Restaurateur and fine food pioneer Justin de Blank – who died last month aged 85 – was an early champion of Barney Bubbles’ talents.
They met at the Conran Group design studio in the mid-60s; as marketing director, de Blank was fresh out of a top job with advertising giant JWT and Bubbles – then plain Colin Fulcher – was senior graphic designer. Soon the pair had both exited Conran: when de Blank launched his own business with partner Robert Troop, Bubbles became freelance art director.
//Bubbles working on JdB artwork at his west London studion, 1970.//
Top: Detail, Music press ad for The Rumour, 1979. Below: Detail, front cover, Cracking Up, Nick Lowe, 1979.
The collaged waving hand/face on the sleeve of Nick Lowe’s 1979 single Cracking Up is one of Barney Bubbles’ most recognisable creations, assisted into prominence by its usage on the front of Reasons To Be Cheerful.
The toothy grin was clipped from a photo of keyboard-player Bob Andrews, one-time colleague of Lowe’s in Brinsley Schwarz (and before that in 60s pop band Kippington Lodge) and one of Graham Parker’s collaborators as a member of The Rumour.
I was delighted to receive this boxed Blockhead watch recently.
Of course the typogram on the watch face – which emerges at twelve-fifteen and three o’clock – was designed by Barney Bubbles at the behest of the late Ian Dury, who said in Will Birch’s No Sleep Till Canvey Island:
“I phoned him and said, ‘I want a logo. It’s got to be black and white and square’. Then I heard somebody in his office say, ‘Wow’ and he said, ‘I’ve done it’.”
This 100-second career resume has been created by Lisa Whitaker, who is currently studying graphics at Leeds College of Art.
The DVD – housed in an “inside-out” sleeve and accompanied by a poster – came out of a course brief for a collection of 100 design objects in which she compiled album sleeves, including Bubbles’ design for Imperial Bedroom by Elvis Costello And The Attractions.
“I am fascinated by this talented man and his links to other creative people,” says Whitaker. “My moving image piece Barney Bubbles Inside Out pulls together the research and is aimed at graphic designers, record collectors and music lovers as a way of spreading the word about inspirational figure.”
Minerva Detector Co logo, Michael Tucker, from World Of Logotypes Vol 2 by Al Cooper, 1978.
The most exciting moment in preparing the new edition of Reasons To Be Cheerful arrived at 6 o’clock one morning this summer when I cracked a major mystery surrounding Barney Bubbles’ life and work: the identity of his first full-time employer, the person who Bubbles said taught him “everything about typography”, instilling the rigour which resonated throughout his professional life.
In turn, the trail I uncovered lead me to establish a hitherto unacknowledged connection between Bubbles and one of the greats of graphic design, Robert Brownjohn.
During my research, family, friends and associates had recalled little about Bubbles’ first employer, least of all his name.
While stressing the importance of this mystery figure in his life, Bubbles himself declined to name the individual in his only ever interview (in The Face, published November 1981).
From Dave Fudger’s interview with Barney Bubbles, The Face, 1981.
So that early morning in June, after years of cross-checking directories and entering any number of search engine variations, I experienced the “Eureka” moment when the name Michael Tucker + Associates popped up halfway down page 6 of Googlebooks.
This chimed not just with an address and phone number I had accessed, but also contemporaneous correspondence in which Bubbles mentioned “M.T.”.
Within hours I had confirmed that this was indeed the commercial art studio where Bubbles (then Colin Fulcher) worked as an assistant between 1963 and 1965 as part of a small team servicing such clients as Pirelli.
And soon I unravelled the whole story, one which has never been published before.
A star graduate of the London College Of Printing, Michael Tucker began his professional life working for British industrial designer Ian Bradbury in the late 50s.
Cover, Meet Yourself As You Really Are, Michael Tucker, Penguin, 1962.
Design credit, 1962.
12″ sq inner sleeve, Space Ritual, Hawkwind, UA, 1973.
The geometric arrangement and use of colour aren’t so far removed from Bubbles’ later work, such as the inner sleeve of Hawkwind’s 1973 album Space Ritual.
Around the time of the Penguin book cover, Tucker set up his own practice on the fourth floor of Artists House, at 14-15 Manette Street, the thoroughfare alongside Foyles which connects Charing Cross Road to Greek Street in London’s West End.
Tucker was a stickler, insisting assistants use Graphos architecture pens rather than Rotrings and was dead set against the on-the-rise Helvetica, preferring for the house font the original manifestation, Neue Haas Grotesk, on a German-size body.
“There was also an unspoken rule that we had to wear American button-down shirts,” says Brian Webb, who began his career at Tucker’s in the mid-60s. “Anything not Ivy League was frowned upon.”
Webb – later of Trickett & Webb and now Webb & Webb – remembers Bubbles returning to MT+A from his job at Conran Design for occasional freelance commissions, including the lettering for the poster for director Hugh Hudson‘s 1966 Pirelli-sponsored promotional short The Tortoise & The Hare.
Brownjohn’s credit sequence starts at 1.00.
The film was produced by the powerhouse commercials company operated by Hudson in conjunction with Donald Cammell and Robert Brownjohn (famed for his typographic excellence and design audacity with such triumphs as the title sequence for Goldfinger and the sleeve of The Rolling Stones’ Let It Bleed).
