Paul Whitehead
(Cover Artist)
Paul Whitehead (on left in picture) was responsible for the covers of several of the early albums, including H to He, Pawn Hearts, Fool's Mate and Chameleon.
"Paul Whitehead is a Kozmic artist whom (I's a long time ago) we met via John Anthony, after dissatisfaction with the way the cover for 'The Least' came out from the original conception. He's a good lad, lots of ideas, into the music and - most important - into the conceptions behind the music, intuitively, as are we all. Cleen Machine is his company, and mostly he does covers and paintings. Sometimes his final product doesn't quite measure up to the original idea...ain't that so with all of us?"
- Peter Hammill in a letter, 24th April 1972.
Here Paul talks to Jim "Bucka" Christopulos, drummer with "Howard and the White Boys" and Van der Graaf afficionado.
The interview took place in 1997 and first appeared, in edited form, in Pilgrims.

JC: First thing I want to ask you, Paul, is how did you get started painting; how old were you; what got you into it; what schooling did you have?

PW: I was into it from when I was a little kid. I was always the guy at school whose drawings would get put up on the wall, and so the other kids used to hate me (laughter). Called me a little bastard.

JC: That's a great way to get started! Did you excel at art in high school, did you know from an early age.

PW: Well, my teachers did. I used to enjoy it and it was always a way for me to get some privacy and to be left alone. You know, from my family... if I was like, drawing or painting they'd leave me alone so it was great.

JC: And were your folks supportive?

PW: Not really. I got a scholarship to go study at Oxford, and my father was freaked out. "Going to Oxford to study art? Go study something sensible!" He was really baffled by it, anti, he didn't agree with it 'cause his idea was "if you're going to be an artist, you're going to starve for all of your life."

JC: How long were you at Oxford?

PW: Well, I didn't finish. I did an art show in London and got asked to do some record covers.

JC: This wasn't the Charisma stuff.

PW: No, this was earlier on. This was for Liberty Records. A friend of mine was the A & R guy there, and they were doing these records - repackaging American stuff. The first few record covers I did were really impressive. Fats Domino, Nina Simone, Jimmy McCracklin, all these R & B artists.

JC: Now, are you credited on any of those?

PW: Yes.

JC: Oh great, so people can go hunt those down...

PW: Yeah, well good luck!

JC: Well, maybe some old used record stores...

PW: I did a cover for Allah Rakkah, who was Ravi Shankar's tabla player. I did a cover for Lord Buckley. All this would have been '68, '69, around that period. Maybe '70. '70 was the latest.

JC: '70 is about the time you did Trespass. Now how did you get hooked up with Genesis and Charisma?

PW: I met a producer called John Anthony who produced Van Der Graaf and Genesis.

JC: And Rare Bird.

PW: And Rare Bird, right. He recommended that I go and see Stratton-Smith, and he introduced me and we got on. And Peter Gabriel and I got on great. Gabriel had already seen my work, and he kind of knew of me because I was editing a magazine called Time Out. I was the art director, and I was one of the people that started that. There were four of us who started it. That kept me very much in touch with what was going on in London. I had a show and it was mentioned in the magazine and (Gabriel) saw some of the work. With Genesis, I became a sort of 'art director' for them. I got to know them and as time went on I would introduce them to different artists and styles and books. Whenever I went to meet them I'd have an armful of books with me and say, "look at this, isn't this neat?

JC: Next, you did the H to He album. How did you get hooked up with Van Der Graaf?

PW: Through Genesis.

JC: So, were those two bands pals, were they sociable?

PW: Oh sure, yeah. And they did those tours, the five shilling tour or whatever.

JC: Uh, six bob. With Lindisfarne.

PW: Right, whatever it was... And, really, it was the same thing - John Anthony said "you should get this guy to do your next album cover." So I got together with Peter (Hammill) and we hit it off, we had the same kind of taste and ideas. (For H to He) I actually had a painting. I'd done that painting earlier for myself. I'm a Libra and that was my interpretation of the birth of Libra, I think it was called 'Birthday'. (The eye beam) goes right down to London. I visualized my birth, that was me being born.
JC: So what are the two legs hanging down?

