After spending most of last week in the studio working intensely on the new ‘old’ album I was hoping this week would be slightly more relaxed but as always there much more to making a record than just the music.
My whole year has been building up to October as I mark the Golden Jubilee of signing to Rocket Records. Back in 1973, having signed my first recording contract, I spent the next 5 months travelling back and for to London making my first LP.
By February 1974 the album was finished and the first single ‘I Don’t Know How to Say Goodbye’ had been released. As we monitored its success plans were put in place to release the full album later that year.
BUT…before that could happen my voice broke and the album was put into storage. 50 years later I was keen to see how those songs sounded and set them free, even if it was only going to be of interest to the family.
First came the request to Elton John asking if I could have my tapes back. Whilst he said yes straight away the past few months have proved rather busy for the ‘Rocket Man’. It was only a few weeks ago that I finally collected the tapes from his rather large ‘lock-up’. The same day I took them to be digitised in London. Once I got home I immediately transferred them to my computer and set about finding what we had to work with.
I then had a chance to tinker for a few days before taking them to Sonic One Studios in Llangennech for Tim Hamill to mix them. The thing is that’s only part of the process.
In the old days the work of the Art Director was all encompassing on creating the image for the artist. Large Vinyl LP’s needed big cardboard sleeves This gave the art director a massive canvas to work with.
These days artists do so much of the ‘image’ promotion themselves with regular posts and pictures on social media but there is still one image that needs careful consideration…the image for streaming and downloading sites. That’s the image that pops up on your phone or tablet when you access your music. Its not very big on a phone so it needs to do an awful lot of ‘heavy lifting’ to capture the feel of the record.
At the start of this project I started searching for the various people who had been part of my story in 1973. The first was David Costa. David had been given the task of producing my first record. He was so kind and gentle whilst also treating me with total respect for the music. It was David who encouraged me to play on my recordings rather than insisting on seasoned session musicians.
After putting music on the back burner David became an art director going on to produce iconic covers for Queen and Elton as well. David made headline news in 2022 when his artwork for Queen’s ‘A Night at the Opera’ went under the hammer. He would probably have sold another of his Queen cover artwork packages for ‘A Day at the Races’ but unfortunately he had thrown all of that out when clearing his studios years earlier. He was pretty sure that although he had thrown out some of his most famous work he had kept some contact sheets from our time in the studio in 73. He would do his best to find them.
The Promotional Press Pack designed by Mike Ross in 1974
The other person I wanted to try to contact was Mike Ross. Mike had been responsible for Art Directing some of Elton’s biggest albums including ‘Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player’ and ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’. After a bit of searching around on the internet I tracked him down to his office in Malta. After sending a speculative email I got a WhatsApp message back saying he was fit and well and still working as hard as ever.
We got chatting about the photo session he did when he came down to Wales. I even managed to dig out my Dad’s diary entry for February 1974 where he described Mike and his wife as being ‘Pleasant people’ before going on to note they were ‘both vegetarians’. We took the photographs in my back garden, on Aberavon beach and at Port Talbot steels works where we almost got arrested for trespassing. Thank fully my dad knew the policeman who came to investigate. A few weeks later he also took a series of pictures in Hyde Park.
I told Mike my plans to release the ‘lost’ album from the seventies and remarkably again, like David Costa, he said he might still have the contact sheets. A week or so later I opened a WhatsApp to find Mike had taken some pictures of the contact sheets he had found. He planned to scan them properly to see what was best to use for a potential cover image.
This week we had to finally decide what image we wanted to create to capture that 70’s feel. Mike sent me a whole series of questions about what I was trying to convey and which images I wanted to use. He would then go away and try to recreate that 70’s moment.
I decided I would go through all of my memorabilia to get a flavour of the times. It was then I came across the original press pack that had been put together by Mike Ross in 1974 to promote my first single. The more I looked at it the more it struck me that instead of trying to recreate something from the 1970’s why didn’t we just use that concept.
When I went back to Mike he said he through that was a good idea. I sent him some images of the press pack and within a few hours we had settled on our new ‘old’ image.
Now whilst I want the album to be by Maldwyn Pope I have learnt from past experience that the internet can be very unforgiving. Like it or not the search engines do pick up on ‘Mal Pope’ taking anyone looking for me or my work to my website or to the various streaming sites they are subscribed to. When I tried to change back to ‘Maldwyn Pope’ it soon became clear that it would mean starting again and losing any valuable traction the internet already had. So the cover says Maldwyn but for all intents and purposes the album will be by Mal Pope.
We now have the album and the album cover, so what’s next? The video…
Over the past year or so every album or single I have released has had a video to go with it. This has proved incredible useful when the records have made the Mike Read Heritage Chart which also has a TV show that goes out around the world. The tricky question was how would I produce a video for an album made 50 years ago when I was 13?
I did a few TV shows back in 1974 but the chances of finding any archive were pretty remote. We did have some home movies from my brother’s cine camera, but I have no idea where they are now.
Then I uttered those words that have struck terror into the hearts of my friends and colleagues over many, many years…I have an idea.
Next week we start filming. I have a good crew coming together to try to see if we can make it work and if its not a complete disaster I’ll probably report back next week.
‘Rocket Boy’ the new old Maldwyn Pope album will be released in September 2023.