The Art of Ian Clark
When Kent Records, UK hit the streets in 1982 with the release of ‘For Dancers Only’, they may never of anticipated still being in the business over 30 years on. In that time Kent has built a respectable standing for releasing the finest soul sounds around, establishing a label loved by soul collectors and dancers alike. Kent’s long history means they have touched many soulie’s hearts at some point. From a personal perspective, Kent represents spine tingling music that take me back to my teenage years during the 80s – not only the music but the packaging, the words, even the colours made a big impression on me.
Berwick St Market London 1970s Ian Clark (from Left) with Jon Buck, Tony Rounce, Ed Engel
Kent Records, UK can trace it’s roots back to the early 70s to dusty record stalls in Berwick St Market, Soho or down at Cheapo Cheapo‘s (owned by Phil Cording) or Rock On Records in Camden. This was where DJs like Ian Clark and soul music hawks Ady Croasdell, Randy Cozens, Tony Rounce and Roger Armstrong would often be found stalking or selling US 7” Soul and R&B 45s, or awaiting crisp new stock shipped down from John Anderson at Soul Bowl Records.
‘Got any Maxine Brown?’ Ian Clark at Berwick St market London 1970s.
Ian Clark and Ady Croasdell soon embarked on wax finding pilgrimages to The States to satisfy their fastidious desires to uncover and find quality soul music. Traveling via Greyhound Coach, picking up tunes city to city in the early days, then returning like Vinyl Pimps armed to the teeth with exclusive exotic soul tracks.
“I sold up my collection that I had built up over a few years and used the money from that to go to America and pick up imports directly because I knew that the Americans didn’t know about this scene over in Europe”
Unearthing new discoveries and underplayed tracks can be the highest accolade in collecting rare soul music, yet findings are not all made in The States, the Northern biggie “I’ll hold You” by Frankie and Johnny is an Ady find sold to and smashed on the turntables by Ian Clark at Yate in the 70s where he was a regular DJ.
“My big discoveries were in the tape vaults and ironically my Ben E King Discovery
(Getting To Me) was found in Hanway street in London, I had been to America over twenty times and my best discovery was 400 yards from my flat where I live.”
Ady Croasdell 2015
Ady Croasdell Centre (the long-haired skinhead) Has discovered hundreds of unissued Northern Soul tracks that have become huge all-nighter cuts.
Collectors and DJs in London were now amassing tidy collections of underplayed Northern Soul/Soul. These new under spun gems needed an outlet, a club scene was the next logical step, one soul night ‘6Ts Society’ established by Randy Cozens and Ady originally at Henri’s in Aug 79 at the Bedford Head, Floral St Covent Garden then it was on to upstairs at The Railway Tavern, an appropriate old original mod haunt named Klooks Kleek in West Hampstead stirring up echoes of old Roger St Pierre Sleeve notes and Richard Barnes’s Mods book.
Heaven in the afternoon, Ian Vinyl swimming in Philly 1974
As the club scene established itself, punters soon demanded tapes of the sounds they were hearing at the 6Ts events, after an initial first issue on Cassette, it was onto vinyl, Ted Carol (Ace Records) having secured the rights to access the back catalogue of The Kent Modern record labels in the States asked Ady to put together a soul selection, Ian Clark got the design job and it all went nuts from there.
The Kent 001, 1982 Album, Featuring Ian Clark (middle), The Kent family doing the West Hampstead Strut, a lighter than first expected photograph’ learning things as you go’ like Ben E King. Art Direction Ian Clark.
In 1981 the 100 Club would become the spiritual home for Ady, Ian and Randy.
This was beginning of a new chapter for all night dancing in the Capitol putting it right on the soul map.
This was where new tunes and finds could be tested on the dance floor and the 8 hour stints provided enough space to get this mass of music out. The strong bond to the 6Ts Rhythm and Soul sessions gave the comps that extra tangible weight whilst going down in all-nighter folklore.
