Virgin’s world domination – blame Barney Bubbles!
A 12-year-old trade magazine clipping has revealed that Barney Bubbles even played an (admittedly indirect) role in the formalisation of Richard Branson’s business interests, with one of his invoices setting in train the perma-grinning bearded entrepreneur’s journey to worldwide domination.
An issue of US music industry weekly Billboard published in 1998 carried a special section celebrating Virgin Records’ 25th year.
Among those interviewed was Ken Berry, seen by many as the architect of Virgin’s financial framework and by the time of the Billboard feature, president of EMI Music. But back in 1973, Berry was a 21-year-old drifter keen to break into the music industry.
Berry recounted asking Virgin co-founder Simon Draper on his first day about the new label’s royalty payment system. “Simon said, ‘I don’t know but I’ve got something here,’ and he pulled a piece of paper from his desk. It was this yellow invoice from a guy called Barney Bubbles – he used to do the album artwork – and Simon had written various numbers on the back. These were the various royalties we were supposed to pay people.”
This was doubtless Barney’s meticulously prepared invoice for the design provided for Kevin Coyne‘s incredible double album Marjory Razorblade, one of Virgin’s earliest releases following its debut in May that year with Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells.
Marjory Razorblade contains many of the late Coyne’s greatest songs, including his musing on his time as a psychiatric nurse House On The Hill, the single Marlene and the storming Eastbourne Ladies (championed a few years later alongside tracks by Peter Hamill, Can, Big Youth and Neil Young by Johnny Rotten on Capital Radio’s summer 1977 broadcast A Punk & His Music).
Another client of Barney’s, Wreckless Eric, recently played a set of Coyne songs with his partner Amy Rigby and Coyne’s son Eugene in Germany; Eric says they might do some KC songs when they’re in the UK this spring – a must-see we reckon.
And Coyne seems finally to be receiving the widespread recognition he deserves with the release of a I Want My Crown, an anthology of his work between 1973 and 1979 for Virgin.
So, the next time you’re waiting for a Virgin Train, working out at a Virgin Active or checking your Virgin Mobile bill, think of Barney’s small part in the transformation of a scruffy hippie label into a global business empire.
Tags: Amy Rigby, Billboard, Eastbourne Ladies, Eugene Coyne, Gong, Johnny Rotten, Ken Berry, Kevin Coyne, Marjory Razorblade, Mike Oldfield, Peter Hamill, September 1973, Tubular Bells, Virgin Records, Wreckless Eric