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IN MANCHESTER, England in the late 1980s, alternative rock collided with dance culture. Young indie bands, inspired by DJs spinning acid house for a growing club scene, asked these same DJs to collaborate on their records. The result was a heady mix of dance rhythms and melodic retro- pop. This fresh sound—distinguished by its loping beats, jangling guitars, psychedelic swirls and pop choruses—created a whole new scene.
As the Manchester sound evolved, so did its distinctive style. A handful of kids started buying up old-stock ’70s Levi’s® flares and wearing them oversized to stand out from the crowd. Soon baggy jeans and bright colors were the look of choice on the dance floors at local raves and warehouse parties. This explosive scene and its musical ethos left a mark on popular culture that continues to this day. For Spring/Summer 2021, Levi’s® Vintage Clothing celebrates the legendary style and music of late ’80s Manchester.


Central Station, a Manchester-based design company founded by brothers Matt and Pat Carroll and Karen Jackson, was the de facto art studio
of Manchester’s late ’80s music scene. While its designers created album artwork and posters
for many bands of the era, their work for Happy Mondays was their most iconic and came to symbolize the scene.
In reimagining five of Central Station’s original Happy Mondays record sleeves, Levi’s® Vintage Clothing pays tribute to the brash, colorful artwork that defined the era.

Paul O’Neill, Head designer of Levi’s® Vintage Clothing sat down with brothers Matt and Pat Carroll of Central Station Design to find out more about the legendary Manchester design studio that produced much of the iconic artwork for Factory Records’ second wave.

Paul O’Neill: Where did your love of art and design come from?
Pat Carroll: One thing about the way we were brought up, I don’t know if it was by design or born out of necessity, but my mum
and dad let us do what we want. They didn’t put any limitations
or boundaries on us—with nine kids, as you can imagine, chaos ensued. If I wasn’t playing football or checking on my 20 finches in the aviary I had in the kitchen, I was drawing. It was a way to find some solitude and tune out the cacophony. Everything was set against a strong religious backdrop, with the impactful and heavy imagery that comes with that. At some point, my art teacher called my folks in and told them, “You should tell him to go to art school.” I ended up studying Art and Design at Salford Tech. Straight after that, I got a job at a studio in London working on record sleeves and projects for the Barbican.

Matt Carroll: I wouldn’t say we came from a particularly artistic background apart from the odd Lowry print on the wall. In fact, there was one of Peel Park and it’s on the wall still just behind me.
I distinctly remember when our Pat broke his arm and we went to have the plaster removed. Our dad took us to Salford Art Gallery to see the Lowry artworks, and that had a big impact on me. Our older brother Pete had a massive record collection—literally thousands of records in boxes about a yard deep that went all the way around the room. I used to pull out the covers to have a look at them and when him and his mates were around the covers would change at the front of the boxes depending what they were listening to the night before. It was like having our own art gallery at home.

Paul: How did the three of you (including cofounder Karen Jackson) start to make art together and where did the name “Central Station Design” come from?
Pat: We were all working down in London in the early ’80s, but we were still heading back to Manchester on the weekends to go to The Haçienda. Eventually we just moved back and Karen said, “Instead of looking for shit jobs, why don’t we just set up our own studio?” So that’s what we did. It wasn’t long before we ended up working with Nicholas Hytner, doing creative direction for the Royal Exchange Theatre.
Matt: Growing up, we were always drawing bits from comics or cartoons of pop stars like David Bowie or T. Rex. We never had any idea we’d ever work together—it was more just what you did as kids. Then after a time working in London, we moved back to Manchester and went on the dole. This is when we decided to go out on our
own and set up Central Station. We used to go to the Free Trade Hall to see bands—I remember seeing the Ramones there when I was about 14. There was a ticket office to the side and from there, you could see this brilliant old derelict train station. Years later, I realised it was the old Central Station railway building and that was where we got the name from.
Pat: We all loved that building and thought we’d resurrect the name. It harks back to that dark Victorian industrial era. We wanted to take that energy and use it to turn the lights on—transforming Manchester from monochrome to Technicolor. Funnily enough,
the Happy Mondays ended up playing two sold-out shows there in 1990, after it was refurbished and renamed the G-Mex.

