This year 2023 is already a big one, dear sistren and brethren of the Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit. The Dark Side Of The Moon celebrates its 50th birthday, and does so, in true Floydian tradition, with an absolutely superfluous but expensive box set.
It contrasts a lot with the good people from the Yeeshkul forum, whose first task was to preserve and weed out Pink Floyd live tapes and out-takes, and doing that entirely for free. Unfortunately, the Yeeshkul forum stopped its benevolent work on the 28th of February, after having served the Pink Floyd collector for 17 years.
Luckily, there are a lot of good people around, and an entirely new forum has taken the relay baton, so to speak. RIP Yeeshkul, and welcome to Raving And Drooling.
Through The Prism
About a year ago, we reviewed Through The Prism. It is an excellent pot-pourri of Hipgnosis anecdotes, penned down by Aubrey Powell, who was top dog #2 in the art and design collective. But as far as autobiographies go, they tend to be a bit mild for oneself.
The book was turned into a documentary by Anton Corbijn in 2022: Squaring the Circle (The Story of Hipgnosis) that unfortunately has not seen a general release (yet?). There is also an excellent Storm Thorgerson video-biography by Roddy Bogawa: Taken By Storm: the art of Storm Thorgerson and Hipgnosis (2015).
Both documentaries have interviews with friends and/or clients of
TBS = Taken by Storm
STC = Squaring the Circle
|Alan Parsons (TBS)||⚛|
|Catherine Wheel (TBS)||⚛|
|David Gilmour (TBS, STC)||⚛||⚛|
|Graham Gouldman (TBS, STC)||⚛||⚛|
|Jimmy Page (STC)||⚛|
|Nick Mason (TBS, STC)||⚛||⚛|
|Noel Gallagher (STC)||⚛|
|Paul McCartney (STC)||⚛|
|Peter Gabriel (TBS)||⚛|
|Robert Plant (TBS, STC)||⚛||⚛|
|Roger Waters (STC)||⚛|
|Steve Miller (TBS)||⚛|
|The Cranberries (TBS)||⚛|
|The Mars Volta (TBS)||⚛|
Us and Them
So when Mark Blake announced 'Us and Them: The Authorised Story of Hipgnosis' we were glad that someone would finally tell the whole tale, preferably with warts and all. We feared a bit that the authorised word in the title would result in a Teletubbies treatment of the lot, but that doesn't seem to be the case. As Mark Blake said in a recent interview,
Po wrote the foreword but did not ask for copy approval and only read the book when it was published.
Pink Floyd is a band that is regularly written about in this biography. The majority of its album covers have been made by Hipgnosis and/or its spinoffs. The rest of the Cambridge Mafia gets mentioned as well. Throughout the book, names pop up that you can also find on this illustrious blog: Emo Moore, Gala (or Gayla) Pinion, Lyndsay Corner, Matthew Scurfield, Nigel Lesmoir Gordon, Pip Carter, Ponji Robinson... Some modelled for Hipgnosis, some worked for them, and others just shared a drink and a spliff.
In ‘Through The Prism’ author Po Powell is pretty sure it was a certain Syd Barrett who scribbled that neologism on the front door. Mark Blake cites Storm Thorgerson who wasn’t completely convinced:
Storm claimed it was the poet Adrian Haggard, one of the Better Books crowd and a friend of Nigel Gordon’s. P94.
Storm - Po - Peter
While most people, myself included, thought that Hipgnosis was mainly Storm's brainchild, it was a duo, consisting of Storm and Po. In the mid-seventies, a third partner joined the team, who even surpassed the other two in eccentricity: Peter 'Sleazy' Christopherson. Peter was a member of the avant-garde art performance collective COUM Transmissions which later evolved into the anti-pop band Throbbing Gristle. Shows of COUM included nudity, flogging, and all naked activity your perverted mind can think of. One day, Peter arrived too late for a TV commercial because he first had to wash the shite out of his ears. Literally.
