My White Bicycle

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My White Bicycle (1967), poster by Hapshash and the Coloured Coat. Too risqué for EMI.

In what passes here for spare time I’ve been working on a private project that concerns events in London during a single week in 1967. I won’t elaborate for now but the research has been fun, and has led down byways where it’s easy to get lost in a profusion of historic detail. The International Times archive is a great time-sink if you want to see London’s psychedelic culture evolving from one week to the next. Oz magazine covered much of the same ground but in broader strokes; IT being a weekly paper was the closest thing the underground of the time had to a journal of record which means you’ll find things there which weren’t reported anywhere else.

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International Times, Volume 1, issue 13, 19/05/1967.

A brief item about a poster for the debut single by Tomorrow caught my eye, the artwork being an early piece by Hapshash and the Coloured Coat (Michael English and Nigel Waymouth) who we here discover were briefly known by another name:

MY WHITE BICYCLE

EMI join the long and growing list of those self-censors who still believe that the younger generation are going to continue to support them. The above poster for the Tomorrow record, MY WHITE BICYCLE, was rejected by EMI on the grounds that the titties might provoke “complaints from certain organizations…” So Jacob and the Coloured Coat (Mick English and Nigel Weymouth [sic]) put on their crocheted boots and manufactured a poster design from every phallic image they could. Subliminal pornography triumphed where open indecency had failed and the prick within sustains where the exposed breast falters.

Tomorrow were one of the first British psychedelic bands. My White Bicycle is their most memorable song but the rest of their self-titled debut album still holds up today. Ace guitarist Steve Howe became a lot more famous in Yes a few years later, while drummer Twink was in a host of bands in the late 60s and early 70s, Hawkwind included. My White Bicycle sounds superficially like a typical piece of psych whimsy à la Pink Floyd’s Bike (both songs were recorded at Abbey Road) but according to Twink there’s an anarchist subtext:

“My White Bicycle” was written out of what was actually going on in Amsterdam. One of the owners of Granny Takes a Trip, Nigel Weymouth [sic], had gone there and come back with a Provos badge which he gave to me. They were kind of like a student anarchist group that believed everything should be free. In fact, they had white bicycles in Amsterdam and they used to leave them around the town. And if you were going somewhere and you needed to use a bike, you’d just take the bike and you’d go somewhere and just leave it. Whoever needed the bikes would take them and leave them when they were done.

What would have been dismissed as pure utopianism now looks like prescience when bike-sharing schemes have become a reality. As to the redrawn poster, there’s a copy here which is described as very rare, hence its absence from other Hapshash galleries. Not really as phallic as the IT report implies; Aubrey Beardsley got away with a lot more priapic subterfuge in the 1890s when the strictures were also more severe.

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My White Bicycle (1967), the replacement poster by Hapshash and the Coloured Coat.

On the same page of IT there’s a brief announcement that The Beatles will have a new album out in June, something entitled Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. That album also gave EMI a headache with both Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds and A Day In The Life being accused by “certain organisations” of promoting drugs. If the record company could have seen the greater headache that was coming less than ten years later from Malcolm McLaren and his King’s Road scallywags they might not have been so uptight.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Hapshash Takes a Trip
Michael English, 1941–2009
The Look presents Nigel Waymouth
The New Love Poetry

Hapshash Takes a Trip

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UFO Coming (1967) by Hapshash and the Coloured Coat.

It’s always difficult to choose a favourite from the posters that Nigel Waymouth and the late Michael English produced under the name Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, their standards remained high (so to speak) throughout their partnership. But I always liked the ejaculating penis butterfly on this early design for Joe Boyd’s UFO club, a detail which would have given Aubrey Beardsley a chuckle and which is probably unique in art. The gorgeous Hapshash posters receive another airing next month in an exhibition at the Idea Generation Gallery, London, entitled Hapshash Takes a Trip: The Sixties Work of Nigel Waymouth:

Waymouth’s own archive plays a major part in the retrospective. Kept privately for decades and rarely seen since their first creation in the late ’60s, the artist’s personal collection features works made as part of Hapshash and his designs for Granny Takes a Trip. Furthermore it contains his own album covers, photographs, press clippings and magazines. This extraordinary collection unites rare works with rare moments, through photographs never before seen in public.

The exhibition opens on September 9th. There’s more detail on the press release (PDF) including a promise that “Huge silk-screened reproductions of their iconic posters will fill the entirety of one of the Gallery’s soaring 20 foot walls.”

