Aura revelations

The record label Aura is mentioned in Reasons To Be Cheerful, though there wasn’t sufficient space to go into detail on Barney’s designs for this relatively obscure and now collectible indie.

“I remember Barney occasionally working for Aura in the late 70s and early 80s,” says his friend Brian Griffin, who provided an image for the cover of England’s Trance by Placebo (not the mid-90s Swiss/American glam trio). The design credit on the 1982 album reads “Photography Consultants”.



Meanwhile Barney’s assistant Diana Fawcett contributed two sleeve designs to REASONS as examples of his work for the central London-based company (whose single packaging featured a convex upper lip on the envelope front).

During the late 70s Barney’s music workload was focused at Stiff Records, Radar and Chiswick, though from time to time he would make room for commissions for other independents such as Aura, Charisma and Chrysalis.



Founded by producer/photographer Aaron Sixx, Aura is best known for having released the work of US avant-jazz performer Annette Peacock.

Her career had been put on hold when she was bound by a contract to David Bowie’s management Mainman (which also looked after Iggy & The Stooges, Dana Gillespie, Jobriath, Mick Ronson and, yes, even Lulu). Freed from this set-up,  Peacock signed with Aura and promptly unleashed such critically acclaimed albums as X-Dreams and The Perfect Release

Recent years have witnessed a revival of interest in Peacock. Her track Pony featured on Morcheeba’s Back To Mine compilation and just last year she collaborated with Coldcut.



Aura was home to other maverick talents such as Nico and the great Memphis rock & roller Alex Chilton – in 1978 Sixx released a clutch of 1974 recordings by Chilton’s group Big Star as The Third Album (also known as Third/Sister Lovers).


Front cover, Kizza Me by Big Star 1978.

Front cover, Kizza Me by Big Star, 1978.

Big Star’s previous album Radio City had featured The Red Ceiling by the group’s Memphis friend, the celebrated photographer William Eggleston, who also played piano on the version of Nature Boy which appears as a bonus cut on later editions.

The band’s working title for their third album Sister Lovers was a reference to the fact that Chilton and drummer/vocalist Jody Stephens were romantically involved with Eggleston’s cousins, Lesa and Holliday Aldredge. Their respectively fractious relationships proved the wellspring for many of the darker album tracks. 

Jody said this week that he knows nothing of the genesis of the Aura cover, in which a model is swathed in the Tennessee Flag.


Back cover, Kizza Me by Big Star, 1978.

Back cover, Kizza Me by Big Star, 1978.

On the full-colour album sleeve the stars have each been granted 10 fizzing fuses; a reference, maybe, to the indoor fireworks delineated within. The monochrome front cover photograph for the  Kizza Me single progresses the theme with the (literally) inflammatory depiction of the Tenessee flag alight and the stars – without graphic adornment – aflame.

On the back, 10 frames are arranged geometrically into another pentagram. This is not just a nod to the band’s name. The pentagram  recurs throughout Barney’s work, as do flags, banners and other heraldic devices.

In comparison with the rarity value of The Third Album (as a result of the cult following maintained by Big Star to this day), California Sun by KK Black is more of a curio.


Front cover, California Sun, KK Black, 1978.

Front cover, California Sun, KK Black, 1978.

By the late 70s, The  Rivieras’ 1964 surf anthem had become familiar to punk audiences, having been a staple of The Ramones’ live set (and appeared on their second album Leave Home), but Black’s version failed to capture public interest and sank without trace.


Back cover, Californian Sun by KK Black, 1978

Back cover, Californian Sun by KK Black, 1978.

The noteworthy aspect of Barney’s design for this release relies on the way in which Black’s “new wave pin-up” appearance is enlivened by effective use of the spiky extended single lines which not only spell out his name on the front but also wrap around the fold onto the back.

KK Black was a pseudonym of Kelvin Blacklock, a schoolfriend of  Mick Jones who had been vocalist in the guitarist’s pre-Clash bands The Delinquents, Little Queenie and London SS, and went on to join The Damned drummer Rat Scabies’ short-lived White Cats before recording this single and one other, a version of The Herd’s I Don’t Want Our Loving To Die, before disappearing from the limelight.

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6 Responses to “Aura revelations”

  1. Andy Murray Says:

    The bloody awful typeface used for the Aura Records is called ‘Tonal’, and it is based on Clarendon.
    It was devised as part of a Letraset new typeface competition, by Chris Lee, a classmate of mine in 1974 at Leeds Polytechnic Communication Design Dept.
    Letraset did licence it from him, so he must have made a few bob from it over the years..


  2. Paul Gorman Says:

    You know Andy I kinda like it. You’ll recall how Aura was a pretty left-field label at a time when there were many of them but it helped them stand out because it was so distinctive. There was also something odd about the way its (half) tones clashed with the light tan label.
    Where’s Chris Lee now?

  3. Rebecca and Mike Says:

    Hi there, it was interesting to see these Aura releases get an airing at last.

    Speaking of typo detail, you guys might like to know that the image of the Big Star LP shown above, doesn’t quite match the original LP (maybe the image grabbed from the web for this blog is from a CD re-issue?) On the original LP the text is considerably smaller, and doesn’t interfere with any of the fireworks (one of which has been partially removed on the above pic to make way for the enlarged type). Doing a quick check also reveals the image is cropped a little differently on the original LP too.

    Here’s an image that does come direct from the LP, and you can see the difference in type size. Unfortunately however, it’s an incredibly small image, and whoever set it up has cropped into the LP quite a bit, so the overall image crop is still misleading! Still, we thought it was better than nothing…

  4. Paul Gorman Says:

    Thanks for this R&M. Very important difference which I will seek to amend.
    The Big Star guys are not too keen it seems – messing with the Tenn. flag doesn’t usually go down well in Memphis or thereabouts…

  5. Andy Murray Says:

    Dear Paul,
    Sadly, (or maybe not), I haven’t seen anyone from Leeds Poly since I left there, apart from Jim Hutcheson, who was for a long time Art Director for Canongate Books, although if you ask ME he was always more of an illustrator…
    He designs every other book cover in Scotland, and did the illustration for Steve Winwood’s first album, as well as covers for Cafe Jacques, who were managed by Bruce Findlay of Bruce’s Records (and latterly Zoom Records).
    Jim also did the first Simple Minds album, now that I think of it..

    Chris Lee was from Sturmister Newton in (I think) Devon, and I’m pretty sure he moved there.
    No doubt all will come round again in FaceBookWorld and he will pop up in a Lifestyle feature on the South-West in a Designers’ Online Magazine …


  6. Tim Razo Says:

    Ahh this is great! I’m gonna have to pick up the book now for sure!

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