My Love Affair with 4*A*D Isn’t Over …

I’ve culled my bookshelves quite mercilessly over the past few years but have jealously guarded many of my “art” books. One of these is Martin Aston’s Facing the Wrong Way — The Story of 4 A D. I’ve been staring at the book’s spine for yonks but only started to read it a couple of weeks ago. It rekindled my interest inall things 4*A*D.

I am a big fan of record cover design and fastened for the work of 23 Envelope, and, later, v23 in the early eighties when I bought a Cocteau Twins album — probably Head Over Heels — in Camden Market. I was struck by the cover and shortly after bought a folder of posters by the design team called 23 Envelope; Vaughan Oliver and his longtime friend photographer Nigel Grierson. I still have it.

The cover of the 23 Envelope poster folder.

Thus started my collection of Vaughan Oliver’s art; primarily record covers from 4*A*D. Over the years up until 2013 I built up a collection that included most of the more desirable record covers and books. I had the original This Rimy River book — a catalogue (of sorts) of an exhibiiton at the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles in 1994.

The original This Rimy River catalogue.

The limited edition of This Rimy River.

I invested in the deluxe limited edition, too. Mine is No. 65/400.

My collection of 4*A*D rarities included two copies of the Lilliput double CD album, the deluxe LP version of Lonely Is an Eyesore as well as the wooden box version, a limited edition of 100 boxes, intended for the artists on the 4*A*D label. Although fifty were on general sale when it was released in 1987.

I had sent my copy of Rick Pointer’s book Vaughan Oliver: Visceral Pleasures to Vaughan sometime in late summer of 2001 with a letter asking for a signature, but I hadn’t heard anything from him. I was going to London in November 2001 and I therefore planned a visit to v23’s studio in south west London. So I packed the lid from my Lonely Is an Eyesore box, my copy of limited edition of This Rimy River and a copy of the Lilliput CD album in the hope that he would sign them. I popped down to the studio one day but neither Vaughan nor Chris Bigg were there, so I left a business card. I returned mid morning on, I think, the 16th, and Vaughan welcomed me as the weird Swede, having seen my business card. We had a chat and I aasked him about my Visceral Pleasures book, which he immediately produced and signed.

Vaughan Oliver’s dedication in Visceral Pleasures.

I showed him the other stuff I had with me and he graciously signed everything! Then Chris Bigg reminded him they had a lunch meeting at 4*A*D to re-negociate their contract! So Vaughan suggest I pop to the local pub and grab some lunch and then have a look through v23’s poster archive to see if there were any posters I would like. I picked about 20 which Vaughan gave me when he and Chris returned from their meeting.

I sold most of my 4*A*D / Vaughan Oliver collection in 2013. probably the only part of my extensive record and poster collection that I today regret parting with. However, I have catalogued my complete record collection online and can view all the 4*A*D records and CDs I had had. And, of course, I can listen to them on Spotify.

Vaughan Oliver died in December 2019, a year after his magnum opus Vaughan Oliver: Archive – a two-volume resumé of his career was published. I’m ashamed to say, I only found out about it recently. It’s a limited edition and very difficult to find now.

So all I have left of my Vaughan Oliver collection are the 23 Envelope posters, Pieter Nooten’s LP Sleeps With the Fishes (that I consider the most beautiful v23 cover), the limited edition of This Rimy River and the little paperback Vaughan Oliver and v23 Poster Designs, published to celebrate 4*A*D’s 25th anniversary. I shall treasure them all.

Pieter Nooten & Michael Brook – “Sleeps With the Fishes” cover design by V23 with calligraphy by Chris Bigg.

Thank you Martin Aston for rekindling my interest in all things 4*A*D.

7 thoughts on “My Love Affair with 4*A*D Isn’t Over …”

  1. Did your limited edition of Rimy River orange binding start coming apart from the plexi? Mine did but I didn’t want to mess it up with glue.

      1. Ahh, thank you! I’m thinking of selling it, and the Lonely is an Eyesore album and a few other VO things. It was interesting to read your blog. So far, I haven’t been able to – but thinking about it!

      2. Apparently the leather was originally stuck with some kind of double-sided tape and my local upholsterer uses something similar. AsI think I mentioned in the post, I took my copy along with some orher stuff to meet Vaughan and Chris and got everything signed! I’m not sure if there currently is a viable market for VO’s designs despite his demise. It seems that 4AD collectors have faded away. I sold my collection 10 years ago — and I’m just beginning to regret it. Still, most of the designs are in VO’s Archive book (the two volume version, which I’m glad I recently got hold of.)

      3. Archive book from Unit Editions? I have the red one still in the package – I think it’s called Fragments and Desires? Thanks for the information, I will continue to hoard my VO items for now – ha!

      4. Hi again
        I was lucky to be able to pick up a slightly used copy of the VO: Archive two volume edition for a reasonable price and my most recent VO buy is the limited edition of Martin Aston’s Facing the Wrong Way – The Story of 4AD. I also have Shinto Ohtake’s Tokyo Salamander designed by VO. Unfortunately, I sold my copy of the This Rimy River. Perhaps I’ll try to replace it at some point.

  2. Also how fantastic that you got to meet Vaughan – wow! I went to a conference that he was supposed to speak at and he cancelled – sadly due to substance issues I believe.

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