Spotlight On: Designing The Boxset & Reissues

Oct, 2020

Matthew Cooper Talks Us Through The Challenges Of This Special Collection

Saturday 16th March 1996. At a loose end, my friends Richard and Neville and I found ourselves at The Water Rats Club in Kings Cross checking out a band called The Divine Comedy. It was one of those impromptu nights that turn into great ones – and it was a truly fantastic gig. (see Casanova, disc 2, track 24)

Who could have imagined that 24(!) years later I would be sat, in lockdown, immersed in the world of The Divine Comedy's artwork, designing the packaging for the 30th Anniversary Box Set and reissues.

The band had been a constant presence in my life from that night in 1996 (too many concerts to remember... London... NYC... Birmingham... walking down the aisle at our wedding to "Tonight We Fly"...) until I was asked to work on the design of Foreverland and Office Politics, and subsequently the reissues. So to be sat rummaging through a box full of Neil Hannon's song-writing notebooks and envelopes full of his personal memorabilia was something of a fan-boy's dream!

The first challenge was to weave together a coherent package, whilst still respecting the design of the original releases. Neil's hope, from the outset, was that the collection would sit together like a set of books. There was much to-ing and fro-ing of ideas until we settled on the solution of housing each CD in its own generic colour-coded slipcase (later adorned with Mathieu Persan's poster designs) – and then containing the whole set in a luscious Edwardian / Victoriana-inspired outer case. Happily I nailed the design for this first time of asking.

The second challenge was to piece together the artwork for the 11 albums – more straightforward in the case of the 3 more recent albums, trickier as we got to the older ones. This was a mammoth task! Locating and scanning old prints, cracking into old files, tweaking colours, identifying fonts... all the harder when you have such a personal attachment to the records in question. The temptation to get anal about this stuff is immense! Luckily Kevin Westenberg was on board to generously regrade his photos for the 5 albums on which they appear - a real treat.

The twelfth CD is Juveneilia. Neil's brief for me was to design a logo inspired by the classic Nuggets compilation and to combine this with his favourite portrait, rounded out with snippets from his archive of photos and ephemera from the time. We didn't want this to look like a mish-mashed compilation album – again it needed to form a consistent look.

The final piece of the puzzle was the lyric book. A chance to create another Edwardian / Victoriana-inspired cover design and to include just the tip of the iceberg of pages from Neil's notebooks.

Oh, and that's me you can hear cheering at the beginning of Johnny Mathis' Feet. (A Short Album About Love, disc 1, track 11)

Matthew Cooper, October 2020.