Malcolm Garrett first met the Buzzcocks at a party at his house, when he was still a student at Manchester Polytechnic. This was in 1977, and was the second iteration of the band, after one of its founding members, Howard Devoto, had left, leaving Pete Shelley as the principal singer/songwriter. At the time the band was unsigned, though soon after they joined United Artists, and Garrett was invited to help design the cover for Orgasm Addict, the first release from the new line-up.
Buzzcocks had already decided to use Linder Sterling’s distinctive ‘iron-head’ collage as part of the design, and to complete it, Garrett took advantage of the facilities he found available at a summer job placement in Bolton. “They had these architect’s stencils and they also had a photocopier,” he says. “Nobody had photocopiers back then – so I was able to photocopy the image, to reduce it to a harsher consistency, to allow it to be printed in a single colour.
“We had a colour restriction from the record company, who said we could only use two colours for cost reasons,” he continues. “Because it was still at the beginning of bands putting out singles – the whole explosion of punk revitalised the seven inch single, and it was still at the beginning of that. The major labels were just picking up on that.”
The result was the striking yellow and navy cover, which stills looks incredible today. Original versions of the design can currently be seen at the Plant NOMA space in Manchester, where Garrett is hosting a show documenting the body of work he has created for the Buzzcocks over the years.
Talking about the Orgasm Addict cover now, he says: “It had references to Modernism and Bauhaus and was something that was fresh and vibrant and forward-looking and not obviously punk rock. There was no ransom note lettering…. We wanted to be as different as the Sex Pistols were from mainstream music but didn’t want to be the Sex Pistols, so we were definitely looking for our own vision. And luckily I was the person determined to do it – I just made myself invaluable. It’s a good piece of advice – make yourself invaluable, don’t wait to be asked to do something, just do it.”
Garrett went on to create the sleeves for the following singles for the band, which came out in quick succession and culminated in the Buzzcocks’ break-out hit, Ever Fallen In Love. Looking back at the designs at Plant NOMA, they are remarkably coherent in their style, though as Garrett explains, there was no particular masterplan in place. “At this point I didn’t even know which record was coming out next so how could I possibly predict the sequence of records, it’s not possible,” he says.
He did introduce a series of graphic methods to create consistency however, even at this early stage. These included continuing to use just two colours, plus the introduction of industrial-style illustrations, which Garrett has used for the Buzzcocks over the decades.
Industrial iconography was an influence on the whole Buzzcocks look, and later, of course, on the design style of Factory Records. “I was good friends with Peter [Saville],” says Garrett. “We were both excited about industrial graphics and industry iconography and metallic colours and the rest. So we were both drawing on the same influences basically. It was just in the air, and likewise Ben Kelly.”
Garrett et al were influenced by a trend towards industrial design that was generally emerging in the period, he says. “There was a movement in interiors called ‘High-Tech’ which was about was using industrial quality fixtures and fittings and iconography in domestic environments, not in an industrial environment.”
For the Buzzcocks’ first album release, Another Music in a Different Kitchen, Garrett introduced the idea of a unique carrier bag to house the record, which came with a catalogue number, another approach later adopted by Factory. “We had this idea that instead of going into HMV and coming out with it in a HMV bag, we’d put it in its own carrier bag and then we’d play around with the fact that it doesn’t have the album title on the front, it’s a bag with ‘product’ in and the catalogue number,” he says. “I was always big on catalogue numbers. And of course this influenced the thinking of those lovely people who started a record company a bit later…”
The show at Plant NOMA features other ephemera related to the band, including a series of music press ads sourced by Garrett on eBay, and also a short film by the artist Sam Taylor-Wood, Love You More from 2007, which tells the story of a group of teenagers drawn together by the Buzzcocks’ song (and features a cameo by Shelley).
‘Fizzing at the Terminals’ is a great summation of Garrett’s work for the Buzzcocks, which has extended from a significant body of work in the late 70s until the present day. The exhibition demonstrates, once again, how great design can help tell the story of a band, and give visual definition to its music. As well, of course, as helping to sell records.
‘Fizzing at the Terminals’ is on at Plant NOMA as part of Design Manchester. Also on show at various venues across the city is ‘Orgasm Reframed’, curated by design studio Dr.Me, which sees a range of designers interpret the Orgasm Addict cover. All info at designmcr.com