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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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…
Well, seeing as most days there is not much to report, I have decided to coin the SM “Slow News Sunday Summary”. A look at what morsels have been reported via SMO or other related avenues during the past seven days.
Cherisse on tour with Kelly Jones in June/July
Sir’s been to Sicily
Sarah’s Saturday night gig
Rejuvenation albums now available individually as singles
On Wednesday it was officially revealed by Cherisse on her social media that she will be playing with Kelly Jones (Stereophonics’ frontman) during his solo tour of the UK in June and July. A fan had heard an interview with Jones on radio saying that he was “interviewing” a drummer to tour with him and that SHE currently plays for Simple Minds. A rather large giveaway, but I was remaining nonplussed about it until word came from Cherisse herself.
I had a drumming lesson with her on Thursday and we talked about the news. She said some fans got into a panic, asking her whether it meant the end of her time with SM.
Have no fear, peeps! She’s just grabbing the opportunity for some gigging while there is SM downtime.
Also taking the opportunity to explore other musical avenues during the SM downtime is Sarah Brown, who was a guest of a group called Casca, playing a gig last night in Camden. I would have loved to have gone, but honestly, I cannot reiterate how skint I am right now. But I would have loved to have gone and shown some support.
Jim had a few days in Sicily earlier in the week. Some downtime for him from a busy schedule of writing, etc… all actually very elusive as to what else he’s doing other than him saying he’s “writing”.
Anyway…mustn’t dwell on how quiet it is, eh? And actually, I SHOULD be thankful because I have sod all money to do anything with … and that would be FAR worse! If they were touring around and I couldn’t do anything about it.
Speaking of things that cost money that I can’t really do anything about…
After now having released the Rejuvenation box sets and having had us all invest in those (well, those of us who could…), the albums and CDs are now available to purchase individually.
I am now in absolute dilemma mode. A huge part of me wants the box sets because of the packaging. Another part of me says it means I can invest in the vinyl that I was most interested in getting from the box set with a smaller outlay spread over time. The CD/DVD box set I definitely DO want to invest in. But it is going to have to wait.
A very favourable review of the Rejuvenation box set inside the latest edition of Mojo magazine.
Oh, and post New Gold Dream…Sparkle In The Rain (just as the first example) only went straight in at number one in the UK chart and spawned three hit singles…but “they seldom came anywhere near that masterpiece”. Okaaaaay…
It’s the only bit of the review that is questionable to me.
For those, like me, who can’t get it yet…but would just like to experience the feel of the unboxing…
(Actually didn’t take in that Big Music STILL doesn’t come as the deluxe format on vinyl…even though it is spread over 2 LPs. COME ON! I just assumed because the deluxe version is now back on Spotify, it was the deluxe version on vinyl. But from what I saw in the unboxing…it’s still only the standard issue. If it’s about space for the grooves, well, by comparison WBW has four songs on each side of the first LP and then the three bonus “deluxe” songs on one side of the second LP on the blue (and Ltd Ed fuchsia) vinyl edition. Okay, there are SIX extra tracks on the Big Music deluxe CD – but Bittersweet and Liaison needed to be on the reissue. Seriously! If you could add Too Much Television to B&W 050505, why not have added those two to the Big Music vinyl? WTF?!)
Och, you know…I’m actually really wanting this now. It does look very pretty…you know…aesthetics and all that.
I’m so shallow!
But…there’s little point in me rushing to get it just now. It will just be more stuff to pack and shift to a new home…so I might as well put it off for now. I can’t even play vinyl at the moment either anyway. I’d literally just be unboxing it and fondling it for now. Lol
So…I have OTHER delights coming. A set of three photos that Virginia Turbett has of Jim changing shirts. Oh, Santa baby! THANK YOU! Think I may have to laminate these ones…protect them from potential water damage (hazardous drool pool!). They will definitely be getting framed and…erm…mounted, anyway.
I can’t rightly remember just HOW MUCH “tit action” takes place. I think he’s like half-way out of one shirt in the first, then topless in the second and then half-way into the new shirt in the third…I think. He’s definitely topless in one – that one is definitely getting laminated! I may even get a BIGGER version. Ahem!
ANYWAYS…this post was KINDA meant to be about the Rejuvenation box set, and why I was now feeling quite forlorn it wouldn’t be with me tomorrow for an unboxing.
In the meantime there’s always Spotify…not quite the same audio-visual experience, granted. I’ll console myself listening to Neon Lights and ogling Jim’s glorious nipples.
Man! Absolute PISH it isn’t starting from Our Secrets Are The Same. Virgin – you are asshats! Come on!! You could have made some deal with Chrysalis, Sanctuary and Caroline Int.
So instead it starts with Neon Lights…meh…okay.
I still remain to be won over by Cry. I dunno why…I looooove Spaceface. And I like Disconnected and Sleeping Girl. I can’t rexplain why…some of the tracks just sit uneasy with me or just….I dunno… I gotta watch what I say.
Really happy to see Black And White 050505 on vinyl AT LAST! No Searching For The Lost Boys bonus for the Graffiti Soul version – which was a much superior “covers” piece than Neon Lights was (in my humble opinion anyway).
So, for me, apart from finally getting B&W on vinyl at long last…I don’t see much reason why I should invest. I suppose the completist in me might like Cry on vinyl too.
I don’t even play Neon Lights on CD…not sure I’d wear out the stylus with that. A box set means you have to commit to all or nothing. It’s a bugger! Perhaps they’ll come out individually afterwards? I believe that’s what happened with the Bowie box sets.
And, please…for the love of god – can we please have Our Secrets Are The Same on vinyl?!!! PLEASE?!!
I wasn’t going to buy from the SM shop because…you know, I am sooo bloody skint right now…but how could I pass up getting two SM shirts for £10?
I’d had my eye on this Koko “Themes” CD labels one for…well, years…and finally, some 2 years after the fact (and also rubbing in the fact that I didn’t get to go, because I was in Oz) I got a Big Music autumn tour dates shirt. It’s actually my FIRST and only Big Music shirt. Better late than never.
I’m not in the best place at the moment (just…super, super emotional at the mo, and making bad judgement calls) …and it revealed itself to me today (most) in missing out on the opportunity for double entendre/innuendo…
Where I said “(I WISH I got it for my birthday)” sssooo SHOULD have been followed with “and the CD! BOOM BOOM!” Lol