Wud Wud! When Barney got the (Chilli) Willis…

Thanks to photographic ace and all-round good chap  Tom Sheehan for this splendid Chilli Willi And The Red Hot Peppers poster.

Poster. Chilli Willi And The Red Hot Peppers, 1972. (c) Tom Sheehan Collection.

This portrays the band’s founders Martin Stone and the sadly long-departed Phil Lithman in footloose minstrel mode, in line with their appearance on the inner sleeve of Barney-designed debut album Kings Of the Robot Rhythm.

Detail, 12in inner sleeve, Kings Of the Robot Rhythm. Phil Lithman and Martin Stone. Photo: Daisy Grinchin.

12in paperboard sleeve, front and back, Kings Of The Robot Rhythm, Chilli Willi And The Red Hot Peppers, Revelation Enterprises, 1972.

Label, Kings Of the Robot Rhythm.

Detail from permissions/rights label copy.

In Tom’s poster, they’re not such a skip and a jump from the space-hopping character (a self-portrait?) Barney included in his artwork for the same year’s triple album The Glastonbury Fayre.

Detail, artwork, The Glastonbury Fayre, Revelation Enterprises, 1972.

Kings Of the Robot Rhythm was the second release on Revelation Enterprises, the label launched by Barney’s former Friends colleague, music editor John Coleman, to raise funds to pay off the debts from the previous year’s festival (at which Stone’s former band Mighty Baby performed).

Poster detail, 1972.

South Londoner Tom recounts how he became a fan of  the Willis during a spell working first for the parks department and then The Star & Telegraph in Sheffield – and loved to replicate the “Very Amazing Cut Out N Colour Me In” bowtie Barney provided on Kings Of The Robot Rhythm’s charming insert.

12in brown paper insert, Kings Of the Robot Rhythm, Chilli Willi And The Red Hot Peppers, Revelation, 1972.

This gloried in the recommended hues: “Colour me ruby redneck” is the instruction for the rail on which the cowgirl rests, and “acupulco gold”, “blue bird blue” and “juke box emerald” are just a few of those suggested for the sun rays.

“I traced around it and made ‘bowties’ for me and my friends to wear to Willis gigs,” says Tom, one of Britain’s highest rated music photographers.

Insert detail, Kings Of The Robot Rhythm, 1972.

Note how the insert’s desert horizon is recalled in the landscape on the drumhead he painted for the Willis’ drummer Pete Thomas a couple of years later.

Drumhead, 1974. (C) Pete Thomas Collection.

Tom is also the proud possessor of a number of original Willis stickers; in Reasons To Be Cheerful, the band’s manager Jake Riviera points out how successful these were at spreading the word about the band at grass roots level in the early to mid-70s.

Stickers 1973-75. (c) Tom Sheehan collection.

Barney produced a number of variations, along with badges, cards and posters. 

Three stickers and a badge, 1972-74.

There was also Up Periscope, the proto-fanzine  and newsletter to which Willis fans could subscribe.

"The Atom Age Good Read": Masthead artwork, 1973.

Barney also created  posters  (in the style of Continental transport designs of the 20s and 30s.) for the hard-touring musicians (one year alone, Chilli Willi performed 370 gigs). These contained spaces for promoters to insert venues and dates.

"By night and day here these weirdos come to play." Gig poster, 1973.

In 1974 Chilli Willi released their stirling second album Bongos Over Balham via a deal with Charisma associated label Mooncrest/B&C.

A4 artwork, Chilli Willi And The Red Hot Peppers card, 1972.

In January 1975 the band was added to the bill of the Naughty Rhythms package tour with soul/funk ensemble Kokomo and the dynamic Dr Feelgood.

Naughty Rhythms roundel, 1975. (C) Tom Sheehan Collection.

Barney produced the delightful artwork for the tour, including the cheery banana lady whose tailfeather-shaking  is accompanied by the phrase “Wud Wud”.

“That was such a Barney touch,” says Naughty Rhythms booking agent Paul Conroy.

We’re grateful to Tom – who came to know Barney once he started working for the music press  in the mid-70s – for giving us an opportunity to celebrate this wonderfully eccentric and sorely overlooked British band.

Wud Wud!

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

5 Responses to “Wud Wud! When Barney got the (Chilli) Willis…”

  1. Will Birch Says:

    Absolutely riveting. This is a book! Did Tom ever photograph the Willies?

  2. Paul Gorman Says:

    Over to you Tom.
    I was lucky enough to be a regular at the Wickwood Tavern Camberwell from Feb 78 when I first met Tom, Del Tap Dancer, Mad Pat Collins, Frisbee Neenan, and the rest of the chaps who changed my life

  3. Mark Lungo Says:

    Barney must have liked that little “Electrically Recorded” blurb from the Chilli Willi label, because it later showed up on the Stiff label.

  4. Paul Gorman Says:

    Yep though it appeared before he arrived at Stiff early in 1977 (by which time they’d been going a good six months) so it’s as likely to be one of Jake R’s (or something they cooked up between them).
    That’s one of the fabulous aspects of their partnership; it’s sometimes not possible to establish where Jake’s wordplay and marketing vision ends and Barney’s wily ways begins. Guess that’s what makes it magical.

  5. Victor Marsillo Says:

    I’m curious, was “Up Periscope” ever published? I see that you have the masthead artwork featured here, so I thought I would ask! I’ve been trying to track this down for years to no avail. Any help would be greatly, and sincerely, appreciated.

Leave a Reply