David Sylvian – Secrets of the Beehive

Author: Colin | Published: 21/2/10

David Sylvian - Secrets of the Beehive

David Sylvian - Secrets of the Beehive

David Sylvian - Secrets of the Beehive

David Sylvian - Secrets of the Beehive

Artist David Sylvian
Title Secrets of the Beehive
Label Virgin
Year 1987
Designer Design and typography: Vaughan Oliver, artwork: 23 Envelope, still-life photography: Nigel Grierson, portrait photography: Yuka Fujii
Music Elegant, acoustic, haunted.
Notes My original vinyl version of this album thankfully lacks the CD ‘bonus’ track Forbidden Colours, addition of which is an insult to the delicate balance of the original album sequence. More is not always better. Okay, end of rant. Hard Format has featured all too few Vaughan Oliver designs (see also: Scott Walker – The Drift and Scott Walker – Who Shall Go To The Ball? And What Shall Go To The Ball?). It’s a fact we intend to rectify in the hopefully not too distant future. Oliver’s typography and layout is typically lovely here. The record cover doesn’t provide any design acknowledgements, the credits above are gleaned from discogs.com. It’s still not clear who created the delightful illustration on the cover – Vaughan or Sylvian or someone else? It reminds me of the Quay Brothers, Breugel’s Fall of Icarus and autumnal trips to the seaside. It’s a beautiful design for a gorgeous album.


  1. I’m sure it’s Simon Larbalestier, who also worked with 23 Envelope on the first two Pixies albums & recent Minotaur box set. Surfer Rosa, in particular, has a similar feel.

    There was also a book of Sylvian lyrics done round about this time (Trophies), with the same design elements. Goes for a small fortune now.

    Comment by JulesLt — February 21, 2010 @ 7:41 pm
  2. hadn’t Oliver fallen out with Grierson (or ‘parted company’ at least) by this time? Looks more like Larbalestier’s handiwork for sure.

    Comment by kevin foakes — February 21, 2010 @ 8:04 pm
  3. The “illustration” is a photograph as credited to Nigel Grierson.

    Comment by Vaughan Oliver — March 2, 2010 @ 12:35 pm
  4. One of Mr. Oliver’s best, along with Clan of Xymox, This Mortal Coil’s Filagree & Shadow, and Modern English’s Mesh and Lace. When I saw him at a gallery in Kingston, he promised a thorough retrospective of his work with 4AD. Nothing yet but I keep my fingers crossed. And I still have the poster, Vaughan!!!!

    Comment by Conrad — May 15, 2010 @ 12:04 am
  5. I doubt the originality of your vinyl if it lacks the design acknowledgements… on my copy they are on the inner sleeve (under the bull figure).

    Comment by Petteri — December 6, 2015 @ 2:39 pm
  6. This is the collaborative work of Oliver & Grierson (who remained together until the year after this, FWIW). Larbalestier and Grierson’s work do overlap a bit during this time, so it is understandable to make the error.

    There are many design touchstones of 23e on display here. As a matter of fact, I may not have found this release at the time if not for the obvious relation to 4AD work. The 12″ version of this is truly the perfect representative of this release (as with most prime-era 4AD / 23e) work).

    In my vault of top-shelf aesthetic artifacts from these folk (along with Tokyo Salamander, RHP’s Down Colorful Hill 12″, the unreadable This Rimy River LE version and Lonely is an Eyesore box)

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