The power of the pyramid and the mystery of the three circles
The application of geometric symbols was an important element of Barney Bubbles’ visual language.
As pointed out in Reasons To Be Cheerful, Barney’s use of symbolism throughout his career underlines his consistency of approach and undercuts notions of a clear division between his 60s/70s “hippie” work and that produced after joining Stiff Records in March 1977.
The presence of symbols also effected a “signature” for this artist who opted for anonymity and avoided credits in his later years.
A fine example are the three triangulated circles which surfaced in February 1980 as a tiny detail on the label for I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down, the hit single by Elvis Costello & The Attractions which inaugurated Jake Riviera’s FBeat Records. Next they appeared on the double A-side promo for the label’s second single, Splash (A Tear Comes Rolling Down) by Clive Langer & The Boxes, though were gone by the official release.
Thereafter, the circles crop up on releases by Costello and Nick Lowe up until Barney’s death in 1983. However, the symbol was not used in the label copy for releases by other acts on FBeat, including Lowe’s collaborative projects with Dave Edmunds in Rockpile such as Seconds of Pleasure or The Attractions’ “solo” effort Mad About The Wrong Boy.
So what to make of this repeated, if selective, use? The pyramid and triangle were sources of fascination in line with Barney’s interest in Egyptology and Norse mythology, as evinced by such projects as The Glastonbury Fayre and in various forms for Hawkwind and band-member Nik Turner’s solo projects.
In Christian terms, they represent the Holy Trinity, and in combination with triangles signify alchemy. Intersecting and tangental circles occur in Masonic mathematical calculations – Barney’s father Fred Fulcher was a mason and the compass, used to draw circles, is a key symbol in Freemasonry.
The three interlaced circles are also known as the Borromean Rings (since they decorate a particular Baroque palazzo on one of the three northern Italian islands owned in the 17th Century by the Borromeo family). A form of the link was used by the Vikings and is known as Odin’s Triangle.
The explicit use of this symbol during the FBeat period comes into focus when one considers Barney’s ongoing preoccupation with power – hence also the variants on crowns and other regal insignia. The strength in the three interlocked circles lies in their unity; if one is broken the potency is lost.
My interpretation is that the three circles – fuelled by the energy of the pyramid and imbued with multiple layers of meaning – represent the powerful interplay between Jake Riviera, Barney himself and the priority artists Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe: this was a time when management, design and music were all reliant on each other and firing on all cylinders.
Tags: 17th Century, anonymity, Appollonius Of Perga, Baroque, Borromean Rings, Clive Langer & The Boxes, Dave Edmunds, Elvis Costello & The Attractions, FBeat, Fred Fulcher, Freemasons, Glastonbury Fayre, Holy Trinity, Nick Lowe, Nik Turner, northern Italy, Odin's Triangle, pyramid, Rockpile, Sacred Geometry, Splash, Stiff Records, Symbols, three interlocked circles, Vikings, Xitintoday