Original written on 24th August 2014
Music is a great gift. It is also incredibly diverse. Some people love pop and others jazz. My main taste has always been hard rock, heavy metal and blues. Iron Maiden was one of the first bands I was wholeheartedly a fan of. I still am but it is mainly of the first eight albums. This is due to the fact they take me on a nostalgic high. Originally they heralded the new wave of British heavy metal. This is together with bands like Raven, Judas Priest, Hell, Venom and Samson to name but a few. Iron Maiden with original singer Paul DiAnno brought out the incredible Soundhouse tapes then an impressive debut album in Iron Maiden, followed by the equally prodigious album, Killers. When Bruce Dickinson joined the fold from fellow NWOBHM band Samson they notched up a gear and the world was shown how to create a supreme live performance.
The band did three aspects brilliantly, which were songwriting, touring and identity. It is this identity that, in my opinion; no other artists have come close to. Most have followed by their example, as Maiden’s success is undeniable. The band Kiss created a brand and I feel that is different. Branding is similar to toothpaste or deodorant. It is a mainly there to sell a product. Kiss took that philosophy and applied it to the band. There is now everything from dolls to coffins. Gene Simmons, the bassist for the band Kiss, is mainly a businessman. I have no problem with that type of branding, I just feel it is poles apart from the way Iron Maiden and Derek Riggs joined forces to create what was a distinctiveness that, at the time, was unique.
Derek Riggs is an illustrator I have briefly mentioned on a previous blog post. His style is recognisable. Coming from a Gypsy background, his dad built spitfires in Coventry, he could not stick art school and left a few courses. He was in good company as the same happened to Salvador Dali and Pablo Picaso. He built up a portfolio by using various techniques. At the time Derek did not know what materials to settle on. He painted portraits of Kate Bush and David Bowie. These were mainly so that record companies could relate to his work. He was learning as he went. His first published work was in 1979 for an iconic French fantasy/stoner magazine called (ironically) Heavy Metal. It was a publication that was produced in a time where stoned classic rock needed stoner reading material to accompany it.
Derek then decided to concentrate on record companies. There were only a few back in the late 70’s. CBS, EMI, RCA and WEA ruled so he touted his portfolio and managed to get commissions. He did Jazz covers for Dick Morrisey/Jim Mullen with Cape Wrath and Max Middleton/Robert Ahwai with Another Sleeper. Derek designed the cover for Saints and Sinners by The Steve Gibbons Band. Then came the start of his famous covers. Budgie, a great rock band from Wales, brought out an album named Night Life. Derek had been trying to sell a cover to Hawkwind but Budgie got it first. Derek altered it slightly and it was published. It is also the first time that his well-known motif appeared. The story was that the name Derek Riggs was too long to appear on book and album covers and so he created the symbol from his initials D and R. That motif was a masterpiece, as when buying a new Maiden album I would always search for where it was hidden. Sometimes he would not add it in pure devilment. His cover for Alvin Lee’s album RX5 is the start of his 80’s style that’s definitive for me. The advanced colour sense is visible on that illustration which is an exquisite piece that the blues guitarist must have surely adored.
The connection between Iron Maiden and Derek was Rod Smallwood. Rod has been Maidens manager all through their music career. Rod visited EMI head office and one of the staff had Riggs artwork on the wall. Rod saw it and then the magic happened. As Derek states in his book, Woody Allen once said, “80% of life is just showing up” and in this case it was true. Rod was looking for an artist with the ‘strange’ factor and fate had it that he saw Derek’s work. I will leave the rest to Rod Smallwood,
“I grew up on Roger Dean’s great artwork for Yes and all the fantastic Hipgnosis and Storm Thorgerson art for Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd etc. I always thought the artwork really important, part of the image of the band and second only to the music. I really thought then Maiden would be very successful and wanted to start with something special right from the beginning. I wanted it to be sort of conceptual with a real style of it’s own and a central figure. I just wasn’t sure how to find this so started looking for an artist whose style would suit what I had in mind. I saw the jazz posters on the wall at EMI and arranged to meet the artist. In the middle of a load of sci-fi book covers there he was, the face who was to become Eddie. Derek gave us both the style and the character right at the very outset – fate or luck? Derek and I saw the band with his portfolio and they immediately picked him out too. We had our ‘conceptual continuity.’”
That illustration was a year old painting Derek named ‘Electric Matthew Says Hello’ He originally intended it for the punk movement and the hair was in a punk style so Derek painted the hair in and Eddie was born. The record company told him it was not commercial enough before Rod saw it and the NWOBHM hit. Derek ended up selling it for over 20 years. The Derek Riggs/Eddie/Iron Maiden story is fascinating. He brought a book out in 2006 that tells the history of the album cover illustrations. The book is called Run for Cover and can still be found here. I bought one of the first numbered signed run and treasure it dearly. Little details such as the two colour printing in the original singles and how the first album cover was walked across are fan facts not to be missed. So here I have included my selection of the much-loved paintings (most from the 1980’s) that the magnificent Derek Riggs created. Enjoy!
Make sure to click the images for high resolution versions so you can see the detail