Nearly everyone in Progressive Rock Music, musicians and audience alike, are hugely aware of the symbiotic nature of the artwork and the music. After the first few albums, we never got to see the typical "Group Shot" of Yes again. With Genesis, Pink Floyd, Greenslade, and ELP.. the same rarity of such things was pronounced. There were exceptions, usually Live recordings or compilations etc... and of course "Love Beach". By and large, the history of Progressive Rock albums is as much about Paul Whitehead, Roger Dean, Patrick Woodroffe and Storm Thorgerson - even H R Giger as it is about the bands they helped to develop.
Mark Buckingham's staggering artwork for our new album is the latest chapter in our band's story. The Tangent have been very lucky to get some astonishing artwork on board for our 9 studio albums and various live products. We have to start with the remarkable force that is Ed Unitsky...
Ed designed our first ever sleeve, for "The Music That Died Alone". Although he'd done various things before (including fan releases for The Flower Kings) this as his first official and commercially available release. There can be no doubting just how much that sleeve helped the band find its feet... how it totally represented the contents of the CD itself and how it registered in the minds of the people who had loved this kind of music back in the 1970s.
Of course, nobody, not me, not you, not Ed could look at it without thinking of Roger Dean in some way. But Ed's work through the various albums he has made for us and others has its own character. It's deeper in detail than Dean.. the picture has more distance, more background. And of course it's technologically driven - yet somehow totally organic too.
We decided on the Unitsky pic for our debut because we were aware that many artists at the time were still nervously biting their nails when it came to admitting they were "prog". There were many Hipgnosis style affairs around at the time (Sky Moves Sideways" anyone?). But what we released in 2003 had people running to their record store as much for the cover as anything else. Ed was and IS a vital part of the band's make up, story and outlook.
Ed designed the first THREE Tangent studio albums - plus a DVD and a live fan CD. All of them were amazing, intriguing, stare-into images that gave the experience that many of us had had when we were younger. On Our Fourth album we decided to have a break.
While living in France I became aware of a whole culture of art there that doesn't figure as largely here in the UK. The French and Belgian "Bande Dessiné" artists are massively varied, highly evocative and individual. I was fortunate enough to meet Antoine Ettori who was a student just finishing his courses at his art school. His work was really interesting and I approached him to see if he'd like to do something for the band and was delighted that he accepted. His work totally complemented the music and the story that this album tells (along with a novel) .
After "Down & Out" - and album which just used photos form Sally & My collection, Ed reurned to do the COMM album - superbly and this was our first outing on Vinyl.. the chance to see his work in this format was astonishing.
For "Le Sacre Du Travail" - in keeping with many classical albums, we used a piece of already painted abstract expressionist fine art by Martin Stephen. It was a perfect combination I felt and inside the cover much work was supplied by Brian Watson, a very good friend of the band who was at the time just finding a new outlet for his personal creativity after a lifetime in a job not normally associated with art!!
Of course Ed did "A Spark In The Aether" our sequel to our debut album... once again working in the rich light blues where we had begun 12 years earlier.
And so we come to our new album "The Slow Rust Of Forgotten Machinery" And this means we come to Mark Buckingham. It is an amazing thing when an artist finds out that another artist is a fan... and to find out that Mark had been listening to my music since Po90 days was a big surprise. A very nice surprise bearing in mind the popularity of his work, his work for DC and Marvel - it seemed faintly impossible that someone like that would be "into us".
I'd always known that this album would require something really specific.. and with it being so "news related" the idea of comic strip had surfaced. Mark had offered his services and I told him about the ideas of the album and he said he'd send some ideas over.
I'm not a great art critic and as such will happily use the phrase "gobsmacked" as my reaction to the first piece he did. This was a black & white collage for our Internet release of "A Few Steps Down The Wrong Road" which was as ascerbic and cutting as the song was. And as the ideas for the album trickled through, something unusual happened. Something unusual and very special.......
I started to change the music. Because of the art. There were things in there that made me think of better ways to say things, things to highlight more, stuff to leave out. The pieces he was drawing were as inspirational to the music as the original subject matter had been, and so here I was experiencing a lifelong dream, doing an album symbiotically attached to the artwork it came with. Like with ED, Mark became a creative force WITHIN the band, and like Ed has frequently done, he is credited with a photo as if IN the band on the sleeve.
The full impact of the sleeve is something that should be really affecting.; The art was inspired by the music. The music is inspired by the art. The chicken and the egg. There is no real answer to the "Which Came First" Other than, in our case, "The telephone call".
Ed, Antoine, Martin and now Mark have all played a vital part in our continuation of the Progressive Rock tradition. And who knows where we will go next. And fear not. Ed will be back!!