Stylorouge have enjoyed a long relationship with Squeeze – our first work for the band was the album sleeve for Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti. In recent years their live shows have continued to be a joy as they’ve existed more as an occasional live entity between their solo commitments, so we were delighted be asked to design the sleeve for their first studio album in over ten years.
As Cradle to the Grave was born partly as a result of discussions between Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook and their old South East London buddy Danny Baker, when his TV comedy mini-series was in the early stages of development, the storyline was highly influential in the way we approached the cover design.
Mark Higenbottam and I worked on a number of concepts, for both the album and the accompanying tour. Among our proposals was a simple minimalistic vintage train ticket, which toyed with the idea of life as a one-way journey. Compared with the colourfully elaborate alternative options we presented, this simple solution tickled both Chris and Glenn’s fancy and it was duly sent to Danny Baker to guage his own opinion. Thumbs-up. The tour was announced and the design adopted. It was based on a ticket that I had remembered, that I had kept for years as a memento of leaving home. From Swanley to Brighton became From the Cradle to the Grave.
For a while this was the nailed-on choice for the album sleeve too. Psychedelic hearses, board games, Victorian funeral parlour typography, crazy time capsules and shrines comprising the detritis of a typical life were left behind in it’s wake. But time changes everything, and with the album’s projected release still a few months off, the band felt the evolving songs deserved to be dressed in more flamboyant garb, so the original concepts were revisited, and we set to work adapting the 1970’s style psychedelic poster idea that had been a close second choice.
Merging the visual themes of Danny’s and the band’s own teenage years in Bermondsey and Greenwich respectively, we had fun piecing together a montage of elements that celebrated the downbeat and mundane in a graphic blaze of colour. Invaluable reference at this stage was sought in the work of Graphic artists such as Edward Pond, a man with local connections to the band and whose beautiful travel posters for South Eastern Railways had carved themselves into our own visual memory banks. The roller coaster motif that we juxtaposed with dockland cranes in the vinyl version of the album packaging was from an Edward Pond poster celebrating the attributes of Margate as a tourist resort.
A little symbolism was also sprinkled here and there (a robin on a lion’s back – a reference to the 1970’s nicknames of the two football teams supported by Squeeze and Danny Baker – Charlton and Millwall – cranes representing dockland, trippy neo-Victorian graphics like those adopted by the high street fashion and record stores of the day, etc)
The central character on the front cover is more of an mystery… even to us as designers… sometimes obtuse thinking takes over, and in Squeeze, we have the perfect advocates in terms of offering support for the eccentric and unfathomable. Having decided on the psychedelic/pop art route we needed a focal point, and the man-baby seemed to tick the right boxes. With a nod towards the body-builder from Squeeze’s very first album cover (designed by Mike Ross) the tattooed carnival strong man hinted at the history of entertainment and suggested a rich, full life, and the baby bottom half was, well, a baby.
The photoshoot that accompanies the album campaign took its theme from the original train journey concept (which we hung onto the remnants of here and there), and was shot on location at the Kent & East Sussex Railway depot at Tenterden in Kent.
Design, art direction and artwork by Stylorouge
Photography by Rob O’Connor
A selection of Edward Pond’s work can be found at http://www.rennart.co.uk/pond.html