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.

Ellis Jarrett – Chelsea Girl

Haven’t watched one of Ellis’s videos for ages. He always just sounds so good to me. Dunno why. He just has a nice voice and can strum along pretty well. Always seems quite effortless. I love the pace of this version and the quirks he brings to it.
No hi hat to endure! 😂😂😂😂😂

Nothing Has Ever Felt So Good…

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As that…”embrace”. I genuinely never wanted it to end! I’m ssooo glad this photo exists because I never wanted this moment to end…and at least with the magic of photography, in a sense that moment WILL last forever. I’ll never forget the feeling of it, ever.

And…it feels like it was a time in which he liked me.

Today, looking back at these photos and memories – seeing a bit of FB Live filming I did from the seafront – I really, REALLY regret letting Jim walk by as he passed me on the promenade. HE BLOODY WAVED AT ME! I’m such a fucking idiot! Lol. I don’t know what he thought afterwards. Lol. Maybe he was walking along thinking “I thought this chick was into me? She cannae be that much.” Lol

Something of the type must have crossed his mind as, later, just a few moments before this photo was taken when Adrian (the photobomber) had asked if he could have a photo with Jim, Jim replied, “Sure. She (looking at me) doesn’t want one.” Sadly I remember my rather pathetic “I do!” reply. Lol. I still wish I had said “And a photo! BOOM BOOM!” I mean, shit, he even set the innuendo up for me and I didn’t even bite! Lol.

Too awestruck. Dumbstruck.
Dumb fuck! Lol

Anyway…Bridlington 2017 will remain forever special.

Halcyon days.

Memorable Tours?

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An interesting post on SMOG from a long-time fan, reminiscing about the Floating World tour of 2002.

It gives a little pang of envy. I know this person has been relatively close to the band in the past. They have stories to tell. Lovely memories. You know…it sounds like more than just “band and fan”. A thing that I had always dreamed of. A thing that I sometimes kidded myself I had, you know. Not overtly so! It’s just that yearning of reciprocation. You love the band, so you hope the band loves you too. “She is your friend, until the bitter end.” But it can only go so far. And I just want more than I can have. It’s that simple. But even that little bit I *did* feel I had is all but gone.

I’ll shut up about it!

Anyway, said fan asked what our favourite tour was. He had talked about this tour like the “gig hop” tours I’ve been on. Following the band around, seeing them all over the place. But again, his experiences were back in “halcyon days”. Soundchecks you didn’t have to pay for to experience. Time just hanging out with the band after shows and stuff. Like, not just a quick signing and a photo op, but a chat at a bar or restaurant. Talk that went into the wee hours. A number of fans have these stories.

Anyway, I think his gigging goes back to 1986? Or maybe ‘89. A long way back anyway. But the Floating World tour was his favourite, he said. Others chimed in with 5×5 Live…just to make me spit even MORE chips!

I gave it a second’s thought. Of my EXTENSIVE range of tours, Big Music (technically one gig, though I saw them twice in 2015, the second was a festival slot, so not strictly a Big Music tour gig, I guess), Acoustic and Walk Between Worlds…I dunno. I have to discount Big Music, it was just two gigs – but that first ever Simple Minds gig at Cambridge will always hold a special place. And of the other two, Acoustic and Walk Between Worlds – both were amazing for differing reasons. But I guess Acoustic just pips it because…just…meeting Jim and hearing him say my name at Bristol and…yeah. All that silly “falling in love” business. Lol. But for WBW there was the album signing, Barras and the meet and greet at Colchester.

But who knows what this year will hold? I am on a MASSIVE 12 show hop-a-long, seeing them in six different countries (seven, if you separate England and Scotland). Let’s see where the wind takes us…

UK Drum Show – September 21st, 2019 – Manchester

It was a bit of a palaver getting in to the venue. People had lined up promptly. I arrived there about 9.25am for the 9.30am start. The queue hardly moved in 30 mins. There was an appearance by Matt Garstka on the main stage due for 10am and many people who had paid to see it were still queued up outside at 9.55am. They were being filtered through by this point but they probably weren’t going to make it in. I hope Matt delayed things so people got in.

