With the legacy of Situationism the subject of a couple of posts on my blog, it seems timely to point up Barney Bubbles’ inclusion of frames from Christopher Grey’s Leaving The 20th Century: The Incomplete Work Of The Situationist International in his slide-show for Hawkwind’s post-punk offshoot Hawklords.
Posts Tagged ‘25 Years On’
Prompted by the forthcoming regrouping of Hawklords at Nik Turner’s Barney Bubbles Memorial Concert on Sunday November 29, here’s yet another exclusive: Barney Bubbles’ sketches for a front-and-back-printed t-shirt for the Hawkwind splinter group’s 1978 dystopian project 25 Years On.
These were drawn in the bottom right-hand corner of an otherwise blank sheet of one of his pads, and feature the heraldic/masonic symbols Barney incorporated in the concept album’s design.
As detailed in Reasons To Be Cheerful, years before merchandise became an ancillary money-spinner for the music biz, Barney was integrating his Hawkwind approach by providing tees for the band and gig-goers based on his designs for X In Search Of Space, Space Ritual and Doremi Fasol Latido and the Hawkwind/Man 1999 Party US tour poster.
As we’ve noted here, Barney first designed t-shirts in 1964, creating one worn by his girlfriend Lorry Sartorio for a poster he made for college band The Muleskinners (featuring his pal and Face Ian McLagan).
In 1976 he supplied an amazing logo design for his friend Jeff Dexter, then co-managing Hawkwind with Tony Howard and also looking after an ill-fated combo Alfalpha. This logo appeared on badges Barney created in conjunction with his friend Joly McFie of Better Badges and t-shirts in fluorescent pink on black with a diamante in the text. “They were very kool – made by his other mate Alan Holden from Sunrise Studios,” says Jeff.
And when punk and new wave took off, Barney provided many t-shirt designs for his friends, such as this Lissitzky-informed Ian Dury tee from 1978.
By 1982 Barney was contributing not only his album covers but also detail from the artwork to t-shirts, such as the “bedbug” which appeared on the back of the top fronted by his Imperial Bedroom painting for a US tour by Elvis Costello & The Attractions.
When his friend from the 60s counterculture days Sam Hutt – aka Hank Wangford – started to make waves on the UK music scene around the same time, Barney not only supplied album artwork but also came up with a wonderful range of t-shirt designs which mixed Argyll knitwear and grey marl with cowpoke.
Tickets for the Barney Bubbles Memorial Concert at the 229 Club, London on Sunday November 29 are available here.
Brian Griffin was Barney Bubbles’ chief collaborator from 1978 onwards, working with him across a dizzying array of projects, from record sleeves, advertising campaigns and promo videos to artzines, books and posters.
Barney also designed business cards, letterheads and studio idents for Brian; these two have never been published before. And now, via this site, you can purchase original copies of a number of original items they produced together: an exhibition poster, the newspaper Y and the book Copyright 1978.
More on that at the end of this post. Today we’re focusing on an unexpected project which came about in 1981 when Brian’s agent David Burnham leased premises near Baker Street in central London to young indie record label owner Daniel Miller
Daniel’s Mute Records was making the post-punk runnings having pioneered electro-pop with such great records as the label’s first two singles – his own T.V.O.D/Warm Leatherette (as The Normal) and Fad Gadget’s Back To Nature (both rarely far from our iPod playlists, record deck or CD player).
In 1981 Mute was propelled into the pop charts by fresh signing Depeche Mode‘s clutch of singles Dreaming Of Me, New Life and Just Can’t Get Enough (currently a hit again courtesy of squeaky girl band The Saturdays).
When Burnham introduce Brian to Daniel the pair established a lifelong friendship based on the shared love of the extraordinary music made by such peerless German bands as Neu!, Kraftwerk and, of course, Can (whose back catalogue Mute has reissued).
Chosen as the photographer for the cover of Depeche Mode’s debut album Speak & Spell, Brian asked Barney to design the sleeve. Barney’s own association with Kosmische music dated back to his days as in-house visual director for Hawkwind. Andrew Lauder at the band’s label United Artists – for whom Barney also worked – was an early champion in Britain and the ‘Wind’s founder Dave Brock wrote the sleevenotes for Neu!’s first UK release.
