Brian Cannon – From Microdot

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Unbridled access to two of the country's biggest bands, a work ethic unmatched and a walk-the-walk rock 'n' roll attitude, Brian Cannon acted as Artistic Director for a number of projects with both Oasis and The Verve. He has also created work for a number of world-wide brands such as Converse and Levi's®. His company, Microdot, has just celebrated its twenty-year anniversary at the forefront of British Rock 'n' Roll.  To celebrate Brian's work and his achievements, I put some questions to Brian.

ZANI - Tell me about your youth and about growing up in Wigan – what did you spend your time doing? You’re a Wigan fan aren’t you?

Brian Cannon - Growing up in Wigan was cool. When I was young, I had nothing to compare it to, but I was happy enough. It was close enough to both Liverpool and Manchester to visit when I started buying records. There has been a good music scene in Wigan since the early Seventies and The Casino, so growing and and being into music was good in Wigan. Yes, I do support Wigan Athletic. I have supported them since the non League days, so following the club now is special (if erratic.).

ZANI - Was it always photography that appealed to you? Or did you start with art and drawing, etc?

Brian Cannon  - I got turned onto drawing as a small child by my dad; he was an amazing illustrator, but not a professional. He’s retired now, but he previously worked in a coal mine. He encouraged me, as did my mother.

ZANI - Who inspired you to do what you do, and can you remember the exact moment when you realised, “This is it. This is what I want to do”?

Brian Cannon  - I got into punk, like a lot of working class kids I knew, when The Sex Pistols broke. I didn’t have the patience to learn guitar but I thought I really want to get involved with music, so I decided to use my talent for art and concentrate on producing music-related imagery. So, in a nutshell, punk-rock – and in particular, The Sex Pistols – was my inspiration.

ZANI - I presume you had posters in your bedroom when you were growing up? Who were they of?

Brian Cannon  - Punk stuff: The Sex Pistols, The Damned, Buzzcocks...

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ZANI - You started Microdot after finishing University in 1989. When you first started, what hopes and expectations did you have?

Brian Cannon  - I set out to create the best sleeves for the best bands around, something I think I pretty much achieved.

ZANI - Did your parents think you were mad?

Brian Cannon  - My parents fully supported me, if not totally understanding what I was doing.

ZANI - When was your first major break, Brian?

Brian Cannon  - It came as early as in 1984. I got into the early Electro and Hip Hop. Again, I used my artistic talents and started doing large-scale New York-style graffiti murals in Wigan. The top Electro DJ in the UK at the time was a guy called Greg Wilson – he saw one of my pieces and I was summoned to meet him. He told me that he was expecting to see the American graffiti style in the UK sooner or later, but not in Wigan.. We got on well and he was setting up a small independent dance label in Liverpool for which I did all the graphics while still at college – my first professional work. On leaving Leeds Poly with my degree, he asked me to design record sleeves for The Ruthless Rap Assassins who he managed and who were signed to EMI. So to sum up, it all began with me vandalising a warehouse wall in Wigan in November 1984..

ZANI - Tell me how you met The Verve ?

Brian Cannon  - I first met Richard (Ashcroft) at a party in Wigan in 1989; he was a 17-year-old student at the time who I had nothing in common with it seemed: he was wearing a floppy hat with flowers on it and I was 23 at the time, dressing in Adidas trainers. We got talking and he found out that I was just starting out and designed record sleeves – he found that interesting as he was just starting out with his band. I didn’t see him again for another two years when I bumped into him at a petrol station at six in the morning buying a pint of milk... He recognised me, told me his band (Verve as they were known then) had been signed and that he wanted me to design their covers.. Stroke of luck...

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ZANI - Didn’t you go on tour with them? What is your lasting moment being in the “Verve bubble”?

