At a crossroads in 1986, Maiden had come off a string of three huge albums as well as a career-punctuating live spread that has now entered the history books as one of the greatest live albums of all time. Live After Death was in fact one of the first records from the '80s allowed to join what was a club of records exclusively of the previous decade, namely albums from the likes of Priest, Kiss, UFO, Ted Nugent, Blue Oyster Cult, Thin Lizzy and, er,... Peter Frampton. However unanimous they are on Live After Death's spit and fire, fans debate the merits of the band's next proposal, Somewhere In Time, many calling the album belabored. Much the same can be said for Derek's cover art — the Somewhere In Time sleeve was positively exhausting to look at, and then, flipped o'er to the back... well, you'd be hard pressed not to go blind studying the thing. "The preliminary meetings for this album, for designing this, were done in Amsterdam," recalls Derek. "It was specifically to talk about this cover, and we ended up in a hotel talking about it for three days. And I just thought I would get out for a walk and look at the canal things. Because it's quite small, and the canals sort of wind around in a decorative way. So I was wandering around, wandering up the street, daydreaming, and suddenly this big pair of lips came up at my side. And I jumped! And I turned around, and saw what it was — there was a black girl in her underwear, with bright red lipstick on, and she had a red light above her window. And what happened was, she jumped up, and because I was walking past the window, all I saw were these big red lips coming at me like this (laughs). And suddenly I realized I was in the red light district in Amsterdam. So that's where the woman comes from on the front (look to Eddie's left ankle) — a remnant from the red light district in Amsterdam."
"But that was the first acrylic one, because I got sick of watercolors. They just weren't performing. But you can't airbrush acrylics very easily. They've all got shortcomings. Watercolor, you can't paint over anything. If you're using watercolor, you can't paint on what's underneath, so you have to airbrush. Acrylics don't really go through an airbrush very well. So you have to paint, which is okay. But then you can paint over things if you mess them up, so that's OK. Oil is probably the best thing, but they don't dry very quickly so it's not any use. These have to be done in three or four days or a week."
Continues Derek, getting into the details, "Somewhere In Time was a
complicated picture, but I never felt that the actual picture... it was so complicated, it all gets lost; it falls down a bit there. All the jokes are my idea, like the reflection in the window that says 'This is a very boring painting.' Occasionally someone would come up with an idea for an actual picture, but the brief for this one was, we want a city more like the Blade Runner city rather than something like Star Wars. They wanted a science fiction city. Sol worked with that brief and created a picture. I had put in a bunch of well-known starships like the U.S.S. Enterprise, but they didn't want to get sued so I had to take them out. But I did manage to squeeze in Batman — this is three years before the movie came out. He's on the back, standing on a ledge, which is just above the Powerslave cartouche."
Derek continues his tour of Somewhere In Time's frenzied — and kind of chicken-scratched — profusion of detail... "Webster's — that's for Charlie Webster; I'd forgotten all about him. He was the art director at EMI, when we were doing this cover. This Cyrillic above the words Pizza Hot, I think it says sour milk in Russian, if I recall correctly (note: this might also refer to yogurt, or something short and to the point to designate a store that sold milk and other dairy products, in Russia). The Chinese there... I copied it from a Chinese or Japanese magazine, and it was an advert for zit cream. I copied it, I wrote it down, and a friend of mine, who is Chinese says, Why did you write that in there?' I said, 'I got it out of a magazine.' And he says, 'Do you know what it says?' And I said no. And he translated it for me, and said — because a lot of Chinese is based on context — As far as I can tell, that says: Danger, yellow bikini.' (laughs)."
And in another instance of fate, guess what Eddie happens to be wearing.
"And Eddie's got a nuclear-powered willie," continues Derek, pointing out the biohazard sign on Ed's crotch-plate. And the cramped hand rising from the lower right? "That's a joke! It goes way back to Creature From The Black Lagoon. Now, the Creature From The Black Lagoon, the original black-and-white thing, was done in 3-D. He comes out from the lagoon and he kind of rips up somebody's tent and kills them. That shot, from the Black Lagoon, all these victims, they've all got one hand like that. They're lying on the ground and they've all got one hand sticking up like this. And it's a joke amongst horror fans — always that hand. So that's what that is. And Eddie's actually in the pose that toy soldiers take up. That pose was always used by soldiers or cowboys. I never really knew why they were standing like that, because they weren't actually doing anything. Why is he pointing his gun at the ceiling, dad?' 'I don't know, son.'"
