Archive for February, 2009

Sphynx: Symmetry, symbolism and shape

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Ahead of The Roundhouse celebration on March 8, Nik Turner has posted a set of reminiscences about his exciting creative relationship with Barney Bubbles.

These provide us with an opportunity to reveal exclusive images surrounding one of Nik and Barney’s most intriguing collaborations (which also centred on a multi-media happening at the same venue).

As covered by his stellar contribution to Reasons To Be Cheerful, Nik’s friendship with Barney began at the dawn of the 70s when they were introduced by the late writer and performer Robert Calvert.

 

Hawkwind Love & Peace poster (c) N. Turner.

Hawkwind Love & Peace poster (c) N. Turner.

“We struck a chord in each other,” says Nik. “Barney came along to a Hawkwind gig and saw that my vision of the band’s spirit embodied a lot of the concepts and ideals to which he related. After that he was happy to apply his creative energy, designing the Peace & Love poster for us, and then the X In Search of Space album sleeve, log-book and concept.”

Full-page advert for X In Search Of Space, Oz 38, 1971.

Full-page advert for X In Search Of Space, Oz 38, 1971.

Barney realised the visual identity of Hawkwind on every level as the space-rockers progressed through the first half of the 70s. When Nik left the band in 1976 he embarked on a trip to Egypt. “That was in part inspired by the common interest Barney and I had in Egyptology and ancient civilisations,” Nik explains.

“While there I recorded flute music inside the King’s Chamber of The Great Pyramid, and this became the album Xitintoday by my new group Sphynx.”

Xitintoday promotional poster. (c) N. Turner/Reasons 2009.

Xitintoday promotional poster. (c) N. Turner/Reasons 2009.

Barney agreed to design the album sleeve and booklet on condition that he applied the principals of concrete poetry (where typographical arrangement is as important as the words in conveying meaning).

Barney’s mastery of typography had long enabled him to communicate depth of meaning in this way, so concrete poetry became a natural area of investigation for a visual artist fascinated by symmetry, symbolism and shape.

These, of course, were central to his other abiding interests such as cosmology and Egyptology, as evinced by the poster he designed to promote the release of Xitintoday, which is constructed around a favourite symbol of Barney’s, The Eye of Horus.

When he was approached by Nik, Barney had already embarked on developing a series of concrete poetry artworks in 12″ x 10″ frames for a group exhibition which he was helping to organise at his London squat. He also planned the printing of a limited edition of a poem which consisted of one word:  “nowhere”. This appears in the booklet he designed for Xitintoday as do many other examples, such as the word “day” made up of repeated use of the word “night” in white on black.

Sketches and word pictures. (c) D.Fawcett/Reasons 2009.

Examples of Barney's concrete poetry. (c) C.Fawcett/Reasons 2009.

As this page of drafts and notes shows, Barney was fascinated by the form. Among the options are the Xitintoday cover’s constellated tiny pentagrams created from the word “twinkle”.

Big star: detail from Xitintoday;s front cover

Big star: detail from Xitintoday's front cover.

Barney’s interest in concrete poetry was stimulated by his relationship with the photographer Frances Newman, who was later to marry his friend Brian Griffin. Newman’s partner had been Tom Edmonds, the concrete poet who died in 1971 and contributed to the important collection Gloup And Woup along with such exponents as Bob Cobbing, John Furnival and it’s most celebrated figure, the Benedictine monk Dom Sylvester Houedard.

Xitintoday front cover, Charisma records, 1978.

Xitintoday front cover, Charisma Records, 1978.

Xitintoday’s release was heralded by an all-day happening at The Roundhouse, for which Barney choreographed the dancers in Sphynx’s stage show.

Do not lick this dot. Summer 1978. (c) G. Colson/Reasons 2009.
“Do not lick this dot’, Summer 1978. (c) G. Colson/Reasons 2009.

