Archive for January, 2009

Sunday Implosion celebrates Barney

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

The revival of interest in Barney Bubbles is gathering pace; now an old-school “happening” has been announced in his memory at London’s historic venue The Roundhouse on Sunday, March 8.

Space Ritual 09 artwork by Bruce Fisher

The appearance of Quintessence on the bill affords an opportunity to show exclusively for the first time this late 60s sketch by Barney of himself, his friends in the band and their rehearsal space at his Notting Hill creative commune.

Barney, Quintessence and Motherburger (c) Lorraine Sartorio

The drawing appears in a letter Barney sent to his friend Lorry Sartorio enthusing about the new life he had established in the late 60s at 307 Portobello Road. It was here that Barney began designing record sleeves – his first was a die-cut booklet for Quintessence’s debut album In Blinding Light.

Sunday Implosion is being organised by a group of Barney fans and pals, including ex-Hawkwind member Nik Turner and the band’s one-time manager Doug Smith, both of whom contributed memories and material to Reasons To Be Cheerful. The promoter is John Curd, who also worked with Barney extensively.

The title is a nod to the name of the weekly events held at the venue in the 70s; these regularly featured Hawkwind as well as Barney’s posters and promotional material.

In fact a particular performance by Hawkwind one Sunday afternoon in February 1975 left a lifelong impression on this writer; I stuck my head in the bassbin while they were playing and haven’t been quite the same since.

Courtesy: Matthew Cang Collection

Courtesy: Matthew Cang Collection

A number of former Hawkwind members are gathering under the moniker Hawklords. That aggregation’s dystopian 1978 album 25 Years On benefited from a total Barney package, including a suitably foreboding sleeve, booklet, stage set, choreography and lighting.

Photo: Chris Gabrin

25 Years On booklet cover. Photo: Chris Gabrin

The shebang in March also promises the Space Ritual 09, inspired by the integrated design Barney created in collaboration with his compadre Robert Calvert for the ‘Wind’s 1972 UK tour and subsequent live double. Read all about the amazing Apple label bolero jacket worn by temporary Hawkwind dancer and Friends editor John May on that tour at our sister blog THE LOOK.

Barney came up with the set for Robert’s short play The Stars That Play With Laughing Sam’s Dice, which will be performed at Sunday Implosion by the Pentameters Theatre group. The event also witnesses the return of ace Krautrockers Amon Duul II, whose bassist Dave Anderson was also a Hawkwind member

In old-school style, Sunday Implosion takes place between 3pm and 11pm. Tickets are £30 from The Roundhouse box office  on 0844 482 8008 or here.

Let there be drums

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

Stretched over the open end of the bass drum and at just under 2ft in diameter, drumheads proved a perfect canvas for the artistry of Barney Bubbles.

Throughout his career, Barney was in the habit of providing customised skins to musicians, either as part of an overall theme he had developed for an album or artist or as one-off gifts.

Today we exclusively present four produced over a 10-year period.

Only one has been widely seen before; the portrait of the freckle-faced Western gal set against a desert landscape was painted in 1973 for Pete Thomas, then of Chilli Willi And The Red Hot Peppers.

Chilli Willi drumhead

Chilli Willi And The Red Hot Peppers, 1973. (c) Pete Thomas/Pic: Tony Sayles

The cowgirl and the vista had appeared in Barney’s colour-your-own inner for the band’s debut album Kings Of The Robot Rhythm. Around this period Barney was investigating the interpretation of this educational form in a musical context: the cover of Brinsley Schwarz’s eponymously-titled album consisted of a paint-by-numbers scenario.

“Barney was such a lovely bloke,” says Pete, who gives the painting pride of place in his Los Angeles home. In 1999, it was the centrepiece for  the cover of the Willi’s compilation  I’ll Be Home.

In 1977 Pete went on to form the rhythmic bedrock of Elvis Costello & The Attractions, and Barney created a suitably new wave, Jackson Pollock-ed drumhead for the band’s participation in 1977’s Stiff’s Greatest Stiffs UK tour. Within a couple of months Costello and the band had released the ferocious This Year’s Model – Barney’s stickers for that album’s promotional campaign still adorn it.

Greatest drumhead

Stiff's Greatest Stiffs 1977. (c) Pete Thomas/Pic: Tony Sayles

As the drummer in the Kursaal Flyers, pub-rock scene chronicler Will Birch first encountered Barney when he designed the album sleeve of the Southend band’s album Chocs Away.

