Kaotican Alphabet

Art history #1 (Safety EP)

The first of a new series of interviews with the designers of Coldplay's artwork

Welcome to the first in a new series of interviews here on, where we’ll be talking to the designers behind the band’s single and album covers, trying to find out the stories behind them.

We begin with Coldplay’s very first release, the self-funded Safety EP, of which only 500 copies were released in May 1998. Its cover was designed by a friend of the band, John Hilton. Read what he has to say about it below this nice, big picture of the cover…

Hi John. So you designed Coldplay’s first two covers.
I did, yeah. The Safety one and the Brothers & Sisters one.

How did you meet them?
I was friends with Jonny from school. In fact, I was in a band with him in sixth form. When he moved to London for university, I moved to Birmingham to do an art course. They started doing their band stuff and I’d come down to visit them in halls of residence. I was doing photography at the time, so I was taking lots of photographs of them when they first started.

And how did you come to design the Safety EP cover?
My course was a commercial art course, so I asked if I could do a cover for one of my projects. And they were happy to do that. At the time, nobody really thought they were going anywhere, so nobody was that bothered!

Where is that photograph from?
It’s just a photograph that I took of Chris. Just a really blurry picture. And the Safety bit actually came from the little bit of writing on the top of the camera film. I just dropped the negative down and it came out on the print.

Is that where it got its title from?
I think so, yeah. They were happy just to leave it there. So the name came from the picture.

Where’s the picture of Chris from?
Probably from a gig at the Laurel Tree, in London.

Is it deliberately blurred?
Well, there were just loads of pictures, all in black and white. There were blurred ones and sharp ones, but that one just looked nicely weird. I suppose at the time, I was justifying it as trying to capture him moving around the stage and being all crazy. And it also it fitted in with that dark, Radiohead-y thing that everyone was into at the time.

Did you create the Coldplay logo too?
I can’t actually remember who did that. But I might well have done.

Did you have other ideas for that cover?
I think there’s a sketch book somewhere full of other ideas. There were even more Brothers & Sisters. I’ve got a whole notebook somewhere where Chris and the boys have written comments on each picture, saying things "No, I don’t like this one, it’s too spooky" or whatever. And then eventually we’d narrow it down to the one that they liked.

Were they taking the band quite seriously by this point?
Oh, definitely. At the time I did think they were going to get big, and I was telling all my mates at college about them. I remember when they did start making it, I was like "See, I told you!" It did always seem like they’d get somewhere. I’d go up with them to In The City or whatever to help put up posters and that sort of thing. It was obvious they were really good, but whether you got that lucky break or not was another thing. Happily, they did.

Were they demanding about the Safety EP cover?
No, they were quite easy with that one. The second one was a bit more difficult.

The Safety EP itself is worth quite a lot of money now.
Yeah. And guess what, I haven’t got any! At the time my dad was telling me to ask for loads of them, but I thought that’d be a bit crass! But I used to take a few copies round in my portfolio when I was trying to get work as a graphic designer. They’d started to get big by then and it was a really good way of getting jobs in design places. My two are not the most amazing covers, obviously, but they did help me get some jobs! But as a consequence, I broke all the CD cases that I had and the CDs themselves got pulled out and put in different places, so I’ve ended up with none.

It’ll cost you quite a bit to buy another.
Apparently so. I’ve heard they go for £800 on eBay.

But you’re not very proud of the cover?
Actually, I like the Safety EP one. It’s not a brilliant photograph by any means, but the reason I like it is that it’s a photograph by a kid at college of some kids at college and they went on to be a really big band. So, in that way, I’m really chuffed about it.

Look out for Art history #2 (Brothers & Sisters) soon…