Monday 24 September 2018

Parallel Lines by Blondie, at 40

Parallel Lines, released on 23rd September 1978, was the third studio album from Blondie and proved to be their commercial breakthrough in the US, where it peaked at number six in April 1979.  Already very popular in the UK, the album became the groups first number one hit in February 1979.

To help celebrate its 40th birthday, here's a retrospective of the album...
Following the release of their second album, Plastic Letters, in February 1978, support had been rising for Blondie, especially in the UK (where it peaked at number 10).  Denis, their cover of Randy & the Rainbows' 1963 hit Denise, was a hit across Europe, peaking at number 2 in the UK in March and number 19 in Australia.  (I'm Always Touched by Your) Presence, Dear, the second single, reached number 10 in the UK in May.

While touring on the west coast of America, the band met Mike Chapman, a renowned Australian producer.  Although their first two albums had been produced by Richard Gottehrer, who helped create the basis of their new wave and punk sound, Blondie’s then-manager Peter Leeds talked their record company, Chrysalis Records, into encouraging Chapman to work with the band on new music.  Drummer Clem Burke was enthusiastic - “he creates innovative and eclectic music” - but Debbie Harry was more reserved, though she only knew the producer by reputation.  “We were New York,” she said later, “he was LA.”  Her reserve disappeared after he listened to early demos of Heart Of Glass and Sunday Girl and was impressed.
from left - Nigel Harrison (bass), Frank Infante (guitar), Chris Stein (guitar), Debbie Harry (vocals), Clem Burke (drums), Jimmy Destri (keyboards)
Track Listing
1:  Hanging On The Telephone (Jack Lee)
2:  One Way Or Another (D. Harry/N. Harrison)
3:  Picture This (D. Harry/C. Stein/J. Destri)
4:  Fade Away And Radiate (C. Stein)
5:  Pretty Baby (D. Harry/C. Stein)
6:  I Know But I Don’t Know (F. Infante)
7:  11:59 (J. Destri)
8:  Will Anything Happen? (Jack Lee)
9:  Sunday Girl (C. Stein)
10:  Heart Of Glass (D. Harry/C. Stein)
11:  I’m Gonna Love You Too (Joe B. Mauldin/Niki Sullivan/Norman Petty)
12:  Just Go Away (D. Harry)

At the Record Plant, 1978 (from left) - Chris Stein, Clem Burke, Mike Chapman (with sunglasses), Nigel Harrison, Debbie Harry, Frank Infante, Peter Leeds
Terry Ellis, the co-founder of Chrysalis Records, asked Mike Chapman if he could record the album within six months and the producer agreed.  But after starting work at the Record Plant recording studio in June 1978, his opinion changed slightly.

“The Blondies were tough in the studio, real tough,” he told Sound On Sound.  “None of them liked each other, except Chris and Debbie and there was so much animosity.  They just wanted to have fun and didn't want to work too hard getting it.”  He was also surprised at their lack of musical ability.  “[They] were hopelessly horrible when we first began rehearsing...and in terms of my attitude they didn't know what had hit them. I basically went in there like Adolf Hitler and said, ‘You are going to make a great record, and that means you're going to start playing better.’”

Whilst rating Frank Infante’s ability as “an amazing guitarist” and acknowledging this contributed to the frosty relationship between Infante and Chris Stein, Chapman tried encouraging Stein and Jimmy Destri to concentrate on songwriting - to no avail - as well as working with Clem Burke’s timing on the drums.  Although he spent a lot of time improving the band’s abilities, he had little to do with Debbie saying she “was a great singer and a great vocal stylist, with a beautifully identifiable voice.”  He gave them a process for each song, recording them in a similar style with the basic track being recorded and then built upon it, with Debbie’s vocals added towards the end.  Often, when it came time to record, she would say “Yeah, just a minute” and he’d find her writing the lyrics.  “Many of the classic songs were created this way,” he said.
Filming the Heart Of Glass video
The biggest song on the album, Heart Of Glass, was based on one Chris & Debbie wrote between 1974 and 1975 called Once I Had A Love.  The band had demoed it with a slower, funkier sound using a basic disco beat which led to them calling it “The Disco Song”.