The Tortoise & The Hare is notable for the opening credits, which Brownjohn designed to appear on moving vehicles.
D&AD ’66 Annual designed by Michael Tucker. Cover: Aldridge/Klein.
Feature on MT+A’s Chubb booklet, Design, 1971.
Also in 1966, Tucker designed the D&AD Annual (the cover was contributed by Alan Aldridge and Lou Klein), and went on to produce such commercial designs as vinyl labels for Plastic Coatings Ltd as well as logos and booklets for security clients Chubb and Minerva.
Tucker’s work appeared the Graphis Annual 1968-69, Top Symbols And Trademarks Of The World (1973) and World Of Logotypes Vol 2 (1978). By the early 80s he was teaching graphic design at Hong Kong Polytechnic before retiring to focus on his hobby, sailing.
For full details of this and the many other fresh elements in the new edition of Reasons To Be Cheerful – including 60 new images – click here or on one of the ‘buy now’ buttons below for a personalised signed copy at just £18.99 + P&P.
The enhanced, revised and updated new edition of Reasons To Be Cheerful is published in the UK this week.
With a remixed cover, the fully illustrated 224-page second edition of the acclaimed biography features many new elements.
There are nearly 60 fresh images in the new book: letters, postcards and photographs as well as sketches, designs and finished artwork for record sleeves, posters, stickers, drumheads, etc.
Paul Gorman has written a new author’s note and afterword summing up the impact of the first edition, and the commentary now includes a chat with foremost US designer Art Chantry about the relevance of Barney Bubbles’ artistic legacy to contemporary design. The new edition is published in the US in spring 2011.
A host of new contributors have been interviewed, from Wreckless Eric to “Record John” Cowell – Bubbles’ one-time room-mate and the half brother of Simon Cowell.
All chapters have been updated with freshly researched information, including never-previously published facts and quotes about Bubbles’ time at art school and his first full-time job at leading British commercial art studio Michael Tucker + Associates.
As an EXCLUSIVE, we are offering signed copies of the new book only from this blog, priced £18.99 plus £5 p&p UK.
Mail for info on postage to continental Europe and rest of world.
To buy your copy click on the button below or visit HERE for details.
Courtesy of Chelsea Space director Donald Smith, here are some more photos underlining what fun was had at last week’s private view for Process. These and others will soon appear on the Chelsea Space site.
Video commissioner Cynthia Lole, Caz Facey, writer Nick Vivian and Jake Riviera view the exhibits.
Donald Smith with writer Chris Salewicz and Jerry Dammers.
Designer Olaf Parker with writer/curator Paul Gorman.
Musician Leo Williams with Paprika and Leo Junior.
Painter and former Kilburn & The High Roads member Humphrey Ocean with the 1977 Psstt! ad featuring himself and Ian Dury.
Jake Riviera, music publisher Peter Barnes, Mick Jones and Nick Vivian.
Kate Moross and her VJing team.
Clothier Lloyd Johnson whispers to arts event organiser Michael Barnett while musician Bruce Marcus chats to the V&A’s Catherine Flood.
Mick Jones and Jerry Dammers.
Nick Lowe talks Barney.
Chelsea College’s Nobby Graham and Lloyd Johnson.
Writer/filmmaker Paul Tickell looks on as artist Bruce Maclean strikes a Blockhead pose.
Musician/writer Dave Barbarossa and his wife Alison view the music press ads.
The image is the artwork for the “Hamer & Sickle” logo Barney Bubbles created for Lowe’s 1979 album Labour Of Lust, spin-off single Cracking Up and music press ads/tour promotion etc (Nick had recently come into proud possession of the Hamer bass which Bubbles “snapped” into three).
And there’s a continuous soundtrack of the music for which he designed, from Cressida to Costello, from Hawkwind to The Damned, from Iggy Pop & James Williamson to Red Dirt.
In the entrance to Chelsea Space is selected ephemera – adverts, badges, music press ads, stickers – as well as books, magazines and other finished artwork and designs, including the rug made in the image of a panel on the cover of Brewing Up With Billy Bragg.
There is also a showreel of 10 of the videos directed by Bubbles (including two never publicly displayed before: Incendiary Device and Darling, Let’s Have Another Baby for Johnny Moped).
A face-off is conducted between Elvis Costello (in 1977’s Warholian 60″ x 40″ Live Stiffs poster) and Chuck Berry (in the form of the wall-mounted sculpture created by Bubbles for music publisher Peter Barnes) at each end of the ramp.
On the ramp wall are posters, sleeves and other exhibits denoting approaches, recurrent themes and areas such as art direction, colour usage, application of symbols, photographic treatment, geometric arrangement, etc.
In the main room there is no finished artwork, excepting a copy of Damned Damned Damned with it’s deliberate printing error, and an NME Book Of Modern Music to demonstrate from whence Bubbles was taking his design leads at the time of production.
Sketches and proposals, along with personal effects, influences, paintings and sketchbooks rest on plinths and trestles colour-schemed to a typically exuberant Bubbles palette.
The walls are lined with pen and ink artwork, PMTs (Photo Mechanical Transfers), proofs, proposals, paste-ups, photography, etc. There’s a guide to the technical aspects of producing artwork in the pre-digital age, as well as a professional CV.
If you get the chance, do drop by; we’re around a lot of the time so can be on hand to talk you through the show and answer any questions.
Video and music track listings for the show are available here.