‘Getting down with it!, Ian Clark at Starlite Ballroom 79. Photograph from the debut front cover sessions and borrowed cabbies. Where did they get that energy from?
“I think what helped is the fact that I was clubbing it out there, I was at the edge of it, I started DJing, I was record collecting, It was London and I had the facilities to do it.”
45 Store somewhere in the US 1974 ©Ian Clark
The sleeve art of these records was another story all together, very much under mentioned, the compilations were among the first created by a fan, graphic designer, soul boy and DJ Ian Clark had studied Graphics at St Martins. Through time Ian mastered the paste-up process pushing it to the limit resulting in unique visual language. This was a new approach for a soul compilation, there was deft skill and resourceful quality considering equipment and timescales involved.
This visual golden period had more in connection to a punk’s DIY cut n paste approach and UK Pop Art collage of Richard Hamilton, Peter Blake or Eduardo Paulozzi early cut ups.
Ian Clarks Letraset Logos, membership card for the 6Ts Rhythm n Soul Society sessions, London. Pre Kent LPs (Soul fans were big on cards clubs n memberships back then).
“I followed Blake and Hamilton…I met Paulozzi in the Kings Road, London he was … in fact quite in tune with soul…even then on an underground movement.”
A new voice in town, Detail for Mary Love Comer Advertisement for Black Echoes 1982
Finding information on soul music in the pre interweb days was not an easy task, more so in the 80s. Living in Dundee during the early/mid 1980s the only way of acquiring such knowledge was to go to community centre disco’s, soul/mod nites, look through thousands of records, investigate, experiment, stalk and even hound people for C90 tapes taped from other copied C90 tapes, scour newspapers/magazines & books, earwig, find articles, rake second-hand shops, mum and dads records, oral traditions whatever, learning was everything. Cats in the know had shamanic type respect due to dedication required.
Ian Clarks design studio 80s
Kent 006 A two-colour classic, doing exactly what it says on the shark’s fin. Pictures of soul heroes to were hard to come by back then and rarely seen, a braw treat.
Soul music was the natural evolution from listening to The Jam, Two Tone etc. A second wave of button down kids from the 79 mod revival were starting to get into buying soul records and we didn’t have a clue about Wigan or soul history, the music was motivation alone, this breed a real hunger for getting clued up on soul and getting a better record collection.
Original ’Paste Up’ Artwork off the drawing board, Advert for Kent LPs shows text and images laid out on board. Gems was unusual but typical Kent, some mighty cuts on this one, Otis Rush Homework Standing out for this cat, nuff jewels.
Around 1983 my local record shop Groucho’s in Dundee had a Northern Soul box which you had to ask a staff member to look at, much to the delight of the shop assistants who had to lug it out from the back and open the box on the counter for you, there would usually be three or four people creaming over this box which had two rows of exotic original American soul 45s, 50p per record and all good too. I used to buy a couple a week buying purely blind, I picked up The Parliaments ‘Heart Trouble’ on Golden World for 50p – It just looked like a good tune.
Groucho’s Dundee mid 80s Owner Allister (Breeks) Brodie, Kent section on the right, There’s a massive Cheapo’s section (still going) in Groucho’s inspired by Phil Cording’s Cheapo Cheapo’s Records.
Also in this record shop was an indie LP section, among Smiths records, Peel Sessions, groups like The Fall, was a treasure trove of strange music in enticing eye-catching graphics. These visuals stood out, there was an energy, colourful, dazzling, stylish, and bold, they had pictures of obscure mohair clad soul heroes, Northern soul dancers, record label scans, all this combined with a quirky visual language resembling 1940s American middle class utopias and old soul records, this gave rise to a low fidelity visual alchemy that somehow worked.
The Iconic ‘Brain Stormers’ a loopy Front Cover that mellows out on the flip, boss selection of cuts here ‘Freddie Butler’, Little Charles, Garland Green, Willie Hutch, Bud Harper, packed with so much class with Ady bang on form on sleeve notes. The starry Letraset transfers were put to good use after all.
