How to design a Book and other stories
William Nash, Out-Take & Stu
In early 2001 I got a call. I was running late for a meeting, and I debated whether to pick up the phone. I did and a voice at the other end said, “Do you want to design the best rock ’n’ roll book this century?”
I did. This is not the sort of offer a book designer gets everyday.
The voice belonged to William Nash who for over a year had been gathering material for a tribute to the Rolling Stones founder member, piano player and road manager for over two decades, Ian Stewart. We arranged to meet up, discuss the project and started to look though the text and photographs – all original prints.
Over the next 18 months we sorted through a wealth of material, listened to taped interviews and viewed scores of photos from all the great band photographers from the 60s through to the mid 80s. This was to be the only book with contributions from all surviving members of the Rolling Stones, their close friends and family and many other 60s and 70s music royalty. Much of the material was previously unpublished and most had been donated to the project – such was the love and admiration for ‘Stu’.
From the concerts behind the Iron Curtain to early recording sessions at Abbey Road and a lot of behind the scenes images, we had so much material. The challenge was deciding what to use, we reached 432 pages and, while we knew we had to sadly cut some amazing contributions, the book was a full and complete. Among the content we also had access to Ian Stewart’s own photographic archive. A keen amateur photographer, Stewart always had a camera with him and 24/7 access to the Rolling Stones’ world. From the earliest gigs to huge stadium tours, the turbulent history of the Rolling Stones gradually emerged … Now, how to make it into that “best rock ’n’ roll book of the century”.
The book was to include a specially commissioned screenprint portrait of Stu by Ronnie Wood, not only a band member but, by now, also a widely collected artist. The print was signed by Ronnie and printed in 12 workings at Bernard Pratt Studios.
Meticulous storyboarding every page was the only way to make sense of the sheer quantity of content. Every photo, every piece of text and every interview transposed to text were then cut out and gradually the book emerged. Spread by spread we worked out the pacing of the book. I then took the rough, half-sized, page spreads and laid them out in a very early version of the latest design Apple Mac software InDesign.
We had decided against distinct themed chapters as people’s lives don’t work like that, so we worked at pacing the book by varying the amount of text and imagery to give an enjoyable reading experience.
We also had some amazing artefacts including Stu’s diary from the early 60s; tickets and passes from his life, which we had photographed by a top packshot photographer, Graham Price. We used these as cutouts throughout the book, in many cases at actual size, which gave a three dimensional quality to some of the pages. Having got so immersed in the content the most difficult section to design was the material around the private wake at the 100 Club. Held in great affection by everyone, he had died suddenly from a heart attack in 1985. Getting to know Stu so well through the development of the project, I felt a genuine sense of loss.
Then came the technical decisions. Given how photography changed over the time span of the book, from all black and white in the early days, to colour later on, even the quality of the colour film changed during this time. The pure grayscale against the colour looked very thin and cold so we made the decision for the black and white images to be reproduced as tritones made up of black, a deep brown and a very pale yellow. We developed the exact formula to be applied to every black and white image throughout the book with the pre-press geniuses at BAS Printers in Salisbury, our chosen printers for the book.
Then came the paper, bright white wasn’t right as it didn’t let the colours ‘sing’ and uncoated would not give a good base to keep the images sharp. In the end we opted for a semi-coated 200gsm Hello silk paper, a more natural paper colour than bleached white. The silk gave the photos a print-like finish look to both in full colour and tritone photographs. BAS ran a few full wet proofs on the correct paper to ensure the tritone formula and colour worked when on the slightly warm paper.
We knew that BAS were specialist printers and we wanted the same eye for quality and detail when it came to the binding. One cold damp autumnal day we travelled to Smith Settle bindery in Otley, North Yorkshire. They had a reputation as some of the top book binders, producing one-off specialist museum-quality bindings, to more commercial limited edition runs for The Folio Society. We spent the day surrounded by swatches, ribbons, leather and marbled endpaper samples. Eventually, we arrived at the specifications for the book, the portfolio for the print and the slipcase to house the two. We also commissioned the hand-marbled endpapers from the highly talented Ann Muir. We gave her some colour swatches that fitted with the book and the binding header ribbons and a sample of the sort of swirling we wanted her to use.
Much later that year, after more than five weeks on press, with William signing off every section of the book before it was printed, the text blocks were finally completed. Gathered into 950 book blocks, they left Salisbury and were shipped to Smith Settle for the binding. The first bound copies were shipped in 2003.
A rare and highly collectable book and print package, it is a beautifully produced tribute to a lesser know, but highly influential member of the Stones. In 2022, to mark the Stones’ 60th anniversary, we were able, once again, to release some more copies.
Sadly, Will Nash died in November 2023. I lost a good friend and exciting collaborator. I will always fondly remember and appreciate all the things we did together. The meals at The Bluebird Club in Chelsea, Cricket at the Oval and a gig at The Blue Note Club in Greenwich Village among many. Then there were proposals for Duran Duran and Bob Dylan and an especially memorable trip to meet celebrity photographer Michael Halsband (michaelhalsband.com) in his New York City studio. He gave Will and I access to his amazing archive of photos. Immersed in an extraordinary collection of photography, surrounded by world famous images, including the Warhol/Basquiat session, stopping for mid-morning Chinese tea ceremony, naturally.
Photo © Michael Halsband