The latest coin in our Music Legends series celebrates The Who, one of Britain’s most influential bands. The design takes the form of a pinball table in a nod to Tommy, one of the band’s most famous creations. We caught up with artist Henry Gray to talk about his own creation.
How does this differ from other designs you have worked on? What were the challenges?
“I’ve worked on several coin designs including the 2017 First World War Aviation £2 coin, and the £5 coin that celebrated 150 years of the British Red Cross in 2020. With every brief from The Royal Mint the subject matter is as diverse as it is interesting. The challenge with all of them is how to distil and communicate a unique narrative that makes the subject easily identifiable but prompts the viewer to look a little closer and discover more. “The design had to capture the bands musical flair and reflect the band’s image. The subject had to be instantly recognisable as The Who without actually showing the band.”
What sort of research did you do?
“Lots of reading and listening to music, lots of playing with ideas and sketch generation, and lots of photography and film-led image research.”
What was your inspiration for the design?
“There wasn’t a ‘eureka’ moment. After a lot of research, I identified a number of unique elements of The Who – the main one being ‘Pinball Wizard’, another being their habit of smashing up their equipment on stage (an act of auto-destructive performance art according to Pete Townshend). I began to test out ways of communicating these key concepts.”
Talk us through the different aspects of the design.
“Every graphic element communicates a different trait of The Who, including the band’s most frequently used icons: the Union flag, Mod logo and one of the band’s best-known songs. “
The design shows a stylised Rickenbacker guitar as a pinball table that is being smashed through a speaker stack. The guitar had to be a Rickenbacker because it was the first guitar Pete Townshend destroyed on stage. The way the guitar smashes through the speaker stack is reminiscent of the way he was captured in photographs stabbing at and smashing up his equipment.
“The Union flag has always been used by the band in promotional material but more than that, they used to use it as a set dressing, as a costume, and even as a speaker stack covering. And it had to be about ‘Pinball Wizard’ because I think that, although it’s not necessarily their most famous song, it is one of the most recognisable for fans and more general music lovers alike.”
Henry Gray’s design features on The Who 2021 UK Coin, which is available in a number of editions, including precious metal Proof editions alongside a standard Brilliant Uncirculated and a colour-printed Brilliant Uncirculated edition. To find out more about the band or view the Music Legends collection click here