Chris Lambeth, FTD Art Designer, talks with EIN.
Lambeth works in London for Peacock Design, the company
that fashions the look for all of Elvis' 'Follow That
Dream' CD releases and more.
Chris is an incredibly busy man, so it was kind of him
to take time out to talk to EIN's Piers Beagley about
his Elvis work and designs.
- Apart from working on the incredible amount of Elvis product
that is coming out, what else does Peacock Design do?
- We do a lot of music industry stuff for various record companies
with CD design as well as TV marketing and adverts. There
is a continuous flow of albums covers and, of course, pre-Christmas
was an extremely busy period.
- Do you only work on Elvis product?
- I've been with Peacock for about 2 years and I started on
the Elvis stuff around March 2003 so there's always something
new for me to be working on. I also design other artist's
product and adverts. Recently I worked on several compilations
such as a Country compilation, a Valentine special, that kind
of thing. I also did a 'Rock Chicks' compile album where I
had to go out and photograph two live panthers wearing diamante
collars! So it's a fun job - but always busy.
- Do you have a background in design or art?
- I did a diploma and then a degree in design followed by
various jobs as a freelancer and then luckily, with my main
interest in music, I got a full-time job here at Peacock.
- Peacock's name seems to have been on Elvis product since
1997, why does RCA, as an American company, employ an English
- Most of the stuff we do is organised through Roger Semon and I work with him the most. We are heavily involved with
the FTD designs but we also do mainstream stuff with RCA in
New York, who seem very pleased with our work. There are several
of us here who have all, at some time, worked on Elvis designs.
Peacock's creative director is Stuart Crouch and I work alongside
two other designers Jon Tricklebank and Stuart Gardiner. Other
mainstream releases we have done are the Christmas Peace CD,
Ultimate Gospel and, for instance, the Artist of The Century
box-set, in fact the whole studio had some role in putting
together the artwork for the amazingly successful 'Elvis 30
- So, have you always been an Elvis fan?
- To be honest, no! My music tastes encompasses a lot of contemporary
rock music and other English bands. However when I started
working on Elvis product, and listening to the material I
was working with, I found myself blown away by Elvis' work
- especially on stuff like Suspicious Minds. When it comes
down to it, I am a real music fan who loves all types of music.
(Photo right: some of Chris' more recent work FTD's 'Girl Happy' & 'Harum Scarum'.
- How do you get ideas for the designs, do you get told what
FTD wants? Do you even get to hear the actual CD first?
- No, in fact I often have to make the cover designs without
first hearing the CD. Roger usually provides me with books,
scanned material, information and photos but there are no
particularly strict guidelines. Sometimes I'm lucky, for instance
with 'Closing Night' where I had Arjan Deelen's excellent
'Caught in a Trap' book to work with. I tend to come at it
from a totally design point of view. I come up with sleeve
ideas & try to get the feeling of what the session or concert
was all about. Roger is great to work with because he is straight
down-the-line and knows what he wants & what he doesn't, so
there's no mucking around!
- Do you have to pay for the photos, can you use anything?
- I sometimes see a great image in a book and then have to
go through Roger to get clearance or perhaps obtain archive
material from RCA in New York. Sometimes I get genuine memorabilia
to photograph & scan, or perhaps just get sent scanned images
which I then have to use as best I can.
- Do you work with Ernst as well?
- Whatever I work on, I send to both of them to have a look
at and to comment on. It's always the three of us who discuss
it, and they say whether it captures what they had in mind.
Ernst is very fast at getting back to me as to whether the
design will work & we all have regular contact. I thought
the idea of the 'Closing Night' cover with Elvis and the monkey
on his back was a nice analogy to what had been happening
emotionally to him at the time. That was, in fact, the third
cover design we tried and the one we liked the most.
- Do you do the movie Soundtrack CDs as well; I love those
7 inch format designs!
- I have designed something like nine of those. Unfortunately,
in the music distribution world, everything seems to be getting
smaller & smaller and the design side is disappearing, so
I do think there is a real positive to these larger Soundtrack
sleeves. They nicely hark back to the time & feel of when
the LPs first came out. However for me, as a contemporary
rock fan, it is often hard to understand why Elvis was recording
such awful movie songs. In fact Ernst pointed me towards your
EIN website & the reviews to help get an understanding of
what was happening to Elvis at the time! I do love their look
and I think they are pretty collectable.
- Do you have favourites?
CL - The 'Elvis Live In Memphis' FTD was one of my favourite designs and there was the odd fascination with them originally having Graceland & a brick wall on the cover of the original LP!
I think by adding the concert photos & memorabilia we made much better & more appropriate final package. I do like adding little touches like memorabilia or ticket stubs, like the dice on 'Taking Tahoe Tonight' (right) which is also a favourite.
- How long does it take to work on an Elvis FTD?
- It so varies between the digipacks and the larger 7 inch
format that also includes the 12 page booklet. There can be
a lot of scanning and retouching involved plus the backwards & forwards of copy-checking everything. Then there's the typesetting
and making the soundtrack CDs look like the vinyl LP labels.
