I first came to know about you through your work at Kerrang! Magazine– how did you come to be working there? Was it as much fun as it seemed from the outside? “I started working on Kerrang! in February 1983. The first issue that I did was number thirty five with Tony Iommi on the cover for an interview about Black Sabbath’s Live Evil album; ironically, the last ever cover that I designed for Kerrang! some ten years later also featured Iommi and Black Sabbath. I got the job by phoning the then editor (and one of the finest men to ever draw breath) Alan Lewis and telling him that I was a freelance designer and had worked for Motörhead, Girlschool, Hawkwind and Ozzy Osbourne, to name a few, and asked if he would be interested in seeing my portfolio, and to my great surprise he said yes he would. This would have been December 1982. We arranged a lunch time meeting in one of the pubs nearest their offices, which were above Covent Garden tube station and after several pints and rock‘n’roll tales he asked me to go away and redesign the mastheads (the regular headings that they used) and to come back in the new year and we’d take it from there if he liked them. As it turned out he loved them and asked me if I’d like to work freelance as their designer, I of course said ‘Too foooookin’ right boss!’
When I did the mastheads I also redesigned the Kerrang! logo which for some mysterious reason never got used until issue thirty six and wasn’t used the way I’d designed it until issue thirty eight which had Rock Goddess guitarist Jody Turner on the cover”.
Was it fun to work for? “Shit, apart from the last year I was there it was the best job I’d ever had. I couldn’t believe how much we were allowed to get away with, just as long as the magazine came out and there were no major fuck ups in it we could do anything that helped our creative streaks. Bottles of Jack and Mescal were everywhere, drugs, spontaneous air guitar freakouts on top of the desks could occur at any given moment, pub lunches that lasted days, a party or gig to go to seven nights a week and every goddamned rock star that you’d ever wanted to meet walking in and out of the office and not because they wanted to be interviewed but because they just wanted to come and hang out with the Kerrang! gang.
Here’s a perfect example of that, when I first joined the mag I was well behaved for the first couple of weeks, just finding my feet and observing just how far one could go. So when it came to lunch time I would grab a sandwich and stay in the office and get on with my job, whilst everyone else headed to the pub for their alcoholic fix. So there I am alone, munching on my cheese and pickle sarnie when who walks in? Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top along with regular Kerrang! photographer Gross Halfwit (Ross Halfin). I was introduced and they asked where everyone was and I told them down ‘The White Swan’, before they left Billy asked me if he could have a few Kerrang! headed compliment slips as a souvenir, which I obliged him with and in return for this minor favour he gave me a badge that read ‘I made it to the top!’ Foooookin’ magic… Sadly when EMAP publications took over the magazine the magic very quickly disappeared, but that my friends is a story that you’ll have to wait to read in my memoirs!”
You are of course, famous for designing the cover for Black Sabbath’s Born Again album – what other album covers did you design, and which one(s) stand out for you as favourites, and why? “My first ever album sleeve was Hawkwind’s Live ‘79, and others that followed included Ozzy Osbourne’s Diary Of A Madman, Speak Of The Devil and Bark At The Moon, Iron Maiden’s Live After Death, Gary Moore’s Dirty Fingers and Live At The Marquee, Girl – Wasted Youth and Japan’s Tin Drum… The ones that I really am proud of are all the Ozzy covers, the Japan cover and funnily enough Black Sabbath’s Born Again which has a remarkable story behind it…
The Black Sabbath Born Again album sleeve was designed under extraordinary circumstances; basically what had happened was that Sharon and Ozzy had split very acrimoniously from her father’s (Don Arden) management and record label. He subsequently decided that he would wreak his revenge by making Black Sabbath (whom he managed) the best heavy metal band in the world, which, of course they are but back then in the early eighties they weren’t quite the international megastars that they had been in the seventies. His plans included recruiting Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillan, getting Bill Ward back in on drums and stealing as many of Sharon and Ozzy’s team as possible – and as I was designing Ozzys sleeves at the time I of course got asked to submit some rough designs. As I didn’t want to lose my gig with the Osbournes I thought the best thing to do would be to put some ridiculous and obvious designs down on paper, submit them and then get the beers in with the rejection fee, but oh no, life ain’t that easy. In all I think there were four rough ideas that were given to the management and band to peruse (unfortunately I no longer have the roughs as I would love to see just how bad the other three were as sadly my booze and drug addled brain no longer remembers that far back), anyway one of the ideas was of course the baby, and the first image of a baby that I found was from the front cover of a 1968 magazine called Mind Alive that my parents has bought me as a child in order to further my education, so in reality I say blame my parents for the whole sorry mess.
