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Home arrow Reviews arrow Books arrow Us and Them: The Authorised Story of Hipgnosis - Mark Blake
Us and Them: The Authorised Story of Hipgnosis - Mark Blake Print E-mail
Written by Matt   
Wednesday, 04 January 2023

Us and Them: The Authorised Story of Hipgnosis - book by Mark BlakeFebruary 2nd, 2023, sees the publication of what has proved to be a fascinating book from acclaimed author Mark Blake. Us and Them: The Authorised Story of Hipgnosis takes a close look at arguably the principal music industry designers, Hipgnosis.

From the late '60s, Hipgnosis created some of the most iconic and ubiquitous album artwork of all time. Their original lifespan coincided with the golden age of the 12-inch LP, beginning just as the Beatles' Sgt Pepper made the record sleeve the ultimate blank canvas and ending just as new technology looked set to usurp vinyl.

Having originally been approached to design an album cover for their friends Pink Floyd, students Aubrey 'Po' Powell and Storm Thorgerson would go on to define the visual identity of rock and roll for the next fifteen years, swiftly gaining international prominence for their famed The Dark Side of the Moon artwork. This paved the way for other major musicians to set foot in the surreal photo-design world of Storm and Po, resulting in seminal Hipgnosis creations for the likes of Led Zeppelin, Paul McCartney, Genesis, Black Sabbath, ELO and Yes.

In this authorised account, with access to previously unpublished material and exclusive contributions from David Gilmour, Jimmy Page, Peter Gabriel, Roger Waters, Robert Plant and extensive insights from Aubrey Powell, alongside past interviews and conversations with Storm, Blake goes behind the scenes of the Hipgnosis partnership to reveal the pioneering ambition and grand vision that led to their success, as well as the clashing egos and artistic differences that undermined it. The Hipgnosis story also offers hitherto-untold insight into some of music's most legendary bands, as viewed through the prism of the people who shaped their imagery and cultural legacy.

Blake, who is best known in the Floyd community for his excellent book, Pigs Might Fly: The Inside Story Of Pink Floyd (known as Comfortably Numb in the US) which originally came out in 2007, and subsequently updated, has achieved something quite special with this book. Anyone with trepidation over the "authorised" element of the title need not worry. The book pulls no punches with regard to laying out mistakes made, the difficult relationship between Storm and Po, the heavy drug ingestion at times, the sense of self-importance and ego which affected things, arguments between Hipgnosis and various bands, musicians and management, and the regret over certain decisions and attitudes.

It is a truly fascinating look into the life of particularly Storm and Po, but also Peter Christopherson and others intrinsically linked to their story. Unusually, it goes back to their childhood days, revealing Storm to be the same mercurial person we knew in his adult years, as Roger Waters first encountered when Storm lived for a short while with the Waters' in Cambridge from around the age of 10.

The level of detail that Blake has uncovered and weaved into this book is quite breathtaking at times, yet never becomes overwhelming or irrelevant. Some of the tales of the more well-known album covers have been covered elsewhere (including in Po's own recent book, Through The Prism - itself a fairly brutally honest book) but Blake has managed to get new information, and new perspectives, on these. More than that, he exposes the relationships - many of which weren't easy relationships, to put it mildly - between key music industry personnel and musicians which make the Hipgnosis story ever more fascinating.

Unusually, there's a fair amount of detail of the Greenback era - when they moved into creating videos and film for artists, and even adverts for corporates. The stresses and strains of business decisions - particularly in these later years - are laid bare and hint at what possibly contributed to Storm's stroke as the Pink Floyd exhibition in Paris was about to open.

As befitting a book about these design geniuses, there is a healthy picture section within the covers, but interestingly the main focus is on pictures which have either rarely, or never, been seen before, many of which are "behind the scenes" rather than the cover images themselves.

Having read all the various, previous books there have been about Hipgnosis, I was taken by just how brief and superficial they now feel, in light of Blake's sterling work. However, I never felt bogged down with gloopy, irrelevent detail whilst reading Us And Them - his light and playful prose kept me held to the page.

If you've ever wondered how some of the most iconic album artwork came about, and wondered about the personalities behind these images, this superb, revelatory book will be essential reading for you. It shines a light on all elements of the industry, revealing some rather unexpected details.

ORDERING INFO:
We cannot recommend this book highly enough, even though for some it won't have quite as much Floyd coverage as other books (but that shouldn't deter you) - and orders are now possible through a number of retailers. Ordering any item after entering Amazon through our links helps with BD's ongoing running costs (without any extra cost to you), as we participate in their affiliate link programme, and we really appreciate it: Amazon UK, Amazon.com, Amazon Canada, Amazon France, Amazon Germany, Amazon Spain and Amazon Italy.

 
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