I suppose it was bound to happen! Early in 2016 Sir Peter Blake painted a couple of portraits of his good friend Eric Clapton and these appeared on the cover of the programme for Clapton’s seventieth birthday celebration concerts at Madison Square Garden and The Royal Albert Hall in May 2016. However, the official album of the concerts “Slowhand at 70“–a tripple LP with DVD–did not use the Blake portraits at all. However, two unofficial CD releases included both (please see my previous post on these). Now we know why the “Slowhand at 70” cover didn’t use the Blake portraits–Clapton was saving them for his next studio album “I Still Do“, released on 16th May 2016, exactly one year after the 70th birthday concerts.
The front and rear covers of Clapton’s 2016 album “I Still Do”.
The front cover is beautiful in that Clapton and the record company have chosen not to place either the album’s title or Clapton‘s name on it, but rather allow Blake‘s lovely portrait to send the message. This is the second time Clapton has allowed an unadorned portrait to grace the cover of one of his albums–the previous one was 2004’s “Me and Mr Johnson“.
I have to thank Guy Minnebach for pointing out that these two covers join Andy Warhol‘s cover for “The Velvet Underground & Nico” and Martin Kann‘s cover for bob hund‘s “Omslag: Martin Kann” as the only covers that have the graphic designer’s/painter’s name on the cover rather than the artists’ or the album’s title.
I think the latest album cover by Sir Peter Blake is one of his best. It emphasises just what a great portraitist he is.
During the past few months I have been concentrating on Sir Peter Blake’s record cover art and trying to do some in-depth research to find out how his record covers came about, who made the commissions, which techniques he used, upon which photographs were illustrations based and any other facts, relevant or not. I have tried to contact the artists involved where possible. I have also nurtured a lust to get hold of the one item of Peter Blake‘s record cover art that I had not managed to find. I refer to the Genesis Publication’s set “24 Nights – The Limited Edition. Music by Eric Clapton / Drawings by Peter Blake“. This box set included two books – a “Scrapbook“, an A4 sized book of Peter Blake‘s drawings and photographs and a 58-page “Commentary” by Derek Taylor – some “memorabilia” comprising a badge, guitar strings, four plectra and a backstage pass from the Journeyman tour and two photographs of Eric Clapton. This set was published in a numbered edition of 3,500 copies as well as a further 200 copies numbered in Roman numerals “for review purposes”. All copies were signed by both Peter Blake and Eric Clapton. Published in 1991, it soon sold out.
The cast: Eric Clapton (born 30th March 1945)- legendary guitarist and lover of the Blues. Peter Blake (born 25th June 1932) – equally legendary artist. Derek Taylor (1932-2008) – Journalist, author, friend of the above and former press officer for The Beatles. Brian Roylance (1945-2005) – founder of Genesis Publications and friend of all three above. Roger Forrester (born August 1949) – Eric Clapton’s manager until 1998.
The 24 night series of concerts at London’s Royal Albert Hall were to be the finale to Eric Clapton‘s “Journeyman” world tour that played 153 concerts in 78 cities around the world over 14 months and were seen by almost 2.5 million fans. The tour was a promotional tour for Eric’s 1989 album “Journeyman” and his record company Reprise Records, a Warner Brothers subsidiary, planned a live album to be released after the tour. Eric Clapton knew Brian Roylance (1945-2005) the founder of Genesis Publications and suggested a documentation of the tour. Warner Brothers commissioned Peter Blake to paint a portrait of Eric Clapton, and wanted three other artists to do the same for an album to be called “Four Faces of Eric Clapton” but in the end only Peter Blake was commissioned instead to draw four portraits. Peter Blake had not met Eric at this time.
