New exhibition salutes iconic album designer

A legendary graphic designer who worked with some of the biggest names in rock and pop is to have his incredible career highlights exhibited in his hometown.

The Andie Airfix Exhibition will launch at Warrington Museum and Art Gallery on Saturday, 3 February.

Andie Airfix, who grew up in Culcheth, collaborated with the likes of Paul McCartney, Metallica, Def Leppard, Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin over four decades before his death in 2018.

He was revered in the music industry for his iconic album covers and other treasured memorabilia such as tour programmes and posters.

Now Andie’s extraordinary but little known story and a retrospective of his work is coming to Warrington thanks to Andie’s brother, Tony McGuire, who is upholding his legacy.

Andie’s interest in music artwork began as a teenager when he used to create his own alternative front covers for his dad James’s classical LPs when the family lived in Culcheth Hall Drive.

But after travelling around the world and a brief stint as a teacher, he actually fell into the music industry by accident after working at Country Cousins nightclub and gallery.

The owner, a well-connected and intuitive entrepreneur called Christopher Hunter, took an instant liking to Andie’s paintings from his time in India and gave him a job as an exhibitor and then venue designer.

After that, Andie was hired to revamp London’s renowned Blitz Club and it was at these venues he started to meet influential people from the record industry.

His first big opportunity came when new wave band the Thompson Twins told him they weren’t happy with the artwork for an upcoming record. Andie stepped in and gave the trio a new image for what would become their breakthrough record, Quick Step and Side Kick.

Word quickly spread about Andie’s talents and by 1983 he’d created a fresh image for Def Leppard with a striking, incendiary, convention-breaking cover for their diamond-certified album, Pyromania. He also worked with the band on their huge 1987 follow-up, Hysteria, which went on to sell more than 20 million copies.

Tony, Andie’s brother, said: “Andie had this unique ability where he could talk to a musician, they could tell them what their thoughts were for a record cover or tour programme and then he could match that in print.

“That’s why he wanted to get really involved with the artists, as well as the management companies, because he had this incredible ability to represent the ideas that were in their heads.”

Andie’s career then began to really pick up pace in the early 90s. Within the first half of the decade, he’d teamed up with Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney and Guns N’ Roses on artwork for their tour programmes and began a long partnership with Metallica by designing their Binge and Purge live album boxset.

Tony added: “We were constantly amazed at these things that kept turning up in Andie’s life and Andie was as surprised as we were that he was getting a massive amount of work and respect from all these superstars. He always said: ‘I’m really privileged to be able to do this’.”

Other later highlights included Live Aid and Live 8 DVDs while Andie’s projects on the likes of Concert for Diana and Disney Symphonic Fantasy showed he could turn his hand to other types of concert work.

But Andie’s favourite collaborations were with Led Zeppelin on the cover for their untitled live DVD and with Paul McCartney when he was entrusted with designing a boxset for a collection of music videos, live performances and rare footage from the icon’s solo career and Wings days.

Paul sent Andie a personal note to thank him for his work and the Beatles legend even mentioned Andie by name when he was interviewed by Billboard Magazine – praising him for his innovative artwork and the effectiveness of the ‘eye’ motif on the striking cover of The McCartney Years.

Tony said: “I thought what an accolade for a star like Paul McCartney to not only know the name of his graphic designer but to mention him in a magazine. Somehow there was this instant click of recognition and mutual respect between Paul and Andie. Andie had this ability of not being starstruck by people.

“He’d talk to musicians as if he’d known them a long time. It was his personality and the way he was which opened doors for him as much as his talent for design.”

Andie’s long friendship with Metallica’s Lars Ulrich was proof of this. On a professional level, Andie enjoyed creating album covers for the band such as Garage Inc and S&M but he would also hang out with them all over the world.

Highlights included following Metallica to Berlin for VIP treatment at their renowned S&M show with a full orchestra at Velodrom in 1999, and then in 2014 he was side of stage when the band headlined Glastonbury.

When Andie’s mum, Mabel, died, Lars even paid for him to be flown to San Francisco first class to take his mind off things.

Tony added: “Lars often described Andie as family. He was not just someone who did the graphic design for the band. They really got to be good mates. They were almost like brothers and when they were together they were a crazy pair.”

Now Tony is looking forward to raising awareness of Andie’s work in the area he grew up in.

Andie was pretty modest about his achievements and brushes with fame but Tony thinks the time is right to introduce his work to new audiences such as young designers who can look back at an era when album covers were meticulously hand-drawn.

Tony said: “There were challenging times and it could be stressful because there were always deadlines. But he told me it was a pleasure to work for these people.

“He said: ‘I would never have thought in my wildest dreams I’d be in the same room as people like Paul McCartney, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page but here I am working with them and going down to the pub with them’.

“But Andie didn’t want any of the accolades that were thrown at him. He just said: ‘No, I’m the album cover designer. That’s enough for me’.”

The Andie Airfix Exhibition is free to view at Warrington Museum and Art Gallery and runs between 3 February and 31 March