Kosmo Vinyl on Barney Bubbles + Ian Dury
Kosmo Vinyl has sent this photograph taken of himself with Barney Bubbles (centre) and an unidentified person (right)* in the west London offices of Stiff Records in 1977.
“I have no idea what we are looking at,” says Vinyl, the former plugger/publicist/ideas man for Dury and The Clash who later became a record producer.
“The way I’m holding whatever it is, I’d say it’s a book or a magazine. I love the way it captures Barney’s enthusiasm and amazement.”
Vinyl has also provided some fascinating tales and insights into the creative partnership conducted between Bubbles and the late Ian Dury.
Having MC-ed dates on the autumn 1977 Lives Stiffs tour, Vinyl worked closely with Dury, who became Stiff’s priority act after the departure of co-founder Jake Riviera with Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe.
“I first met Barney at 32 Alexander Street (Stiff’s Paddington headquarters),” says Vinyl. “He was downstairs with his own little space in the back, by an old sink, very basic.
“At that time Stiff was half a dozen people, if that, and I was keen to pitch in. If records arrived and needed unloading, it was all hands on deck, from the top to the bottom (which was probably me).
“Anyway Barney and I just hit it off, we were fellow enthusiasts. I had no idea about artwork or design; I don’t think I had ever thought about how a record cover came about.
“Barney would be down there being very positive, working away in front of me and chatting, completely unfazed by anything else going on. If I ever had a spare few minutes I’d go and see what Barney was up to – he was always there and always working.”
Vinyl also played an important part in a photo-session of Dury with members of his newly formed band The Blockheads. Shot by Chris Gabrin, the results were used in a series of Bubbles’ designs, including an eight-part fold-out tour poster and promotional and advertising material.
Aged 20 with a sharp New Wave/retro look himself, Vinyl helped the musicians, who had been part of mid-70s good vibes outfit Loving Awareness, make the transition to the streetwise appearances demanded by the post-punk period.
Dury, of course, handled his own look, as did his singular colleague from Kilburn & The High Roads, saxophonist Davey Payne. Songwriter/keyboard-player Chaz Jankel was absent.
“I helped out with Norman (Watt-Roy, bass), Charley (Charles, drummer), Johnny (Turnbull, guitar) and Mickey (Gallagher, keyboards), although I didn’t think of it as styling at the time,” says Vinyl.
“It was more a case of, ‘Let’s lose that dodgy jacket and stack heel boots’. It was a two-way street; they pointed out things that I or someone else was wearing and would say, ‘I like that’. They recognised that sartorially they were out of touch, but were keen to catch up.”
With a few bob from Dury’s management Blackhill Enterprises, Vinyl bought some clothes and found other garments, including a double-breasted suit designed for Ian Dury by Malcolm McLaren in 1974 at the Kilburn’s then-manager Tommy Roberts‘ behest. This “SEX Original” suit was worn by Watt-Roy, though not for this shoot.
“Once Mickey got a pair of creepers and a haircut he was away,” says Vinyl. “In view of the album title, it was Dr Martens all round.”
The front of Bubbles’ fold-out tour poster replaced the group’s faces with the business end of Ronson electric shavers.
On the flip, Bubbles exposed the production process which surrounded pop promotion by featuring Gabrin’s contact sheets adorned with crop marks, selections and decorations.
The same portrait shots from the poster were also used in tour adverts in which the heads were replaced with the then-new Blockhead logo, while ads for New Boots & Panties!! used frames captioned with Dury’s alternate title suggestions (including “Don’t Fart Before Your Arse Is Ready” and “Be Savoury”).
As essayed in Reasons To Be Cheerful, Bubbles and Dury’s working relationship flourished as a result of their shared understanding of art and design.
“As far as I am aware, Barney had a complete free rein/reign over the artwork for Ian and The Blockheads,” says Vinyl.
“Whatever he delivered, Ian loved. There was mutual respect and appreciation. Ian spent seven years at art school and then did some teaching, so I think he knew as well as anyone, perhaps more so, how talented Bubbles was.
“To me, they saw themselves as equals and were very aware of the craft and hard work each put into their art.”
As also detailed in Reasons and here, Bubbles’ creation of the Blockhead logo emerged during his initial conversation with Dury.
“We wanted a logo that could be printed on t-shirts,” says Vinyl. “I clearly remember Barney told Ian he thought he had it before their telephone conversation was over. That was a maximum of five minutes from being asked, probably less. Ian put down the phone and said, ‘He’s done it’.”
Vinyl says that Bubbles was jazzed that t-shirts bearing the logo were printed for the children of the band members and their management: “Barney loved the idea of kids wearing his design. I think it gave him some encouragement and perhaps the opportunity to do some very playful stuff.”
“Tommy was one of Ian’s absolute favourites,” declares Vinyl. “He couldn’t believe it when he first saw it. ‘Delighted’ would be an understatement.
“There weren’t many people Ian Dury trusted 100%. He’d been about a bit, but he trusted Barney completely.”
* CAN YOU IDENTIFY THIS PERSON? WE’VE ASKED AROUND AND NOBODY HAS COME UP WITH A NAME. IS IT IN FACT YOU? IF IT IS, GIVE US A SHOUT.