Billed as Nik Turner’s Bohemian Love In, this featured an eclectic supporting cast, including ex-Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah band member Roger Ruskin Spear and his robots, former T. Rex member Steve Took’s Horns, punk poets Patrik Fitzgerald and John Cooper Clarke, sci-fi author Michael Moorcock and Tanz Der Youth, the band briefly led by The Damned‘s Brian James.

Both John Cooper Clarke and Tanz Der Youth also benefited from Barney designs; the former with his songbook Directory 1979 and the latter in the shape of the sleeve for his Radar single I’m Sorry, I’m Sorry.

Im Sorry Im Sorry by Tanz Der Youth, Radar 1978

I'm Sorry I'm Sorry by Tanz Der Youth, Radar, 1978.

Among the attendees at The Bohemian Love In were Calvert and Hawkwind founder Dave Brock, both then putting together new  group Hawklords and recording dystopian concept album 25 Years On.

Hawklords postcard 1978.

Hawklords postcard 1978. Pauline Kennedy Collection.

They brought Barney on board and, working with photographer Chris Gabrin, he moved away from concrete poetry into bleak futurism and monochromatic expressionist territory to which he applied the new punk day-glo spray-can aesthetic. This is covered extensively in Reasons, as are the rest of Nik’s collaborations with Barney, through the releases by his band Inner City Unit to the extraordinary Ersatz under the guise of The Imperial Pompadours.

“Throughout this period I lived with Barney off and on, in various studios and houses,” says Nik, who is organising the event with another of Barney’s friends, promoter John Curd.  “We always had wonderful times together, full of inspiration and creativity, weird, wild and wacky. I’ll always remember him as being a great fan of object trouve, and feel a debt for all his help and inspiration over the years.”

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– – COMPETITION – –

Two free tickets for The Roundhouse event

This week we are giving away two free tickets for The Hawklords/Space Ritual 09/Barney Bubbles Memorial event at The Roundhouse on Sunday, March 8.

Grab a chance of winning them by sending your answer to the question below to: thelook@rockpopfashion.com by midnight GMT on Sunday March 1.

We’ll announce the lucky winners the following day.

Q: Who recites Sonic Attack on Hawkwind’s The Space Ritual Alive in Liverpool and London?

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Aura revelations

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

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.

Let It Rock

Saturday, February 14th, 2009

Today we present a hitherto unexplored adventure of Barney’s into magazine design; his contribution to 70s music title Let It Rock.

Let It Rock’s launch in 1972 coincided with “the first era of post-modernism in pop,” as the late great Ian MacDonald told me in my music press history In Their Own Write. “Music started to be conscious of itself and look back and begin to make syntheses and style references and be ironic.”

Barneys redesign is introduced Jan 1975 (c) John Pidgeon

Barney's redesign is introduced Jan 1975 (c) John Pidgeon

Of course, the collective which founded the publication – Simon FrithCharlie GillettPhil Hardy, Gary Herman, Ian Hoare and Dave Laing  – were riding the zeitgeist;  in fashion a stylistic revolution was being sparked by Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s  investigations into 50s musical subcultures at their King’s Road shop of the very same name, while visual artists such as Barney were enthusiastically plundering the recent history of art and commercial design to reinvigorate the world of graphics.

In the mid 70s John Pidgeon took over as Let It Rock editor. “I got to know Barney after he designed the Sutherland Brothers first album and loved the fact that he had shot holes in it with an airgun,” says John.  “I immediately discovered we had mutual friends in Ian McLagan and (another of Barney’s Twickenham college pals) Mick Finch.”

Let It Rock, October 1975

Let It Rock, October 1975

A couple of years later John  set about revamping Let It Rock and invited Barney over to his flat in Clapham, south London to discuss a redesign. “When he arrived, he unfolded reams of penciled artwork, all of which he had drawn on the tube between Isleworth (or whichever West London stop it was) and Clapham Common,” says John. The options were sketched on headed paper from Barney’s dad’s company.

Roughs for Let It Rock redesign on F.Fulcher paper (c) John Pidgeon

Roughs for Let It Rock redesign on F.Fulcher paper (c) John Pidgeon

As these two sheets demonstrate, Barney focused on the font for the magazine logo, and also produced single page and double page spread layout samples (including one using a Bob Dylan feature for direction on photography and text placement).