PW: That was me. (both laugh)

JC: Obviously the inside cover is inspired by 'Pioneers over c'? "Fingers groping for the galaxy"?

PW: Right.

JC: Would you have to get approval by the band, would you have to show them what you came up with?

PW: Oh yeah, yeah.

JC: Did you ever run into trouble with any bands?

PW: No, not really. I would talk my way through it before doing it, I wouldn't just go out and do something. But like I said, that picture on the front (of H to He) already existed so I took in a whole bunch of transparencies of the work I'd done and they went, "That was great, we'll use that."

JC: So onto Fool's Mate, the first Hammill (solo) album. That cover's my favourite. It's totally got that Terry Gilliam / Monty Python feel to it. There are a few things on here that are self-explanatory: the viking ship for the song "Viking", the zeppelin for "Imperial Zeppelin". But there's other stuff on here that you maybe put on here just because it was quirky of funny, or maybe there's another reason ... there's the little guy surfing, the bowler hat ... was this just stuff you threw on there?
PW: Well, he had some stuff he wanted in there.

JC: Oh, so this was Hammill's idea?

PW: Yeah, a lot of it. I think the business man represents business. Wasn't there a woman shopping? A teddy bear? I can't remember...

JC: On the back cover there's a 'KEEP LEFT' sign, and I was wondering if that was a political kind of thing.

PW: Well, it could be. But isn't that on the left-hand side of the cover? (both laugh)

JC: Oh, well maybe it's just that! Um, the little elf guys ... the assembly line of dwarves? Any reason? Or just 'cause it looks funny.

PW: You know, a lot of the stuff came up in the recording sessions. Jokes that were made about something, I don't remember what they were...It was very topical, like "Hey, I'll put that on the cover!" "Yeah, great, put that on the cover!"

JC: Almost like in-jokes.

PW: Yeah, stuff that was actually said or talked about or something that would crack everybody up in the middle of the sessions.

JC: So, anyway, (Fool's Mate) is the start of the whole chess motif for Hammill. Was he a chess freak?

PW: Yes. He told me that fool's mate is the quickest way to finish a chess game. It's checkmate in three moves, or something.

JC: So, where the chess pieces are placed, did you do that at random or...

PW: No, he gave me the board set up in fool's mate. And this is the painting I had an "accident" with.

JC: (knowing laugh) Yeah, explain what happened with this...

PW: This was quite early on when I was getting into airbrush, I wasn't that competent in airbrush. But I decided it was a good piece to do it with. As I got into it, I realized that it was incredibly complicated because each one of those little chess pieces had to be masked and sprayed, so it took me ten days to do that and then do the collage. And I took it to show Peter at the studio and the other guys were there. It was, like, ten at night, we went until two in the morning, got a little high. And I said, "Great, so I'll get this to the printers..." and off I went. I walked out into the street and at that time I was driving a little Mini Minor. I put the art work on the roof of the car and off I went! (laughs) And I'd driven the car about a mile or so and suddenly I had this horrendous realisation: Oh shit, I left the art work on the roof." I stopped and got out and of course it wasn't there, right? So I traced back the route that I'd come and I went up the street where Trident Studios was... and the street sweeper was coming the opposite direction with the water going and the brushes going and I felt, like, sick. (JC dying laughing) I was, like, "oh no."

JC: This is like a Max Sennet comedy!

PW: I was so sick, and especially with the amount of work I'd put into it. So I pulled over on the street, the sweeper passed me and I drove slowly up the street and I got almost parallel with the studio and there's the art work laying face down in the street with mud and tire marks and scuffs all across the back of it, right? I got out and I was like, "Oh no. I can't even bare to think of what it's like, because it's such a delicate piece of art with airbrush and everything.... I picked it up and what had happened is that the street sweeper made almost like a vacuum. It had pushed the art down into the street and the water had sealed it. So I opened it up, and there wasn't a mark on it.

