Brian Cannon, the man behind some of the most iconic sleeve designs in the history of British music this year celebrates 20 years in the business. Over the past two decades, Brian’s company Microdot has worked with bands such as The Verve, Suede, Inspiral Carpets, Super Furry Animals and of course Oasis.
After training as a graphic designer, Brian set up Microdot in 1990 and first came to prominence working with The Verve. Sleeve designs such as those for singles ‘She’s A Superstar’, ‘Gravity Grave’ and the band’s debut album ‘A Storm In Heaven’ are still regarded as some of the most innovative and original of the last two decades. The company eclipsed their own early success however with their work with Oasis in the mid-nineties.
From the iconic white on black logo Oasis to every single and album sleeve until 1998, Microdot’s designs were seen as a fitting visual companion to the bands music, often referencing both the songs themselves and giving a nod to band’s own influences. Brian is a central figure in Oasis history not just for his work with Microdot but as a friend of the band, he often made appearances on record and is one of the few ‘eye witnesses’ to the band’s early success.
In 4 short years, the company founded in a small office in the North West of England saw their work on the covers of multimillion selling records across the world in a not so distant era before technology diluted the prominence of sleeve designs and the skill of ‘man made’ cover art. Microdot resisted digitized artwork until the release of Super Furry Animal’s 1996 debut ‘Fuzzy Logic’ however Brian would still rely on traditional graphic design methods as would become their trademark in the years to come.
In a Q magazine poll of the Top 100 album covers of all time, Microdot were featured twice, for Definitely Maybe (Oasis) and This is Music (The Verve). As well as these classic pieces, Microdot also designed the StopCryingYourHeartOut logo, arguably the zenith of their 20 years in the business….
A retrospective of their work is currently on display at www.microdotcreative.co.uk and to celebrate the company’s 20th, Brian Cannon granted our friends and frequent contributors at SCYHO.com an exclusive Q&A this month.
What’s the strangest thing happened to you while shooting a band?
That has to be the Wonderwall story, originally Liam was the person seen through the picture frame. I had sent a message to Marcus Russell, Oasis manager to tell him and Noel about the shoot, a message he obviously didn’t receive. Mid shoot, and this is totally true, Noel just happened purely by chance to be passing in a taxi!! Next thing you know an irate Noel Gallagher jumps out the taxi which screeched to halt and shouted ‘What the f****s going on here?’ he put a halt to proceedings saying it had to be a girl in the shot!
Are there any recent bands that you’d like to work with?
I’d absolutely love to work on Noel’s new stuff, and seeing as he, probably more than any other rock star, values the opinions of his fans – get a petition going!! Other than that, I think the Arctic Monkeys are ace and The Whip.
Besides photography have you tried any other kind of art, like painting?
I am actually trained as a graphic designer, photography is just one of the disciplines I enjoy. I haven’t painted for a while and used to really enjoy printmaking. Compiling collages is also something I enjoy.
What in your opinion are the top three album/single covers you have worked on?
What album covers first inspired you to take up the profession?
It was all about The Sex Pistols for me as a young lad, Never Mind The Bollocks is, in my opinion, the greatest typographical album sleeve of all time. It was punk generally and the Pistols in particular that inspired me to do the job.
On a overwhelming majority of Microdot sleeves NO digitisation was used. Why was this so important to you?
A lot of it was down to the fact that in the early days I simply couldn’t afford the technology!! Then when we could we still resisted as it became our trademark. It gives me great satisfaction to look back on all those great sleeves and think, ‘we actually DID that.’
For the cover of The Verve ‘She’s A Superstar’ how much food colouring did you add to the water to get that effect? And did you have to get permission to do it?
It was a plastic dustbin full, the sort you’d have in your garden and no we didn’t ask for permission, it was after all bio degradable and caused no harm.
How involved was Noel in the creation of the album and single artwork. How much collaboration was there between him (or the band itself) and you?
It varied, but Noel and I ALWAYS got together before a sleeve project, he’d give me his thoughts then I’d turn it into reality. Communication was always the key, borne out by the fact that we NEVER had to re shoot a sleeve.
Would you work with the Gallagher’s on any of their new projects?
What is the hardest part in doing an album sleeve?
I don’t find any of it ‘hard’, I love doing it and I’m good at it. I suppose it only ever becomes a bit difficult if the band I’m working with has no ideas and the communication between us is lacking – something that never happened while working with Oasis or The Verve or most of the bands I have worked with.
How/when did you meet Noel and what were your first impressions of him?