This was Kent records and the strange world of underground Soul from a London angle. Music was packaged with soulful love in a fresh and original manner. You would have had to have lived on Jupiter or Mars to miss these compilations if you were a Mod/Scooter Boy or a Northern Soul fan in the 80s.
The 80s were often bleak and grim way further up North of North but Kent always put a bit of colour into dull times. From the contents to the covers this was all exotic stuff!!
Kent 029 Kent Stop Dancing
Not only was the cover art fresh and vibrant the titles too have been etched into the brain over the years – ‘Leapers Sleepers Creepers’, ‘Slow Moody Black n Bluesy’, ‘Stand in For Love’, ‘Cookin’ With Kent’, ‘On the Up Beat’, ‘Winner Takes All’, ‘Floor shakers’, ‘Foot stompers’, ‘On The Up Beat, ‘70s Soul Uprising’, ‘Hot Chills and Cold Thrills with a Fever’, ‘Think Smart Soul Stirrers; Jerk It At The Party In Chinatown’, pure tongue twisting gear at times with subtle homages to Wigan, Mod and soul boy culture courtesy of Roger Armstrong and Ady Croasdell.
A Snapshot of an era, Kent 015 ‘Shoes’ LP Art Direction by Phil Smee, Feet courtesy of 6Ts 100 Club’s dappest Northern sole freaks.
Unlike other compilations most of this record art was the vision of soul connoisseur and established Soul DJ Ian Clark designing at least 30 of Kent first series reflecting a magic era in the clubs and soul coverage. Soul music fanatics were now in control over the look and feel of the package, this freedom was a relatively new phenomenon.
“Who’s getting the next round in?’ Ian Clark and pals down the 100 Club photo shoot.
Before Punk records, artwork was mostly handled by design agencies or in-house design teams costing an absolute fortune, the arrival of Punk in the mid 70s soon changed the monopoly, kids were empowered to make their own art and make music, this shift in thinking would have a ripple effect a couple of years down the line – labels like Factory from Manchester being a prime example. Visuals became as important as the music, some transfer art, a photocopier, and a few mates and beers… who needs expensive out-of-touch design agencies?
“I was quite into punk 76, 77 and later through to 1980 a lot of that would have rubbed off on me as well, we were anti big record company business we were a small indie that wanted to do our thing our own way.”
The B Slide of Shoes a laid back 3 colour classic! I’m sure many cats tried out the moves in the illustrations back in the day hoping to learn Northern Moves. I did, I’ve been walking like a member of The Skullsnaps ever since!
Kent always detailed the correct dates, writers arrangers and original artists, Artist exposure and credits being an important part of the Kent philosophy. Certain names came up time after time, producers like Johnny Pate or H B Harnum, Mike Terry, Jack Ashford, Alen Tousssaint names would always emerge become as reliable as Willie Hutch or Curtis Mayfield.
Soul collecting provides an infinite supply of visual delights, colour and wonder.
Northern Soul record collecting is a visual thing too, often overlooked, the unusual design work you see on soul labels, the colours, strange logos, the language are all part of the attractiveness of collecting, if all soul music came out on plain black labels it wouldn’t be as much fun digging through the soul box. Soul record labels and artwork are treasured artefacts, things of beauty, stunning, mesmerising jewels that have become porn for many a bloke. This attraction to plastic is not limited to soul cats either, Kent records picked up on that visual language thirty years ago.
‘Rogues in Brogues’ Ian Clark
As well as sourcing old photography for the Kent sleeves there were also many custom photo shoots, ‘Shoes’ being the first proper art direction. Shoes featured the foot styles of the time courtesy of regulars from the 6Ts 100 Club sessions.
For the release of ‘On The Up Beat’ the vision was for more bespoke photographic images, this time capturing the energy of the club scene and a good excuse for some leaping Northern Soul dancers.
