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 album. The 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.