Heart of Glass was one of the first songs Blondie wrote,” Debbie told Dave Simpson of The Guardian in April 2013, “but it was years before we recorded it properly. We’d tried it as a ballad, as reggae, but it never quite worked.”  Mike Chapman credits Debbie with giving it a more disco twist, she says he convinced her and Stein of it.  In an interview with the NME (dated 4th February 1978), Debbie mentioned how much she liked Giorgio Moroder’s disco work - “It’s commercial, but it's good, it says something, that's the kind of stuff that I want to do” - and Blondie covered I Feel Love (written by Moroder and Donna Summer) at a benefit for Johnny Blitz in New York on 7th May 1978.  The song was released as 12” single in a 5:50 version but there were objections from US radio stations to the “pain in the ass” lyric, which the 7” version cut down on.  “At first,” Debbie told The Guardian, “the song kept saying: 'Once I had a love, it was a gas. Soon turned out, it was a pain in the ass.' We couldn't keep saying that, so we came up with: 'Soon turned out, had a heart of glass.' We kept one 'pain in the ass' in – and the BBC bleeped it out for radio.”

As well as being a hit, the song created some controversy because of its disco sound with Blondie, at the forefront of New York’s growing new wave music scene, being accused of selling out.  She told The Guardian, “People got nervous and angry about us bringing different influences into rock. Although we'd covered Lady Marmalade and I Feel Love at gigs, lots of people were mad at us for 'going disco' with Heart of Glass.”  Chris Stein said, “As far as I was concerned, disco was part of R&B, which I'd always liked.”
The album was recorded in six weeks, well ahead of schedule and Blondie shared their producers belief that it would reach a wide audience.  Chrysalis weren’t so convinced and executives told the band to go back and start again, only dissuaded by Chapman - now mixing the record in LA - who assured them the singles would prove popular.  He later said, “I didn’t make a punk album or a New Wave album with Blondie.  I made a pop album.”

Aside from the music the cover, now recognised as iconic album art, caused issues with the band too.  It was Peter Leeds’ idea and problems with him had been growing for some time, based around his thinking that Blondie was Debbie Harry with a band (which neither she nor the band wanted).  “I was not fond of Peter,” Harry told the Q Magazine Special Issue:  The 100 Best Record Covers Of All Time in 2001.  “He told the boys that they could all be replaced, I was the only important one.”  She saw the cover as a symbol of manipulation and said, “I don’t think it’s a great design, personally.”

Roberta Bayley, one of the ‘official’ photographers of the New York punk scene, was an old friend of Debbie’s and she hired Edo Bertolgio to shoot the cover.  He was a part of the Andy Warhol scene and, said Bayley, “the coolest downtown photographer I knew.”  Separate photographs of the band members were taken and Debbie later said Leeds had tricked the boys into pulling silly expressions, while she was encouraged to scowl.  Leeds then had the cover put together without showing them.
A cover shoot outtake, by Roberta Bayley
“Everyone just flipped out,” she told Q.  “We were shocked that the artwork had been completed without our approval and that the decision had been made without the band.”

“We were all pissed about how we were smiling in the cover photo” Chris Stein wrote in the 30th Anniversary liner notes.  “We picked out the shots that we liked but our manager picked the one shot he liked and went with that. Everyone was annoyed because we wanted to look more rock & roll”.

The incident brought things to a head with Leeds and in 1979 the band decided to part ways, replacing him with Alice Cooper’s manager Shep Gordon.

The other matter was the dress, which I thought she looked cool in (I had her poster on my wall for years).  “Stephen Sprouse designed [it] and most of Debbie’s stage clothes,” Bayley said.  Debbie told Michael Odell in Q Magazine in June 2011, “I got a lot of shit for that dress.”  It seems her hair, stare and fist-on-hips stance were punk but the dress wasn’t.  “In the UK, especially, the dress created two camps,” she said.  “People who wanted to fuck me and the ones who wanted to kill me for not being punk enough.”

The title of the album comes from lyrics, written by Debbie and included in the liner notes, for a song that doesn’t exist.

