Central Station: 24 Hour Arty People

In design terms, what do we think of first when we think of Factory Records? Perhaps it’s the impact of Michael Winterbottom’s 2002 film, 24 Hour Party People and, more recently, that of Anton Corbijn’s Control, that steers our thoughts towards Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures, or that famously costly New Order sleeve for Blue Monday. Or the yellow and black striped columns in the Haçienda… But wait, there is another chapter to the Factory design story, one that often gets overlooked…

Fac Off
Faç Off (FAC 258) is not only the title of Mancunian design trio Central Station’s forthcoming exhibition – it is a graphic they conjured up for a promotional T-shirt in 1990. “I remember Tony[Wilson]’s reaction when he asked what we’d come up with,” says Central Station’s Karen Jackson. “We showed him, he looked at it and said, ‘Fac off. Brilliant!'”

In design terms, what do we think of first when we think of Factory Records? Perhaps it’s the impact of Michael Winterbottom’s 2002 film, 24 Hour Party People and, more recently, that of Anton Corbijn’s Control, that steers our thoughts towards Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures, or that famously costly New Order sleeve for Blue Monday. Or the yellow and black striped columns in the Haçienda… But wait, there is another chapter to the Factory design story, one that often gets overlooked.

Which is strange really, when confronted with the sleeve artwork for The Happy Mondays and Black Grape created by design trio Central Station – surely the most vibrant and bold sleeves ever commissioned by Factory Records.

Bummed, Judge Fudge, Wrote For Luck and It's Great When You're Straight Yeah
Clockwise from top left: The Happy Mondays’ 1990 album, Bummed (FAC 220); 1991’s Jude Fudge single artwork (FAC 332); Cover of Black Grape’s album It’s Great When You’re Straight Yeah; Wrote For Luck (FAC 212) – all part of Central Station’s legacy of Factory sleeves

Central Station consists of Karen Jackson and brothers Pat and Matt Carroll. Unlike the clean, precise design of Saville, 8vo and Mark Farrow, all of whom also worked for Factory, Central Station’s work for The Happy Mondays was bold, often painterly or hand-drawn and brightly coloured, with a bare minimum of formal typography. But it wasn’t untutoured. The Carrolls were steeped in the technical proficiencies of graphic design and typography: Pat and Matt had both attended Salford Technical college earning graphic design degrees from the Society of Industrial Artists and Designers. “We did a year of art foundation followed by three years of graphic design,” recalls Pat. “This was in the late 70s when it really was a technical college,” he adds. “There was a guy called Brian who ran a letterpress and he had huge trays of type which we learned how to hand-set, doing all the leading and kerning. We’d have races to see who could set a block of type the quickest without making mistakes.”

But the Carroll brothers and Jackson weren’t just interested in design skills. “We learnt about the history of design too,” says Pat. “We got hold of library cards for Manchester Metropolitan University Library which had a great design section: we took the opportunity to soak up as much as we could. We were interested in the likes of Paul Rand, Max Huber, but at the same time we were fascinated by artists like Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and Robert Rauschenberg.”

Certainly these painterly influences make sense when looking at the body of work that Central Station is set to show in a forthcoming exhibition at Manchester’s Richard Goodall Gallery entitled Faç Off – a title that refers to the studio’s response to a request from Tony Wilson to create a promotional graphic for Factory nearly 20 years ago. “It’s mainly artwork produced for The Happy Mondays, Black Grape and also some of the Playmates portraits we exhibited at Manchester City Art Gallery in 1990,” explains Jackson of the selection of work.

Ken Dodd
Ken Dodd painting from the Playmates series

There’s also another strong influence in the work and that’s the music and attitude of the Mondays themselves. “Shaun and Paul [Ryder] are cousins of ours, we grew up in the same area,” explains Pat. “There was a fairly tight family nucleus – family’s always been an important part of things, and still is. We were all really into music as kids but Shaun and Paul ended up in a place where they wanted to make music and we knew we wanted to do painting and design. We were always at rehearsals and record­ing sessions with the band and we took really seriously the responsibility we had in packaging this music that we all believed in. We wanted to develop our own voice for the work that was as strong and as fun as the music.”

Sweet-wrapper-tastic sleeve for the Mondays’ Pills’n’Thrills’n’Bellyaches album (FACT 320)

The Carrolls met Jackson in the early 80s at parties and clubs, soon establishing that they were all into the same things: music, making images and having fun. After college, Pat moved down to London and worked at a small graphic design company affiliated to a print firm in Essex – visits to the latter providing him invaluable insight into repro. He was also working on design projects for clients including the Barbican and the London Tourist Authority.

Matt and Karen followed him to London a few years later on completion of their courses (Jackson studied print-making) but the trio found them­selves returning to Manchester every weekend to meet friends. “We’d get on the first train from London on Friday night so we could go out all weekend in Manchester then get the milk train back to London and pretty much go straight to work on Monday morning,” remembers Pat. “The Haçienda had just opened,” adds Jackson, “and all our friends were in Manchester.”

