Archive for April, 2010

Nick Lowe: From Glastonbury Fayre to St Paul’s

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Tomorrow (April 30) I have the great pleasure to be DJing for Nick Lowe again.

The venue couldn’t be more different from the Albert Hall; this time Nick is playing for a couple of hundred people at St Paul’s in his stamping ground, Brentford. It’s in a good cause – the money from the sold-out gig will go to the church’s community drop-in centre.

Nick, second left, with the other members of Brinsley Schwarz from The Glastonbury Fayre, Revelation, 1972.

This is the first of a spate of live appearances by Nick this year. In a couple of months he will be in the acoustic tent at the Glastonbury Festival as the only performer to have played the very first Glastonbury Fayre in 1971.

On that occasion he was a member of Brinsley Schwarz, whose debut album benefited from the lux gatefold cover by Barney Bubbles.

The printed "Silver Surfer" sealed vinyl envelope for The Glastonbury Fayre. Courtesy: Jeff Dexter Collection.

The Brinsleys’ subsequent appearance on the fund-raising triple Glastonbury Fayre set was the next staging post in Nick’s association with Barney.

"Dome Sweet Dome" cut-out geodesic dome insert, The Glastonbury Fayre.

Barney’s Glastonbury package comprised the tri-fold 24in x 36in card sleeve housed in a sealed printed vinyl envelope with customised labels, booklets and cut-out inserts for the creation of a miniature silver pyramid and  geodesic dome.

"Pyramid" cut-out album insert.

These scans of the pyramid inserts don’t do the originals justice (they’re shiny silver on black).

However, it’s been fun using the scans (and some silver paint) to create our own versions.

"Power" cut-out album insert.

Taking it’s cue from Stewart Brand‘s revolutionary Whole Earth Catalogue, the “Dome Sweet Dome” is covered in messages and instructions of ever-increasing pertinence:

“We can survive on waste – energy, experience, imagination is all!”

“Scavenge and scrounge shamelessly – you are your own architect.”

“Ecology is you.”

“We might need this kind of good, cheap shelter one day.”

We also love the “Astral” visage made by glueing the ornate sci-fi insert borders together.

The Eye Of Horus which accompanies the instructions was a marker of Barney’s abiding interest in Egyptology, and one of the powerful symbols he loved to revisit, sometimes using Nick’s aquiline features.

Album insert detail.

For example, a decade later  he openly referenced The All Seeing Eye, as it is also known,  on the cover of Nick’s 1982 album Nick The Knife.

12in sleeves. Front covers, Nick The Knife, 1982. Left: US issue on Columbia. Right: UK issue, F-Beat.

The uncompromising crop on the front of the UK issue (on F-Beat) concentrated on Nick’s angular features to achieve the full effect; as in the case of many another Barney design, the US issue soft-pedaled this with an uncropped and thus more conventional portrait.

Cheekily, Barney responded to comments that the Nick The Knife cover was unforgiving by delivering a totally contrasting sleeve for 1983 follow-up The Abominable Showman.

12in sleeve. Front cover, The Abonimable Showman, Nick Lowe, F-Beat, 1983.

Here there isn’t sign of a single blemish: the boxed-in portrait of Nick is colourised and airbrushed to the max, though the shadows and his expression once again clearly render…The Eye Of Horus.

Really looking forward to tomorrow night’s show. Sure Nick will pull out all the stops at St Paul’s just as he did at another church, St Luke’s, for the BBC a couple of years back – have a look at him rocking with one of the founding fathers of British popular music Chris Barber in the clip above.

Has NME blundered by binning Barney?

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

More than three decades ain’t a bad innings; today IPC Ignite has retired Barney Bubbles’ masthead (which survived in modified form since introduction late in 1978) as part of its latest design overhaul of floundering music weekly NME.

The new block colour version is being hammered home with 10 different covers fronting a glossy look overseen by editor Krissi Murison and realised by the magazine’s art director Joe Frost.

Murison was appointed six months ago to wrestle the magazine’s reputation from the “indie Heat” phase instituted by media-hungry predecessor Conor McNicholas and, more importantly,  address the digital-era bugbears plaguing every print publishing sector: faltering advertising and sinking circulation.

Early issues with Barney's logo, including (right) the very first: December 2, 1978

Murison describes the new design as “much more mature and aspirational” with “content which focuses on being in-depth, opinionated and above all knowledgeable”.

Ad campaign for 1978 redesign. Photograph: Brian Griffin.

This is familiar to music media watchers; why, less than 10 years ago, the NME announced it was moving towards Rolling Stone territory at a time when the post-Britpop slump resulted in weekly sales falling from above 100,000 to 70,000 copies.

Logo in use in the mid-80s.

In fact, that didn’t last. Less than two years later McNicholas reversed the design approach, driving the magazine into a celeb/gossip dead-end.

These days the NME’s official weekly sale is around 38,000, having fallen an alarming 20% last year.

It was all very different when Barney was brought on board in the late summer of 1978. The music press was booming on the back of post-punk, with the NME’s sales sometimes approaching 200,000 copies a week. Barney’s layout harmonisation, decluttering of the chart and cleaning up of the house style is detailed in Reasons To Be Cheerful and expanded upon here.

First issue to feature Barney's redesign, October 7, 1978. IPC management refused to replace the old masthead for six weeks.

But in 2010, when the NME is clearly flailing for credibility and Barney’s star is in the ascendant – on average we are contacted by, or told about, two or three young designers who are inspired by his work every week – is it entirely wise to ditch a property with such beneficial associations?

Only time will tell, though it is amusing to reflect that the NME logo font which lasted so long was, in fact, pinched from the signage on a warehouse close to Barney’s Old Street studio way back in the late 70s.