Presenting a subheading “The world’s greatest rock read”, Barney notes the magazine sections Oldies, Singles, Album reviews, News and Letters, and provides the last with its own ident: a bobbysoxer writing fan-mail.

The masthead come sinto focus (c) John Pidgeon

The masthead comes into focus (c) John Pidgeon

One masthead uses kitsch “cactii” lettering – as in Barney’s Chilli Willi And The Red Hot Peppers drumhead logo and another substitutes the “o” in “Rock” with a spinning reel of tape. 

John – whose CV includes much journalism, many masterful music documentaries and a spell nurturing the comic talents of The Mighty Boosh and Ross Noble at the BBC  – was knocked out with the selection and chose a font which Barney completed with the addition of a lightning bolt decoration.

This was introduced onto the magazine’s front cover in the January 1975 issue. “For the catchline I amended ‘greatest’ to ‘best’,” says John.  “Otherwise it was a typically brilliant Barney Bubbles slogan.”

Fun for all the family at Howies

Saturday, February 7th, 2009

Tommy The Talking Toolbox would have been proud.

Fun for all the family was had at Howies store in Bristol on Thursday night as our pals at the Barney-mad company hosted an evening to celebrate the publication of Reasons To Be Cheerful.

With the invaluable support and assistance of Howies mainmen Nick Hand (who also took these photos) and Tim March, we mounted a mini-display in a hitherto unused upstairs room as the first in a series of monthly events the guys are organising.

The core of our little taster was a collection of 24 of the 27 variations to the cover of Do It Yourself by Ian Dury & The Blockheads.

Pic: Nick Hand.

This seemed particularly appropriate since the site was once occupied by a Laura Ashley branch; some of the walls in the until-now disused upstairs space are still covered in her divinely daft and dated flowery wallpaper.

Part of the original artwork for 4000 Weeks Holiday (c) P. Kennedy/Reasons 2009

To keep the ID/BB theme going, we also displayed original artefacts and artwork, including the paste-up for what later became the cover of Ian’s 1984 album 4000 Weeks Holiday.

Thought to be among the very last projects Barney worked on, this has been contributed to the Reasons archive by our friend Pauline Kennedy. In her previous incarnation as Caramel Crunch, Pauline was Barney’s assistant and continued his work at such labels as Go! Discs.

  • Presentation in Howies’ denim room.
  • With a book signing and talk about Barney, complete with power-point presentation of images from the book, the evening was capped by Paul and Caz mixing up the aural medicine with DJ sets of Barney-related sounds. These, we’re happy to tell you, went down a storm.

    BARNEY BUBBLES SOUND SELECTION:

    Here’s a selection of 10 of the Barney best to warm the cockles (click on the links to download/buy):

    Eastbourne Ladies – Kevin Coyne (Marjory Razorblade 1973)

    Inbetweenies – Ian Dury & The Blockheads (Do It Yourself 1979)

    Lipstick Vogue –  Elvis Costello & The Attractions (This Year’s Model 1978)

    Fung Kee Laundry – Quiver (Gone In the Morning 1972)

    Love My Way – The Psychedelic Furs (Forever Now 1982)

    Opa-Loka – Hawkwind (Warrior On The Edge Of Time 1975)

    Post-War Glamour Girl – John Cooper Clarke (Disguise In Love (1978)

    Darling Let’s Have Another Baby – Johnny Moped (Cycledelic 1978)

    Just Can’t Get Enough – Depeche Mode (Speak & Spell 1981)

    Ghost Town – The Specials (single 1981)

    These are just a few examples of how the BBSS can get the joint jumping. For a playlist from Caz’s set see Howies’ blog  Brainfood.

    Peter York’s Grey Hopes

    Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

    Barney Bubbles credited one of the most creatively satisfying phases of his career to a prescient feature by marketing guru and cultural commentator Peter York published in the September 1978 issue of Harpers & Queen magazine.

