Green Sleeves: Sleeve Notes
Seven decades of LP covers in Ireland
Curated by Ciarán Swan and Niall McCormack
Some stories from behind the covers including: the punk guitarist who also worked for the Garda Representative Association; the unexpected English warrior on the Wolfe Tones cover; the album promoting Wavin pipes; the black-and-yellow cover that came out bright blue; the print blocks kept in a safe…
The overview page for this comprehensive online version of the Green Sleeves exhibition is here.
Bernie Furlong of The Golden Horde recalls that “the early Golden Horde’s visual aesthetic, as manifested in the sleeves and posters, was based on American psychedelia / pop art from the 1960s, that style of lettering etc.” In relation to the process by which the imagery of the group was developed she says, “Des O’Byrne our guitarist designed our record covers so it was very much an in-house role – he also designed and printed our posters – initially (when he was still in his first band, The Letters) after leaving school and doing an AnCo printing course, he was working for the Garda Representative Association (GRA) as their in-house printer (producing the Garda Review no less, in the Phibsboro Shopping Centre Tower!) and he used their printing equipment after work and at weekends to print posters for The Letters. When the Hotwire albums/singles were being produced, Des did the cover art and continued to design and produce posters.”
Diana O’Donnell, the designer, appears numerous times in the course of this exhibition. She designed a number of very striking record sleeves in the 1970s for a variety of artists on Release Records, which was based in Dublin. These included Philomena Begley, Red Hurley, The Barleycorn and Danny Doyle. The last album in the exhibition she designed was one for comedian Hal Roach from 1980.
Eamon Carr of Horslips and later founder of the Hotwire record label notes that “in the early 1980s there were a number of groups in the Dublin area which I considered to be worthy of attention. The ones I encouraged were bands who, at the time, were outside the mainstream. Most had a mod or trash aesthetic that I found appealing.
“Each individual album sleeve attempted to reflect the music and attitude of the artists involved.”
He recalls that “by the 1980s, musicians in Ireland had become more design conscious and aware. Unlike previously where they were often forced to accept whatever their record label foisted on them.”
Photographer Hugo McGuinness recalls working with Gavin Friday of the Virgin Prunes on various projects. “Gavin Friday was very visual. He could immediately get a visual concept – such as the one on Moments And Mine (Despite Straight Lines), the idea of the human animal. This came about after I started experimenting with the idea of movement in faces and seeing how much of the face remains once one increases the sense of movement.”
One particularly unusual feature of the group McGuinness notes was that “they always turned up with suitcases of clothes. Other groups would want me to bring props and clothes and wouldn’t have patience to last across the time a proper photo shoot would take.”
Illustrator Pat Musick was commissioned by Tara Records to produce the cover of The Brendan Voyage album cover. Musick notes that “the font used for The Brendan Voyage was my design, intended to adhere closely to the historic letterforms. I think that because the groups for whom I did album cover designs (Planxty, The Bothy Band, Scullion, Stockton’s Wing, as well as The Brendan Voyage) were doing then – new things with the traditional music, they wanted the artwork to have a broad reach and imply something other than strictly traditional treatment of the music.”
Stan Erraught of the Stars of Heaven recalls that “the visual aspect was hugely important then, and it wasn’t just the ‘artier’ bands – caring about what the product looked like was a huge part of things.”
He continues, “ other album sleeves, photographs were influences. With the Stars, photographer Conor Horgan took most of the images we used and we trusted him completely. I guess the sort of colour photography that William Eggleston did for various Alex Chilton projects was an influence also. Although the cover of the Holyhead single was an obvious exception we didn’t make any general effort to develop an Irish visual or cultural identity.”
Larry Kirwan of Turner & Kirwan notes that “some of the cover symbolism was occult in nature. Around the time it was released we had gained the attention of Star Group – a collective of people interested in various forms of occultism – from Wicca to Aleister Crowley. Anyway, one of our best friends and a member of the occult crew was an artist by name of Bokar. We got him to design the album cover. If you look in the four corners you’ll see The Tree of Life, a tarot card, and the coat of arms of Wexford. I think the interlacing was more Bokar’s take on pre-Raphaelite imagery; I doubt if he was thinking Irish. I’ve always disliked the Book of Kells type that is often used for Irish bands. Turner & Kirwan may have been many things – but twee we were not. We were two hard rocking motherf**kers, so I’m not quite sure why we went for that type. I guess Bokar came up with it.”
