Priptona Talks – To Stuart Crouch

Regular visitors to the blog will be able tell how much graphics and the visual arts feature here and in my life in general. I’m a bit of an amateur artist and love creating my own visual interpretations and I also like to draw and paint (even if I am not very good at it). One aspect of art that has featured heavily as a focal point for me personally is album artwork.

In my latest interview in the “Priptona Talks” series, I spoke to Stuart Crouch of eponymously named Stuart Crouch Creative about his career as a graphic designer and of his work with Simple Minds as their current graphic art designer.

The Empires and Dance album cover that helped inspire Stuart’s first cover art he produced for Simple Minds.

What made you interested in graphic design? At school I wasn’t really sure what graphic design was but I liked painting and drawing, creating stuff. I was very into music and would make my own mix tapes and draw the covers – copying the logos and graphics from Smash Hits.

How did you start out? We didn’t have a 6th year at my school but my art teacher let a bunch of us take our O Levels a year early so we could then take our A levels in the 5th. My plan was to then go to art college but for a number of reasons I ended up skipping that and joined the art department at Barclays Bank as an apprentice. From there I went to an company in Covent Garden who specialised in movie video covers and then onto an agency called Peacock. This would have been the early 90s and that was my introduction to album cover design.

Is there anyone else’s work that was a particular influence in pursuing a career in graphic design? I would buy albums just for their artwork, my idol was Malcolm Garrett although he was then known by his company name – Assorted Images. His work was everywhere in the 80s – I would walk into a record shop, pick out the sleeves I liked and then check the credits and it was always Malcolm. That’s who I wanted to be and that’s what I wanted to do.

Who are your influences or other artists you admire (not necessarily in the graphic design field)? Kate Bush has been a big influence on me. She puts as much creativity into the visual side of her work as her music, not only her videos but her artwork, stage sets, everything. It’s that attitude to work and attention to detail that I admire.

Do you work or create in other mediums, or in other areas of the creative arts? I used to be in a band, I think that’s true of a lot of people in the music industry – lots of frustrated musicians around. If you’d heard my lyrics you’d see why I ended up as a graphic designer!

3D model of Celebrate album artwork.

How did you start out with doing graphics for Simple Minds? They had a new management team, who I’d worked with previously on Simply Red, and they needed a poster for the 5×5 Tour. That led to designing the album of that tour and they’ve stuck with me ever since.

What is your favourite work you have produced for SM? Tricky one, I think the Celebrate album cover. Their Claddagh (heart / hands symbol) had been perhaps a little overused by that point and I wanted to try something different. I had a photo of Jim Morrison’s bust from his grave, at Père Lachaise – Paris, and it was covered in graffiti (photo below) – I thought it made a cool image – a mix of classic and punk. I sent it to their management team and suggested we use the stone bust from Empires and Dance with their song titles scribbled on but treated like an art piece in a gallery. We created a 3D model of the head (photo above) based on that one photo and commissioned a lettering artist (Ruth Rowland) to hand write all the song titles. I don’t think the band were convinced by the concept at first but had enough faith in me to see it through and they loved the finished image. When their 40th anniversary came along I thought – shit, what do I do now! That Celebrate image would have been ideal – but it was already done. So then I hit on the idea of the badges in a heart shape and I think that does the same job but in a different way, nostalgic but new.

Jim Morrison’s gravestone in Paris.

The concepts for designs – esp. with the Simple Minds albums – are you given free licence to do whatever you feel suits? Or are you given a basic conceptual idea? Do the band themselves have much input? Each album or project is different, sometimes the artist has a clear idea what they want, sometimes it’s a blank slate but it usually ends up somewhere in the middle. One of us will start with the germ of an idea and we’ll play with it until it sticks. Jim is an absolute dream to work with – he won’t dictate how you do it but he’ll suggest moods and themes to help get you there. You want the design to feel like a natural extension of the music so the writer’s input is invaluable.

As the visual designer for the Doctor Who audio/visual output (Blu-ray/DVDs/Books/Audiobooks) – I have to ask – WHO is your favourite Doctor? That’s easy – it’s always Tom Baker for me. He was The Doctor when I was growing up, which maybe gives him an unfair advantage, but no story was ever boring or under-par when Tom was in it.

What would be your best piece of advice for someone wanting to work or gain employment in the graphic design field? It’s a very different industry now, you no longer have to work for a big agency to be taken seriously and social media means it’s easier to get your work out there and be seen. The downside is that there’s so much more competition because of that. If you want to get into music graphics my advice would be to approach up-and-coming bands or artists and ask to work with them. I get the appeal of aiming straight for the big guns but that’s trickier, you’ll have a lot more freedom with someone new, a chance to create looks and identities that young kids will be drawing on their pencil cases. Musicians are a pretty loyal bunch so there’s every chance they’ll take you with them on their journey. It will probably mean working for free at first but it gives you a chance to develop your skills and create a portfolio.

Portfolio of Stuart’s album cover art produced for Simple Minds.

Are there artists, be they in the entertainment field (bands, musicians, actors, writers, etc) or other visual artists, that you’d like to work with or collaborate with? Duran Duran – if you’re listening, I’m waiting for your call!

Lastly – do you have a favourite colour? Not really, but if you put a knife to my throat I’d go for dark blue.

My thanks to Stuart for his time for the interview.