JC: It's like a miracle!

PW: Why it didn't get picked up and smeared ..... So I stood there and I had this devilish idea. I went to the studio looking down and depressed and miserable and said "You won't believe what happened, guys. Fucking street sweeper just went over the art work." (laughter) And I showed 'em the back of it, right? And they're all like "Oh, no" and getting all depressed, right? Then I whipped up the cover and went "BUT THE ART WORK'S OKAY!!!" (both laugh) We even considered for a while to put the back of the art work (with the scuffs, mud. etc.) on the cover somewhere.

JC: You actually play on Fool's Mate. "Viking". Tam Tam?

PW: Yes.

JC: What the hell's that?

PW: (laughs) Tam Tam is a cymbal. I played cymbal with a violin bow. I do it every now and again. People know I do it and they ask me to perform.

JC: Not long after that you did the Colin Scott album (which had Hammill, Jaxon, & Evans as well as members of Genesis, King Crimson, Yes, etc.). The cover was just his face sort of smiling. It wasn't a typical surreal Paul Whitehead cover.

PW: Right, basically I was a "gun for hire."

JC: Whatever became of him?

PW: I've no idea. Probably drank himself to death.

JC: Which brings us to Pawn Hearts. There's been a lot of conjecture as to WHAT IT MEANS. I'll tell you what I think.... Maybe in the end, we're all pawns, equals. Jesus, Shakespeare....

PW: Napoleon..

JC: Where's he?

PW: There's a guy carrying someone on his shoulder, above him is a king, and above him is Napoleon.

JC: Is that Neil Armstrong, the astronaut?

PW: Well, it's an astronaut. I don't know who it is.

JC: Now, the head on the astronaut looks like a photo.

PW: Oh, it's collage, yeah. Some of it's painting, some of it's collage.

JC: Is the guy in the lower right-hand corner, beneath the words Pawn Hearts, Robert J. Van de Graaf?

PW: It's a British politician, I think.

JC: On the back cover there's a dude toward the bottom who looks like a referee of some sort with a moustache. Who is that?

PW: Just Mr. Average.

JC: The clouds look like they're part of a curtain or scroll or something...

PW: Yeah, it's really like a combination of "all the world's a stage" and everybody's a pawn whether they're kings or ordinary people or politicians or entertainer.

JC: There's some stuff on here that's not encapsulated in a transparent pawn shape. There's a little alien guy floating around, a guy with a sail ship with the balloons on it...

PW: That's a cop.

JC: Is there any significance to the alien?

PW: That's a very famous little character that was in English comics when we were kids called "Eagle". It was a weekly series. There was a character called Dan Dare and it was a very English, '50s idea of what space travel would be like. They're all very British and honorable, right? And the villain was this guy called the Mekon. He floated around 'cause his brain was so big, that his body couldn't stand up.(JC laughing).

JC: It's been theorized that maybe Hammill and Whitehead are saying that aliens control us, but no such intention?

PW: Why not?

JC: Now, the centre-spread. The guys are doing their crazy poses there with the arms outstretched, (In the background) that's Stratton-Smith's house, right? They rehearsed for that album there and I know you'd be with the band while they rehearsed for the albums. Is that where you got your ideas?

PW: I'd basically go hang out with them while they were writing, while they were rehearsing, and they'd tell me "this is where we're going, this is the feel of the album" and Peter would give me the lyrics, and I'd just jam and come up with whatever I thought was appropriate, and we'd massage that a little bit, you know. It was fun.

JC: There was a rumour about that house being haunted. Do you recall any events that would make people say that?

PW: Not me personally, but a lot of the guys said they'd been touched on the shoulder or something. In one particular part of the house, there was this long passageway that connected one side of the house to the other and it was like one floor up with wood paneling, and there were pictures all the way along the walls, and things always seemed to happen in that part of the house. It was a weird house, but it was nice.

JC: Apparently, a lot of famous musicians stayed and rehearsed there.

