Seminal Music & The Art of Design

Inspiration Information     

I am fortunate to own a few Tonic suits; the 3 Ply Tonic Ginger Mohair wears me like a perfect day but the Antique Gold Tonic forces shades to raise their game in the cool stakes. I chose to wear the latter to a soul night in Brighton. My wife was dressed so sharp she was interviewed and filmed for French TV. I was asked to hold her coat.

By 1am, the DJ had already taken the roof off the club, spinning his way through a ‘mod has died and gone to heaven’ set. Soul RnB for folks who may never cross the broad Atlantic, yet remain utterly committed nonetheless. 7 after 7; flawless perfection for Northern Souls in peacock suits, whose scooters glint flashes into the past hoping for a much better future living in the moment.

small faces

Then...that count in... barely audible…before the Mac signals it’s time to get ready as the groove locks tight, Kenny and Ronnie, that guitar. Perfect symmetry steadying itself before take-off…then Stevie – a Small Face – becomes THE BIG VOICE. Come On!!! Collective eyes closed, immersed in possibly the best Small Faces song of all time - Tin Soldier. By the end of the tune, the feeling of pure positive soulful energy throughout the club, could be felt like the sweat sloping off your cheeks on route to your Tonic collar.

Therein lies the inspiration for our design ‘Tin Soldier’. A sharp modern design classic paying homage to the people's band. Small Faces are like a health check - "excuse me Madam, do you like the Small Faces? You don't ? Oh I see, I didn't realise the symptoms were that bad. Nurse!"  

In a brief but blistering few years the darlings of Wapping Wharf Laundrette never looked back, then they were gone. Leaving us a legacy of timeless Modernism, the title of best dressed band ever and the most effortless example of genius.

The same can also be said for Love's 1967 masterpiece, Forever Changes. Possibly the most cohesive yet ground-breaking collection of songs you might ever hear. Many years later in 2003, it was the return of the man who came back, as Arthur Lee’s Love took to the stage of the Brighton Dome to play two sets. I felt like I had won the pools. 

Arthur and the band, including string and brass sections, were off-the-scale amazing. By the end of the show I was deep in the grip of ‘Aurthurmania’ and went to the front of the stage to offer Mr Lee something I thought he might like. A bar chaperone suddenly appeared between us; a gormless humourless Agent Endfun enforcer. Arthur signalled for him to ‘do one’ whilst taking hold of the gift, giving me a smile that still radiates to this day. 

Arthur Lee

The Insecurity guard now works in a Thought Cleansing booth, hawking opinion shields, anti-erotia jabs and low energy hegemony tablets. Arthur Lee is hanging out with Prince. Our design nods a wink to the 19th Century interpretation of Pegasus,considered to be a symbol of poetic inspiration. It is also a tribute to Arthur Lee; ‘A Flower Amongst Empire'

Interstellar Overdrive by Pink  Floyd soared into this  world partly because of Syd Barrett trying to interpret his then manager’s attempts at humming a song from Love’s first album. Syd loved the Byrds, Beatles and Stones, but most of all Arthur Lee. Perhaps Syd’s test tube only started to show signs of cracking when he became simultaneously bored of the medium and supra conscious of the strings and who was pulling them. Refusing to mime on a Dick Clark show to See Emily Play is not evidence of an impending psychic collapse, but rather, acknowledgment that Dick Clark was a vacuous idiot whom Syd could only offer silence. Syd’s sense of childlike wonder took pop’s blue shades and made them Day-Glo. We celebrate this most playful and unique of cosmic troubadours with ‘Meet Me At The Top Of The Sky’, a design inspired by the dream-pop psychedelic album, Barrett.

Syd Barrett

‘Blissful’, our Warhol influenced design is inspired by Manchester’s heavyweight originators and seekers of the groove, Happy Mondays. It is also a tribute to Bez, who was listed in the top 100 musicians of all time as voted by Q magazine. I was Inches from his face, at a gig in 89, watching him hold his maracas like a priest clasping hands in prayer. Bez led the worship, coaxing out a collective Hallelujah from a heaving mass of elbows, twisting hands, eyes on stocks and sweating flares.

