Archive for May, 2009

Barney Bubbles’ album artwork discography

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

Today Reasons brings you another first: a discography of Barney Bubbles’ album sleeve designs.

The above is just a selection of nearly 90 titles we’ve listed chronologically; check them out and gain a greater appreciation of the themes developed and messages delivered in Barney’s astounding body of work. You can also click on album titles to buy. Please bring our attention to any you believe should be included; we aim for this to be the definitive list.

Next stop – all of the single sleeves, to be followed by a videography and key posters.

Reasons To Be Cheerful in the USA!

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

Great news!

Reasons To Be Cheerful is coming out in the US on August 9!

Click on the above to download DAP’s Fall catalogue – Reasons is on page 20.

From that date Reasons will be available  online and in all good bookstores nationwide from the world’s largest distributor of high quality art and culture books, DAP/Distributed Art Publishers.

DAP Fall catalogue entry.

A US launch and a programme of entertaining, informative and highly visual events based around the book and Barney Bubbles’ legacy is being planned for American cities in September. We’ll keep you updated and hope that some of you can come along and say hi.

For leading US designer Art Chantry’s views on Barney Bubbles’ legacy, go here.

Articulating Ian Dury’s 1978 tee

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

As a corollary to yesterday’s doings on Do It Yourself (and a riff on the recent El Lissitzky post), thought you’d like to see this rare shot of a t-shirt Barney Bubbles designed for his mate Ian Dury in 1978.

The Blockheads‘ soundman Chris Warwick is wearing one in the self-timed shots on the Do It Yourself  inner sleeve.

The articulation of blocks and rectangles which assemble Dury’s name is inspired by Lissitzky’s 1922 book About 2 Squares, in which ordered objects are scattered by the impact of the two quadrants of the title. As a result perspective and projection are challenged and a new order is imposed.

And they see a black mess, About 2 Squares, El Lissitzky, 1922.

Barney’s arrangements of ordered rectangular forms were rooted in Lissitzky’s investigations, particularly the so-called “prouns“.

Music press ad, La Dusseldorf, La Dusseldorf, Radar 1978.

 

1978 offers a number of examples in Barney’s work, including a music press advert for  La Dusseldorf’s self-titled debut and the sleeve and booklet for 25 Years On by Hawklords.

Booklet, 25 Years On, Hawklords, Charisma 1978.

Then there is the sleeve of Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick. That’s the song which made Ian Dury’s name, taking him to the top of the charts.

Back + front cover, Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick, Ian Dury & The Blockheads, Stiff Records, 1978.

And Dury’s refusal to include the track on his second album brings us back to where we started: the all-out campaign to promote Do It Yourself. 

 

Shaking a tail-feather with Nick Lowe tonight

Monday, May 18th, 2009

Survival Kit back and front view (c) Carol Fawcett/Reasons 2009.

Tonight I’m DJing for Nick Lowe’s show at the Royal Albert Hall, which provides an opportunity to show off the so-called Survival Kit put together for his 1979 US tour promoting Labour Of Lust.

Survival Kit contents (c) Carol Fawcett/Reasons 2009.

Not that Nick would be in need of such a device on his current UK dates; these days he’s a happily settled father whose mid-career resurgence has been rightly likened to that of Bob Dylan’s. Surely he is our greatest living songwriter?

Gatefold outer sleeve, Brinsley Schwarz, Brinsley Schwarz, UA 1970.

Nick’s career first benefited from Barney Bubbles artwork when he was a member of Brinsley Schwarz. Back in 1970 Barney provided the gatefold cover of the band’s eponymous debut album  under the guise of Teenburger Designs.

Cowboys, paint-by-numbers series, possibly 50s.

For the Brinsley Schwarz sleeve, Barney applied lurid colours to a paint-by-numbers depiction of a Native American brave ( painted to look as though he is observing earth from a far-off planet). As can be seen in another from this Western series – discovered by Mrs G on eBay last year – Barney increased the hallucinatory/sci-fi effect by stretching the width.

If you’re in the South Kensington area tonight come along and shake a tail-feather; Ron Sexsmith is in support and Nick and his fine fellow musicians will be performing a selection from recent career retrospective Quiet Please. I’m DJing before and after the show.

Celebrating the 30th anniversary of Do It Yourself

Monday, May 18th, 2009

Today we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the release of Do It Yourself  by Ian Dury & The Blockheads with a visual feast including previously unpublished images.


