Friday, 26 April 2013

Storm Thorgerson 1943 - 2013

It is with sadness that I take up my metaphorical pen to write yet again about the passing of another music business personality.  Only this time the subject is not an international rock star nor even a little known fringe artist, but a designer; Storm Thorgerson, who died on 18 April of cancer, aged 69.

He, of course, will be best remembered for being the ‘fifth member’ of Pink Floyd who, through his design company Hipgnosis, created a series of unforgettable album sleeve designs through the 70s and 80s – the ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ prism, the mournful cow of ‘Atom Heart Mother’, the Pig flying over Battersea power station of ‘Animals’ and the burning man of ‘Wish You Were Here’ being just a few of his creations that are welded to the Pink Floyd brand.

His unique style can also be seen on a whole host of sleeves from Led Zeppelin, Peter Gabriel and The Scorpions to Muse and Biffy Clyro and I can’t help but think that with his passing the final nail has been well and truly driven home into the coffin of the album sleeve.  Whilst the CD still held out as the premier conveyor of music, the sleeve, in its reduced form remained a fixture but with the increasing move towards download files and music streaming through the likes of Spotify, the requirement for an iconic sleeve design has all but gone.

Which is a shame.  I still have all my old albums, hundreds of them, stored in cupboards and whilst I only play them very occasionally, I shall never give them away because they represent a repository of Art.  These days I seem to spend more time taking out covers and just looking at them rather than playing the disc they contain.  In many respects, the covers hold more memories than the music - times and places, purchases and parading.  Let’s face it; you can’t walk around school exhibiting your immaculate musical taste with an MP3 file, now can you?

Many of my old albums now spend their declining years in frames on my wall, being rotated every now and again so that their beauty can be admired by all.  In remembrance of Storm Thorgerson, I think I shall have a small exhibition of Hipgnosis sleeves up for a week or two.  They are going to be these four:

'Sheet Music' - 10cc
Peter Gabriel II

'In Deep' - Argent

'Atom Heart Mother' - Pink Floyd

Friday, 12 April 2013


When you are a child, you tend to accept things for what they are.  Your own circumstances have no benchmark and it is generally only much later that you have the data to be able to compare and contrast (as test papers would have it) your position in life.  My own hideously middle class upbringing did not come into focus until I met fellow students at university that lived either in a house the size of a small park or a matchbox depending on circumstance.

So it can be with music.  In the early 1990s I was introduced to the band, Stereolab and in particular their ’94 album ‘Mars Audiac Quintet’ and whilst it hung around my CD player longer than many of its contemporaries, it has since sat neglected in my collection for at least 15 years.  Or until now.  I’m not sure what prompted me to give it another spin but it has come back into my life with a vengeance and with its second coming has materialised a new understanding of its worth.

In the lull between Shoegazing and Britpop the mid nineties was a bit of a mish-mash of styles but none more individual than Stereolab who were essentially a vehicle for songwriter Tim Gane and his girlfriend Laetitia Sadier.  Where do I start?  Imagine the relentless space-age boogie of Hawkwind and then update that sound to the age of the synth – only using ancient analogue Moogs, Vox and Farfisa machines – and add in French female vocals.  Finally douse in Kraftwerk cool detachment and Asian-style synth drones and you have Stereolab.  Simple!  At the time none of this complexity really registered, I just liked the sound, but now it is all too apparent not just how odd they really were, but how different they were from their contemporaries.  And I like both odd and different.

Just for the record, I also bought the limited edition ‘Music For the Amorphous Body Study Centre’ EP, a collection of music used to complement New York sculptor, Charles Long’s exhibit, just to up the oddity factor.  However, by 1997 and their ‘Dots and Loops’ album, enough was enough and they were consigned to the ‘not played anymore’ section of my collection.

Nevertheless, ‘Mars Audiac Quintet’ is back on my iPod and its unique mix of uplifting space-pop is quite refreshing in today’s world.  It has the same ambience of innocence and adventure that pervaded the 60s space-age music, epitomised by ‘Telstar’.