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I had booked to have a free drum lesson at the Trinity College booth for 10.15 and I just about made it in there. It was my first experience of an electronic kit. We were on Roland kits (can’t remember the model – lovely kit though) and had just a bit of basic tuition. We played along to Queen’s We Will Rock You and then to James Brown’s Hot Pants before going on to Blur’s Song 2 which did me in. Lol. It seems like it would be really straight forward, Song 2, but heck, there’s a whole lot of patting your head whilst rubbing your tummy stuff going on with that. Lol

I walked about a bit checking things out. Then I saw Emily Dolan-Davies and had a great chat with her and another man whose name I didn’t catch, but he was one of Nathan Shingler’s tutors. We had a good talk and he offered me some great pearls of wisdom in terms of how I get on with my own learning and stuff. I briefly met Nathan’s parents too.

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I went out for a bite to eat and then met up with fellow Minds fan Dave Kelly. We had a good chinwag and then went in to see Cherisse’s masterclass.

A fab masterclass it was too. We learned about Cherisse’s career. How she started out, who she’s drummed for professionally, as well as her performing demonstration medleys showcasing music from the acts she’s worked with.

Below are some vid from the masterclass of her talking about working with Mika and then talking about her time with Bryan Ferry and Paloma Faith and now her time with SM and showcasing a medley of Minds stuff (the observant amongst you will hear a little bit more of LITCoA ahead of its October 4th release).

She put on a great show and a really strong showcase of her immense talent. Jim’s tag of referring to her as “a little dynamo” is WHOLLY justified. For someone so petite, she has such power behind her! But also the subtlety when required.

 

She was doing a signing after the masterclass and I queued up just to say hi and to badger her for more lessons. Lol. Hopefully I’ll get to have a few in the weeks ahead.

As for kit that took my eye? Well, it needs to be about the sound and feel, but I was far too scared to test anything out. I have no real knowledge of what I want or need and a show like this isn’t really much of a buying experience for a complete beginner. Well, I don’t think anyway. So I was just looking at the aesthetics if kits. There was a beautiful looking Natal kit. The bass drums on the Natal’s are HUGE! I love the look of Rusty drums and there was a beautiful bass skin on display on their stall.

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But for looks and affordability, there was a lovely looking Gretsch there for £625. I know Dave Ruffy of Ruts DC plays on Gretsch kits and he always sounds awesome.

But Cherisse’s Tama kit looks and sounds amazing too. And I have been having most of my lessons on Pearl kits, so…how will I ever make my mind up?! Lol

After the brief chat with Cherisse and goodbyes with Dave, there was just time enough for another scoot about and a coffee over the road at the Costa before getting the coach back to London and onwards to home.

All in all, a fab day. I’d do it again.

The Wee Oui Acoustic Gig

Just over a year since the last Acoustic gig, tonight in Paris, Simple Minds Ltd Ed (ie: Jim, Charlie, Cherisse and Sarah) played an acoustic set at a secret location (La Reservoir) to a select group of fans. Lucky people they were!

The gig was aired live on French radio station Oui FM. The set lasted just on an hour and it was fabulous. From great versions of dancier and more rocking tracks like Summer, Waterfont and The American, to more ephemeral and tender pieces like Sense Of Discovery, Glittering Prize and Long Black Train…it was a little like taking a time warp back a year to those amazing acoustic shows.

There was meant to be a Q and A on Facebook after, and there was a link to Oui FM’s TV channel online…but nothing worked or was viewable. A shame…after such a great gig, I aticipated seeing some Jim and Charlie banter. Never mind. You can’t win them all.

You lucky Parisians…you experienced something very special tonight.

Listen to the full gig below.
Thank you to Ricardo Benavente Martin for providing me with the audio. It is much appreciated ❤️