In 1984 the trio made a conscious decision to form Central Station and moved back to Manchester, got their own studio space and almost immediately started working with The Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, creating promotional material. “It was such an exciting company to be producing work for back at that time,” says Pat. “We were reading Shakespeare, Chekhov and Russell Hoban to make sure we could communicate with the directors and production designers of the plays we were designing posters for. People are always keen to criticise and we kind of felt like kindred spirits with the Royal Exchange because, with their cutting edge productions, they were taking risks in order to realise stong artistic visions.”

Macbeth poster
Central Station’s reputation for creating vivid and bold promotional work for theatres snowballed. The above poster was for an 80s production of Macbeth at The Dukes Theatre in Lancaster

Central Station had made it. “We were doing what we’d always wanted do,” says Karen, “working for ourselves in our own studio.” “Which enabled us to get on with all the fine art work we’d always planned to do as kids,” adds Pat. “We could stay up all night painting and making our own art­-work, and then start back on design projects in the morning and work on that stuff during the day.” “And get to the Haçienda for last orders!” adds Matt. Or go and hang out with The Happy Mondays at rehearsals. “I was in the original line-up, you know,” says Matt. “But they kicked me out because I was too Clapton [he air guitars with high pitched wah-wah vocal accompaniment].”

The Happy Monday’s first single, Delightful – aka The Forty Five EP (FAC 129) was also the first sleeve Central Station created for the label

So how did Factory react to Central Station’s first sleeve for them? “It was definitely a shock when we took in our sleeve for The Mondays’ first single, Delightful in 1985,” recalls Pat. “There was barely anything there – it was a simplified landscape with two hand-drawn birds. But that’s what we wanted to do. Factory had given us this great opportunity and freedom which we weren’t going to waste. We used it to find our collective voice and build the confidence between the three of us to say ‘Delightful is going to look like this’. And when we did, Factory was right behind us. I think Tony [Wilson] just knew that there was some strange madness going on that he didn’t quite understand but he recognised that The Mondays were doing something different and that our way of thinking was part of that.”

When asked if there’s a particular sleeve they created for Factory that is their favourite, Karen, Matt and Pat are unanimous in their choice: The Happy Mondays’ 1988 album, Bummed – the sleeve of which features a crop of a painted portrait of the band’s frontman, Shaun Ryder.
Shaun portrait
The portrait of Shaun that was cropped to form the cover of Bummed

“It was at a time when we had found the financial space to be doing much more of our own fine art­work and we were working on a series of portraits and paintings at the time Bummed was being produced,” recalls Pat, “so it seemed quite fitting that we were doing something for the album artwork that was in keeping with that.”
Barbara Windsor
Barbara Windsor, as she appeared in the Playmates series

“At that time we were living in a house in Fallowfield [Manchester] and Shaun and Bez moved in with us,” Jackson recalls. “People would come and stay and they wouldn’t leave so it ended up with this three storey house just full of all our mates.” “The parties back at ours were legendary,” adds Pat. “Leroy [Richardson, manager of The Haçienda] would pack up a couple of bags full of records from the Haçienda at the end of the night and we’d all pile back to the house. What an amazing time.”

Wrote For Luck sleeve
The artwork for Wrote For Luck is lucky to survive in its original form. “Bez wanted to eat it,” says Pat Carroll

24 Hour Party People poster
Central Station created the promotional material for Michael Winterbottom’s 2002 film, 24 Hour Party People
24 Hour Party People titles
They also created the film’s title sequence – by painstakingly painting onto hundreds of individual film cells…

Since creating the title sequences for 24 Hour Party People – by painstakingly hand-painting imagery on to hundreds of film cells – Central Station’s title sequence credits include well known TV show, Cracker which stars Robbie Coltrane. The studio is also still creating record sleeves – for Australian band The Panics for whom it also recently directed music videos. Its next project is to create sleeves to house the music produced by a certain Sam Carroll, Pat and Karen’s 21-year old son, who is recording under the name Some Other Guy.

The Panics Factory Girl sleeve

In part, Faç Off is all about celebrating the “strange madness” that Tony Wilson recognised in both the music of The Happy Mondays and Central Station’s sleeve design. “I think that the Mondays stuff is a really important part of this country’s history in terms of design and music and culture,” says Pat. “It’s around 25 years since we first decided to form Central Station and it’s as good a time as any to have another look at this work.” A time perhaps for some re-assessment of the studio’s contribution. “I think sometimes it can get marginal­ised because the people involved in it never presented themselves as serious people,” says Pat. “We were seen as up for a laugh when, in fact, we all looked on the work with an incredible sense of responsibility. We’ve always believed in working hard and playing hard and have made enjoying ourselves a priority – but never at the expense of missing a deadline. Life fuels creativity.”

Faç Off runs from 16 May to 21 June at Richard Goodall Gallery, Manchester. Limited edition screenprints will be available from richardgoodallgallery.com

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