LITTLE GOES LARGE
Boy’s Own’s long-standing artwork designer Dave Little defined the acid house flyer, enjoyed a rich semi-accidental comedy career on the side, and now finds himself creating graphics for key festivals, movies, and MAJOR stars. It's about time he got a big piece in the mag, so he sat down FOR A CHAT with Terry.
Boy’s Own: Where did you grow up, and how did your surroundings and influences lead you into the world of art and design?
Dave Little: “I grew up in rough Wallsend in Newcastle, till I was seven years old. We are talking Coronation Street houses with outside toilets here!
Then, my dad who qualified as a chief engineer on oil supertankers took me, my mum and brother round the world for two years on his ship Al Sabia. It was so huge you had bicycles at one end to peddle to the other. I crossed every major sea on Earth bar the Arctic. I remember loads visually, especially India and Singapore. Many of the British crew were young, so they had loads of old-school vinyl. This influenced me greatly, especially the American illustrated rock covers. I was drawing fully by the time I was five yrs old, odd stuff like suspension bridges and World War Two aircraft, very detailed for my age.
Did your love of drawing ever get you into trouble at school?
“Yup. I'd drawing cartoons and portraits of 70s pop and rock stars to pull the girls. They would let me off early to paint a school backdrop, I was allowed to handpick a few lads to help. I'd always choose the bullies. I never got bothered again at school, so a clever choice methinks!”
When and why did you move to London?
“Simply the art, fashion and music scene like anyone else who's creative. I was fighting every weekend up north. My Mum ran a second hand shop for a while, and aged 17 I was walking around in a perfect mint wool chalk stripe double breasted suit with a Terry Hall haircut and long keychain inspired by Blue Ronda à la Turk. It didn't go down well with the Farah-slacks sporting mustachio'd soul boys. Every Saturday night it would kick off on or off the bus…”
Tell us about your comedy cabaret act creation Geordie Gunter. Did he take over you for a bit?
“Ha! Ol’ ‘Lickenzeshaften’? There's no hiding from him. Watching a german porno, on LSD, at art college, I saw this blonde, crop-haired ‘tache sporting porn star and I couldn’t stop laughing.
Years later I did an impression to [cabaret organiser] Mickey Pallant. He said do it on his impromptu show on All Saints Road. The other act on the bill was the poet Murray Lachlan Young This led to personal performances at the Rolling Stones’ Parties, Elton John’s house and on the Lenny Beige show. On that, another act was Sacha Baron Cohen. He would rip his costume off and run into the audience to watch Geordie Gunter. He told me it was his favourite act, bar none. Hence I influenced the naked wrestling scene with his manager in his movie Borat."
When did you meet The Raid pairing of Bullseye and Speedie Duck AKA Starsky and Haisman?
“You were there Terry! You, Paul Dennis, Steve Maise, Andy Wetherall, Cymon Eckel and Gary Haisman turned up en masse at my flat in Shepherd’s Bush. You asked me to design the Boy’s Own cover! Plus Paul and Gary asked for the flyer and a forty feet wide ‘The Raid’ backdrop to be designed and painted. That's where Pete Tong cut his teeth, right? So my front room takes on a little place in history. Must say, you lot were all pretty full on back in the day. I was a tad wary if I remember.”
Those ‘cartoons’ became very much a style for pre-house posters and flyers, not unlike Mark Wigan’s work. Did acid house give your illustration a wider scope?
“Yes. I trained as a graphic designer and as a cartoonist-cum-illustrator. Very few people do all three disciplines. But as a result it led me to number one sleeves for Bomb the Bass and S’Express, and designing for Michiko Koshino. I was only 23!”
Tell us about your inspiration behind the memorable designs for Paul Oakenfold’s Spectrum.
“Well, Paul Oakenfold and Gary Haisman turned up at my flat after I had designed the Future flyer. Gary said, ”I want a great big fuck-off trippy eye staring out at you, and the phrase ‘heaven on Earth’.” That was my brief.
The border of the flyer was inspired by Rick Griffin, the Grateful Dead’s psychedelic artist. He did some of Ken Kesey's ‘happenings’ flyers in 1963-64. These were the worlds first acid parties. Way, way before Pink Floyd and the Beatles. I wanted to show the concrete link of over 30 years lineage, of the acid way of thinking. Also I personally wrote the phrase ‘Have you passed the acid test?’ on the back of Spectrum’s flyer. This was Ken Kesey's phrase on all his early flyers! Very few people spotted this.”
What are your own favourite designs, and the inspiration behind them?
“Mostly American and British illustration artists. Robert Williams, for example, who painted Appetite for Destruction. This was the painting’s name way before Guns ’n' Roses used its name and the painting for their LP release. Ralph Steadman (Fear & Loathing artist) and Gerald Scarfe Pink Floyd’s The Wall. I have originals from both artists, and Steadman liked my art so much he gave me a really expensive print for my birthday. It’s a shame illustration is now not the Grade A occupation it was back in my day, but it’s bouncing back I think.
What projects are you working on right now?
“I've had a great opportunity to be resident designer/artist at Secret Garden Party Festival. Working with its award-winning founder, and fellow artist, Freddie Fellowes is an amazing treat. He gives such freedom on anything from concepts illustrations for the web, posters, flyers and T-shirts, but is a very knowledgeable artist.
Also working in the movie world. I’ve designed for big budget movies and private work for Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp. I’m currently designing the logo for the Dr Dolittle movie, starring Robert Downey Junior. It starts shooting in February so I can't post up the design sadly. Plus new designs for the Boys Own Crew! Well, at least my designs have lasted the test of time.
Lastly, I’m working on my clothes label Rockers Delight, as I'm still a motorbike nut – more of that to come!”
See more of Dave’s work at his website davelittle.co.uk