20 years of the NMC Blue Sheep by Francois Hall (NMC designer)
My links with NMC began in the early 1990s when I was commissioned to design a CD (and cassette!) for Bingham String Quartet. Back then, I was working at the South Bank Centre designing posters for Messiaen’s 80th anniversary, the 60th anniversary of Stockhausen, and the Schoenberg celebration concerts, which has proved not dissimilar to designing CD covers. Both need to have arresting images that are uncluttered, atmospheric and conceptual – this is what I try to achieve when designing for NMC.
By the time the design for the first NMC sampler was needed in 1996, it was clear that the look and sound of NMC’s recordings stood out from the crowd. The ethos of NMC was so different from other record labels and suggested the analogy of the black sheep. Adding NMC blue, turning the stray sheep around and using the Warhol style we created the Pastures New artwork and the distinctive blue sheep logo was born!
The sheep now represents the musical independence of NMC, the individuality of its composers, and the adventurous tastes of its listeners.
Designing for NMC
Being presented with such a variety of ideas and concepts each time I’m asked to produce a new cover remains the most enjoyable part of working with NMC. Sometimes I am able to hear the music in advance – this especially helped with Richard Ayres NONcertos, which is among my favourite NMC recordings, along with Judith Weir's The Welcome Arrival of Rain, Howard Skempton’s Ben Somewhen and Jonathan Harvey’s Body Mandala. I also enjoy jazz improvisation, which is not a million miles away from the way my mind works when in designer mode. And it always helps if I can listen to my favourite composer Thelonious Monk when I’m working.
To encapsulate these musical ideas and references can be a challenge but also fascinating because it leads me down avenues I would never have ventured if not for the title of a piece or the notion of a composer. Once I have the idea I then need to decide how to creatively represent it. This could be photography through a blue plastic stencil ruler on Portland beach (Lento), borrowing a real human skull from the local museum (Vanity), waiting outside a block of flats from light to dark (Poles Apart), photographing Art Deco wax dolls (The Intelligence Park) or delving into the incredible NASA website to discover mysterious sounds from Saturn (Saturn).
As well as NMC, I also design CDs for The Levellers, illustrate children's books, and have recently designed, illustrated and photographed knitting books with my partner Lucinda Guy. www.francoishall.com
Designs (L to R) 1 2 3 5 by Francois Hall · 4 by Alison Fair · 6 by Kat Flint