The Graphic Design department at Leicester College of art was on one floor and all three years worked together. Music was always in the background and The Beatles White Album in particular was played to death. Some of the songs from this album were irreverently taken apart, and with the lyrics rearranged became songs about some of the tutors with hilarious results. We were surrounded and influenced by the many Art Deco and Psychedelic record covers, illustrations and advertising at this time . By the second year I was going out with Mick Partlett, later to be my husband , and he was very fond of Leicester’s own famous progressive rock band ‘Family’. They were quite famous by the early 70’s, and the three albums we played a lot were ‘ Music in a doll’s house’, from 1968, ‘ ‘ ‘Fearless’, from 1971, and ‘ Bandstand’, from 1972 with it’s bake lit 40’s radio cover art. The lead sing was Roger Chapman who had a very distinctive voice much like Feargal Sharkey of the Undertones.
Mick had been through a disasterous first year with digs. The first place he stayed at he and a roommate resorted to burning some of the furniture in a fire grate to keep warm. The second place he stayed at, the landlady was Roger Chapman’s aunt and although he was warmer at her place, she was in the habit of boiling sheep heads for her alsation. Mick was a cosseted Essex boy and not used to the ways ‘up norf.’ He soon found another place near ‘ The Etchings’ The old house where I lived, with some other friends of his. They rented a Coronation Street type of house with a loo outside which was frozen all winter. But it had heat, only a gas fire but it was heat. They also had a telly and we were able to watch the very first Monty Python’s Flying Circus series with Terry Gilliam’s surreal animations, another strong influence on illustrators at this time.
On the ground floor of the college there was a cafeteria and bar and every friday there was a bash, student d.j’s would play music and the beer would flow. The bartenders were town people and quite happy to help themselves and give us free drinks as well. We girls used to get legless on a Guinness and cider mixed or barley wine whilst the boys downed bitter. Music played was Cream, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Neil Young, The Doors , and some folk rock Fairport Convention and Pentangle.
There were many parties too, a memorable one was a’ Vicars and Tarts’ bash where two coach loads of us went to pubs outside the city . Some of us swapped roles , girls as vicars boys as tarts. The coach drivers joined in the festivities and became extremely inebriated, racing each other back to Leicester tearing through roundabouts as we clung to the seats. We had live entertainment too, Rod Stewart and the Faces were on the cusp of being huge and they often came to our college along with Atomic Rooster. I loved The Faces Art Deco cover for ‘ Long Player’.
We had The Faces play on a stage outside the college in the summer and Rod always got us to come up on stage with him for a ‘lig’ around. The Who were once on at Leicester University and I was dying to see them, but when we got there it was a very nasty scene. There were a lot of Hell’s Angels and bottles were flying everywhere, I did not dare go in and listened to them outside.
Opposite the bar was an auditorium where films were shown every night. I saw every foreign film ever made over three years, and an amusing incident happened one night. There was a very arty film showing one evening and the auditorium was full [ I cannot for the life of me remember what the film was]. There were two men from the town working the projection room and a microphone had been left on. Half an hour into the film one man said to the other, ” Can you believe we pay taxes for this lot to watch rubbish like this! ” This remark came very loud and clear over the speakers during a quiet moment in the film. the whole audience burst into laughter. ” Listen to them,” he continued, oblivious to his gaffe , ” They are laughing their heads off and there’s nothing even funny happening.” This had us rolling on the floor.
Not being able to afford the good magazines such as Nova or Rolling Stone we pounced on them as soon as they arrived in the library. Along with the newspaper supplement magazines they had all the latest illustrations of our favourite artists. My favourites were Alan Cracknell, Alan Aldridge, Tony Meeuwissen and Peter max.
I was painting in flat very bright colours inspired by all these artists and others around me. My favourite colour was Windsor and Newton’s Bengal Rose, an intense bright pink gouache which I used with bright oranges and purples. I made a huge mistake painting my room bright pink by squeezing a tube of Bengal Rose into a tin of white emulsion with horrible results. I had already decided I wanted to illustrate for magazines, fashion drawings , and album covers and steered my work that way. I practiced drawing rock stars and drew quite a good likeness of Jimi Hendrix with cross hatching , and scribbling all his lyrics and song titles to make a huge afro. After Christmas that year I was sent on a two week work experience course at Hamlyn book publishers in London who published lots of childrens’ books and comics , they also had a record label called ‘ Music for Pleasure ‘ which produced a cheaper line of middle of the road music. The first week there I was asked to design a record cover, it was for Frank Ifield’s greatest hits and supplied with a tiny black and white photo I tried to do my best. I made a little black and white cross hatched drawing of Frank and put it in a brightly coloured psychedelic Art Deco frame, it was rejected of course. The only album cover I have ever designed was in the 80’s in Toronto. Friends of mine had a rockabilly band called the ‘Paladins’, and I designed their record cover.
However,I did learn something at Hamlyns. A lettering artist showed me how to forge my train ticket , he was very skillful, carefully erasing the date every day and painting in a new one. I also got to see all the comic annuals being illustrated which was interesting. Hamlyns was right next to Heathrow Airport and the first Jumbo jets were flying back and forth from America, we would gather round the big windows when a Jumbo would arrive from New York in the afternoons. It was quite a sight .In the end though, I was glad to get back to Leicester, I missed all my friends . The market was still going strong and there was plenty to be found. I had deconstructed a 1940’s utility dress and made a reasonable pattern and even found a bolt of old cloth to make a dress out of, they would turn up from time to time. I was on the lookout for old velvet curtains also. These were beautiful plush silk velvet and if in good condition a couple would make a great pair of trousers. There was a pattern going around the graphics department that had been designed by someone in the fashion department , it was for a pair of straight legged quite wide trousers which were very flattering. I found some beautiful maroon curtains once, I took them to a laundromat and put them in with my friends laundry which I had volunteered to clean. Everything she owned came out of the wash blood red, thankfully she saw the funny side.
I finally made it to Biba’s for the first time this year as well. We all went on an excursion to London and decided to go to Biba’s on Kensington High Street. I was not sure what to expect, I had seen magazine articles and the catalogue and it was described to me, but seeing it was amazing. My friends and I strolled through the shop touching all the garments on the hatstands topped with hats and scarves. There were smoky mirrors everywhere and sequins twinkling in the gloom. I gasped at the rows of beautiful suede boots in plums ,rusts, purples and greens, the makeup echoed the same colours also and thats all I could afford. The makeup was in black packaging which gave the colours a richness and made them glow. The girls behind the counter were beautiful of course and I suddenly felt very scruffy. I chose a rust eyeshadow and matching lipstick, rust became one of my favourite colours and from then my work changed becoming more Art Deco with muted smokey colours. I promised myself I would be back to Biba’s as soon as possible. Meanwhile , I found a cobbler who made a pair of black canvas Biba style boots for me for a couple of quid. Well, it was a start.