One criticism levelled at New Hormones is that many of its sleeves lacked the strong visual appeal and brand identity of contemporaries such as Factory. “Ludus aside, New Hormones records tended to be indifferently dressed, which doesn’t always reflect well on the music within,” reckons James Nice, whose label, LTM Recordings, has reissued a lot of Manchester post-punk material.
This critique is “possibly true’ admits Malcolm Garrett, Buzzcocks’ pioneering sleeve designer and co-founder of assorted iMaGes, the agency that created distinctive cover art for early 80s pop giants such as Duran Duran and Simple Minds. “Richard has a genuinely more eclectic taste and gave much freer reign to each artist to develop their own visual persona, not always with any real sophistication or finesse,” he says in Boon’s defence.
For CP Lee, “That’s the essential charm of it: do the sleeve yourself. We’re not going to get Malcolm Garrett, here’s a pencil and some paper – you do it.”
“Budget was an issue a lot,” explains Ian Runacres. “Richard was into graphic design, but his approach was ‘how can I get something interesting, but which doesn’t cost a lot?’” “Richard and Linder were both brilliant in terms of packaging and design ideas,” believes Peter Wright. The sleeve for Diagram Brothers’ Some Marvels of Modern Science is a case in point. “Richard introduced us to the idea of a tangram, these triangles that you put together to form different shapes,” recalls Simon Diagram. “We invented a font, me and Simon, which, thank God, no one else has used – it’s very hard to read,” says Boon. Images of toasters and the atomic bomb were juxtaposed “to make some obtuse comment about technology,” he explains.
Some Marvels remains one of Boon’s favourite New Hormones sleeve designs: “It was a good collaboration with the musicians and it sort of made its point.” Slip that Disc by Dislocation Dance is another. “Cool. Totally ripped off from Parlophone. That was when we were getting on better with the woman at Rank Xerox. Most of it was done on the photocopier.” Another jacket for the same band was less successful: “I didn’t like the horrible yellow back of Music Music Music. That was me getting the wrong Pantone number,” admits Boon. The label boss’s other pet hate is Cruisin’ for Santa: “It was just in a white sleeve with a sticker on it because we were trying to trim costs.”
Despite the occasional faux pas, for Garrett the theory of allowing each band to develop its own visual identity was sound. In his own designs he says he tried to steer clear of a recognisable ‘style’, “Seeking instead to establish and develop a separate identity, if you will, that I hoped would be distinctive, relevant and individual to each band.”
Garrett also tried to apply this philosophy to his work for New Hormones (he was briefly involved with the label when it returned to action in 1980, putting together the mechanical artwork for print for Big Noise from the Jungle, and, more significantly, the cover art for ORG 5). “The Decorators sleeve was in many ways typical of a number of sleeves I did around that time that drew reference from a suitably evocative photograph that I found in a some obscure book in my library, which I had amassed book by book from junk shops and the like over the years,” the designer recalls. “Its mood was eerily ‘romantic’ in a way I suppose, with a face at a broken window. It may well have been a still from a horror movie (used without permission), but I was not interested in anything ‘spooky’, merely its inherent sense of mystery.
“It has been said that some of my work displays what has been called a ‘pop constructivist’ mentality. It’s safe to say I like bright colors and geometric designs. I like optical ‘games’, which give a sense of physicality to otherwise flat, hard-edged designs. That kind of approach didn’t seem relevant for The Decorators and the brooding, narrative style of the lyric writer, Mick Bevan.”
While New Hormones sleeves were all about the individual artist, for better or worse, “The personae of the bands at Factory were certainly subservient to the overarching persona of the label itself, with the caveat that Joy Division and New Order really were the persona of the label embodied in vinyl, so their visualisation was indistinguishable from Factory itself. Almost every other sleeve could equally have been for this band alone: the vision was a much more singular vision,” suggests Garrett. “This was true certainly up until Central Station and Happy Mondays shook things up again in the late eighties,” he concludes.
Classic New Hormones sleeves:
ORG 1 – Richard Boon’s homage to Walter Benjamin.
ORG 5 – Malcolm Garrett brings out the brooding mystery of Mick Bevan’s songwriting.
ORG 10 – Postmodern Parlophone pastiche. Dig those trumpet players!
ORG 11 – A child’s skin being burned off in silver and blue.
ORG 14 – Gods Gift go Edvard Munch.
ORG 17 – Richard Boon’s fold together Diagram Brothers biography is a marvel of modern design, even if the ‘Tangram’ font is “very hard to read”.
CAT 2 – The best of a plethora of great Ludus sleeves: Pickpocket came in a plastic wallet with SheShe, a booklet of lyric and photo montage fragments by Linder and photographer Christina Birrer.
CAT 3 – A plastic ‘transistor radio’ containing photos of DJ ‘Mike Barnes’ (CP Lee), Radio Sweat bumper stickers, and other ephemera.
COPYRIGHT JUSTIN TOLAND 2007/2008 – ALL RIGHTS RESERVED