Friday, 19 April 2013

The (nearly) perfect Storm

I know everybody says this but it really was with genuine sadness that I read last night of designer Storm Thorgerson's death. Liking the kind of music I do then it seems as though the covers he designed, or co-designed, are also are part of the story. If someone mentions The Dark Side of the Moon then even people who haven't heard the record will almost certainly know the cover.
My first introduction to Storm, and his company, Hipnogsis - apart from the DSotM cover which, along with Tubular Bells was seemingly in every home in my childhood, except ours - was when I got a copy of Led Zeppelin's fourth LP.

It's clearly a gatefold with the main cover image on the right. It's supposed to convey the ripping down of the old and the development of the new, which seemed like a pretty neat idea when the album was released in 1971. I think it shows a certain melancholy over that 'neat idea'. I've always loved the painting, that man crooked over with those bits of coppiced birch on his back. Apparently the painting was picked up in a second hand shop in Reading, fancy! I wonder how much it would be worth now?
You don't need me to tell you that his most famous work was with Pink Floyd. Not all of which was a success, I think. Ummagumma looks rushed while Meddle just looks incredibly brown. The cover of Meddle is an image taken of sound waves in the ear, it just looks more like a blob of earwax to me. I reckon Storm, and his company Hipnogsis, first truly successful design was the cow on Atom Heart Mother.
No, I don't know what it means either but I suppose a cow with a full udder has to be a mother, doesn't it? I also find it incredibly English, rather like early Pink Floyd music.
Coming back to Ummagumma, I've always quite liked this back cover photograph of all their instruments, stage gear and roadies laid out in front of their van. It's based on a photo of a jet fighter with its armaments laid out in front of it. But these are weapons for peace! Geddit? No, oh. I'll get my Afghan coat...

Back to Zeppelin and while this isn't one of my favourite covers by either the band or Thorgerson, the trouble with getting the colours right on the image caused the album's release to be pushed back by months. For any fact fans, one of the children - and there are only two, their image kept getting reproduced - is Stefan Gates who now presents food programmes on the telly. The other child is his sister. At the time they both child models, in particular on knitting patterns

These two Peter Gabriel covers are also some of my favourites. The first one for Peter Gabriel I love because he almost looks like he's dead behind that windscreen and with no colour in his face. The rain on the car is also effective. Shame the car's not taxed though, naughty naughty, Pete. Perhaps the Genesis royalties were drying up in the punk era when this was released. There was an image of the usually anonymous dubstep artist Burial a few years ago. It showed his hooded head reflected in a puddle, it must have been inspired by this.

This one for Peter Gabriel 2 is just brilliant, I think. A simple idea that's well done.

Now, his best cover for Pink Floyd. Unfortunately due to an accident with an inflatable pig, the pig here had to be added on to the photograph later. Obviously it refers to 'pigs might fly' but why Battersea Power Station? I dunno. Like the Dark Side of the Moon cover it's passed into public consciousness as a standalone work of art, often imitated. Not least by tribute act The Australian Pink Floyd Show where the pig is replaced by a pink kangaroo.

It's not all great of course. I suppose this cover image reflects the music contained within: sexist pap. The reverse image shows the woman laughing as she holds a framed photo of Scorpions. I don't blame her, I always laugh at Scorpions.

This is a good one, How Dare You! by 10cc. The image here is the wrong way around though, sorry. The main cover image is the man in the office/drinking woman. Quite a few questions asked on this sleeve: who are the people in the photo on the desk? Who are the people climbing out of the Austin Healey? Why has she been crying? Why is Dudley Moore making an obscene phonecall?

I'd like to point out here that I'm not a 10cc fan, but I got my girlfriend a vinyl copy of the LP as a present and I was quite taken with the cover and wasn't surprised to see that it was designed by Hipnogsis.

As for more Pink Floyd, I'm really NOT fan of this LP but no trickery was used in this photograph. Every one of those beds is real and were placed on a beach in Devon. The government keep thousands of beds in storage in case of an emergency and they were borrowed for the shoot. Again, I haven't got a clue what it means. Thorgerson suggesting Dave Gilmour should give Pink Floyd a rest perhaps, given the rottenness of the music contained within..?

This one I find quite sad. On the surface it's bog standard artist shot, I guess. But everyone knows of Syd Barrett's mental torment. He seems to be detached in this image, almost pushed away. The fuzzy resolution of the photo reinforces that, like the fuzziness of his mind at the time. The alternately painted floorboards also act like a barrier, like he's pushed away but also doesn't want to let you in. The wilting flowers also perhaps show his once fresh talent is now withering. I dunno, that could all be bollocks and it is just a simple artist shot. What do I know?


I've not been massively keen on Thorgerson's recent works with the likes of Biffy Clyro, Muse and The Pineapple Thief. The stuff he did with The Mars Volta has been good though. What I did recently enjoy was the work he did to mark The Dark Side of the Moon's fortieth anniversary. He recreated the cover image forty times in forty different styles. I liked this Roy Lichtenstein styled one, amongst many others.

But my favourite Thorgerson cover has to be this one - no, not Dark Side of the Moon, that's more like a trademark these days - it's Go 2 by XTC. I love the idea of it, and the text continues on the reverse of the sleeve. I know it's a bit monochrome, but hey. For me it just works. I love the idea of it. They proved that new wave acts could also get in on the Thorgerson/Hipnogsis magic and that sometimes, classic album covers aren't beautifully, and expensively, shot photographs or paintings.