Posts Tagged ‘A Bunch Of Stiff Records’

Wreckless Eric: No Piccadilly menial

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

Wreckless Eric is one of British pop’s great survivors, blessed with an ever-growing arsenal of superb, idiosyncratic songs which have seen him outlast most of the class of 77.

7in sleeve, laminated card. Front cover, Whole Wide World/Semaphore Signals, Wreckless Eric, Stiff, 1977.

Overshadowed during the early days of Stiff Records by the label’s priority acts Elvis Costello, Ian Dury and Nick Lowe, the 2001 publication of Eric‘s great memoir A Dysfunctional Success and the use of the deathless Whole Wide World in Will Ferrell-starrer Stranger Than Fiction have provided the, er, wider world with a taste of his talents in recent years.

Over the coming weeks, the considerable fruits of his partnership with US singer-songwriter Amy Rigby can be witnessed first-hand on a series of European live dates.

In comparison with his former stablemates, Eric Goulden benefited fleetingly from the design work of Barney Bubbles, though they maintained a friendship from introduction early in 1977 to Barney’s death late in 1983; they shared common ground in having attended art schools (Goulden studied sculpture at Hull).

On the line from his home in France, Goulden confirms that Barney wasn’t at Stiff for the first six months of the label’s existence, when the design direction was handled by Chris Moreton.

“Then Barney swam into the picture,” says Goulden. “I liked him a lot. Barney was easygoing and looked kind of normal; short-ish hair and always wearing some kind of anorak. To look at him, you wouldn’t have thought this bloke had any history.

“He was a strange man, an acid casualty on some levels. It was unusual for someone who’d been such a part of the Ladbroke Grove/Notting Hill hippie scene to cross over and working with people like The Damned.”

Barney created an ident (which, like those produced for other Stiff artists, appeared on the record label). “He used the guillotine to cut jagged strips of paper which he put together to make up my name,” says Goulden. This logo was paired on the front cover of Whole Wide World with a crop from the Chris Gabrin portrait from A Bunch Of Stiffs.

From the inner to A Bunch Of Stiffs, April 1977. Photo: Chris Gabrin.

For the back, Goulden was despatched to a photo-booth and ordered to improvise semaphore signals. Barney then cropped and bleached out one of the frames. “I’d never seen anything like it; he made it look incredible,” Goulden adds.

7in sleeve, card. Back cover, Whole Wide World/Semaphore Signals, Wreckless Eric, Stiff, 1977.

“To me Barney was like The Beatles. When I was a kid you wouldn’t be quite sure of how they sounded when you first heard one of their new records. Sometimes you’d think: ‘They’ve lost it,’ because it was so unexpected, and Barney was a bit like that. Every time he did something new, it was so over-the-top you were taken aback.” 

A clutch of 1977 Stiffs with personalised labels.

One of the five subjects of the 60in x 40in day-glo posters Barney and Gabrin created for the Stiffs Live Stiffs tour of late 77, Goulden was around when the pair collaborated on the sleeve for Music For Pleasure.

12in sleeves. Back cover and inner "lino" shots, Music For Pleasure, The Damned, Stiff, 1977.

“I went with him to a lino shop in Westbourne Grove where he bought the roll which is on the inner sleeve,” says Eric. “The Damned were made to lie on it at Chris’s studio and shot from above, so it looked like they were standing up. Very odd, but it worked brilliantly.”

One of Barney’s great lost designs was the sleeve for Goulden’s unreleased 1977 Stiff EP, Piccadilly Menial. With the catalogue number LAST3, this was to comprise the title track, Excuse Me, Personal Hygiene and Rags & Tatters .

“It was on graph paper and in the style of an architectural drawing,” says Goulden, who recalls  it was akin to the axinometric lettering Barney created for The Soft Boys. The EP was replaced in the schedule with Reconnez Cherie,  the B-side of which was the Benny Hill theme tune-quoting Rags & Tatters.

Music press half-page advert, The Soft Boys tour, 1978.

“Barney had angles to him,” says Eric. “People would say ‘Oh it’s just Barney, a bit of a wacky image with some splashes and other esoteric stuff’ but in fact he thought things through and was way better than his imitators, of course. Unfortunately, in that way, he inadvertently created the look of the 80s, which was horrible and gaudy.”

Dansette, detail, front cover Musical Shapes, Carlene Carter, F-beat, 1980

Poignantly, Goulden saw Barney not long before his death in November 1983. “I visited him at his house off the Balls Pond Road,” says Eric. “He got Nuggets out and played it really loud on this Dansette on legs in the basement.”

Knockout R&B Here Tonight!

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

Today we present previously unpublished images and information surrounding one of Barney Bubbles’ key early works, the stunning poster Knockout R&B Here Tonight.

