Tape Wyrm XXX: Interview with Derek Riggs Tape Wyrm XXX: Interview with Derek Riggs

By now, most people know I am into album artwork. I made this point clear when I make it a talking point for some of my reviews. Album artwork does not factor into an overall judgement to a tyrannical level, yet the visual packaging on an album is apart of the overall presentation. I am appreciative when bands take this craft seriously. There are some of us who love album artwork and follow certain artists like others would follow bands. Some of us are also crazy.

This is the first part of what I hope to be a concurrent series on visual artists in the metal world. I sent out multiple requests and got a few back. Derek Riggs was the first. Derek Riggs’ artwork has been seen on multiple Iron Maiden records during the 1980’s. The band’s mascot Eddie was created by Riggs and has since been used to this day. Riggs has also been working since the mid 70s and created artwork for numerous high profile bands. Imagine my excitement.

I was interested in how these covers were created. Just like when band members discuss exterior motivations and influences, visual artists operate in the same way. I wanted to know the stories behind these covers and possibly create a better way to say it besides “stories behind the cover.” I supplied five album covers and asked a brief reflection. These reflections could be however long or short unearthing stories tied to various pieces. I was ecstatic when I got a response form Derek Riggs as I know could take a short tour through his own history with now classic album covers.

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Budgie – Nightflight (1981)

Derek Riggs: This wasn’t originally a Budgie cover, I did it for a band called Hawkwind. I was working with the art director of CBS records in London back in the 1970’s and he had both bands on his roster. Then I discovered that Hawkwind wouldn’t pay people for doing artwork for them, they would use it and not pay. So I sold it to Budgie instead. I was trying to get the sci-fi hardware to look metallic, something I was having trouble with at the time. This was the first time I really got it to look hard and shiny.

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Iron Maiden – Somewhere in Time (1986)

DR: This picture took two and a half months to do, I got so involved with it that after two months I began day dreaming about where all the little people were going and what they were doing, so I had to stop for a week to get my marbles back. The picture is only 15 inches by 32 inches, which is not much bigger than the reproduced size. It got very intense. I was trying to do the portraits of the band, which are smaller than the face on a postage stamp. the Maiden office sent me some pictures of the band and the secretary said “why did you paint nico like that? it doesn’t look like him.” and I said “well it looks like the picture that you sent me” and she said “well I sent you an old picture, he doesn’t look like that any more.” And I was like… why the fuck did you send it to me if it didn’t look like him?” I mean… what the fuck? There is much more to this story in the book “Run for Cover, the art of Derek Riggs” which is available from my website shop.

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Bruce Dickinson – Accident of Birth (1997)

DR: That picture was Bruce’s idea, it was his puppet bursting out of a fat man’s chest. Not a great idea. At the time I was having trouble with painting. The paints are a bit toxic and they were upsetting me a bit, also I was fed up with painting. It was right after this that I went over to doing digital artwork. I was just really fed up with using paint. I had a very small room to work in and I had to make a choice between having an easel or a computer… so I threw the easel out and used the computer. The next picture was the puppet on a cross with a stained glass window behind it, and it was totally digital. This was right after I got myself out of all the contracts with Iron Maiden.

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Gamma Ray – Powerplant (1999)

DR: I was working on the artwork and halfway through (about two weeks into it) the secretary phoned me up and asked me how it was coming along, so I said “well I have the ancient temple on Mars and the eight fifty foot Egyptian statues done and the six flying pyramids are in place and right now I am working on the crowd of two hundred aliens praying to fangface.” She kind of went a bit quiet and then said “well I shall go an leave you to it then.” I could actually hear her brain melting down trying to take it all in.

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White Wizzard – White Wizzard (2008)

DR: I just kind of got on with this one. I thought that the standard wizard is just a bit boring so I spiced him up with some talismans and some red indian stuff as well.

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Tape Wyrm: What are you working on, in terms of art, at the moment?

Derek Riggs: I am trying to finish a CD cover for a guy called noodle who makes a kind of ambient rock guitar. It’s a blue Indian goddess, she is dancing through the universe pregnant and naked except for her jewelry, which is really bits of technology and she is abducting NASA astronauts as well. I am painting a little ghost for someone, and I am doing an oil painting of Eddie for one of the Maiden fans, and I am trying to get a collection of sci-fi pictures together to sell as book covers. I just sold a very old painting that I had recently come back into possession of and I am currently turning my art studio into a music studio because I fancy making some more music to keep myself happy.

TW: As far as art style, what were your main influences and interests growing up? Were you always into album covers or comic books?

DR: I got into all kinds of things. Everything from Renaissance art like Michelangelo and Da Vinci to 20th century art and surrealism like Dali and Max Earnst. I also like abstract art and cubism (Picasso and Braque). Then I like comic art of Jack Kirby and Berni Wrightson and the album cover art of Roger Dean. I was into everything really, the list goes on and on.

TW: Your work has a strong science fiction influence. I was wondering if you were a fan of the literary genre and If so whether or not you could recommend me a story to read.

DR: Yes, I like sci fi. I have read all sorts of bits and bob over the years. I can’t really remember the titles of most of it. Also I like some horror and a lot of factual stuff, also I have owned a lot of picture books over the years, stuff I use for reference when I am painting. That’s mostly natural history books with lots of pictures.

TW: You are famous for your Iron Maiden album covers and you must have discussed them at length. What is one cover you feel is great but is not given the attention you think it deserves?

DR: They all deserve more attention than they get… 🙂 I also deserve more attention than I get, because I am very important and very lovely.I deserve lots and lots of lovely, lovely attention. Honestly I should be put onto a pedestal and worshiped like a saint…what? Stop laughing!



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