Michael Inns is a British rock photographer, album designer, and illustrator, who has worked on many great albums and with many legendary musicians over the past few decades. He has also been a part of a number of album art projects with Roger Dean. Along with Karen Gladwell, Mike began Mixed Images Ltd – creating cover art, album layouts, press photos… In this exchange Michael details the beginnings of his career and getting to work with Roger Dean, his work and friendship with the late John Wetton, as well as discuss a number of projects and album covers he created and was a part of. Sadly, Karen Gladwell passed in October of 2019 (RIP), and I’ve included a video Michael created as a tribute to her, set to John Wetton’s classic ballad “After All” – below.
Can you give me a bit of background as to how you got into the rock end of art and photography?
I was a rather reclusive individual struggling for survival at a boys’ Public School in England. I discovered a small darkroom hidden in the basement of one of the school’s art centers. I was interested in photography, so this was my home for the remaining time at school. Photojournalist Penny Tweedie arrived at the school to cover an assignment, I met her, and she was the ‘coolest’ person on the planet – that’s what I wanted to do. I followed her work, inspired by the art of photojournalism which led on to following the work of Don McCullin.
School really wasn’t the place to be, so I managed to take the opportunity to take up a course in Design / Photography for three years. My roommate greeted me wearing a ‘YES’ tee shirt which introduced me to YES and the work of Roger Dean. Roger was the new inspirational ‘cool’ for me and YES became my favourite band. It was the 70’s and Roger ruled supreme as a guiding light to the world of graphics. I remember ‘Relayer’ coming out and seeing the band play the album live in Leicester with Roger’s stage sets and lighting.
After leaving Art College I lived with like-minded British author Freda Warrington and tried to find a way into album design. I remember sending my portfolio to Kate Bush and Jon Anderson. I carried on working as a designer for a local PR company until I eventually left to start ‘Mixed Images’ with my long-term best friend and business partner Karen Gladwell. Karen has been by my side throughout and is a huge part of everything we achieved as well as giving her loyal support and friendship to all the artists we have worked with.
It was at a local ENID gig where I met Robert John Godfrey and Steve Stewart and spent the next few years spending time at their recording studios in Suffolk. I really began my studio photographic sessions with the ENID. It was then that I bumped into Rob Ayling who was at the time managing the band. Rob later introduced me to Dave Stewart, John Wetton and Geoffrey Downes. Around that time Steve Stewart asked me if I could work with Katrina and the Waves on photoshoots, album designs and pop videos. It was a really creative time which developed into a long-term friendship with Katrina and Kimberly Rew. I received a call from promoter Dave Hill soon after to work for Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone.
I had developed a close friendship with John Wetton and Richard Palmer-James. One day John called me and asked me to meet him at a nearby studio owned by Martin Darvill where they were having a meeting to discuss the formation of ‘Qango’ a spinoff of ASIA. I remember arriving with Karen to meet for the first time, Carl Palmer wandering around the car park waiting. The Qango project led me to forging long term friendships with most of the musicians I now currently work with.
My friendship and admiration for Martin Darvill grew. Martin asked me to work on a photoshoot with Martin Turner as well as Sonja Kristina and Focus. I used to pack my entire studio light system and set up in the basements of various theatres for some of the bands. Other times they would come to me at my studio in Hertfordshire or I would set up at Martin’s recording studio in Buckinghamshire.
Martin Darvill is an extremely skillful and highly regarded manager who gave his time and experience to help artists like Martin Turner, Focus and many others in reformation projects. Martin notably managed to succeed in getting Steve Howe, Geoffrey Downes, John Wetton and Carl Palmer around the same table to discuss the reformation of the original ASIA.
I later met up with Dave Roberts – who brought together many great bands for his Cambridge Rock Festivals. I had many wonderful weekends working alongside my inspirational friend and rock photographer John Price.
Whilst the photoshoots were taking up a huge amount of time, I also worked on producing the artworks the various albums released by Martin’s company QEDG.
Martin asked Roger Dean if he would be happy for me to work on the various ASIA projects. Roger agreed. For me it was the most daunting assignment so far. Whilst I worked with many big names in the music business, I would never be judged on my ability to play. When it came to Roger – he was the person who defined my future path in the world of graphics. Over the years Roger has introduced me to some really great musicians.
