Meet The Man Who Put A Rolls Royce In Oasis' Swimming Pool

In a 21 year career Microdot founder Brian Cannon has seen it all. Here he talks Oasis, miserable bands, Coldplay being shite, creating rock n' roll history and why Noel's solo album will be brilliant...
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In a 21 year career Microdot founder Brian Cannon has seen it all. Here he talks Oasis, miserable bands, Coldplay being shite, creating rock n' roll history and why Noel's solo album will be brilliant...

With a back catalogue that stands up to anyone’s in the history of cover art and a roll call of bands including Oasis, the Super Furry Animals, The Verve, Suede and the Ruthless Rap Assassins, Brian Cannon the founder of legendary design label, Microdot Creative, is one of the finest creative minds of the past 20 years. He’s also a fucking riot.

Interviews can be a pain in the arse, but when I got the choice to either go to Noel Gallagher’s press conference last Wednesday and listen to entertainment journalists and tabloid hacks ask the same old questions, or interview Brian on the blower from Wigan, there was only one choice.

As a 16-year old kid in a shitty Shropshire town, Definitely Maybe kicked the stuffing out of me musically, it ended the dirge of grunge, sent lads everywhere to hairdressers and sports shops and spawned a thousand piss-poor bands under the Britpop moniker, so the chance to interview the bloke who conceptualised the iconic cover was not one to be missed.

Microdot, named after the lighter-flint looking version of LSD that some idiots used to put under their eyelids, is 21 this year and I talked to Brian fresh off a trip to Cardiff to work with various members of the Super Furry Animals who are doing solo projects. We spoke about his new career as a university lecturer, how he’d love to work with the Arctic Monkeys, how any kid with a mac can now knock out a logo for £75 and why Beyonce was fucking amazing at Glastonbury. That, of course, and the Oasis juggernaut, Coldplay being shite, Noel’s solo projects  and how he’s moving with the times…

On being inspired by Punk…

It was Punk in general but the Sex Pistols particularly. It’s incredible they only did one album and a few singles but just all that Jamie Reid stuff totally blew me away. I was only 11 when Never Mind The Bollocks came out and it had a huge impact, and later on when I studied art history I realised where he was coming from with all this Dada stuff and what was going on in Germany in the 1920s, the collage type work. So I got really into that and pop art. A lot of my influences come from art rather than album sleeves, but when you say pop art people think Andy Warhol, and I think he was great, but for me it was Robert Rauschenberg; he’s the main man, amazing.

I met Richard totally by accident in 1990 at a party when he was 17, and then I bumped into him at a petrol station two years later at 6 O’clock in the morning and he said ‘you’re that guy who does the sleeves, do you wanna do ours?’

Starting Out...

I graduated in 1988 and I couldn’t be arsed to get a job. Actually its not that I wasn’t arsed, that sounds too pig-headed, I just knew I can’t work for anybody else. So I set up to do it on my own and lo and behold I didn’t get and work for about two years but I didn’t have another option. And I really believed in myself, there was this blind self-belief, and I had no idea where it came from and I just refused point blank to give in. It’s funny though because if I didn’t make fuck knows what I would’ve done, I was just convinced that it would happen and it did. Me mother is my biggest supporter and I love her to bits, she’s still with us, she’s 81 now, and even she said “come on now, you’ve got a degree why don’t you get a proper job?” and I snapped, well not that I’d snap at me mum but I said “come on mother, if you don’t believe in me that really is the end” but she stuck with me and the rest is history…

Meeting Richard Ashcroft...

I met Richard totally by accident in 1990 at a party when he was 17, and then I bumped into him at a petrol station two years later at 6 O’clock in the morning and he said ‘you’re that guy who does the sleeves, do you wanna do ours?’ and that was it and it just took off from there…

Meeting Noel Gallagher...

It’s true, I met him because of a pair of trainers. When I graduated in 1988 I moved to London immediately, then I got into house music and was travelling back every Friday afternoon to Manchester to go to the Hacienda. So I thought ‘fuck it,’ if I was there all the time I may as well move there, so I moved back. The scene was just remarkable. So I got an office in an old cotton mill that had been broken up into little business units. Mine was £20 a week and had no windows in it, which is a bit of a drawback if you’re doing visual stuff, but it was cheap as chips. I didn’t have a computer, I had a photocopier and a drawing board and that was it. And I was doing the early Verve stuff, I’d seen this guy knocking around. You take it for granted now that everyone wears adidas and what have you but back then it was a rarity and mainly ex-football hooligans, or current football hooligans for that matter, I’d been into the football for a while and it was exclusive for that group of people.

