Vale Robert Freeman – Beatle Photographer Extraordinaire

If you don’t think you know the work of photographer Robert Freeman, you do.

He captured some of the most iconic images of his generation. Today has come the sad news that Robert Freeman, the Beatle photographer who has given us so much joy, has passed away at the age of 82.

The official Beatles site has posted a memorial, as have newspapers around the world. This is because of Freeman’s creative legacy, not the least of which is some of the most memorable album covers of all time:

The Paul McCartney official website has run a tribute today, testament to the regard in which he, and The Beatles, held Robert Freeman:

Dear Robert Freeman has passed away. He was one of our favourite photographers during the Beatles years who came up with some of our most iconic album covers. Besides being a great professional he was imaginative and a true original thinker. People often think that the cover shot for  Meet The Beatles of our foreheads in half shadow was a carefully arranged studio shot. In fact it was taken quite quickly by Robert in the corridor of a hotel we were staying in where natural light came from the windows at the end of the corridor. I think it took no more than half an hour to accomplish.

Bob also took the Rubber Soul cover; his normal practice was to use a slide projector and project the photos he’d taken onto a piece of white cardboard which was exactly album sized, thus giving us an accurate idea of how the finished product would look. During his viewing session the card which had been propped up on a small table fell backwards giving the photograph a ‘stretched’ look. Instead of simply putting the card upright again we became excited at the idea of this new version of his photograph. He assured us that it was possible to print it this way and because the album was titled Rubber Soul we felt that the image fitted perfectly.

I will miss this wonderful man but will always cherish the fond memories I have of him.

Some Unusual Asian Beatle Items – Part Five

Well, it seems that all good things (eventually) come to those who wait.

You know what it’s like in this Beatle collecting business. You have titles and versions on your list you’re on the lookout for and they just never seem to appear during any of your travels, or in searches online….

That’s what happened here. Way back in 2010 we had a holiday in Vietnam and found a few interesting Beatle items along the way. Amongst them, in a Hanoi CD store, was a series called The Beatles Double Golden Collection. This is a series where two, separate Beatle albums have been issued in one double CD box, each with an outer cardboard slipcase. You can read more about what these look like here.

The sets on display in the store were Magical Mystery Tour/Yellow Submarine; Please Please Me/Sgt. Pepper; Revolver/WIth The Beatles; Help!/Rubber Soul; Abbey Road/Let It Be; and Hard Day’s Night/Beatles For Sale. I know, odd pairings.

These all seem to have been pressed around 2009, the same time as the then-new Beatles Remastered CD reissues because each disc in these sets also had mini-documentaries included.

One album from the canon has been obvoius by its absence. Missing from the shelves in Hanoi was the legendary The Beatles (or The White Album). It just wasn’t in the store when we were there. So, every now and then since 2010 we’d have a quiet look at eBay to see if anything like The Beatles Double Golden Collection popped up in searches. It never has….

Until last week.

After nine long years this has finally been added to the collection:

That’s the front cover of the outer cardboard slipcase. It’s not an exact match (it doesn’t say Beatles Double Golden Collection, for example), but this is clearly from the same company that produced the other CDs as just about every other detail is identical. Here’s the rear of the slipcase: Inside is a larger than usual plastic CD jewel case. Not sure why, but it is bigger:This jewel case holds two discs, one each side of one of those flip-over trays:And inside is a booklet that contains no real text (except for photo location details), just lots of images of The Beatles, most but not all of them time relevant to the the recording dates of the The White Album! The rear cover of the booklet is from the Let It Be sessions:So, not sure what the moral of this story is. Patience pays off? Finally, after nearly a decade, the basic set of Beatle albums in this sereis is complete. Also, after a lot of research on these, we’re pretty sure they are not official.

As usual click on the images if you’d like to see larger versions.

See also: Some Unusual Asian Beatle Items – Part One; Some Unusual Asian Beatle Items – Part Two; Some Unusual Asian Beatle Items – Part Three; and Some Unusual Asian Beatles Items – Part Four.

