Up there with the Nirvana baby and the Sticky Fingers crotch, the grayscale smoker adorning the cover of Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not is someone a whole lot of people will recognise without knowing exactly who it is.
Of course, the man is not a result of CGI or oil paint. He’s a real bloke called Chris McClure and on one boozy night in Liverpool, a drunken snap of him posing for the Arctic Monkey’s first album became indie’s Mona Lisa, a portrait slid into thousands of record collections the world over.
Chris, brother of Reverend and The Makers’ Jon McClure, was a student of sociology at Manchester Metropolitan University when then-bassist of the Monkeys, Andy Nicholson, gave him a call.
The premise was simple and unmissable: go on a night out, get drunk, have your picture taken and be a part of the artwork for our album. It’s a 19-year-old’s equivalent to a Disneyland ticket.
He recalled to the Guardian:
I went to Liverpool with a couple of pals. The band weren’t there; they were on tour. We met the photographer and assistants in a bar at 2pm. I said: “What do you want us to do?” They said: “Go out and get drunk – come back after midnight.” They gave us a wad of cash, literally hundreds of pounds. We were young and made the most of it. When I arrived back it was gone 2am. There was a venue below the bar and we did the pictures there, just me sat on a stool. They gave me more whisky and I threw up half way through. Everything was blurry.
That Monday, my phone never stopped. It was bonkers; like being dipped into fame. Everyone in the world wanted to know who I was. I worked part-time in a pub and I got a call from the landlord to say there were 15 reporters there looking for me; another five were outside my mum’s house.
The TV channel E4 asked me to present slots. The Daily Star offered me £10,000 to let a photographer follow me on a night out. They said they’d bring along a couple of models. When you’re 19, it’s not easy to refuse, but I didn’t want to sell the band out. I refused everything apart from interviews with Soccer AM and BBC News.
Chris said he would go to student house parties and see his image on bedroom walls. Clubs would offer him free drinks all night simply to appear as the WPSIATWIN emblem.
Backstage at the Lowry – where he used to work – he met Noel Gallagher who said, ‘I’ve got you hanging in my house!’
Today, things are a little less frantic. Chris now works with adults who have learning difficulties. Still, double-takes haven’t exactly gone out of the window.
I get the odd person saying they know me from somewhere but I shrug it off. I don’t tell people. I’m a creative person – I’ve been in bands and I’m writing a sitcom – and I don’t want to be remembered as just a guy on an album cover. I still see the band. Me and Alex [Turner] went to the football recently.
Arctic Monkeys released their sixth album Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino last month.
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