Martin Parr Illustrates Blur’s Latest Album

The Ballad of Darren, the ninth studio album by British rockband Blur, features a Martin Parr image as its cover.

The album artwork for Blur's 'The Ballad of Darren' by Undercard Studio. All images below from the series 'A8' © Martin Parr/Magnum Photos

Eight years after the release of their last album, The Magic Whip, the four-piece band dropped a surprise single, The Narcissist, two months ago, alongside news of a whole album due to be released on July 21. 

The image selected for the album’s artwork is one shot by Martin Parr of a lone swimmer on a stormy day at the Gourock Lido, Scotland, captured in 2004. It is the third album artwork to feature swimmers in the band’s lengthy discography, following Leisure in 1991 and The Great Escape in 1995.

Parr’s image is originally from a wider series, titled A8, and commissioned by architect John McAslan, who is known for his careful restoration and redevelopment of landmarks such as the Roundhouse and King’s Cross Station in London. 

The A8 is a highway connecting Port Glasgow to the towns of Greenock, Gourock and Dunoon. For McAslan, it is the area where he grew up, and together with Parr, he was eager to document the areas around his old childhood haunts.

Greenock Morton at home. Scotland, 2004.
Levan Gourock, Inverclyde, Scotland. 2004.
Cowal Highland Gathering. Dunoon, Scotland. 2004.
Mother Margaret with her daughter Rosemary. Port Glasgow, Scotland, 2004.

The series was shot in 2004. One year later, it was published as a newspaper by JMP Journal and an accompanying exhibition took place at Glasgow’s The Lighthouse. 

Parr photographed at local gatherings and sporting events, in tea rooms, grocery stores, scrapyards, and in the streets, documenting the communities living along the coastal road. It is, as described by McAslan in the introduction to a newspaper, “a celebration of life along the A8 corridor.”

Cowal Highland Gathering. Dunoon, Scotland, 2004.
Port Glasgow, Scotland, 2004.

The Gourock Lido, the oldest outdoor heated swimming pool in Scotland, was one of the locations visited by Parr on what happened to be a particularly overcast day.

“It was in the summer and you have the blue of the lido but there was the gray sky so familiar in Scotland,” Parr explained, speaking to the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland radio program this week. “I thought this was going to be a great backdrop. I just stood there for maybe half an hour, waiting for the right person to swim by.” 

Gourock Lido, Inverclyde, Scotland, 2004.

The artwork was put together by Undercard Studio, a creative studio founded and run by Matt de Jong and Jamie-James Medina. “On every project, we present multiple album cover options to the artist, but this was always our favorite. Jamie-James and I love Martin Parr’s work, so we were thrilled when the band liked this image as much as we did,” De Jong explains of the process behind selecting the image.

"A successful album cover should tell the same story as the album’s music."


“If you look at Blur’s original album covers, they are very British and quite fun,” De Jong continues. “We had talked through the album’s themes with Damon, so we knew how sincere this album was. We started pulling Martin Parr’s images of beaches and resorts and came across the Gourock pool image. There is a melancholy, yet uplifting feel to the album, so a swimmer fighting against the odds felt like the perfect accompaniment to the music.”

Parr’s image is available to purchase from the Magnum Shop as an 18×24 Collection Poster, priced at $60/£60/€70. The image is also one of many to be displayed at Glasgow’s Pollok House as part of Parr’s Think of Scotland exhibition, which runs until Sunday, August 27.

Blur’s album, The Ballad of Darren, is out now.

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