Ady and Roger Armstrong also played an important role in the LP themes which usually built around featured song titles. There was a lot of thought and effort going into Kent LPs.
Photo Shoot for ‘On the Up Beat’ 100 Club mid 80s Ian Clark doing the ‘Hundred Stomp’ centre right.
Get the talc out!
‘On The Up Beat’ Kent 020
I got ‘Hooked’ like Homer Banks on the visuals of these mysterious records. They weren’t all zany – there’s plenty of evidence of a competent hand and aesthetic vision at play, ‘Slow moody Black and Bluesy’ is a crisp example with its smokey last dance scene… it could be Chicago or Memphis, except it was mid 60s London originating from a Reggae party in West Ealing. Image sourced from archives of Pictorial Press London.
A Soothing ‘Slow Moody Black n Bluesy’ Art Direction by Ian Clark Image taken at a Reggae night in West Ealing sourced from Pictorial Press, Described by Ady Croasdell as ‘The Mona Lisa of Soul Music’ Due to the stare of the young lady in pic.
The Kent section did not resemble your average soul reissues, gone were the flared trousers of a bygone era – out went the in-house design team, and in came a stylish new school with argyle socks and hi rise trousers. These album sleeves were as fresh as fungus in their day (with exception to Factory records Manchester of course). They were in a world of their own visually, unlike anything else in the racks. They held a moth like attraction for this young soul student, you just felt that passion.
Ian Clark was able to draw on his large collection of found images/typefaces sourced in junk shops and dusty markets and travels, this was such an important factor back then. The original intentions were to emulate original soul graphics from old records Like Imperial or King however a new rawer visual language soon mutated.
“Back to School!” Its The Ivy Look we all love featuring Ian’s friend Steve Caesar from Leeds, pint on its way.
Kent 011 Plenty of big sounds from the all-nighter scene included on these records Jack Montgomery’s Baby Take a Chance on me a regular spin at Shotts 1980s.
Who needs expensive art consultants when you have mates and some gaffer tape. Roger Armstrong, Phil Smee, Ian Clark (top) and Steve Ceasar on location for Soul Class of 66.
No doubt the records looked the business, where they any good? There was no need to listen; you knew they had good stuff on them from the cover art and sleeve notes, In the 80s, Kent records were outa my budget about 7 quid I think, with only 2 quid pocket-money my soul collecting had to be resourceful. It was a different story on birthdays and Xmas’s though; I would happily treat myself to a Kent or twa.
I remember borrowing the ‘Foot Stompers’ LP from one of my mates when I was about 13, the sleeve was ripped, it had burns on it somehow, yet I played this scratched battered sticky album to death in my youth, most of the tracks jumped, I’m sure the vinyl was warped and melted back into a record from an ashtray after half of Dundee borrowed it, this did not matter, a couple or several pennies (or pound coins) on the turntable arm soon sorted that, no need for audiophile technology to get the rhythm message.
Kent 017 A Classy ‘Kent Foot Stompers’ LP 1983 front in better nick than the one I had, Striking Three Colour Palette, bold use of text and 100 Club Imagery, packed with this weird obscure soul music Art Direction Ian Clark.
I could never afford to buy Kent LPs, none of us could. It was cheaper to buy originals, which we did, but that did not stop me from reading the sleeve notes on the back of them all, written mostly by Ady Croasdell as Harboro Horace, he was the soul curator, soul informer, never talking down to the Kent fans, it wasn’t about rarity either, the linear notes instead reduced the seriousness of soul collecting with humour, plenty of charisma and passion, a true magic touch.
Kent 045 What the.. ‘Its Torture and 15 other great soul destroyers’ featuring Maxine Brown in a torture chamber and a Warship for good measure, A raw like Rhubarb cut n pasted 3 colour classic.
Great Tales of finding golden vaults of unheard soul music in the linear notes too!
