The Nice, 'Elegy' (1971)
This was the first album cover where we went away to a weird location. We told Keith Emerson, "Look, I want to take 120 red footballs to the Sahara Desert and take photographs of them. It's going to cost a lot of money." And he trusted us.
So we drove to south Morocco from Marrakesh with these balls that were deflated in cardboard boxes, and when we got there, we took out two bicycle pumps. Now if you've ever tried to blow up a red football with a bicycle pump, it'll take you about half an hour, and we realized this was not going to happen. Luckily, we were not far from a tiny place called Zagora, and there was a truck stop there. The guy there agreed to find some people to blow up the footballs, and when we came back at 6 o'clock the next morning, there were about 20 Arab boys aged 15 to 19, absolutely shattered. They'd spent all night blowing up the footballs and did about 40 of them. They said, "Would 10 dollars be all right?" We said, "No, have 20." [Laughs]
So we took the 40 red footballs into the desert, and gave the rest away to the kids. I began placing the balls as Storm was looking through the camera, and I'd taken a broom to brush away our footprints. It's hysterical now because today you just go straight into Photoshop and bang, they're gone.
But it was a magical moment. There was not a cloud in the sky. it was absolute perfection. Stillness. And the color on those red balls and the sun and that deep blue sky and the wonderful orange-yellow sand dunes just makes for the most perfectly calm shot. And, of course, it's called Elegy. Somehow, it summed up everything.
We took the photo at about 8 o'clock in the evening. We had to drive back at night through the desert to the place where we were staying in the dark. It was scary. But Storm and I had a bottle of whiskey with us to carry us from getting lost in the desert. It was really out there. But we were lucky.
When we got back to England, Keith just said, "This is the best album cover I have ever seen." And again, it wasn't a picture of a band. It was something radically different that represented everything Keith wanted. It was the first cover where people said, "These guys are different." It did a huge amount for our career.