The lines I have written that you read between
The lines on the pages
The lines on the screen
Of lines spoken - I say what I mean.
It's parallel lines that will never meet

Ship in the desert
Ships in the night
Ships that pass in the night

Evangeline stream - Evangeline's dream,
It's parallel lines that will never meet.

The album yielded six singles:
Picture This (Harry/Stein/Destri), backed with Fade Away And Radiate (Stein), was released on 26th August 1978.  It peaked at number 12 in the UK singles chart, charted in the Swedish and Irish Top 20’s but was never released in the US.

I’m Gonna Love You Too (J. B. Mauldin, N. Sullivan, N. Petty), backed with Just Go Away (Harry) in the US and Fan Mail (Destri) in Holland, was released in September and only made the Top 10 in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Hanging On The Telephone (J. Lee), backed with Will Anything Happen (J. Lee) in the UK and Fade Away And Radiate in the US, was released on 30th October.  It peaked at number 5 in the UK chart, was Top 20 in Belgium, Ireland and the Netherlands and Top 40 in Australia and New Zealand.
Heart Of Glass (Harry/Stein) was released on 3rd January 1979 in 7” and 12” versions.  For the 7”, it was backed with Rifle Range (C. Stein/R. Toast) in the UK and 11:59 (Destri) in the US.  The 12” for both added the instrumental version.  It peaked at number 1 in the UK, US, Australian, Austrian, Canadian, German, New Zealand and Switzerland charts, was Top 10 in Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland , Norway, South Africa and Sweden and Top 20 in Finland.  It was number 2 in the 1979 UK Year End chart and 32 in the UK decade chart.  The BPI has recorded over 1.3m UK sales.

Sunday Girl (Stein), backed with I Know But I Don’t Know (Infante), was released in early May 1979.  It hit number one in the UK and Irish charts, was Top 10 in Switzerland, Norway, South Africa and Austria and Top 20 in the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland and Belgium.  In the UK, it was number 8 in the annual chart.  A UK 12” was also released, adding a French version of the title track.

One Way Or Another (Harry/Harrison), backed with Just Go Away, was released on 14th May 1979 in the US and Canada only (peaking at 24 in the former, 7 in the latter).  Rolling Stone currently ranks the song at number 298 in it’s 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time list.
Mike Chapman and Debbie Harry
The album was a huge commercial success, eventually breaking the band worldwide and was well received critically.

Rolling Stone gave it 4.5/5 stars (saying the album was “where punk and New Wave broke through to a mass US audience”), Blender gave it 5/5 (their critic Christgau wrote it was “a perfect album in 1978” with “every song memorable, distinct, well-shaped and over before you get antsy”) and Q gave it 4/5 (“a crossover smash with sparkling guitar sounds, terrific hooks and middle-eights more memorable than some groups’ choruses”).  Spin Alternative Record Guide gave it 10/10 (Sasha Frere-Jones called it “the perfect pop-rock record”), AllMusic gave it 5/5 and Slant Magazine gave it 4.5/5.  Christian John Wikane from PopMatters called it “a creative and commercial masterpiece by Blondie - indisputably one of the great, classic albums of the rock and roll era” and Scott Plagenhoef, of Pitchfork Media, wrote that the album popularised “the look and sound of 1980s new wave”.

Parallel Lines was ranked at number 18 on NME’s 100 Best Albums Of All Time (and 45th on their 500 list), Rolling Stone ranked it at number 140 on their 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, Blender had it at number 7 on their 100 Greatest American Albums of All Time and it was at number 94 on Channel 4’s 100 Greatest Albums Of All Time.

Parallel Lines was number 1 in the UK (for 4 weeks, remaining on the chart for 114 weeks), number 2 in Australia and Canada, 3 in New Zealand, 6 in the US, 7 in the Dutch charts and 9 in the German and Swedish charts.  It peaked at number 16 in Norway and 24 in Austria.

The album was certified 4xPlatium in Canada and Platinum in the UK and US.  Several sources (including Blondie themselves) say the album has sold over 20m copies but with 1.7m sales in the UK, it’s probably closer to 6m (which is still an incredible achievement).

