Don DeLillo

The following post was commissioned by Picador as a part of their 40 year anniversary. You will no-doubt know I was their long-standing art director so I cut the introduction. Picador asked me to recount the process of this specific jacket design

. . . in full flow and inspired by those around me – and, most importantly, the fabulous writers under the Picador umbrella – I was joyfully drawn to experiment. Not from recklessness, as there was a weight of responsibility to the writers, but more a matter of looking to the differences. What made them unique. Special. Inspiration for my design work on Picador would not be other book covers. More likely it would be the text, music, foreign stamps, artists and explorers.

Explorers? Long before the appellation of ‘renaissance man’ was attached to his name, I was intrigued by the work of Brian Eno. I was an art student when Roxy Music was an art school band. And I thought they were pants once Eno left. By the time I was working on the book jacket for Don DeLillo’s White Noise, Eno’s seminal collaboration with David ByrneMy Life in the Bush of Ghosts, was fizzing around life and work. Eno had produced the LP/CD image himself, too. White Noise as a title, and as a notion, seemed to me to resonate perfectly with his work, and I commissioned him to illustrate the jacket.

Over-ambitious? Maybe. But I took a risk. Sadly, it didn’t come off. I didn’t feel I could use the results. Very hard to do when I admired him so much, but the book had to come first. Art directors take the reflected glory from the successes so, we too, must take the responsibility when it just doesn’t work out. No criticism of Brainy Brian from me – his work on the Picador catalogue was fabulous, by the way.

But there was now a big problem for me. A design concept I thought an open goal was now a big headache. (I’m not a writer – well not a real one – but I can mix my metaphors).

Going back to quiz my instincts on the book, I found I was fumbling for a visual equivalent of white noise. The sleeve of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts had put TV feedback in my mind and, in addition to the sonic title/trigger, had led me to Eno. In need of a ‘wild card’, I turned to Oblique Strategies, which is a set of cards Eno produced with Peter Schmidt in 1975. They are sharp notes to short-circuit tired thinking. And this was no time for creative block! The enigmatic messages on the cards are “evolved from our separate observations of the principles underlying what we were doing. Sometimes they were recognized in retrospect (intellect catching up with intuition) . . .” Picking up random cards some irritated me in the way fortune cookies do. But one or two sparked across the synapses: “Assemble some of the elements in a group and treat the group”  and “Imagine the piece as a set of disconnected events”. One card read, “You can only make one dot at a time”. These phrases reminded me that a company called Imagine had approached me to demo their new computer graphics thingy. The computer and terminal were huge! This was 1984, so just ahead of Apple Mac’s breakthrough with their first computer that went on to become ubiquitous in the design industry and to revolutionise it in some ways.

In short, I felt emboldened in by the notion that serendipity rather than standard practice may be a more productive way to work around the problem I had with this book jacket design. I called Imagine and booked two hours with a computer operator. I called my creative buddy Russell Mills with the scantiest of outlines and asked him to bring a connected object to Imagine’s office next morning. I think he chose the megaphone, or ‘crowd hailer’ as I called it. I took my Braun alarm clock. And a picture of an F1 driver (Ayrton Senna, I recall) in his flame-proofs from the day’s newspaper.

And no plan.

Around my notional framework of a wall of TV screens with a lot of signal interference, we played with the pixels. Never having touched a computer before. Designing ‘live’, more by intuition than literal reasoning. Flying by the seat of our pants.

The spine is a de-construction of the front. The back a further degeneration of the front.

The result is evocative more than literal. A little oblique? Sure. In that decade Picador was something of a research lab in every department.

Despite putting no physical hand on the design is seemed to me correct to credit Brian Eno. And Russell. As it was, being on staff, to leave my name off.

Nick Hornby

Arsenal. They had a seemingly impossible first leg deficit of 4-0 to AC Milan to overcome and I wanted to see them do it. 3-0 up at halftime . . . It was true Roy of the Rovers stuff. Or, to younger viewers Nick Hornby stuff. Hornby is an obssessive Arsenal fan and eloquently articulates the terrain of football and the nature of fandom in Fever Pitch. I had distanced myself from Chelsea for some time because of crowd violence. Hornby expressed the nature of being a thinking fan in a sport plagued by hooligism and it resonated with me as a reader.

