THE ROCK AND ROLL TIMES



1. How did you discover you were good at art?

I have vague recollections of doing one or two things at school and being encouraged to do more but I never really did. Any artistic ambition came out of sheer frustration and boredom.  I worked at an engineering company in Slough after school and immediately I got there I knew it was a msitake. It was a very similar set-up to the Office, Ricky Gervais’s ‘The Office’. I was a junior draughtsman there. I started off on the factory floor and hated that, but eventually ended up in a drawing office and I thought that’s what I wanted to do, but it was stiflingly boring. It was one of those companies that had a very strong social club; dances every week, a snooker and tennis club and all of these events needed posters. Because I had long hair - of course it followed that I ‘must be artistic’ and I was like the house hippie for quite a while. Any time that they needed something ‘artistic’ they would get me to do it. I enjoyed doing that a lot more than I did being a junior draughtsman. So that’s really where it started, I started to do doodles on ink rags, we used to use Rotring pens in those days and because they were always clogging up you needed a bit of rag to wipe them on and I just started doing caricatures of Department Heads on these rags.

I was 18/19, I suppose, when I started to do it there were some people with strong facial characteristics in this company that I worked for - department heads for example - there was one guy who had one of the most atrocious comb-overs I have ever seen in my life, so he was a good one to do especially with a Rotring pen cos it was quite easy to get the thin lines of hair, so I put him in one of the posters. I think it was for the cricket club that he organised. That was one of the first caricatures that I did. So what happened was, and this is the honest truth, I happened to bump into somebody that I hadn’t ever spoken to before at the company and he said “are you the guy who does the posters?” I nodded and he said “what the hell are you doing here, you should be at an art school - you should really be doing something with this!” It was like an epiphany. I thought ‘maybe he’s right’.

2. Did you get training for this?

I saw an advert for an Art College in Watford that week in the Melody Maker, which I read every week, they were advertising for new students, even if you didn’t have any training, just if you showed an interest was all that was important. ‘Come and show us what you can do.’ I mean they were desperate for students, it’s very different these days. This was a diploma, not a degree course, they just wanted bums on seats as they were getting money from the government and obviously not getting enough, it being a provincial art college; so it was literally the first place I went to. I was as naive as that. A friend of mine, Bob used to do screen printing in an old caravan in his garden for local gigs at Reading and Brunel Uni’s and Slough College; all hand cut work, he showed me how to use a stencil knife for cutting the stencils for screen printing. I had also bought an Airbrush because I was fascinated by the medium, and the work of Alan Aldridge of ‘the Beatles illustrated lyrics’, so I had started to experiment before I went to art college. I took a couple of very simple airbrush paintings along and a couple of the screen prints that I had created and a couple of the drawings of the infamous department heads, really not thinking I stood a chance, however they accepted me. It was the first step of a journey!

3. How did you get involved with album artwork for Marillion and Iron Maiden?

Just as my going to art college was an accident. It was a total and utter accident with Marillion, a bit of luck which let’s face it, you need in this life. I  used to share a house in Penge in south London with three designer friends that worked in Covent Garden. It was a very different place a few years after I had left my first studio there, this was the early 80’s - swanky wine bars and model agencies. A lot of design groups had moved in too, it was an overheard conversation in one of these bars - my flatmates didn’t know who it was - but they knew I was looking for work. They overheard the name [Torchlight] were looking for a new artist, someone that had never been shown before, a good artist but for this brand new band that had just been signed, so they came home that night and said ‘check this company out’. So I rang Torchlight the following day and it was exactly as I said in my Shadowplay book: “You’ve rung just at the right time, we are looking for an illustrator”, “oh really!”.  “Can you come now?” ‘Yep right now’. I took the portfolio, saw  the art director ther - Jo Mirowski, he looked at my work, loved it and he said ‘you’re dead right for this job’. A week later I had my first job for a major record label to produce a singles cover for this new band Marillion. It went down very well with the band and the label and I was then hired to do 2 more singles and the band’s first album cover: Script For A Jester’s Tear. 2 albums later, the band were at number one in the album charts with Misplaced Childhood and the number 2 single with Kayleigh and I suddenly found myself busier than I’d ever been in my life. A successful album brings with it - a long period of touring and with that comes months of work designing all the tour paraphernalia that comes with it, T-Shirts, programme design, posters, calendars - even jigsaws and badges.

20 years after Fish, the writer and vocalist left the band, I am still working with him, he is working on a new album this year and has told me what he wants for the cover before a song is written!

Iron Maiden’s manager Rod Smallwood and Steve Harris of the band were all big fans of the Fish era  Marillion, and after I had produced the art for most of the Monsters Of Rock posters and T-Shirts including the year that Iron Maiden headlined, I was asked to work on their Wicker Man project, which at the time I was called in was the working title of their new album after Bruce Dickenson had returned. There had been months of delays with the cover art because Derek had provided them with multiple ideas, none of which went down too well. There were disagreements and eventually, as I understand it, Derek walked away in a fit of pique vowing never to return. So I was brought in at the 11th hour and asked to turn it around in a week or so. Eventually, everything changed again and Wicker Man was the first single from the album, 'Brave New World' was the album title, they used the top half of one of Derek's paintings of Eddie in the smoke - done for one of his versions of Wicker Man, and pulled in a 3D view of a futuristic London comped in below. After that - I was asked to do the second single off the album, 'Out Of The Silent Planet'.

When the idea was mooted for a celebratory box set for the 25th anniversary of the band, I worked on a series of ideas for that. Eventually, the image I had in mind for a large book of photographs of the band caught the eye of Steve Harris who asked if that could be developed somehow into the box itself. I did a lot of research into this and put forward the idea of actually printing on to a metal box and also embossing it to match the art. This was, at the time one of the most complex pieces of embossing work ever attempted on metal plate and took a long time to get right. But it came out brilliantly and went on to win an award. I also provided the art for the Best Of The B'Sides album that made up one of the set ot of double CDs inside the box. I also designed the pewter shot glass for the set. It was a limited edition release and sold out in record time, as does most things related to Iron Maiden these days.

4. How long does the process take to complete the artwork for an album?

On average 2 weeks, but I have been known to work on a single project for months, depends who it is and what kind of budget there is to allow you to work for so long.

5. What advice/guidance could you give a young artist wanting to break into doing     album/band artwork?

There is no one way of doing anything, I have talked to many album cover artists over the years and each story is different. My experience was more luck than judgement as you can see. However I had a strong urge and commitment to wanting to be involved in album cover art, so I guess luck came along when I least expected - but I had to be in the right place at the right time, which was London where most record companies were located. I have spoken to some artists who made it their business to hang out with the bands first, or call their management, or write to them and ask if they have anyone for the artwork. One job can lead to others and somehow or another a network of people opens up. These days my advice would be to have a very strong website, that is your calling card. Also - try getting your work on to Deviant Art - an online web community for professionals and amateurs alike. You can get noticed in this digital age a lot easier than it was when I was shuffling around London in 1979 knocking on doors with a heavy A1 portfolio case stuffed full of paintings pleading with art directors to see me.

< BACK >