I’m a long-time fan but listening to the album again, as I wrote this, I still think it’s an excellent collection of songs, with a tight, poppy production, great musicianship and that wonderful breathy voice of Debbie’s.  Is it their best album?  You know, I think it probably is - it’s certainly the one that I would say perfectly encapsulates who they were.  I probably first heard it back in 1979 (my entry to Blondie was a cassette version of their “Best Of”) and I’ve been thoroughly impressed with it every since.

Happy birthday, Parallel Lines - and here’s to many more years of listening pleasure.
Photograph by Robert Mapplethorpe

Photograph by Mick Rock

Mike Chapman interview with Sound On Sound
Album Covers Galore - Parallel Lines
Blonde All Music biography
The Guardian: How We Made Heart Of Glass
UK Official Charts
US Billboard Charts

Monday 17 September 2018

Ten Favourite Covers: Childhood Terrors

Thanks to my Australian chum Imelda Evans, I was looking at Annabel Smith’s website recently and noticed she did a regular Top Tens feature.  I thought it was a great idea and decided to adapt it for my own blog but rather than show (for example) my Top Ten Travel Books, I’d skew it slightly differently.  My only rule is that the bulk of the covers must come from my own library.

This first entry looks at books which caused a bit of (gleeful) childhood terror.  I hope you see an old favourite here too…
Published by Puffin in 1967, mine is the 1968 edition.  Alfred Hitchcock had little involvement with the anthologies that bore his name and one of his frequent editors, as is the case here, was Robert Arthur (who created the Three Investigators series) whose credit appears in the acknowledgements - "the editor gratefully acknowledges the invaluable assistance of Robert Arthur".
I have the 1978 edition (as pictured), which I got - along with The Restless Bones - from the Rothwell Juniors Book Club.  A collection of true-life tales, this was my first introduction to the mystery of the Mary Celeste.
A fantastic entry in the long-running series, this 1984 edition features cover art by Peter Archer who also produced the cover for the 'a' and 'b' format Three Investigator paperbacks.  I was lucky enough to meet Mary Danby in 2012 at FantasyCon in Brighton, when Johnny Mains introduced us and she was as lovely as I'd always hoped she would be.
This was originally published by Pan in 1971.
Another true stories collection (though it does look at the likes of Dracula, Jekyll & Hyde and Frankenstein), this takes in historical figures like Vlad the Impaler, Countess Bathory, wolf children, Rasputin and The Elephant Man.  I loved it.  It was re-printed in 1979 as The Hamlyn Book Of Horror.  Daniel Farson, who led a very interesting life, was the grand-nephew of Bram Stoker.
One of my favourite childhood books (I wrote about it before here), this also featured true stories and the last - The Voice In The Graveyard - used to scare the living daylights out of me.  Even now, 40 years later and far removed from the nine-year-old me reading it over the 1978 summer holidays, I can still remember the frisson of fear as a whispering voice pleaded, “…help us…”
More from Daniel Farson and more true stories to terrify nine-year-old me.  Fantastic fun!
More from the wonderful Ms Danby, with another great cover by Peter Archer.
Originally published by Gollancz in 1977, this is another sterling anthology from Peter Haining complete with stories by M. R. James (Lost Hearts), Algernon Blackwood (The Attic), Joan Aiken (The Looking Glass Tree), Robert Bloch (Sweets To The Sweet) and Ray Bradbury (The October Game) amongst others.
Not part of my library unfortunately (I found out about it through 'Dem Bones' at the excellent Vault Of Evil), though I plan to rectify that in the near future not only for the stories but because I love the combination of that incredible cover art with the warning 'These stories are NOT to be read by the very young'.

Puffin Books is the long-standing childrens imprint of Penguin Books and was formed in 1940.

Piccolo Books is the children's imprint of Pan Macmillan.

Armada Books was set up by Gordon Landsborough in 1962 as a paperback imprint of Mayfair Books Ltd, focussing exclusively on books for children to buy with the pocket money.  Collins bought it in 1966 as an imprint to publish books for 10-15 year olds under their Fontana Books paperback arm.  Armada ceased in 1995 but I will always love it because it published The Three Investigators.