PW: All the Charisma guys.

JC: In the Genesis book that your buddy Armando Gallo wrote, there's a quote from Strat where he says a lot of people stayed and worked there: Neil Diamond, Leonard Cohen, Mike Nesmith.... Did you see the bands back then around the time of the package tour?

PW: Oh yeah, yeah.

JC: So how was Van Der Graaf live?

PW: Well, you know Van Der Graaf. They could be incredible one night, and terrible the next.

JC: That's part of the beauty, I've always thought. (PW laughs) You would know first-hand, but I've got a lot of the tapes of Van Der Graaf back then, and you need a lot of Van Der Graaf tapes from any tour because they were different every night. On the other hand, you only need one Genesis tape to know exactly what they were like every night. It seems to me that Van Der Graaf took a lot more chances.

PW: Yeah. The funny thing I remember about (Van Der Graaf) is they were in the middle of doing an album (I don't remember which one) and they had sessions booked at Trident and I get this call from Peter and he says, "Uh, we can't do the sessions. Hugh's taking the organ apart". (both laugh). He took his Hammond apart, tweaked the sounds, and put it back together again. And you listen to that organ, it doesn't sound like any other Hammond. He must have been like some electronics guy.

JC: Yeah, I've read about him. Apparently, he's just an electronics wizard.

PW: It got to the point where they were like, "Oh shit. Quit tweaking the organ." He was holding things up! "It sounds great, Hugh, don't do anymore!" I always thought that was funny.

JC: So then you did the Foxtrot album (for Genesis). What was with the fox in the red dress?

PW: It was inspired by hearing somebody (an American, I think it was) say, "Ah, she's a real fox, man." And Jimi Hendrix did Foxy Lady. And the whole theme of the album got into the fox outwitting the people hunting it ......

JC: Were you doing album covers for other bands around this time? Were these the only two Charisma bands you did?

PW: I did (the band) If. And I did some stuff for Jackson Heights and Lindisfarne (but, it wasn't used on the covers). I did a lot of stuff for the tours. You know, the posters...

JC: Did you ever do anything for Van Der Graaf?

PW: Well I did a logo that they used a lot. You know that logo witn the optical illusion?

JC: No.

PW: You've never seen that? Where the 'o' is like a mobius thing?

JC: And it's not on any of the albums?

PW: No.

JC: Were you subsidizing yourself from the album covers, or did you have a "day job" on the side .... ?

PW: I was still the art director of Time Out. I was doing okay, I was doing enough work for record covers and stuff associated with music to make a good living.

JC: So, the Chameleon in the Shadow of the Night album. That one's the most self-explanatory. Hammill's a Scorpio, that's on the cover. And on the back, it's him playing chess.

PW: That picture is very interesting on the back. It's a painting of a negative of him. If you took a color photograph of that, it would come out real color.

JC: I'm confused. (laughing)

PW: If you took a color photograph of that picture, with color negative film, the negative would come out looking like real color. Someone should try it, actually. It's a picture of him that we took, and I painted the negative. It's a nice cover, as well, I like the scorpion.

JC: It's definitely a lot more sparse than the other stuff you were doing, but that's by design. There's a picture of him playing his acoustic guitar. Do you know where that was?

PW: I think that was at Strat's place. By the swimming pool.

JC: Strat had a swimming pool at that place?

PW: Oh yeah.

JC: I wouldn't want to swim in a pool next to a haunted place, man. (both laugh) What if you feel a hand on you while you're under the water...

PW: Pulling your shorts! (mucho laughter) Whoa..

JC: If this is the most self-explanatory cover, it's what's inside that's confusing. I have a sneaking feeling you're not going to remember any of this stuff, it sounds like more old "in-jokes". But it says 'cover by Paul Whitehead' and then in parenthesis, 'in contact with subject' which is probably that you and Hammill got together on it. Then it says 'Endeavor (B.M.A.) and Arcturus.' Does any of that ring any bell?

PW: (chuckling) Yes!