  
When the album came out on May 18, 1979, much was made of the fact that the wallpaper cover was available in a number of variations. There have been claims that as many as 56 were printed in stock from the Crown range. We found 27 in the course of researching Reasons To Be Cheerful, most of which are reproduced here.  

The inspiration for the cover came from a book of wallpaper samples; as ever Barney Bubbles delighted in elevating the mundane and everyday, though his initial proposal was for four covers.

When Stiff Records‘ boss Dave Robinson persuaded Crown to provide the materials for free in exchange for featuring the order number on the front of the album, Stiff swiftly escalated the plans with 10 alone for the UK and many others for their licensees around the world.

With screw-hole lettering embossed onto the surface of the wallpaper, the front cover carries the tracklisting and also a Barney classic; an illustration entitled “Tommy The Talking Toolbox says it’s…for all the family to enjoy!”

(c) Diana Fawcett/Reasons 2009

One piece of original artwork unearthed for the book contains part of the lyric from the album’s lead-track Inbetweenies, which was released as a single in some countries.

The back cover carries a Chris Gabrin photograph of Dury and the Blockheads lined up outside a wig shop; this is mirrored in abstract form in a painting by Barney on one side of the inner, entitled “Better Being Mugs Than Being Smug”.

The other side of the inner – headed “Ultramine” with Gabrin billed as “Gabrinovsky” – features the musicians and their team hand-triggering portrait shots of themselves.

(c) Diana Fawcett/Reasons 2009.

A lot was riding on the album’s release. It’s predecessor – New Boots & Panties!! – had established Ian Dury as a new wave star, remaining in the charts for 90 weeks and setting up hits such as Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick

When Dury refused to allow Hit Me to appear on the album, the Stiff staff, including marketing men Alan Cowderoy and Paul Conroy (who went on to work with hit acts from Madness to the Spice Girls), pulled out all the stops with an advertising and promotional campaign which integrated Barney’s design work centred around the theme of home improvement.

Barney’s paintbrush and paint logo for the record label was extended across posters, in-store banners and music press ads, as were his graphics representing paint splashes and stains.

Famously, Stiff sent teams of wallpaper hangers to decorate music press offices before journalists arrived while the exterior of record label’s offices received similar treatment. 

Left: Dury outside Stiff. Pic: Redferns. Right: Inbetweenies 12", Stiff France.

A photo-shoot took place at Barney’s Shoreditch studio with Ian Dury  - complete with knotted hankie on his head – as a housepainter.

Right (c) Alan Cowderoy/Reasons 2009.

Barney created point of display artwork on clear vinyl to be posted in record shop windows, and press ads and many badges (including an adapted Blockheads logo) continued the theme.

Promotional items even included “Blockhead” tins of paint while posters such as the one on the right below (which belongs to designer Alan Aboud) were printed on wallpaper and pasted onto exterior walls. 

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Typical of his approach to advertising in this period, Barney exploited the presence of five weekly music papers with different ads using spot-colour to “paint” and decorate full pages. Several incorporated his Blockhead ideogram (which has been identified on John Coulthart’s Barney post by Paul Murphy as stemming from British political imprint of the 30s, the Left Book Club).

One  is a cut-out-and-keep face mask (so that the reader could, er, do it themselves…), while another features a splash of paint over one “eye”. The Watchmen ident has always put me in mind of this image.

The  volume and sustained quality of the work is impressive, particularly since Barney also delivered sleeves and promotional, advertising and marketing designs for other projects in this period, including Labour Of Lust by Nick Lowe and Frogs, Sprouts, Clogs And Krauts by The Rumour and their attendant singles.

In the event, Do It Yourself didn’t achieve the hoped-for sales levels. The absence of Hit Me was compounded by the mercurial Dury’s decision to hastily release  a new track as the next single.

Reasons To be Cheerful Part 3 was recorded while on the road in Europe, and released a month or so after Do It Yourself (and effectively eclipsing it). The artwork was not designed by Barney but Dury’s friend and former art-school teacher Peter Blake. But that’s another story…

Space Ritual ’09 cancelled

Friday, May 15th, 2009

The ambitious plan to celebrate Barney Bubbles’ and Robert Calvert‘s involvement in the Hawkwind legacy has come to nought with the cancellation of the all-day concert Space Ritual 09, due to take place at London’s The Roundhouse on June 7.

Front cover, Hawklords booklet, 1978; poster by Bruce Fisher for cancelled event.

