Hipgnosis interview

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This is a frustratingly short piece of film—a mere 16 minutes—but it’s fascinating all the same for the brief views it gives inside the London studio of the Hipgnosis design partnership at the tail end of their golden decade, the 1970s. Being an occasional album cover designer as well as a minor Hipgnosis obsessive I like to see where so many of the team’s album covers originated. The two Hipgnosis founders, Aubrey Powell and Storm Thorgerson are both interviewed; the third member of the partnership, Peter Christopherson, is absent. The film is also undated but the discussion of the cover photo for Look Hear? by 10cc puts the year at around 1980. The views of the studio aren’t much different from the rather murky shots of the place in the first Hipgnosis book, An ABC of the Work of Hipgnosis: Walk Away René (1978), but the film gives a better sense of the dishevelled actuality: those stairs that Thorgerson runs up at the opening are the same ones that form the background to the melting Peter Gabriel photo used on the cover of Gabriel’s third album. Powell and Thorgerson are such engaging interviewees they really ought to have been profiled at greater length by the BBC or ITV, not given a few minutes to discuss some of their more notable creations by a small French film crew.

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Aubrey Powell shows off the mystery object from the Presence album by Led Zeppelin.

The Hipgnosis studio occupied two floors of a building in Denmark Street, a minor thoroughfare off the Charing Cross Road that used to be a home to music publishers, rehearsal rooms and many of London’s musical instrument vendors. For a few years it was also home to the original and equally dishevelled Forbidden Planet book and comic shop, a place I first visited shortly after it opened in 1978. I always used to visit Forbidden Planet when I was in the capital but the Hipgnosis team had gone their separate ways by the time I found out they’d been based in the same street. Had I known about this earlier I probably would have wandered around for a while wondering which door led to their rooms. With its clutter and blithe disregard for client-flattering furnishings (the reception room, said Thorgerson, had nowhere to sit down) the studio was a long way from anybody’s idea of a well-appointed design business. The place reminds me of the offices occupied for many years by Savoy Books in Deansgate, Manchester: ancient, first-floor rooms whose better days were long past, with tools of the trade littering every surface, recent works-in-progress on the walls and old stickers peeling off the door. In Walk Away René, Thorgerson also admits that the studio lacked a toilet so they had to resort to pissing in a sink, a disgraceful expediency also shared by the Savoy office. In such places was art once made.

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

Solid Space: Jon Anderson’s cosmic voyage

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Jon Anderson’s solo debut, Olias Of Sunhillow, is reissued this week in a double-disc set comprising a remastered CD plus an audio DVD. I’d been hoping for some time that this album might be given a proper reissue, it’s one I like a great deal but my old CD has never sounded as good as it ought to. The album may command cult status round here but you don’t see it mentioned anywhere outside Yes forums or partisan enclaves like the Prog Archives. This post may be taken as a small corrective to the neglect.

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Olias Of Sunhillow was released in 1976, and was the most unusual of all the solo albums recorded by the individual members of Yes in the mid-70s, being a spin-off from some of the group’s early albums, or at least their cover art. Roger Dean’s first cover work for the group was on Fragile in 1971, for which he painted a miniature world rather like one of MC Escher’s planetoids. This was Dean’s idea, the band had suggested a broken piece of porcelain as the cover image. The back cover of the album showed the same planet in a state of fragmentation with a fish-like spaceship floating above it (see below). Another drawing of the fish-ship was added to the front cover before the album’s release, and it’s this ship, and the narrative it suggests, that leads eventually to Anderson’s solo album. Two years after Fragile, the planetary disintegration had turned into an exodus on the group’s triple-live album, Yessongs, the back cover of which shows pieces of planet being towed through space by a similar fish-ship. The other panels of the cover depict the arrival of these fragments on a newer, larger world. Anderson’s album takes this sequence of events then filters them through Vera Stanley Alder’s mysticism to craft a musical odyssey which Discogs describes as:

…the story of an alien race and their journey to a new world due to catastrophe. Olias, the title character, is the chosen architect of the glider Moorglade, which will be used to fly his people to their new home. Ranyart is the navigator for the glider, and Qoquaq is the leader who unites the four tribes of Sunhillow to partake in the exodus.