The two maintained contact and Barney provided artwork for Will’s post-punk band The Records in the early 80s. During their meetings the pair riffed on the notion of an imaginary band called the Blue Genes, and Barney painted Will a drumhead featuring wriggling single-celled genetic organisms with blue tails.

Blue Genes drum head

Blue Genes 1982. (c) Will Birch

Since the Blue Genes never performed or recorded, Will’s is in pristine condition, unlike Pete’s or that owned by another of Barney’s friends, record company promotional wizard and Viv Stanshall’s manager Glen Colson.

“I was drumming a bit at the time, so Barney offered to paint me a drumhead,” says Glen. “I used to like this move called a ‘flam’, where you bring both drumsticks in quick succession down hard on the snare. I was delighted when I saw Barney’s design say: ‘Flam Flam’.”

flam flam drum head

Flam Flam 1983. (c)Glen Colson/ Reasons 2009

The radical redesign of the NME

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

One of the greatest examples of Barney Bubbles’ ability to fast-track cutting-edge ideas into the mainstream occurred in 1978 with his redesign of best-selling weekly paper the New Musical Express.

As detailed in Chapter 4 of REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL, at this time the NME’s sales regularly surpassed 200,000 copies.

NME Alphabet

Artwork for The NME Book Of Modern Music alphabet. (c) Neil Spencer/Reasons 2009

And the recently-appointed editor Neil Spencer was an ardent Barney fan. “I loved the way Barney quoted Lissitzky for Generation X and Kandinsky for The Damned,” he says. “At the same time he sculpted the images of  unique characters like Ian Dury and Elvis Costello.

“Barney was head-and-shoulders above everyone else, and perfect for the job because he’d worked at Oz, Friends, Town and Nova.”

Barney’s first move was to de-clutter the layout. “There was so much going on in terms of images and info,” says Neil. “He also sorted out the presentation of the charts. I don’t think they’ve changed materially since then.”

Spread from The NME Book of Modern Music

Spread from The NME Book of Modern Music

Part of the brief was production of a free supplement to mark the relaunch: The NME Book Of Modern Music, which was compiled by readers from a series of collect-and-keep inserts.

With his assistant Diana Fawcett and contributions from freelancers such as Andy Martin, Barney whipped art and design references into a mélange evoking the inventive chaos of the immediate post-punk period.

The NME Book of Modern Music

Front cover of The NME Book of Modern Music

Barney’s alphabet for the Book Of Modern Music “borrowed from 20s Russia, 60s Britain and beyond”, says Neil. “He was so wily technically, and yet he always conjured unexpected colours and effects.”

The redesign was unveiled with the issue of October 14, 1978, though the NME’s owners IPC refused to allow the new masthead for another six weeks, when sales confirmed that readers were content with the new visual direction.

NME launch issue

Redesign launch issue. The new masthead was introduced six weeks later.

And so it was the December 2 issue which introduced Barney’s stencil block NME logo (promoted via a campaign shot by Barney’s collaborator Brian Griffin).

NME logo

NME logo campaign shot by Brian Griffin

The inspiration for the font was a company name on industrial premises in City Road, just around the corner from the site of Barney’s warehouse studio in Paul Street (he was two decades ahead of his time by occupying the western edge of what is now London’s achingly trendy Shoreditch area).

And Barney’s legacy at the paper lingers; despite the management’s worries, his NME logo is still used in adapted form more than 30 years later.

“What he did was incredible”

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

An important Barney Bubbles project of the post-punk period sprang from an unlikely source: the album with the unprepossessing title Frogs, Sprouts, Clogs & Krauts, released by The Rumour in March 1979.

Frogs Clogs Krauts etc

Front cover Frogs, Sprouts, Clogs & Krauts

The pre-PC name took its cue from the album track Euro, and Barney created a thematically-linked design package based around the ceremony and colour schemes of EEC officialdom (then very much in the news ahead of the first European Community elections that summer).

The result of a collaboration with Brian Griffin, this became an exercise in graphic integration and photographic abstraction, completed by a set of coded references from heraldic and numeric to political and astrological.

Barney usually art-directed photographers, but made an exception for Brian; for this cover he gave over the entire floor of his warehouse studio in London’s East End and left Brian to his own devices.

