U1 — UFO
We tracked down designer Geoff Halpin to his home-studio near Toulouse in France, to unearth the story behind the perennially cosmic UFO logo.
UFO have been rocking out since 1968. Originally from south London, they took their name from the short-lived UFO club on Tottenham Court Road, spiritual home of the psychedelic movement — house band, The Pink Floyd.
Over the past 50 years, UFO have released 22 studio albums, along with 14 live recordings, 16 compilation albums, and one album of covers. Over 30 musicians have come and gone, the only constant being original vocalist Phil Mogg. Hitting their peak in the late-1970s, they’re cited as one of heavy rock’s most influential acts, a kind of musical bridge between prog rock and heavy metal.
With all these large, impressive numbers being bandied about, BandLogoJukeBox is pleased to report that UFO only had three (possibly four) logos. And their current marque has stayed the course for over 40 years. It’s the early work of Geoff Halpin, a stalwart of the British design scene, and creator of artwork for some very unlikely musical bedfellows including Dire Straits, Squeeze and the New York Dolls, to name but a few.
Back in the mid-1970s, Halpin was renting desk space at NTA Studios, home to a group of ridiculously talented designer/illustrators including George Hardie, Malcolm Harrison, Bob Lawrie and Bush Hollyhead. Hardie is probably best known for his role in the design of Led Zeppelin’s eponymous debut album (1969), Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon (1973), and his fertile creative relationship with record sleeve maestros Hipgnosis.
Storm Thorgerson of Hipgnosis was something of a regular at NTA Studios, and with a commission for a UFO sleeve coming up, asked Halpin to design a new logo for him. “It was the usual thing, fifty quid and had to be done in five minutes. well, not quite, but you get the picture,” recalls Halpin.
“I had this idea about interrupted imagery, like you’re watching TV and aliens have taken it over, so it all goes a bit wonky. I made it by setting the letters in type and then chopping it up, drawing the interference lines by hand, pasting it together and then taking a photograph of it.
“If you zoom in, it’s actually not very well drawn, but in a way I quite like that because now with computers, everything is done to death. I quite like the idea that it’s been done by a human being and not a machine.”
Halpin’s wonderfully wonky UFO logo first made it on to 1978’s ‘Obsession’ album. It’s been used more or less consistently ever since, most prominently on ‘High Stakes & Dangerous Men’ (1992), where a stretched and distorted version of the logo is set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. And most notoriously on ‘Ain’t Misbehaving’ (1986), where it replaced the head of a naked woman toting a revolver.
Halpin moved on from rock ’n’ roll to become an acclaimed packaging and branding designer: “When I was designing for the music industry, I was roughly the same age as the bands. It’s a bit like an escalator, you get on one end and then you ride it and then you get to the top and you fall off.”
Vinyl . Album . Cover . Art: The Complete Hipgnosis Catalogue (Thames & Hudson, 2017)