July 14th 2014 was the re-release date of Blue Bell Knoll and Heaven or Las Vegas vinyl reissues (4AD ). Cocteau Twins Facebook fan page asked me about designing sleeves for both albums & more… I was – and am – a huge fan so this was a dream job…
Here ‘s the interview
Paul West: The reason why I ended up working with my idols was thanks to the generosity of Vaughan Oliver. As a student I had majored my thesis on 23envelope (to become V23) and Peter Saville Associates. As a result of my pretty regular visits to the Alma Road offices [4AD headquarters] I struck up good relations with Vaughan and Chris Bigg. One evening we were having a beer at the Alma and I happened to ask when the next Cocteau’s album was out. “When you design the cover” Vaughan winked. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment – I was 23 and it was an immense honour. I had met Ivo enough times for him to know me and what I was doing as a designer, and a meeting with Robin, Liz and Simon was set up. In that meeting we also met Jeurgen Teller, who shot the cover image. I’m not sure this is true, but I heard the hands were of his assistant – Carolyn (is that why track 3 got it’s name…). The original image was a pink/apricot hue which changed to black and white for the gatefold as Robin wanted something ‘fanziney’ and monochrome on the outer package, with colour on the inside. For the CD and cassette we treated the image to boost the blues of the halftone. the reddish strip on the cover shows the original colour of the image. I worked with fellow designer Jeremy Tilston who was also an ardent fan. After the formats were designed we produced countless ads, posters and a huge window display for Tower Records. It was a rollercoaster at our stage in design development.
After BBK I struck up a friendship with the band that meant the world to me. When they moved to Eel Pie Island and set up September Sound I designed the identity and I would go there often, finding excuses to just hang around and soak it up. One day when I was talking to Robin about vibes for what would become HOLV, Lawrence from FELT came by and I had a conversation with him about artwork (that was another great moment of the times for me!) I was sole designer, collaborating with one of my best friends: photographer / artist Andy Rumball. We bonded at college in the early 80’s as most people did then – through music.
I remember it being tough reaching a creative that the band liked for this album release. Andy and I would spend days and nights in his makeshift studio shooting sparkers, fades, clothing – ANYTHING to get something textural and otherworldly. Robin didn’t feel any of it. We knew that it was going to be a case of ‘something’ that was right, ONLY when it was right. That’s the hardest thing about designing for music, capturing the ethereal. The eventual cover for HOLV is a flourescent orange plastic rose held up to the camera lens, while I was in the background flicking Christmas Tree lights backwards and forwards on a long exposure. This was WAY before the instancy of digital, and we had no idea how it would look. The negs came back processed, we developed some prints, cropped some photocopies, painted some type on an acetate overlay, rushed to September Sound and literally on the last day allowed for creative, the band liked it and all variations of the album format packaging and Iceblink Luck revolve around that three or four shots.
At that time there was the album, single, point of sale and a world tour involving merchandise, posters and scores of adverts. All this was an adrenalin rush, but it was the times listening to the band rehearsing for the tour, or hearing Iceblink Luck for the first time in their sound booth that stay with me; intensely personal, extremely privileged moments. It’s impossible to explain how essential music was in the 80’s and 90’s. Not how bands ‘looked’ and the media coverage they had, but what they DID to you inside. By 1991 I had set up renowned design group Form® (www.form.uk.com) with Paula Benson, working mainly in the music industry at that time. The last projects we did relating to Cocteau’s were a poster advertising back catalogue in the US, and working with Vaughan on their box set of CD singles.