1.To begin with, when and how did you first come to work with the
Well, I first worked with them on Everything Must Go, but I knew
them a lot longer than that, because Rob Stringer is a good mate of
mine and he signed them. So, I was obviously very aware of them and
I actually knew them quite well for a long time before I actually worked
with them. For example, I went on the famous Bangkok trip and I also
went with Rob to see them early on hed know better where
that was but I think it might have been Leicester, or somewhere
like that. We drove up to see them and I thought they were awful the
first time I saw them (laughs heartily)! But, previous to Everything
Must Go, obviously Nicky and Richey had been a tight unit as far as
how the band should express itself visually, and I guess when they came
back in 1996 (pausing), this is probably my opinion more than fact,
but I think probably at that point, Nicky needed someone else to kind
of bounce ideas off. And also, in my mind, it was time for a new feel
and a different approach to how they manifested themselves visually.
However, I think The Holy Bible was a very strong piece of work, because
it was a sophisticated album cover from what had started in the early
days as almost for want of a better word a studenty
approach to how they looked.
2.For people who may not know, which MSP releases have Farrow Design
The first thing I actually designed for them, was A Design For
Life I guess, because that came before the album. But basically, albums-wise,
Everything Must Go, This Is My Truth, Know Your Enemy, Forever Delayed
I have a slight connection to Send Away The Tigers,
because we designed a book for a photographer called Valerie Phillips
and I gave a copy of that book (Monika Monster, Future First Woman On
Mars) to Nicky, and one of the photos in that book became the cover!
But, we didnt design it."
3.Can you tell us more about the individual concepts for each LP
sleeve / campaign, and did the music / record titles inform or shape
Its going back a few years really, and in some respects,
its hard to recall. I mean, Everything Must Go is obviously a
really strong title and its very suggestive of how everything
should look and I wanted everything to be very bold and very strong
and to almost have an art edge to the way it felt. The whole
campaign was very tight, and it almost felt like that once wed
got the initial idea of how it was going to look, that all of the singles
and everything else flowed very easily from that. It had a very distinctive
style using the block, and then with Nicky coming up with the quotes
for each sleeve, it took on a very manifesto feel the whole thing!
So, with that title and those quotes, a very strong graphic approach
felt right. In terms of the images of the band that we took (with Rankin)
which as youll remember, are all close-up shots of their
bodies, faces and arms etc. etc. I just wanted to kind of get some kind
of intimacy I suppose. There wasnt really a reason for the wall
being blue, apart from the fact that is the colour I wanted it to be.
The images and the type on that cover are all in frames, it was real,
where as the type and boxes on the singles had been graphic up until
that point. I cant really recall why, again, it was just something
I wanted to do. I have a habit of making my life more difficult than
it needs to be! This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, again, felt to me like
a big statement and an epic title! So, the idea of taking beautiful
portraits of the band in amazing settings in their own land as
well if you want felt right. We worked with a photographer called
Andy Earl on those, who I knew was very good and (pausing), I mean,
everythings different now and its all digital, but at that
time, he used to shoot with a 10x8 camera. You know, at one time, people
took 35mm pictures which meant that your negative was that size, whereas
with this camera that we used with Andy, we were shooting a negative
that was 10 inches by 8 inches. So the amount of information that you
get in a photograph like that, is immense, which gave us the ability
to make the band quite small within the context of the photograph. We
shot some very beautiful stuff and it was all done in Wales on a huge
beach (Black Rock Sands) not far from Porthmadog. But its funny,
because everybody assumes it was shot in America or somewhere like that!
Then for the singles off that album, that was around the time that Nicky
had just started taking Polaroids. Mitch Ikeda used to take lots of
Polaroids and Nicky had a fascination with them, so he started taking
them himself. The idea was that we would then use one or more of those
on every one of the single releases, so everything had a different feel,
because of the different photographs and the different quotes that we
used. But at the same time, they all clearly belonged to each other
and for all intents and purposes, looked exactly the same.
With Know Your Enemy, to be honest, out of all the albums weve
done (pausing), that one was very much led by Nicky. Hed seen
this artist (Neale Howells) who he liked and he wanted a piece of his
work on it, so although we did the type treatment on it, essentially,
the idea for that album and the way that album looked, all came from
Nicky. Forever Delayed was quite a nice one to do actually and an enormous
amount of work went into the Greatest Hits one! Because we wanted to
have a way of taking all of the historical photographs of the band,
but give them a feel that felt like they would sit comfortably on the
album. Im actually very fond of that sleeve and we also did a
tour programme that was based on that sleeve, that was also really successful!
