A NEW publishing venture based in Sheffield specialising in high quality illustrated books on popular culture has released its first title.
The debut book by Easy On The Eye is Covered, a collection of classic album sleeves which have inspired other designs or been imitated, reflecting the music industry background of publisher Simon Robinson.
A locally-based designer who has spent many years working on CD packaging, he explains: “Recently I put together a couple of box sets for EMI and realised I’d really enjoyed working on the books which went inside these CD sets. I’ve had some book ideas for a while, so decided to try three titles and see how it goes.”
The other two are Startstruck, devoted to weird and wonderful artwork from Japanese singles of the Sixties and Seventies, and When Cover Girls Ruled the Charts, featuring the cheap albums cover versions of top tens from the Sixties and Seventies.
Easy on the Eye is an offshoot of Purple Records, a reissue label, which Robinson and his partner, Ann Warburton, run from an office in their Stannington home.
He also continues to do design work for EMI, Sanctuary, Warners and VAP Records (in Japan) and others. He also oversees Deep Purple’s back-catalogue projects for EMI.
The idea behind his own label was to identify a niche market for re-issues. “It’s comes mostly from the big record labels who don’t want to put the stuff out themselves.”
“In the last couple of years there’s been a decline in the sales of CDs – though this has been overstressed,” he says but it did present the opportunity of diversifying.
Producing books was a natural move for a graphic designer who was also an avid collector. “I have always been interested in old stuff and collected anything from soap packaging to record sleeves.”
The book on the art of Japanese single sleeves arose from his artist’s eye being drawn to the blend of Western images and exotic Japanese typography and is made up of images culled from an archive he discovered in Japan.
Also in production is a book detailing the sexy chart albums of the Seventies. “We all bought them,” said Robinson but few other than him probably thought they were worth keeping.
“Ten bob for a bunch of chart hits – only they turned out to be not the originals, but copies. To help sell them the labels put scantily-clad girls on the front. It must have worked as they were selling over a million copies a time until Led Zeppelin objected to being knocked off the top LP spot and the budget label albums were banned from the charts.”
The first book, however, is based on someone else’s collection of album sleeves which have all stolen their covers from more famous records. “I met a collector in Belgium, Jan Bellekens, who had been researching these for years and suggested he put a book together. He replied that he had but couldn’t find a publisher anywhere. I told him to look no further!”
Robinson wrote the text alongside the images and edited it down from the 3,000 Belleken had acquired to just over 1,000.
There are almost 30 variations on Beatles’ Abbey Road which are mostly in homage. But others have a different agenda such as Ian Gillan, just after being kicked out of Deep Purple, referencing one of his former band’s classic covers, but blurring away the rest of the group or Barry Humphries’ clever pastiche of the Sound Of Music cover, only with Dame Edna dancing up the hill instead of Julie Andrews.
“Covers has already been picked up and featured in several magazines in the UK and Europe,” reports Robinson. The books designed in Sheffield will be distributed internationally through the website www.easyontheeyebooks.wordpress.com and bookshops.
“We took down some samples to the London Book Fair and they got snapped up. The distributors said our proposals were the best-looking books they’d seen all week.”
The name Easy on the Eye was the title chosen for an exhibition in Blackpool relating to the label’s easy listening releases and Robinson thought it ideal for the kind of books he will be publishing.
Away from music, Robinson is planning a book looking at the vanished trade of walking pictures, those informal portraits of people snapped unawares as they walked along, often on a seafront, and then handed a ticket by the cameraman for them to purchase it later.
Naturally, Robinson has a collection of those too.
wCovered (Easy on the Eye, £17.99)