Sometimes there are hard deadlines or alternatively the work
can be spread out - but we have to work within the tight budget
and it might only be a working week to complete a digipack
- Do you ever read reviews on the websites and get disillusioned
by negative comments?
- I do read them sometimes but it's just too easy for people
to slag off designs after they have been released. Like any
designer, or artist, the fact is that we have come up with
the idea first and have got it out there! Of course with the
internet you can find all the pictures you want of Elvis but
we have to get official permission to use any of our images
which can make it a harder job than people think. Constructive
criticism is good, as long as people provide good reason -
I also get plenty of positive feedback too which is nice.
- The most controversial FTD design was the 'Dragon Heart'
cover which got a terrible response.
- Actually that was done before I arrived here, my first one
was 'Girl Happy'. We have to come up with so many ideas so
fast, that it is hard to get something exciting and new every
time. 'Dragon Heart' was an off-the-wall design and it takes
balls to do something different sometimes. I do know who did
that one but I can't name names!
- How far ahead do you work, what's the project that
you are working on now?
- I am currently working with Roger and Ernst on the
'Big Boss Man' digipak, it's already looking good. I have
also just finished working on 'Elvis Is Back' 7 inch
- With the Soundtrack FTD covers, why don't do a straight
scan of an original LP cover & vinyl label and then
clean them up? Instead you seem to redo all the lettering
over the original images?
- That's not always the case to be honest, as it can depend
on the original sleeve, deadline pressure, time and other
things that have to be taken into consideration. We have just
produced a new 7 inch pack plus booklet for 'Elvis Is Back!'
and I did use the original LP sleeve scan for that. With the
labels they need to be as legible as possible and they also
require new information i.e. legal copy, so this always needs
to be re-typeset. Unfortunately it then starts to look messy,
for want of a better word, if I do use the original scanned
artwork and then also have to add non-matching new typesetting.
- I noticed on Kid Galahad that the "Vinyl label" on the cover
says the track is called 'I Got Licky', which I actually thought
rather funny, rather than 'I Got Lucky' - how did that happen?
I have to admit that that was a good, well actually bad, old-fashioned
typo, there was no pun intended! Unfortunately it wasn't picked
up by any of us who do check the artwork at the proofing stage.
There was a lot of pressure at the time, what with 'Kid Galahad' coming out at the same time as 'Follow That Dream.' We all
do our best to make sure that mistakes don't happen, but they
can and sometimes do. I apologise to any fans out there, it
wasn't meant to cause offence if it did. We all do our best
to make a great product.
- 'On Tour: The Rehearsals' (Cover inlay below) got more than the usual bout of
negative comments. The pictures did have a very "lifted off
VHS source" kind of look - I was surprised that Roger couldn't
obtain better pictures off, say, a laser disc copy?
CL - I have to say they were the best images that we had to work with, but I actually really like the package myself. It's got a contemporary feel to it and I like the clean design.
As I've found out though, the people that buy Follow That Dream releases are quite clearly ardent fans of Elvis, which is great, - and with that you have to learn to take the bad comments with the good, as you should with any of your work. I think that since I've worked on the releases with Roger and Ernst we have had a greater share of positive feedback than bad, so I think we are doing a good job all said and done.
- On a final note, what do your friends think of you working
on Elvis designs?
- My friends think it is so cool that I actually work on Elvis
designs as anyone who really understands music knows that
you can't lump him in together with, say Cliff Richard or
whoever! I never even thought I'd end up working on Elvis
stuff - I love it. There is so much Elvis material available
now, with no glossing over the truth & there is so much Elvis
history to investigate. No one comes close, it must be great
to be a true Elvis fan - if you have enough money!
- The above interview took place in Febrary 2005.
August 2006 follow up:
EIN has commented that the FTD Art Design has been getting better and better. In fact the artwork of the recent release 'Clambake' was the best thing about the CD! We contacted Chris to ask him is there was any reason why the designs have improved.
EIN: Good to know that you are still working with Roger & Ernst on the artwork. We were wondering if you now have better source material, or possibly more time to work on them, since the FTD designs have improved so much over the last 18 months?
CL: No, not really, we still work to the same time lines. I have always had a good source of material from Roger, I think we are just using everything to its full potential. After all the layout for the 7-inch deluxe packages IS fairly set so it's really a case of not messing around with what seems to be a winning formula.
EIN: Do you still react to fans comments on the message-boards?
CL: I have read some of the comments on certain Elvis websites and along with the praise comes some really damning posts, but I try and take them on board and I do listen to what the fans have to say. I think between myself, Roger and Ernst we have reached a point where between us we can come up with the goods. I know that generally the fans are very happy with the deluxe editions.
EIN: Did you work on all the recent releases?
CL: I was involved with all three of 'Elvis Presley', 'I Found My Thrill' and 'Clambake'. I was really happy with all of them, especially Clambake.
EIN: As you know I thought the artwork was the best part of the 'Clambake' release! Thanks for your time & keep up the great work, we all appreciate it.