T1 — The The
Guest band-logo fancier Theo Delaney tracks down the designer of The The’s craggy, crumpled, cryptic marque, still going strong over 25 years later.
Built around the enigmatic genius of Matt Johnson, The The’s irresistible records always came with a trademark visual style thanks to Johnson’s late brother Andrew — nom de plume ‘Andy Dog’ - whose artwork adorned the covers and merchandise. But the popular assumption that Mr Dog designed the band’s iconic logo is incorrect.
Fiona Skinner is the current head of graphics for ITV Daytime. In 1982, she was a junior designer at Thames TV sharing a London flat with the painter Nicola Tyson in the then deeply unfashionable Bunhill Row, Old Street, and hanging out with nascent creative legends like production designer Alan McDonald and stylist Judy Blame.
Skinner was with The Associates’ front man Billy Mackenzie when she first met Matt Johnson backstage at ‘Top Of The Pops’. “I was immediately fascinated by him. He was so intense and serious. I watched him very carefully dismantle a BBC paper cup and that was it.” The attraction was mutual and they became an item.
When Johnson made the single ‘Uncertain Smile’, he gave an advanced copy to Skinner complete with a logo by ex-Face magazine art director Neville Brody. “I loved the record — thank God — and the sleeve, but I didn’t like the logo, it just didn’t feel right for him or for Andy’s artwork,” recalls Skinner, who immediately set about working on an alternative in her Braithwaite House flat.
“I like things that are distressed, off-centre, unbalanced. “I wanted the logo to be flawed and unique. I based it on Folio Bold and started by using Letraset, which I tried to scratch up. But it wasn’t right.”
Before getting the job at Thames she had assisted James Bond title designer Maurice Binder at National Screen Services, where she’d been taught the art of hand lettering. Using these skills, she set about trying lino cuts. “My first attempt was the wrong way round — I forgot you had to make a mirror image.” But before long, she’d found exactly the look she was after and created a whole alphabet - later used extensively on the cover of the classic ‘Soul Mining’ LP.
“At work I copied and printed sheets of the alphabet then cut and pasted each word of the credits and song titles letter by letter, deliberately leaving in the messy lino marks around the main letters.”
Decades later, the logo is as prominent as ever, following The The’s huge 2018 comeback tour. But in 1982, it never occurred to Skinner that her logo design would achieve such iconic status. When she presented it to the Johnson brothers it was received without fanfare. “They just said ‘Oh … thanks. I don’t think any of us anticipated its longevity. Matt and I stayed together for another eleven years and I worked with Andrew on most of the other sleeves, tour programmes and a documentary title sequence. I love that our friendship has survived all these years along with the logo.”
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