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.

Detail from label, I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down, FBeat XX1, February 1980.

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.

B-side of From Head To Toe, Elvis Costello & The Attractions, FBeat, 1983.

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.

Triple gatefold cover, the Glastonbury Fayre, Revelation, 1972. Advert, Frendz 33, 1972.

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.

"Pyramid power": Cut and fold inserts, The Glastonbury Fayre, Revelation, 1972.

The three overlapping circles convey many meanings,  drawing on the potency of Sacred Geometry as well as the work of “The Great Geometer” himself, Appollonius of Perga.

From advert for Xitintoday by Nik Turner's Sphynx, NME, April 22, 1978.

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.

Left: Symbol for the Holy Trinity. Right: The Borromean Rings.

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.

Left: Alchemical sign. Right: Odin's Triangle.

More recently, three interlinked rings have been employed to define business leadership and corporate management structures.

Contemporary versions used in sociology and management models.

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.

What’s yours?

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7 Responses to “The power of the pyramid and the mystery of the three circles”

  1. J.B. Taylor Says:

    Thought you might find this Robert Indiana print relevant to the post:
    P.S. Still loving this blog : )

  2. Paul Gorman Says:

    That’s spot on Jennifer.
    Check those all seeing eyes…love the colours as well.
    Glad you like the blog – book launch in LA coming together for September at a great venue.

  3. Paul Gorman Says:

    I forgot – the three interlocked rings were also John Bonham’s chosen Led Zep symbol – some have said that it represented him, his wife and their newly born son Jason. Robert Plant noted that it was also the logo for Ballantine beer…see here for more on Bonzo’s Circles:

  4. Paul Gorman Says:

    Take a look here:

    Contains info and an image of the Vesica Pisces symbol which appears on the Glastonbury Well – formed by two interlocked circles. This is also found at important ancient sites, including Stonehenge and the Great Pyramid.

  5. Mike Miller Says:

    Also Dirty Looks’ logo is similar. Three triangles each representing one member of the trio put together to make one triangle in a circle.

  6. Paul Gorman Says:

    Gotcha Mike.
    I hadn’t gone there yet because the covers of the DL singles Lie To Me and (in particular) Let’s Go bear the hallmarks of another Stiff designer, Chris Moreton – the latter really smacks of the work he did with The Beat that year and their label he designed, Go-Feet.
    Another thing to check but great spot….

  7. Nic Taylor Says:

    Great post! There’s a book by a mathematician named Michael S. Schneider called A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe. Each chapter highlights a number (1-12), and ties together art, geometry, religion, natural phenomena, biology, etc to give a full view of the power of numerology and structure. It’s fascinating.

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