JC: (surprised) Oh, it does?!

PW: B.M.A. was the British Medical Association. That's where I went to get the scorpion. If I remember right, Arcturus is a magazine or a journal or something. Oh, yeah, it's all very relevant! I did some research on scorpions. That scorpion is a very rare scorpion, a black scorpion. They're usually brown. The black one comes from some part of Arabia.

JC: So you didn't get that from a drawing of a scorpion, you actually went and got a real scorpion? At some medical place?

PW: Yeah, it was like a dead ... (laughs) ... it was like a stuffed, preserved ... (laughter)

JC: So you just told them you're doing an album cover, you need to borrow this.

PW: Right.

JC: Then you gave it back to them.

PW: Yeah. (both laugh)

JC: Did they think you were nuts?

PW: I think I had to leave a deposit or something. My driver's licence.

JC: Or your asylum card.... Now, that album was from '73. Did you move to L.A. in '73?

PW: Yeah.

JC: Which confused me later when I thought about it, because you actually play on Hammill's album In Camera, which is from '74. I can't imagine you coming back to England just to do that, or did you?

PW: Maybe it's something I did previously. What did he say I played on it?

JC: There's a song on there called Gog Magog (In Bromine Chambers). It's the whole white noise part at the end. Do you know what I'm talking about?

PW: No, I didn't even know I was on that. With the recording of the cymbal, we recorded a lot of it, different sounds ... maybe he kept a whole bunch of it and used it.

JC: And then you did the cover for the Le Orme album. What year was that?

PW: That must have been when I very first came here.

JC: So you were living in L.A. when you did the Le Orme album?

PW: Yeah, they recorded that album here. They wanted to come to L.A. and record an album.

JC: I just never thought of them playing in America. I know they were huge in Italy.

PW: Well, the first time they played here was earlier this year for Prog fest.

JC: How did the Le Orme cover come about?

PW: Through Armando (Gallo)

JC: What did you do once you moved to L.A., this being the mid-70s. Did you just stop pretty much the whole album cover thing?

PW: No, I did a lot of work for American bands. I got to know the Creedence Clearwater guys. I did a cover for Tom Fogerty, not John Fogerty. They had a record company called Factory. They had guys like Roky Erickson from the 13th Floor Elevators.

JC: He's supposed to be out there.

PW: Oh, you're telling me. I did some stuff for him .... Then I got involved with Renaissance, with Keith Relf. I lived with Jane Relf, his sister, for three years. I was involved in the formation of the band, it was interesting.

JC: I always thought they were a British band.

PW: They were. They got a deal here with A & M, they came over here to record .... It was Keith Relf from the Yardbirds, Jim McCarty (the drummer from the Yardbirds), his sister Jane was the singer, and they had the bass player from Steamhammer (who I did a cover for).

JC: What's your favourite (cover) that you ever did, or is it like picking amongst your children, you can't do it?

PW: My favourite cover is probably Nursery Crime. It was one where I was just given free reign to do whatever I wanted to do and everybody loved it. It was like "Let's focus on 'The Musical Box'" because it was the strongest song so I said it's got to be a Victorian look, and let's deal with the nastiness and violence in the nursery.

JC: At the time you were doing the Van Der Graaf, Genesis, Hammill stuff, it was an art form where there were gatefolds and the whole album was a big painting. There were some other people around doing that, like Roger Dean was a contemporary of yours. Even though you guys were working in the same terrain, your stuff had this sort of quirky, pythonesque humor to it, and I always thought that his stuff was utterly, utterly serious and maybe, in my eyes, a bit more immature. Like science fiction, pseudo-cosmic stuff. You knew him, right?

PW: Yeah, I think the difference between him and I was that he was basically an illustrator. He had a style and he always did that certain style. It was perfect for Yes. I'm more of a designer, I draw on anything. Nothing's off limits to me. I'll steal styles, I'll copy styles to get the job done. If you look at all the covers, you see they're all very different. If it's a painting, I paint in a certain style, but I can use illustration, I can use collage, I can use whatever, right? Whatever's appropriate. That's the difference.

