14 May 2010

The first Hipgnosis?

Thanks to Adrian Shaughnessy for some follow-up info on Shirt Sleeve Studios: apparently the work of two people, Nancy Fouts and Malcolm Fowler, both, as you'll see if you follow the links, still active, though producing very different kinds of work from each other. Stars of design and advertising in their 1970s heyday, reckons Adrian, and some of their work has been acquired by the V&A Museum.

Puts me in mind of another interesting book jacket I turned up in my research: this one, from A. L. Lloyd’s classic study of English folk, published by Panther in 1967. And who is credited with the cover illustration? None other than Hipgnosis – presumably, given that Storm Thorgerson was fresh out of college at the time, just about the first commercial design to carry that credit. The year after this book came out, Thorgerson and his friend Aubrey Powell created their first LP sleeve – A Saucerful of Secrets by their Cambridge buddies Pink Floyd. With that, the Hipgnosis imprint’s subsequent alignment with progressive rock was set in motion. But this jester-minstrel, windmilling his lute like Pete Townshend in a ruff, represents a huge junction-box of intersecting musical histories. He illustrates a talismanic book written by the man who formerly collaborated with old Ralph Vaughan Williams on the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs; his creator would later employ a junior designer named Peter Christopherson in Hipgnosis, who would go on to form Throbbing Gristle and Coil. The latter group, in their final years, began incorporating all manner of ‘folk’ and pagan elements into their music – celebrating the solstice with powerfully transformative electronic improvisations and using accordions, fiddles and medieval instruments on records like Black Antlers, juiced up on a powerful cocktail of ‘English visionary’ tradition: Aleister Crowley, John Dee, Blake, Austin Osman Spare...


  1. Hi Rob,
    Love your blog - great stuff! Something struck me recently reading around this whole visionary British Music thing - The Shadow Ring are strangely never bought into the discussion. Their music is so very British it seems to have sprung from the soil itself, and their early 'bedroom folk' phrase consciously tapped the deep vein of English weirdness: Shirley Collins, jan dukes de grey, T-Rex etc. Later on, in the 'Lighthouse' era, their work unfolds like odd, forgotten radio-plays with surreal word play and sound-effects-like instrumentation that evokes nothing so much as Dylan Thomas's BBC classic 'Under Milkwood'. Just a thought.

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