I finally did it. Friendly Records has been on North street for a few years now and every time I walk past it I think, ‘I should go in and a have look.’ But I never do. Until now. And what a slice of heaven it is. Light, organised, chilled and packed with familiar and new music not to mention choice selections being played by the authentically nice, knowledgeable and happy to help Michal. The shop is soon to relocate to the other side of North Street in between the Old Bookshop and the Old Butchers – now that’s a good trio.
So here are 5 photo album covers that caught my eye or were pointed out by Michal. And here’s a bit about them:
Jeff Tweedy - Together at last (2017)
Photographer Viki Gonia (Instagram: @vikibabbles)
I wondered how this photo came about because once I looked up the photographer, the photo seems quite different in style. So I asked her & she obliged me with an answer from the States.It is such a brilliant tale of charity, fandom & being in the right place at the right time that I’ve put her unedited reply at the end of the post. I felt like cutting her words would be like putting a hand over her mouth - so brilliantly told!
Tweedy’s the singer from Wilko so if you like his voice and you like acoustic guitar, you’re on to a winner. I only listened to the one song currently available on Spotify, , and thought it was pretty good, but not mind blowing I have to admit, I’ll wait to hear the rest though. It did make me re-listen to Wilko, which was an added bonus & from what Viki says, Jeff Tweedy seems a very sound guy.
Toby Hay – The Gathering (2017)
Photographer P B Abery
I like this one because I find old photos mesmerising – familiar and foreign all at the same time. The photographer, Percy Benzie Abery (d.1948), owned a photography business in Builth Wells, Wales and by the sounds of it was involved in everything from press, postcards, portraits and pictures of rural life. Before he died, he selected over a thousand of his glass negatives to be donated to the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth. Intriguing.
The music? I loved it. Complex but elegantly unified instrumental folk music– and if you read the text that goes with the album, a bit of a swan song to life as we know it, or knew it. I like how one reviewer, Anita Botman, put it: “This reminds me of the folktales about a village that appears out of nowhere. A village from the past, only seen at a certain time by a certain person. And then it’s gone. The village is a dreamlike vision, there is longing, there is acceptance that everything is as it should be in this moment. This is beautiful music and like the traveller who passes the village I feel like one who has passed through a dream.”
Patti Smith – Horses (1975)
Photographer Robert Mapplethorpe
This is a personal favourite. If you haven’t read ‘Just Kids’ by Patti Smith about her relationship with Mapplethorpe, the often controversial photographer, you’re in for a treat. They were together and not together during the 60s/70s in New York. P. Smith, ever the poet, said: "We were both praying for Robert's soul, he to sell it and I to save it." Why did he get branded as controversial, click here and see if you can spot it. Mapplethorpe told ARTnews in late 1988, "I don't like that particular word 'shocking.' I'm looking for the unexpected. I'm looking for things I've never seen before … I was in a position to take those pictures. I felt an obligation to do them."
If you haven’t heard this album. Listen to ‘Land’ and tell me you didn’t just waste 9 minutes of your life. I’ve never studied her words, just enjoyed them, and I think her control over voice and rhythm is stellar. Oh, and the first track begins, ‘Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine’.
Arcade Fire – The Suburbs (2010)
Photographer Gabriel Jones
This photo caught my eye because it’s pixelated like a billboard poster. I’m also a sucker for the vintage colours and the Edward Hopper feel to it– like something has just happened or is about to happen. Gabriel Jones is not afraid to mess with photos, and I really like his mixed media stuff. Vincent Morisset, the art director, is also a bit of legend in his field. This interactive video for Neon Bible is a fine example.
I need to listen to the album more. It’s a grower.
The last one is a book: ‘X-ray Audio: The Strange Story of Soviet Music on the Bone’ by Stephen Coates
Michal suggested this book because of the fascinating story it tells. Under Stalin music like boogie-woogie, jazz, & rock ‘n’ roll were forbidden. But like all forbidden fruit, someone decides to break the rules (Eve, you know who I’m talking about). Some bright sparks realised that X-rays were just the right amount of hardness to both take and keep its shape when cut. Contraband records were born. Watch this video if you want to know more – great images as well as characters in it.
There are lots to choose from, but that's what I came up. Shame I haven't got a record player.
The story behind Viki Gonia’s photo for Jeff Tweedy’s album cover as told by her.
It's a great story and I love telling it.
In November of 2015, I attended a fundraiser called the 24 Hour Show at Second City in Chicago. It's an annual event that raises funds for Letters to Santa, and basically they raise a ton of money with which they purchase Christmas presents and other vital needs for kids in the Chicago area and spread it all around right before Christmas. Jeff Tweedy auctions off a few living room shows, and I was there to bid on one for a group I'm in. He also auctions off individual songs to people in the audience, and a guy sitting near me bought one for his girlfriend, and Jeff was standing right in front of me. Of course I took a picture!
I then posted it to Instagram, and it was automatically posted to Twitter, and a few days later, I got a DM from Wilco management telling me that Jeff had seen and liked the photo and might want to use it as part of an album package. Of course I nearly peed my pants!
I mentioned it to Jeff's wife as we were figuring out dates for our living room show, and she laughed because Jeff never likes photos of himself. I sent it to her and she said "Well, that's why! You can't see his face!"
The following April, we had our living room show and I asked Jeff if he was going to use the photo and he said "You took that?!" Which made me very happy that it was random and he hadn't noticed it/liked it just because we'd already connected in the past. He said then that he wanted to have the cover be a jigsaw puzzle (there are a limited number of copies of the vinyl with the cover as a jigsaw puzzle). At that time he told me it would be for his first solo record. And I couldn't tell a soul. (Except my family and close friends because I can't keep a secret to save my life.)
Anyway, months went by and they went back and forth about how they were going to use the photo and it wasn't until earlier this year that they said they were going to use it for the cover and t-shirts and totebags.
I love how it turned out, and I love the entire album musically, and I love that it happened. I'm a photographer, but never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd take a cover photo for one of my all-time favorite musicians.
Jeff and his wife and friends do a lot to raise money for various organizations and schools in and around Chicago and are just generally awesome people. I love that the photo was taken at a moment when he was purely sharing his art in order to spread some joy beyond the room we were all in, especially since he regularly encourages folks to make and share our art with the world as a means to combat the shit that happens in the world.
A good sentiment to end on, as is this: