A 12-year-old trade magazine clipping has revealed that Barney Bubbles even played an (admittedly indirect) role in the formalisation of Richard Branson’s business interests, with one of his invoices setting in train the perma-grinning bearded entrepreneur’s journey to worldwide domination.
An issue of US music industry weekly Billboard published in 1998 carried a special section celebrating Virgin Records’ 25th year.
From Billboard, September 5, 1998.
Among those interviewed was Ken Berry, seen by many as the architect of Virgin’s financial framework and by the time of the Billboard feature, president of EMI Music. But back in 1973, Berry was a 21-year-old drifter keen to break into the music industry.
Berry recounted asking Virgin co-founder Simon Draper on his first day about the new label’s royalty payment system. “Simon said, ‘I don’t know but I’ve got something here,’ and he pulled a piece of paper from his desk. It was this yellow invoice from a guy called Barney Bubbles – he used to do the album artwork – and Simon had written various numbers on the back. These were the various royalties we were supposed to pay people.”
12in sleeve. Front cover, Marjory Razorblade, Kevin Coyne, 1973.
This was doubtless Barney’s meticulously prepared invoice for the design provided for Kevin Coyne‘s incredible double album Marjory Razorblade, one of Virgin’s earliest releases following its debut in May that year with Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells.
Artwork, Marjory Razorblade, 1973.
Marjory Razorblade contains many of the late Coyne’s greatest songs, including his musing on his time as a psychiatric nurse House On The Hill, the single Marlene and the storming Eastbourne Ladies (championed a few years later alongside tracks by Peter Hamill, Can, Big Youth and Neil Young by Johnny Rotten on Capital Radio’s summer 1977 broadcast A Punk & His Music).
Another client of Barney’s, Wreckless Eric, recently played a set of Coyne songs with his partner Amy Rigby and Coyne’s son Eugene in Germany; Eric says they might do some KC songs when they’re in the UK this spring – a must-see we reckon.
And Coyne seems finally to be receiving the widespread recognition he deserves with the release of a I Want My Crown, an anthology of his work between 1973 and 1979 for Virgin.
So, the next time you’re waiting for a Virgin Train, working out at a Virgin Active or checking your Virgin Mobile bill, think of Barney’s small part in the transformation of a scruffy hippie label into a global business empire.
As highlighted in Will Birch’s tremendous Ian Dury biography, the creative relationship between the late singer and Barney Bubbles was one of the most fruitful in the history of pop.
Of similar ages with deep art school roots, Barney and Dury commenced their partnership in the spring of 1977 just as both were heading for the top of their game, with Barney installed at Stiff after a hiatus of more than a year and Dury preparing to unleash the career-defining records and performances which brought him enduring national treasure status.
Back cover photograph by Chris Gabrin.
Unlike his treatment of others, Dury was never-less-than respectful of Barney. “Barney was easily the most incredible designer I’d ever come across,” Dury told Birch.
Poster for Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Stiff Records, 1977. Tom Sheehan Collection.
Dury said Barney “scared the shit out of me. He was righteous. He didn’t have the faults or the ego and he made me feel second class. I wanted his approval in a strange kind of way”.
The decision was made to throw all resources behind the polio-stricken performer and his band The Blockheads. Barney art-directed a sustained marketing and promotional campaign made up of several elements: his Blockhead logo, numerous press ads, several posters, a songbook and a tour programme. Together these helped maintain the album’s presence in the charts for more than a year and set up hits What A Waste and number one smash Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick.
NME, February 4, 1978: Ian Dury and Davey Payne.
The cover of Birch’s book is a delightful rendition by Dury’s friend and mentor Sir Peter Blake, while on the back is a photo by Chris Gabrin from sessions for a series of music press ads.
Melody Maker, February 4, 1978: Fred Rowe and Ian Dury.
These are littered with Dury’s skewiff humour and guttersnipe poetry and feature some of the possible titles he had drawn up for his debut solo album.
NME January 28, 1978: Ian Dury and Charley Charles.
Gabrin’s monochromatic clarity and his strong working relationship with both parties was an important element in the Dury/Bubbles dialogue. “We were working full-pelt at the time,” said Gabrin the other night. “There was so much to do to keep up with press ads and tours.”
Right: Melody Maker, January 28, 1978: Norman Watt-Roy and Ian Dury. Left: Sounds, February 4, 1978: Ian Dury and John Turnbull.
Gabrin’s band portraits of Dury and The Blockheads (and minder Fred “Spider” Rowe) hit the UK’s music weeklies in February 1978.
Poster, Stiff Records, 1978.
A Gabrin photograph from an earlier session (which Barney had overlaid with a lurid orange screen for one of five giant posters for the Stiff tour) was used for a standard sized poster to hammer home the album’s availabiity. The year ended with more band shots in the incredible fold-out programme for the December 1978 Hanky Pantie tour.
8" x 6" tour programme cover, December 1978.
The matchstick portrait cover was even used for the manufacture of hankies (to be knotted and worn on the head). A couple of Stiff employees – maybe Paul Conroy or Andy Murray can identify them? – sport these in the Top Of The Pops audience for Dury and The Blockheads’ triumphant performance of Hit Me.
Ian Dury & The Blockheads perform Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick, Top Of The Pops, December 1978.
By 1983, when Dury was filmed by director Franco Rosso for a Channel 4 documentary, the wordsmith was in a very different place.
On one of his regular separations from The Blockheads and main writing partner Chaz Jankel, Dury’s career was about to hit the skids as he recorded the half-baked 4000 Weeks Holiday. During the making of the film, management company Blackhill collapsed, but there are some sequences where it’s office can be seen decorated with Barney’s designs.
As well as Blockhead logo stickers there are posters for Do It Yourself and also the spoken-word album Blackhill’s Peter Jenner released on Charisma by cricket commentating legend John Arlott.
This was cooked up with Charisma publicist and Barney’s friend Glen Colson, who recalls how he came up with such faux cricket positions as “Wayward Short Leg”.
Poster, Charisma Records, 1982.
By the time the documentary was screened in 1984, Barney had died at his own hand.
“Barney Bubbles told me a few straighteners towards the end of his life,” said Dury, towards the end of his own. “Barney told me: ‘You were a horrible piece of work in those days Ian.’ I said: ‘Barney, I didn’t want to be’.”
Left: 12" cover, Jukebox Dury, Stiff, 1981. Right: 7' cover, What A Waste, Stiff, 1981.
A couple of years earlier, Barney had delivered his views on Dury’s behaviour via the designs for 1981 greatest hits Jukebox Dury and it’s single, the reissued What A Waste.
Gone is the affection of the New Boots & Panties!! era. In it’s place, with stark contrasts, the bleached-out image renders Dury as Frankenstein’s monster, while the jaunty razor-blade earring is now used for chopping out coke, lobotomising the artist.
Will Birch’s book is a fully rounded portrait of this extraordinary man, and is heartily recommended.
Here’s a chance for you to get your hands on a FREE copy SIGNED by the author.
Yesterday’s Design 4 Music symposium was a roaring success, with all tickets selling out and a stellar cast of contributors providing insights into many different aspects of this vast subject.
The closing panel on Barney Bubbles’ legacy proved entertaining and at times revelatory even from my perspective; I lined up with three leading designers: Barney’s one-time colleague Malcolm Garrett and Barney fans Kate Moross and Gerard Saint.
Label detail with band logo, Music for Pleasure, The Damned, Stiff Records, 1977.
Gerard showed off the copy of Music For Pleasure he has owned since he was a 12-year-old punk in Devon (and spotted that Barney extended the design detail to the label). This chimed with Kate since Music For Pleasure was the key which unlocked her appreciation of Barney’s ouevre.
24" x 36" card. Outer foldout sleeve, The Glastonbury Fayre, Revelation, 1972.
And Malcolm displayed some choice designs including Glastonbury Fayre, In Search Of Space and Your Generation, as well as an intriguing art questionnaire filled in by Barney in 1981; he – along with other artists including Peter Blake – had been mailed it by a student friend of Malcolm’s. It’s been promised for the next edition of Reasons To Be Cheerful, which is fab.
Meanwhile an encounter with Andrew Heeps – whose framing company Art Vinyl staged a mini-exhibition – provided yet another example of how Barney connections are every which way.
12in laminated card. Front cover, Walls Have Ears, Blanket Of Secrecy, FBeat, 1982.
Andrew only recently discovered that his grandfather founded construction company Heeps Willard. Wreckless Eric (exclusive interview here) mentioned just the other week that it was an HW sign in Barney’s Islington neighbourhood in the early 80s which provided him with his final – and possibly most charming – nom-de-design, appearing as a credit on releases by Billy Bragg and Blanket Of Secrecy.
Credits, Walls Have Ears, 1982.
“I was knocked out when my dad told me about his father’s company,” said Andrew. “He gave Barney the name and here I am immersed in vinyl and one of Heeps Willard’s biggest fans!”
7" card with foil imprint. Into The Galaxy, Midnight Juggernauts, Isomorph, 2009.
The current issue of The Word covers former Radio One DJ Mike Read’s sale of his huge vinyl collection.
12in card. Front cover, Red Dirt, Red Dirt, Fontana, 1970. Pic: John KosmicKourier.