Beaver was the children's imprint of Hamlyn which is now part of the Octopus Publishing Group, owned by Hachette Livre.

There will be more Ten Favourite Cover posts...

Monday 10 September 2018

Seven Books

A few weeks back, my good friend Ian Whates tagged me to take part in the Facebook Book Challenge, which involved posting seven covers, over seven days, with no explanation.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and thought it might be worth sharing here on the blog (with added explanations).

The Secret Of Skeleton Island, by Robert Arthur
I first discovered The Three Investigators in 1978, when I was nine.  As I recall, it was a rainy day and at breaktime, we were sent to one of the classrooms in an older part of the school.  As other kids settled down to read comics or swap football cards, I had a look at the bookshelves and one hardback spine in particular caught my eye.  Already intrigued by the fantastic title, the cover - three boys in a cave, with a skull in the foreground - made me want to read it and so began a lifelong love affair with a series that started in 1964.

I wrote an indepth post about the series here and have reviewed individual books, which you can find on this link.

The Restless Bones, by Peter Haining
This was a chance purchase from The Bookworm Club, which we had at Rothwell Junior school (I assume it was a nationwide organisation because I vaguely remember a catalogue), where a stall was set up in the hall and you went in and bought any books that took your fancy.  How any mystery loving kid could pass this cover up is beyond me and I’m so glad I took the chance.  Collected by Peter Haining and published in 1978, it contained ten supposedly true stories - The Restless Bones, The Winged Monster of the Desert, The Terror Of The Dragon, The Mystery of the Loup-Garou, Old Roger’s Vengeance, The Witch’s Familiars, The Call of Darke’s Drum, The Trail of the Devil’s Fooprints, The Thing From Outer Space and The Voice In The Graveyard - with the latter quickly becoming my favourite.  Set in 1964, it features Richard, a teenager from Wisconsin, who accepts a challenge to spend the night in a graveyard, all on his own but doesn’t expect to hear a whispering voice plead, “…help us…”

“I have drawn on the large file of material I have collected over the years about events and experiences which are fantastic - but factual” wrote Haining in his introduction and I’m willing to take him at his word.
I wrote an indepth post about the book here.

The Adventures Of The Black Hand Gang, by H. J. Press
Another great purchase from the Bookworm Club, my edition is the 1978 Methuen reprint, translated from the German by Barbara Littlewood, having originally been published there in 1965.  Written by Hans Jürgen Press (1926–2002), it concerns a gang of child sleuths who make their headquarters at 49 Canal Street - the leader, Frank, plays the trumpet and is ably supported by the quick-witted Angela, Ralph and Keith W.S. (whose inseparable companion is a squirrel, W.S. stands for With Squirrel).  The book contains four decent little mysteries that work perfectly with the format Press devised where the left hand side of each spread is a page of text, carrying the story and dropping clues whilst the picture on the right shows the reader what the gang can see, therefore inviting them into the action.  The answer is given on the next page.  The beautifully crafted illustrations invite repeated viewings and are still satisfying to me now, forty years on.
I wrote an indepth post about the book here

The Galactic Warlord, by Douglas Hill
By 1979 (when this came out in hardback), I was already a big fan of Star Wars and when I found this, in Rothwell Library, it seemed like the perfect book for me (plus I used to read a comic called Warlord).

Canadian writer Douglas Hill eventually wrote a quartet of tales about Keill (I could never work out if you pronounced it Keel or Kyle) Randor, the Last Legionary, with the first book in the series (a prequel) being published last - Young Legionary (1982), Galactic Warlord (1979), Deathwing Over Veynaa (1980), Day of the Starwind (1980) and Planet of the Warlord (1981).

Salem’s Lot, by Stephen King
I was aware of the TV mini-series long before the book (it was all anyone talked about at school for days).  I first discovered Stephen King the writer in the early 80s when my Dad took me into a second-hand bookshop in Wellingborough and, recognising the title, I picked up a copy of Salem’s Lot.  Reading it, as a fledgling horror fan who was seeking to branch out into adult fare, was a revelation and led me ever further into that wonderful genre.  The novel might not be my favourite of King’s output - and it’s been years since I read it - but it’ll always hold a special place for me.