Like Bez, the 13th Floor Elevators regularly left their bodies behind as their electrified rocket climbed, powered by garage fuel. The first psychedelic band on planet Earth but residing here only some of the time. When not in orbit they were mostly in Austin Texas, where harsher realities such as routine police harassment led to prison sentences for band members.

Despite the heat, the wing-suit of sixties rock-n-roll created a holy body of work so good, so intense, that within the groves of seven singles and four albums, are many codes and clues. A zeit guide in the search for the ineffable. Our design deconstructs the ancient mystic symbol of the ‘Eye in the Triangle’ found on the cover of their incredible debut LP, Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators.

Big Star, a cubist Beatles, inspired ‘Memphis Cosmos’, our exploding multi-dimensional star design. In particular, the Jim Dickinson produced Third/Sister Lovers album from '74; a journey through the dark around the edges. Alchemy borne from a band who only came out at night and the unseen hand of Saint Jim, a man who could find the space between the notes where nothing can hurt you. 

Iggy Pop

In Detroit, raw power stood shoulder to shoulder with Motown soul. The spell was cast at the Grande Ballroom on Halloween 1968, the setting for Kick Out The Jams, one of the most explosive live albums ever recorded. Lacquer introducing the world to Fred “Sonic” Smith and Wayne Kramer, the twin-guitar twelve bar incendiary arkestra surging in perfect spontaneity. Ably driven by the power house of Dennis “Machine Gun” Thomson and Michael Davis on drum and bass. Black to Comm dance music led by the Reverend Rob Tyner, the James Brown of counter culture heavy manners.

MC5 = punk rock soul music for a city on fire. By the time the mighty 5 released their last and arguably best album, High Time, CIA surveillance had ended with the bands manager John Sinclair in prison. We hope John would dig our deconstruction of the white panther imagery of the band’s early-ish days. ‘Panther’ seeks to capture the unwavering, total commitment to a true testimonial of maximum RnB music aimed against the riot shields.

By ‘71, the MC5’s baby brothers, The Stooges, had flown their Detroit coup looking for a d’état of their own. The Stooges changed everything. Along with The Velvets, they kicked over the statues and as the alabaster came crashing down, so did they. One way tickets on the last train to Lacerate, leaving infinite legacy all the way down the line.

‘Abstract Iguana’ is inspired by Iggy's first band name and The Stooges bootleg My Girlfriend Hates My Heroin. The sound quality is even worse than the nearly inaudible Metallic KO, and just as brilliant. Music spat from the gut, drilling a hole through giving a fuck about ‘polite society’. Performance as art, wrapped up in a distortion pill which the muzak biz spat out. 


Sonic's Rendezvous Band Concert Poster

Following the demise of the MC5, Fred Smith formed Sonic’s Rendezvous Band, together with Scott Ashton of The Stooges, Scott Morgan of The Rational’s and Gary Rasmussen from The Up. Unbelievably they were not signed and could only afford to cut one side themselves, five minutes and seven  seconds of pure high energy rock n roll. SRB truly are something special, and  like the MC5 and The Stooges, deserve their status as one of the true founders of the Guitar Army.

I can neither confirm nor deny rumours that wearing our 'Panther' Tee will counter-act CS Gas. The Roses would suggest a lemon is your best bet. Our 'Paris 68' design was inspired by a story told to Ian Brown that demonstrators used to suck lemons to counter the effects of CS Gas thrown by French police during the state of emergency. Paint splashes represent the French flag and the art of Jackson Pollock, whose work so heavily influenced John Squire. The first logo on the arm of the Tee is a tribute to Northern Soul (musically and spiritually) and the Situationist's movement. 

Music that changed the culture forever.

Catch you all next Friday to big up Curtis Mayfield.


1. Image credit