Northern Soul is built around original records, yet the Kent label has earned a respectful nod due to their reputation for releasing the fine rare and unissued material from master tapes, sourced from soul archaeological trips to the States. Kent’s thirty-year experience as purveyors of fine soul music means that soul heroes continue to get their music out into the world and onto our turntables where it belongs.
Melba Moore’s ‘Magic touch’ is a classic example of an unissued gems coming to light, this was hammered down at the Dundee YMCA and Mary Slessor Centre mod discos in the mid 80s, it became an instant anthem with its dramatic intro and stomping drums.
Kent 007 Bold, Black n Bouncy a much-loved sleeve an Ian Clark, Ady Croasdell favourite.
A not bad selection of cuts on the record either.
There was no disputing Kent LPs got all the big Northern movers onto wax, unearthing the best of tackle from US labels Ady always ran the extra marathon to get the finest soul gear on record, chasing down leads like Carl Sherlock Holmes and securing access to master tapes of unreleased treasures – it doesn’t get rarer than the unheard. The knowledge and exclusive unreleased material gave them the edge over their contemporaries.
The first Kent album I owned was ‘Club Soul’, the cover art was a huge decider, ‘Club Soul’ had a Colin McInnis ‘Absolute Beginners’ vibe to it, like a lot of Val Wilmer’s photography. This was a subtle homage to early modernist and all-nighter roots in the heart of the Capitol. I always liked the fact that Kent acknowledged the mod foundations of soul culture that was noted.
There were no fillers on ‘Club Soul’, just a showcase of talent, a top addition and a massive tune at the time was Jack Montgomery’s hand clapper, ‘Dearly beloved’ a sweeping, pleading soul cut complimented with the mighty arrangements of Dennis Coffey and Mike Theodore for Scepter/Wand records – sublime.
Club Soul Kent 022, my first Kent purchase, Mambo text A smart shot of The Flamingo all-nighter on Wardour Street London image by Val Wilmer. Colouring by Phil Smee.
Club Soul Back detail, origins of the soul membership card emerge.
“She lived in a small terraced house and her photographs were kept in those Illford black and white boxes on her kitchen shelves, I asked do you have any of the Flamingo she said yeah I thought Shit! YES!”
Ian Clark on Val Wilmer
Kent LPs worked because they were put together with love, Roger Armstrong and Ady Croasdell are probably responsible for the best-titled soul compilations ever. It was also unique for this northern northerner getting a flavour of a London perspective on soul tastes as they were never afraid to include R&B, Jazz, Funk or non rarity – music came first! A great attitude.
Kent not only showcased the dance floor hits from the 6Ts 100 Club in London, they echoed the big spins from the time from places like Top of The World in Stafford where Ian was a regular on the decks, no messing about.
Kent 013 Moving On Up, It’s the world of the Future… Jets, Rockets and the sound of 70s Modern Soul which was old by the 80s.
Kent Space Logo pure hands on business, detail from the back sleeve of Moving On Up.
‘Moving On Up’ certainly helped my awareness of more Modern material. My old bedroom carpet is a witness to its get-down ability, The Natural 4’s ‘I Thought You Were Mine’ rinsed out like Daz in a launderette on my turntable mid 80s.
A speed history of the modern scene on the linear notes brought you up to date with the impact of modern soul. Such information was written about virtually nowhere else.
Uhh!!Kent Artist spotlight on original sixties funksters Dyke and The Blazers. Art Direction by Kent’s other artist Phil Smee. Eye catching stuff.
I enjoyed all the wee logo’s and art that you would find on the back of the Kent records, that made these LPs stand out, they didn’t look like your average soul various artists album. Back then, most soul posters were done with felt tip pens and biro’s, design was an expensive exclusive luxury.
Letraset courtesy of Ian Clark. Letraset was also popular with Mute Records, The Teenbeats, The Human League and thousands of architects and town planners.
Letraset in ad 1960s
There was dynamic use of Fonts and titles together with obscure art resource material and printed matter picked up over the years, the best artists and designers kept and collected everything you had to keep your game uptight with the found resource material. That gave you the edge over other designers, it was compulsive in the 80s (and before) to collect and keep every scrap of paper or idea.