And that space age toaster trailing Eddie? "That's his spaceship; it's what he rides around in. It looks just a bit peculiar — I just wanted a little buggy."
Adds Derek on the busv text seeminglv everywhere, "I just wanted lots of logos. If vou go around town, it's all company logos. So I had to invent company logos, in order to make it look like a town. Bradbury Towers, that's a statement, not the name of the building — Ray Bradbury Towers. See, in Blade Runner, the building that he's in, I think it's called Bradbury Villa or something like that. It's referring to that; it's a science fiction joke."
The name Acacia refers of course to 22, Acacia Avenue,
and below that, "That's the very first Iron Maiden poster there. And right in the middle on the front, that's the lamp post from the very first cover, complete with sign and garbage can. It all feeds back on itself. Icarus is falling off the top of that building on the back. There's some Jewish — it's God written in the shape of a man, deep mystical stuff; Jews pick up on it. That would be Caballic stuff."
And Herbert Ails?
"There's a song on Piece Of Mind called To Tame A Land, and it's about Dune. They phoned up Frank Herbert and asked if they could call the song Dune, and Frank Herbert said, 'No, you can't call it Dune. And you can't do anything based on my book, because I think rock 'n' roll is decadent and corrupt.' So they put Herbert Ails, as in, Herbert's not very well (laughs)."
And they've got the football scores there, and Live After Death and Blade
Runner showing at the cinema; Phantom Opera House, as in Phantom Of The Opera. Ruskin Arms, that's the pub they used to go to, and Rainbow, that's The Rainbow pub in LA. L'Amours is in New York. Hammerjacks is a nightclub in Baltimore they used to go to. There's the TARDIS from Doctor Who. Doctor Who flies around in a time machine called a TARDIS (time and relative dimensions in space). The time machine had a chameleon circuit to make it blend in with the background, but he landed in 1960s London, and it disguised itself as a police phone box, which were around in 1961 or something. But the chameleon circuit broke and it got stuck as a phone box. So he's flying around in a time machine that looks like a 1961 phone box."
"There's Fireball XL5, which most people don't remember — this had all the spaceships in it, didn't it? Jerry Anderson had Thunderbirds and Stingray, and one his early ones was called Fireball XL5 and it was a rocket ship. The one before that was called Supercar. You have to get one of the DVDs; they were brilliant, better than Star Wars (laughs). And that big thing there, that's a pyramid, and we've got death floating around, and there's the Tyrell Corporation in the background. That's the name of the corporation in Blade Runner. They're the company that makes the clones that Harrison Ford is trying to shoot. The Mekong Lives In LA. is written just to the right of that. The Mekong is in Dan Dare, a science fiction comic book from the 1920s, 'Dan Dare, pilot of the future.' You don't know Dan Dare, pilot of the future?! Good God, man, culturally deprived! (laughs)."
Derek Riggs's original scetches for the Somewhere in time cover
Continuing the tour, Derek points out that, "this is whiskey in Yiddish and that's Bruce with a brain. They told me to paint portraits, and they complained because they didn't look exactly like them. Hello? They're inches tall. They're the size of postage stamps (laughs). The whole painting would have been about 15 inches high by about 32 inches long. Powerslave is 23 inches, I think, because that's as big as a sheet of board as I could get, so that would have been probably 23 x 26, and we would have had to trim it down to make it square, or just paint blue at the top or something. But yes, there's Sanctuary Music Shop. There's an HMV store, because they were signed to HMV. There's Gypsy's Kiss, which was Steve's first band. There's the Spitfire from Aces High, so there's the Aces High bar over there. That's a flying saucer, a UFO..."
"And with Eddie," says Derek, getting back to the core of the busy shot, "the whole concept was that it carried on from one album to the next, which is why he kept the artificial eye and all the things that happened to him. I just like rolling him on like that, seeing what you could do with him next, which parts you could keep."
Other interesting tidbits include the clock set at two minutes to midnight, the football score with West Ham naturally ahead, a namedrop for Philip K. Dick, who wrote the book Blade Runner was based on, Nicko's Iron What? T-shirt, the Eye Of Horus, the cat with halo, the Asimov Foundation building, and Tehe's Bar, the place where the band copped some backup vocalists for use on Heaven Can Wait.