Inner of Frogs, Sprouts, Clogs & Krauts

Inner of Frogs, Sprouts, Clogs & Krauts

Brian says he “constructed a sculpture” using regular model Charles Woods. Rigidly posed behind velvet ropes and set against the national flags of the countries indicated by the title (France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany with the addition of the UK), Woods presents a soil sampler to the viewer.

“The idea was that Charles had plunged it into the earth and – like the grades of coloured sand I got in glass phials as a kid on holiday on the Isle Of Wight – produced a cross-section of the national colours,” says Brian.

Copyright

Spread from Copyright 1978 (c) Brian Griffin/Reasons 2009

Obliterating the band’s pub rock scene roots (some of the members had been close to Barney for several years as part of Brinsley Schwarz), the angular band logo is suitably post-punk, constructed from straight lines and curves in a similar fashion to the mysterious symbols Barney provided for Brian’s book Copyright 1978.

Barney also created a bespoke record label for the group, featuring the logo with the label copy enlivened by ellipses. These, which recur throughout his record sleeve designs, made their appearance on his very first, In Blissful Company by Quintessence (1969).

In Blissful Company by Quintessence

In Blissful Company booklet

A graphic of five spear-points is repeated in variation across the campaign, and bursts forth from the album title, invoking an aerial display at an official occasion and also the tips of the flag banners.

The arrowheads also zip away from the song titles on the reverse, where Barney enlarged a section of Griffin’s photograph, showing the soil-sampler in detail. A section is again enlarged on one side of the inner sleeve, and the reverse of that carries yet another enlargement (as well as an enigmatic short story), so that the image is driven to abstraction.

“Barney took my photograph and went into it to reveal the basic dot structure, just like the sampler going into the ground,” says Brian.

Frozen Years front cover

Frozen Years front cover

The cover of Frozen Years, the first single to be released from the album, shows Woods running on the spot on a snow-covered terrain, in front of five tiny flags stuck in the ground.

Frozen Years back cover

Frozen Years back cover

The reverse replaces photography with the spear-pointed fly-past and an illustration of the five flags created from the repeated silhouette of a face. These not only represent the five nations central to the functioning of the EEC, but also the number of members in The Rumour.

Some of the accompanying music press ads present unforgiving monochrome close-cropped portraits of individual band members, complete with oblique lines and arrows and information appropriate to the musician’s astrological sign.

The close-up of bassist Andrew Bodnar in the full-page ad in NME March 17 1979 is captioned: “Aquarius deals with democratic communication with human beings who look on each other as brothers; it’s ruler Uranus governs electricity.”

Such was Barney’s fascination with the cosmos and star systems; for example, a few years earlier as part of his set designs, he arranged on-stage performance positions for Hawkwind according to their star-signs.

Ad in the NME

The Rumour advert, NME, March 3 1979. (c) Carol Fawcett/Reasons 2009

Another press ad (from NME March 3 1979) has The Rumour logo spiked by the tower of an industrial plant (similar in execution to the “vinyl factory” on the back cover of The NME Book Of Modern Music published a couple of months earlier). Five rows etched into the front of the building are reflected in another fly-past, while the tour dates are set in an elongated version of the silhouette from the back of Frozen Years.

Emotional Traffic front cover

Emotional Traffic front cover

The sleeve for the second single from the album, Emotional Traffic, is set in black on the front and white on the back with the addition of a love heart. Traffic light roundels in red, green and amber indicate the three colours of vinyl in which it was made available. In each, there is a die-cut circle revealing the colour of the record inside.

Emotional Traffic back cover

Emotional Traffic back cover

The campaign for Frogs included five collect-the-set album posters spelling out the album title. On these a telecommunications tower is seen from different perspectives and set against the colours of the French and German flags as the five arrows swoop and swirl. Cropped sections of the central image also appear in the press ads featuring band member faces, completing the cross-fertilisation of the design package’s main elements.

Poster

One of the five posters for the album. (c) Carol Fawcett/Reasons 2009

Barney’s progression of the original concept for the album cover remains a source of wonder to Brian.  “Barney wanted me to give him something which he hadn’t been involved in, and then take it over,” he says. “My image was OK, but what he did with it was incredible. Everything he did with my stuff improved upon it.”