    York’s piece, headlined Grey Hopes, investigated the ageing demographic of the rock consumer and the concurrent wave of post-modernism pervading popular music. “The paradox of rock is that at precisely the time that a new rock sensibility is starting to invade the commercial heartland, the whole rock thing is uncomfortably coming of age,” wrote York, who also declared: “Rock & roll is the hamburger which ate the world.”

    Extract from letter to Diane Fawcett, late 1978.

    Extract from letter to Diana Fawcett, late 1979.

    Presenting research which showed that 25- to 44-year-olds, not teens, had become the largest single group of record buyers, York pointed to the likes of Roxy Music as examples of art rockers who “consciously saw rock as a medium like any other”.

    Reasons author Paul Gorman and Peter York, July 2008

    Reasons author Paul Gorman and Peter York, July 2008.

    York cites the highly referential example of Generation X, which was apposite; Barney designed two of the group’s single sleeves, the El Lissitzy-quoting Your Generation and the symbol-strewn King Rocker (available in four variations denoting vinyl colours).

    Tony James: Barney took our ideas an inspired step further.

    Tony James: "Barney took our ideas an inspired step further."

    Guitarist Tony James says that, during the planning stages of the sleeves, he and Gen X singer Billy Idol talked to Barney about t-shirts they had designed in a Constructivist style.  “Barney looked at our original ideas and took them a very inspired step further,” he adds.

    In a letter to his assistant and friend Diana Fawcett late in 1979, Barney says that York’s article “gave me my orders for the year” regarding “technology, urban environment, rock, etc”. He also says that he had carried out “everything I wanted to. It was a great, successful year”.

     

    Inner sleeve, labour Of Lust, 1979

    Inner sleeve, Labour Of Lust, 1979. (c) Riviera Global

    This is true; the previous 12 months had been an extraordinarily fruitful period. Notwithstanding the advertising and promotional material which formed the bedrock of his business, Barney had also executed such triumphs as the redesign of the NME and creation of the paper’s Book Of Modern Music as well as sleeves for albums such as Armed Forces by Elvis Costello & The Attractions, 25 Years On by Hawklords (including the integrated stage show set), Do It Yourself by Ian Dury & The Blockheads, Labour Of Lust by Nick Lowe and Frogs, Sprouts, Clogs And Krauts by The Rumour.

    In addition Barney completed the catalogue for the Lives exhibition at The Hayward (in which he also participated) as well as Brian Griffin’s Copyright, The Ian Dury Songbook and The John Cooper Clarke Directory. We shall be exploring all of these and more over the coming months.

    Artwork for advert for Splash by Clive Langer & The Boxes 1980. (c) Riviera Global

    Barney also tells Diana he has “had his orders” for 1980, the coming year. Since this was to witness advances into video-direction, painting, the realisation of the ambitious visual identity for the new F-Beat label AND a slew of releases by Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Carlene Carter, Clive Langer & The Boxes, Rockpile, Inner City Unit,  Dirty Looks and many more, it can safely be assumed the instructions came from as rich a source as York’s Grey Hopes.

    Knockout R&B Here Tonight!

    Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

    Today we present previously unpublished images and information surrounding one of Barney Bubbles’ key early works, the stunning poster Knockout R&B Here Tonight.

    Winner of British Poster Design Award, double/four-sheet category 1964/5

    In 1965 Colin Fulcher – as he was then – won a national design award for the poster, which stemmed from a photo session the previous year with his girlfriend, fellow student and artist Lorry Sartorio.

    Design magazine August 1965.

    Lorry met Barney during his final year at Twickenham College Of Technology (now Richmond Upon Thames College ). “It was a couple of terms in but I soon became part of his gang,” says Lorry. “I think Barney really liked my look; I’ve always been into the beatnik thing, loads of black clothes and loads of eye-make-up, though I don’t iron my hair anymore!”

