//Top: Abstract 1, John Piper, 1935; above: Front cover, Danger, The Psychedelic Furs, CBS, 1982//
One of the hallmarks of Barney Bubbles’ body of work is the elevation of the methods of art historicism.
While perusing a copy of the early 80s exhibition catalogue Circle: Constructive Art In Britain 1934-40 last week I came across John Piper’s Abstract 1, one of a series of investigations into abstraction by the artist in this period.
//Front cover, Circle: Constructive Art In Britain 1934-40, edited by Jeremy Lewison, Kettle’s Yard Gallery, 1982//
//Reproduction of Abstract 1 in Circle (Left) with sections of John Cecil Stephenson’s Painting, 1937, and Freidrich Vordemberge-Gildewart’s Composition no 94, 1935 (right)//
Abstract 1 in particular chimes with the Bubbles’ painting incorporated into the design for the front cover of The Psychedelic Furs’ single Danger.
//Abstract 1, oil and commercial paint on canvas, 917cm x 1065cm, Tate Britain//
//Composition, oil on canvas, 55.4 x 68 cm, 1937, Ashmolean//
//Abstract 1935, gouache and collage, 1935, Pallant House Gallery//
The Furs’ single was released in 1982, the year Circle was mounted at Cambridge gallery Kettle’s Yard to reflect on the outpourings of pre-WWII modernism from Piper, as well as such artists as Naum Gabo, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore and Ben Nicholson.
As Bubbles’ work in his final years grew increasingly reductive, his preoccupations became aligned with those of early 20th century artists, in particular regarding the simplification of natural forms to geometric essentials.
This was combined with his fascination for constructing faces from unusual elements – as explored a few years back here – in the Danger design.
I don’t know whether Bubbles visited Circle or was even aware of the show, but it’s pleasurable to contemplate the ways in which this master designer invigorated his work – en route achieving maximum engagement with his audience – by drawing on the relatively recent history of art and design.
Buy copies of Circle: Constructive Art In Britain 1934-40 here.
Signed promotional poster for Danger, 1982. (c) H. Thompson/Reasons 2009.
Credits, Mirror Moves, The Psychedelic Furs, CBS, 1984.
Barney Bubbles’ association with the great British post-punk band The Psychedelic Furs may not have lasted all that long yet it proved to be fertile, particularly when it came to his friendship and working relationship with the group’s driving force and frontman Richard Butler.
Front cover, Forever Now, The Psychedelic Furs, CBS UK, 1982.
The collusion with Barney on the band’s 1982 release Forever Now and it’s attendant singles paid dividends in the form of excellent and typographically challenging artwork which may have bamboozled the US record company but impressed and endeared Barney to the group: at that time Richard and his bass-playing brother Tim, guitarist John Ashton and ex-Birthday Party drummer Phil Calvert.
On 1984 album Mirror Moves, their first release after Barney’s death, the Furs – and young designer Al McDowell – tipped their hat to his memory in the credits with the words “After Barney Bubbles”.
Back and front, Forever Now, CBS Netherlands, 1982. Note hand-written band name and title added to front cover.
We’re indebted to A&R legend Howard Thompson – rightly lauded these days for his digital radio station North Fork Sound – for the back-story and some of these images, including the rare and never previously published promotional poster for the single Danger.
Barney Bubbles painting his portrait of Richard Butler 1983. (c) Reasons 2009.
“I met Barney four or five times; he seemed like a lovely, if some times troubled fellow,” says Howard. “When I was at Island Records in the mid 70s, I instigated the distribution deal for Stiff so I think that must be where we first came across each other.”
Back and front cover, Love My Way 7", The Psychedelic Furs, CBS UK, 1982.
Moving to CBS, Howard worked with the Furs on their first two albums, and then transferred to the US in early 1982.
Inner gatefold, Love My Way 7", The Psychedelic Furs, CBS UK, 1982.
