Observations: From 'Houses of the Holy' to the culinary danger-zone
Friday 05 February 2010
He may have eaten sheep's testicles in Afghanistan and baby seal in the Arctic, but what has really traumatised Stefan Gates, presenter of BBC Two's Cooking in the Danger Zone, is the cover of Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy, which was released in 1973 when Gates was just five years old. The ten blond juveniles in this cleverly constructed collage were in fact only two – Stefan Gates himself and his older sister, Samantha. It's an image that the now middle-aged food journalist describes as having "followed me around for my entire life. I am scared of it... and I do feel there is something bad in there."
Gates was too young to remember much about the shoot on the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland in November 1972. His Radio 4 programme, Stefan Gates' Cover Story, is his attempt to exorcise the childhood experience. Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey 'Po' Powell, known collectively as Hipgnosis, designed album covers for the Seventies rock aristocracy. Dark Side of the Moon is one of theirs, as is Animals. Houses of the Holy was the first of four for Led Zep.
Gates describes himself as "quite anxious" as he knocks on Powell's door in west London – a feeling I know was being reciprocated on the other side, because Powell is a neighbour of mine. "I was slightly apprehensive as well", he says."The last time I saw Stefan, he was this naked little boy on a rock. So I wasn't quite sure what to expect... some terrible confrontation perhaps. In fact the first thing he said to me was 'Oh, I expected you to be wearing a dirty old man's raincoat'..."
Powell is quick to stress the different attitudes of the time. "You couldn't possibly do that album cover now... But you've got to put this in the context of the time. I came out of the peace and love movement where everybody danced on acid and ran around naked."
The shoot took place over five cold, wet days. As if the poor light and driving sleet wasn't bad enough, they ran out of greasepaint to colour Stefan and Samantha gold and silver and resorted to using car spray paint. "Their mother was unaware until she saw us hastily washing it off with turps in the bath".
Powell sold the artwork back to Led Zep two years ago. "Look...", he says, passing a box of coasters embossed with his design for Dark Side of the Moon. "I also sold my artwork back to Pink Floyd and they've made beer mats out of it, which has pissed me off. Do these rock stars need the money?'" We agree that nobody is likely to make coasters out of Houses of the Holy. The cover's very content may actually be what keeps it sacred.
'Stefan Gates' Cover Story' is on Radio 4 on Saturday at 10.30am
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