Preparing for Battle – an overview

Zang Tuum Tumb appeared quietly at the end of September 1983 with their first release, the now seminal, ‘Into Battle’ by the ‘group’ Art of Noise and a few well placed but baffling trade ads in the UK music press. The debut was a nine track 12″ single housed in a sleeve featuring a detail from a Van Eyck painting – ‘The Knights of Christ’ – with press ads showing silhouettes of bodiless arms holding spanners, flags and roses. A year later they were the hippest label in the UK, dominating both the record and T-shirt charts all summer, seeing the year out with a BANG after three No.1 singles from just one of their bands.

Frankie Goes To Hollywood were that band and their story has been well documented many times. In fact most of the other artists from the label’s first flush of success have also been the subject of reissues, remixes, repackages and reappraisals during the last decade as well. One aspect of the label that has received virtually no praise, re-evaluation or been the subject of a lavish book, is the sleeve art that all this great music was wrapped in. Whilst many other bands, labels and designers from the eighties have achieved cult status, resulting in books, exhibitions and even films praising their vision, most would be hard pressed to find any reference to the people who designed and directed the visual side of Zang Tuum Tumb.

The Players:
ZTTTrevor Horn – ex-Buggles / ex-Yes / record producer, bass, glasses
          Jill SInclair – extreme business sense, management, also Trevor’s wife
          Paul Morley – ex-NME journalist, words, concepts, press officer, cheek
XL –   Tom Watkins – extra large, interior design, management, mouth
          David Smart – ex-magazine designer / Frankie’s main designer,
          Royston Edwards (now deceased) – Grace Jones, Roy Orbison, Art of Noise
          Mark Farrow – junior designer from Manchester, went on to work for the Pet Shop Boys
The London Design Partnership – Bev Whitehead and Gerry O’Dwyer
Garry Mouat – designer, friend of Morley, went on to design Peter Gabriel’s Real World label
Lawrence ‘Lo’ Cole – freelance illustrator responsible for the paintings on Frankie’s Pleasuredome LP.
Anton Corbijn – photographer, video director, colleague of Morley at the NME
Tony ‘AJ’ Barratt – fledgling photographer – Art of Noise, Frankie, Andrew Poppy

Alongside design team XL and, later, the London Design Partnership, Paul Morley shaped the look and feel of the label for its first five years. He gave the it an unmistakable identity with his infamous sleeve notes, catalogue numbers for events and different Series’ for the various groups to operate under, defining what most now consider the classic era of the label.

Horn, Sinclair and Morley could well have sauntered along for years, immaculately conceived, arty, indie, intelligent but playful and semi-successful. Frankie’s success, Sinclair’s business head and Horn’s drive to produce perfect pop records, propelled the band, and ZTT’s roster with it, into the national and international spotlight in the space of the first six months. The one thing that the label didn’t do at this point was tone things down and play the game. Instead, if anything, Morley turned up the intellect and subversion and played harder, now with the financial safety net that a No.1 record briefly brings.

ZTT practically wrote the rule book when it came to the multiple remixes, versions and formats of their releases. This was the indulgent eighties and any way a label could repackage their acts to sell more records they would, the BPI taking a few years to crack down on these practices. And repackage they did – 7 inch 12 inch, remix(es), picture discs, CD and cassette singles, sometimes all for just one release. Shaped discs, gatefold sleeves, screen printed sleeves, clear vinyl, free posters, envelope covers, multiple videos… but this isn’t just about the packaging. What was IN the sleeves were myriad different versions of the same songs, a confusing, ever-growing mass of mixes that turned the casual fan into a format trainspotter. What was ON the sleeves was also far from the usual pop format of band photo slapped across the cover with name and song title positioned for easy racking. For a while Zang Tuum Tumb was essentially an arty indie label like Factory or Mute, playing in the charts with the big boys like Wham, Culture Club and the Durannies but making its own rules while the majors struggled to keep up.

But this was 30 years ago, people forget, move on, move out and lose contact. In researching this collection I had to play detective on more than one occasion, picking up names from sleeves and conversations and pursuing dead ends. I spent hours searching for and reading through every piece of music press I could find between certain dates, at one point having five years worth of NME and Melody Maker papers in my house. Every advert, promo poster, press release and even original artwork was sought to put a spotlight on this overlooked facet of a classic period in pop. It’s also an on-going search, only today a huge promo poster for Frankie’s ‘Welcome To The Pleasuredome’ arrived from Sweden, one of only two I’ve ever seen, it will all be shared at one point along with insights from interviews I’ve conducted over the last eight years with the people behind these works.



6 Responses

  1. I am so looking forward to this. When I was a teen, I pored obsessively over the ZTT items as they came out and I acquired them.

  2. I Worked With Tom & Royston @ XL a lot of the ZTT stuff is not correct David Smart came in towards the End of XL Design (he was it’s downfall) however if you have questions I am sure I can give a true picture

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