The Journeyman tour started in Birmingham on January 14th 1990 and ended at the Royal Albert Hall on March 9th 1991. There was a break for Christmas from 13th December 1990 until 31st January 1991 when it would resume in Dublin. The band reconvened in Dublin earlier to rehearse. Brian Roylance wanted Eric Clapton‘s longtime friend Derek Taylor (1932-2008) to write a commentary to the project and asked Derek and his wife Joan to travel to Dublin to be at the rehearsals. Peter Blake arrived in Dublin around the 26th January and had dinner with Roger Forrester who asked Blake if he liked Eric Clapton’s music. Blake replied, “No, I’ve never been a fan. I hate long guitar solos.”
Peter Blake had access all areas to make his sketches and said everyone got so used to him being around that they hardly noticed him. He could sketch freely. He followed Eric Clapton back to England and continued sketching at the Royal Albert Hall and at the two blues concerts at the Brixton Academy on February 21st and 22nd, 1991. Warner Reprise Records got their cover drawing for the “24 Nights” album released on 8th October 1991.
Twenty-five years after the release of the “24 Nights” album and Genesis Publications’ box set I managed to get hold of my own copy of this wonderful set. And thanks to Derek Taylor‘s “Commentary” book included in the set and Peter Blake‘s detailed notes in the “Scrapbook” have helped me piece together this story.
I know that sometime ago I boasted that I had completed my collection of record covers designed by Damien Hirst. Well, I was premature. I have also said that that I own copies of all the records designed by Sir Peter Blake – again I was premature. At least I have never (yet) said I have every Warhol cover design.
Like most collectors, I do regular Internet searches looking for new items designed by my favourite record sleeve designers. One regular Ebay vendor manages with surprising regularity to find covers that I have missed. You can imagine how irritated that makes me, particularly as these covers are usually quite difficult to find at other (cheaper) sites. Well, this vendor turned up a Dave Stewart 12″ maxi single of remixes of his “Heart of Stone” single. I couldn’t find another copy anywhere else at the time so I bought this one. It cost me an arm and a leg, but that’s he way it goes sometimes. When checking Dave Stewart’s discography later I found the there was another 12″ remix EP with cover art by Damien Hirst and Jason Beard. I managed to find a copy for $4 so that felt better.
Just a few weeks ago I saw another little Damien Hirst gem on Ebay that I had never seen before. This time from a seller in the US. It was a promotional USB stick for The Hours’ album “See the Light”. The stick was shaped like a skull with clock faces in each eye socket – typical Damien Hirst! There cannot be many of these around as I haven’t seen one advertised before (there is one on Discogs just now). The asking price was $99 + shipping. It didn’t sell the first couple of times it was advertised, so I put in a cheeky bid of $50, which the vendor accepted! So now it has joined my collection.
I was scanning different sites looking for any new Peter Blake cover art when I saw that an art gallery in Brighton was offering two limited edition posters of the cover art for Brian Wilson’s “Gettin’ in Over My Head” and Landscape’s “Manhattan Boogie-Woogie” albums. These were editions of 250 each and were 48.25 x 48.25 cm (19 x 19″) in size. They are priced at £1200 each! Peter Blake had told me about the four cover designs he had made that were never used. The Landscape design was one and thus I didn’t have the cover. The other three were for albums by Steeleye Span, Ray Davies and Robbie Williams. Apparently the Steeleye Span and Ray Davies designs are lost. Robbie Williams wanted to use his portrait by Peter Blake on a cover but the record company refused.
Well, I got hold of a high definition file of the “Manhattan Boogie-Woogie” print and scaled it down to LP format and printed a poster and several record album slicks. I took my copy of the Landscape album and photographed the back cover and got it printed in LP format and stuck the front and back together to make a sort of album cover for my collection. I don’t dare say my Peter Blake album collection is complete, though, just in case one of the “lost” covers turns up sometime!
Well – Sir Peter Blake, Damien Hirst, Banksy and Klaus Voormann are all still alive and kicking, so hopefully more covers will come from all of them. I hope I shall be around to collect them.
