Two record cover and poster designers that have inspired me both in my art and in my collecting have died recently. Vaughan Oliver, famous for his record covers, primarily for 4AD, and posters died on 29th December, 2019 just 62 years old.
And less than a month later on 24th January, 2020, Wes Wilson, legendary San Francisco poster artist died aged 82.
Flashback–It’s 1967-8 and I’m a medical student at Guy’s Hospital in London. On Saturdays I would walk along Kings Road in Chelsea visiting hip boutiques and girl watching. Somewhere along there I bought some Fillmore Auditorium and Avalon Ballroom handbills and in a record shop at World’s End bought “The Psychedelic Sounds of the Thirteenth Floor Elevators” and the band’s second album “Easter Everywhere” (with the lyric sheet included). The handbills cost two shillings to half a crown in those days, which was quite a lot of money (10p/15p in modern parlance by with considerably greater buying power). Eventually I had collected more than forty by the likes of Victor Moscoso (ten), Stanley Mouse (four), Rick Griffin (four) and, of course, Wes Wilson (fourteen).
I was on the entertainments committee (not actually a committee, just some students who wanted to organise parties) at the hospital’s Student’s Union and together with fellow medical student Andrew Batch, painted posters for rave-ups that we called Inflam. My posters were heavily influenced by the psychedelic posters I had found on the Kings Road. We painted four copies of each poster to hang on the various notice boards around the Hospital and they attracted quite a lot of attention. I offered one to the shop Gear on Carnaby Street, which they we willing to buy for £25, but I thought that was too cheap, so I (idiot) refused the offer.
I still have my handbills, all 41 of them.
I did actually qualify despite my partying and actually practiced as a doctor doing my various junior posts in London and Norwich, all the while collecting records and posters. many of which I ripped from walls around London. Records with great cover art predominated even if there were many soul records. I had first editions of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Their Satanic Majesties Request, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother & The Holding Company, Country Joe & The Fish, Doors and Neil Young records and even bought Velvet Underground & Nico and White Light/White Heat.
Fast forward to the eighties. I discovered Victorialand, a Cocteau Twins album with cover art by 23 Envelope and thereby discovered 4AD records and began an almost obsessional race to collect album covers by Vaughan Oliver and 23 Envelope (Oliver‘s cooperation with Nigel Grierson) and v23 (his collaboration with Chris Bigg and others). I collected posters, calenders, 4AD catalogues and even had a little brass 4AD pin (I wonder what happened to that?) In the end my Vaughan Oliver collection included all the 4AD rarities, including the wooden box version of Lonely Is an Eyesore. My 4AD records went when I had to sell my collection, but I still have the first cover Vaughan designed for the company — the of Modern English‘s Gathering Dust seven-inch single.
I bought a folder of fifteen 23 Envelope posters for £9.99 that I still have and also bought the softback This Rimy River (which went with my record collection), however I still have the limited edition of This Rimy River (No 65 of 400) which I took with me to v23‘s office/studio in November 2001 and got Vaughan to autograph it for me. He also signed Rick Poyner‘s book Vaughan Oliver: Visceral Pleasures, and the lid of of my Lonely Is an Eyesore box. I arrived at v23 at around 11 a.m. and introduced myself and started chatting about my collection. Suddenly it was lunchtime and Vaughan and Chris Bigg suddenly remembered they had an appointment at 4AD to re-negotiate their contract. So the suggested I look through their poster archive and then pop round the corner for some lunch and they’d come back after their meeting. Vaughan let me take a selection of posters from the archive as a souvenir of my visit.
I am deeply grateful to both these artists for the inspiration their work has given me.