Philips, Brazil, 1971
Cover Design: Linda Glover (Design Machine)
Photography: Johnny Clamp
Recorded in 1971, when Caetano Veloso’s mood was at its lowest ebb, his self-
titled album (tellingly sometimes referred to as A Little More Blue) is, as he says,
“a document of depression.” Set against a backdrop of uncertainty about his
future, as well as a profound melancholy, the songs are distinctly downbeat.
In order to understand the ’71 Veloso, we have to skip backwards a couple of
years to his and fellow Tropicalista Gilberto Gil’s Technicolor rise to fame, and
consequent arrest and expulsion by the Brazilian military regime. Veloso and Gil
chose to decamp to London, as it seemed the most happening place in Europe,
and took their places on the scene as exotic figures, renting a house in Chelsea
and hanging out in the hippie community.
The album’s artwork, designed by Philips staffer Linda Glover, perfectly illustrates
Veloso’s melancholic state of mind and sense of detachment from his unfamiliar
surroundings. Linda Glover also designed a whole host of other Philips albums,
including Scott 3, Ambrose Slade’s Beginnings and Magna Carta’s debut, as well
as the original “swirl” Vertigo logo (more on this story to follow).
At this point in his career, Veloso could not really be said to have a set visual
style. His first two albums, both of which are confusingly also self-entitled, feature
vastly different styles – the crazed super-psych of his ’68 debut and the following
year’s White Album-esque follow-up.
The cover of album number three is filled by a magnificent close-up portrait of
Veloso taken by Johnny Clamp, who also shot the cover image for Gilberto Gil’s
album from the same year, as well as fellow Philips/Fontana should-have- been-
massives Kaleidoscope and Jimmy Campbell. This visual introduction sees
Caetano Veloso wrapped up against the London cold, his sad eyes the very
antithesis of every Brazilian cultural stereotype you can think of; this is about as
far from bikini-clad dancers, palm trees and sunny beaches as you can get.
Veloso’s sense of homesickness and displacement (he says, “London felt dark,
and I felt far away from myself”) permeated his life as well as his music during his
three-year stay. The house he shared with Gilberto Gil – nicknamed The Sixteen
Chapel – became a place of pilgrimage for visiting Brazilians and members of the
London counterculture alike. However, whereas Gil embraced the change of
scenery with gusto, discovering the delights of reggae and advising on the setting
up of The Glastonbury Festival, Veloso tended to stay at home, although to be
fair, he did go to gigs and discover a love of Monty Python’s Flying Circus as well
as the Stones in their live incarnation.
The back cover of the album features another of Johnny Clamp’s photos, of
Veloso sitting on the steps of London’s Albert Memorial. The grainy black and
white image is taken through the railings surrounding the monument, giving an
unsettling impression of both imprisonment and voyeurism, and further
accentuates the bleak mood of the whole package.
Eagle-eyed readers may have spotted that all of the song titles bar one are in
English; an experiment Veloso began while still in Brazil. Although not really
speaking any English at all, he understood the importance of trying to
communicate with the world outside the constrictions of the military regime,
which, as dictatorships are wont, did not appreciate the flourishing of radical
artistic expression. For his London album though, Veloso was specifically asked
by producers Ralph Mace and Lou Reizner to write in English, as well as be the
main guitarist; something he was very reticent about, considering himself less
proficient than his contemporaries – Gil included.
A perfect match of mood and style, Caetano Veloso’s third album offers, as the
liner notes state, “a two-way mirror, focusing thoughts and memories of home
and absent friends and reflecting his reaction to a new but friendly environment”
– an artist coming to terms with a profound and distressing change of life.
Gitte Morten © 2016.
This article was published in Shindig! Magazine, July 2016.