The cover design of Fever Pitch was by Ian Craig. And jolly good it was too.

Nick Hornby

My involvement was in the late 90s, with Nick Hornby’s editor Liz Knights, as a client at Gollancz and the cover of High Fidelity in particular. The hardback jacket had a blue high-contast face on it. It wasn’t too hot, to be honest, but it had a high recognition factor and my task was to use it but bring more to the party for the paperback. I spent much of my youth in record shops and loved Nick’s account and his personal writing style (Sweet man to meet though we didn’t get to know each other well). I added a vinyl record, dub-stylee, and played with the type, adding selective varnishes. Little more to say except that was liked and sold very well. A happy tale thus far . . .

I worked with Liz on trying to establish the Indigo imprint of Gollancz, with Hornby as the flagship. We worked together through her battle with that foul stalker, cancer. Despite extraordinary valiance, the malign disease claimed her. Without Liz the imprint struggled on for a while. Hornby’s new novel was delivered yet I was hearing nothing about the crucial jacket design briefing. Concerned, I asked for a meeting to discuss it. O Dear. Through the glass security door I saw the brief being hurriedly written en route to the meeting. It read ‘Hornbyesque’.

With a working title of Father & Son it tells of the relationship of an adult playing down his age and a rather grown up boy ~ hence my proposed design motif:

Nick Hornby

Sadly, it was rejected. So it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut would say. They went with another design group and the book’s final title was About a Boy. Now retired art director, George Sharpe, called to express concern when a remarkably similar idea coincidentally turned up from the same stable on Tony Parson’s first novel. I just let it go, it’s just an idea, right . . ?

A tale of former glories and ‘We wuz robbed‘. But, as Arsene Wenger might say, ‘You can’t win them all, even if you play your best game‘.

Hibrow – images

At last I have been able to design a website without the miserable prospect of wrestling with Dreamweaver. Since it’s absorbtion into Adobe Creative Suite I had hoped it would work as smoothly as Photoshop. But it doesn’t.

Sorry but the simplest code makes my forehead bleed. And the Hibrow site is very ambitious. Joy of joys, the team had engaged the boffins at Code Circus to deliver the build, integrated with the systems of Don Boyd. I was given free space to create in. Which, in turn, meant Tim & Tom, at Code Circus went through several meetings where they had clearly concluded I was certifiably bonkers. But hey, their site is ‘under construction’!

Hibrow - images

Quite soon the muse and the crews began to dance in step. More the Mashed-Potato than a Waltz at the start but it worked . . . In fact it worked very well. I’d certainly work with them again.

Setting about the website design for Hibrow it quickly became apparent that the wealth of content would need good organisation to help the users’ experience. One of the principal aspects to address were the six categories of the arts covered; Art, Music, Literature, Theatre, Dance & Cinema.

We wanted quick, easy to use navigation and, naturally, as few clicks as possible to get to the content desired. Colour coding helped in this. But pace is important. It is a given in Book, Magazine and Publication design but often overlooked in Web design. A dense, repetitive site can tire or bore a user. This is less of a problem for Hibrow, as the content is primarily HD Video, but the issue remains, especially over time, as the volume of content grows. With Hibrow it will accomodate around 10 hours of new material every month. So pace is a matter of much importance in forward design planning.

We developed category ‘Title’ pages, gathering some great talent to showcase each section and set the mood for the audience. We are really pleased with these launch contributions. I could easily over-gush with the adjectives for these talented people. Do check out their websites to see more of their terrific creative work . . .

Hibrow - images

The celebrated Dan Fern allowed us to use a detail of ‘Cantus 4’ which uses painted threads on a linen-backed map. ‘Cantus’ is the title of a piece of music by Arvo Pärt. A favourite of the artist (and mine). Watch out for Dan’s new Roots work. It is beautiful.

Hibrow - images

I had seen this image at the Degree shows at Plymouth University last year. It is by Graphic Design graduate Pippa Jupe and is one part of a series which plays with the printed book form. I love it when I can use or commission work for people early in their careers.

