Many of Whizzy’s customers are the kind of trusting, lovely people that fell for the whole “You can spread jam on your CD’s and they’re indestructible” hype perpetuated by the mainstream media in the 1980’s. Little did we know back then that this was the real start of the “Fake News” era! We spoke to Mark Wilkinson, the artist who, according to Gigwise, created the 29th greatest album cover of all time, and asked him whether he was sucked in by the propaganda.
Fortunately not, but he did sell his vinyl, his story is a good one though, we forgive him.
Mark is the man behind some of the most iconic album covers of the last thirty odd years for artists including Marillion, The Darkness, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Rick Wakeman and Europe amongst others. He and his wife Julie (a talented artist in her own right) have family in the local area and live on the Suffolk border. He's also been spotted by locals drinking craft ales at the Kings Head in Woodbridge.
On a frosty morning at Old Jet market in December, we met Mark for the very first time. He picked up a pristine original copy of McDonald and Giles (created by members of the psych prog group King Crimson) and looked briefly into middle distance. He had to sell his vinyl collection in the early 2000s.
“The tap went off” he explained. “A few months went by with no work at all. This is it, I thought. I’m never going to work again and I’ve got nothing of any value to sell.” When my friend suggested selling my vinyl I replied “I’m never gonna sell that!”
Mark’s agent then told him that he had to get a computer because it was a case of “adapt or die”.
He also recalls, with some trauma, the record dealer known to Suffolk locals as “Dave the Dude” who licked his lips at Mark’s collection. Dave now lives in Hawaii thanks to that collection. To give you an idea of the quality of his records, a promo copy of “See Emily Play” by Pink Floyd was Mark’s first ever vinyl purchase.
“Dave gave me some money to put towards a computer, and about four months later with keyboard at the ready, the tap went on again. I regret selling my collection as I can never afford to buy it back, but it was the vinyl or my career.”
Since then, Mark has gone from strength to strength and he has worked non-stop ever since as an illustrator for bands, films, books, DVDs, royal mail stamps and cult television shows such as Red Dwarf. In 2010, he published his first compilation of works in a book called “Shadow Play”. This beautiful, hard-backed and scrumptious text not only boasts some jaw dropping illustrations, but also gives an insight into Mark’s creative process, and an understanding into why the visual aspects of album cover artwork are often infused with the spirit and soul of the musicians they represent.
We arranged to meet up with Mark again at Marlesford Mill Antique Centre near Woodbridge and he agreed to sign some copies of his latest book. We traded the Tyrannosaurus Rex album “My People were Fair and had Sky in their Hair” for an Iron Maiden “Book of Souls” Live LP which Mark partially illustrated.
As a young man in his twenties, Mark was based in a studio in Covent Garden, struggling to find work as an illustrator. This was in the 70’s. “Above me was David Bailey and David Lichfield, with all these glamorous models coming up the stairs. Nearby was Terry Pastor (now based in Suffolk), the designer of Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust”
Mark remembers Terry telling him the story about how he got the job.
“Originally David asked George Underwood, Bowie’s best friend from school, who famously punched him, and damaged his eye. George had said he was too busy and that Terry would do it for £150 quid. At that time, David didn’t have tuppence to spare but he paid him £150. Hunky Dory did OK but not that great. He then asked George to design Ziggy Stardust, but George was too busy and passed him onto Terry. This time he got paid £250. Can you imagine how many of prints of those album covers have sold?”
Mark also discussed his long term collaboration with Fish. Mark stopped designing Marillion covers when Fish left. “I loved Fish-era Marillion. They were the first big band I worked on and opened the doors that I had been knocking on for countless years. Fish had a lot of input into the design of their first album in particular. They all wanted a gatefold sleeve, they wanted to hark back to their heroes of the Genesis and Yes era. Fish was keen on all the details, and it felt so new in the eighties as punk was to have supposedly gotten rid of it all.”
When you look at Mark’s vast body of work, it is difficult to highlight a peak in his career, as he has had so many. What makes him very inspiring is his passion for many of the new bands coming to the forefront, such as “Shobaleader One”, a futuristic electronica band that approached him to design their album artwork.
His openness to new projects and his constant creative interest in exploring new ideas is typified by his recent work on Iron Maiden’s Book of Souls Live LP and tour poster in 2017. He rather relished researching the Mayan culture of ripping out hearts and sacrificing humans to the sun. The images he then created are vivid, nightmarish and so powerful that they got banned from the Paris Metro and some parts of Germany after numerous customer complaints. I asked him whether he ever scares himself whilst creating such powerful emotive art to which he responded with a grin, “I sleep like a baby and dream of fluffy bunny rabbits.”
If you would like a signed copy of Mark’s book 'Shadowplay' please get in
touch with us at through the contact page on this website to arrange collection from anyone of our three vinyl outlets.