RIP Storm Thorgerson

For the third time in the space of a month, I have been left to mourn the passing of a great talent. I've written at some length about my affection for Richard Griffiths and Roger Ebert respectively, but today I'd like to pay tribute to someone outside of the film world: designer Storm Thorgerson, who passed away on Thursday aged 69.
Pink Floyd fans like myself have had our fair share to grieve about in recent years, with the passing of original singer Syd Barrett and keyboardist Richard Wright, along with the band's manager Steve O'Rourke. Thorgerson may not have been a musical force within the band, but he was instrumental in cementing their success through his incredible album covers. Storm designed 10 of the Floyd's iconic covers, including Wish You Wish Here, Animals and The Dark Side Of The Moon. In a career spanning over four decades, he also collaborated with Led Zeppelin, Genesis, Peter Gabriel and Muse to name but a few.
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Thorgenson helped to turn the album cover into an art form, through the company he formed with Aubrey Powell called Hipgnosis. It's easy to forget in this digital age just how important and striking sleeve art and album covers could be: they didn't just sell records by catching people's eye, they epitomised the content of a given album. Thorgenson took the medium to its limits with dozens of wonderfully surreal and bizarre designs. He bent and reshaped reality through light, shape and colour, forcing you to second-guess yourself and keep looking at the covers - and the longer you looked, the more curious you became about what lay inside...
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Though Hipgnosis dissolved in 1983, Thorgerson was still designing albums right up to his death. But while he eventually embraced computer technology, his best work came from working with physical effects. For the cover of Wish You Were Here (recreated at last year's Olympics), he dressed stuntmen in flame-retardant suits under their business suits and genuinely set them on fire. For Peter Gabriel 3, he took dozens of Polaroid photos and then melted the gelatin base, holding them near naked flames until he got the desired result. For A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, he borrowed 800 NHS hospital beds and spent a day arranging them on a Devon beach. And for Animals, he hung a huge inflatable pig between the chimneys of Battersea Power Station - which subsequently escaped its moorings, generating huge publicity and causing a nightmare for London's air traffic controllers.
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I recently did a special programme on Phonic FM to mark 40 years of Dark Side, in which I played nothing but Pink Floyd for two hours. Any kind of Floyd marathon would seem a fitting way to pay tribute to a man whose influence remains writ large and who will be sorely missed. RIP.

Daniel

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