Hibrow - images

A section of a painting from the work of Ian Walton ‘X-11’. His large, wonderful canvases and installations have always fascinated me. I have bought several over the years.

 dance-scaled1000

 

A striking exhibition at the Bowie Gallery in Totnes prompted the choice of these crab claws by artist Ione Rucquoi. Thought-provoking images. Intrigued to see where they lead . . .

 cinema-scaled1000

 

Thanks to digital communications to Bangkok, Thailand for making delivery of this sumptuous shot from the wonderful photographer, Simon Larbalestier. Cineaste, Don Boyd cooed over this one!

Hibrow - images

The Music category hit last minute snags! Well one out of six . . . But, not to be defeated I took my Höfner Violin Bass out into the garden and gently placed it in the sunshine, on an old gate. And shot it myself.

They make rather nice digital postcards too. But don’t forget the link to www.hibrow.tv

Do you have a favourite?

Hibrow – the Arts online

Last summer Joanne Jacobs, introduced me to a new project called Hibrow that was yet to find the right designer. It immediately made me sit up and listen as, 1. Joanne is a highly focussed individual and, 2. The project was creatively led and the brainchild of Don Boyd, Film Director & Producer. At a great meeting I found a man fizzing with infectious enthusiasm and very determined to realise his dream of bringing HD video of the Arts online. His insistence on quality and  high production values was inspiring. I probably talked too much and doubtless made some inappropriate quips but common cause was quickly established.

Hibrow – the Arts online

I’ll post about the wider project soon but, for now, I just wanted to say a word or two about the logo. After a huge effort from many talented people Hibrow just launched at The Crypt, St Martins-in-the-Fields, London and I determined to tap on the straining keyboard before the week was out. The party contained much grooviness and was richly sprinkled by luminaries including John Hurt, Gary Kemp, Floella Benjamin and, nah, I’ll stop there. After all this isn’t Hello! magazine.

Hibrow – the Arts online

Sorry, back to the logo, dear design groupies. Well, I had a free brief, the passionate zeal of The Don, the force of nature that is Jo Jacobs, the shrewd young eye of Dominic Dowbekin – and the planet-wide lovers of Art, Music, Theatre, Dance, Literature and Cinema as the target audience. What pressure?

An initial introductory meeting helped me take the temperature of the venture. Soon I had the pulse of the beast. A classy wide-ranging labour of love and endevour. Click the ‘Like’ button. But I gave a lot of thought to the name itself to tease out the nuances. On the positive side it implies educated, up-market, sophisticated, informed and cultured – which Hibrow certainly is. But I saw a danger of jibes from naysayers at an implication of pretention or being a teenie-tiny bit up itself – which it certainly isn’t! So my design takes a classical stance but with just a little humour. A dig in its own ribs, as it were. Ribs I look forward to mildly tickling as Hibrow grows. Such as the video lead-in which Chris Ennis skillfully helped me make move as intended!

HiBROW Front Bumper_WithPip_H264_WEB_MASTER_STEREO_1

More on the website soon. For now please have a good old explore on the site . . . http://www.hibrow.tv

For now, just the logo.

Do you like it?

 

The Fellowship of the Ring, Rotterdam

There is a fair amount to say about design, its inception, creation, execution, reactions and reception. (Let’s skip occasional perdition.) Strictly speaking this blog is intended to highlight the back-stories to some of my design projects. This one ends back stage.

The Fellowship of the Ring, de Doelen, Rotterdam
But the fact is that the more involved you become with your work the more the work/life thingy blurs. One good part of life celebrates another. That is how it seems to go with me and The Lord of the Rings. Every time I get involved there seems to be a coming together of events. I have put iQuill to App before about Doug Adams‘ splendid book and you can read more about it via this link. And those of you who are as yet unaware the enormity of this book/film/music project may well have just missed the point, possibly got sniffy about Middle-earth and gone off to watch celebrity wrestling. Bear with me.