I became the biggest walking advert for Oasis that you had ever seen, people thought I had gone mad. I was just ranting ‘this band are fucking brilliant they’ll be bigger than Led Zeppelin’

I was in Rome on holiday with me Mum in 1991 or 92 and I bought these Adidas indoor supers. I’d seen this bloke knocking around the building, but you’d walk around and I’d clock him and he’d clock me, both too cool for school to say hello. Anyway one day I was in the lift and he gets in and I had the trainers on, which you couldn’t get in England. First thing he said to me was ‘where the fuck did you get those trainers from?’ And that’s how we got chatting. He asked me what I did, I told him, he said ‘who’ve you done?’ so I told him I’d done a couple of Verve singles by that point and he said ‘no way, I think they’re really good.’ Then as he got out of the lift he says ‘I’m in a band and when, not if, when we get signed I want you to do the artwork,’ and that were it and he was good to his word.

Seeing Oasis live for the first time…

The first time I saw Oasis, and I think I’ve seen them play something like 70 times, was at the Hop and Grape bar at Manchester Uni, probably holds about 300 people. Noel had been fucking mithering me to come and watch them but you know what it’s like, we’d become friends by this point and if a mate of yours plays in a band your like ‘they’re bound to be shit aren’t they?’ He was cool but I thought they’d be shit, all bands are shit except for a handful over the past 20 years or whatever, and I was worried about what I’d say if they were shit. But I went along and they were amazing. I was with Marcus Russell (manager) and Johnny Marr who Marcus had persuaded to come. It was super early on this and there was no looking back after that, I became the biggest walking advert for Oasis that you had ever seen, people thought I had gone mad. I was just ranting ‘this band are fucking brilliant they’ll be bigger than Led Zeppelin,’ and people were like ‘what the fuck are you going on about?’

The live show was like a fucking juggernaut coming into the room it were just ace. Before they showed their arses in public they were rehearsing 7 nights a week they really put a shift in. All of them are really nice blokes, Tony gets a hard time but I got on really well with him, all of the time we used to have a laugh, just constantly laughing. A lot of bands these days, and this really pisses me off, they’ve just been signed and they think the world owes them a living and they just turn into knobheads. You’ve got to remember that before Oasis Bonehead who was the eldest was a fucking plasterer. He knew how lucky he was, he woke up every morning and just went ‘Yesssss’ because he didn’t have to plaster walls anymore. They just knew it was a gifted situation they were in and they were gonna grab it with both hands. It was just an amazing phenomenon to be involved with.

There was a lot of boozing, a lot of cocaine knocking about and a lot of laughing. It was just a fucking piss up, just having a laugh, they were that open about it that there aren’t really any hidden stories, we took drugs, so fucking what

Creating the Oasis logo…

The first meeting I ever had with them as a band took place backstage at a gig at Sheffield uni, I believe they were supporting the BMX Bandits! Fucking hell, the BMX Bandits supported by Oasis. Any road, like I said I never normally referred to other sleeves when I was doing a sleeve because you run the risk of becoming derivative or doing pastiches which I’m not about. But on this occasion, because it was the first time I’d met them and wasn’t sure what they were about, I took a load of books with me of classic album covers and classic rock photography and they liked a lot of the early Stones albums like Out of Our Heads. But more importantly they used to have the Decca logo on the front, and it hit me like a ton of bricks in the meeting that it would look ace with Oasis like that on it. Everyone knows it as the definitive Oasis logo and it started to go all downhill when they changed it.

The Definitely Maybe cover…

I don’t remember much about the conversation for Definitely Maybe, we decided it was going to be a band shot and did it at Bonehead’s house. I saw on some website recently that some idiot in some debate about Oasis’ artwork said ‘I hate that cover’ and my first thought was ‘nobhead’ because it’s ace, it’s like someone saying that they don’t like The Beatles, get a fucking grip mate. So I asked him why, and he said ‘it’s so aspirational.’ Which it isn’t, the inference was that these guys were shitkickers from Manchester and they all live in slums and they’ve had their picture taken in this posh flat. That was offensive in the extreme. The idea was that it wasn’t posed but it was, we spent weeks before the shoot with me sitting in every position and being photographed to build up a composition.

