From the Archive; Aubrey Powell interviewed

Screen Shot of Pink Floyd's exhibition website

Screen Shot of Pink Floyd’s exhibition website

With the Victoria and Albert Museum staging the blockbuster exhibition, Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains, and an upcoming talk by Aubrey Powell titled, ‘Art of Hipgnosis and the Album Cover’ (14/9/2017), here’s an interview with the man himself. Back in 2000 I spoke with Aubrey on the phone while curating an exhibition, Sound Design, for the British Council, which featured the very best British record sleeve designs from the heyday of Rock to the rebellion of Punk, the eccentricities of New Wave and the innovations of Rave and Rare Groove.

The exhibition included extracts of interviews with all the contributing record sleeve designers but the complete interviews were not published, even though the designers gave permission for them to be compiled into a book. The publishing industry being what it was, at the time, the book didn’t fly, so look out for more interviews on this blog. My questions were quite general; the aim was to get the designers talking about what interested them. The interviews were edited from longer conversations, but I tried to keep the designer’s tone of voice, and each interviewee signed off on the final version. What’s particularly interesting is that at the time vinyl had been replaced by digital technology in the form of CDs; Web 2.0, online downloads and MP3s were still ‘experimental’ and the first Apple iPod wouldn’t be launched for another year. The implications of the Internet for the music industry were beginning to be talked about but not yet felt.

Why am I posting this interview now? To celebrate the work of Aubrey Powell and his (late) partner, colleagues and clients, and the V&A exhibition that he helped to create, which I also hope to review. For more information on the exhibition visit the band’s exhibition website and the museum’s extensive programme, here. To see masses of images check out the websites dedicated to Hipgnosis and Aubrey Powell; for the best of Hipgnosis’s work in print have a look at Aubrey’s book, Vinyl . Album . Cover . Art: The Complete Hipgnosis Catalogue, published by Thames and Hudson.

Aubrey Powell, interviewed by Liz Farrelly on 5/7/2000.

Liz Farrelly: How did you start Hipgnosis?

Aubrey Powell: We started Hipgnosis in the 1960s…It’s not what you know it’s who you know and Storm Thorgersen and I came from Cambridge and Pink Floyd originated in Cambridge – Syd Barrett, Dave Gilmore, Roger Waters – we all came to London at the same time, around 1965/66 and were all attending various art schools. Storm was at the Royal College of Art film school, and I was at the London School of Film Technique. Syd Barrett was at Hornsey Art School. And we were very together, all coming from Cambridge. We shared flats; Storm and I and then Syd and Dave had a big flat in South Kensington. Storm and I were looking to get some holiday money and we had a connection to photograph some cowboy book covers, and at the time everybody was getting stoned and dropping acid and were very drug-oriented. We were right in the middle of that psychedelic revolution. We were all part of that. Pink Floyd were doing gigs in tiny clubs like the UFO club on Tottenham Court Road and had just released their first album and were about to have a hit called See Emily play.
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From the Archive (and now); Destroy, punk and DIY

So an email arrived inviting me to the launch of Punk.London at Oxford Street’s 100 Club, and I have to admit it didn’t totally intrigue me. Instead in gushed cloudy memories of a dark, sweaty cellar and an uncomfortable din, which I must have endured (it feels like) a hundred times over a couple of decades. But a closer look at the invite revealed this to be an occasion for nostalgia, a celebration of a 40-year anniversary marking London’s punk moment and the start of a movement, a subculture in fact, the long-tail of which has affected both attire and attitude.

Screen Shot from Punk.London website, designed by Brody Associates, inviting D-I-Y participation in a city-wide cultural event

Screen Shot from Punk.London website, designed by Brody Associates, inviting D-I-Y participation in a city-wide cultural event

“Subversive Culture” is the strapline (pardon the bondage-tinged pun), which it is claimed has fuelled creativity (now the Creative Industries) ever since. Over the coming year a host of venues will stage events big and small, backed by the Greater London Authority (GLA); shouting about London’s past punk credentials must have tourist-attracting potential. With an identity and online hub branded by Neville Brody (still demonstrating punk attitude by being “notoriously abrasive”, according to Digital Arts), for me the most innovative element is an prompt to organise your own event; tagged “D.I.Y.” the page offers links to branding and fundraising advice, via the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

Regardless of designated anniversaries punk is perennial, and it doesn’t need much of an excuse to hit the headlines. In 1998 I reviewed an exhibition, Destroy: Punk Graphic Design in Britain, and because it isn’t available on the magazine’s website I’m re-posting it, see below. Yes it was cheeky of me to declare punk to be the only “memorable cultural event in the 1970s”, but that’s a clue to my age. I may have been “witness” to the “heyday of punk” but only just; the article is unapologetically London-centric, too, hardly surprising as I was still at school and London was home. What isn’t mentioned is that I was a lender to the show too, having amassed a substantial collection of vinyl due to a fascination with indie record shops. I sold most of the best bits (the vultures were already circling at the Private View) as I became nomadic, leaving London in April 1998, and had neither the means (no turntable) nor inclination (changing musical tastes) to listen again.
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Club to Catwalk, legacy or nostalgia?

Club to Catwalk poster

Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
10 July 2013 to 16 February 2014
Visited 18 August and 20 September 2013

This long running exhibition was hotly anticipated, but it was not without its flaws, which became more obvious, as I made two extended visits to the show, and thanks to my V&A Membership Card, countless quick pop-ins. Each visit brought more to my attention, and also made me wish for more…like a kid in a candy shop. I lived through this time and as a young Londoner was a regular at a wide range of night clubs from the rockabilly Gaz’s Rocking Blues to the proto-rave of Delirium (I even worked at The Wag). I also shopped like it was going out of style (of course, it wasn’t) and owned garments by many of the featured designers, picked up in their tiny Covent Garden shops, at Kensington Market on a Saturday and Camden on a Sunday, at Jones and Browns, and up and down the Kings Road. Most of those treasures are long gone as I gave piles of clothes away before going on a long trip in the late 1990s, and sold some of the choicer pieces. There are just a few frocks still carefully preserved… One of my students asked me what from my early 20s (her age) am I nostalgic about, and mostly it is these garments, as I try to recall particular outfits and what I might have looked like. Back then we didn’t walk around with camera phones and there are so few photos of those nights out.

About the show…
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PUNK, but not as I knew it

The DIY Gallery at PUNK: Chaos to Couture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, featuring its “designationed punk”, Sid Vicious

The DIY Gallery at PUNK: Chaos to Couture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, featuring its “designationed punk hero”, Sid Vicious

PUNK: Chaos to Couture
The Costume Institute of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.
9 May to 14 August 2013
Visited 12 May 2013

What’s to be said about a “blockbuster exhibition”? Having reached saturation point due to blanket press coverage, you’ll dutifully add it to your list of “things to do this summer”, remembering to avoid weekends, bank holidays and school half-term…

If it’s the Metropolitan Museum’s annual summer exhibition, you’ve probably also ogled the fabulous frocks and wardrobe malfunctions that clad celebrities (from Aye to Zee) at the Met Ball (proper title, the Costume Institute Gala). We have Diana Vreeland as “special consultant” to thank for kicking off the exhibit-themed frivolities back in 1971 (the film, Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel investigates Vreeland’s role at the museum). Now the Met Ball is run by Vogue and raises millions of dollars annually for the museum.
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