Big hit records
Morgan Howell recreates 45s as pieces of art because he wants to make them larger than life. As big, in fact, as the space they take up in your heart and mind. That means making 27-inch discs rather than seven-inch, encasing the enlarged vinyl facsimile in a reproduction of the original paper bag made out of canvas and painting the original graphics and type from the label and the bag, and then mounting the result in a 32×32 frame. But Howell is not trying simply to reproduce the record as it came out of the freshly delivered box of 25 on the record shop counter one Friday morning two or three generations ago. He wants to show the whole history of the individual record: the signs that it has been played and played and played again, treasured and cherished and carried from bedsit to party and onwards through life. So, with infinite care, he reproduces all the creases and tears, all the fading, all the smudges and lipstick smears, and even the traces of a long-since removed sticky label.
Thirty of these three-dimensional objects — several full-scale originals, and some smaller prints — are on show all this month at the Snap Gallery, situated in an arcade between Piccadilly and Jermyn Street in London W1. Among them is Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell”, issued on the gorgeous yellow and red Pye International R&B label in 1964, about which David Hepworth wrote quite beautifully in his blog a few weeks ago (click on http://www.davidhepworth.com/blog.html and scroll down to June 19, 2013). You’ll also find “Shakin’ All Over” (with that marvellous expressionist 1960 EMI bag), “Green Onions” on Stax, “Good Luck Charm” on UK RCA, “My Generation”, the Chiffons’ “Sweet Talkin’ Guy” on Laurie, the original US Columbia issue of “Like a Rolling Stone” and many others.
When Morgan Howell told me that the first one on which he’d tried the technique was Martha and the Vandellas’ “Heat Wave”, borrowed from his big sister’s record collection, I knew he was a man after my own heart. I told him that I could remember precisely where and when I heard that record for the first time, standing beside my parents’ KB valve radio one evening in September 1963: my first blast of the full-strength, fully developed Motown sound. His own favourite is one of which he’s done both the A and B sides: “Get Back” and “Don’t Let Me Down” by the Beatles, which has a special meaning for him since he happened to be sitting in the back of his father’s Ford Zodiac, aged three, when they got stuck on Savile Row in an unexpected traffic jam on January 30, 1969, the day the Beatles played together in public for the last time on the Apple roof.
They’re not cheap: the originals cost £9,600, prints at the same size are £2,000, and the scaled-down versions are £595. In any size they’d be a very nice thing to have on your wall, even if you preferred “Paranoid” or “Hotel California” to “You Never Can Tell”. And, inevitably, you start playing the game of what you’d commission him to paint, if you could afford it. At the moment — and this is a purely imaginary exercise, you understand — I’m thinking Billy Preston’s “Billy’s Bag”, on the UK Sue label, with that fantastic paper bag listing all the label’s artists. Or maybe the Reflections’ “(Just Like) Romeo and Juliet” on Stateside. No, it’s got to be Kenny Dino’s “Your Ma Said You Cried in Your Sleep Last Night”, with my then-girlfriend’s name inscribed in nail polish on its HMV/United Artists label 51 years ago. Now there’s a record that deserves to have its portrait painted.