By Shane Buettner
“Concept album” only begins to describe Murray Head’s remarkable 1972 debut Nigel Lived, which my record label, Intervention Records, has reissued as an “Artist-Approved” 45th Anniversary Edition on 180-Gram vinyl. There is a deep story behind this LP release.
Nigel’s cover art, gatefold and book, which represent the fictional Nigel’s diary, are truly crucial to Nigel’s story. Murray in 1972 was coming off a smash hit on the British charts with “Superstar” from Jesus Christ Superstar, along with major successes on stage (Hair) and screen (Sunday, Bloody Sunday). It’s no surprise that Murray’s debut album would be a project that would combine all of his dramatic talents.
Murray didn’t just write songs about someone named Nigel leaving a small town and finding fame and fortune in 1960s London before succumbing to addiction and despair. Murray wanted more “realism.” Much like the “found footage” device clever filmmakers employ today, Murray wrote a diary for Nigel, which is then “found” by Murray the minstrel, who put the life to song.
Murray’s concept for Nigel is beautifully illustrated in the jacket and the 8-page book in the gatefold interior, which juxtaposes heart-wrenching pages from the diary with the lyrics for the entire album. While Susan Ellis Jones is credited with the cover design, Nigel’s 8-page diary is credited to Murray who supplied the photos in the gatefold interior.
Murray believed this jacket art treatment was so important to the Nigel’s story that when CBS balked at incurring the extra printing costs Murray agreed to alter his deal, lowering his points on the album!
As no original art elements survived, Intervention’s art director, Tom Vadakan, restored the art from carefully prepared high-res scans of the original UK jacket. Weeks of cleanup and tweaks were required. Stoughton Printing worked just as tirelessly, identifying paper stock that’s a dead ringer for the original diary, save for being heavier, and worked for hours on press to get all the colors just right.
This boutique process is finished by printing as an “Old Style” gatefold, printed first as flat, heavy paper then adhered to heavy gatefold “blanks.” The front and back are film laminated for a beauty and longevity. Murray is thrilled with the final product, agreeing that he could have only dreamed of achieving this quality level in 1972 for mass market.
I sent an original U.K. LP to my partners at Dorado Music Packaging, who used that LP to spot match the center label colors to the original. This is the kind of authenticity that’s required at every step for serious vinyl reissues.
For mastering the original recording engineer Phill Brown supplied his own 1/4” 15-ips analog masters. Kevin Gray at CoHEARent Audio mastered 100% analog at 45 RPM over two 180-gram LPs, which were pressed at RTI. As a single 33, side 2 was originally over 27 minutes, which undoubtedly forced sonic compromises in cutting.
Thanks to all of this obsessive attention to detail by all parties, Nigel Lived isn’t just reissued but reborn in 2017, on his 45th birthday!