Secret pop artist breaks cover; 'Jacuzzi' steps into the limelight with new book.
STEVE HARDSTAFF could be Liverpool's original pop artist. A new book spanning more than 30 years of his work designing album sleeves and concert posters for everyone from Led Zeppelin to the Icicle Works is launched today.
Cover Versions brings together a collection of classic album sleeves for the first time.
The seeds were planted for the book two years ago, when a contact at Liverpool University Press first asked him if he would be interested.
"Well, you say yes, don't you," he laughs. "Then you sit back and think about it and wonder what you let yourself in for!"
Hardstaff, an arts lecturer at John Moores University, set about looking back over his work - little of which he still had any record of - to put together in the book.
He says he had to "beg, borrow and steal" most of the work that appears, because once he had finished a sleeve he sent off the proof and never intended to see it again.
He came to Liverpool in 1969 after cutting his teeth with a design firm in London, and set up in business with partner Pete Fulwell. But things were stacked against them. "It became too difficult to do it in Liverpool because everything was London-based," he says.
"There was no budget here, we rarely got to use more than two colours, deadlines were tight and although we did get the job done I never thought it would last longer than the record."
When they mutually agreed to fold their company, Modular, Fulwell went on to found Eric's club, the record shop Probe and its subsequent record label.
Soon it gave Hardstaff plenty of opportunity to balance his career in teaching with designing, and it was as a result he created the well-known Eric's Jukebox poster and sleeves for many Probe bands, including the Mighty Wah, Dead or Alive and Half Man Half Biscuit, whom he remains close to today. "I love them," he says.
"Nigel, from Half Man Half Biscuit, lives around the corner from me in Birkenhead, so when he wants a sleeve doing he just pops round for a cup of tea.
"I like Four Lads Who Shook the Wirral," he says when asked to name a favourite piece. "But you never like your own work, you only see defects."
Despite his prolific output, that doesn't mean to say music fans may have even known his name up to now. He usually credits his work to his pseudonym, Jacuzzi, or a version of it.
"I never liked the limelight and I've remained fairly anonymous, and that is why the book has been a bit of a shock," he laughs.
I never thought it would last longer than the record
Jimi Hendrix poster; Steve Hardstaff - came to Liverpool in 1969 after working at a design firm in London; 1980s satirical postcard; The sleeve of Half Man Half Biscuit's Four Lads Who Shook the Wirral