“There were no iPads or Internet Lists then and the human brain was king.”
“The casino winners, that picture came from a guy I worked with at college in Surrey when I ran their graphics unit, he went to Las Vegas came back with some pictures and he said “have you seen these they’re quite nice” I thought Bloody ’ell.” Ian Clark on Winner Takes all LP
Many artists would keep alphabetically filed picture libraries gathered from magazines – images like Atomic Explosions/Apples etc. This also involved filtering through vast archives of imagery like you would record diggin’. This was roots visual sampling – more fun than Google any day.
Kent 024 The Cover art was a big deciding factor. Soul Spin Design by Phil Smee at Waldo’s.
“The closest anyone got to what Kent was doing visually was Gilles Peterson/Ian Swift at Talkin’ Loud Records.”
Ian Clark 2015
Kent 024 I’m sure Soul Spin kicked off a minor Dansette Revival in mid 80s Thanks to 100 clubbers private collections.
Kent LPs were as much a part of growing up in the 80s as watching ‘Monkey Magic’ or listening to Two Tone, visual reminders of great stories and party’s soul all-nighter memories.
In the late 80s I worked in a wee print shop on a YTS. I used to do paste-up art and camera processing/separations using transfers called Letraset, I was soon figuring out the complexity and resourceful quality of how the Kent album art was made; each colour would be separated by hand, design work was all done on drawing boards, a process requiring vision and understanding of the printing process. I recognised deftness and inventiveness of Ian’s use of Letraset transfer and found art, I thought yeah, props.
Kent 056 B Side of Stand In with a rare Randy Cozens Illustration bottom left.
I’ll never forget another occasion around ’85 when an older Scooter Boy hid a cheap second-hand copy of ‘Right Back Where We Started From’ in the Heavy Metal section at Groucho’s, whilst he nipped out for some money to buy the record, only my mate spotted him and thought “I’m having that”. He bought it and nipped away up the road happy as Larry. An hour later a Scooter Boy, with a face going from pink to blue, was coming towards us like a bullet to where we were sitting, this fela was going bezerk and threw his helmet down shouting “Whar’ the fuck is that fucking mod wearin’ the fuckin’ parka!! was in Groucho’s when I hid that Northern soul LP? I’ll fucking kill him!! Who the fuck is he? He stole my LP!” – somehow he knew the culprit, my mate didn’t come out for months after that, but he still thought it was a worthwhile purchase!
Collage n stripes, Cut outs, mutant jeans, record scans, Skinheads, patches, membership cards a plenty and a raging Scooter boy. This was a very popular cover among soul boys n girls in its day – Credit to Vicky Fox and Ady. People checked this LP library style in Groucho’s in the 80s. Shades of The Jam’s ‘All Mod Cons’ Inner Sleeve. Record shops were Sho-Nuff like the Internet in them auld days.
Advert from Black Echoes 1984
Kent visuals are part of my own teenage experience growing up. Memories of a great time as a teenager. I can see the influence of Ian’s design approach and styles appearing in my own visuals over the years.
Ian’s stylish vision for the Kent look was testament to a unique chapter of Soul history in London, documented in style with a blinding soundtrack welded to a dynamite club scene and a zillion soul spins. What an excellent way to capture a diamond time.
No it’s not George Clark’s amazing spaces its Ian and record collector Pete Widdison 1984
Hitsville UK, Ian Clark in Kent studio’s 1980s
Ian’s Top 10 Kent Covers
04.Slow n Moody
05.Super Soul Bowl
06.Standin for Love
10.On the Up Beat
Thanks to Ian Clark and Ady Croasdell – The Kent Family. The Kent Soul Agent’s mission accomplished! Pure education with smiles, and loads of memories.
Article originally published in UK Vibe: http://ukvibe.org/visual_world/the-art-of-ian-clark