So who were these Hipgnosis guys?
Storm Thorgerson was the main brain, the leader of the pack. Everyone agrees he was super intelligent and all-knowing. He was also a first-class pedant and pretentious asshole who motivated his underpaid personnel with screams and insults. Always brooding on Art, with a capital A, he would summon his serfs while sitting on the loo or lying in the bath. Pink Floyd video archivist Lana Topham, who professionally wrecked some videos in The Early Years box, refused to work with Storm on The Division Bell after some bad encounters with him.
"I will not collaborate with Storm, he’s a nightmare," and I left. P364.
She only agreed to work for Diet Floyd if the following rule was applied.
If I found him [Storm] being mean to anyone, he was to apologise immediately. P365.
I've Had Enough
Storm was difficult for anyone, including his clients. When Paul McCartney wanted his wife Linda Eastman to take the cover shoot for the album Venus and Mars, Storm said that he didn't think it necessary for him to be present. It made him persona non grata. Luckily, Po Powell picked up the pieces, and as such, Hipgnosis is responsible for a few Wings albums. At a Christmas party hosted by the former Beatle, Po was invited, but not Storm.
I told Storm I was going and he said, "How can you go without me?"’ says Po. I said, "Easily, because I have been invited and you haven’t, and they are a client." I turned up at the party and there’s Storm behind me. Brian Brolly [managing director of MPL Communications] stood there with a big bouncer and he said, "Storm, you’re not invited." P201.
While Storm was the bully, Po Powell was the diplomat of Hipgnosis, taking in those clients that Storm refused to handle. He was aware of the fact that money had to come in, some way or another.
Scam at Cam
That Po didn't mind how money was coming in as long as it was coming in was proven by his pre-Hipgnosis career. He stole cars for a living and cashed in checks that weren't his, using a cunning plan. The banks (and police) eventually found out, and Po was arrested. He had the right to call one person and went for… Peter Jenner. When the Floyd manager found out it was for bank fraud, he refused to bail Po out.
"It was Syd Barrett who made Peter go back," says Po. "Syd was conscious of looking after other people. (…) Peter returned with the money, for which I am forever grateful." P88.
Po received a suspended sentence, and to his amazement, the bank never asked for the stolen money to be returned.
A Saucerful of Secrets
The Floyd was recording their second album, and Storm was pushing to use painter (and friend) David Henderson for the sleeve. Pink Floyd, however, turned this down, and Po stepped in instead. David Henderson did help with the cover though and would return, a decade later, on the cover of Led Zeppelin’s In Through The Outdoor.
And that brings us to Led Zeppelin. Po Powell befriended the band, whose roadies and personnel were often gangsters, thugs who liked to juggle knives and guns around to make sure their opinion was being heard. Plant, Page, and their manager Peter Grant liked the Hipgnosis photographer, and they didn't try to haggle on the price like Floyd's manager always did.
Hipgnosis was seen as an art collective, and its reputation skyrocketed. Powell lived the rock-star life with a villa, swimming pool, and speedboat in Florida. He also acquired some dubious friends there, the types that Sonny Crockett and Rico Tubbs arrested in the weekly Miami Vice show.
The end of the seventies saw a wind of change. Punk bands had 15£ snapshots for a record sleeve. There's no need to fly first class to America to take a picture in a New York back alley if you can take the underground to find one in London.
Po Powell also took in some clients for publicity shots. The brewery in my home town, Stella Artois, had some faint surreal pictures taken to propagate their wife beater. I don’t think this was the finest moment of Hipgnosis.
Perhaps it's a Cambridge thing, but something Hipgnosis had in common with their #1 client, Pink Floyd, was that they didn't want to pay their collaborators. Assistants were scandalously underpaid and were explained that the experience alone was worth their salary.