One wonders if Somewhere In Time had put Derek close to a nervous breakdown. "I don't have nervous breakdowns," counters Derek. "Despite what some people might think, I'm quite stable (laughs). No, but that wore me out quite severely. I was living in London at the time, and working on that for two months, and it took three months in all. I just had to stop, because I had had enough. It got into my head and I just couldn't see anything else. I couldn't think about anything else. It did my head in, because there're all these little details. I started hallucinating, and in the end I was just sitting there and daydreaming about what each character was doing. All these little people, where were they were going? What did they do with their lives? I just had enough of it and stopped for two weeks in the middle. But I don't have nightmares and then paint them. It starts and stops on the canvas — usually. But that one was very intense, when you're working at that rate for that long with that much detail... pretty intense bloody work getting that done."
Derek next peruses some original sketches he had done for a dramatic live presentation cyber-Eddie to go with the theme of the record. "These were done for Dave Lights. I don't know what his real name was. Everybody always called him Dave Lights, just to differentiate him from Dave Murray, the guitarist. But he used to take my pictures, and he would... well, I would do him sketches like this, and he would take it and turn it into a Busby Berkeley musical set. He would take it and he would build it and build and once or twice I did backgrounds for him. But the rest of it, all the light shows and the sets and the giant puppets all came from his head — all that stuff. I don't know what happened there, but he's not with them anymore. I think he burned out or something."
Derek Riggs's scetches made for Dave Lights
"A bit of a compromise was Wasted Years," laughs Riggs on Somewhere In Time's first single, which pre-empted the album's release by a month. Despite its strangely precise look, the medium for this one is Derek's usual at the time — gouache — but the piece actually looks sort of digital, given its compositional elements.
"If you look at Eddie — that's such a departure from the last time," notes Derek. "For Somewhere In Time,
Eddie is stripped down as a robot. Now this was a difficult single, this Wasted Years. We had to have something that had Eddie in it somehow, but we didn't want to preempt the album look of Eddie. Because it would take the shock away from what we did to Eddie, right? We didn't want to give away the game before we started. So we were stuck, for what we could do. You try illustrating Wasted Years. What do you do? If you put four guys on there playing guitar, and you put the title, Wasted Years, it looks like they've been wasting their time playing guitar. If you have a picture of Eddie chopping people up, it's like, he's been wasting all these years chopping people up; what can you do? Whatever you do, it turns it into a negative."
Illustrations for the Wasted Years single
"So we said, we couldn't use Eddie too much, because it was such a radical change to Eddie, that even giving a bit of Eddie away, wed kind of blow it. So, I think, Rod said what about using him as a reflection in something, so you could only see part of his head. So you can't really see what's going on, but it's still got Eddie on it. So we played with that for a bit, and we said, what about a time machine? You know, wasted years/time machine. And that was the only idea we could find that could work properly, and fulfill all the specifications of what we needed to do with it. It's got a TARDIS in it again, that spaceship that looks like the police phone box. So it's a duffer. It's a technical illustration of a keyboard of a time machine (laughs), with Eddie reflected in the window, because it was the only thing we could think of, that wouldn't give Eddie away, which fit Wasted Years, without becoming a kind of self-defeating illustration."
|illustration for the Stranger in A Strange Land single||Illustration for the Somewhere on Tour poster|
"Stranger In A Strange Land was the second single, after the album has been released," says Derek, this classy and epic track emerging in November of'86, two months after the issue of the album proper. "They wanted Eddie in that bar in Star Wars. So I knew I needed the bar in Star Wars, but I did him as Clint Eastwood. And it's the scene... you know, Clint Eastwood walks into the bar, and there's two guys playing cards, and one of them pretends to reach for the cards, but you know he's really going to reach for the gun, because this is the bit where Clint Eastwood shoots them all, and doesn't incur any bullet holes himself, somehow. You know, he's the stranger with no name, the stranger in a strange land. It's even got Clint Eastwood's physique, if you look at it, plus the little cigarette thing and everything. Fist Full Of Dollars might be the actual movie, and I mixed the two up and made them work together."
Indeed the picture works splendidly. Derek demonstrated his mastery of the medium, turning in a symphony of color, but one that was lit challengingly and properly, the upper quarter of the piece being of particular merit. And Eddie? Well, if he was threatening Mr. Riggs with a teeth-clenched "Make my day," Derek would soon raise him one, before shooting holes in him and suspending him in vapors for Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son and sundry pieces more whacked than the last
This material is taken from Derek Riggs's book "Run for Cover"