January 2016 was a strong month for Death in the music industry: Mott The Hoople’s drummer Dale Griffin, Glen Frey of The Eagles and of course, the great David Bowie, all passed away this month.
Notching up one more on Death’s tally sheet last week was Andrew Johnson, brother of Matt Johnson (the central and only constant member of The The). Johnson had the rug pulled from under him by a brain tumour. He was 57.
Matt Johnson writes:
“Back in April 2012 – the same week his youngest nephew was born – Andrew was diagnosed with a particularly aggressive type of brain tumour. He was given approximately 6 months to live. Yet he continually confounded his medical team by outlasting their predictions – he got his driving license back two years after the original prognosis and even bought and rode a new racing bike.
It seemed like he was getting back to his old self and he and I excitedly hatched plans for collaborating on a new book project of his artwork.
Yet, ultimately, this was a battle that just couldn’t be won and Andrew passed away last Monday morning. His family were with him all the way through and he was surrounded by loved ones until his last breath.
I never knew the true meaning of the word stoic until witnessing first hand the way he dealt with this horrific disease. Not a single word of complaint or self pity was uttered throughout his ordeal. Whenever I’d tell him how brave I thought he was, in typical Andrew fashion he’d just say “bravery and courage have nothing to do with it as they involve a choice but what choice do I have but to just deal with it?”
Anyone who knew Andrew will remember not only his huge talent as an artist and his perceptiveness and loyalty as a person but also his wicked, dark sense of humour.
He and I had a very intense, complex relationship and we shared a childhood filled with creativity and fun. We also shared plenty of arguments and punch-ups over the years too!
Andrew was, and will always remain, the single biggest influence and inspiration upon my life and career.”
Andrew Johnson’s work graced many of The The’s album and single sleeves upon which he was credited as Andy Dog. Infected [Tidal] was the second Matt Johnson album to be issued as The The but the first to blow this writer’s adolescent mind to smithereens; I can still picture myself at 14, listening to it behind headphones plugged into a Sansui AU-217 integrated amplifier, the needle dragged by rotations of a Dual 501 turntable.
Inextricable to the vinyl listening experience – especially in the pre-CD era that was 1986 – was the album’s cover art. And Infected‘s cover art was not just different, it was extraordinary.
To wit, Johnson’s artistry adorned the sleeves of singles birthed by the long player – Sweet Bird Of Truth, Heartland, the title track and Slow Train To Dawn – each of which maintained the album cover’s style, equal parts repugnant and violent. The cover art for Infected’s 12″ single featured a masturbating devil. Complaints (presumably from non-independent record store chains) forced The The’s record company (Some Bizarre/Epic/CBS?) to re-issue it but with a cropped (read: censored) version but not before a run of t-shirts were already out the door.
The Johnson music-art collaboration didn’t start with Infected. Andy Dog’s name and artwork also appears on the single sleeves that predate the first (official) The The album, my pick being Perfect. Also check out the two different takes of Soul Mining [Tidal], the US version later transplanted to the Giant 12″.
For reasons unknown – perhaps one of those brotherly punch-ups (?) – Matt Johnson didn’t tap his brothers talents for Mind Bomb and its singles but Andrew Johnson turned in some of his most memorable work for follow-up Dusk.
This is the day (sorry) then to remember not just the big names but also the little guys who contribute more to the experience of home listening than we might have recognised at the time. Pour a coffee and sit down with Soul Mining or the Shades Of Blue EP.
Nerd note: for an optimal listening experience, I’d recommend digging around for the original CD masters instead of the hotted-up 2002 remasters whose crushingly low dynamic range renders them close to unlistenable on high-end systems. Unexpectedly, Tidal offers both versions of each album. Appropriate to our theme here then, look for the ones with the original artwork, not the re-issues with Johnson’s face. Better still, get the vinyl for maximum Andy Dog artwork appreciation.
To many a fan, myself included, Andy Johnson’s artwork was as fundamental part of the The The experience. Long may he be remembered for that.
Further information: The The