When Chris Barker made his first cover version of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 2016, he couldn’t imagine it would become a year-end tradition. Since then, every beginning of December, this British art director publishes on his Twitter account a collage with the famous deceased and winks to the main events of the year. After the 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 editions, this Wednesday, December 2, the Briton shared his 2020 version with the label #sgtpepper2020.
Chadwick Boseman, the interpreter who plays the Black Panther; Dave Prowse, actor behind the mask of Darth Vader and Sean Connery, the eternal James Bond, preside over the “pantheon of those who left”, as defined by Barker. Deciding who will be among the honorees is not an easy task: “I try to include as many people as possible,” he tells by video call to Verne. “They are people who have made an impact in the world, who have influenced me personally, and there are also those who just can’t stop putting, they have to be there.”
In addition to celebrities, some of the moments that have marked the year are also present. For example, a painting by George Floyd appears next to the phrase “I can’t breath”, recalling his violent death at the hands of a policeman in May.
The coronavirus pandemic is also present this year. All of the honorees wear the mask, which has been, according to Barker, the most difficult when creating the image. In addition, on the ground you can see hundreds of stripes that represent those who died from covid-19. As he often does every year, Barker uses the success of his version of the cover of Sgt. Pepper to encourage donations to charities. This year, due to the pandemic, the art director asks that donations go to the NHS (the UK National Health Service) or to any other entity that helps in the care of sick people.
Barker also wanted to highlight Biden’s victory and the end of the Trump administration. At first, his composition for this 2020 had a burning background (to remember the fires in Australia) and he preferred not to place references to the winners of the elections in that catastrophic scenario. Then came what Barker calls “the funniest time of the year”: Trump’s lawyers’ press conference at a landscaping company. “The surreal backdrop is the icing on the cake to the nightmare that the Trump administration has been,” he says. Thus, at the bottom of the collage, you can see the closed door of the Four Seasons Total Landscaping with the magnate’s electoral stickers.
A very different year
In 2020, Chris Barker got to work earlier on his montage: “In previous years it started in November. This year, I started in September because I knew I would need time to get it right. ” Masks were the main reason. His first idea, he explains, was to represent the pandemic with the distancing between people, but that would make the final image huge. Finally, he opted for the mask. This year he also made a mistake: one of the 108 deceased, Chris Kelly, passed away in 2013 and not in 2020. “I probably saw him on a list. [de fallecidos este año] and I added it, ”he explains.
In order to make the characters more easily identifiable despite wearing half their faces, Barker was much more careful when portraying them. “Some people have elements of their clothing that help us recognize them, but for some, the face is all they have. [Este año] there has been much more work to put together faces and bodies to form the final version ”, explains the author, who also had to think about what type of mask each would wear.
Barker assures that this year he has had another added problem: deciding when to publish the image. “I’m in the habit of posting it earlier, but I didn’t want it to be too early and having to update it later.” The 48-year-old Briton recalls that in 2016, after presenting his first version of Sgt. Peppers, Leonard Cohen and Carrie Fisher passed away.
This year, shortly before its publication, Barker was forced to add two of his main characters. One is player Diego Maradona, and the other is Dave Prowse. “I had to put it there because of all the cultural significance of Star Wars and Darth Vader, and on top of that, he’s already wearing a mask.”
Trump’s defeat, the closing of a cycle
Every year Chris Barker tells himself that he won’t be doing any more covers of The Beatles, but he keeps imagining how he would do it every time an artist, politician or athlete passes away. “When September comes, October, people start sending me messages asking if I have seen that such a famous person has died,” he says.
“I definitely won’t be doing it next year,” he says amusedly, even though he’s not entirely sure about it. “I have a feeling that I could finish the project now and it would be complete. Trump’s defeat is the closing of a cycle, “he says. However, he considers that if he wants to do another version next year, he will surely find a new reason to do it, since the world is not, as he says, “only good things all the time.”
Below you can see the versions of Sgt. Pepper that Chris Barker has performed from 2016 to date:
The story behind the cover of ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band ‘
For anyone dedicated to professional design like Chris Barker, the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) is one of the basic classics, played countless times. The well-known pop artist Peter Blake and Jann Haworth were its creators. They surrounded the Beatles with personalities and celebrities of all kinds; from Edgar Allan Poe and Oscar Wilde to Bob Dylan and Marilyn Monroe. They went on to win a Grammy with this proposal, which illustrated songs like With a Little Help from My Friends and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.
At the end of the 60s, the hippie movement was on the rise and the band had already embraced it in their lifestyle and in their music, composing songs like I’m the Walrus that they would release weeks after releasing this album. They decided then to create a fictitious band under the precepts of psychedelia, called in Spanish the band of the club of the lonely hearts of Sergeant Pepper.
Also, this design work has been linked to death before. A conspiracy theory He has claimed for decades that Paul McCartney died in a car accident in the 1960s and that a stunt double has since taken his place (assuming his musical talent is easily imitated).
Some want to see in the image the staging of the singer and bassist’s funeral. For example, the position of the Beatle looking straight ahead is different from that of the rest of his companions, who are surrounding his body, tilted. In the ground area there is a low-shaped flower crown.