Pro-Ject – The Singles Collection Turntable

As part of the forthcoming The Beatles: The Singles Collection box set due on November 22, Apple Records has once more teamed up with the Pro-Ject turntable guys to produce a Beatle-themed turntable so that you can play your new 45rpm box set discs.

In a Beatle USA webstore exclusive to celebrate the release of The Beatles: The Singles Collection, Pro-Ject Audio Systems will be releasing the “Singles Turntable”.

The record player deck will be a collage of all the original Beatles single sleeves. The unit will be based on Pro-Ject’s award-winning Debut III model but will feature the following upgrades:

  • Electronic speed change (33/45)
  • 8,6” Aluminium S-shaped tonearm with two SME headshells, each with its own pre-calibrated cartridge so you can easily change headshells to switch between a mono and stereo cartridge for playback
  • The two included cartridges are a new Pro-Ject designed Ortofon manufactured Pick It Mono cartridge for mono record playback, and an Ortofon 2M Red for stereo record playback
  • Heavy acrylic platter

This turntable will only be available on the official Beatles web store, and on Pro-Ject’s website, and will only be available for order and purchase through to December 31 this year.

Check out our article for more on all the other Beatle-related turntables that Pro-Ject has produced.

Revolutions: Records + Rebels – Five Years That Shook the World

Got the chance on the weekend to visit Melbourne Museum and the second-to-last day of a significant exhibition (mounted in conjunction with The Victoria and Albert Museum in London) called Revolutions: Records + Rebels – Five Years That Shook the World.

This extensive collection explores five explosive years between 1966–1970, focussing on the immense cultural shifts being experienced around the world by a liberated, post-war generation coming of age. It’s the 60s we’ve heard about brought to life with a massive amount of memorabilia, fashion, books, art, posters and music.

And of course, The Beatles are scattered liberally throughout.

The project highlights many of the key subject areas that shaped the late 60s: revolution, fashion, drugs, sub-cultures, human rights, feminism, war, protests, consumerism, festivals… all the while set against an awesome rock & roll soundtrack of the time.

On display are some iconic Beatle items, including original posters advertising their albums:

Beside this poster for the album Revolver (above – eye reflections are in the glass) is another one called ‘A is For Apple’, designed by the Dutch artists The Fool whose psychedelic and colourful work was highly influential on The Beatles. This poster promoted the band’s short-lived Apple Boutique on Baker Street in London:

Also on display were John Lennon’s hand-written lyrics for ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’:

And the brocade frock coat he wore while filming the historic 1967 Our World broadcast of the Beatles song ‘All You Need Is Love’:

Of course Lennon’s original  Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band uniform drew a big crowd:

There were also two original, hand-lettered Hair Peace and Bed Peace signs from 1969 and the ‘Bed-In For Peace’ events held by John Lennon and his newly-married bride Yoko Ono. The one in the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, Canada was where they recorded ‘Give Peace a Chance’ with Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg and others. These two come from the collection of Yoko Ono:

Another item from her collection is this notepad sheet from the The New York Hilton containing hand-written lyrics to Lennon’s ‘Imagine’:

And just across from it, the jacket that John wore when filming the song at the white piano in the couple’s lounge room in their Tittenhurst Park estate:

All images from Revolutions: Records + Rebels – Five Years that Shook the World. The exhibition at the Melbourne Musum in Victoria, Australia was extended by popular demand from its original closing date of Sunday, August 25 to Sunday, October 6.

Great New Beatle-related Movie – “Yesterday”

Imagine you woke up one day and there were no Beatles.

No one you speak to has ever heard of them, and there are no references to the band or their songs online, in music stores, libraries, or anywhere. But….you can remember them clearly, and you know how to play their songs.

That’s the premise of an interesting new comedy movie coming out later this year called Yesterday. It comes from Danny Boyle (who directed Slum Dog Millionaire and Trainspotting), and Richard Curtis (the writer of Four Weddings and a Funeral and Love Actually).

Jack (played by Himesh Patel) is a struggling singer-songwriter who dreams of making it big, but his career is going nowhere. His biggest supporter is his best friend, Ellie (Lily James). Then, something mysterious happens. During some sort of global electrical blackout, Jack gets hit by a bus and wakes up to discover that The Beatles have never existed. Only thing is, he remembers them clearly, starts to perform their songs, and from there things really start to get interesting….