For my curmudgeonly disposition slips into pleasure at the thought of this past week in Holland. Eurostar to Brussels was superb. And through ticketed to Rotterdam for less than a train from Exeter to London – shame on you First Great Western. Towards the end of that leg of the journey we chatted with a charming Dutch cellist who had just completed her music finals in London. Onwards, switching to regular trains as we hurtled onward through the Belgian countryside I became aware of the chap next to me. As did fellow passengers. A young man with tousled curly hair was peering at an unopened Tupperware lunch box. Through a crack in the lid he stared intently and the salad within. Frequently putting it back in his bag before nervously re-examining it at frequent intervals.
The Fellowship of the Ring, de Doelen, Rotterdam

When the going gets weird the weird get going“as someone once said (who was it? Hunter S. Thompson?). For just as I was praising the efficiency of mainland European railways the announcement came over the Tannoy that there was a problem ahead and we were to disembark at the next station and begin a convoluted re-routing involving several trains and a coach. Our cellist companion, the chap with the cracked salad box obsession and ourselves formed a small fellowship of travellers collectively trying to fathom out the increasingly complex travel itinerary in mixed languages.

And that, patient reader, is how I came to find myself in Antwerp as minder to a cello and a box of stick-insects. The owner of the aforementioned Phasmatodea (a unique gift for a friend) was in fact David Buckingham, an accomplished classical guitarist and composer currently appearing in Zorro the musical. You couldn’t make it up.

The Fellowship of the Ring, de Doelen, Rotterdam
Together we chuckled and chatted our way through to Rotterdam where we were greeted by our hosts, Geoff & Doris van Beek. Once work was taken care of (signing-off the graphic identity for ace dentist Geoff van Beek – more on that in a future post) we looked forward to celebrating his birthday. And the fates had conspired to have the band in town that very weekend and, as their guests, we shared with the van Beeks the amazing experience of  a river taxi to Hotel New York for a superb fish lunch followed by a Live to Projection The Lord of the Rings Concert. Converging these dates had depended on the warmth of reception to both the design and the availability of  concert seats. Both went well. Phew!

The concert? Think of the early days of film. Can you picture silent black & white films with musical accompaniment from some berserk crone at the piano? OK. Now forget it. Completely. This is the movie projected in a concert hall with enough musicians performing live, for the whole 3 hours, to constitute a vast sonic army of orchestra and choirs.

The Fellowship of the Ring, de Doelen, Rotterdam

The venue, the impressive Rotterdam venue called de Doelen, in the heart of the city, flanking Schouwburgplein. A concert auditorium and a great conference venue (Like Minds?) There was the familiar, handsome LOTR banner outside. But no people. Well, usual busy city weekend people, but not the usual Tolkein throng. These events draw very large crowds. Seemed odd. Eerie, even. Once inside I realised why. Our host is very well connected and had thoughtfully arranged to introduce us to the de Doelen Director, Mr Gabriël Oostvogel and his team. Such delightful people. Design is a largely back-room activity but they made such a generous fuss of us. Their hospitality was peerless and shared, during the intermission, with the beautiful people of the city. And me such a scruffy English creative!

The concert itself, The Fellowship of the Ring, was sublime. Powerful. Expert. Moving. I dare to say the acoustics may even surpass the more venerable Royal Albert Hall. The industry and power of the event was so impressive. The sheer talent and quality from all concerned was impeccable. And I love the diversity of audiences these concerts attract. Dinner jackets on one side. Shorts and Gandalf T-shirts on the other. But overwhelmingly the power of the emotional resonance of the music of Howard Shore triumphed again. After The Return of the King in London I was not expecting to be quite so moved again by The Fellowship of the Ring in Rotterdam. But we were, of course!  And the van Beeks loved it. The whole audience was ecstatic. Do check this link for YouTube footage, music, review and photographs.

 
And back stage? Permit me a little pride as we were invited back after the performance by the extraordinary conductor Mr. Ludvig Wicki (who is just beaming, joyful and indefatigable off-stage as he is in performance) and his charming wife Beatrice. How he manages to be so bubbly and excited after such an exhaustin and brilliant performance I will never know. So good to have made his acquaintance and I hope we meet again. And the night produced yet another treat as we met the singer, Soloist Kaitlyn Lusk. Wow! What a voice.

The Fellowship of the Ring, de Doelen, Rotterdam

An amazing day. I shall remain forever grateful to Doug Adams inviting me into the world of The Music of The Lord of the Rings Films in 2009. Next Year? Tickets are booked for the de Doelen and The Two Towers concert. See you there?

