A main source of underground design was in the [Sunday newspaper] colour supplements and you can't divorce the underground from what was going on in the mainstream. Dave King, who was doing the colour supplements, was also doing all the Jimi Hendrix covers. People were bombarded with images all the time, the colour supps were something that everyone got, they're quintessential 60s and if you didn't actually cut out these images and stick them on your wall, they'd still go into your brain and come out somehow the other end. I think the visual side of the underground press had a far greater impact than the content. You'd read the article once, but you'd keep the magazine because it was an object you held in your hand. It was like owning a painting in a way.
If you had half a brain, anything was possible. With letterpress one could actually do nothing: for example, you could never set type at an angle on a page because it's physically impossible. It's like Lego bricks, you can't do it at 45º, but with litho, anything you could draw you could print. Anything you could stick on paper you could print. The underground press on the whole was not well-designed because it came out of the one thing we all try to avoid: design by committee. I was always regarded by Alan Marcuson on 'Friends' as a fascist in the art department, because I would not let him come in and fiddle around. It was disastrous. 'Friends' was the first ever direct-input magazine for journalists. Jonathon used to type the stories onto an IBM and I would then take the repro and stick it on a page. 'Friends' was run after by people in advertising agencies, they all thought it was the trendiest thing for the then embryonic Saatchi & Saatchi world. We used to do very beautiful things in there. The typeface of the 'Friends' logo was eventually put on Letraset. When I got to do the underground press I could stick things down absolutely exactly where I wanted them, and if I didn't like something I could retouch it, I could draw a rule where I wanted - it could be exactly what I wanted. And that's the thing about litho: you're in total control. I managed to stake out a position on 'Friends' whereby, after proving myself over one or two issues, I was to be trusted to do it. And I did do it, and always found myself working all night when everyone else was down at the concert. Then I got to the point of experiencing the outside world through wet black and white prints. Dick Lawson the music critic would come back and a photographer would come back - 'Fantastic Crosby Stills & Nash concert last night!' - and I'd be looking at these black and white prints he'd taken and I read the copy and that was my experience of the world, and it remained the same all through my period on 'Time Out'. I knew everything that was going on but I never went anywhere because I was always the anchor, making these papers actually come out onto the streets.
You can't 'paint', you can't move things around as you want with bits of metal. The idea of litho printing was that any mark, back on white, that you made could be copied and printed - be it your own fingerprint or a mistake or your handwriting or a piece of typesetting that you'd had done, anything. It was clean. It didn't have to bash it into the paper. You could have nice solid black in lying on beautiful white paper. And anyone, once they had worked out how it worked, could do it. If you came fresh to all that world as I in the early 60s, you could work out for yourself how to do things. Later on I worked out how to do a magazine in a night, which other people could only do in a month, by using printing equipment in an office.
The use of visuals overlaid on text are like music on the soundtrack of a film: you've got people speaking, you've got the visuals, then you've got the music behind. Take the music away and it sounds very dead. You hear the same words, you see the same visuals on the screen, but if you don't have the music the scene is not set. A lot of Martin Sharp's overlaid visuals were like a soundtrack: you don't notice until you take it away. And that was the main difference between 'IT' and 'OZ' when they both started."
The interview texts are from
"Days in the Life: Voices from the London Underground 1961-71" by Jonathon Green,
used here with permission. Any reproduction is prohibited without permission from the author.
Days in the Life excerpts © Jonathon Green
contact: Phil Franks (freax AT arrakis.es)
Freax/Friends website produced by Malcolm Humes