The images are almost like gallery shots and the portraits look huge,
but theyre not (laughing), theyre probably about a foot
*I ask Mark if theres any significance behind the different sized
blocks of colour on each individual portrait, as well as asking him
about the stencilled typeface which references MSPs spray-painted
shirts from the bands early years*
To be fair, we were kind of indulging ourselves and theyre
things that most people wouldnt really notice, but Im pleased
you have! With the typeface (pausing), with every album that weve
done for the Manics, weve essentially used the same font, which
is Univers Bold Condensed. Even the stencilled typeface
was created from that font! The last sleeve we did for the band, was
Lifeblood, and I absolutely LOVE those images! You just see them popping
up all over the place, because theyre one of those things that
have kind of become iconic in their own right, almost without association
with the Manics in a weird kind of way. Theyre very beautiful
and we shot them with a photographer called John Ross, whos someone
we work with a lot and he also happens to be one of my best friends.
That concept developed from talking to Nicky about what we could do,
and initially, we had the idea of taking objects and throwing the blood
on these objects and then taking the object away which would
just leave the blood and you would see the pattern, the way the liquid
hit the thing would define the shape if you like. Then we started talking
about if it could be a person, and I think Nicky suggested that it could
be quite an androgynous figure. It was deliberately ambiguous (pausing),
a lot of people dont notice that its a person, certainly
on the front cover, because thats the most obscure shot and it
just looks like a shape, almost like red paint being poured, and its
only when you look closer that you realise that it is actually a person.
Whereas on some of the other images, its a lot clearer on some
of those and its quite obvious that it is a person. But theyre
very, very beautiful and very kind of striking Im very
fond of those and I think theyre one of the best things weve
done! With all of the albums, I would listen to them beforehand and
that would inspire ideas as well, without a doubt! But funnily enough,
because the Manics are so strong on titles, I tend to be led by the
title, as opposed to the music and certainly with A Design For Life,
the way that looked, was all suggested by (pausing), I mean, to give
a designer a title like that, is a bit of a gift really!
4.Were there any unused artwork ideas that you thought could have
been interesting, if pursued further, and how much input does Nicky
usually have into your designs?
I cant give you a definitive answer about unused artwork
ideas, but very probably, yes, because there always is theres
always more ideas! It is interesting, and when we worked with the Manics
again at a later date, I went back through the Everything Must Go book
or our job file if you like and all of the ideas were
in there. Inevitably, when you do that, when you go back to something,
you end up going, Wow, look at all this stuff that just wasnt
used or was changed at the last minute. You know, although it
was an incredibly strong campaign and Im very proud of what we
did on it, equally, theres a high likelihood that there was other
stuff that could have probably been used. As for Nickys input,
we work very closely with him on everything we do and he gets very involved,
but there was a good amount of trust there from quite early on, and
I think that was probably helped by the fact that I already knew the
5.Which cover was the quickest to create and which one took the longest
+ did you have an entire campaign ready in advance, knowing what all
of the singles were going to be?
I cant remember which cover was the quickest to create and
which one took the longest, but Know Your Enemy felt like the longest
(laughing)! So, Im not sure sorry, but I dont remember any
of it being especially painful or especially difficult. Certainly, Everything
Must Go and This Is My Truth were such long campaigns, they were getting
on for 2 years each those campaigns! It was an INCREDIBLY productive
period for us and the band Farrow Design and the Manic Street
Preachers both kind of really hit our stride, and as far as the record
company went, the campaign and the advertising and the packaging, swept
the board Awards-wise you know? The Music Week Awards and stuff like
that. They were just incredibly successful campaigns, but to have a
really successful campaign, you need two components. You need great
looking, memorable graphic design and great sounding, memorable music!
I think the stars aligned if you like for me, on Everything Must
Go more than anything else. As for an entire campaign being ready in
advance, each one was done piecemeal I suppose, as each single was selected.