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For many years in British music circles it would have been a grave error to even acknowledge this album’s existence, never mind admit to actually liking it. This was partly the old animus against progressive rock, an unexamined prejudice that lasted well into the 1990s, but Anderson’s album had so many strikes against it that it might have stood as the winner of a disapproval lottery for the more ideologically rigid writers and readers of the NME. It’s Jon Anderson (strike 1), the lead singer of progressive rock (2) group Yes (3), whose album is a science fiction (4)/ fantasy (5) concept (6), littered with Tolkien-like invented names and words (7), and with a multi-page sleeve embellished with detailed fantasy illustrations (8) by David Fairbrother-Roe. The design was art directed by Hipgnosis, who subsequently designed the next two Yes albums. Anderson originally wanted Roger Dean to create the packaging, which would have provided a further strike of disapproval against the album, but Dean’s career had gone into overdrive following the publication of Views so he either didn’t have the time or didn’t want to be involved. In Views Dean mentions “another project” based on the fish-ship’s journey which may be a reference to Anderson’s forthcoming album, the credits of which thank Dean for “planting the seed”.

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Roger Dean’s original artwork for Fragile (1971). Another fish-ship was added to the final cover art.

Continue reading “Solid Space: Jon Anderson’s cosmic voyage”

Weekend links 530

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Kami #58 -bloom- (2019) by Momo Yoshino.

• “Set amid the countryside and the beaches of coastal Sussex, They depicts a world in which plundering bands of philistines prowl England destroying art, books, sculpture, musical instruments and scores, punishing those artistically and intellectually inclined outliers who refuse to abide by this new mob rule.” Lucy Scholes on They: A Sequence of Unease (1977) by Kay Dick, which she calls “a lost dystopian masterpiece”. This is revelatory in a minor way since for years I’ve remembered seeing a slim volume with the title They in a bookshop, and which I later thought might have been a Rudyard Kipling book (there’s a Kipling story with the same title). The timing is right, the sighting would have been in 1977 or 78. The combination of that short, one-word title with a stark cover image and a sinister description on the rear was hard to forget but I didn’t take note of the author’s name. (I also didn’t buy the book, opting instead for some inferior work.) A shame that it seems to be resolutely out of print.

• “The threat to civil liberties goes way beyond ‘cancel culture’,” says Leigh Phillips. It makes a change seeing this coming from Jacobin when so much of the left today can find nothing wrong with censorship so long as it’s in a good cause. (Every censor that ever lived believed they were acting in a good cause, were on “the right side of history”, etc, etc.) The piece includes a dismissal of the increasingly common riposte that “only the state can censor”: this would be news to my colleagues at Savoy Books who endured years of police harassment including the seizure and destruction of printed material; the same with the long history of police action against UK rap artists. Related: “Work that’s cancelled for being ‘of its time’ was probably objected to, at the time.” Dorian Lynskey on chronocentrism and “the narcissism of the present”.

• “Cruising baths, bars, and subway toilets, snorting poppers and ‘fist fucking with 40 guys for 14 hours’ (as he recalled in You Got to Burn to Shine, his 1993 collection of prose and poems), he found meaning in a religion of radical eros whose sacrament was anonymous sex.” Mark Dery reviewing Great Demon Kings: A Memoir of Poetry, Sex, Art, Death, and Enlightenment by John Giorno.

Aubrey Powell says his best photograph is the burning man from the cover of Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd.

• Mixes of the week: Fact mix 770 by Lyra Pramuk, and mr.K’s Kooky Kuts Vol.4 by radioShirley & mr.K.

• The Alchemical Brothers: Brian Eno & Roger Eno interviewed by Wyndham Wallace.

• Origami-inspired optical illusion oil paintings by Momo Yoshino.

Alexander Larman on the demise of the second-hand bookshop.

• New music: Follow The Road by Yumah, and Röschen by Pole.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Lighting.

• RIP Linda Manz.