Paul: How did you first get involved with Factory Records? Being cousins with Shaun and Paul Ryder from the Mondays—did they initially approach you to do the artwork?
Pat: I don’t really remember it being much of a discussion, to be honest. It was more of an unspoken thing—inevitable. They were into all the stuff we’d been doing. We were around at rehearsals and all the early gigs. We had a close family connection, but we were good mates with the whole band, living the same lives.
So when they got the Factory deal, who better to visualise the Mondays’ sound than us? It was definitely a moment when we dropped off the artwork for “Delightful” at the infamous Factory office on Palatine Road.

Paul: When you arrived at Factory, there was already an established design aesthetic with the likes of Peter Saville. Did you feel like you needed to try fit in with this?
Matt: Factory was part of our youth, so we were into Joy Division and New Order. The covers and everything were just immaculate. We always respected the early Factory stuff, but we didn’t want to recreate it—we had our own agenda.

Paul: The “Delightful” sleeve is my single favourite design to come out of Factory Records. It seemed like a new day with a positive message. This must have been a brave move with its simplicity. How did it come about and how was it initially received by Factory?
Pat: Appreciate that, mate. With tracks like “This Feeling,” “Oasis” and “Delightful”—not to go too far down the Orange Sunshine road— but the artwork was about distilling that moment when you see something in nature that stops you in your tracks, snaps you out of whatever bullshit you’re stressing over and connects you back to the bigger picture. It was trying to capture that in a pure graphic form. The simplicity is the power. The birds are the full stop. I think it was the last thing Factory expected.
Matt: “Delightful” is one of my favourites—the simple green hills, the two birds and the blue sky. That sleeve was pure punk rock and it was a big “fuck off” to all the design shit of the mid-1980s. It was going against the grain, it represented a time for change—the new birds on the horizon. It was pure, fresh and new.

Paul: The creature on the “Freaky Dancin’” sleeve is another favourite. Can you tell us anything about this or where it originated?
Matt: It was so radically different to anything else around. “Freaky Dancin’” was like the image of the band and the lifestyle we were all leading. The colours came from the feeling of that time— almost like an abstract world. There was a whole new landscape of emotions. We had this weird confidence that what we were doing was right. Only a small number of people got it at the time.
Pat: It was a development and expansion of “Delightful,” as if you were looking at it in the middle of a bad trip. The landscape has warped, the colours intensified and amplified, inhabited by a twisted and tormented creature. We went back to the original illustrations of the creature when we were working on the new contortions and animations for the LVC jacket.

Paul: The initial pressings of “Squirrel and G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile (White Out)” came with a unique sleeve where the band name and album title came printed on a plastic slipcase and the card record sleeve only contained the image of the table setting. This inspired how I approached all of the shirts we are producing for this collection. Can you give us any background on where the initial idea came from or the process to create the sleeve?
Pat: For me, the vibes around “Squirrel” came from a session round at Bez’s. After about 5 days with no sleep, someone came round and said, “Look at the state of you lot—24 hour party
people, plastic face can’t smile.” We wanted an image to represent indulgence, the ideal, an artificial dream that we could overlay with an abstract uncertainty. The type was an acknowledgement that shit could go left at any minute—unfamiliarity within the familiar. The idea behind putting the type on the outer sleeve was to capture the feeling of separation—you can end up on the outside looking
in on your own experience at times. I always loved that quote of Tony Wilson’s: “Does the Catholic Church pour its wine into mouldy earthenware pots? I think not.” Factory had total respect for the art and design and attention to detail. They were prepared to invest in ideas like the plastic outer sleeve.
Matt: With “Squirrel,” we all have different memories of where it came from, but my memory is it was after a night out on Christmas Eve—we were off our nuts at The Haçienda followed by a party at Bez’s flat in Eccles. The next day, we were having Christmas dinner at home and it wasn’t quite the same, you know. The party food idea came from that. We didn’t want to reveal the full image at first, but almost like looking through a window of graffiti on the bus or train at something you could not quite grasp, so we put bold concrete typography on top to break it up. The whole thing was like a dream snapshot of the night and day. The plastic sleeve gave the disconnect—almost like a church stained glass window.

