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When the cover art calls the tune

PUBLISHED: 09:32 13 August 2008 | UPDATED: 15:39 29 October 2010

Pop art: Sir Peter Blake

Pop art: Sir Peter Blake

Simon Parkin

From the cover of The Beatles' Sgt Pepper's to Pink Floyd's flying pig, images surrounding rock are sometimes almost as memorable as the tunes. SIMON PARKIN visits an exhibition of some of rock'n'roll's most iconic artwork.

From the cover of The Beatles' Sgt Pepper's to Pink Floyd's flying pig, images surrounding rock are sometimes almost as memorable as the tunes. SIMON PARKIN visits an exhibition of some of rock'n'roll's most iconic artwork.

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A pig flying over Battersea power station, psychedelic children crawling over Giant's Causeway, The Beatles in colourful outfits surrounded by cut-outs of famous faces.

You probably don't need telling that these images all belong to classic albums. Some LP covers are so well known they're embedded in the public consciousness, endlessly reproduced, inspiring parody and homage - and in some cases better known than the music they contain.

It's interesting to ponder whether Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon would have been half as successful without its iconic refracting prism cover art? Possibly, but many recording artists have long been as keen on the visuals as they are on the music, and very few classic albums have a badly-posed, fuzzy photograph of the band on the cover - the Beach Boys feeding goats on Pet Sounds being on honourable exception.

Dark Side of the Moon, together with Pink Floyd's Animals, Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy and The Beatles Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band all make an appearance in Sir Peter Blake and the Art of Rock and Roll, the first exhibition at the newly- refurbished St Giles Street Gallery.

The exhibition weaves together some of the most famous album sleeves and rock photographs that span from pop's earliest days to the glossy images we see now, all available as signed limited-edition prints.

Owner David Koppel, a former Fleet Street paparazzo, said: “We've got a great selection from Dave Hogan, who has been on The Sun for 30 years. That is quite a coup, he is bringing out a book at the end of the year and this exhibition will give a taste of that. He has been on tour with Paul McCartney, Madonna, and the Rolling Stones. We're lucky to have got him.

“We were rivals, brothers-in-arms, in my days on Fleet Street. He was The Sun's official photographer and I was the upstart, and we became The Sun's two show-business photographers.”

Koppel's own exhibition contributions include digitally-manipulated shots of Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones and Debbie Harry, on brushed aluminium.

His interest in pop iconography has been obvious throughout the six years running the gallery, with past exhibitions including last year's Frank Herrmann's Unseen Beatles, including photographs from the Sgt Pepper recording sessions at Abby Road in 1967, some of which make an re-appearance here.

The first part of the exhibition concentrates on the work of Sir Peter Blake, the pop artist behind that Sgt Pepper's cover and who continues to work on album covers.

Many, including Paul Weller's Stanley Road, Brian Wilson's Getting In Over My Head and the artwork for the Band Aid and Live Aid cover and poster, include his trademark cut-and-stick collage approach, which has become definably Blake's since it was first seen on Sgt Pepper's.

Some of the most interesting however are those that aren't recognisably Blake, such as the glitter Pentangle created for the folk group's 1968 album Sweet Child Album, which is deemed a classic, and the charcoal sketch cover produced for Eric Clapton's 24 Nights, which isn't.

The newly extended gallery also includes famous record sleeves, including George Hardie's simplistic Led Zeppelin I design from 1969 and Peter Corriston's elaborate windows art for 1975's Physical Graffiti, which show just how far and how fast album art progressed.

A similar progression obvious through the Pink Floyd covers on display, which go from the simple but effective Animals and Ummagumma to the slick, corporate abstract images of graphic designer Storm Thorgeson that slowly took over in the band's later years.

It's similarly noticeable how things have changed in the world of rock photography. The Beatles photographs of Herrmann and Michael Ward and pictures of the Rolling Stones and The Who by Michael Putland have an intimacy and immediacy that perhaps Hogan's glossy images from today's PR-obsessed celebrity world don't have.

But then they still have the power to stick in the memory, as Hogan's photograph of that now infamous Madonna and Britney Spears kiss proves.

t Sir Peter Blake and the Art of Rock and Roll runs until September 6 at St Giles Street Gallery. www.sgsgallery.com

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