Back

Secret’s Out

"Since its inception in 2012, Secret 7” has used 35 tracks, made 3,500 one-of-a-kind record sleeves and raised well over £175,000 for a variety of charities"

In 2011, Kevin King walked into the RCA Secret postcard sale – original, postcard-sized artworks by internationally acclaimed artists, anonymous until you part with your cash – and inspiration hit. What if he were to do the same, but with vinyl? And thus, Secret 7” was born. The project combines music, art and design, taking seven tracks from seven prolific musicians and pressing each one 100 times to 7” vinyl. They then invite creatives from around the world to interpret the tracks in their own way and create one-of-a-kind sleeves. Seven hundred of these are exhibited before they go on sale on a first-come, first-served basis, priced at £50 each. And the secret part: you won’t know who designed the sleeve, or which song it’s even for, until you’ve paid. It’s all about the sleeve cover.

Sleeve designs for this year’s Secret 7″ exhibition and sale

Since its inception in 2012, Secret 7” has used 35 tracks, made 3,500 one-of-a-kind record sleeves and raised well over £175,000 for a variety of charities, including Art Against Knives, War Child, Nordoff Robbins, Amnesty International UK and this year, mental health charity Mind. The artists and musicians involved are some of the most prominent around, with tracks from the likes of Elton John, the Rolling Stones, John Lennon and St Vincent, and artwork by David Shrigley, Gilbert & George, Sir Antony Gormley and Ai Weiwei. This year will see tracks from the Clash, London Grammar, Eurythmics, Manic Street Preachers, Primal Scream, Jeff Buckley and Jimi Hendrix.

Working on the project with King is Jordan Stokes, and between them they have wrangled this whole project into existence. King explains: “I was working at Universal Music when I had the idea. We were doing fundraising for the Teenage Cancer Trust through things like cake sales and a (particularly painful) Three Peaks Challenge, but it was a visit to the RCA postcard sale that really got me thinking. I was introduced to Jordan during this time, and we’ve worked on Secret 7” together from the beginning. Jordan manages the creative direction, and I do a bit of everything, from securing musicians, to managing PR, exhibition layout and design, and manning the exhibition. Jordan lives in Sydney, which has been a bit of a challenge, but I think we have a brilliant, almost telepathic, working relationship that makes it all possible.”

It’s the sheer size of the project that’s eye watering, especially on learning that King and Stokes manage it all alone. “Finding time to sit and actually plan the show is the thing we would like more of ”, Stokes says. “The time that we’re both awake and available gets less and less all the time due to other commitments.”

The project first began as a two-day show, but quickly ramped up to a month-long event. This, King explains, is down to the space that they’re afforded. “We’ve started programming a variety of events to complement the exhibition. At Somerset House in 2015, we had rooms that were perfect for talks and film screenings. Sonos Studio in 2016 had a soundproof room that we could record people in and cut it to vinyl. The musicians and tracks feed into different events, too. A Max Richter track we used was off an eight-hour album called Sleep, so we decided to host a little sleepover.”

This year’s event will take place at The Jetty on Greenwich Peninsula, a unique spot on the banks of the Thames that serves as a tranquil floating garden and a hub for the local community. And one that houses many a cultural activity, something the Peninsula is gradually becoming known for. The on-site kitchen and bar, Vagabond will offer a menu inspired by the seven tracks, and there will be a poster-making station, among other activities; all in connection with Mind and mental health in an effort to expand awareness through art and music. King says that he believes that vinyl’s increasing desirability is not just down to nostalgia, but also “by its inconvenience in that it demands we listen with fewer distractions” – a suitable match, then, between this project and Mind. But also one that reflects the buzz of the artists that bring The O2 to life, and the importance of the arts across the emerging Peninsula community.

It seems that Secret 7” is happily influenced from every angle, by the location, the charity and the tracks. King says that when planning the show they will usually try to select a shortlist of diverse music tracks first. From there, they begin to make label requests and “continue shaping the shortlist as we get the thumbs up or down from musicians, right up until we have a complete line-up. It’s a long and hard process that happens six months before the project launches.”

He explains that even selecting the charity often comes down to their link to art and music, “or sometimes they just really resonate with us in terms of what’s going on in the world and with our own lives”. The project is a collective affair, though, and King stresses that “it’s important to us that anyone can submit artwork, and that a student or music fan can sit proudly and equally alongside a very famous artist. We also encourage experimenting with different media and the notion of what a record sleeve can be. In the past we’ve had sleeves made of wood, felt, metal, even Lego. And we are very lucky that many who contribute continue to do so year after year.”

Looking forward, we can only expect Secret 7” to get bigger and bolder, but King explains, “We can’t really see further than this year’s show at The Jetty right now. Though next year, we’ll be heading into our seventh year, and seeing as we love that number we’ll probably aim to do our most ambitious show yet.” Regarding his favourites, he says two sleeves always stand out: “Non-Format and Boneface – they were both done for the Sledgehammer track in 2015 and, side by side, they beautifully encapsulate the essence of the project, in that two people can interpret the artwork for one song in such wonderfully different ways. Non-Format encased the record within a concrete sleeve, while Boneface created a fully packaged toy figure.”  But when choosing for yourself, they both advise visitors to go with their instincts. “It’s great if you love it, no matter who it’s by,” says Stokes.

For a show that started out with such a bang, it’s unclear how they could get any bigger. In their first year they had David Shrigley; in the second, Elton John, who had dedicated a gig in China to Ai Weiwei, who in turn agreed to design a sleeve. Gilbert & George also came on board through a friend of a friend, so who knows what King and Stokes have in store for next year.

The exhibition takes place from 8-23 June at The Jetty on the Peninsula. Sale day is 24 June.