Condition of Muzak, winning a serious literary award, the Guardian Fiction Prize.

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So the general appearance of the design, the headline typography, and the colour scheme are a nod to the Mayflower covers and especially to Bob Haberfield’s artwork which often used a similar style of Tibetan flames and clouds. The rest of the type is set in Rockwell, a preferred typeface of the Hipgnosis design team for much of the 1970s. Early on I had the idea of filling the design with stylised graphics like those used by some of the Hipgnosis illustrators, chiefly George Hardie, but that idea receded once the composition began to arrange itself. The fountain pen is the main hangover from this, a hard-edged graphic tilted at an angle like many of Hardie’s illustrations. The pen is a little inappropriate given that Moorcock is famous for knocking out novels at speed on a typewriter but it made a good visual rhyme with the guitar, a Rickenbacker like the one the author played in his Deep Fix band.

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Elsewhere there are many specific references competing for attention: the Elric head is Jim Cawthorn’s illustration from the first edition of Stormbringer (1965); the Jerry Cornelius figure (straddling a repurposed Mayflower logo) is one of Mal Dean’s best, as seen on the cover of issue 191 of New Worlds magazine; the sorcerous blades are my own designs from 1985 as seen on the sleeve of Hawkwind’s Chronicle of the Black Sword album; the Beardsley figures from Salomé were a vague gesture to the 1890s but the Pierrot figure happens to be one Moorcock used for a while as a bookplate, something I didn’t know until I’d placed it in the design; the cat at Pierrot’s feet is another Beardsley from one of the Bon-Mots books; the London skyline is a contemporary one, London past and present having been a continual feature of Moorcock’s writing throughout his career. Lastly, all these details are contained by a graphic based on Abram Games’ BBC TV ident from the 1950s. When Russell and I began talking about this project the words “television biography” were being used so this would have connected to that idea, and to the decade when Moorcock’s career began.

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I don’t know when the documentary will be released but any news will be posted here in due course. There’s also talk of making copies of the poster available for purchase but nothing concrete has been decided yet.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Eduardo Paolozzi at New Worlds
Elric 1: Le trône de rubis
Into the Media Web by Michael Moorcock
The Best of Michael Moorcock
Revenant volumes: Bob Haberfield, New Worlds and others

A tabled question

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Work-related research this week had me wondering who it was that first thought of turning Battersea Power Station into a table. For the past few days I’ve been looking at a lot of the illustration work that George Hardie produced for the Hipgnosis album covers in the 70s and 80s; I’ll explain why in due course but the quest led me to seek out the songbook for Pink Floyd’s Animals album, two pages of which can be seen in the first Hipgnosis book.

Hipgnosis would often extend their album design into promotional areas, producing related posters, stickers, and so on. Pink Floyd’s popularity meant there was demand for songbooks, and the one for Animals is a treat for the use it makes of additional photos from the flying-pig sessions at Battersea Power Station. The idea of using the power station for the cover came from Roger Waters, incidentally; a shame he didn’t apply the same invention to his lyrics. But I digress…

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From the Animals songbook (1977). By George Hardie?

Between the photos (and, er, the songs) there are several pages of graphics by (I’m guessing) Bush Hollyhead and George Hardie; the former depicts a pig, dog and sheep in various stylised arrangements while Hardie provided a vignette of bacon rashers on a Battersea table. This was 1977 so I’m assuming it’s the earliest example of the power-station-as-table, unless, of course, somebody out there knows better.

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When the Monster Dies (1990) by Kate Pullinger. Illustration by Willie Ryan.

And sure enough… Thanks to herr doktor bimler for suggesting this one.

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Robber Baron Table (2006) by Studio Job.

Artist David Mach took up the table idea in the 1990s to produce a series of collages showing an enormous chimney-legged chair sitting beside the power station. There’s no explanation as to why the table should be upside down but then artists often don’t think things through as well as designers. A better idea is the Battersea-like Robber Baron Table (2006) by Studio Job, part of a series of furniture concepts suitable for oligarchs and those who work in the City of London.

