Peter Saville, ‘I Recommend’, Jack, 2004

Peter Saville, ‘I Recommend’, Jack, 2004


Album sleeve designer of some repute, Peter Saville, recommends…
Classic album sleeves

[This was one of my favourite ever interviews, conducted at Peter Saville’s flat-cum-studio at Old Street, London in 2004. I was there from 7pm till midnight and went through two tapes. Thankfully I’d brought a spare cassette! It was a long transcribing session the following day, but as a Factory Records nut, everything was absolute gold! When I was at GQ years later, I was given the OK from editor Dylan Jones to write a career retrospective of Saville, but alas my favourite designer didn’t have time for a talk – which is a huge shame, cos I’d have really gone to town over a feature like that. Peter is a good talker, but then again, so are most people from Factory Records.]

Jack, 2004

For those who’ve seen 24 Hour Party People, the film about Manchester’s much-missed Factory Records, Peter Saville (played by Enzo Cilenti) is the young designer who hands boss Tony Wilson a bundle of flyers for the inaugural Factory band night – once the event had gotten underway. “I tended to start projects as the deadline ‘loomed’,” Saville recalls. Still, it was the start of a warm relationship, with Saville becoming Joy Division and New Order’s personal sleeve artist. Famously, the expense of Saville’s intricate floppy disk design for 1983 release “Blue Monday” prevented New Order from making any money on the biggest-selling 12” of all time. Half a million copies of the dance smash were sold, but this only adds to the comedy and romance of the Factory experience. Here Saville chooses his favourite album covers: “These are all covers from the period where I’m at school, art college, and then when I started doing work myself. That’s the period during which my aesthetics were being warmed up.”

Ralf And Florian, Kraftwerk (1973)
Autobahn, Kraftwerk (1974)

The 12” album cover of Ralf And Florian is white with a circuit diagram in bronze. It’s bronze-coloured ink, embossed, so you can run your hand over it. On the back, it has a picture of Ralf and Florian in Kling Klang Studio at their equipment with neon box signs at their feet, and one says “Ralf” and one says “Florian”. And here is Ralf sitting at his equipment and here is Florian sitting at his equipment, and on the wall in the background are egg crates. And it’s fab.

The cover of Ralf And Florian had a really profound affect on me. And the blue road sign of Autobahn had a really profound effect on me. Now what I heard subsequently is that the (supposed latter) Autobahn road sleeve is apparently the original German cover. There is a very disciplinary, strictly functionalist approach to doing signage and in particular road signs. I quite like the sleeve for (Kraftwerk’s) Radio-Activity too, but then I’m beginning to look at Kraftwerk covers and think, “I could have done it better.” The Man-Machine in particular I was disappointed with. I thought, “That could have been better.” It’s when they’re in the red shirts and it’s all Russian constructivism. But Kraftwerk are one of the few covers I would do now.

The Velvet Underground & Nico, The Velvet Underground (1967)
Transformer, Lou Reed (1972)

By having older brothers, I didn’t have to buy records. There was a version that was gatefold that had a girl’s mouth and a Coca-Cola bottle. This is the definite Warhol thing for me. If you have older brothers, you can for a period of time survive off their record collections. And I did.

The first album that I bought for myself was Autobahn. Then I went backwards and bought Ralf And Florian. So those are like that cool sort of thing. Then I get into Roxy Music, so totally sort of lifestyle forming. Suddenly, this, Transformer, is the bridge between Roxy times and back to Andy Warhol. Lou Reed on his own. Transformer is the chic, glamorised version of the Warhol moment. So that’s the growing up period for me.

The Beatles (White Album), The Beatles (1968)
Second Annual Report, Throbbing Gristle (1977)

The “White Album” is just a classic. It’s a reassurance – when I learned later that I liked this, then learnt that Richard Hamilton had done the cover, who taught Bryan Ferry at Newcastle University, I thought, “Oh, that’s reassuring. I’m on the right track.” He thought it was OK to have a white cover.

At the time when I’m beginning to do things for myself comes Second Annual Report, and it also reassures me. A white cover, straight from the pressing plant, with a sticker on it. (Pauses) I mean, the printer did the f***ing sticker, and it’s just stuck on the free white cover you get from the pressing plant. The stickers were put on anywhere – mine’s near the top. (Pauses) I was like, “I thought Autobahn was minimal! This is minimal! Wow!” I just thought, “Talk about a factory or industrial aesthetic.” That’s like a machine plant in Warrington, they’re a limited company, and that’s an annual report that’s been printed. They’re not ICI, it’s Wilkins Brothers, Warrington, and this is the report. I just thought, “Oh, that’s amazing!” I thought, “God! How reduced can you get?”

For Your Pleasure, Roxy Music (1973)
Another Time Another Place, Bryan Ferry (1974)

The only group and person that I’ve ever been a fan of is Roxy and Bryan. There was a kind of “total package”. I went through a period between 17 and 20 of being a Bryan Ferry wannabe. My earlier teens had been characterised by Danger Man, The Prisoner, The Avengers, early Bond movies, and of course Bryan Ferry epitomised this, but in a contemporary pop culture way. I just loved it.

If we look at pop image now and of the last decade, we see the blueprint of that is in Roxy Music and David Bowie. That is the blueprint. The totalness of Roxy Music. The cover, stage set, clothes, music, this was the thing that was different. It hadn’t been like that before. Early Roxy are a kind of pop art experiment. Roxy Music are the first post-modern group.

Fear Of Music, Talking Heads (1979)

Fear Of Music is a hi-tech record cover. The style bible of the time was this book called High-Tech (Joan Kron and Suzanne Slesin, Clarkson N Potter, 1978). The album’s cover is what you do with your apartment in Seventies New York. This is the beginning of hi-tech. This is the first book of hi-tech. That’s the Fear Of Music. That’s the cover. (Puts glasses on and reads from the book). Slip-resistant rubber runner from American Floor Products Company. Has embossed deck plate design. It’s $275 retail for a 25ft roll. And of course it’s in steel as well ’cos you see it on fire escapes. And that steered me in 1980 towards the design of OMD (by OMD). Fear Of Music comes out, when, ’79? There you are, bang on.

Power, Corruption & Lies, New Order (1983)

This is the favourite cover I’ve done because it’s got my own two ends of personality. It’s the whole thing together. It’s the front cover and the back. I’m a Libran, and I can never make my f***ing mind up, and I have to admit, I love that (points to the computer graphic on the back cover). And I love that (points to Henri Fantin-Latour’s “Still Life With Flowers” painting on the front). That’s the Kraftwerk cover (graphic); that’s a later Roxy Music cover (flowers). And that’s where I am between those two things. Sometimes I’m like Paul Whitehouse in The Fast Show, in the scene in the pub and he doesn’t know what he wants. I sometimes find it very difficult to be here or here. We’re all somewhere between the two. I tend, in my taste and attitude, to bounce back and forward, depending on mood, what’s going on, and of all the covers I’ve done, I like this one best. I like the nostalgic romanticism of the flowers; the colours; the déjà vu of my mother’s living room. This is our dream of landscape, and a park, and country life. On the back, this is the Mancunian Way at night. This is the 101 Freeway into Los Angeles.

I subsequently had a trip to Manchester when I heard “Blue Monday”, got a copy of it, and showed them the (album) picture. And Bernard (Sumner) said, “Oh yeah, we mention flowers in one of the songs.” Lee Gale

The Peter Saville Show is on at Urbis, Cathedral Gardens, Manchester M4 3BG; 10am-6pm, January 23-April 18,