I mean, theyre not all selected in advance and we do them all
at once, we work on them one at a time, as a series. I think the last
single off Everything Must Go (Australia) was probably nearly a year
after the first one. It had an amazing sustainability and it was packed
6.All of the 2CD single sets from EMG, TIMTTMY and KYE along
with the 2CD/DVD set for There By The Grace Of God featured a
pullout sleeve housed inside a card wallet. Was this to create uniformity
and to allow you extra space for additional artwork?
It was definitely an idea that they should work as a set, but
then thats very much what we do here. We like things to look as
though they belong to each other, and we like the idea that they build
up into a set and we like the idea that people would collect them all.
That once a campaigns over, and you get everything together and
lay it all out on the table, that everything fits really well with everything
else and theres a sense of unity about the whole thing.
*I mention the wraparound stickers on all of the singles released from
Everything Must Go, which had to either be cut or peeled away in order
to access the card wallet holding the CD, with a number of MSP Fans
purchasing duplicate copies to keep in unopened, mint condition*
It wasnt really deliberate, it was just that the size of
the pochette, meant that when they went into the shops (pausing), it
was very easy for the inner pochette to drop out. So the idea that we
had a sticker that A. Told you what you were going to get and B. Sealed
the inner bag if you like, into the outer one, just became a device
for us to do two things. It sealed the package and it told you what
you were getting. The fact that people bought two sets so that they
could keep one sealed (pausing), I guess you could call it a happy
accident, but, if Im being totally honest, it wasnt
in anyway meant that people should spend twice as much money!
*I ask Mark about Lifebloods Empty Souls covers slotting together
to create a larger picture*
Well, that was completely intentional and with all of the Lifeblood
images that we created, that was the most detailed it was incredibly
fine! So, to place that image on one CD-sized canvas
for want of a better term would almost have been doing that image
a disservice. We knew there were three formats, so the idea that you
could split it across all three was just one of those really nice ideas!
*I also mention The Love Of Richard Nixon and Empty Souls limited edition
numbered slipcases designed to hold each set of Lifeblood CD
singles / DVDs which were sent to people signed-up to MSPs
Of course, yeah, yeah!
7.For you personally, what makes a strong design do you like
to use a combination of graphics, photography, typography etc.
and also, do you have any favourite LP covers?
In terms of what makes a strong design, I suppose its like
what I said earlier, its something thats memorable, its
something that makes people want to pick it up, its something
that makes people want to own it, and study it, and read it! I guess
when I was 16, 17, I was kind of fascinated by record covers and I wanted
to know every detail of the stuff that was out there at the time
if something came in a gatefold sleeve, it was fantastic for me! I suppose
all of those things creep into your subconscious and its kind
of instinctive, you pour all of those things that Ive just mentioned
into a sleeve. But, we dont have a set of boxes that we tick where
it must do this, this and this. You want everything that you do to be
different from the last one, but just as strong and just as good, and
people have got to want to own it and pick it up I suppose. Hopefully
although it doesnt always it should express the
band visually, or the music, or both! If there was a sleeve that I wish
I couldve done, it would be Neu!, its very graphic and very
8.What computer software does Farrow Design use, and has the advent
of the iPod influenced your approach to designing record sleeves?
The software that we use, is all of the things that all Graphic
Design companies use, so its Adobe Creative, Photoshop, Illustrator
and all the rest of it so were no different to anyone else.
As for my approach to designing album sleeves now, the iPod does impact
obviously because you started with album covers, then
you moved down to CD covers and now youre going down to a 2 inch
or 3 inch screen on an iPod or iPhone. So yeah, it does impact, but
thats a whole different world of question if you know what I mean,
about where music packaging is going. I mean, we do very little music
packaging now and thats for a combination of reasons. One is,
is that its hard to earn money from music, because budgets have
gotten tighter and tighter and marketing departments are less and less
brave, in terms of what theyre willing to do. They have less and
less money to spend, in terms of what something might look like you
know? For example, the idea of doing an inner and outer pochette for
4 single releases off an album, it just wouldnt happen now
it wouldnt happen! Thats just the way it is. Im pretty
philosophical about it and Im not moaning about it, but the last
Pet Shop Boys album that we did, Yes, we almost deliberately designed
that to look good on an iPod. It had a multicolour tick on it and we
very much presented the idea with a photo of an iPod, just for that
reason. So yeah, it does definitely impact!