Brian Cannon  - I went on tour with The Verve A LOT. I’ve seen them play over a hundred times. The best times were, as with most bands, when they first started to get a following nationally – turning up in a city where you don’t know anyone and there being a couple of hundred kids who are into the band. My lasting memory was from the Gravity Grave tour of 1992; I was the only member of the posse over 25 for the sake of the insurance to drive the tour bus – a Volkswagen LT 35. In the evening, we drove into Edinburgh and could see the city in the distance, while the band in the back were watching Rolling Stones videos. It was something else.

ZANI - Some of The Verve’s artwork is outstanding – was it a collaborative effort? Or were you just left to produce the pieces for approval?

Brian Cannon  - In each case I had a chat with Richard, sometimes he would have specific ideas but, on the whole, it was left to me and the ideas were mine.

ZANI - How did you get involved with Oasis?

Brian Cannon  - Noel asked me to do the Oasis artwork after he saw the early Verve sleeves.

ZANI - What was your impression of Creation Records?

Brian Cannon  - Creation was a one off, coupled with the fact that I was working with Oasis, I have never had so much creative freedom with a label. They just let me get on with it and then paid the bills... couldn’t fault them really.

ZANI - Some of the covers you did including the Oasis single Some Might Say relayed the lyrics to the song within the artwork. Do you always listen to a song before you decide on the angle of the work, or do you just get ideas?

Brian Cannon  - I find it astonishing that people actually design covers before, or not even listening to, the record at all. I think it’s impossible to do a good job that way. I am charged with the responsibility of ‘dressing’ a piece of music so I ALWAYS listened to the track(s) as much as possible and got my head around the lyrics too.

ZANI - You toured with Oasis back in 1993 for 12 months, just before they took off.  It must have been something special to be “in the eye of the hurricane”: what can you remember from the period...if anything?

Brian Cannon  - I remember it being very exciting. The band themselves were absolutely bang into it. I can’t stand po-faced bands who think the world owes them a living and that rock 'n' roll lifestyle is the norm. Bonehead used to be a plasterer before the band took off and he, more than the rest, never forgot what he might otherwise be doing: it was a full on fun time.

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ZANI - Is it true that you and Liam once offered out a whole pub?

Brian Cannon  - I can’t confirm that either way, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

ZANI - You were there during the short, but hectic, recording session for (What The Story) Morning Glory?, in which (rumour has it) Noel hit Liam with a cricket bat after he brought back the whole pub to the studio. Is it true that you locked yourself in your room as all hell broke loose?

Brian Cannon  - Totally. It was between the two of them and there was NOTHING anyone could do to diffuse the situation. I just went to my room, had a beer and waited for the whole thing to die down.

ZANI - Tell me about the shoot for the Wonderwall cover – wasn’t the girl in the picture-frame an employee from Creation?

Brian Cannon  - We originally shot the sleeve with Liam depicted through the frame (an idea I nicked from the paintings of Belgian surrealist painter, Rene Magritte). Mid-shoot, and I am totally serious about this, Noel just happened to be passing in a taxi. I mean, talk about a coincidence. We were shooting on Primrose Hill, London, and Noel Gallagher by chance drove past.. He obviously did not get the message I had sent to his manager about the session. The taxi screeched to a halt, and, much to everyone’s amazement, an irate Noel jumped out, called a halt to the proceedings stating that it had to be a girl in the shot. This totally put me on the back foot as the artwork was due to be delivered in a few days. Primrose Hill was a few hundred yards from the Creation Records office at the time; we called upon Anita Heryet who worked there, and that’s how she became the cover star.

ZANI - Do you think it’s fair to say you held the sixth Oasis member tag for a while? Weren’t you also part of the group that added hand claps to All Around The World at Air Studios?

Brian Cannon  - I dunno about the sixth member thing, but I was part of the ‘inner circle’. You have to understand, I had known them before they were massive and when they finally became big many people tried to befriend them and leak stories to the press. They knew myself and all the Microdot guys could be trusted. Liam would turn up at my flat in Camden at tea time on a Friday night and get hammered all weekend with us lot knowing that nothing would appear in the papers. I did do handclaps on All Around The World, and I also played keyboards on the title track to What’s The Story? A little known fact.