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And so to the inevitable, one of a number of stylish tables currently being manufactured by the Battersea Table company.

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Not a table but another clever repurposing of Giles Gilbert Scott’s architecture. Atypyk makes concrete ashtrays for those who still smoke, with the chimneys formed from unsmoked cigarettes. Battersea Power Station when it was in use did much to contribute to London’s polluted air so this seems a fitting by-product. Are there any more examples out there?

Previously on { feuilleton }
Design as virus 16: Prisms
Labels
Storm Thorgerson, 1944–2013
Hipgnosis turkeys
Peter Christopherson, 1955–2010
Storm Thorgerson: Right But Wrong
Battersea Power Station

Storm Thorgerson, 1944–2013

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Wish You Were Here (outer and inner sleeve, 1975) by Pink Floyd.

Whenever people ask questions about your work at some point the subject of influences always turns up. Influences for me are usually few, they’re those things which skew your perception to such a degree—or which enlarge the range of possibilities—that they make you follow a path you might otherwise have never pursued. I’ve said on many occasions that the window of our local record shop in the 1970s was an art gallery whose contents changed every week, with gatefold sleeves offering an endless variety of fantastic visions and smart designs. I was often indifferent to the music the sleeves were intended to advertise, if a favourite band happening to have a great record sleeve then so much the better. It wasn’t that I wanted to be a record sleeve designer as such, more that the views (as Roger Dean called his first book) were incredibly stimulating, and they excited me enough that I wanted to have the creation of images like that in my future.

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Wish You Were Here shrinkwrap and George Hardie’s sticker design.

I’ve written at some length about Roger Dean and Barney Bubbles but it was Hipgnosis that dominated those window displays during the golden age of record sleeve design. Obituaries of Storm Thorgerson have rightly been acknowledging the contributions of his Hipgnosis design partners Aubrey Powell and Peter Christopherson, but Thorgerson always came across as the driving force, a position reinforced by his text for the group’s first book collection, An ABC of the Work of Hipgnosis: Walk Away René (1978), and by his post-Hipgnosis career which continued to generate even more startling images. Walk Away René is like the designs of Hipgnosis themselves: witty, clever, and beautifully produced, while Thorgerson’s commentary is refreshingly honest both about the details of album sleeve production, and in its lack of the affectation which afflicts many design books. Working in the music business probably helped maintain a no-bullshit attitude; it’s difficult to imagine many other designers cheerfully announcing in their first public showcase that their studio is so primitive that everyone has to piss in the sink. Or, as I noted in December, drawing attention to your least favourite covers in an even more lavish showcase.

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The Dark Side Of The Moon (1973) by Pink Floyd.

The cover examples here have been chosen via the essays in For the Love of Vinyl: The Album Art of Hipgnosis (2008) where several people were asked to choose their favourite sleeves. I’d find it impossible to choose a favourite although at a push I’d probably go for Wish You Were Here. With its absence/four elements concept, in its original package—the postcard insert, the unlabelled sleeve shrink-wrapped in black cellophane then stickered with a George Hardie drawing which I once laboriously copied—it comes close to perfection when you’re discussing album covers as works of art.

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Presence (1976) by Led Zeppelin.

The Hipgnosis Covers site is the place to see more work by Storm Thorgerson and company.

Storm Thorgerson, Pink Floyd and the final secret of the world’s greatest record sleeve designer
The Guardian: “The best album designer in the world”
Storm Thorgerson remembered by Aubrey Powell
Adrian Shaughnessy at Creative Review
Mark Blake at MOJO
Telegraph obituary

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Go 2 (1978) by XTC.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The record covers archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Hipgnosis turkeys
Peter Christopherson, 1955–2010
Storm Thorgerson: Right But Wrong
Battersea Power Station