Yesterday looks like it will be real fun for Beatle fans. It is due in movie theatres on June 28.

Original “Blackbird” To Get An Orchestral and Choral Overdub

For the first time ever° an original version of a Beatle song has been overdubbed with strings and choir and will be included on a forthcoming charity album called Animal Requiem.

Animal Requiem is the brainchild of composer (and wife of Pete Townsend), Rachel Fuller. An animal lover, she has written a musical work with the intention of celebrating, remembering and honouring all the animals we have loved and lost.

As a long-time animal rights supporter Paul McCartney was also keen to be involved, and has granted permission for the Beatle song ‘Blackbird’ to be included. It’s apparently the original White Album recording (featuring McCartney’s vocal and guitar), but now accompanied by an entirely new classical arrangement performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Chamber Choir of London, conducted by Robert Ziegler.

Rachel Fuller, Animal Requiem composer
            Rachel Fuller, Animal Requiem composer. Picture: Terry McGough

Rachel Fuller said, “I composed the Animal Requiem for all of us who have lost a much beloved pet – the pain we feel is equal to the love we felt for them. With this music, I honour and remember all the animals I have loved and lost. All their lives have had an extraordinary impact on mine and I am forever grateful.”

The Requiem has been created for every person who is passionate about animal welfare, who believes in a world where animals are treated with kindness and compassion, and that each and every life is a valuable one.

All profits from the album and ticket sales from concert performances will be donated to animal charities and small independently run shelters around the world.

The album will be released in the UK on March 8. It is already available as a digital download in the US, with ‘Blackbird’ only downloadable if you purchase the whole album.

° Of course there was the lovely George Martin string arrangement for ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ used in the Cirque Du Soleil stage show and included on the Beatles Love album. But that’s a different vocal/acoustic version of the song, not the original from The White Album. Have there been any others?

Egypt Station – The Packaging

Now that the general public and the reviewers verdicts are in (all generally very positive btw), and now that Paul McCartney’s Egypt Station has entered the Billboard 200 at No.1, making it his first No.1 album on the US charts in over 36 years (the last time was Tug Of War in 1982), maybe it’s time to take a closer look at the cover art and design of the album – both in LP and CD form – because these too seem to have met with a very favourable reception from fans:

Explaining the album’s concept, Paul says, “I liked the words ‘Egypt Station.’… I think of it as a dream location that the music emanates from.” The title is taken from the piece of art which is featured on the album cover. It’s a limited edition lithograph, the original of which Paul himself painted back in 1988:

“My original inspiration [for the painting] was….Egyptian symbols and shapes I got from looking at a reference book on Egypt. I was interested in the way they drew sunflowers, so two appear on the left and on the right. It was a nice shape, so I took that and then I also love the way they symbolize trees. I like the way they reduce a tree to just some very simple symbols.”  Paul McCartney

The art directors hired for the project are Ferry Gouw, an illustrator, graphic designer and video director based in London, and Gary Card, a set designer, illustrator and artist also based in London. They’ve taken McCartney’s original painting and extended out its themes and style across many panels (for both the CD and the LP) in a spectacular way.

At first the two seem an odd choice as on the surface they both appear to work in very different worlds to that of Paul McCartney. Gouw inhabits more of an out there, conceptual electronic dance music, skater/cartoon world. He’s also the in-house designer for James Blake’s record label, 1800-Dinosaur. This video is a little old, but it gives a taste of Gouw’s style:

So, you might wonder how Gouw got the McCartney gig. Then you discover that earlier this year Roxy Music hired him to produce a new video interpretation of their legendary song (from 1972), ‘Virginia Plain‘. Gouw says:

“I wanted it to feel like a kaleidoscopic holiday in glamorous, but surreal locations, that only exist in vintage posters and your imagination. The song is so dense – the imagery comes thick and fast, so they all have to pop up in a stream of consciousness. So I researched vintage holiday posters, Americana pin-up icons, art deco jazz posters, and re-drew all the elements to make up the video.”