The exhibition title alludes to the celebrated King’s Road boutique Granny Takes A Trip whose series of striking shopfronts were decorated by Waymouth before and during his partnership with Michael English. The Look posted some pictures of Waymouth’s 1947 Dodge decor earlier this week.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Dukes declare it’s 25 O’Clock!
Psychedelic Wonderland: the 2010 calendar
Michael English, 1941–2009
Max (The Birdman) Ernst
The Look presents Nigel Waymouth
The New Love Poetry

Michael English, 1941–2009

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left: The Soft Machine Turns On (1967); right: UFO Coming (1967).

This was a bitter blow coming at a time when I’ve been working on something inspired in part by Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, the 1960s design duo comprised of Michael English and Nigel Waymouth. The two artists, together with associate Martin Sharp, are indelibly associated with the London psychedelic scene of the late Sixties. Whereas Sharp’s posters were often loose and dramatically bold explosions of shape and colour, the Hapshash posters were more carefully controlled in their curating of disparate elements borrowed from Art Nouveau—especially Mucha and Beardsely—comic strips, Op Art, Pop art and fantasy illustration. Their work perfectly complemented the very distinctive atmosphere of the capital’s psychedelic scene which, for a couple of hectic years, saw an explosion of new bands (or old bands in new guises) fervently engaged in a lysergic exploration of Victoriana, childhood memories and frequent silliness. UK psychedelia is generally more frivolous than its US equivalent which had the Vietnam War and civil disorder to deal with; English and Waymouth’s graphics captured the London mood.

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top left: Coke (1970); top right: Toothpaste (1974).
bottom left: Leaf Falls (1972); bottom right: Red no. 3 (1978).

In the 1970s English refashioned himself as a hyper-realist painter of foodstuffs and other consumer goods, and his meticulous airbrush style led to work as an advertising artist. Those paintings are beautifully rendered but often leave me feeling slightly queasy. I much prefer his work from later in the decade which depicted equally meticulous close-up views of oil-smeared buses and trains. Paper Tiger published a book collection in 1979, 3D Eye, which gathers the best of his work from the poster art on.

• Obituaries: Guardian | Times
• Hapshash poster galleries here and here

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Look presents Nigel Waymouth
The New Love Poetry

Max (The Birdman) Ernst

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Max (The Birdman) Ernst (1967).

Psychedelia is never far away here at { feuilleton }. Yesterday’s film poster reminded me of this work from the psychedelic era by Martin Sharp, an Australian artist who moved to London and became closely-associated with Oz magazine and London’s other leading psych poster designers, Michael English and Nigel Waymouth, aka Hapshash & the Coloured Coat. Sharp’s homage to the great Max was one of a number of his designs produced on metallic foil sheets, the reflective nature of which often presents difficulties for reproduction in other media.

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Performance (1970).

I wonder how many people who admired Sharp’s poster puzzled over the meaning of the image, one of twenty-eight similar collages from the fourth chapter of Ernst’s 1934 “collage novel” Une Semaine de Bonté. Chapter four—Wednesday; Blood—concerns the criminal travails of a series of bird-headed individuals (or possibly the same individual in different guises) which end in abduction, possible rape/murder, and suicide. This picture of Ernst’s has always struck me as a very obvious rape metaphor with the woman stretched over the birdman’s lap and the knife piercing her foot. Ernst’s dark imagination—informed by Freudian concerns, as were most of his fellow Surrealists—separates the picture from the more lightweight Art Nouveau/Beardsleyesque stylings of the other London artists. Martin Sharp was producing collages of his own during this period so it’s easy to see why he was attracted to Ernst. And the popularity of his poster may explain why the birdman turns up in a painted version in Donald Cammell & Nicolas Roeg’s Performance, seen when Pherber (Anita Pallenberg) goes to pick mushrooms in the greenhouse. Ernst’s sinister birdman suits Performance very well, a token of the film’s atmosphere of weirdness and violence. (“A heavy evil film, don’t see it on acid” warned underground newspaper International Times.)

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Bob Dylan: Blowing in the Mind (1967).

And to compound the connections a little more, Sharp’s famous Bob Dylan collage portrait (another foil sheet production) also turns up in Performance as part of the collage-covered screen in one of Turner’s rooms. Unlike his fellow Hapshash artists, Sharp’s work is under-documented on the web beyond pages such as this one. The same goes for Ernst’s collage novel but then the best way to experience that is to buy the Dover book edition.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Robing of The Birds
Gandharva by Beaver & Krause
The Look presents Nigel Waymouth
The New Love Poetry
Judex, from Feuillade to Franju
Further back and faster
Quite a performance
Borges in Performance

Aubrey Beardsley’s musical afterlife

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Dilettantes by You Am I (2008). Illustration and design by Ken Taylor.

