I hope they judge this ‘book’ by the cover

This past year has been difficult for people like me who normally work closely with other people.  The normal process of making a record usually involves lots of different musicians all locked in the same room together until the music is just right.  Last year that wasn’t possible, so you have to find another way. 

In my case it was getting all of my band to record their contributions at home in their own studios and then email them all to me to put together. It hasn’t been easy, but we have managed to collaborate from a distance, and I have now completed a couple of tracks that are ready to show to the world.

Now comes the next question, this is music we are trying to share but how do we package it, what does the record look like?

Things were very different for my last record ‘Butterfly’.  At the time I was based almost every day at the Hyst on Swansea High Street. Just up the road was a brilliant photographer and designer named Richie Crossley.  I’d got to know Richie over the years as we often swapped and borrowed cameras and lighting equipment.  With a major project on my hands and having seen his portfolio I told him all about the record and left it to him.

Richie Crossley photographer, Sarah Fairbrother Williams Make Up.

We started with a photo shoot on a night when the Hyst was closed and after that it was a case of going through literally hundreds of pictures trying to find the right one for the cover. Having found the image, the next task included choosing type face and putting the picture into some sort of design.  Richie was brilliant coming with almost too many options.  It was only when he put my picture into the cut out of a butterfly that everything came together and made sense.

This time I didn’t have that luxury.  The Hyst had closed its doors and we just couldn’t organise a special photoshoot with people all gathered together in a studio.

This time I had to work the other way around. 

Over the years I have often presented radio programmes about art and so I’m hooked in to a number of galleries around Wales.  It was when I was looking at the website of the Attic Gallery that I noticed a new collection of work by Swansea artist Carolyn Little. The first thing that struck me was how alive the paintings seemed.  Carolyn manages to combine vivid colours in all sorts of wonderful patterns, and they seemed to leap off the canvas or as in my case leap off the computer screen.

Painting by Carolyn Little

Now the song I had chosen to release is entitled ‘I Still Think About You’.  There is actually a game people play in the film and TV world where they try to come up with the best description to pitch a project to a studio or commissioner because in reality they don’t have time or the inclination to read the full project synopsis.  Maybe something like ‘The Sound of Music meets Die Hard’ or ‘Peter Rabbit meets Star Wars’.  As you can see, the idea is to try to paint a picture in the commissioners mind to save them having to read too much.

They say my new record sounds quite retro…what do you mean retro I’ve been doing the same things since 1973, its just you lot have been around the block a couple of times before coming back to me.  There are so many different ways to write a song, but it always seems magical to me.  One minute there isn’t a song and a couple of minutes later there is a song!!!

Sometimes I write to order for a show or with another writer but last year I had so much time on my hands that I just kept writing. 

What I have noticed lately with a lot of new music they don’t have too many chords, so I set myself a task of not writing a song but limiting the number of chord changes.  That might sound daft because each song should have exactly the right number of chords that it needs but sometimes the boys in my band look at me as if I’m being paid by the number of chords I can fit in a song. 

This one night I tried to limit the number of chords to 3, possibly 4 and before I knew it I had come up with a song I thought sounded pretty modern.  It was only when I sent it to the boys in the band that I got the feeling that they didn’t quite agree, they thought it was definitely retro in feel. But if you want to get played on the radio it has to sound a certain way. Retro is good but it has to sound modern too!

So, after that we all tried to take the ‘retro’ and put a modern twist onto it.  I’m not sure who came up with the plan that we should make a record that sounded like ‘Club Tropicana meets Daft Punk’ but it sort of stuck and became a road map for each instrument we added.

Anyway, back to the Attic Gallery.  So, I had my song and I had my sound, now all I had to do was find a look.  As soon as I saw Carolyn’s work online I knew it was there. I was sure my look was there in one of the paintings but with so much quality to choose from…which one?

Luckily a friend of mine knew Carolyn and introduced us.  I was a little nervous as I tried to explain what I was looking for because I don’t think I was making much sense.  I needn’t have worried, Carolyn seemed tickled pink that we might take one of her works and make them into a record cover. As well as the work on show at the Attic Gallery Carolyn had some other works that it was suggested I see and from that I selected 3 maybe 4.

Now there’s no point in having invested lots of money into my children over the years if I can’t take advantage of them every so often.  My eldest son Jackson had been part of the art department on a lot of TV shows including Dr Who and DaVinci’s’ Demons.  During that time, he often had to come up with graphics and logos.  Sadly, he had been made redundant from his job in the music business in London during the pandemic so with some time on his hands I sent him the pictures of Carolyn’s work together with a couple of pictures of me which had been taken as part of the Grand Theatre project. Then I sent him the song.

I think part of the magic of the photographer’s eye or the designer’s skill is see a full image but then being able to decide where to crop an image to make it work for a specific project.  Jackson loved all of Carolyn’s work (They are amazing dad!) and after a couple of days he started filtering through some design options.

If the sound of the record was retro with a modern twist, then so is the cover.  Carolyn’s use of colour and design have a psychedelic air about them and Jackson cropping of the original image, placing of the photograph of me and the choice of text pay homage to the past but give it a really modern edge.

This week my plugger has been emailing radio stations with a press release.  With so many artists clamouring for attention you need to grab people’s attention straight away so that you can then get them to actually want to press the button to listen to the music.  Without exception everyone who has got back to us has said something like.. ‘I haven’t listened to the song yet, but I love the cover’.

It’s been great to make this record with my band the Jacks and its been terrific to work with Carolyn Little and my son Jackson to bring if it to life with a wonderful cover.

Carolyn’s work is currently on sale via the Attic Gallery in Swansea, but you had better be quick.  If this record keeps on getting the attention it’s had this week before long you might not be able to afford an original!!!


1 thought on “I hope they judge this ‘book’ by the cover”

  1. Jane Caswell

    I heard this on Radio Wales a couple of weeks ago…must have been played by Janice Long. I didn’t realise it was a new song, but loved it immediately. I’m sure it will get lots of airplay! The cover design by Carolyn and Jackson is brilliant too! Hope you have a hit with this one Mal.
    Jane xx

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