Simon Halfon unpacks the visual references in his album artwork for Oasis, The Who and George Michael
As his retrospective book Cover to Cover is published, the graphic designer picks out five of his favourite covers from an illustrious 40-year career.
- Jenny Brewer
- 16 November 2020
- Reading Time
- 5 minute read
Simon Halfon began his career in the post room at Stiff Records in 1980 before working his way to the art department, and then a stint at The Face with Neville Brody. In 1983 he began working with Paul Weller, designing record sleeves for The Style Council, his first being Café Bleu (which he delves into below). This set the graphic designer off down a path that has seen him design artwork for the likes of Oasis, George Michael, The Who, Blue Note, Madness, Steve Winwood and David Bowie, along the way working with Peter Blake and David Bailey. Today he publishes a retrospective of this work called Cover to Cover, which reached its Kickstarter target six hours after it first launched, and brings to light rarely and never-before- seen work for, and photography of, dozens of his renowned collaborators – a result of his lockdown time spent nostalgically looking back through his personal archives.
To celebrate the launch of the book, Halfon has picked out five of his favourite sleeves from the past 40 years, specially for It’s Nice That, and unpacked some of the visual references that went into these iconic cover designs, as well as sharing anecdotes about their creation.
GalleryAll images copyright © Simon Halfon, the artist and record label
The Style Council, Café Bleu
“Café Bleu and the first LP from The Style Council released in 1984. Paul Weller had now embraced everything about Europe that evoked style and élan. From the very first release, the byline announcing the band on all posters and adverts was ‘A new record, by new Europeans’. It was the French magazine Paris Match that would inspire the album cover image. This was 1984, before the word ‘paparazzi’ became part of our everyday language. Back then the word evoked a glamorous, bygone era. It was the idea of capturing a stolen moment, so we spent a few days on the hoof with photographer Peter Anderson and did exactly that. Typographically, it was kept quite simple – taking a leaf once again from Reid Miles work with Blue Note, which was a major influence on both myself and the Council.”
George Michael, Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1
“George had in mind that, with this record, he wanted to be judged solely on the music, with no image of himself on the cover. His initial thought was a completely plain sleeve – his preferences were blue or white, with silver lettering. I’d been down that particular road with The Style Council, and the orange cover for The Cost of Loving, so I needed no further encouragement. Management on the other hand were not quite so convinced… explaining, in no uncertain terms, that no one would even stock this record with this cover. He could be quite convincing so it was, quite literally, back to the drawing board.
“I’d bought George a coffee table book for his birthday in June. It was an anthology of 20th Century photography, and we started flicking through it for some kind of inspiration, now that the blue cover had been nixed. Immediately, Weegee’s 1940 image of (what was estimated to be) over a million sunbathers jumped off the page. We both looked at each other and said, ‘That’s the cover.’ No typography on the front, just letting the image speak for itself. We were both fans of Peter Saville’s work and I think there was a little bit of that influence on this sleeve. Rolling Stone Magazine in 1991 listed this as one of the LP covers of the year, which was pretty cool. Such a great LP; in my opinion it’s the definitive George Michael album.”
Various artists, Blue Bop
“In 1984 I was asked to work on some LPs compiled by Gilles Peterson for the Blue Note label. As mentioned Blue Note and the designs of Reid Miles were very much the touchstone for the look of The Style Council, so I couldn’t have been more pleased. As I’d had no formal training, I became a bit of a design magpie picking up various ideas and making them my own. The idea for this sleeve was also influenced by Barney Bubbles, again another of the Stiff Records alumni. The use of fabric as part of the typography seemed a perfect fit for the Blue Note-ness of it all. This is still one of my favourite sleeves.”
The Who, The Singles
“I’d got to know Dezo Hoffmann at this time visiting his small studio high above Gerrard Street in Soho. His archive was amazing and included pretty much any movie or pop star you care to mention. Polydor had commissioned me to do some catalogue releases for The Who, James Brown and Astrud Gilberto, so I took this as a great opportunity to work with Dezo and his fabulous archive. Looking back, what I especially like about this sleeve is that all the typography on the album cover was painstakingly done using Letraset. The layout itself was heavily influenced by Neville Brody. I’d recently been working as Neville’s assistant at The Face magazine offices in Mortimer Street, where I pretty much learned everything about the physical side of creating artwork. He and I were both former employees at Stiff Records. Neville was huge influence for me. In 2019 I had the pleasure once again of working with Peter Blake on the very latest Who record, so it was nice to get asked back, albeit thirty five years later…”
Oasis, Stop The Clocks
“Stop The Clocks was the second project that I had worked on with Peter Blake. In the mid 90s we’d worked together for the first time on Paul Weller’s Stanley Road. On this occasion we decided to create a still-life collage, bringing together elements that we found in Peter’s amazing studio, that would become a piece of art for one day and one day only, which Lawrence Watson would then photograph.
“It had been a while since Peter had done anything of this kind and it was a real joy putting the whole thing together, carefully adding items like the small Snow White figurine that had previously graced the Sgt Pepper album cover, almost 50 years earlier. Stop The Clocks was simply the best of Oasis. We asked only the best to work on the sleeve, Peter Blake for the cover and David Bailey to photograph the band for the inner sleeve. A great project for sure.”
Simon Halfon: Cover to Cover is out today, published by the designer’s studio Nemperor.
All images copyright © Simon Halfon, the artist and record label