Thursday 28 April 2011

Record Sleeve Love and Girl Groups

As I think I've mentioned before, old record sleeves are a constant source of inspiration or fascination. Best of all are the old paper sleeves from 45rpm 7" singles.

Things that I love:
  1. the typefaces
  2. the limited colours
  3. the wear of the thin paper
  4. the way that the designs work with the hole in the middle
  5. the occasionally-misaligned printed blocks
  6. the arcane company addresses
  7. the enthusiastic advertising language
...and I could go on.

Well, they're hardly in short supply: you can go into any charity shop and find boxes of singles to rifle through. You can probably find a relative with a box somewhere.

Today I've found a website that does that job for you and collects gems from all eras and styles of music on vinyl: Record Envelope: The Little Library Of Factory Sleeves.

I've dipped into my parents' little carry-case again and again over the years. The designs are often fun to behold, but even more interesting are the advertisements that used to cover inner sleeves. The same goes for paperback books from around the 1940s. Advertising wasn't any less pervasive in those times.

Here's the back of a Colombia Records sleeve, on Des O'Connor's "Thinking Of You", the b-side of "I Pretend",

efore bed-time...
A Great Morphy-Richards Offer!
"Simply beautiful hair"
by French of London

It's a cross between an instruction diagram and a teen-drama comic strip, another bit of pop culture that is revived from time to time. Here's Betty Rizzo's moment in the titles from Grease (from a full dissection at Clothes On Film).

Those titles in turn inspired Kenickie (if the name wasn't an obvious enough homage), the band that Lauren Laverne fronted in the late 1990s. They started out with a strong girl-group / heartbreak / biker gang vibe, like the Shangri-Las, the Crystals, the Shirelles and so on. Here's the cover of the "Punka" single from 1996.

The style pops up every few years: The Pipettes were doing much the same thing; and over the past few years The Girls, two British artists (Andrea Blood and Zoe Sinclair) have been installing their exhibition / performance art piece "The Paper Eaters", making modern-day teen-drama photo-stories. They had amazing dresses made out of comic strips.

Back to the sleeves: other great finds at Record Envelope include the Micron Music sleeve (the black one near the top of this post) and the home-made Elvis Presley sleeve.

Tuesday 26 April 2011

Competitive Hatcraft

Today I have already been compared to Frank Gehry and Lady Gaga.

Monday 11 April 2011

The Anna Russell Song Book

Anna Russell was an opera singer who turned to comedy. She gained a following for her satire of the classical stage. Clearly, she knew everything about singing and the repertoire, and her routines had just the right level of irreverence for her audience.

When she died, in 2006, I was called on to help my mother to find videos on youtube, including one of her big hits, a synopsis of The Ring Of The Nibelungen. This was filmed in later years and she cut a tremendous figure on stage in a huge floaty pink dress, speaking from the piano. There are lots of laughs as she highlights every ridiculous aspect of Wagner's plot. Clearly, she knew everything about singing and the repertoire.

Today I've found The Anna Russell Song Book, from an earlier period. It's an edition from 1960 and in beautiful condition, including the dust-jacket.

It includes another of her best-known routines, How To Write Your Own Gilbert And Sullivan Opera, sends up the typical roles and the pitfalls of performing operetta.

The introduction: "This short course is included for the benefit of all harassed producers who are wondering whether their audience will stand for 'The Gondoliers' again this year. Just follow these broad outlines and you'll find there's nothing to stop you putting on a completely new Gilbert and Sullivan opera every year, all practically indistinguishable from the original ones - which are practically indistinguishable from each other anyway. This particular example is set in present-day New York, so there isn't even any need to hire the costumes."

Russell goes on to introduce the soprano character Pneumonia; her rich father Parnassus Q. Vanderfeller; her simple and poor true love John Smith (tenor, "pretending to accompany himself on some stringed instrument"); the comic character Clodbelly Bunion for the patter song; and the matronly contralto Dandelion for a surprising revelation. These are all backed up by a chorus of New Yorkers.

In the end, "Nobody will be surprised to hear that John Smith turns out to have the onion mark behind his ear, so that he and Clodbelly Bunion are really each other. So the marriage goes on after all and everybody is happy - except for the funny little man, who always gets paired off with the large contralto. Then they all sing at once and finish up with a terribly traditional dance."

This section of the book comes after some stand-alone songs, including the French parody "Je N'ai Pas La Plume De Ma Tante" with a typically witty introduction:

"The singer with no voice whatever is well catered for these days. The French art song is a particularly fertile source of supply. These generally have utterly beautiful words, set to rather intermittent music, and all the singer is really called upon to contribute is soul. By the way, it is helpful if people can catch a word here and there that they have heard before - like amour or something - because then they'll all feeel one up on everybody else and applaud like mad at the end. This song has been specially arranged with this point in mind."

The illustrations inhabit a mid-point between Gerard Hoffnung and Ronald Searle, in both style and subject. Michael Ffolkes was a cartoonist of some note in Punch and other London publications.

My mother will love it.

Sunday 10 April 2011

Pen Nibs

This idea came about last night, when I saw an old set of nibs that my Laurence had bought in Mestre. One of them looked a bit Eiffel-like. Laurence and Rob are staying in a flat with the best view in all of Venice.

Friday 8 April 2011

Retro Websites 2

Again, How To Be A Retronaut gets my vote with this set of illustrations from a Soviet edition of The Hobbit, by M. Belomlinskij.

Just wonderful.

Retro Websites 1

You know when you find a website that you could get lost in for weeks...
How To Be A Retronaut is just that.

This is from a set of photos of market day in Oxford, 1968. The costumes and locations; the colour and quality of the photos... and it reminds me of my family's old photos. Look at the one of the signs in the butcher's shop!