A notable item in Read’s glorified yard sale (also discussed on The Word’s excellent website) is the 1970 eponymous album by blues-rockers Red Dirt. Released on the Fontana label, this went as soon as it arrived, ignored by punters and press alike.
Since the 80s collectors’ boom in prog and associated genres, copies of Red Dirt have become increasingly valuable; vinyl authority (and one-time colleague of Barney Bubbles) Phil Smee points out that they are currently go for at least £600 a pop.
Back cover, Red Dirt, 1970. Pic: John KosmicKourier.
Red Dirt’s music has been derided, unfairly we believe. Though sometimes workmanlike, the quartet’s vigorous brew kept it short and sweet, shining on such tracks as Mellotron and dirty slide-laden opener Memories, the Beefheart stomp of Death Letter, acoustic bottleneck blues Song For Pauline and the mournful I’ve Been Down So Long. Sonically, it’s in line Rod Stewart’s first couple of solo albums as well as those he did with The Faces; this could have something to do with the presence of engineer Mike Bobak (who worked on Never A Dull Moment and Long Player among others).
Red Dirt is blessed with a wonderful cover by Barney Bubbles, whose Notting Hill design studio Teenburger receives the credit.
Barney launched Teenburger Designs at the beginning of 1969 from his abode at 307 Portobello Road; for headed paper he reproduced burger wrappers, with a brown burger in a bun printed on the back. We’ll be revealing an example as one of the additions to the new enhanced edition of Reasons To Be Cheerful; above is the header.
Red Dirt is one of a handful of album sleeves attributed to Teenburger; some were executed in conjunction with Barney’s pal from Conran Design in the 60s, John Muggeridge.
The cover image is taken from a wanted poster of Geronimo, the Apache chieftain reputed to have magical powers (though it’s clear the photo was staged – a shackle is visible around one leg) . The Apache stem from the south of the US: Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma, where there are federally recognized contemporary Apache tribal governments to this day. Geronimo’s remains were thought – until recently – to have been buried under a stone pyramid monument at Fort Sill in Oklohoma, the state renowned for the presence of – guess what? – red dirt across more than a million acres, in 33 counties no less. Sand, siltstone and shale weathering account for its hue, apparently.
7in sleeve. Back and front, One Chord Wonders/Quickstep, The Adverts, Stiff Records, 1977.
Barney’s brutal enlargement of the deliberately ragged crop of Geronimo’s face brought out the half-tones, while the dramatic contrasts are heightened by the sparing use of the red “blood” trickles seeping from the bullet holes emblazoning the band’s name on the design.
Poster, 60" x 40". The Damned, Stiff Records, 1977.
This technique really came into it’s own seven years later when applied to the monochrome imagery of early punk, as evinced by Barney’s 7in sleeve for The Adverts’ Stiff single 1977 One Chord Wonders and his large poster for The Damned that same year.
“The legacy of Barney Bubbles” is the title of the finale of Design 4 Music: Music + Design, the forthcoming conference considering this “complex, passionate, sometimes obsessive relationship”.
Organised by Eye editor/co-owner John L. Walters and Central Saint Martin’s Catherine Dixon, Design 4 Music takes place on January 29 at London’s design and printed reference hub St Bride’s, with contributions from such important practitioners and commentators as:
On our recommendation Kate Moross will talk about “The vinyl solution to making music look good”.
Moross, Saint and Reasons To Be Cheerful contributor Malcolm Garrett will also join me and Walters in considering the enduring legacy of Barney Bubbles in the final panel of the day, starting at 5.15pm.
Also on show will be a mini-exhibition of sleeve art courtesy of Art Vinyl.
If you are able, do come along. This is shaping up to be an essential day for anyone engaged or interested in music’s visual identity through graphic design.
Meanwhile John and Catherine have generously supplied us with a free ticket to the event. For a chance to win it, please send your answers to the question below to firstname.lastname@example.org by January 22 at the latest.
Q: WHAT IS THE NAME OF KATE MOROSS’ S RECORD LABEL?
This comprises the punk and new wave picture sleeve singles collected by W+K’s Neil Christie way back in 1977 when he was a disaffected 15-year-old.
Naturally Barney Bubbles is represented, by one of his signature pieces – the cover of Generation X’s debut Your Generation.
7in card. Back and front of Your Generation/Day By Day, Generation X, Chrysalis, 1977.
And Neil makes a passionate case for the impact of the music and these designs at the time: “These singles were totems, talismans and badges of allegiance. Not widely available, hunted, hoarded, swapped, carried to school, played again and again and again. The graphics on the covers were themselves codes to live by, which we wore on our sleeves and pinned to our blazers.”