Dilettantes is the eighth studio album from Australian band You Am I which is released this week sporting a very creditable Beardsley pastiche by illustrator Ken Taylor. Sleevage has more details about the creation of the CD package, including preliminary sketches. Those familiar with Beardsley’s work may see in the cover drawing references to The Peacock Skirt and the colour print of Isolde. I like the way Beardsley’s peacock has been exchanged for a more suitably antipodean lyrebird. This isn’t Beardsley’s only influence in the musical world, of course. A few more examples follow.

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left: The Peacock Skirt from Salomé (1894); right: Isolde (1895).

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Revolver cover by Klaus Voorman (1966).

The over-familiarity of Klaus Voorman‘s collage/drawing for the cover of Revolver by The Beatles tends to obscure its Beardsley influence but that influence is certainly present in the stylised faces, the figure details and the rendering of the hair. The Beatles themselves were enthused enough with Aubrey to put his face among the pantheon of “people that we like” on the sleeve of Sgt. Pepper a year later. I’d thought for a while that Voorman might have been inspired by the landmark Beardsley exhibition which ran at the V&A in London from May–September 1966. Some correspondence with Raymond Newman, author of Abracadabra, a book about the album, disabused me of that when Raymond confirmed that Voorman in 1966 had already been a Beardsley enthusiast for a number of years.

As well as being possibly the first Beardsleyesque album cover, I wonder whether this was also the first major album release to drop the name of the artist from the front of the sleeve.

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Everyone went psychedelic in 1967, even tough mods like The Who. This Hapshash and the Coloured Coat promo poster for I Can See For Miles (incidentally my favourite Who song) is one of Hapshash’s more overt Beardsley borrowings. The sun (or moon) in the background is a variation on Beardsley’s The Woman in the Moon from Salomé (the face is Oscar Wilde’s) while Pete Townshend’s florid sorcerer’s cloak owes much to Aubrey’s incredible cover design (blocked in gold on the book) for Volpone.

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The Woman in the Moon (1894).

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Volpone (1897).

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From the sublime to the ridiculous. Cathy Berberian was the mezzo-soprano wife of avant garde composer Luciano Berio, with a long career as a singer of serious classical and contemporary classical works. Her rendition of Berio’s Thema (Omaggio a Joyce)–an electroacoustic setting of the “Sirens” prelude from Ulysses–was one of the tracks on the 1967 electroacoustic compilation Electronic Music III discussed here in April. She also had a separate career as an operatic interpreter of pop music and this collection of Beatles songs dates either from 1968 or 69, depending on which source you choose to believe. Whatever the year, the designer pulled off a decent enough copy of the Revolver sleeve. For a taste of the Berberian style, there’s a sample here. And if you’re desperate for the entire album, this page has a copy.

I’m sure this doesn’t exhaust the Beardsley influence in sleeve design, there must be others between 1968 and 2008. Once again, if you know of any further examples, please leave a comment.

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Humble Pie by Humble Pie (1970).

Update: Added Humble Pie’s self-titled third album. The illustration this time is Beardsley’s own, The Stomach Dance from Salomé.

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Dreams by Gabor Szabo (1968). Design by David Stahlberg.

Update 2: Therese discovered this great sleeve for an album by the Hungarian jazz guitarist. Closer in style to John Austen’s illustrations for Hamlet 1922) but Austen’s use of black-and-white at the time was very influenced by Beardsley’s work.

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Witchcraft by Witchcraft (2004).

Update 3: Another addition, the debut album from Swedish metal band Witchcraft which uses Beardsley’s Merlin vignette from the Morte Darthur. Thanks to Cyphane for the tip.

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Molly Moonbeam by Coach Fingers (2007).

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Ballade Of Tristram’s Last Harping by The 17th Pygmy (aka 17 Pygmies) (2007).

Update 4: Added a couple of new discoveries. The 17th Pygmy album apparently includes further Beardsley pieces in its booklet while the Coach Fingers single also has a label featuring designs by Beardsley’s contemporary, Sidney Sime.

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La Beale Isoud at Joyous Gard. (1894).

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Come Hell Or High Water by The Flowers of Hell (2009).

Update 5: Added the Flowers of Hell cover which is based on La Beale Isoud at Joyous Gard. from Le Morte Darthur. The band also has a video which works variations on the same picture.

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Procol Harum by Procol Harum (1967).

Update 6: Another one I’d missed, Procol Harum’s debut album doesn’t have a credit for the cover art which is perhaps just as well since it doesn’t stand comparison with some of the works above. The same artwork appeared on later reissues when the album was re-titled A Whiter Shade of Pale.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The album covers archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Look presents Nigel Waymouth
Aubrey by John Selwyn Gilbert
The New Love Poetry
The Avant Garde Project
Beardsley’s Salomé
“Weirdsley Daubery”: Beardsley and Punch
A splendid time is guaranteed for all
Alla Nazimova’s Salomé