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From Cover To Cover
They don’t come much more authoritative that PAUL DU NOYER. Over a thirty year-plus career spent in music journalism, ranging from staff writer at NME to founding editor of MOJO, as well as penning the John Lennon biography We All Shine On and extensive Liverpool music history Wondrous Place, he is well placed to pass on wisdom and learning to us mere mortals. This Thursday (20th September) sees a great chance for us to catch Du Noyer in full flow as he brings his talk The Art Of The Album Cover to The Bluecoat, for what will prove to be a fascinating talk. Tickets for this event are available on bidolito.co.uk now, and only a limited number of places are left.
THE BIG HOUSE will be on hand to provide musical accompaniment to the evening, in line with similar In Conversation events previously held by event organisers Little Atom Productions (past events featuring Paul McGann, Janice Long and Peter Serafinowicz, plus Stephen Graham to come in November).
Bido Lito!’s Christopher Torpey was fortunate enough to catch a few minutes with Paul Du Noyer ahead of the event – here is a snippet of the things they talked about…
Bido Lito!: Hello Paul, thanks for agreeing to talk to us ahead of this event at The Bluecoat.
Paul Du Noyer: No problem! It should be a good night!
BL!: When we saw it announced we immediately thought back to that three-part piece on vinyl culture that you did in The Word magazine, and our immediate thoughts were that it was going to be an interactive version of that…
PDN: Yes, there will quite a sort of overlap I think.
BL!: How will the format of the evening go then: will it be in the form of a lecture?
PDN: It’s based upon a talk I was asked to give at the V&A last year, and what I did was I basically just lectured and showed people about fifty album covers. I’ll be keeping it fairly similar in Liverpool, but maybe add in some live music. It’ll be along the lines of the In Conversation events [by Little Atom Productions], interspersed with acoustic music. The format of those is that someone gets interviewed on stage, and this event at The Bluecoat will be a kind of hybrid of that really. We’ve got Paul Molloy and Candie Payne of The Big House there: I think they’re going to do four acoustic songs at various stages during my presentation.
BL!: You say you’ve done this presentation a few times before, it’s obviously a subject you get a lot of enjoyment talking about then…
PDN: Well I think it’s a massive subject. Although I did it once at the V&A I can do a completely different version of it: this one will be more Liverpool oriented, in terms of the album covers I include, but it’s such a big subject you know, you could do it every day of the week and have a completely different text to talk about.
BL!: This Art Of The Album Cover idea originally appeared in The Word Magazine as the first in a three part feature on Vinyl Culture, and you said in there that the act of carrying around albums and displaying them to the world was like a badge of identity, and likened that to being “the Facebook of its day”.
PDN: Yeh. Well I think that’s true, and that’s like a lot of things like album covers really: a lot of things are passing in to history, and it’s a good time to take stock and remember and celebrate what was great about them when they were at their height. But it’s also interesting to me to try and work out where all that creativity is going to be channelled. Because it will go somewhere. I’m not in despair at the death of the album cover, it’s had its day really. What I’m interested in now is YouTube: most young people are discovering their music through YouTube, far more so than any other platforms. And of course the thing about YouTube is that it’s a visual medium, unlike mp3s which are invisible. There is still plenty of scope for great design in the dissemination of music I think. Whether people can make the most of that remains to be seen, we’ll have to watch and see how that develops.
BL!: That’s an interesting point: the album cover hasn’t necessarily died as an art form, but it’s important it seems to be have been largely replaced in importance by the art form of the music video.
PDN: Yes. Well videos really started to come in as a major thing in the 1980s, which was around the time that the album cover itself was going in to decline, and was being replaced by the CD. And while the CD has obviously got a design element it just wasn’t quite the same. The shrinking down from 12 inches to 5 inches robbed the visual of a lot of its impact I think.
BL!: Of course, and things do change, and they always have done in music history.
PDN: Oh absolutely. I’d just like to salute the album sleeve really, I’m not going to be standing up calling for its return! Everything changes, everything moves on, and that’s had it day. It was a great day, but whatever happens next will just be as interesting I think.
BL!: You still get a feeling for the impact of record sleeves when you venture in to record shops, and there’s that riot of colour emblazoned across the walls and in the rack. For example Probe in Liverpool…
PDN: Exactly, I’m physically incapable of walking past Probe! I’ve always liked it in its various incarnations: when I first knew it it was just off Mount Pleasant. Every vinyl record shop is a treasure trove, like an art gallery in a way.
BL!: Coming back to the badges of identity thing, do you think the records that the owners pull out and put on the walls behind the counter say something about the people who run the place?
PDN: Yes. Well because they are kind of big and splashy album covers are a very quick way of making a statement of your identity, or a statement about your tastes. Record shops do it, and people still do it in their houses by the carefully-selected records they’d leave lying around! It was a way of saying “this is who I am, this is what I’m about”.
BL!: We’re going to put you on the spot a little bit here Paul, and I’m sure a lot of people have asked you this before but we can’t resist! If you had to pick your favourite three album sleeves of all time, that would be the only three you could stare at for the rest of time, what would they be?
PDN: Ha! I could happily wallpaper a house with old album covers I love looking at them that much! I always prefer to talk in terms of people’s favourites rather than trying to compile so-called ‘best of’ lists. I’ve worked in the music press for a long time, and one of the things I got really bored with towards the end was this growing obsession with trying to put everything in to ‘best of’ lists. That was boring to me because it’s always pushing everything back towards this consensus, whereas it’s more fun to discover things on the margins.
But if I had to pick a few favourites I could do it easily: I’ve got one up on my wall in front of me and it’s just called Merseybeat. It’s a 60s thing, basically just an exploitation record, session musicians playing bad versions of Beatles and Gerry And The Pacemakers songs! It’s just a great, moody 60s painting of a boy sitting on a dockside, that looks very crudely like the River Mersey, with a very badly-drawn version of Birkenhead in the background. But it’s a beautifully atmospheric thing so I’ve got that up on my wall.
I love the David Bowie album Low. It’s got the orangey cover with his face in profile. It reminds me of one of my favourite albums. It just captures him as an artist at his absolute peak of brilliance and of stylishness.
And aaahhh… [thinks and agonises for a while, no doubt mulling over thousands of choices] Err, Come Fly With Me, by Sinatra. It’s a really cheesy image of Frank Sinatra getting on to an aeroplane, and the album is full of these songs about exotic destinations that he’s enjoying. It’s just a great period peace really, bright and cheerful and corny but very fun.
...the debate continued for another twenty minutes or so, wandering down paths such as the future of print journalism, the transient nature of music ownership, and Du Noyer's upcoming biography on Liverpool's "most influential band" Deaf School, the crux that held things together between the Cavern and Eric's eras. Du Noyer is a great conversationist and talker with a fantastic depth of knowledge, but most of all he's a music fanatic, and that comes across in his desire to spread his enthusiasm. Before ringing off he unearthed this succinct gem: “the album cover in a way is the ultimate symbol of the age of physical ownership” - need we say any more?
Paul Du Noyer: The Art Of The Album Cover takes place at The Bluecoat on 20th Septmeber, doors 7pm. Advance tickets available here.