Photos used were provided to me by Stuart.

A Bedroom Fit For A 14 Year Old (In 1984)

Several months back, I acquired some posters. I recently got a couple up on the walls, which meant removing other SM memorabilia off my walls to make them fit. Today those things were placed back up on the walls with some of the other posters making their debut on my bedroom walls.

Also my amazing prize that I won from the Echo Lab from buying raffle tickets to win a drumhead signed by Cherisse (with a signed photo also) arrived today. I’m yet to put that on the wall though, as I will need to get a suitable frame so I can display it.

Studio Time – And Other News

Great news from Sarah Brown’s social media pages yesterday. Some more good news would be most welcome.

There is such conflicting stuff I’m seeing at the moment when it comes to live music. Who knows where we’ll be by the summer?

I’m not feeling very hopeful. The 1975 have cancelled all their 2021 dates, meanwhile Field Music have just announced a new tour for October – even in January, that seems ambitious.

We booked for Scritti Politti Cupid And Psyche ‘85 tour in September but…yeah, it’s already starting to look doubtful.

Simple Minds still have dates in March for France and Germany – yet to be rescheduled again. I guess they’re just abandoning them outright? Confirmation of a cancellation would be good right now.

My flights with EasyJet to France and Italy have been cancelled – with no dates for rescheduling so….

It doesn’t bear thinking about. Anyway.

Some good news, at least.

The Whole Bolan

The makers of Uncut magazine have brought out a special edition of the magazine with a whole issue dedicated entirely to Marc Bolan.

I just had a quick perusal of it and it looks pretty good. Loads of detail and lots of great photos. I’ll give it a more substantial read later on.

The Eye Of The Beholder

A chat and a bit of a look-see at my new fangirl treasure…

I think this must be from 1982 – perhaps in Berlin – despite looking up Max Kohr and it showing him based in Cologne. There’s a caption on the back that Google Translate says translates as “soon in our city”, so it could have been taken anywhere in Germany…or elsewhere in Europe, even.

Isn’t it FABULOUS?! 🥰🥰🥰

Minds Music Monday – Act Of Love

I always consider it an “act of love” that these, let’s face it – barely adult boys (yes, screaming oxymoron there!) – would form a band and rehearse and play and that most gorgeous of those boys (bias!) would be the glue that acts as the cohesion to get it all to gel with his words and his voice and his drive and passion and just…yeah.

It’s an “act of love” for music, for life, travel, wanting to experience a world outside of Glasgow.

How can we, as fans, not be thankful for that?

Jim posted about the anniversary of the first “official” Simple Minds gig yesterday, a whole week before the date. Still showing that enthusiasm almost 43 years down the line.

He talked of the band of boys – Tony Donald (god bless his soul), Charlie, Joe Donnelly and of Brian. And their varying likes of music and where their influences in learning to play sprung from.

Jim himself? He seemed the one that just wanted to see it all come to fruition – whether he was actually part of the band or not. He just seems like that kind of man. An “influencer” if you will – long before the word became sullied by people on Instagram seeking fame for fame’s sake and living the Andy Warhol dream of being “famous for 15 minutes”.

Because that’s what Jim seems to do with people. He seems to, not only have his own astounding level of enthusiasm and drive and self-belief – he tries to pass it on to others or to deepen their own level of passion and drive. And he’s amazing with it. It’s almost a skewed act of altruism.

It’s early days, and early Minds. And there are others there that night too, not mentioned yesterday. Duncan Barnwell. David and Jaine Henderson (doing sound and lights, respectively).

I sought Jaine’s permission when posting this photo before, I hope she won’t mind me using it again. It seemed apt, given the subject and context.

Perhaps he meant to share this photo when talking of those early days when the guys were still learning to play before that first gig. (What happened to the guitar, Jim?) I first saw it when Jaine shared it and tagged Brian. I’m guessing Charlie’s the one that took the photo? He’s conspicuous by his absence.

Anyway….all journeys set out from a start point, or perhaps several smaller points that converge for one joint starting point – here’s one of Simple Minds’.

One Week In

I had a bit of a breakthrough shortly after doing this video and cracked even more of it again after a coffee and some stollen.

The photo below shows how it looks at day’s end today.

Its’s No (Mug’s) Game

Over 21 years I’ve had this. It was one of the first things I bought when I arrived in the UK. A souvenir of my first ever visit to London, in the summer of 1999.

It has been the mug I have used first every day ever since. Either for tea (I wasn’t a coffee drinker when I moved over here) or latterly for my first cup of coffee of the day (unless away from home. Obvs).

I currently have five Simple Minds themed mugs, including the most recent wonderful birthday gift. Several others have been broken over the past few years, but this Bowie mug just keeps on keeping on. It even survived the move to Glasgow in tact.

It’s a little chipped around the lip. After 21 years it would be doing well to be in perfect nick!

David is part of my daily ritual. Coffee and banana. That’s “breakfast” for me – a frothy milky coffee and a banana.

The only thing about the mug that makes me sad is – like with a TON of other things – it’s right-hand centric and the the images of David are only visible to right-handed drinkers.

Being somewhat ambidextrous himself (Bowie was left-handed when writing) I’d like to think he’d be pissed off that I, as a fellow kack-hander, can’t see the images when I’m drinking my bevvie each morning.

Here’s to another 21 years of a mug’s life!