JC: Yeah, Trespass is years away from Fool's Mate, and Nursery Crime is a lot different than Pawn Hearts. But there's an element of your personality throughout all of them. It's like Hammill's music, because he's different a lot but you still know it's Hammill. You can hear two Hammill songs and they sound like completely different guys, but there's that line going through it. And with Dean, there's just not the....

PW: Well, he's like a songwriter that writes...

JC: The same kind of... It's a formula almost.

PW: Which is okay....

JC: Did you know the guys from Hipgnosis?

PW: Yes.

JC: Were you considered a lone wolf, sort of off on your own, and Hipgnosis were considered Big Business?

PW: Right. We'd go after the same job occasionally and, uh, they'd usually win. (both laugh)

JC: I know there's that immature competitive thing in rock, but I didn't know how it worked with artists. Roger Dean had those album cover art rock books. He put out a bunch of them. He might have included a few Genesis covers, but none with your art work. And I'm thinking, "Here's a guy, Paul Whitehead, who's operating in the same field, you'd think Dean would respect that." He couldn't see fit to include your stuff, and I know he had to be aware of your work.

PW: Oh, there's a little bit of "Fuck you" in them.

JC: Oh well, that's by the by. (Both laugh) But anyway, come '79, you actually did work on a Hammill tour.

PW: Yeah. He came over here.

JC: Was that '79? Was he with Graham Smith, the violinist, or was he solo?

PW: Solo.

JC: Maybe that was '78 then. Was it the first time he came over?

PW: Yeah. He had gigs booked here at the Troubadour and then a place in San Francisco called the Mabuhay Gardens. Basically, we produced the shows I guess.

JC: What does that mean?

PW: Paid for the venue, tickets, everything .... you know, promoted it.

JC: Were you doing this job at that time?

PW: No, he'd come over here. He was on the East Coast, I think, and somebody got word to me that he was interested in doing a couple of gigs on the West Coast, 'cause he had a following here and a following in San Francisco. I knew all the people here in the club business, so I said, "What will it take to do a couple of nights with this guy, he'll probably sell out." They were, like, "Okay, sure, we can do that."

JC: So you were running PR for him. Back then, he probably did sell out.

PW: Oh yeah, yeah. This other friend of mine, Tony Harrington (who used to work at Atlantic) was hard core promotion. He did the major part of the thing. And then we did the gigs, and they were great. Then I drove (Hammill) up to San Francisco, showed him some places along the way ... Took him to the radio stations (for interviews)...

JC: I always thought it was Richard Macphail who toured with Hammill around that time as tour manager.

PW: (thinking out loud) Who did he have with him then ... Gordian (Troeller)!

JC: So was that the first time you'd seen Hammill since the early '70s then?

PW: Yeah.

JC: So you never got to see Van Der Graaf in their second incarnation.

PW: No.

JC: As a good closer here, there's an ongoing debate that you lose something with CDs (as far as cover art). Are you anti-CD on that level, or do you feel that things can still be done with that smaller medium?

PW: Oh sure, it can be done, but personally I find it a pain in the ass to try and read two point graphics. Everything is so miniaturized. And I don't think you get the same feeling. To me, when you had a double twelve inch record cover, it was like a book. Obviously, the scale gave you a lot more possibilities to hide little things in there. It was a more personal involvement.

JC: With an album like Fool's Mate, all the fun little things are just totally lost on a tiny CD booklet.

PW: But that's "progress". I hear they're talking about doing it even smaller. Mini-CDs.

JC: What pisses me off is when they reissue old CDs and you can't really fold out the CD and see the whole painting sometimes.

PW: Oh yeah, I've seen some real abortions of covers I've done, and they have no respect whatsoever. They just hack it to pieces.

JC: And liner notes are non-existent.

PW: I don't know why. It's not like it's a different format, it's still square. They could reproduce it. Some companies take a lot of trouble and they do a great job, but .....