Y1 — The Yardbirds
The Yardbirds’ logo is rough and ready, just like the band in its early days. It breaks all the rules of good typography … and is much the better for it. We caught up with Yardbirds drummer Jim McCarty to find out more.
Formed in London in 1963, The Yardbirds were part of the capital’s rhythm and blues boom of the time. Hired by Crawdaddy Club impresario Giorgio Gomelsky to replace the Rolling Stones as his house band (no pressure then), The Yardbirds soon gained a reputation as a ferocious live band.
Fitting then that their distinctive logo first appeared on their live album debut ‘The Yardbirds Five Live’. Designed in 1963 by Hamish Grimes (Gomelsky’s managerial sidekick, fixer, photographer and club compere), the logo went on to appear on most of their subsequent records.
BLJB caught up with original Yardbirds drummer Jim McCarty to get the inside scoop: “I think the name plus the logo was immediately a very strong combination — Hamish was just trying to be quirky and comical, under the watchful eye of Giorgio. Hamish was always a friend of the band, and like a lot of creative people, never really capitalised on the success of his logo.”
Grimes was something of a jack of all trades — probably most famous as the voice that introduces the band to the stage of the Marquee Club at the beginning of the ‘Five Live’ album. He also turned his hand to photography for various artists on Gomelsky’s roster such as Julie Driscoll, The Paramounts, The Brian Auger Trinity and of course The Yardbirds. (Pop fact: Auger played the harpsichord intro on The Yardbirds’ early psych-pop hit ‘For Your Love’.) According to McCarty, Hamish was “our occasional photographer and was full of ideas on how we were presented”.
More recently, Grimes’ name popped up in a 2016 interview with Yardbirds guitarist Eric Clapton, who was asked about the infamous ‘Clapton is God’ graffiti of the mid-1980s:
“When we played with The Yardbirds at the Crawdaddy club, there was a guy worked for [Yardbirds manager] Giorgio Gomelsky, and his name was Hamish Grimes. A very sweet guy. It was his job before we came on to stand on the stage and work up the crowd … And I’ve always suspected that he was the one who went out there with a pot of paint and a brush and painted that on the wall. I really doubt that it was a genuine fan.”
What’s fascinating about the band’s distinctive logo is how it managed to stand the test of time in a decade when bands chopped and changed their logos as often as their haircuts and wardrobes. The scratchy, hand-drawn typography was perfect for their first incarnation as a rough-and-ready purist blues band with young guitar star Eric Clapton; but also somehow adapted neatly to the Jeff Beck era of the band, which took their trad-blues chops into a more experimental, modal and psychedelic soundscape.
In fact, it was almost as if the logo had been designed for this Summer of Love era; with its warped letterforms and bellbottom like descenders, paving the way for similar band logos by The Byrds, Love and Cream. Later it even seemed at home with the proto-Zeppelin heaviosity of the Jimmy Page years, where the band took their blues roots and turned them up to 11.
The eagle-eyed among you will note that the logo takes on subtle changes from single to single and album to album, even withstanding a trippy wobble on the band’s final album ‘Little Games’. And you’ll see it was locked up with an endless cast of ‘The’s in all sorts of typefaces.
But still it remains distinctly the same marque — testament to the designer Hamish Grimes, that his work managed to remain unmistakable through all this change and evolution. Drummer Jim McCarty concludes: “The name and logo have stood the test of time – a lot like the music. But I’m afraid I have no idea why!”.
Well Jim we do … it's the power of a great brand.
Thanks to Jim McCarty for taking the time to speak to us. Jim continues to tour as The Yardbirds – check the link below for upcoming gig details.