Someone asked me the other day “What was it like working in Coventry?”, naturally, my response was “generally shit”, but then I remembered… oh wow… I got to work with The Specials!
Thanks to some rather excellent blagging by my cohort, Chris Dalton, we managed to bag a rather lucrative job rebranding The Specials for a comeback album, singles and tour – our first major freelance design project. This was a revitalised Specials (without original members Terry Hall and Jerry Dammers) who had got back together and recorded a collection of their own personal favourite tunes for the Today’s Specials album.
The brief was nice and open, so we set about creating concepts after a long chat with Lynval Golding and Neville Staples from the band. The new logo would have to retain reference to their two-tone history, yet be modern and fresh as the new tunes had a much stronger reggae influence. Also, the band wanted to distance themselves from the black and white artwork of their past and portray a colourful and vibrant energy that reflected their new sound.
When they saw our logo ideas, one jumped out that they really liked. It was a design of mine that attempted to represent two-tone in a modern way. I had drawn up a badge style emblem in Illustrator, brought it into Photoshop and then rendered the face with a polished gold effect and the cutaway underside represented a dark, rough rock surface. I was very happy with what I was able to achieve and so were the band. Job done!
At this point, I’d like to point out to Photoshop buffs that I was using Photoshop v2.5. This was before layers were introduced to the program, so all this work was achieved by manipulating multiple channels. And… all done on an Apple Mac LCIII with 8mb RAM and an 80MB hard drive… Oh happy days of System 7! But rather like a Ronnie Corbett monologue… I digress…
So, the new shiny logo has gone down a treat and Chris and I are now thrashing out concepts for the first single, Hypocrite and the album Today’s Specials. Lynval was particularly keen on our political stance for the single, we showed several cover options featuring MPs of the time, the strongest of which was simply John Major’s smug face repeated over and over. Now we weren’t too sure of any possible legal implications if this was released, frankly we were too young and enthusiastic to care and I’m pretty sure the band was delighted to be sticking two fingers up to the establishment. So it was released without fear or censorship by the record company. Yay!
There was to be a second single, initially it was going to be a cover of The Monkees’ A Little Bit You, A Little Bit Me, so I designed a cover in the style of The Monkees. However, it was shelved in favour of Pressure Drop which was released after the album.
The album title lent itself immediately to images of cafés, menus, chalkboards, mugs of tea, cheap food and ketchup. We developed the “greasy spoon” concept and the band responded to it very well. A photo session was organised in a suitably down to earth café in Coventry intended for use as the CD cover. Inside the booklet I photoshopped a table cloth pattern and had fun creating coffee stains on it, dropping in ‘real’ objects such as tobacco, keys, coins, a comb, guitar picks among which would be polaroid images of each band member and their thanks lists. All in all the outcome was very pleasing – all the more so as it was all a Photoshop montage.
So that was the start of my long and glittering freelance career in the production of bands’ album covers…
Oh… wait… Hang on a minute…!
The first single, “Hypocrite” was intended to be followed by “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You”, however, “Pressure Drop” was eventually chosen to be the second single. The album originally was meant to have a greasy spoon café feel to it… the cover image was changed at the last moment for a more vibrant group shot.
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