It was Bryan Ferry who commissioned the piece after being impressed with Gouw’s work on a video for his solo album, Olympia. The result has been described as the creative rebirth of an iconic track in British musical lore:

On the other hand, Gary Card seems more into groovy and colourful pop sculpture of late. By way of example there’s this amazing eight foot high plasticine Christmas tree he made for a London hotel last holiday season:Both Gouw and Card have been on Instagram since the release of Egypt Station“After months of hard work this beauty is finally out in the world. So proud to see it everywhere, it’s a real privilege to be a part of this. Expect me and @garycard to be spamming Instagram with this for the next few years LoL” – Ferry Gouw

Woke up this morning to news that the Paul McCartney album we designed is number 1 in the U.S 👍🏻 here’s the full art work @ferry_gouw n me based around @paulmccartney‘s original painting #egyptstation” – Gary Card. He then posted this image of the  6-panel “concertina” style packaging they devised for the CD:

When folded up the CD cover is held in place with a bright red cloth fabric elastic band:

For the exclusive Target and HMV editions (which have two bonus songs) the elastic band is green in colour to help set it apart:

It’s not the first time that McCartney has employed elastic bands to hold together a cover. In 1999, under his The Fireman persona, he released a 12″ vinyl featuring remixes of a song called ‘Fluid’, taken from the Rushes album. That folded cover has a red rubber band to keep everything in place too:

The Egypt Station “concertina” idea for the CD is also used for the vinyl record, but only in the “Deluxe Edition” design. This is a three-panel gatefold and you can see Sir Paul holding an example of it here:The LP cover is quite spectacular in this larger format, with a beautifully textured feel to the paper used giving a high quality tactile feel. There’s also a tri-fold lyric sheet in a deep blue which fits within – also beautifully designed by Gouw and Card. Here’s one page from the lyric sheet:

You can see how the LP package folds compared to the CD version a little more clearly here:

The attention to detail extends further inside, with the labels on each side of the LP being individually custom designed as well. Another nice touch:

And that brings us to the vinyl colours. Egypt Station is offered in black vinyl (140 gram standard, and 180 gram deluxe); in blue and orange coloured vinyls for the deluxe version – only available via McCartney’s official site; in red vinyl as a Barnes & Noble store exclusive; and in green vinyl – offered to Spotify subscribers first, but for a period also available to all via the McCartney site as well.

When the images for Egypt Station first began to appear many likened the cover to George Harrison’s 1982 outing, Gone Troppo:

Yes, there are certain similarities in the colours and the pastiche style used, but Egypt Station‘s artwork goes far beyond. It harkens back to the days when albums really were works of art. They could be folded out and explored and enjoyed as an immersive experience in themselves, quite apart from the music contained within. We think Ferry Gouw and Gary Card should be congratulated.

Interesting peice of trivia: In 2004, when Paul headlined the Glastonbury Festival in England, the same Egypt Station artwork from his original painting adorned the pre-show curtain:

There is a Grammy Award for Best Recording Package of the year. In 2018 there was a tie for first place and so two winners were recognised (click here to see the list and scroll down to Award Number 65):

Above on the left is Father John Misty’s Pure Comedy (Deluxe Edition) – Sasha Barr, Ed Steed and Josh Tillman, art directors.

On the right is Magin Díaz’s El Orisha De La Rosa – Carlos Dussan, Juliana Jaramillo, Juan Martinez and Claudio Roncoli, art directors.

There’s a good article about both albums and their cover art here. There’s further information on both here also.

I guess we’ll just have to wait until January, 2019 to see if: a) Egypt Station receives a Grammy nomination for its extraordinary packaging, and b) it wins!

Paul McCartney always puts a lot of effort into the design and presentation of his albums. Two excellent examples are the totally integrated concept for his Electric Arguments release as The Fireman in 2008/09, which saw the standard CD right through to an extraordinary limited edition deluxe box set executed with aplomb; and his album New from 2013. You can find the story behind the cover art for that one here.

FOR MORE ON EGYPT STATION SEE ALSO:

Record Store Day Double A Side to be released; a retro Egypt Station Cassette; some Egypt Station Reviews; the Spotify Egypt Station Green Vinyl; and Packaging Variations of Egypt Station.