Matthew Craig wrote a review (which you can read here) of the novel for the King For A Year project I curated in 2015.

Danse Macabre, by Stephen King
Following Salem’s Lot, I decided to see what else Stephen King had to offer (and bearing in mind this was the early 80s, so I already had a lot to choose from) and found this, a non-fiction exploration of the genre.  You have to remember this was in 1983 or so, long before the Internet and even though I was adept at using reference guides to discover things (and was a big fan of Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies), finding similar about books was harder, especially more modern writers.  Danse Macabre, then, was superb - just the right book at the just the right time for me.  I read it again and again, using the text and ‘reading lists’ at the back as my guides to discovering more of the genre, scouring all the bookshops (especially second-hand ones) I could find.  Over the years, I read a lot of the titles King suggested and my knowledge and appreciation - of both the genre and his book - grew.
I wrote about it, for Jim Mcleod’s Ginger Nuts Of Horror site here.

The Books Of Blood volume 3, by Clive Barker
Another tip from Stephen King (I can't remember now where I read his quote - "I have seen the future of horror, and its name is Clive Barker" - but it certainly struck a chord with me) and I found a couple of the slim paperbacks in good old Rothwell Library.  Published by Sphere in 1984 and 1985, they were a revelation - if King showed me that horror could be written about today, Barker showed me it could be in a world I recognised, a London whose streets I could walk on my own.  Each volume is superb but I chose volume 3 as it includes the excellent Son of Celluloid (which inspired the fantastic cover), Confessions Of A (Pornographer's) Shroud and the wonderfully pulp Rawhead Rex, as well as Scape-Goats and Human Remains.  I eventually drifted away from Barker (I loved The Damnation Game, The Hellbound Heart and Cabal but his fantasy works left me cold) but I've never forgotten the Books Of Blood.
"Every body is a book of blood, wherever we're opened, we're red." - Clive Barker

Me and David at The Barbican, July 2017 (as I wrote about here)
One of the people I tagged was David Roberts, a fine friend of long-standing who's long been a collaborator of mine, bouncing around ideas for stories and novellas and co-plotting the thriller novel I wrote last year and the one I'm just about to start.  We meet weekly for long walks with his dog Pippa and when I told him about this blog, we talked through the reasons for our choices which were fascinating (half the fun of the meme was what you found out about the person by what they'd picked).  Once we finished, I asked if I could use his choices here and he agreed.

Truckers, by Terry Pratchett
For me, one of Terry's books had to be first as they have entertained me over many years.  Truckers is one I read to my daughter, and much to my regret we never did write to Mr Pratchett as we intended, asking what happened to Miskilin after the final book of the trilogy.  His early books are well worth a visit, his writing became more polished as time went on but the ideas and concepts are all there in the beginning.

The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien
I developed a love of fantasy through Lord of the Rings, but my battered copy is not photogenic and although I read The Hobbit second it still represents the universe of Middle Earth. I found the best place for reading these books was on the balcony of a hotel in Andora with snow falling, very atmospheric. From these books I moved onto the BBC Radio Drama of Lord of the Rings which I still feel is one of the best dramatisations.
(Mark's note - I read The Hobbit at school but never really got into Lord Of The Rings.  When the Peter Jackson film was released, David & I went to see it and then went back again and again, year after year, watching the whole series).

My Dad's Got An Alligator, by Jeremy Strong
Well, its wacky and fun.  In fact, just what you want to read to your children to enable them to grow into the rounded, fun filled people who are able to accept the weird and wonderful and perhaps use this to look at the world differently. Why be normal?

Polly, by Mark West
my walking and other creative collaborator, Pippa
Not only a good read but this copy was a prize - the Stormblade Productions launch included a prize for the best ‘French’ selfie, and not being that photogenic, I sent one in of Pippa and she won!  And as she can't read, I got the book!

Pippa also helps in idea formation and discussion on long walks with Mark. Keeping the route and the plot on course.

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
Representing the genre of more serious science fiction, and what else to put into a book cover meme than one that encourages you to ‘Burn and Destroy!’. Dark and atmospheric it questions motivations and understanding of the world. Perhaps at times closer to the truth than we would want it to be. Scary...

