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Classic Album covers : Unhalfbricking - Fairport Convention

Unhalfbricking is the third album by Fairport Convention and was released in July 1969

Up until the late Sixties, where there was a picture cover, it would normally have featured a portrait of the musicians, the acts name and album title positioned quite prominently. But then something of a revolution began to take place and, thanks to the likes of The Beatles and the Rolling Stones, more creative ideas started to appear

Should a portrait of the artist adorn their album covers or not? The argument has raged for years. Many self conscious acts refuse to allow their face anywhere near the sleeve while others, most notably the more mainstream pop acts, don’t seem to mind too much

It was the style of Island Records’ releases at the time for their acts name and album title not to appear on their sleeves, choosing instead just their logo and catalogue number

Fairport Convention were one of the first bands to take advantage of both of these for Unhalfbricking, the second of three albums they released in 1969. Released in the summer, it came at an extremely difficult time for the band coming just a couple of months after a car crash that killed drummer Martin Lamble and Richard Thompson’s girlfriend Jeannie Franklyn, as the band returned home from a gig in Birmingham. The band’s manager at the time, Joe Boyd, recalls: “That cover shot was taken in early spring, right before the crash, I think”

The album title comes from the word-game, Ghosts, played by the band while travelling to and from gigs. The object was to avoid completing a real word, and Unhalfbricking was Sandy Denny’s creation

Canadian photographer, Eric Hayes, on an 18-month sabbatical in London was chosen by the band to shoot the cover for the album. He liked what Fairport’s were doing and they were fans of his work for other musicians. The shoot took place at Sandy Denny’s parents’ house in Wimbledon on a Sunday afternoon

The photo on the sleeve design for the UK release, featured neither album title nor band name. Instead, the photo captured Denny’s parents, Neil and Edna, standing outside the family home in Arthur Road, Wimbledon,  with the band distantly visible through the garden fence.St Mary’s Church, Wimbledon can be seen in the background

The reason that the sleeve for Unhalfbricking works is because the band aren’t the main focus of the photograph; in fact they are only just visible through the trellis. Instead Neil and Edna stand awkwardly outside the family home, while the band relax in the garden. After the shoot, the band were treated to a fry-up which was also photographed by Hayes and used for the back cover

Although the fashions have changed, the concept behind the image is timeless, with no typography to date it either. The square format frames the photograph wonderfully – the proportions of all the key features are just right. You get the band in photo but they aren’t the main feature

As bassist Ashley Hutchings says poignantly; “My memory of it is bound up with the terrible car crash. On the back cover we’re all eating around a table. The shirt and the leather waistcoat I’m wearing are what I had on when the crash happened. I can clearly remember them being bloodstained. You don’t forget things like that”

In the USA, the band’s record company, A&M Records, didn’t seem to share that viewpoint,  choosing to replace the photograph of Neil and Edna Denny with a picture of circus elephants and a small inset image of the band that certainly won’t win any design awards!

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