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Vinyl Art: Quatermass

Quatermass 

Quatermass 

Harvest, UK, 1970

Cover design and photography: Hipgnosis 

 

Entropy…. Did I say that out loud? Transformation, unpredictability, a slide into disorder: so begins hard rocking progsters Quatermass’s self-titled 1970 albumThe band,of course, took its name from Nigel Kneale’s fictional professor and star of ’53’s seminal The Quatermass Experiment and the artwork is clearly inspired by the dark, claustrophobic atmosphere of the series. 

Quatermass was recorded at EMI’s Abbey Road studios but – you guessed it – had very little impact on the habits of the record-buying public of May ’70. Comprised of experienced beat/pop/session musicians, who’d been selling their wares in various forms since the early ’60s, Quatermass’s Johnny Gustafson (The Big Three, The Merseybeats), Mick Underwood (The Herd, Episode Six) and J Peter Robinson (later a very successful film score composer) embraced this here new-fangled prog with open arms on this, their only album. 

Quatermass is also remembered as the band that inadvertently caused Ritchie Blackmore to leave Deep Purple. His band mates’ refusal to cover their song, ‘Black Sheep Of The Family’, on the Purple’s Stormbringer caused a rift from which they never recovered.

Harvest, EMI’s “progressive” imprint, brought in the top guns to illustrate these new experimentations in the form of Hipgnosis’s Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell. The darlings of ’70s art house album cover design, Hipgnosis’s technique often focussed on off-beat photography and inventive post-production image manipulation. (Did they invent Photoshop? They kinda did.) The team preferred a medium format Hasselblad camera, ideally suited to the square album cover, although in this case it’s likely they took a square photo and cut it to gatefold size afterwards.

The gatefold outer cover itself is a photograph – or possibly a composite – of office buildings, taken from a low angle against the sky; narrow tall buildings encroaching on the viewer. Aubrey Powell described how the image came about. “This was totally Storm’s idea, although we took the pictures together near Victoria Station. Our insecurity was such that we often did this to cheer each other up in the knowledge that we were no David Bailey or Richard Avedon.”

The album cover followed the TV series and made full use of an eerie and somewhat menacing monochrome look; a mood accentuated by the pterodactyls (our resident dino-expert tells us they’re actually pteranodons) circling above the viewer’s head. The flying lizards were images found by Thorgerson and Powell in a book, cut out and glued onto the background, low tech Blue Peter-style. 

The repeated geometric pattern of the towering buildings, coupled with the swooping creatures stretching up as far as the eye can see, has a dizzying yet strangely pleasing effect.

The outer sleeve isn’t exactly overflowing with info or excessive typefaces – “Quatermass” is stated simply in a plain Letraset font (the ubiquitous Eurostile Extended), referring to both band and title. The plain typefaces continue on the inside of the gatefold. No fancy pants photography from the Hipgnosis guys here – a straightforward portrait of the trio set against a stuccoed building suffices. Heads emerging from the bottom of the cover, Quatermass present a unitedly serious and slightly forbidding front. No smiles, please, it’s the ’70s now.

Quatermass then bears a lot of the hallmarks of your archetypal ’70s Hipgnosis album design – the gatefold sleeve, the off-beat photography, the cut and paste post-production. The result is stylish, quirky and a little bit bodeful, and as such fits in perfectly with the mood conveyed on the ensuing album. 

 

Vinyl. Album. Cover. Art: The Complete Hipgnosis Catalogue is published by Thames & Hudson

Gitte Morten © 2017.

This article was published in Shindig! Magazine, July 2017.

 

Beatles, backstage

What to do, what to do…


Matching Mole

Here’s a song for Monday 

Pepper at 50

Yessss, it’s out today – run down to your local record emporium for it!

While you are listening to the wondrous sounds (more about the elsewhere), here are some pretty pictures 

Vinyl Art: Come My Way


Marianne Faithfull 

Come My Way

Decca, UK, 1965

Design: Chris O’Dell

Cover photography: Gered Mankowitz

 

Can a recording artist release their first two, very different, albums on the same day and get away with it? Well, in the ’60s you could, au naturel. 

In a bid to escape her shallow, NME Instamatic image as Andrew Loog Oldham’s “angel with big…” attributes, Marianne Faithfull insisted on releasing Come My Way, her serious and rather earnest folk album, alongside Marianne Faithfull, the album that her managers and pop-puppet masters at Decca demanded.

​Released on April 15th 1965 and, as was also the case for Marianne Faithfull, produced by ALO cohort Tony Calder, Come My Way, somewhat against the odds, reached #12 in the UK charts, higher than its poppier counterpart. It consisted of wall-to-wall folk tunes, most of them trad arr favourites; pleasant enough but not that mind-blowing.

​The album was designed by Chris O’Dell, a photographer who’d snapped the teen Marianne as far back as ’60 when she was still a convent schoolgirl. Although his memories of this time are a bit sketchy, he was far from enamoured by the way Marianne was packaged and stilted and he soon left the Oldham fold. “I went on to take some photographs of The Rolling Stones and some one hit wonders for Oldham, but he wasn’t very good at paying, so I packed it up in the end,” O’Dell recalls. “Working in the pop music business in the ’60s was no picnic, and I was happy to be able to follow a career in another area.”

​Whereas Marianne Faithfull features a pretty and cutesy, if slightly pouty, portrait by David Bailey on its cover, the overall look of Come My Way is more serious. Gered Mankowitz photographed Marianne extensively during ’65 and had an easy working relationship with her. Being the mid-60s, Mankowitz was able to simply head out with his camera and his subject without any particular record company brief. “I think it was the third or fourth session I did with Marianne,” he explains. “We had complete freedom, no concept or art direction, just the two of us in a well-known pub that I had been aware of for a while. She was very natural in front of the camera and exuded a powerful yet innocent sexuality.” 

​The photo session (in The Salisbury Arms, Covent Garden, still worth a visit, intrepid travellers!) yielded a number of shots (no pun intended). Mankowitz’s preferred cover image – an absolute beauty of Marianne surrounded by Victorian splendour – was rejected by Decca due to the reflection of some curious male onlookers being visible. They chose a less exuberant image of Marianne in a pensive mood, a slightly gloomy black & white image taken by a window in the pub. Marianne looks imploringly straight at the viewer while absentmindedly playing with the etched windowpane.

​A less downbeat portrait was used for the back – another Mankowitz shot, this time from IBC Studios in Portland Place while Marianne was recording the album. A natural picture with a slightly cheesy grin, it demonstrates the youth of the subject and lifts the overall sober mood. 

​It would be interesting to see how the album would have looked if Marianne had had any kind of artistic control over it; would she have attempted to match the somewhat limited power she had over her musical direction with the same control over her image as an artist? In later years her album covers certainly became less winsome.

​A period piece in both look and sound, Come My Way perfectly encapsulates where she was at in ’65, mixing innocence with a purposeful pursuit of self-expression.

 

With many thanks to Gered Mankowitz (mankowitz.com) and Chris O’Dell (chrisodell.biz)

Gitte Morten © 2017.
This article was published in Shindig! Magazine, May 2017.

 

April came