 

Design Works Site

As designers it is our stock in trade to bring an experienced eye to our clients’ identities. We seek to present a clear message for them. We deploy our Visual Communication skills to show them in a confident, poised stance. Their goods, whether books, music or widgets made sparkly and their services reflecting their best qualities.

Look at me! The graphics cries. I’m shiny, appealing, loaded with character. Desirable, charming company you can enjoy doing business with. My shelves are bursting with must-have goodies. A veritable wizard’s quiver of skills and talents. Resplendent in cool, sharp livery and clearly the dog’s dangley bits in their field.

We have listened closely to ourclients’ problems and aspirations. We have compared the competition and teased out what makes them special in our minds and performed our voodoo on the Mac.

We designers bring focus and objectivity. And hopefully some fun too!

New-site-splash

But what about our shop windows? I reflect on this as I have just re-vamped my website www.day-ellison.com. Frankly it is torture! Andrew Butler at DesignCredo calls it The Cobbler’s Shoes. Personally, I can’t see the shoes for wanting to strip out the cobblers. All your inner conflicts rush to the fore like anarchists at the barricades. Is this piece relevant? Am I being vain? Are SMEs as well represented as the celebrities? Should I make something more prominent? O, the human condition! One minute a carefree Creative Director setting out a succession of successful projects, the next taunted by the Demon Doubt, asking if you know how to re-organize the deck-chairs on the Titanic. Physician, heal thyself!

If you have dallied on my Blog before you will know that I love the English language. Marvelling at its power for clarity and delighting in its potential for whimsy and unruly playtime. But not on my website! I don’t want boastful adjectives and purple promises traipsing through with their out-sized muddy boots. I mean, I must think the better part of my work is good or I could not, in all conscience, release it to any the fab folk whose tags adorn this blog. But I certainly don’t want to lather the pages with sales-pitch. It’s just not me. But do I hamstring my own sales efforts in so doing? Arrrgghh! The Demon Doubt again. Fact is you are not there to apply the same cool-headed objectivity that is your normal daily stock in trade. You are trying to deftly negotiate that minefield of hopes and fears. Alone. With Arvo Pårt doing his level best to be a calming voice through the speakers.

So you try to be as objective as you can and ask other people’s opinions. And listen. Then act on what seems the best advice to you. I am grateful for advice from Joanne Jacobs in particular.

I have worked with a lot of great people and the site shows a good selection. And I have kept it simple. It is tailored to the iPad – that seems the way to go. I am working on a WordPress bridge between the website and this blog. That will have a database where you can search by client/author/title etc.

Could I have your help too? I would love it if you would leave comments/feedback below.

Have a look here: www.day-ellison.com

What do you think?

Cecilia Bartoli

Italy at its very finest. Emiligia Romagna, Tuscany and Umbria in June. I have been lucky enough to be taken along as a pal and support vehicle driver by Greg Hart who is competing in the Modena Centro Ore Classic, Edizione 5a. Greg is racing a 1964 Lotus Elan and winning nearly every event until the diff is killed by an over-zealous marshall at a hill start. The particular moment I want to take you to is a break in a road race stage at an unfeasibly beautiful restaurant in the Umbrian countryside. There is languid heat and hurried linguini for lunch (the race cars tend to arrive at food stops earlier than a Mercedes Van full of equipment and tools! Outside are parked the highly-strung petrol-fed stallions. I am beside a Ferrari 275 GTB. A mechanic listens closely, like a surgeon to the tick-over of its V12 engine. That engine has 300 Horse Power before it ever sees a spanner. A low brooding rumble. Hold that thought . . .

Cecilia Bartoli
London a few years earlier, working at Decca as Creative Director. Shaking up classical music packaging a bit. The Partners had laid great ground-work on the design front. In-house art director, Ann Bradbeer, in particular, is embracing our drive for more adventurous commissioning of photography and illustration. I am enjoying bringing in good creatives like David Smart who went on to spend so many successful years there. But I am having to spend much too time throwing open the windows on working practice, scaring the natives and re-organizing my departments; Art, Editorial & Production. Missing more hands-on creative work.