Barney’s flouro spray-paint logo for the recently-reissued Hawklords album 25 Years On is, in Brian’s view, a tribute to the one which appeared across Neu! sleeves and in particular the giant numeral which adorns their second album.
The musical ties were strong; Opa-Loka, from 1975’s Warrior On the Edge Of Time, is an oft-cited example of Hawkwind’s use of Motorik rhythms, while Brock’s first solo album Earthed To The Ground is rooted in the genre. The original sleeve of this 1984 release was a painting by John Coulthart, who has powered the revival of interest in Barney’s work in recent years.
Barney designed adverts and other promotional material to support Radar ‘s 1978 release of the eponymously-titled album by La Dusseldorf, the group formed by the late multi-instrumentalist (and one-time Kraftwerk member) Klaus Dinger after Neu! broke up in the mid-70s.
There has been speculation recently that Barney was also responsible for the sleeves for the UK releases of Kraftwerk albums Ralf & Florian and Autobahn (as posited by Colin Buttimer at Hardformat and investigated in a posting on John’s blog). Brian does not believe this to be the case.
“He would have told me, for I was a very big fan of everything German at the time,” says Brian.
Although Barney wasn’t keen on Depeche Mode, Brian persuaded him to handle the design of Speak & Spell, which centres on the doomy image of a swan swathed in a clear plastic and silhouetted on its nest against a radioactive glow.
“I was working on a personal project about a nuclear attack on London and photographed the swan in my studio to represent the only creature alive after the bomb had dropped,” explains Brian. “Goodness knows what I was thinking. Everybody hated it, including myself actually!”
Barney’s lack of connection with Depeche Mode is reflected in the coolness of his design, though in retrospect this is harmonious with the wilfully alienated stance adopted by the Mode (who describe their music as “synthetics” in the credits).
Using a serif font with spare application of yellow/gold bars, boxes and constellated dots, Barney grants the band a favourite symbol, the crown (which appears in many of his designs). With the group’s name and the album title providing the headband, the credits are arranged on the back cover in the shape of the King chess piece.
The crown is also repeated on both sides of the record label.
Brian says that the project as a whole provoked little interest in Barney. “That was most unusual for him but I fully understood the reasons, for I also disliked Depeche’s music at that time,” says Brian.
Barney used another shot from Brian’s swan shoot – a shadowy frame from the rear – in Y, the duo’s newspaper which was also preoccupied with the prevailing atmosphere of nuclear foreboding in the West at that time. “He cleverly saw that the backside of the swan was actually an infinity symbol, which is why it’s on the back page,” says Brian.
The infinity symbol is most commonly described as the figure 8 on it’s side: this is page 8 of Y. The title spells out END, with the N created by a constellation symbolising an endless road, or infinity. This, it should be noted, is similar to the motorway design on the front cover of Autobahn.
Barney was to rifle Brian’s collection of “nuclear” images – that of a ship being engulfed in a tsunami as a result of an explosion – for another electro-pop project with which he felt little affinity: Wang Chung’s album Points On The Curve. This was released two months after his death, in January 1984.
This record contained the band’s biggest hit, Dance Hall Days. Depeche Mode, on the other hand, went on to become one of the biggest groups in the world, and the curious passions they arouse in fans are explored in Jeremy Deller and Nick Abrahams‘ brilliant The Posters Came From The Walls. After a smash reception at the London Film Festival this documentary is currently touring the film festivals and will be on general release later this year. We recommend it highly.
Access a podcast featuring Brian at the Format 09 festival here.
SITE EXCLUSIVE To buy original copies of Brian Griffin and Barney Bubbles artwork – the highly collectable Y, the amazing “Scarf/Face” poster for Brian’s first one-man show and their excellent book Copyright 1978 – go here.
Today we are proud to announce that we have tracked down the rarest of all Barney Bubbles designs: Knees Up Party, the 1975 album by popular pianist Mrs Mills.
“Barney was very secretive and never talked about his work with Mills,” says his friend Jack Rivoli. “I only found out about it by accident when she appeared on The Two Ronnies one night and Barney hinted that they had collaborated.”