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ZANI - Was that a “pinch me” moment?

Brian Cannon  - The whole Oasis thing was a pinch me moment.

ZANI - Would you mind sharing the story of when you and Dave Halliwell pitched the one-off 1996 Oasis magazine to a certain publisher? (Only if you want to of course, I read about it on your Facebook page, it sounds funny)

Brian Cannon  - I pitched the idea of an official Oasis magazine to Noel and Oasis manager Marcus Russell as a counter to all the garbage that was being written in the press about them at the time. They gave me the green light to publish it. I was Editor and Art Director on the project, Dave Halliwell (who was The Verve’s first manager) was Business Manager. The magazine industry works on the following premise – you only get paid once a magazine has physically sold over the counter and then you can only expect 50 per cent of the cover price. We had a cover price of £3.50 and managed to convince the Virgin Megastore Group to take the mag on an exclusive basis if they gave us £3 per copy and paid us upfront... Dave and I left the meeting at their office with a cheque for 30 grand and we hadn’t even had the magazines printed by then...

ZANI - Do you still stay in contact with any of the band members you worked with in the bad old days?

Brian Cannon  - A few of them yes.

ZANI - Do you think you have anything left to prove with Microdot and your professional life? You've worked with two of the biggest bands the country has ever produced and your work has been used on millions of records – what is there left for you to do?

Brian Cannon  - I’m not trying to prove anything, but I will always have a desire to keep producing top-notch imagery and have a great time in the bargain. That always was, and always will be, the Microdot ethic.

ZANI - I’ve seen some pictures of your “hands on” approach towards the re-modelling of the Microdot office. For the brand to stay successful and fresh do you constantly have to look forward for new ideas, and have any new technological advances come along that have excited you?

Brian Cannon  - Technology is just a tool and there is no substitute for creativity. The way to keep the brand fresh is by continually creating pieces that make people go 'Wow.'

ZANI - Microdot recently celebrated its 20th birthday and you're still working hard. But what has been your proudest moment or your personal highlight?

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Brian Cannon  - I am very proud of a lot of my past work and what it means to people; I still get emails from all over the world from people quite literally thanking me for making their musical experience better through the artwork. Moments that stand out? Being at Maine Road during Live Forever, when all the images of dead rock stars were projected onto a huge screen, culminating with John Lennon – the whole sequence was my idea and I chose the images. It took my breath away – even Liam didn’t know it was going to happen.

ZANI - You’ve put together a book celebrating Microdot, including all the work you did with The Super Furry Animals, The Verve and Oasis. Out of all of these photographs, which one was the most difficult to pull off and which was the most enjoyable?

Brian Cannon  - The Verve’s first album, A Storm In Heaven, was a massive undertaking and nearly did me in, but it remains my best piece of work to date. As for the most enjoyable, Roll With It on Weston-Super-Mare beach was a great laugh, and shooting the Lucky Man sleeve for The Verve in New York was ace.

ZANI - You have also started a microdot eBay page – what exactly is it that you sell?

Brian Cannon  - The Microdot eBay store  sells out-takes from the sleeves, rare and unpublished photographs, memorabilia, etc. Pretty much all relating to the bands we worked/work with.

ZANI - What future projects do you have coming up with Microdot?

Brian Cannon  - I am currently planning the Microdot 20th anniversary knees-up, a massive project in itself. Working with new bands, The Captive Hearts and Glassheads to name two. Working with labels in Los Angeles and San Francisco and continually on the look out for new projects.

ZANI - And finally Brian, is there one artwork for an album or single that you look at and think, “I wish I did that”?   

Brian Cannon  - Never Mind The Bollocks


© Words – Ian "Get Another Round In" Park/ ZANI Media
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