Friday, 25 April 2014

'Parklife' Day: Blur's 'Parklife' artwork explained

In April 1994, things were changing rapidly in the world of British music, thanks to the release of a seminal album. Blur's third LP 'Parklife' catapulted Britpop into the public eye and changed the state of the mainstream for a few wonderful years. Exactly 20 years since its release, here's a look at how the album's iconic sleeve was created...

“Damon bought shares in a greyhound,” says Chris Thompson, the Stylorouge designer who put the ‘Parklife’ sleeve together. “That was taking it totally to extremes – good fun though.”

“By the time we did ‘Parklife’ we were really into appropriating popular imagery,” explains Rob O’Connor, Creative Director at Stylorouge. The designers had previously used a variety of stock photographs and found images for the band's previous two albums, but ideas for the 'Parklife' artwork took them on a ramble around London. Nearly making the cover was a fruit and veg stall in Portobello Road, and for a period of time when the album had the working title of 'Soft Porn', a photo of Buckingham Palace was mooted as the planned image. Can't imagine the LP having as much of an impact if it was called 'Soft Porn'. The little things that change history, eh? 


In March 1994, Damon Albarn called a meeting with the band and Stylorouge and took them to the famous King’s Road in Chelsea, where the sporting images in a William Hill’s betting shop window had caught his attention. Initially, a complete window including other sports was created, but this was simplified. “We centred in on the greyhounds,” explains Graham Coxon “because they had an aggressiveness we liked. We chose the ones with the most teeth. They look deranged, just longing to kill, and there’s a bizarre look in their faces. You just don’t get that look with a footballer – well maybe a little bit.”


An image of racing greyhounds from a sports picture library was eventually chosen as the iconic final design. “Bob Thomas (photographer) couldn’t believe we wanted it for a record cover,” recalls O’Connor. “I’m sure if he’d thought about it he’d have asked for a bit more money.”

With the cover decided, the band and their crew enjoyed an evening at the now-closed Walthamstow Stadium, where the band had their portrait taken. The track itself provided the inspiration for the album’s colour scheme, as well as the themes for the sleeves of the ‘Parklife’ singles. “The whole idea was what blokes do for entertainment,” O’Connor says. “I’ve always thought of Blur as a boys’ band, but one that also appealed to girls, so that fitted in very well – sex for ‘Girls and Boys’, Beer for the ‘Parklife’ single.” 

Coxon doesn't regard the band's artwork too highly: “We were being clever, or possibly lazy, or both. I think Blur has always tried to be a bit too clever,” he says. “I’ve since got into having it a bit more vague rather than packaged. I prefer to fantasise a little more about the record in my hand, rather than having it all set out with the imagery. In a way the ‘Parklife’ sleeve is all intellect, and no soul – but it’s also sensational, graphic and perfect.”





The two images below show a dilapidated Walthamstow Stadium after its closure in 2008. The location has now been redeveloped as flats.


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