Like Bubbles, Mills revelled in pseudonymic disguise (she was born Gladys Jordan in 1918). Mills had been introduced to the designer by Paul McCartney (who would later marry her grand-daughter) when she was recording at Abbey Road Studios. At one time Mills was posited as a replacement for the dancer Stacia on Hawkwind‘s groundbreaking Space Ritual tour. A deal with Stiff Records was reportedly cancelled due to her hedonistic lifestyle, as portrayed here.
In typically oblique style the cover track-listing does not mention Mills’ radical reworking of Kevin Coyne’s Eastbourne Ladies (Bubbles was responsible for the layout and logo for the Coyne album Marjory Razorblade).
Mills and Bubbles shared interests in cosmology, cybernetics and casseroles. When the concept album Knees Up Party was suggested after a trip to the Lesser Great Pyramid, Bubbles adopted his integrated approach for the sleeve, art directing the photo session which involved subtle use of Pearly King & Queen regalia (denoting his ongoing interlacing of references to heraldry and regality). Mills herself is adorned with a necklace of eight flowers, a potent symbol of Bubbles’ oeuvre.
This photo session was in turn to inspire his choreography and stage sets for Hawklords’ 25 Years On tour of 1978.
“This is definitely Bubbles,” says graphics authority Roy Wenge. “Knees Up Party is a fine example of the intricately reflexive nature of his work. As a graphic construction it offers multiple points of interest, dispersing the viewer’s attention.”
In the next post we shall examine another Bubbles rarity – his design for The Damned’s collectable album in their incarnation as little-known horror-rockers Lemming.
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).
“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.”
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.”
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.
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”.
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’s release was heralded by an all-day happening at The Roundhouse, for which Barney choreographed the dancers in Sphynx’s stage show.
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.
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.”
– – 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: firstname.lastname@example.org 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?
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.”
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”.
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).
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”.
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.
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.
The revival of interest in Barney Bubbles is gathering pace; now an old-school “happening” has been announced in his memory at London’s historic venue The Roundhouse on Sunday, March 8.
The appearance of Quintessence on the bill affords an opportunity to show exclusively for the first time this late 60s sketch by Barney of himself, his friends in the band and their rehearsal space at his Notting Hill creative commune.
The drawing appears in a letter Barney sent to his friend Lorry Sartorio enthusing about the new life he had established in the late 60s at 307 Portobello Road. It was here that Barney began designing record sleeves – his first was a die-cut booklet for Quintessence’s debut album In Blinding Light.
Sunday Implosion is being organised by a group of Barney fans and pals, including ex-Hawkwind member Nik Turner and the band’s one-time manager Doug Smith, both of whom contributed memories and material to Reasons To Be Cheerful. The promoter is John Curd, who also worked with Barney extensively.
The title is a nod to the name of the weekly events held at the venue in the 70s; these regularly featured Hawkwind as well as Barney’s posters and promotional material.
In fact a particular performance by Hawkwind one Sunday afternoon in February 1975 left a lifelong impression on this writer; I stuck my head in the bassbin while they were playing and haven’t been quite the same since.
A number of former Hawkwind members are gathering under the moniker Hawklords. That aggregation’s dystopian 1978 album 25 Years On benefited from a total Barney package, including a suitably foreboding sleeve, booklet, stage set, choreography and lighting.
The shebang in March also promises the Space Ritual 09, inspired by the integrated design Barney created in collaboration with his compadre Robert Calvert for the ‘Wind’s 1972 UK tour and subsequent live double. Read all about the amazing Apple label bolero jacket worn by temporary Hawkwind dancer and Friends editor John May on that tour at our sister blog THE LOOK.
Barney came up with the set for Robert’s short play The Stars That Play With Laughing Sam’s Dice, which will be performed at Sunday Implosion by the Pentameters Theatre group. The event also witnesses the return of ace Krautrockers Amon Duul II, whose bassist Dave Anderson was also a Hawkwind member
In old-school style, Sunday Implosion takes place between 3pm and 11pm. Tickets are £30 from The Roundhouse box office on 0844 482 8008 or here.