I met yesterday with EMI’s catalog manager Tim Chacksfield (pictured below at Abbey Rd) to go over the cover art for the re-releases of my first two albums, plus a planned ‘singles’ album which they will release first. The re-releases will essentially look like deluxe versions of the originals, with bonus tracks and additional sleeve notes. The singles album is more up in the air as there’s no existing precedent for the artwork. The closest was ‘Retrospectacle’ which was a kind of best-of LP including key tracks from all the albums. This one is less editorial, it’s just a collection of the 7″ versions of all songs I’ve ever released as singles. So I had to go through EMI’s photo archives to pick out a selection that might be used to make up a good sleeve.
Needless to say, EMI is not all a-buzz the way it was when I first walked in there around 1980. The atmosphere was quite mellow, to say the least. Still, it was an interesting sensation, being back in the offices of a major label, staring at tiny transparencies on a light box through a loom. Outtakes from old photo sessions where the picture commonly used was the only one I remembered; and entire sessions I’d forgotten about completely. And there were some nice surprises too: rolls of stills taken during video shoots. Paparrazzi snaps of me palling around with my then label-mates Queen, Duran Duran, and Spandau Ballet. One aspect of getting older is, while I’m still picky about the way I look from different angles and with different expressions… the old shots all look pretty damn good! Which means there is a wider range of shots that I find acceptable, unlike the old days when I would veto lots of shots for um, ‘personal’ reasons, much to vexation of the photographers, no doubt. And the names of the photographers are impressive: Jill Furmonowski, Anton Corbijn, Peter Ashworth.
But it was Andrew Douglas who really encapsulated my visuals. A brilliant artist with a huge mental database of oblique visuals and strange cultural artefacts, he and I would spend hours together flipping through dusty volumes ofÂ vintage black and white photographs, attending screenings at small art cinemas, wandering around obscure London medical institutions and architectural landmarks, or examining the hyraulic workings of the flood gate doors at the Rotherhithe Tunnel. He was half mad of course, and often sported a black eye where his fiery girlfriend/assistant Carol had hurled an alarm clock or something at him. He and I dreamed up the original front cover of ‘The Golden Age Of Wireless’, which featured a kind comic book rendition of one of his shots, framed and mounted on the wall of a gallery. If you look very closely you can see a reflection of me, now an octagenarian, regarding the exhibit while being pushed in a wheelchair by a nurse, the same Carol: she was also the ‘lips’ and the bandaged statue in the ‘Europa’ video. One morning we were visiting the South Bank theatre complex next to the Thames, and stumbled upon the set of a play called Gallileo, which had a gorgeous stage set made up of astrolabes, maps and telescopes. We snuck in completely without authorisation, and Andrew reeled off several rolls on his Hasselblad before we got thrown out by a couple of stage hands. That shot became the cover of the US version of GAOW.
So now I’ll have to choose between those two covers! What a tough choice. They’re both classics of the era, and have so many good memories for me. And I’m not even mentioning Andrew’s infamous ‘running away from the Machine in his wellies‘ shot, which bewilderingly ended up as a third GAOW cover in some overseas territories.
Fortunately ‘The Flat Earth‘ only really appeared in one format. However there were some great pics that never got used from the session we shot in Snowdonia with a pair of lamas. (Oh! BTW, Snowdonia features in one of the new songs I’m recording. More on that later!)
From EMI’s offices I went on to Abbey Road to master the singles CD with Peter Mew. When a producer attends a mastering session, the engineer has often pre-prepared EQ and volume levels on the songs, cut the gaps to length etc. Hopefully there’s not a lot of tweaking to do. Yet this was quite a tricky one, because of the enormous difference in sonic style between ‘Urges’ circa 1980 and ‘I Love You Goodbye’ a dozen or so years later, and all the singles in between. There were necessary compromises made when we originally cut the vinyl versions, because vinyl is sensitive to some artefacts (eg sibillance on vocals) and if there’s too much bass, the grooves gut cut too deep for safe manufacturing. Yet I’ve become accustomed to those modified sonics over the years, so it’s a bit of a shock to hear the songs back to the way they were when they first came out of the studio. It took us a good few hours to level everything up, but I think the end result is very good; and there’s a logical progression to it, given that the songs are all chronological.
It was satisfying for me to flash through over a decade’s worth of work in a single evening. Abbey Rd was all quiet and the night watchman was pouring tea from his Thermos as we left. Yet I was all too aware that within feet of me, a certain other four-piece once nonchalently churned out hit after hit, seven days a week. if you read George Martin’s account of his time working there in the Sixties, it reads something like this (I’m being quite liberal with my recollection!): “Mon April 4th, lead vocals and final mix on ‘I Am The Walrus’, after lunch John overdubbed a mellotron on ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’. Tues April 5th, planned to record alternative bass and drum tracks for ‘Hello Goodbye’ and ‘All You Need Is Love.’ Couldn’t find Ringo, turned out he’d gone for a drive round Hampstead Heath in his Bentley with Twiggy and Cassius Clay. So had Paul double-track the choruses on ‘Penny Lane.’ “