(originally posted 14th December 2011)
Fairport Convention – Unhalfbricking
Design by Diogenic Attempts Ltd
Photography by Eric Hayes.
Up until the late Sixties, where there was a picture cover, it would normally have featured a portrait of the musicians, the acts name and album title positioned quite prominently. But then something of a revolution began to take place and, thanks to the likes of The Beatles and the Rolling Stones, more creative ideas ideas started to appear.
Should a portrait of the artist adorn their album covers or not? The argument has been waged for years. Many self conscious acts refuse to allow their face anywhere near the sleeve while others, most notably the more mainstream pop acts, don’t seem to mind too much
It was the style of Island Records’ releases at the time for their acts name and album title not to appear on their sleeves, choosing instead just their logo and catalogue number.
English folk-rock band, Fairport Convention’s were one of the first bands to take advantage of both of these for Unhalfbricking, the band’s third album, the second of three released in 1969. Released in the summer, it came at an extremely difficult time for the band coming just a couple of months after a car crash that killed drummer Martin Lamble and Richard Thompson’s girlfriend as the band returned home from a gig in Birmingham. The band’s manager at the time, Joe Boyd, recalls: “That cover shot was taken in early spring, right before the crash, I think.”
Canadian photographer, Eric Hayes, on an 18-month sabbatical in London was chosen by the band to shoot the cover for the album. He liked what Fairport’s were doing and they were fans of his work for other musicians. The shoot took place at Sandy Denny’s parents house in Wimbledon on a Sunday afternoon. Many more close-up shots of the band were taken but thank goodness they weren’t used. The reason that the sleeve for Unhalfbricking works is because the band aren’t the main focus of the photograph; in fact they are only just visible through the trellis. Instead it’s Sandy Denny’s parents (Neil and Edna) standing awkwardly outside the family home, Wimbledon’s St Mary’s Church in the background, that take centre stage while the band relax in the garden. After the shoot, the band were treated to a fry-up which was also photographed by Hayes and used for the back of the sleeve.
So, why is this such a great album cover? To me it’s perfect. Although the fashions have changed, the concept behind the image is timeless, with no typography to date it either. The square format frames the photograph wonderfully – the proportions of all the key features are just right. You get the band photo but they aren’t the main feature.
The band’s record company, A&M Records, didn’t seem to share my opinion however choosing to replace the photograph of Neil and Edna Denny with a picture of circus elephants that certainly won’t win any design awards.