It’s a pleasure to be able to announce details of two very special photographs from The Specials first album, by Chalkie Davies, now available on the collectors market for the first time. Just like tomaytos and tomahtos, UK and US readers will have different versions of this album, as the front cover of the UK release was the US back cover, and vice versa, with the UK back cover image appearing on the front in the US. Helpfully both are available.
Chalkie Davies’ recollections are always fascinating, and I wanted to share them with you:
“I have to thank my friend Elvis Costello for suggesting us to Jerry Dammers. He was producing the first Specials LP and thought we would get on well together. There are few people who I would describe as a genius, but it applies to both Jerry and this band. Seven very individual people, and one of the best bands I ever worked with. Jerry had both the locations and ideas worked out for their first LP sleeve. He showed me some LP’s that he liked visually. One of them was the Who’s first album, My Generation, which was taken in colour, with the band shot from above.”
“With seven people in the band, group shots are never usually easy. We went to a location Jerry suggested at the Canal Basin in Coventry, these guys took direction really well, but, they also knew how to hold their own in a band this big, each had his own personality and it shows. The front cover was taken from the first floor of an abandoned building, looking down at the band who were standing in a triangular shape, the strongest shape there is. For the LP cover artwork, we cut out the band members with a pair of scissors at Jerry’s request, then we stripped it onto a white background. Here, for the first time, you can see the actual photograph as it was originally taken.”
“For the back cover, Starr, my partner in life and crime, took an SX 70 photo of the same shot from the side, at ground level. When I got down the stairs, she showed it to me and I told the band to stay in position, I sized it up with the Hasselblad viewfinder, gave minuscule directions to each musician to get the image perfectly composed and clicked the shutter. One single frame. I think it’s because I knew it was perfect – what young and arrogant confidence that is! But it’s probably the best group shot I ever did, and it certainly passes the test of time.” (Judge for yourself – you can see it below.)
“Instead of a picture we had done earlier in the day, we used it as the back cover, and also the poster. In America they used it as the front cover, against our wishes. Back then we also designed the sleeves, and Starr did the typography by hand with Letraset. The front and back cover images represent an architects drawing, side and top elevation – not that the Two Tone fans were necessarily supposed to get that – but it justified the position when we showed it to the record company. They saw one sleeve, just two photographs, nothing more. Luckily they really liked it and all the hard work we put into it had paid off.”
Both of Chalkie’s Specials photographs are available to purchase, and Chalkie sets his edition sizes nice and low. . Price and size info for the UK front cover (US back) is here, and the UK back cover ( US front) is here.