Commissioned by Butler, Barney’s design for the front of Forever Now applied a greater sense of form to the Warhol-esque screens used on earlier Furs’ releases with an organised mosaic of tiles in flourescent green and pink.
Photgrapher Graeme Attwood’s dramatic monochrome band portrait is filtered through this prism and framed by Barney’s circular logo created from yellow stars.
On the back the song titles run into each other in imposing capitals decorated with tessellated pink rectangles.
Back and front cover, Love My Way 12", The Psychedelic Furs, CBS UK, 1982.
CBS’ enhanced budget, and the industry trend towards multi-format releases, enabled Barney to go to town on the singles.
Love My Way appeared with two 7″ sleeves – one a gatefold – and a 12″. The latter compiled Attwood’s head and shoulder shots on the front.
The B-side song is Aeroplane.”On the back is a ‘xerox’ of the parts to a model aeroplane kit; so Barney, isn’t it?” says Howard.
The Love My Way sleeves were subjected to a gelatin-silver process (which embeds metallic silver in the coating). These scans aren’t the best, but silver dots can be indentified as an element of the five tangent circle motifs which appear enlarged on the gatefold inner.
Motifs, Love My Way 7" gatefold, The Psychedelic Furs, CBS UK, 1982.
The decorations – see also the three interlocked circles which Barney added to certain FBeat releases – are also arranged in repeat as quasi-chemical structures which convey the more user-friendly name “The Furs” as well as accommodating lettering which spells out the band’s full name and the song titles.
The front cover of second single Danger is one of Barney’s paintings. Typical of his private work of this period, apparently random squiggles and abstract shapes deliver the physiognomy of the four musicians. Earlier covers are evoked – 1977’s Music For Pleasure by The Damned, 1981’s Me & The Boys by The Inmates – and references are made; for example the “paint-pot” ring also appeared on artwork and badges for Do it Yourself by Ian Dury & The Blockheads.
Back and front cover, Danger 12", The Psychedelic Furs, CBS UK, 1982.
The Danger cover was printed as a poster for circulation to the media in an edition of just 90. ‘I have number 18,” says Howard. “The signatures read: ‘Love Love Love Richard Butler(with a drawing of a heart)T. Butler Phillip Calvert xx John A$hton‘.”
Left: Front cover, US release of Forever Now, Columbia, 1982. Left: Inner, Mirror Moves, CBS, 1984.
Barney’s intricate artwork appears to have been too much for the US record label Columbia. “In their infinite wisdom, ‘marketing’ chose to use a different, non-BB cover for the album and, of course, they released the singles in generic bags,” says Howard. “Twats.”
Back and front, 4Star EP, Columbia, 1982.
Chasing the youth market (which picked up on the group when they re-recorded early track Pretty In Pink for the John Hughes movie of the same name) CBS appropriated and bowdlerised Barney’s artwork for the grab-bag 4 Star EP.
Butler was responsible for the design for 1984’s Mirror Moves in conjunction with Al McDowell, who has long proclaimed a debt to Barney’s work – his design company Rocking Russian was in part named after Barney’s demonstrations that contemporary design could be invigorated by engaging with the work of the Constructivists.
Back and front, Mirror Moves, Columbia, 1984.
McDowell formed offshoot record sleeve design company Da Gama with Tomato‘s John Warwicker and, with Butler, produced a sleeve which drew on the elements created by Barney: the circular album title logo and arrangements of stars which are overlaid with tiled portraits, again by Griffin.
The layout of the song titles and credits follows Barney’s back cover of Forever Now and, right at the end, there is the special tribute to their departed friend and design hero.
Study 2009, Richard Butler. Oil on canvas, 16in x 12in.
Richard Butler went on to greater success with the Furs before forming Love Spit Love in the 90s. The Psychedelic Furs reunited for a tour in 2000. Butler now concentrates on painting and recently held an exhibition of new work at Miami’s Kevin Bruk Gallery.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.