On getting The Verve to use Oasis as a support band in 1994…

It was my idea, you can fucking print this, it was all down to me, this is rock and roll history. You’ve heard of the famous Oasis swirl cassette, there’s only ten in existence, the last one went for £2500 on ebay. Noel gave me one but I can’t find the cassette, but I suppose the box would be worth a fair bit. On that Verve tour I drove round in a Renault 5 playing the cassette to David Haliwell the Verve’s manager. And he said this is amazing, and I told Richard that he needed to have them supporting and I introduced them. That tour was something else, no separate dressing rooms, we all just mucked in. They played one in Edinburgh and the power went and the crowd was getting restless and Bonehead went out and played the spoons singing she’ll be coming round the mountain.

It’s a sign of what was going on at the time, people say it was over-produced or whatever but it’s Be Here Now for fuck’s sake. It’s bollocks, it’s Oasis’ last great album…

The Rock And Roll Lifestyle…

Do you know what, I say this a lot. There’s some things I can’t reveal and wouldn’t. There’s a cracking story about Noel at a fancy dress party at Ronnie Wood’s house, I can’t tell you the rest, not that Noel would give a shit but… fucking hell. We were all so normal and down to earth and what we got up to was no different than what you and your mates got up to. There was a lot of boozing, a lot of cocaine knocking about and a lot of laughing. It was just a fucking piss up, just having a laugh, they were that open about it that there aren’t really any hidden stories, we took drugs, so fucking what. Noel said it all when he said it was as normal as having a cup of tea because it was. We got pissed, got hammered and had a laugh. Nobody was raping virgins or slaughtering animals, it was just so exciting knowing that you were part of something that would be remembered forever. It’s a good job I didn’t know then what I do now it would’ve driven me round the bend. We weren’t blasé about it though, we knew it was super super special and we were all very privileged to be there

Putting a Rolls Royce in a swimming pool…

The Be Here Now album, which incidentally a lot of people slag off including Noel, is a fucking great record. The original idea was to shoot the individual band members at any location in the world of their choice to make a composite image. Noel wanted to go to the mountain from Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Guigs wanted to go to Jamaica but we changed our minds in the end, nothing to do with budget mind, we could’ve have done anything we wanted. Bonehead wanted to be shot next to a pool with a Rolls Royce in it to hark back to the Keith Moon story which never actually happened, so that was that and we set about finding a location that would let us put a car in their swimming pool. Despite what people think that wasn’t done digitally, that car is in that pool. It was scrapped with no engine and it cost us a grand. And all the props around the pool have no meaning whatsoever, I just took Liam and Noel down to a BBC props warehouse in White City and they picked loads of random stuff, it was total nonsense. It’s a sign of what was going on at the time, people say it was over-produced or whatever but it’s Be Here Now for fuck’s sake. It’s bollocks, it’s Oasis’ last great album…

On stopping working with Oasis…

There was no fall out, I worked again on the 10 year anniversary of Definitely Maybe DVD. It was a crazy time, half the band had left, Guigs had gone, everyone’s head was up their arse, Noel and Liam were falling out and Noel wanted to go in a new direction. I didn’t have a god given right to do it, Robert Freeman did four or five Beatles albums and didn’t do the rest, that’s the way it goes. As it happens it was probably best I didn’t do the others. Oasis was the best time of my life and I’ll always look back on it with incredible fondness and it certainly didn’t do my career any harm. No hard feelings, no animosity, no fallout.

I preferred the intimacy of the small gigs but Maine Rd was ace, the second night in particular. I was e’d off my face in the top tier of The Kippax and nearly fell out

On gigs, toothbrushes and and a grand in cash…

I preferred the intimacy of the small gigs but Maine Rd was ace, the second night in particular. I was e’d off my face in the top tier of The Kippax and nearly fell out. Knebworth was too big, and Loch Lomond. The Cork gig was good but that is because of the crowd. It all blurs into one, not cos I was off my head all the time but there was so many gigs. I loved the start, when it was all just kicking off, there was a real buzz and we were like a secret little gang.