I first met Noel in 1992/3, I had a tiny office in the same building as the Inspiral Carpets in Manchester for whom Noel worked as a roadie. Noel and I would see each other around the building but we were too cool to actually speak to each other. That was until one day when I got into the lift at work wearing a pair of trainers unavailable in England at the time, Adidas Indoor Super, which I had bought in Rome when I took my Mum for her 60th birthday. The first thing Noel Gallagher ever said to me was ‘Alright, I put me hands up, where the F***k did you get them trainers?!’ We got talking and he asked what I did, I told him I was into designing record sleeves – he asked me what I had done, I told him about the early Verve stuff, he was impressed as he liked The Verve and their artwork. As he was leaving the lift he said ‘I’m in a band, and when we get signed I want you to do the artwork’ That literally is it, talk about being in the right place at the right time!!!!!!
What made you commit to working with him?
I thought he was not only cool, but a really good laugh and very likeable. Oh …. and his band were brilliant!
What process did you and Noel use for creating the artwork? Did you see Noel becoming more confident in it as you worked with him, or was he always confident about it?
He’d tell me his ideas, I’d listen to the music, study the lyrics, dunno how it happened really – I just got it, you have to realise I didn’t just do the artwork for Oasis, I was a MASSIVE fan too. Noel was always confident about everything, everything related to Oasis at least.
Did Noel always have the final say in what artwork was used?
Of course, he was, as he was known within the inner circle – ‘The Chief’
Which Oasis artwork are you most proud of?
I love Some Might Say, a great literal interpretation of the lyrics, and my Mum and Dad are on it too! Definitely Maybe has become a classic, I also think Roll With It is top, we had a great laugh doing that.
Are there any covers which, with hindsight, you would have designed differently?
No. They are what they are, no point looking back and thinking ‘Oh I wish….’
Noel said in November 2006 that his favourite Oasis covers were Shakermaker and Who Feels Love. Could you talk through the process for creating Shakermaker and what do you think about Who Feels Love?
The concept behind the Shakermaker artwork was kind of based on the lyric about Mr. Soft and this imaginary wibbly wobbly world. If you look at the back sleeve everything is normal and there is no music being played through the cassette player. On the front you can see my hand pressing play on an Oasis cassette, the music comes out and melts all the objects in the room! As you know we never used any photoshop effects and the most difficult thing was sourcing all objects that were plastic and thus meltable, the most difficult being the plastic picture frames that looked like wood. We did the back sleeve then took everything outside and I literally got an industrial blowtorch and melted everything. Funnily enough at this point of the process Bonehead and Liam turned up and saw me having the time of my life playing with fire and stated ‘Cannon, you’ve got the best job in the world!’. With regards Who Feels Love, I think it’s the best Oasis sleeve I didn’t do.
Which Oasis recordings do you appear on?
I do handclaps on All Around The World, I speak on the end of the Warchild version of Fade Away, I play keyboards on the title track of Morning Glory and my footsteps can be heard on the end of Be Here Now.
Did the other members of the band ever show any interest in, or have any input to the artwork at all?
They were all very interested, they didn’t have input as such, that was all down to Noel, but we always had a laugh doing them.
Which Oasis era was the most memorable for you and why?
94 -96, I worked with them till 98, but the first 2 years when I saw them go from nothing to being almost as big as The Beatles was amazing. It was just such an incredibly exciting time and we all knew it was something special. Also they were making great music which people absolutely loved – it was ace!
Noel often used to criticise previous albums (with the exception of Definitely Maybe) when there was a new release. He did the same with the artwork a few times, how did you feel about this criticism?
I look at is this way, he approved it all in the first place – no artwork would have ever made a sleeve if Noel hadn’t been happy about it at the time
You were thanked in Paul Mathur’s book “Take Me There”. What did you think about the book?
I designed that book as well, I think it’s an honest account of the time, Paul was really the first journalist to get onto Oasis and be accepted by them. When we finished designing the book I treated all the Microdot team to a weekend in New York, Paul came with us and he STILL owes me £300 that I lent him!!
Did you like the artwork for Oasis’ singles collection, Time Flies… What concept would you have used for it?
I think it’s good, probably because it looks like something we would have done at Microdot and it uses my logo.
Would you like to work with either Noel or Beady Eye on their new projects in the future, or would you prefer to keep the Oasis connection as the perfect memory that it is?
Oasis will always be the perfect memory, but I would love to work with Noel again.
Of all the artists you have worked with, with whom did you feel the greatest connection? Did this make for the best work?
The best work I ever did was for both The Verve and Oasis, we were great friends and I think it shows.
For more details of Brian’s work visit www.microdotcreative.co.uk
L. Davies SCYHO.com