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Brit rock artwork

How British rock'n'roll was designed

Brit rock artwork

Like much of Britain in the 1950s, musical artwork – concert posters, flyers, sleeve design and the like – was staid and generic. And then, to cut a long story short, Elvis shook his hips and nothing was the same again.

The Art of British Rock, by Mike Evans with Paul Palmer-Edwards, is a fabulous new book dedicated to the explosion in this field from the Fifties onwards. Subtitled 50 Years of Rock Posters, Flyers and Handbills, it demonstrates how these artforms were subject to the thrilling changes taking place throughout society.

So from early boxing bill-style posters advertising ‘the sensational Beatles’ – the ‘originators of the atom beat’ according to those at Liverpool’s Cassanova Club, through the psychedelic Sixties, the DIY ethos of punk and up to the present day, one can see how this revolution in visual excellence has continued to evolve and diversify.

Buddy Holly

An early variety bill poster at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall in March 1958. Featuring one of rock’n’roll’s original superstars Buddy Holly and, it says here, the ‘comedian with the modern style’ Des O’Connor. A bit like The xx schlepping around the country with John Bishop. And yes, we’re aware that wouldn’t happen.

The Art Of British Rock (Frances Lincoln) £25


Uxbridge Folk and Blues Festival

According to the authors of The Art Of British Rock, this poster for the Uxbridge Blues and Folk Festival is ‘unremarkable in graphic terms, but its rising sun format, like the bands on offer’ is a taste of things to come’.

The Art Of British Rock (Frances Lincoln) £25


The Who

It doesn’t get much more iconic than this early poster for The Who. Designed by Brian Pike, this mod-friendly image is still used by the group today.

The Art Of British Rock (Frances Lincoln) £25


David Bowie

An original David Bowie poster designed by George Underwood that was used to promote Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust phase.

The Art Of British Rock (Frances Lincoln) £25


The Clash

In keeping with punk’s aesthetic of urban decay, this poster promoting The Clash’s eponymous debut album is suitably stark. Kate Simon shot the band, minus drummer, outside their rehearsal studio in Camden, London. The blank white space at the bottom allowed record stores to write its own information inside.

The Art Of British Rock (Frances Lincoln) £25


The Buzzcocks

Manchester’s original punk group The Buzzcocks benefitted from this provocative sleeve design for their debut single Orgasm Addict. Artist Malcolm Garrett studied at Manchester Polytechnic alongside Peter Saville.

The Art Of British Rock (Frances Lincoln) £25


Sex Pistols

Jamie Reid’s poster for the sleeve of the Sex Pistols’ God Save The Queen (based on a photograph by Cecil Beaton) single has been described by The Observer as ‘the single most iconic image of the punk era’.

The Art Of British Rock (Frances Lincoln) £25


Ian Dury And The Blockheads

A classic new wave era poster designed by Barney Bubbles for Ian Dury And The Blockheads album, New Boots and Panties!!

The Art Of British Rock (Frances Lincoln) £25


Bronski Beat

The eighties saw an explosion in futuristic digital artwork, particularly those bands operating within the electronic pop genre, as exemplified in this promotional poster for Bronski Beat’s 1986 album, Truthdare Doubledare.

The Art Of British Rock (Frances Lincoln) £25


Oasis

Oasis’ posters might have been straight copies of their record sleeves (a comment, some might say - ahem, on the limits of their imagination), but they were instantly recognizable. Thanks, no doubt, to designers Microdot’s bold, tabloid-style logo.

The Art Of British Rock (Frances Lincoln) £25


Blur

Always one quick to eye a trend, Damon Albarn persuaded clandestine graffiti artist Banksy to provide the artwork for Blur’s final album Think Tank in 2003.

The Art Of British Rock (Frances Lincoln) £25


Happy Mondays

After Factory Records’ early obsession with all things Bauhaus, Futurism and the Swiss euro typographical style, Central Station Design provided a playful riposte on the label’s latter Happy Mondays releases. It helped that Matt and Pat Caroll of Central Station were scallywag Shaun Ryder’s cousins.

The Art Of British Rock (Frances Lincoln) £25


The Factory

In 1978, Peter Saville was designing posters, such as this memorable one for The Factory nights at the Russel Club in Moss Side. These days he’s Creative Director for the City of Manchester.

The Art Of British Rock (Frances Lincoln) £25


Massive Attack

This poster for Massive Attack’s latest album, Heligoland, was banned on London’s tube network because of its similarity to graffiti. Band lynchpin Robert ‘3D’ Del Naja moaned: ‘It’s the most absurd censorship I’ve ever seen.’

The Art Of British Rock (Frances Lincoln) £25


ATP Nightmare Before Xmas

The proliferation of festivals in the 21st Century hasn’t precluded some interesting artwork being created, as this poster for the 2009 All Tomorrow’s Parties Nightmare Before Xmas demonstrates.

The Art Of British Rock (Frances Lincoln) £25


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