Illustrator and Calligrapher Tim O’Neill was commissioned by The Silver Grain Company to illustrate the Wolfe Tones album Belt of the Celts. “In the Belt of the Celts the strapwork/ interlace panel is derived from a 12th century manuscript and the decorated capitals are also based on late medieval originals. The rest of the lettering is my design based on decorative square capitals found in the earlier Gospel books. The warrior figure is from yet another source, English I think. When I completed the job I was given a copy of the empty sleeve and a fee.”
Printer Billy Ryan notes that “often artwork for albums was already be done and would be supplied to the printers – as with this Wolfe Tones album. Derek Warfield, of the Wolfe Tones, actually came in to see this job printed.”
The Artwork here for The Abbey Tavern, which was designed by Michael O’Connor and printed at the Central Remedial Clinic Print Workshop, underlines the centrality of music to the Irish pub.
The overt linkages with alcoholic beverages created by the inclusion of the photographs of same on the reverse side of the cover are made even more explicit by the inclusion of Irish musical instruments behind the bottles of spirits.
That this is also linked into live music is emphasised by the photograph of musicians playing at The Abbey Tavern.
Happy to Meet, Sorry to Part by Horslips was released as their debut album in 1972. Eamon Carr notes that “ was an introduction to the band. There was no certainty that there’d be a second album. When there was, the nature and content of The Táin determined the look of the album. There were times when Charles, as designer, with the band’s encouragement, would subvert traditional Irish iconography and clichés of Irish picturesque aesthetic.”
He continues, “by the time we needed to reprint the original sleeve, printing costs had escalated making a second run off the original sleeve (with die-stamp and colour booklet) prohibitively expensive. As a result of an international oil crisis during the 1970s, major record companies were forced to cut back on the production of elaborate gatefold sleeves. Charles reconfigured his original design and incorporated a very clever band photograph which he art directed.”
Mac Piarais / Pearse released by Coiste Chomóradh an Phiarsaigh / The Pearse Centenary Committe in 1979. It was designed by Michael O’Connor of the Central Remedial Clinic Workshops Print Unit with playwright, actor and director, Tomás Mac Anna. They borrowed print blocks from the National Museum for the project and these would be locked away in a safe at the end of a day’s printing.
The accompanying booklet went through numerous drafts since so many experts on the period, from Gael-Linn, the GAA and other organisations, were involved in the project.
At meetings the printers were dubious about their ability to complete job to the standard demanded but eventually 2,000 were printed on a Heidelberg printing press in the Central Remedial Clinic.
Typographer Peter Wildbur was asked by Claddagh Records to set a typographic style for their albums. He recalls that his role was quite specific. He was asked to set a typographic style for the albums. Prior to his involvement there had been no visual consistency. He tried to produce a design that would be recognisable as a Claddagh production. Some of the albums were set in Gaelic and Peter had to buy a set of metal type for Gaelic.
Irish artists were used for the covers. These were chiefly chosen by Garech Browne, who founded Claddagh Records, and many of them were commissioned especially. Whilst Peter would meet with Garech and the artist (and be given a disk or cassette of the album to listen to) he was focused on the typography.
Designer Steve Averill recalls that “when the Radiators from Space were releasing their debut single on CBS Records in Ireland the artwork was submitted as two colour – black and yellow – as it had been on the UK version. It was a surprise then to get the printed version back in bright blue with the excuse that that was the colour that the printer had in his press!”
He continues, “more generally Irish record sleeve printing was often done by printer’s who specialised in the vinyl formats though they were far from specialist printers. Budgets for a small market like Ireland were a major factor in this and there were, of course, some exceptions.”
Moods of Ireland was released by Gaeltarra Éireann, then the state agency with statutory responsibility for the economic development of the Gaeltacht (Irish speaking area), in the mid-1970s. It contained previously released tracks from Gael-Linn and was intended as a promotional album for the agency and Wavin, a plastics manufacturer based in Ireland. Both an LP and 7 inch version were released.
A message on the reverse side of the record notes that “The Irish government is particularly interested in attracting suitable industries to the Gaeltacht areas of Ireland. These are the areas in the North West, the West and South of the Country where Irish is the spoken language and where the Gaelic tradition and customs survive.”
Wizards of Firetop Mountain member Tob Swift feels that although the band comes from a DIY scene “we picked Jim FitzPatrick to design and illustrate the cover of the album for a few reasons. Firstly we were having difficulty agreeing on an artist and we all liked his work. We were all big Thin Lizzy fans and were all very aware of his previous work on album sleeves, this had a big impact into our decision. We were confident we’d get something we’d like and that it would probably get our album out to more people if his art was associated with it.”
He notes that “there was not really an effort to develop an Irish visual or cultural identity and it’s not something I think many in the bands would have been keen to achieve, the use of Irish artists yes but not the need for that to be visually what people typically think of as being culturally Irish.”