Green Sleeves, The Irish Printed Record Cover 1955-2017
Opening at the National Print Museum tonight is Green Sleeves, The Irish Printed Record Cover 1955-2017. This exhibition examines the Irish-printed album cover. Included album covers were all designed and printed in Ireland. The work was completed for Irish groups, who worked at home or abroad, as well as albums from abroad referencing Ireland or Irishness. The collection dates from the late 1950s to the present day and covers a wide range of musical and non-musical genres. Arising from the increase in popularity of the vinyl record, the Irish print industry saw an increase in companies solely devoted to album covers in the 1960s. This business flourished for two decades before declining along with the vinyl record in the 1980s. Yet even with the decline in production and sales, the vinyl record and the album cover have both persisted, and have seen a revival of late. Despite selling in much smaller numbers than its heyday, the format has proven remarkably resilient and album covers continue to be designed in Ireland.
The album cover developed first as a means of protecting and promoting the various record formats, whether 7 inch single, EP or LP record. As the nature of albums changed so too did the album covers. For example, the compilation album, an album of songs not intended to be a single work, arrived in the 1950s. The concept album, a collection of albums expressing a theme or idea, appeared afterward in the late 1960s. Records inside album covers were usually held within sleeves – originally these were generic paper or plastic covers used to avoid scratches. By the 1970s however, they evolved to specially designed printed sleeves, which would contain additional information and song lyrics. Each iteration brought with it different requirements as well as cover sizes. As time progressed the demands of musicians and record labels saw considerable experimentation in the form of the cover itself. For example, gatefold was employed – an oversized cover folded to the record’s standard size, along with other innovations. This gave more area to experiment with artwork and text. The cover became a piece of art and design in its own right.
By the 1960s there were over 150 printers in Dublin alone, supported by a workforce of thousands. Apart from these, a smaller number of companies were involved in printing record sleeves, both of Irish and international musicians. Most of these companies were based in Dublin or on the Irish eastern seaboard. The market for record sleeves started to grow. The packaging company Dakota Ltd. purchased the smaller Earlsfort Press in the 1960s to concentrate mainly on producing record sleeves for the Irish music industry. The 1980s, however, brought about change. In the printing industry, multinational computing corporations based in Ireland contracted local companies to produce their computer manuals. So great was the demand that large parts of the printing industry were occupied with the supply of manuals. This lead to a reduced capacity in Ireland for record sleeves printing, at a time when the record format itself was under threat from another direction. By the mid-1980s sales of tape cassettes rivaled those of vinyl records. Then a newer format, the CD (compact disc), arrived towards the end of the 1980s, marking another shift. The demand for vinyl records and album covers declined swiftly. Since then almost all album covers for Irish groups have been printed outside of Ireland.
Green Sleeves is curated by Dr. Ciarán Swan and Niall McCormack.
The exhibition runs from 5 May until 1 October 2017 at the National Print Museum.
Admission is free of charge.
Exhibition sponsored by MCD Productions.