On October 25th 2013 Damien Hirst’s 22nd record cover for Babyshambles’ “Fall From Grace”, the band’s second single from their “Sequel to the Prequel” album was released on September 2nd 2013. The album cover as well as both singles had cover design by Hirst, who with this latest cover passed the number of covers designed by Sir Peter Blake. Depending a little on how one defines a Peter Blake cover, Blake has produced 21 covers in the 47 years since Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released in 1967. This cover was, of course, designed by Blake and his then wife Jann Haworth – and so should be regarded as a joint effort. The cover for Madness’ limited edition CD version of “Oui, Oui, Si, Si, Ja, Ja, Da, Da” has him pictured on the cover, but the design is by Paul Agar with photography by Perou.
I do not suppose many would argue with me if I suggest that much of Damien Hirst’s art is ugly. Dissected animals or fish in formalin tanks, skulls (even when encrusted with diamonds) do not appear beautiful to these eyes. And Damien Hirst’s record covers fit the mould. His first record cover art was for Dave Stewart’s “Greetings From the Gutter” released in 1994. Hirst’s first covers are really unremarkable – the six variously coloured gas tubes with tubing attached on the Dave Stewart album and the dissection of an egg by two rubber-gloved hands on the “Heart of Stone” single from Stewart’s album are hardly design masterpieces. These are followed by Hirst’s ugliest covers; the CD for Fat Les’ “Vindaloo” with foldout poster and “Yalla Yalla” the single from Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros’ album “Rock Art & The X-ray Style” from 1999. For the album, Hirst drew a series of matchstick men reminiscent of stone-age cave paintings or aboriginal art and these figures appeared on the “Bankrobber 99” promotional single as well.
In 2006, Hirst became manager for the band The Hours and designed the covers for their first album “Narcissus Road” and the singles taken from it; “Ali in the Jungle” and “Back When You Were Good”. These were released on the A & M label.
Hirst made a limited edition of 210 spin-painted skulls as holders for the CD retailing at a cool £4,500 each!
Hirst then started his own record label “Is Good” and The Hours’ second album “See the Light” was released on the label, again with cover art by him. The album was released on gatefold vinyl and a double 12″ single “See the Light” was also released. And, as had been for the singles from “Narcissus Road”, each was decorated with more of Hirst’s skull designs.
In February 2008 the cover of TAR Magazine used Damien Hirst’s portrait of Kate Moss where the right side of her face was dissected down to the muscles. The following year, Hirst released a white vinyl, one-sided 12″ single with the same image on the cover. Hirst’s given name was misspelt on the record label: “Damian”. The single was released in a numbered edition of 666 copies and is currently very sought after.
Hirst’s next cover “I’m With You” for The Red Hot Chili Peppers (2011) revisited two of his earlier subjects, drugs represented by a coloured capsule and decay, represented by a single fly on the capsule.
Hirst designed the cover for the band 30 Seconds to Mars’ fourth album “Love Lust Faith & Dreams” in May 2013 and used his polka dot pattern. The album was released on CD and vinyl and in a limited edition boxed set with the LP, a double CD, a book and four prints.
Later the same year Hirst designed the covers for Babyshambles’ “Sequel to the Prequel” album and the two singles released from it that autumn; “Nothing Comes From Nothing” and “Fall From Grace”. According to Babyshambles’ bassist Drew McConnell reported in NME: “It happened kind of naturally and in the spirit you’d hope for. We asked Damien to suggest someone to put something together, then to our amazement he offered to do it himself. The fact that he used a pic taken by Pennie Smith, who shot all those iconic photos of The Clash (Damien’s old pal Joe Strummer’s band), just makes it make even more sense.”
So those are Damien Hirst’s first 22 covers from his first twenty years of record cover design 1994 – 2013.
And, as is my wont, I’ll list one cover ascribed to Damien Hirst that is not by him. According to Wikipedia Hirst did prepare a design for the cover for the Band Aid 20 single “Do They Know It’a Christmas?”. His design showing the grim reaper and a starving child was considered too scary and was dropped. Mat Maitland at Big Active, a designer in his own right who has designed covers for Michael Jackson and others was commissioned to design the replacement. Rumour has it that Hirst released a limited edition print of his design for the cover. But I have, thus far, not been able to find one.