I have now spent over 15 years working for Roger – where his generosity of spirit has nurtured my understanding of his techniques and work. Constantly juggling an ever-growing array of projects – Roger seems to me like a man who never sleeps.
You’ve done a lot of work [photos, art, layout…] on a number of Asia, John Wetton [and related] releases. Can you give me a bit of insight into some of your work with John, Geoff, and Asia? (Any details or insight to a few specific covers that you had a hand in via art, layout or photos)
I met John Wetton for the first time on a photoshoot with Phil Manzenera at his Gallery Studios. John was in the final stages of production for “Arkangel” with Billy Liesegang. I wasn’t working on the designs – just a few PR shots for the re-release of two ‘Wetton Manzenera’ albums. It was after ‘Arkangel’ that John asked me to work on all his new studio albums.
At the same time, I also remember I was working with Bill Nelson’s “Noise Candy”, Katrina Leskanich, Gordon Haskell and Dave Stewart / Barbara Gaskin.
I remember that most of the albums I worked on were for John, Geoffrey, Carl and ASIA including photoshoots for albums and PR. For the album artworks – Roger Dean is the default artist for QEDG projects such as ASIA, DBA and FOCUS.
I was already working with Geoffrey Downes before I met John, so I ended up working on every iCon – Wetton Downes project too. We wrote it as iCon because at the time there was a new product on the market called an iPad and thought it might be a more distinctive layout.
John Wetton would just call me to invite me on our next journey together. Another album design. John always knew the direction he wanted to travel but he only knew the destination when we reached it. It was always fun and took us in unexpected directions. John’s dry sense of humor and deep laugh was a constant welcome companion.
Most of our collaborations were driven by John’s spark of imagination. The cover art was the most important to get right. John would send me the lyrics and a stack of images that defined the essence of each track. I remember seeing a mobile phone for “Finger On The Trigger” and hadn’t realized the track was about a war of love and sending a text message.
I remember the cover of “Rock Of Faith” – we were sitting in Clive Nolan’s studio in Virginia Water with Martin Darvill – I gave John my notebook for his page-by-page notes. He was overdubbing the bass on “Take Me To The Waterline” at the time so there were a series of squiggles to denote the pages. When I got back to the studio, I thought the squiggle for the cover had a Star Trek feel and had something going for it – so I drew it up. I noticed later John had a silver pendant made up with shape of the cover image.
Because of Martin Darvill’s heavy involvement with Roger Dean, the ‘Downes Braide Association’ engaged with Roger to work on ‘DBA – “Skyscraper Souls”.
We were in Bournemouth on a cold February day I was with Karen – I remember Roger Dean showing me the proposed cover painting for “Skyscraper Souls” which was in the boot of his car. The painting was wonderful – It was a truly sad day – we were attending John Wetton’s funeral.
Can you give me some insight and stories in to some of the covers you created an or had a hand in – Bernie Shaw / Dale Collins – Too Much Information (where did the album’s image[s] come from? And who came up with the cover concept?)
I had a call from QEDG and asked if I could work on Bernie Shaw / Dale Collins – “Too Much Information”. I think it was Bernie who had already chosen the cover image of a solitary metal sculpture on a snowy mountain. I only had the one image to work with so I tried to find more sculpture images that would help me to create the rest of the artworks.
I found “The Statue of Love” by Tamara Kvesitadze that commemorates the 1937 novel “Ali and Nino” about the love of a Muslim Azerbaijani boy and Christian Georgian princess. The remarkable moving statue became the narrative throughout the booklet.
Another project that we felt required a narrative throughout was a project for Tony Kaye called “End Of Innocence”. Roger Dean had already created a unique cover painting. The album was a personal reflection on 9-11. It was an amazing concept with the piece starting the night before the attacks and follows the events through the following day and on to the aftermath.
We decided to colorize Roger’s painting for the interior taking the narrative from the calm blues of ‘innocence’ to the reds and blacks of the disaster through to warm yellows representing a ‘new beginning’.
Peter Goalby – Easy With The Heartaches, I Will Come Runnin’ (where did these cover ideas come from? were you familiar with Peter’s work? and was it any different creating cover art for an archived release where there may be no artist photos, or the artist is no longer active?)