A challenge presents itself and I need to get away from dull desk work. Rossini Arias. I confess I am not big on Opera. Mostly too overblown for my puritan tastes. But one Opera singer moves me. A lot. She is a mezzo-soprano called Cecilia Bartoli.

You need to work around some pretty major egos in book publishing. But you gingerly hotfoot in a whole new field of coals and eggshells with the maestros in Classical Music. Prima donnas and prima uomos get their tags from that world after all. Vladimir Ashkenazy was an exception, as was Cecilia Bartoli. It frustrated me to see such characters under a blanket of convention. Subsumed beneath stiff DJs for the men and the woman decorated like some upholstered baroque confection. But, as with many conventions, stepping into new territory can be a risky business. 

We set up a morning photo-session in the Blackfriars studio of ace photographer Tony McGeeTV-AM turned up as the Press Office had tipped them off about us using a high-flyer fashion photographer. But a quick interview and I shooed them away before the session. That dealt with Tony and I talk. On the wall behind us is a print by Robert Freeman, the shot for the With The Beatles album. I still covert it. We chatted about keeping the session relaxed and seeing if we could ease away from some of the formality of an opera CD. What we didn’t want was to impose any false trendy veneer but extract something from the artist’s look when we met her. 

And our artist arrived. Wow. Having worked with a lot of models and being married to my lovely wife, Sandy Nightingale, it takes quite a bit for a woman’s looks to take breath away. Picture Cecilia in her leather jacket and a white T-Shirt. That’ll do it.

Cecilia Bartoli

Two minutes discussion and we agreed we must shoot her in her own clothes. Thankfully she agreed. Just a beautiful young singer. Perfect serendipity. More traditional shots as insurance which were used on the CD. Marketing took fright. Maybe, at that time, it would have looked too much of a stunt to use the leather-jacket shot on Arias, but we got the leather shot and it made to the poster. And it got talked about. She was getting all the attention she deserved. 

 So what about the Ferrari? Did she arrive in one? No, a black cab. But I need to describe something very special to you. 

 As we took the costume shots I wanted to ease more vitality into the images and I asked her if you would possibly sing. Just a little for animation. And she did. So softly but the latent power was beyond words. Well beyond my words. The hairs are going up on the back of my neck as I recall it. Such a sense of limitless power, life, passion – everything. So close, just the other side of Tony’s lens. All at such low volume.

And the nearest I can get to describing it is my memory of standing next to that Ferrari in Umbria. Purring. Stationary. With the potent certainty that a mere breath on the throttle would unleash unlimited, almost frightening power.

Ceclia Bartoli Rossini Arias
Ceclia Bartoli Rossini Arias

 

The Music of the Lord of the Rings Films (II)

Some times you deliver a job and never hear another word. This can be disconcerting. One minute you are intensely focussed on a mission. The next you are alone watching your child cycle off, without the trainer-wheels, suddenly redundant.

Other times it is very different.

The Music of the Lord of the Rings Films (Part Two)

The Beatles

Just like Jacques Tati‘s car, I used to have a blog but it wasn’t  a good blog. Since I let Scott Gould verbally mug me about my lack of self-promotion I have this shiny new one that people actually read. There are several ideas distilling that I am keen to write but still bubbling. In the meantime I wanted to bring this story forward into the light.

My step-father, Ron, was Marketing Director at British Eagle airlines during my early school days. So when The Beatles flew with them I got to paint (yes, paint) “Beatles Fly” above the British Eagle logo, in matching type, on four bags. But I didn’t get taken to the airport to see them and I have lost the photo. My early introduction to the benefits of free work. See how I got over it and moved on? Anyway it was Klaus Voorman’s design for Revolver that proved to be the Damascean drawing for me. It was fab and it seemed distantly achievable even to a schoolboy with a short version of a Beatle haircut and dreams.

 The-Love-You-Make-1984-4site

Last summer saw lots of media coverage for the anniversary of The Beatles’ Abbey Road. Just as their music was instantly ubiquitous, all their album graphics became iconic.  You can often gauge how much album art has been absorbed into popular culture by the number of parodies. The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, The Simpsons, Booker T & the MG’s, Lego, and just about everybody else have paid homage to Abbey Road. Only spell-checker software, it seems, has not heard of The Beatles.

