Mark Farrow, the man behind the cover art for Factory Records’ 1982 release “Fairy Tales”, has had a career that has combined longevity with intensity. That sleeve design, with its book-like aesthetic and medieval font, was the first of many – Farrow has gone on to work with the Pet Shop Boys, Spiritualized, Orbital and the Manic Street Preachers. Music is now just a small part of his prodigiously varied output, but it was where it all began.
The Hunger: Your career started with the legendary Hacienda, is that right?
Mark Farrow: Well before the Hacienda it was Factory Records. I had a Saturday job at a record shop. A fantastic little record shop with its walls covered in punk, homemade sleeves. Through the shop I met bands and people from Factory, and one of them eventually asked if I would design a cover. It was for a band called the Stockholm Monsters. I had to traipse down to Granada Studios while Tony Wilson was shooting one of his shows to present him my first ideas on sheets of paper. I took along two designs – they were exactly the same but we couldn’t decide which colour to use, and Wilson just said, ‘Do them both darling.’ That was really nice because that set the agenda for the rest of my career.
With Factory you could do anything you wanted. There was nothing out of bounds, and that was obviously very liberating. It’s only years later that I realised what an opportunity that really was.
Your design pushes the format to its limits, and perhaps offers a provocation that it shouldn’t just be a flat surface and container.
To me, experimenting with physical form comes naturally. There’s only so many things you can design before you start thinking, ‘What can we do with the square?’
How did you get away with your work for Spiritualized – especially the pillbox design for Ladies and Gentleman We’re Floating in Space?
Somebody from the record company came to me and said that they felt I’d be right to work with Jason Pierce from Spiritualized. They set up a meeting and Jason came along, and he was full of ideas and pretty intense. When you get a client who cares as much about the process as you do as a designer, you’re in a really good place. It really helps. Jason said he’d like the album to feel pharmaceutical in some way, that the music was medication for the soul. The idea was that you would have to pop this musical pill through the foil in order to play it. That really resonated with me.
Your designs are so clean, and frequently feature a neon palette. I’m sure it belies the fact, but the aesthetic seems to have an effortlessness to it.
It’s far from effortless, I promise you.
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See more of Farrow’s work on their website.