I had already been working for Uriah Heep, Phil Lanzon and Ken Hensley on new projects and releases, so I knew of Peter Goalby but had never heard Peter’s solo work. I was asked if I could create a cover for Peter’s re-release of solo albums. The brief was that this should be four completely different covers that could be combined together to create one single image. The concept was difficult enough without even beginning to visualize the production. I decided to use very bold abstract images for each of the individual releases and blend them together to create a single landscape image. I then added more layers across the whole images which were depictions that represented ‘sound’ waves.
If I have a project that is a completely blank canvas with no logo, no images and no music to work from – the only way forward is to create something that is interesting and bold.
Arc Of Life album, featuring YES members
“Arc of Life” for me started with a call from Martin Darvill. Billy Sherwood had got a band together during the Pandemic. These days there is such a long lead time on some of the production processes most artists get very little notice for these urgent projects. Billy was really specific and had a clear idea about what he wanted to see on the cover and for that matter the back cover too. It was a very clear and clever idea with the cover and back cover portraying the same scene – the cover daytime and the back cover night-time reflecting the ‘Arc of Life’.
Although I have worked with most of the members of YES over the years as well as Roger, I don’t actually work on any current YES projects other than maybe the admats for the tours. The ‘go to’ designers (other than Roger) are the well respected, Doug and Glenn Gottlieb who have a history with YES dating back to the 70’s.
Alan Simon’s Excalibur IV [from 2017] (and Did you happen to create Alan Simon’s Excalibur V cover that came out late last year? (if so, any insight on that?)
I created the cover for Excalibur IV as well as the latest Excalibur V. In all I think I have created around seven album artworks for Alan and a series of rereleases. Alan is very clear about what he wants to achieve from concept to production. It is a very similar working relationship to working with John Wetton. Alan sends me a whole batch of his own photographic images which we use throughout the artworks. Alan is a very talented artist, photographer, composer, musician and film maker. Another individual that never sleeps.
The cover for “The Dark Age of the Dragon” evolved from the existing artworks in the Excalibur series. The circle is always a key element. Although “Excalibur V” visually doesn’t immediately stand out as a circle – the subject actually is a stone circle. The original concept for the cover came from a rough sketch Alan sent me a few years ago.
What would be a couple of your own favorite projects you’ve been a part of?
Each project has it’s own charm.
I have created all the album artworks for Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin over the past 20 years. Dave sets the bar on creativity and constantly raises it a notch every time we exchange thoughts. Like with Roger, the initial brief is always achievable – but is constantly evolving to a higher level and just when you think you’ve made it . . . those are probably the best projects to work on.
I worked with Gordon Haskell on “Harry’s Bar” from which the single “How Wonderful You Are” was released and became the Christmas number 2 in 2001. The cover image of the album came about in February 2001 when Gordon turned up at my home by surprise along with a studio copy of “Harrys Bar”. We played the first track but Gordon was dissatisfied with the quality, abandoned the CD and proceeded to pick up one of my guitars and perform some of the tracks ‘live’. Gordon wanted an idea of the style of cover photograph he should have on the cover of the album. We were sitting in my dinning room at the time – I had about ten frames left on my film camera – so I took a series of ideas and sent them to him. One of the shots became the cover image.
Working with Katrina and the Waves was another interesting period. I had been working with Katrina for a few years – helping produce album artworks and pop videos. I was asked to work on a version of ‘Walking on Sunshine’ for GMTV. Soon after I got a call to work on a new single “Love Shine A Light” written and produced by Kimberley Rew. The song was put forward for the “Great British Song Contest” and went on win Eurovision 1997. The cover was actually created from a cartoon sketch supplied by Kimberley.
Recent projects include – photoshoots for Blues Guitarist Ben Poole and two album projects from QEDG for Nathan James, Inglorious.
Five memorable John Wetton albums would include,
Red – King Crimson
Rock of Faith (Solo)
Nomansland (Live in Poland 1998).
10 album covers that inspired me were
Tails from Topographic Oceans – YES
Cactus Choir – Greenslade
Magician’s Birthday – Uriah Heep
Court of the Crimson King – King Crimson
Search of the Lost Chord – Moody Blues
The Táin – Horslips
Wishbone Ash – Argus
Wish You Were Here -Pink Floyd
Olias of Sunhillow – Jon Anderson
*All images courtesy of Michael Inns