In 1984 Pan Books published Pete Brown’s account of his time with The Beatles. As Creative Director for Pan I wanted the cover to show the exact spot with the band now missing. The record label would not permit the re-touching of the original sleeve. So one Sunday morning it was off to St.John’s Wood with delightfully gentle photographer Peter Williams and a set of step ladders to shoot from scratch. With a very limited budget for models or props the were Hitchcock cameos by myself, Sandy Nightingale, Richard Moon, Creative Director of The British Council at the time, and his VW. We left the ‘For Sale’ sign in for Beatles’ fans to spot.

The zebra crossing itself is an international pilgrimage destination for fans of The Fab Four braving the London traffic to get that souvenir shot of themselves on location.

The Beatles

Visually, I am quite taken by the wit of the tank on The Beatles Bike that puts the motorbike in Abbey Road wherever it’s true location may be. A shame the airbrush artist went on to pepper (apologies) the machine with so many other references too. Smart tank idea though.

And, with all the lyrical wit of a McCartney bass-line, life threw up the location in a project this year. This time, as I rummaged through the archives for material for The Music of the Lord of the Rings. While using the hallowed recording studios, Director, Peter Jackson and Composer, Howard Shore stepped out to get their own snap. Then English Heritage got the studios listed. And I still love The Beatles music.

The Beatles

And in the end . . .

Michael Ondaatje

This week I overheard two boys, about 8 years old, at the magazines section of WHSmith. One asked the other if he read comics. “Back in the day.” was the reply.

Back in the day, this designer worked on the cover for Michael Ondaatje‘s early novel, Coming Through Slaughter. Michael is a very charming man who writes like an angel. This book is a ‘fictionalised’ account of the brief life of Buddy Bolden. Fictionalised because so little documentation remains. But – back in the day – in New Orleans, he played Jazz on the trumpet for the very first time. The Birth of Jazz. 
 slaughter
Miles Davis & Coltrane move me but Jazz is not my first musical port of call. And I am sure that is my short-coming, not the music’s.

But this story makes the hairs on the neck stand up. He was called the first great jazz trumpet player. No recorded music. How tremendous does your impact have to have been for that colossal appellation to form your legend? Now that, for me, occasions use of the over-worked word ‘awesome’.

Ondatjee relates a tale of massive, high-impact collision. The explosion of a creative talent. The implosion of drink, drugs, excess, squalor and madness. His description of Bolden’s rampant trumpet outpouring, in a public town parade, at his musical peak, and at the same moment as the fissure to his final insanity.  This is one of those very rare times a writer truely does justice to the potent alchemy of music.

Not only are there no recordings and sparse documentation of this pyrotechnic talent, there is little visual record. One fire damaged glass plate. At the time it seemed to0 obvious to use it on the cover. Beautiful, on reflection but as a grabber maybe just another bunch of sepia negroes as entertainers. Once into the text, it holds a howl of melancholy. On the shelf, another poignant, but passive moment awaiting Ken Burns‘ genius for his trade-mark, slow-motion, re-ignition of the past.

This is probably the point where I should tell design students to sit up straight and learn what you do when you want someone’s image but do not have the subject available. Nah. All I can do is tell you what I did. On that day with that problem.

I fibbed a bit about me and Jazz. I love Louis Armstrong too. In fact I once speculated about my funeral music (as you do) and chose two tunes to bookend my experience of adult life. I fancied David Bowie’s ‘Ziggy Stardust‘ at the start and Louis Armstrong’s ‘Stardust‘ at the end. Then I forgot about it. Until just then.

I remembered that a signature visual for Louis ‘Satchmo’ Armstrong was the way, during performance, he would mop the sweat from his face with his handkerchief. Some rascals suggest he kept cocaine in it to revive him during a particularly vigourous set. I doubt it. In fact, I expect that would produce a Woody Allen moment. But the point is that it totally obscured his face.

And I had it. My muse moment. A portrait of a man who was not there. A hope for a pause in performance of exhaustion, intensity and pain. I wanted a close-up study and often have a mischievous desire to commission out of genre. I took the idea to Robert Golden. At that time he was the man for food photography. A serious man, he now makes documentary film, I believe.

No drug dust. Maybe just a little Stardust. Back in the day.