Paul: By the time we get to “Bummed,” your design direction seemed to loosen up and become quite free and colourful with paintings, collage, etc. Was there a reason for the move away from pure graphics like the “Delightful” or “Freaky Dancin’” sleeve?
Pat: We didn’t spend five years in the south of France looking for the perfect light, but we’d always experimented with paint. Like us, Shaun had a similar Catholic upbringing and was always mining and referencing that material in his lyrics. So transforming Shaun into a sort of hallucinogenic religious icon was our way of subverting and translating that idea into our visual language. The album was disorienting, bizarre, yet immediate and bold—our approach to the painting was equally intuitive and visceral. Cropping in on the image made it more claustrophobic, intense and ambiguous. A feeling enhanced by blind embossing the title and band name.
Matt: We’d been working on a series of paintings called “Hello Playmates” for an exhibition at Manchester City Art Gallery. “Bummed” was created at the same time, using the same style and techniques. As kids, the Labour club was around the corner from where we grew up. Seeing people heading for a night out dressed up with their painted faces and the Pink Champagne hairdos and the massive eye makeup—just a mass of colour. These subconscious images played a part in the inspiration. We wanted to get across the lifestyle and the grime of the band. We were experimenting all the time. It was like pure freedom discovering a new world for ourselves. Everything seemed possible and our art became fast and free-flowing. It was a magical time.

Paul: What about the inner sleeve for “Bummed”? Where did that come from?
Pat: By this time, me and Karen had moved into a loft flat in a big old house in Fallowfield. Eventually, Matt, Shaun and Bez all moved in and we took over the whole building. It became a Mancunian, surrealist, Dada hangout. We used to get our draw off this old couple of naturists called Ken and Maureen. You’d go round there to get your stuff and they’d be sat watching “Coronation Street” starkers. We found out they had a load of mad Polaroids of each other from the ’70s. It was weird—they had the kind of colour quality that looked like stills straight out of “Performance,” a film we had on loop at the time “Bummed” was being recorded. We ended up picking out a couple of pictures of Maureen for the inner sleeve. The original idea was to have one of Ken on the flip side, but he couldn’t find one he was happy with in time.

Paul: What was the selection process for the art used on the sleeves? Were the bands involved in the decision or other people from Factory?
Matt: We were always given total freedom, they never suggested anything to us. A lot of the sleeves were done from feeling. We grew up together—me and Shaun used to even try and bang the odd tune out on the two-string guitar that I had. We recorded a very early demo at Shaun’s nana’s house. We were family and literally in each other’s pockets, so when we showed them what we were doing, they immediately got it.

Paul: What is your favourite sleeve you created for Factory Records?
Pat: Mine’s gotta be “Bummed.” Another thing I always loved about that album artwork was the abstract painting on the back cover.
Matt: I mentioned “Delightful” earlier, but they are all my favourites and they’ve all got soul, you know? They’ve got a life, emotion, they mean something, they come from the heart.
Paul: Do you have an early memory of Levi’s® or how the brand was part of the Manchester scene in the ’80s?
Matt: When I was growing up, it was a big part of my childhood— the orange tabs in the ’70s and the zip-up hoodies. Then later on, I remember when I first went to America with the Mondays in 1989,
I bought a pair of rock-hard shrink-to-fit 501® jeans. I bought them in a 38″ waist and I’ve still got them to this day. I was probably a 32″, but I bought the 38″ waist as I wanted them bigger. I remember when I had them on, mates saying, “Oh, where did you get them from?”
Pat: Being a big Ramones fan, the 505TM jeans were iconic for us in the punk era. Probably for most of the ’80s, we were all walking around in paint-splattered 501® jeans. We were living the “art life.” Still do. It’s about the graft, putting a shift in, then being able to head straight out in the same clobber. Classic vintage workwear, a lot of American imports, have always been what we’re into. Levi’s® in particular always seemed to be about the quality, the materials, organic timeless stuff—to be lived in and kept. The more worn in and fucked up, the better.

Paul: What made you want to work on this project with Levi’s® Vintage Clothing?
Matt: Levi’s® has been a constant throughout my life. It relates to so many things—music, style, my brother’s record collection and the house I grew up in.
Pat: Levi’s® is just embedded in the culture—an ever-present. Also, your attention to detail and looking at the other Levi’s® Vintage Clothing projects you’d put together, we knew the artwork would be treated with the same respect that Tony and Factory had always given it.

While each iteration of Levi’s® Vintage Clothing is a labor of love, it’s fair to say that this season— which celebrates the Manchester acid house scene— was particularly special. With on-location photo shoots off-limits, we had to get creative.

Enter Ric Facchin, an artist and Mancunian
(that’s someone from Manchester!) who used all this newfound time at home to pick up a new hobby: model building. Rather than depict touristy landmarks, Facchin replicates the very heart and soul of Manchester: the local shops, the hole-in-the-wall takeaways and the graffiti-covered streets—
grime and all.