With the coming of MTV, bands and record companies find new ways to throw money around. Hipgnosis is disbanded, and Greenback starts. It is a video production company founded by Storm, Po, Peter, and (for a while) Nigel Gordon. The three Hipgnosis partners separately continue with photography, though. Just like a rock band whose members take on solo projects.
Storm finally sees a dream come true: that of being a moviemaker. Early videos include Paul Young's 'Wherever I Lay My Hat', Yes' 'Owner of a Lonely Heart' and David Gilmour's 'Blue Light' which has been ridiculed ever since.
Within three years, Greenback Films is turning millions of dollars a year. But then disaster strikes and it's their own bloody fault. Po manages to put his life back on track after a bad cocaine habit, but the MTV lifestyle also reaches Storm and Peter.
Storm's edict has always been that ‘art comes first, the money later'. If there is a budget for 100 dancers, but Storm wants 200, then 200 are hired, for art’s sake. Who pays for the extras? Greenback does. Barry Gibb’s Now Voyager goes two million dollars over budget, while Storm and Barry are at each other’s throats for most of the filming.
It’s 1985, and Greenback is one hundred thousand pounds in the red. The three amigos suddenly aren’t friends any more and talk through their lawyers. At a bank meeting to settle the debts, Po arrives with 33,000 pounds of his own money, but Storm and Peter don’t even bother to show up. For the next twelve years, Storm and Po won’t talk to each other.
As we all know, Storm will be responsible for the sleeves for the newborn Pink Floyd. Po gets multiple orders from his old friends Robert Plant and Paul McCartney. Peter Christopherson has his projects, including the avant-garde experimental band Coil.
In his later life, Storm becomes the hustler of the gang. He sells the Hipgnosis catalogue to Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd but forgets to inform Po Powell, who is pretty pissed about it. On top of that, Storm keeps some originals behind that he sells to collectors for pocket money. One rumour goes that he asks Pink Floyd for one million pounds as he believes the Hipgnosis artwork is responsible for 15% of their record sales. The band politely refuses.
On the opening night of the Paris ‘Pink Floyd Interstellar’ exhibition (2003), Storm has a stroke and is rushed to the hospital. He is partly paralysed. Pink Floyd and Roger Waters help him financially.
Several key figures pass away: Steve O Rourke, Syd Barrett, Rick Wright. Peter Christopherson has a fatal heart attack in 2010, and Storm Thorgerson dies in 2013. Po Powell takes over Storm’s role and becomes the creative director for all things Pink Floyd.
Mark Blake has written biographies about Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant, and as such, parts of these books have trickled down into Us And Them. One could compare Us And Them with Floyd's The Final Cut which was, in part, a sequel to The Wall. But obviously, the Hipgnosis biography is not as tedious as The Final Cut. It has plenty of juicy anecdotes, and it is, in the words of its author, 'a black comedy'.
It’s nice to see that Iggy gets a thank you from Mark Blake. Even if you aren’t into Hipgnosis, it is an excellent book for those fans who want to know more about the Cantabrigians who went to London to seek fame and fortune. Recommended reading for Floyd and Zeppelin fans. And Paul McCartney. And 10CC...
Hipgnosis lead the life of rock stars without putting a single note on vinyl, except for Sleazy. Somehow I've got the feeling that there is still more to tell, but some anecdotes should stay hidden in the fog of times. Rock 'n' fucking Roll!
Blake, Mark: Us and Them: The Authorised Story of Hipgnosis, Nine Eight Books, London, 2023.
Many Thanks: Mark Blake. Roddy Bogawa, Hipgnosis
♥ Libby ♥ Iggy ♥
Mark Blake - Talks about his book US And Them, Hipgnosis, Stones & more - Radio Broadcast 20/03/2023 - YouTube.
UNDER HIPGNOSIS — THE MARK BLAKE INTERVIEW - https://vinylconnection.com.au/2023/03/13/under-hipgnosis-the-mark-blake-interview/.
PS: Un Orage Postmoderne = A Postmodern Storm.