My Record Collection: Dave McKean

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“There was always music in the house.

My father played piano – although not professionally – and he had about six albums and that was it. But I knew each of them really well: Oscar Peterson, Dave Brubeck, Erroll Garner, all piano and jazz.

I was never into pop music, but when I was old enough to listen to older boys’ music I started buying records. As a horror movie fan, my first LP was the soundtrack to Son Of Dracula by Harry Nilsson. But I didn’t buy it for Harry Nilsson – I’d not heard of him or seen the film. I bought it because the sleeve folds out into the shape of a bat. I still hadn’t seen it until about 10 years ago and, as an Apple film, produced by Ringo Starr and with him in it as Merlin, it’s truly awful. But the music is wonderful and Nilsson has the most beautiful voice that’s ever hit vinyl.

Our Price in Maidenhead was a meeting point for friends. We’d go and look at the posters. One for Elton John’s Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy drew me in each time – it showed so many stories. Often I bought records because of the cover, and when a band and artist work together, it makes such a harmonious package. Roger Dean was the perfect fit for Yes, who made landscape music. Patrick Woodroffe’s work caught my eye too.

King Crimson are the band that I still love from that era. A Young Person’s Guide To King Crimson is important to me because it’s got tracks from the early albums that I was too young to hear at the time, and all the sleeves are inside – the Barry Godber painting from the first album is one of the best record covers ever. It also has Cat Food on, which is pretty close to my favourite Crimson track. The painting on the cover is by Fergus Hall, beautiful and intriguing and a world that you want to explore.

I started playing keyboards in a rock band called Pyramid and the guitarist was a massive Rush fan so he turned me on to them. Rush were my very first gig and they were fucking loud! Alex Lifeson walked on to the stage at Hammersmith Odeon, playing acoustic guitar in a purple light. I thought, ‘Mmm, that’s okay,’ then 7,000 Heathrow aircraft lights went on to a sound that I’d never heard before. I was pinned to the back of my chair and my hearing didn’t recover for about three days! It was extraordinary and I kept going back for more.

After all the Pink Floyd music I’ve listened to, the one thing I’ve taken away with me is Roger Waters’ writing. The Dark Side Of The Moon connects with you at different ages in your life, and like a really good novel, grows up with you. He really made a personal series of statements with Floyd and I can see why he felt he needed to guide the band all the way through.

Peter Gabriel’s Games Without Words represents my fannish enthusiasm at the time. This was about finding rarities and obscurities at record marts and swapping with your friends. This is a bootleg of demos, tracks that would go into third and fourth albums in the works. No lyrics, just the backing tracks. I was completely in love with all of it. All the musicians became my favourite musicians, particularly Tony Levin.

Part of my youth was listening to the radio for tips, and a tune from Rod Argent’s Moving Home was on an ad that I couldn’t shift from my brain so I had to buy it. It’s probably the first album I bought where I thought, ‘God, I love this album but I could do a better sleeve than that.’ It’s a killer band. Phil Collins has never played better, Gary Moore playing acoustic guitar beautifully…

Obviously I bought Gentle Giant’s Octopus for the cover – I’d bought Roger’s book Views, which was very influential, so I was slowly tracking down all the bands in that. I liked it – it has a strange English folk quality to it. I didn’t get any more of their work because Roger didn’t do any more sleeves. It was a very specific relationship!

When you get a female voice at the head of a band, creating and shaping the music, you get some really unusual results. Wilde Tales by Barbara Thompson’s Paraphernalia represents my starting to play this kind of music. She was local to me, always playing around Marlow with a really great band, including Colosseum’s Jon Hiseman. Here I start to move away from rock and into the fusion area. That’s what I was playing with my keyboards stacked around me!

I started seeing names like Joe Zawinul, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett and others in the music press. They would come through Miles Davis’ band and go into their own units. Return To Forever were the band that kicked me over into jazz. On Musicmagic you’ve got Gayle Moran too, and this seemed to be picking up the experimentation of the prog music I liked as a kid but with a musical sophistication that I was warming to.

Then I settled on Weather Report [8:30]. They seemed to be even more sophisticated, with a real care in their playing and some pieces are very simple and elegant. Zawinul is a real world‑music writer – African, South American, European classic, everything. He’s an Austrian button-accordian player who shifted to keys – that’s why his playing is so odd. This is the band that has everything – clever, funny and dramatic. All of human life is in Weather Report and that’s why I love them so much.

Joni Mitchell’s Mingus is the connection to music that I love now. She’s the best songwriter, something to aspire to. I love that she’s kept on exploring and changing with different music – folk to jazz to serious jazz. Mingus is a serious bit of writing, taking Mingus’ improvised themes and creating songs around them, brilliantly. Then when she decided to put a rock band together, it was the most amazing rock band – Shadows And Light is probably my favourite live record ever.

I have to mention Circus by John Cale as a recent album, and one that I did the artwork for. I got to know John through doing his autobiography in 1999 after being recommended by [author/collaborator] Neil Gaiman. I knew the Velvet Underground stuff more than his solo work. We kept in touch: I did his business cards, then this! He’s really fascinating to talk to, but he’s always a few steps away, thinking about the next thing. Circus’ art was my attempt at Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy, which brings us in a nice circle…”

Dave McKean’s new film Luna is showing in selected venues now. For more information, see http://www.facebook.com/LunaTheMovie.