My Boyfriend’s Back (1963) by The Angels | Carnival of the Animals, R. 125: VII. The Aquarium (Camille Saint-Saëns) (1975) by the Württemberg Chamber Orchestra, Heilbronn with Marylene Dosse & Anne Petit, conducted by Jörg Faerber | Kill All Hippies (2000) by Primal Scream

Weekend links 368

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Piazzetta San Marco by Moonlight (no date) by Friedrich Paul Nerly.

• RIP Heathcote Williams (Guardian obit, NYT obit): poet, playwright, actor, artist, anarchist, stage magician, and no doubt many other things besides. Being a product of the counter-culture, and one of Britain’s foremost anti-establishment writers (his polemics against the Royal Family were unceasing), Williams was a regular in the early publications produced by my colleagues at Savoy Books; in fact there’s a piece by him in The Savoy Book itself. Consequently, Williams always felt like a distant relative even though we never met. Of his many film appearances, which ranged from low-budget independent productions to Hollywood junk, he was ideally cast as Prospero in Derek Jarman’s film of The Tempest, and he audaciously steals a scene from Tilda Swinton in Sally Potter’s wonderful Orlando. Elsewhere: Jeremy Harding on Williams’ run-ins with the gatekeepers, and Why D’Ya Do It?, a song by Marianne Faithfull with lyrics by Williams.

• Mixes of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 226 by Chihei Hatakeyama, and SydArthur Festival 2: Summer of Love Edition by Head Heritage.

Geeta Dayal on composer and musique concrète pioneer Pierre Henry whose death was also announced this week.

Jonathan Meades reviews Vinyl.Album.Cover.Art: The Complete Hipgnosis Catalogue by Aubrey Powell.

• “Brutal! Vulgar! Dirty!” Polly Stenham on Mae West and the gay comedy that shocked 1920s America.

Hannah Devlin on religious leaders getting high on psilocybin for science.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Spotlight on…In Transit (1969) by Brigid Brophy.

• At Bibliothèque Gay: Matelots (1935) by Gregorio Prieto.

SD Sykes on reconsidering Venice, crumbling city.

Letters and Liquor

This Ain’t The Summer Of Love (1976) by Blue Öyster Cult | Orlando (1996) by Trans Am | Transit (2004) by Fennesz

Weekend links 356

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Im Hag by ToiToiToi will be Ghost Box 027, available from 12th May. Poster and album design, as always, by Julian House.

• The week in the electronic outer limits: The Haxan Cloak recorded a new piece of music using Moog’s Mother-32 modular synths; The Herzog Tapes is a new album by The Electric Pentacle; and Drew McDowell (ex-Coil, etc) has a new album, Unnatural Channel, out next month. (Vinyl-only, unfortunately, like his previous album.)

• More from Vinyl . Album . Cover . Art: The Complete Hipgnosis Catalogue by Aubrey Powell: How to design a record cover in 1977. The feature is a duplicate of Storm Thorgerson’s account in the first Hipgnosis book but since that volume has been out of print for decades it stands repeating.

• Talismanic Bookseller: Erik Davis talks to occult-book dealer and musician Richard Bishop talks about modern grimoires, scorpion gods, Orientalist imagery, and hunting down physical books in the age of the Internet.

Arbery Books, “the UK’s leading online dealer in rare and secondhand books and ephemera of gay, lesbian and transgender interest”, is closing its website at the end of May so there’s a sale on.

Amours Secrètes: Dans L’intimité Des Écrivains, an art book about the secret loves of five French writers: Marcel Proust, Pierre Loti, Renaud Icard, Roger Peyrefitte and Jean Genet.

• Ancient Methods and Futuristic Visions: Mark Pilkington & Michael J. York of Teleplasmiste answer 15 questions.

• Mix of the week: Homer Flynn, spokesperson of The Residents, compiles a playlist for The Wire.

Adrian Searle on Queer British Art 1861–1967 at Tate Britain: “strange, sexy, heartwrenching”.

Strange Flowers on August Endell (1871–1925) and the trees of spring.

Urania (1995) by Panasonic | Pan Finale (2010) by Pan Sonic | 5′ 42” (2014) by Pan Sonic