The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
The book which got me really hooked on science fiction, read before I heard the original radio series or saw the TV show. I remember being fascinated by the way each retelling of the story was subtly (or not so subtly) different right up to the recent live stage show. Arthur Dent is a Hoopy Frood (even if I am the only one who thinks so) and my fashion sense in dressing gowns came from him.  Sad really...

Day 7
Day 7 proved difficult. My books are all in bags as we are building in the house and all of the ‘new’ books I have read have been on e-reader.  Love it or hate it, you can carry your books easily, you can read in the dark, you can borrow library books over the wireless...  It is here to stay and while the joy of finding a book in a charity shop diminishes, the ease of reading improves and libraries suddenly come into their own again for me, with a world of e-books out there. But no pages to turn...

So you've seen mine and David's choices, what would your seven books be...?

Monday 3 September 2018

The Art Of Tom Chantrell

Whilst working on a Star Wars At 40 post, I discovered that my favourite poster was created by a British artist.  As I researched him, I found he'd worked on a lot of other cool films too and so here's a celebration of Tom Chantrell and his artwork.
The one that started it for me, the UK quad poster.  Perhaps because of his Hammer associations, Chantrell was the only artist to include Peter Cushing in a poster.

1982 - based on the illustration by Berni Wrightson
And away from movie posters, Chantrell also created the cover art for this book, beloved of so many horror fans (of a certain age)
Thomas “Chan” William Chantrell was born in Manchester on 20th December 1916.  The son of a trapeze artist, he was the youngest of nine children (the first son) and showed an early aptitude for art, winning a prestigious national competition aged thirteen by designing a disarmament poster for the League Of Nations.  He briefly attended Manchester Art College but left to work at a local advertising agency, moving to London in 1933 to work as a silkscreen printer before joining Bateman Artists.  One of their main clients was Allardyce Palmer Ltd who created posters for Warner Brothers and 20th Century Fox and in 1938 he produced his first, for The Amazing Dr Clitterhouse.  After active service in the Second World War as part of the Royal Engineers Bomb Disposal Unit, he joined Allardyce Palmer and worked solidly, designing posters for hundreds of films, from East Of Eden and Bus StopBrighton RockThe King And I, five Carry Ons (CabbyJackSpyingCleoCowboy and Screaming), One Million Years BCFar From The Madding CrowdBullitThe French ConnectionA Clockwork Orange and most Hammer productions from 1965 onwards.
Tom Chantrell with his in-progress Star Wars artwork, 1977
Rarely seeing the film he drew for (he apparently considered it a waste of time), he worked from a synopsis and a handful of stills - if he couldn’t find the right image, he’d have friends and family pose for reference shots. 

Leaving Allardyce Palmer in 1972, he went freelance with his reputation as England’s most successful and experienced poster artist serving him well.  A decline in cinema audiences (theatres were being adapted to have several screens in one venue) at the time meant more exploitation films reached the screen (sometimes British, sometimes Continental), which in turn required lots of poster art.  Working for the likes of Eagle, Tigon, Hemdale, ITC, Brent-Walker, Alpha and Cannon Entertainment (and what a nostalgic rush those names induce), sexploitation was most popular but closely followed by horror, kung-fu, cheaply produced war and sci-fi flicks, French arthouse, American Grindhouse and teen sex comedies, it was said that if you needed ‘an appropriately gratuitous poster to pull in the punters, Tom Chantrell was your man.’  In addition, he picked up contracts for blockbusters, such as Star Wars as well as illustrating movie soundtrack sleeves and novelisation covers for Hamlyn.

Into the 80s, he produced VHS and Betamax cover art but rising production costs and the arrival of affordable digital art meant traditional painted posters were soon out of fashion.  He suffered a heart attack and, after being admitted to hospital, passed away on 15th July 2001.

He was married twice and was survived by his second wife Shirley and their twin daughters, plus a son and daughter from his first marriage.

Chantrell Posters
Guardian obituary, by Sim Branaghan
Brit Posters
The Art Of Poster Maker Extrardinaire Tom Chantrell