I then took some black and white photocopies of the image (the picture is credited to Rizzoli Press) that I overexposed, stuck the horns, nails, fangs into the equation, used the most outrageous colour combination that acid could buy, bastardised a bit of the Olde English typeface and sat back, shook my head and chuckled. The story goes that at the meeting Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler were present but not Ian Gillan or Bill Ward. Tony loved it and Geezer, so I’m reliably informed, looked at it and in his best Brummie accent said, “It’s shit. but it’s fucking great!” Don not only loved it but had already decided that a Born Again baby costume was to be made for a suitable midget who was going to wear it and be part of the now infamous Born Again Tour. So suddenly I find myself having to do the bloody thing. I was also offered a ridiculous amount of money (about twice as much as I was being paid for an Ozzy sleeve design) if I could deliver finished artwork for front, back and inner sleeve by a certain date. As the dreaded day drew nearer and nearer I kept putting off doing it again and again until finally the day before I sprang into action with the help of a neighbour, (Steve ‘Fingers’ Barrett) a bottle of Jack Daniels and the filthiest speed that money could buy on the streets of South East London and we bashed the whole thing out in a night, including hand lettering all the lyrics, delivered it the next day where upon I received my financial reward. But that wasn’t the end of it oh no, when Gillan finally got to see a finished sleeve he hated it with a vengeance and hence the now famous quote “I looked at the cover and puked!” Not wanting to sound bitchy but over the years I’ve said the same thing about most of Gillan’s album sleeves. He also allegedly threw a box of twenty five copies of the album out of his window. Gillan might have hated it but Max Cavelera (Sepultura, Soulfly) and Glen Benton (Deicide) have both gone on record saying that it is their favourite album sleeve and Kurt Cobain told a story of his mum taking him to Wallmart for one of his birthdays and telling him he could pick any album he wanted and she’d buy it for him. He chose Born Again and his mother refused point blank to buy it for the cover alone, I always wondered if that was an influence on the Nevermind baby cover that Nirvana released many years later.
Another story that I’ve heard told about the sleeve – and this might just be evil, malicious gossip – was that as soon as the first set of printers proofs were delivered to the Jet offices one was put on a bike and sent to Sharon to piss her off as she was in hospital having her and Ozzy’s first born Aimee and ever since the baby on the cover has been known as Aimee – fact or lie. you decide. And there you have it. I can honestly put my hand on me old John Thomas and say that Depeche Mode played no part in it’s creation, in fact the first time that I saw the Depeche sleeve was when a friend of mine emailed the black-sabbath.com address to me and I took a look. And that my friend is the story of the Black Sabbath Born Again sleeve”…
I remember coming to see you at the TotalRock radio station one day – how did the DJ thing come about? Was it an extension of the live DJ sets you used to do? I used to love your Sunday nights at the Metro in Tottenham Court Road! “Actually I was approached by the BBC who were starting a local London station called Greater London Radio, not because of my live DJing but because of my connection with Kerrang! They wanted me to present a one hour show a week, which first went out on a Sunday afternoon under the moniker of Krusher’s Sunday Metal Mayhem – some of my first live guests included David Lee Roth, Uriah Heep and Motörhead. After a while the show was moved to a Monday evening at nine o clock, after the water shed so if the odd swear word spilt out there would only be a slap on the wrist, that was until Pete Way from UFO was recalling a Michael Schenker tale which ended with him saying, “Michael broke away from the police officers, goose stepped across to the hotel receptionist and said ‘You’re a fucking cunt!’ which resulted in him spending a night in the cells!” I got hauled into the programme controller’s office for that one but amazingly because I hadn’t laughed when it happened I was allowed to keep my job but received my first written warning.
Eventually I told him to stick his job up his arse when he again dragged me into his office and questioned why I wasn’t playing the new Def Leppard album Adrenalize, I told him that I had played a track from it in the week of it’s release and as nobody had requested a track since I hadn’t seen any reason to play it – oh, and of course it was a pile of regurgitated shit! He then informed me that he’d received a letter from Def Leppard’s record company saying that I wasn’t doing my job properly, I told him if he was going to allow record companies to tell me what and what not to play he could shove his job up his arse, which he did and has been walking strangely ever since. (much laughter).
As I type I’m listening to the new Praying Mantis album – what are your favourite artists of all time, and who are you listening to at the moment? “Ahh… Praying Mantis, I designed a single sleeve for them way, way back in time. At the moment I’m going through a blues revival and listening to the likes of Muddy Waters, BB King, Jimi Hendrix, Son House, Robert Johnson and Stevie Ray Vaughan to name a few, but without a doubt the band I’ve played the most over the last 12 months is Down, they just blow me away and live they are awesome!!!