    The photo-shoot took place at Barney’s home in Whitton, Middx, on Sunday July 12 1964. In a letter to Lorry providing specific instructions and sketches for suggested poses, Barney explains that consumer magazine publisher Fleetway had given him a chance to produce a booklet of photographs “based on Mods and Rockers gear”.

    Barney’s sketches for the photoshoot.(c) L.Sartorio/Reasons 2009

     The letter reveals Barney as an already assured art director a couple of weeks shy of his 22nd birthday, though he frets over the tone. “On rereading this letter it seems a bit bluff and hard day’s night. Sorry. But I would appreciate it if you would do it,” he says.

    Barney supplied his own denim jacket for the shoot as well as a t-shirt to which he had applied dry transfer lettering spelling out the phrase: “Them Mule Skinners Knockout R+B Here Tonight”. A mod targeted love heart was positioned between the first two words.

    Lorry Sartorio models for Barney Bubbles July 1964.(c) L.Sartorio/Reasons 2009

    “Barney had put these giant Letraset  letters onto a plain white t-shirt,” says Lorry. “I remember I had to be really careful when I was putting it on and moving around in front of the camera.”

    The Muleskinners were Twickenham’s college band, led by the keyboard-playing graphic design student Ian McLagan, who writes fondly of Barney in his excellent memoir All The Rage.

    The college’s social secretary, Mac had booked the Rolling Stones as their career was shifting into overdrive for the “Twickenham Design College Dance”, held on July 12 1963 at the dilapidated Eel Pie Island Hotel.

    Mac had been turned onto the Stones by another Twickenham student, Mick Finch. When Mac witnessed his first Stones gig – at the Richmond Crawdaddy – he later wrote that “it was a turning point” which set him on a path away from graphic design and into music.

    The “Twickers”  group were a typically tight-knit  group of music fans; in another letter to Lorry, Barney warns her not to be late for an assignation since they are meeting Mac in the King’s Head in Twickenham, venue of many other early Stones performances.

    In fact, Barney designed the poster for the Stones’ appearance at the July 12 college ball,  and went on to produce fliers and other artwork for the Muleskinners, using Cyrillic script for a “Cossack” themed event they played at “Eel Piland” in December 1964.

    Russian invite to Christmas dance (c) L.Sartorio/Reasons 2009

    At the end of his final year, Mac also booked the “graphic design Twickenham dance”, held on July 9 1965 at Eel Pie’s so-called Steam Laundry.

    This featured Rod Stewart and Brian Auger’s Trinity just before the lanky vocalist formally threw in his lot with Auger, Julie Driscoll and Long John Baldry  in the short-lived Steampacket. Mac and Rod were to be reunited within a few years as members of one of the greatest rock bands of all time, The Faces.

    Flyer for Rod Stewart/Brian Auger end-of-term ball(c) L.Sartorio/Reasons 2009

    Lorry does not recall whether the mods and rockers booklet for Fleetway materialised. We do know that Barney took a frame from the photo-session to develop the poster which won him the award.

    “It was red and blue, printed on glossy paper,” recalls Lorry of the poster. Barney’s dynamic treatment of the base image effectively solarised the lettering, while the words “Them”, “Knockout”, and “R&B”, as well as the love-heart roundel appeared in half-tone.

    Announcing the award in the August 1965 issue of Design magazine, the judges described Knockout R&B Here Tonight as “a good hard-hitting poster. The design is exactly suited to it’s subject matter; lively, up-to-date, youthful and vigorous; excellent use of colour”.

    The original shot used for A Bunch Of Stiffs, Stiff Records 1977.

    Such was Barney’s affection for the image that it was a component of one of his first new wave designs, the compilation A Bunch Of Stiff Records (released April 1 1977).

    The album’s inner sleeve features contributor shots and bios. For contractual reasons Dave Edmunds’  version of the The Chantels’ 50s hit Maybe – which had also been covered by Janis Joplin – was credited to “Jill Read” (with the vocal track sped up to further disguise his identity). To complete the mystery surrounding this “little known Welsh songbird” Barney playfully placed an X to mask Lorry’s face.