The brainchild of former Hawkwind wind instrument player Nik Turner, the event was to include a rendition of the band’s Space Ritual stage show from 1972, as well as the splinter group Hawklords’ 25 Years On album from 1978. There were to be appearances by reunited fellow travellers such as Amon Duul II – whose ranks included Hawkwind member Dave Anderson -and  Quintessence, as well as a performance of a 1976 play written by Calvert and featuring a stage set by Barney.

Barney's front covers for Space Ritual, Hawklords, UA, 1973 and 25 Years On, Hawklords, Charisma, 1978.

Space Ritual 09 had already been delayed once; due to take place on March 8, that gig was pulled at the last minute by Turner after he suffered a back injury.

Barney-designed "Lohengrin" banner for Nik Turner, Space Ritual tour, 1972.

“The change of show date meant various acts and production events are unable to be present,” reads the press statement released today.  ”While there has been a concerted effort by all concerned, it has not been possible to find replacement performances. As such, both Hawklords and the promoter feel that to pare down the event would not warrant a £30 ticket price and have made the unhappy decision to cancel the show. All tickets are refundable from point of purchase.”

Commiserations to those looking forward to the event, particularly Trudi Woodhouse, who won our competition for free tickets.

Meanwhile Hawkwind, steered by founder Dave Brock,  is playing a number of dates this year in celebration of its 40th anniversary, including a show in old stamping ground Notting Hill. Taking place at the Porchester Hall on August 29, this too promises to be a happening. Tickets have sold out.

When El Lissitzky met the punk rockers downtown

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

As detailed in REASONS, Barney Bubbles’ 1977 sleeve for punk band Generation X’s debut single Your Generation was a key inspiration for a new wave of young designers applying the principles of the early 20th century art movement Constructivism to their work.

The graphic fulfilled “a basic function of art by instructing delightfully” – as critic Michael Billington wrote recently in an entirely different context - influencing the future direction of Neville Brody, Malcolm Garrett, Peter Saville and many, many more.

John Ingham (standing) with Siouxsie Sue, Steve Severin and Johnny Rotten, Paris, 1976. Photo: Ray Stevenson.

Now new details have emerged about the story behind the cover. The sleeve was commissioned by Generation X‘s co-manager John Ingham, the Sounds journalist who  - using the deliberate misprint “Jonh” for his first name – had trail-blazed punk coverage, publishing the first-ever interview with the Sex Pistols.

In March 1977 John and fellow manager Stewart Joseph were actively searching for distinctive art direction for the upcoming record deal with Chrysalis (the group’s founder/guitarist Tony James and singer Billy Idol were all the while designing their own t-shirts in a pop and op-art style).

El Lissitzky: The Constructor 1924; Beat The Whites With The Red Wedge 1919

The managers paid a visit to Joseph’s friend, the art historian, exhibition curator and author Michael Collins. “Michael gave us a crash-course in Constructivism,” says John. “He talked about Rodchenko, Malevich and, of course, El Lissitzky, who really nailed us because his work is so geometric. We were particular struck by Beat The Whites With The Red Wedge.” 

Cover, The First Kestner Portfolio, 1923; Design for Mayakovsky's For The Voice, 1923.

The artist born Lazor Markovich Lissitzky in 1890 revolutionised graphic design during its formative stages. Critic Max Bill’s famous summation of Lissitzky’s book About 2 Squares – “Typography is a game that leads to communication, and it all began with Lissitzky’s tale of two squares” – had long struck a chord with Barney.

Globetrotter In Time 1923; Flying From Far Away, About 2 Squares 1922.

A couple of days after their encounter with Collins, John called his girlfriend Suzanne Spiro, then working at Stiff Records, where Barney had taken up residence as art director just two weeks previously.

Stiff in Melody Maker 1976 (note Barney-designed Naughty Rhythms tour poster): Jake Riviera, Suzanne Spiro, Dave Robinson.

“I was telling her about our conversation with Michael and these books I’d bought on the subject,” says John. “Suzanne repeated the name El Lissiztsky out loud.  The next thing I heard was Barney’s voice shouting from the back room: ‘What’s going on? Why are you talking about El Lissitzky?’”

As detailed in a letter to his friend Lorry Sartorio, March 1977 marked Barney’s return to the fray of the music business. He struck a deal with his pal, Stiff co-founder Jake Riviera, whereby he lived at 32 Alexander Street in Paddington (which housed the label’s offices) in return for designs.