9.Are you allowed to reveal any details about the artwork and content
for Nickys debut book, Death Of A Polaroid: A Manics Family Album?
Well, obviously weve dealt with Nickys Polaroids before
and although we havent worked with the Manics on the last couple
of albums, were still friends and Nicky called a few months ago
and said, Id really love you to design this book.
We'd previously designed the book of Mitch Ikedas photographs
(Forever Delayed) although this isnt a companion-piece
in anyway, its different, because its more like an art book
in some respects. It features the best of Nickys Polaroids and
Mitch Ikedas too, plus a few other things from sessions with professional
photographers. Theres some really lovely images theres
some beautiful stuff by Nicky and theres some great images by
Mitch, who has written little comments on his which are kind of cute!
Some of them are really poignant, so its going to be a very, very
special book. Theres also going to be a Special Edition, which
will be a very beautiful thing. Were very pleased and its
off being printed now, so we are eagerly awaiting the finished result!
Its been a pleasure to do, but its been a lot of work, because
we had to edit thousands and thousands of Polaroids
original edit probably took it down to about half of all his photographs.
*Earlier this year, Nicky told Q Magazine, Its the cream
of my collection of around 6,000 to 10,000 Polaroid photos.*
Then from there, we probably edited those down by a further two
thirds. The whole studio was covered in Polaroids at one point! We decided
that it was going to be far too difficult to put the images in chronological
order, although certain sections are. I guess that Mitchs are
the most chronological, because there are dates on all his. But even
then, theyre kind of more in sequences. Otherwise, we would have
just had a lot of similar images on the same page which were taken within
half-an-hour of each other. The fact is, the book works better this
way. The cover was down to Gary Stillwell, whos the designer of
the book and a partner in Farrow. We did a series of cover visuals and
tried a number of things, and this one felt very strong! There was a
bit of toing-and-froing with the publishers (Faber & Faber), but
ultimately, everyone agreed that the one we have gone with is the best.
Each Polaroid was put down onto a white sheet and then photographed,
so theyre artefacts in effect. Whereas on the This Is My Truth
sleeves, we just dropped the image part of the Polaroid into our own
graphic white frames. So this time, theyre not as neat,
because Nicky and Mitch tend to draw and scratch onto the physical surface,
and some of them are bashed and a bit turned-up at the edges and you
see all that, which I think is kind of important. Nicky has painted
on some and stuck stickers on others, so all that is there to see. In
total, there are 553 Polaroids over about 300 pages.
10.Do you have a favourite Manics era / any favourite songs, albums
For a song, Im going to go for Horses Under Starlight. Album-wise,
This Is My Truth was obviously the most successful wasnt it really?
But I think for me, Everything Must Go which was the first one
we did together and almost the answer I gave you earlier, is the answer
to this but I think it was a new era and a new period and they
really hit their stride and we really hit our stride! And so I think
thats the one you want, in terms of the answer to this question,
Everything Must Go, for me and in particular the set of singles
funnily enough is still a very strong piece of work! My favourite
video I think, is the one that Martin shot, Motorcycle Emptiness.
11.Of all your Manic Street Preachers designs, which are you most proud
The posters for A Design For Life, are probably my favourite posters
that weve ever done I think theres one with a forest
on it thats gold at the bottom, and theres one with a stream
on it thats silver at the bottom. Theyre just really beautiful!
12.Lastly, chips or cream buns?
Postscript August 2019
Since this article was originally published, Farrow Design reunited
with MSP in 2013 and 2014, to help create the album / single sleeves
for both the Rewind The Film and Futurology campaigns (with Nicky having
again worked closely alongside the design agency by choosing the photographs).
In 2016, Farrow designed the exclusive 'Record Store Day'
A Design For Life 12" vinyl and the assortment of Everything Must
Go 20th Anniversary reissues. Then, in 2018, This Is My Truth Tell Me
Yours received the same loving treatment from them to commemorate its
Finally, as it is now almost the 20th Anniversary of The Masses Against
The Classes as well, Mark has very kindly provided some additional information
about the cover concept: "It was a while ago, obviously, but my
recollection was that it was Nicky who wanted to leave the 'Lone Star'
off, something about it being 'not quite a Cuban flag.'"
A very special thanks to Mark for all of his time
I never wanted to be in a band,
I wanted to do the covers!