John Byrne brushes up for Shooglenifty album cover

John Byrne. Picture: Neil Hanna
John Byrne. Picture: Neil Hanna
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HE MADE his name in the 1960s and 1970s with his artwork for musicians including The Beatles, Billy Connolly and Donovan.

Now at the age of 75, artist John Byrne has returned to designing album covers after being approached by a band when they spotted him in the audience at one of their gigs.

Shooglenifty LP designed by John Byrne

Shooglenifty LP designed by John Byrne

Byrne offered his services to the “Celtic fusion” outfit Shooglenifty to help mark their 25th anniversary this year.

The globe-trotting group say they managed to persuade the artist to create the cover for their seventh album.

Edinburgh-based Byrne, who claims he is working harder than at any other time in his career, got straight to work and produced the finished cover before the album itself was completed.

Called The Untied Knot, the album’s cover depicts a couple dancing wildly, watched by a cat perched upon an amplifier.

The band returned the favour by agreeing to perform at the ceremony for the John Byrne Awards – presented by the actor Peter Capaldi – which the artist set up to showcase work by sixth-year school pupils in the city.

The Shooglenifty album will be officially unveiled next month at Edinburgh club La Belle Angele, where the group first played in the early 1990s.

It is the latest in a series of projects Byrne has worked on over and above his regular painting, including a mural for the ceiling of the King’s Theatre in Edinburgh and designing the sets for a recent revival of his play The Slab Boys.

A graduate of Glasgow School of Art in 1963, Byrne was honoured last year with a retrospective at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh.

He is arguably best-known for writing the classic television comedy-drama Tutti Frutti, about the troubled reunion of a Scottish rock band, which launched the careers of Emma Thompson, Robbie Coltrane and Richard Wilson.

Byrne had a long-time partnership creating record covers for his Paisley contemporary Gerry Rafferty, Connolly’s former bandmate in The Humblebums, who went on to become a major name his own right in the 1970s.

But it was The Beatles who gave Byrne his first commission for an album cover in 1968, the year after his first solo exhibition at Portal Gallery, in London, which had shown an interest in the artist after he sent them a painting using the pseudonym “Patrick”.

Rafferty wrote a song called in tribute to Byrne which began: “Patrick my primitive painter of art, you will always and ever be near to my heart.”

Shooglenifty’s announcement about the album cover stated: “John Byrne has quietly become a national treasure over the last couple of decades. To see The Untied Knot’s cover join the illustrious list of his album covers is a big deal for ‘The Shoogles’, who are all fans.”

James Mackintosh, the band’s drummer, told Scotland on Sunday: “I spotted him after the gig while I was at the merchandise stall and we had a chat. I asked him if would ever be up for painting an album cover for the band and he said he would love to.”

Byrne said of the Shooglenifty gig: “The music had such a great mix of different styles and influences, and it was impossible to stand still. They were all great musicians.

“It was nice to be asked to do the album cover.”