This is music

‘I met Richard Ashcroft at six in the morning buying a pint of milk in a petrol station,’ says designer Brian Cannon speaking from the British Music Experience last night.

Cannon’s career in album art is one which has coloured some of the most iconic sleeves of the 90s. It is defined by two chance meetings and a defiant appetite for perfectionism, often underpinned by the excess and prosperity of the decade.

His talk is part of the visual identity series hosted by BME, the interactive pop museum which opened in March 2009 in the O2 Arena. 

Artwork for The Verve by Cannon
Artwork for The Verve by Brian Cannon

Cannon’s 06.00am encounter with the man unflatteringly known as Mad Richard Ashcroft  was in fact his second, having two years earlier met Ashcroft fleetingly at a party. This second meeting though would lead to a series of brilliant but  painstaking photoshoots often with purpose-made crafted props.

The Verve’s This is Music involved a neon sign being placed on a shallow waterfall and illuminated by generators. A barrel of blue dye was then tipped in upstream, overlooked by the band  standing on a vertiginous horizon.

Urban Hymns by The Verve
Urban Hymns by The Verve

It is typical of his considered positioning and perspective but most impressive are the impossible efforts he makes to achieve a subtle effect.

The cover shot for A Northern Soul started life as a black and white photo, before skin tones were painted on, only for the image to be projected onto a warehouse wall and then recaptured as a photo with an off centre character walking through an open door.

On Your Own by The Verve
On Your Own by The Verve

Cannon’s body of work also takes in Suede, Cast, Inspiral Carpets, Super Furry Animals and his early work for Rap Assasins – which gave birth to an oft revisited pyromania aesthetic. 

It was when working in the same building as Inspiral Carpets that a chance meeting with Noel Gallagher occurred. Gallagher was then roadie to the band and, as Cannon remembers, asked ‘Where the f**k did you get them trainers?’ as the pair shared a lift.

A friendship blossomed and as the formative Oasis shot to fame, Cannon was working on everything Oasis were putting out.

Most iconic are the considered snapshots of Definitely Maybe and What’s The Story Morning. The first is accompanied by a handrawn title designed by Cannon. Oh and ‘That’s Ribena in the wine glass’ he tells us.

Definitely Maybe by Oasis
Definitely Maybe by Oasis

The second which features Cannon with his back to the camera on London’s Berwick Street also features a member of the band’s entourage in the background, under the influence ‘holding the only album master copy,’ Cannon says. 

It’s telling for anyone who knows the story of Creation Records, how much the album art echoes the story of the label.  Creation Records signed Oasis and infamously imploded after critical and commercial success belied by mismanagement and overspending. 

This came to an apex with the Oasis Be Here Now cover which cost £75 000, of which £25 000 was spent on hiring a hotel swimming pool and lowering a Rolls Royce into it according to Cannon.

Often though extravagant budgets achieved breathtaking results. The Don’t Look Back in Anger photoshoot saw 10 000 flowers imported from Holland ‘and we had to dip half of the white ones in blue ink for a red white and blue effect,’ says Cannon.

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