Winner of British Poster Design Award, double/four-sheet category 1964/5

In 1965 Colin Fulcher – as he was then – won a national design award for the poster, which stemmed from a photo session the previous year with his girlfriend, fellow student and artist Lorry Sartorio.

Design magazine August 1965.

Lorry met Barney during his final year at Twickenham College Of Technology (now Richmond Upon Thames College ). “It was a couple of terms in but I soon became part of his gang,” says Lorry. “I think Barney really liked my look; I’ve always been into the beatnik thing, loads of black clothes and loads of eye-make-up, though I don’t iron my hair anymore!”

The photo-shoot took place at Barney’s home in Whitton, Middx, on Sunday July 12 1964. In a letter to Lorry providing specific instructions and sketches for suggested poses, Barney explains that consumer magazine publisher Fleetway had given him a chance to produce a booklet of photographs “based on Mods and Rockers gear”.

Barney’s sketches for the photoshoot.(c) L.Sartorio/Reasons 2009

 The letter reveals Barney as an already assured art director a couple of weeks shy of his 22nd birthday, though he frets over the tone. “On rereading this letter it seems a bit bluff and hard day’s night. Sorry. But I would appreciate it if you would do it,” he says.

Barney supplied his own denim jacket for the shoot as well as a t-shirt to which he had applied dry transfer lettering spelling out the phrase: “Them Mule Skinners Knockout R+B Here Tonight”. A mod targeted love heart was positioned between the first two words.

Lorry Sartorio models for Barney Bubbles July 1964.(c) L.Sartorio/Reasons 2009

“Barney had put these giant Letraset  letters onto a plain white t-shirt,” says Lorry. “I remember I had to be really careful when I was putting it on and moving around in front of the camera.”

The Muleskinners were Twickenham’s college band, led by the keyboard-playing graphic design student Ian McLagan, who writes fondly of Barney in his excellent memoir All The Rage.

The college’s social secretary, Mac had booked the Rolling Stones as their career was shifting into overdrive for the “Twickenham Design College Dance”, held on July 12 1963 at the dilapidated Eel Pie Island Hotel.

Mac had been turned onto the Stones by another Twickenham student, Mick Finch. When Mac witnessed his first Stones gig – at the Richmond Crawdaddy – he later wrote that “it was a turning point” which set him on a path away from graphic design and into music.

The “Twickers”  group were a typically tight-knit  group of music fans; in another letter to Lorry, Barney warns her not to be late for an assignation since they are meeting Mac in the King’s Head in Twickenham, venue of many other early Stones performances.

In fact, Barney designed the poster for the Stones’ appearance at the July 12 college ball,  and went on to produce fliers and other artwork for the Muleskinners, using Cyrillic script for a “Cossack” themed event they played at “Eel Piland” in December 1964.

Russian invite to Christmas dance (c) L.Sartorio/Reasons 2009

At the end of his final year, Mac also booked the “graphic design Twickenham dance”, held on July 9 1965 at Eel Pie’s so-called Steam Laundry.

This featured Rod Stewart and Brian Auger’s Trinity just before the lanky vocalist formally threw in his lot with Auger, Julie Driscoll and Long John Baldry  in the short-lived Steampacket. Mac and Rod were to be reunited within a few years as members of one of the greatest rock bands of all time, The Faces.

Flyer for Rod Stewart/Brian Auger end-of-term ball(c) L.Sartorio/Reasons 2009

Lorry does not recall whether the mods and rockers booklet for Fleetway materialised. We do know that Barney took a frame from the photo-session to develop the poster which won him the award.

“It was red and blue, printed on glossy paper,” recalls Lorry of the poster. Barney’s dynamic treatment of the base image effectively solarised the lettering, while the words “Them”, “Knockout”, and “R&B”, as well as the love-heart roundel appeared in half-tone.

Announcing the award in the August 1965 issue of Design magazine, the judges described Knockout R&B Here Tonight as “a good hard-hitting poster. The design is exactly suited to it’s subject matter; lively, up-to-date, youthful and vigorous; excellent use of colour”.

The original shot used for A Bunch Of Stiffs, Stiff Records 1977.

Such was Barney’s affection for the image that it was a component of one of his first new wave designs, the compilation A Bunch Of Stiff Records (released April 1 1977).

The album’s inner sleeve features contributor shots and bios. For contractual reasons Dave Edmunds’  version of the The Chantels’ 50s hit Maybe – which had also been covered by Janis Joplin – was credited to “Jill Read” (with the vocal track sped up to further disguise his identity). To complete the mystery surrounding this “little known Welsh songbird” Barney playfully placed an X to mask Lorry’s face.