Tuesday, 27 October 2015

The Art of Punk


I have two bigs passions in my life: graphic design and punk rock (well, and Japan too but I haven't found a way to get that onto Colin's blog yet!). I came to love each of these things in relatively similar ways – unintentionally. 

I've always been a creative person. I loved art classes more than anything else at school, despite being academically-able. But graphic design is not really something you learn about in school (or I didn’t anyway), which is odd because graphic design is everywhere. Graphic design is the means to communicate visually and problem-solve using text, image, colour and [negative] space – this could be to sell something or simply to inform. I didn't really know what I wanted to do with my life at school – who does?! – but somewhere along the way I discovered ‘graphic design’. So I left school and went to college to study graphic design – rather than staying on to do A-levels as was expected. Then went on to university to study graphic design and now, you guessed it, I'm a graphic designer! I now design educational books for a living but I have dabbled in design for music: at university (in Cornwall) I designed posters for local gigs and since leaving university I’ve designed a few record sleeves – nothing punk-realated (yet), sadly.

My introduction to graphic design was a gradual one, which is pretty similar to punk rock for me. I've listened to music all my life. My parents have great taste in music (REM, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Pink Floyd etc.) – but not so much punk – so I had a good musical upbringing. But it took until I was 18 or so for me to realise that the music that I really loved was punk rock. As a teenager I flitted between various 'favourite' bands from a variety of rock-based genres including Funeral for a Friend and Muse. I also went to a lot of local ska shows (I'm from Milton Keynes, the home of Capdown!) – ska being a genre I've only recently re-kindled a love for (thanks, Colin!). But in 2008 I discovered The Gaslight Anthem and around the same time I also discovered Frank Turner, and I guess you could say that they ‘changed my life’. Although I didn't really realise it at the time, these two artists led me to discover a variety of other bands and musicians that fall into the broad category of punk rock. Now, although I still appreciate other styles of music – folk and Americana particularly – I am well and truly a punk rock fan… for life. I can't even really describe what it is about the music that I like: the energy, the fast pace and passionate nature of the songs. Something like that. That’s probably what any punk rock fan says! All I know is I love punk rock.

Where am I actually going with all of this? Well, Colin writes excellent reviews of gigs and albums but he doesn't really talk about the visual aspect of the punk rock world. Gig posters, t-shirts and, most of all, album artwork are a fairly important aspect of music, punk rock in particularly. Of course, this is by no means as important as the music itself! I'm sure I'm not the only one who appreciates; a beautiful record sleeve for your collection, a nice-looking poster for your wall or an eye-catching t-shirt design to wear with pride – whether you're a designer like me or not. So, from now on I will be writing a design-themed blog series for Colin's Punk Rock World. These will be posted (hopefully) every Tuesday.

So, to fuel your need for great punk rock design, here is the iconic cover for London Calling by The Clash – also an excellent album musically!


The album sleeve is designed by Ray Lowry, more famously known for his satire cartoons, with the composition for the cover being based on Elvis Presley’s debut album. In place of Elvis, London Calling features a photograph of Paul Simonon smashing his bass guitar* on stage at The Palladium in 1979. The shot was captured by Pennie Smith who specialises in black and white photography and has photographed many well-known musicians in her career.

In my opinion, it is this expertly captured photo that makes this album cover so eye-catching. It’s almost irrelevant that the composition is based on an old Elvis album. I’m not particularly familiar with Elvis anyway but I imagine London Calling is far more known for the design than the original! I’d certainly say that London Calling is up there with Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and Nirvana’s Nevermind as one of the most iconic album covers of all time. And it is almost certainly one of the top punk album covers.

Photographs of my own vinyl copy.

* I do not usually condone the smashing of perfectly good instruments for entertainment purposes but it was 1979 and it was The Clash… I’ll let it pass.