(c) Lorry Sartorio/Reasons 2009

The letter refers to Riviera looking “like a public school-boy”. Riviera laughs: “That was down to a ‘Man From British Steel’ haircut I had at the time.”

In his first weeks at Stiff, Barney produced sleeves, posters, press ads and other artwork for compilation A Bunch Of Stiff Records, The Damned single  Neat Neat Neat and album Damned Damned Damned and Elvis Costello’s debut Less Than Zero.

“Barney grabbed the phone out of Suzanne’s hand and demanded to know about my interest in the Constructivists,” recalls John Ingham. “I explained what was going on with Generation X and off we went; we had our art director.”

Within a few days Stewart, John and Barney were sat on the stoop outside Stiff discussing options for Your Generation. ”We talked about the music we liked, “says John. ” Barney was a big Who fanatic and he told a story I’ve never heard from anybody else. He was a regular at their ’64 residency at The Marquee and talked about this bit when they went into a noise sequence with feedback sounding like bombs dropping.  

“Somewhere in the middle of it Townshend would inevitably hit a member of the audience over the head with his guitar, and we laughed about how people used to fight for that particular spot. I’d heard that story but Barney was the first and only person to reveal that the ‘song’ was called World War II.”

Once they had established common ground, Barney produced an idea for the sleeve: the numerals 45 in direct reference to the rpm of a 7in single. ” We had another session sitting on the stoop on a sunny mid-day and out came the spiral-bound notebook with these precise 2in sq ideas,” says John. “One of them was exactly the front and back cover of Your Generation, down to the last detail.”      


Quarter-page advert in NME, September 10, 1977.

For the advert for trade paper Music Week, Barney urged the band and their managers to keep it simple: “He said that it was a waste of time trying to be clever, that we should just say: ‘Buy this record’.” 

In the event they settled on “Our record in your record shops on Saturday” placed in the white space left by a trompe l’oeil rip Billy Idol appears to have torn in the photograph by Ray Stevenson. Signifying the amount of time the band had taken to reach their first release – rivals the Pistols, the Clash and The Damned had knocked out at least a couple of singles each by this stage – the ad featured a typical Barney pun: “Worth it’s wait”.

Barney adopted the more blunt approach for the August 1977 music press campaign for Elvis Costello’s My Aim Is True, with its exhortation “Buy It.”

Chrysalis half-page advert, Sounds, September 10, 1977.

Barney’s ad also appeared in the NME but Chrysalis replaced it in other music press titles with a spot-colour one generated by their own art department, bowdlerising Barney’s graphic and utilising corny lettering for the band name.

Two of four matching posters for Marquee residency, September 1977.

On the single’s release in September 1977, Generation X played a series of four gigs at The Marquee promoted by monochrome Barney-designed posters. These were based on stills from a performance clip made for a pilot music TV show directed by the veteran Mike Mansfield  (who also helmed the clip for the Pistols’ God Save The Queen that summer).

“Barney and I spent a morning in an edit suite running the video,” says John. “Every so often he would freeze the frame and take a photograph. What delighted me about the final design was that he incorporated the lines of static as graphics. When all four were posted together, the lines matched.”

In December 1977 John exited the UK punk scene for the balmier climes of Los Angeles. Stewart remained as manager of Generation X. In a future post we shall explore how Barney and the band hooked up once again.

Neville Brody's Red Wedge logo, 1985.

Interest in Lissitzky and early 20th century Russian design burgeoned, via the likes of Neville Brody. He was at the forefront of  80s designers channeling the movement, notably in The Face and also for his logo for music/political movement Red Wedge ( the name of which resulted from a conversation between Barney and founder Billy Bragg).

Curiously online images of the logo are currently extremely rare; we’ve scanned the one above from our archive. 

A Proun, El Lissitzky, 1925; Front cover, Michael, Franz Ferdinand, Domino 2004.

Bands continue to draw on Constructivism – particularly Franz Ferdinand – as do contemporary artists such as Shephard Fairey, while the artists themselves are constantly re-evaluated.

Saks Fifth Avenue campaign, Shephard Fairey, spring 2009.

As Patrick Burgoyne has pointed out, Constructivism is “the ism that just keeps on giving”. However, it’s interesting to speculate on the look of music through graphic design had Barney Bubbles not overheard a phone conversation between a young manager and his girlfriend in a mouldy Paddington basement 32 years ago.