Johnny O Rocket: Excellence in search of space
Like Barney, Johnny studied technical illustration and works closely with a select band of independent labels and groups, incorporating Barney’s legacy in his graphic design, light-shows, photography and concert posters for Trensmat and Rocket Recordings and sonic adventurers such as The Heads, The Notorious Hi-Fi Killers, Thought Forms and Cripple Black Phoenix Band.
Based in Bristol, Johnny first encountered Barney’s work via an introduction to Hawkwind as an avid vinyl collector in the late 80s, when acid house, shoe-gazing and grunge reigned in “a heady mix of distorted guitars and expanded oscillations”, to use his phrase.
“Nowadays, investigating the past is handed to you on a plate via the internet,” says Johnny. “Back then, I had to rely on older brothers and their friends.” One, by the name of Simon Healey, championed early 70s Hawkwind and in particular the first album Barney designed for the group, X In Search of Space.
“Wow, the music was Viva La Trance!, a driving, throbbing freak-out,” exclaims Johnny. “I couldn’t detect the ‘hippiness’ the post-punk period portrayed it as, and the cover was unlike anything I’d ever seen. I sat for hours listening, looking and absorbing. The design and music seemed so intertwined, and I’m not sure Hawkwind would have had quite the same power without Barney’s work.”
At the time, Johnny was a student on a technical illustration course, which would have struck a chord with Barney; his father was a precision engineer and the technical drawing he himself had studied at Twickenham art school (now Richmond Upon Thames University) was a major element in his output.
Johnny says he’d been accustomed to “a disciplined and geometrical but black-and-white world. Barney opened infinite doorways to the possibilities of the vinyl LP packaging format in all it’s multi-coloured glory. In Search Of Space’s artwork and log booklet are striking, graphic yet stark. It embodied an escape from the rigid structure of the engineered drawing I was studying, while still encompassing geometrical forms”.
Johnny describes the Trensmat covers – which came in three colour schemes in a nod to Barney’s multi-format approach – as a “collage”, bringing together elements from Barney’s covers, posters, inserts and booklets for ISOS, Doremi Fasol Latido, Space Ritual and The Glastonbury Fayre, as well as the die-cut elliptical puzzles contained within the booklet produced with his former Conran colleague John Muggeridge (who has the credit J. Moonman) for Quintessence album In Blissful Company.
“They are all amazing,” says Johnny, “not least because of the interactivity: the opening, the unfolding, reflective print, puzzles, shapes, allusions, the collage of BB’s influences – all of these reflect the consciousness of that period in music, something that is harder to replicate in CD packaging.”
Johnny’s light show for The Heads live.
In his work for Rocket Recordings, Johnny says he has attempted to incorporate this creative approach “by collaging different influences and techniques; be it for graphic design pieces, photography or light shows. I dabble with the same methods and draw from an ever widening circle of interests”.
And he is full of admiration for the way Barney adapted to the post-punk period. “He seemed to fit neatly into the DIY ethic, but simultaneously had the full multicoloured myriad imagination of the 60s,” says Johnny. “Hopefully I try and encompass those values.”
And Johnny has a theory as to why there is such a blossoming of interest in Barney’s work right now: “In the 80s the commercial environment surrounding cheaply manufactured CDs didn’t pay regard to consumer tastes in packaging, so the art-form was forced underground.
“The rise of download culture has enhanced a desire from those who oppose it to own music as part of a well-crafted and considered package which makes an artistic statement.”
Tags: 1969, 1971, 2008, acid house, art school, Cripple Black Phoenix Band, Doremi Fasol latido, Glastonbury Fayre, grunge, Hawkwind, In Blissful Company, Island Records, John Muggeridge, Johnny O Rocket, Notorious Hi Fi Killers, Quintessence, Sonic Attack, Space Ritual, technical drawing, The Heads, Thought Forms, Trensmat, Twickenham, UA, X In Search Of Space