The maddest gig of the lot I went to The Verve in Boston in 1997. I’d been watching The Prodigy at the Astoria and got hammered. I missed my alarm and had to get to Heathrow quciksticks. These were the days when money was flowing, I was getting £20,000 a sleeve then and I didn’t have time to pack, but I was only going for two days. So I got dressed and got a taxi to Heathrow. I had a copy of Mr Nice on me, a toothbrush and £1000 is cash. I checked in and the bloke said where’s your luggage, I said ‘I haven’t got any’, so they searched me and found the cash, toothbrush and a book about drug smuggling. Then I get to America and you know what it’s like. They guy stops me. ‘Where’s your luggage?’ ‘haven’t got any’, ‘what you doing here?’ ‘I’ve come to see my mates, call the Verve to check it out.’ He just looked bemused. And he said ‘what you going to do for underwear,’ I said well I’ll fucking buy some. After the gig I got on the tour bus and was gonna go back to my hotel room and Richard says ‘I hear your going home and not coming with us,’ I told him I had to get back to London. He said ‘I don’t believe you, let’s have a look at your plane ticket’. I should’ve seen it coming actually, he ripped it up. Two weeks later I’m in San Francisco, penniless and I’m carrying a new wardrobe round in a Nike holdall. What a trip.

The state of Graphic Design…

It’s so easy to market yourself as a graphic designer, there’s more of them than fucking hairdressers. It’s not impossible, I’ve got a killer track record so I can get work but its just the budgets, they’ve just fallen through the floor because everyone’s like ‘hang on, you want a grand for a logo? I can get someone to do that for £75…

Looking to the future…

I think it is essential that somebody like me has an online presence that is more than just static. I’m re-designing the Microdot website because that isn’t sufficient anymore so I’m going to change it. I’m going to add a blog and make it a lot more visual. Alan McGee is going to do an interview so is Nick McCabe. I want to go more down the video route, I’m an impatient fucker at the best of times. I love video, I love films, I love editing and these days with the Canon DSLR, you can start knocking out broadcast quality films for a couple of grand. The YouTube generation rules now… when Definitely Maybe came out there was no website, we used promotional postcards with a freephone number, how mad is that? Only ten years ago Digital photography was in its infancy, think what it will be like in 5 years. It’s time for me to make that switch, the music industry is fucked, unless you’re Coldplay or Jay-Z you’re not making any money from sales, it’s from gigs. The grassroots has gone, but there’s more bands out there than ever and some fucking good ones as well. But the budgets are shrinking at the same rate as people's attention spans, they have so much choice. I’m looking at approaching clients, rather than spending X.Y,Z on advertising telling them do corporate films, good ones. I saw a film by a Russian guy who took a Canon lens to pieces and it was incredible. If stuff is creatively good people will watch it and hopefully pay for it. There’s no future in doing logo’s anymore, everyone can do it. Finding work isn’t difficult, it’s finding work that inspires me, so I’ve just thought fuck it I’ll do it myself and make it work. I'm doing loads of self-motivated stuff, collages, painting and I really enjoy it.

I had a copy of Mr Nice on me, a toothbrush and £1000 is cash. I checked in and the bloke said where’s your luggage, I said ‘I haven’t got any’, so they searched me and found the cash, toothbrush and a book about drug smuggling

On teaching the next generation...

I’m almost like cult to them and I love doing it. I litter my lecture with some anecdotes and they think I’m cool, it’s a piece of piss, but there is a serious point to it. These are the designers of the future and some of them will go on to great things. My message is clear, it doesn’t matter how good you are you have to research and prepare, even in the digital age, we didn’t produce killer work for a decade by chance, so that’s part of my gospel.

On current bands...

I’d love to work with the Arctic Monkeys. They carry the torch, it goes all the way back to the Pistols, then The Smiths, then the Roses and Mondays, then Oasis and now it’s the Arctic Monkeys, I’d love to work with them, stick that in, they might get in touch.Apart from that, there’s a young band from Wigan called GlassHeads who I think are brilliant. Theres another band who I like called The Suzuki’s who are like a british Nirvana without being maudlin. And I thought Beyonce was ace at Glstonbury, what a fucking performance. But I can't be arsed with Coldplay, middle-class kids who try so hard to be cool, defacing pianos and guitars. Just fuck off.

On Noel’s album

Noel’s a genius songwriter and you don’t lose a talent like that. I haven’t heard any of the stuff but I hope it’s really, really, really good because if it is it will be ace and loads of people will get onto it. He’s an amazing person, top bloke to work for, genius songwriter and I’m expecting great things. But when you’ve got Definitely Maybe as a yardstick it’s difficult isn’t it?

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