Posts Tagged ‘Barney Bubbles’

Reasons To Be Cheerful: MOJO’s Book Of The Year!

Friday, November 27th, 2009

We’re proud to announce that MOJO magazine has declared Reasons To Be Cheerful BOOK OF THE YEAR!

Page 50, Mojo magazine, January 2010.

It’s great that the considerable effort which went into the book is being recognised.

A number of high-profile people were there for us when it counted and helped draw attention to what was a pretty left-field idea at the time, among them Billy Bragg, Malcolm Garrett, Peter Saville and Paul Smith.

Behind the scenes, those closest to Barney professionally and personally were generous enough to open their hearts, minds and archives. They know who they are but thanks again to you, and also to the lovely people who have emerged since publication, providing support, information and material to ensure that this blog has become a vital online entity.

John Coulthart deserves special mention; if I hadn’t come across the essential blog he posted in January 2007 so soon after a browse through my record collection with Caz, who knows where we’d all be now? Thanks John.

It’s worth pointing out that the reappraisal of Barney in the scheme of things came from the ground up. It was satisfying that the self-appointed gatekeepers of the graphic arts establishment were evidently wrong-footed by the publication of the book by an avowed team of outsiders, and it’s doubly gratifying to see how all of our efforts have finally elevated Barney into the pantheon (as evinced by this recent Design Week story).

As we all know, it’s a crying shame Barney ain’t around to share in this enjoyment and appreciation of his art. At least we together have done our best to ensure that Barney’s body of work will live forever. So thanks to you as well, the fans, readers, casual online browsers and all-out Barney obsessives: you make it worthwhile.

Enough of that – we have work to do.

Coming soon, the second edition, revised and updated with fresh and never-seen-before info, images and interviews. Keep your eyes out; it’ll blow your socks off.

Also an exhibition at Chelsea Space next autumn.

It’s a cornball pay-off but what the hey! There are many more reasons to be cheerful coming this way, so keep reading and keep in touch,

Your friend,

Paul

The single sleeves: the embodiment of pop art

Monday, July 6th, 2009


Today we unveil the first public exhibition of the collected single sleeves created by Barney Bubbles; a stunning virtual presentation featuring a host of rarely seen images.

England's Glory/Dream Tobacco, Max Wall, Stiff BUY 12. Released April 1, 1977.

The single sleeves are important since they – more than any other area of Barney’s work – embody the characteristics of pop art as defined by Richard Hamilton in 1957:

Pop Art is:
Popular (designed for a mass audience)
Transient (short-term solution)
Expendable (easily forgotten)
Low cost
Mass produced
Young (aimed at youth)
Witty
Sexy
Gimmicky
Glamorous
Big business

Barney’s single sleeves comply, though, of course, he added the particular characteristic of anonymity. Only one sleeve carries a credit – for the lettering above Humphrey Ocean’s portrait on England’s Glory/Dream Tobacco by Max Wall (apparently at the insistence of the late comic genius).

Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll/Razzle In My Pocket, Ian Dury, Stiff BUY17. Released August 26, 1977.

More will be added over the coming months; just last night at the Nick Lowe/Ry Cooder aftershow, Soft Boys’ leader Robyn Hitchcock confirmed what had long been posited: Barney was responsible for his band’s 1978 Radar single (I Want To Be An) Anglepoise Lamp/Fat Man’s Son.

(I Wanna Be An) Anglepoise Lamp/Fat Man's Son, The Soft Boys, Radar ADA8. Released: April 1978.

Collectively this represents an inspired body of commercial work, much of it concentrated in the post-punk period after Barney returned to the music business in March 1977.

From Head To Toe/The World Of Broken Hearts, Elvis Costello & The Attractions, FBeat XX30. Released September 1982.

In the days when hit singles sold in their hundreds of thousands, Barney (who majored in cardboard design for retail purposes at college) almost single-handedly ignited the explosion of 45rpm packaging as it came back into vogue.

Darling Let's Have Another Baby/It Really Digs/Something Else (Chiswick NS27). Released January 1978.

Eager to address the problem-solving possibilities offered by multiple releases and coloured vinyl, Barney produced at an impressive rate, with few, if any, falling below the high quality threshold.

Accidents Will Happen/Talking In The Dark, Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Radar ADA38. Released May 1979.

The mask of anonymity eased adoption of a dizzying array of styles and approaches. Yet themes, symbols, fonts and techniques recur and develop: hearts, arrows, stars, tears, physiognomy, dynamic use of colour, art history references, industry in-jokes, photographic treatments and so on.

Some contain elements contributed by others; obviously the images of the photographers with whom he worked, and also releases such as Accidents Will Happen, where Barney applied the concept of inverting the sleeve.  The stills which ended up on the inside came from the promo for the song made by Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel. Designs for earlier releases, such as The Pie and Silver Machine, were completed by record companies out of artwork he had already created for albums or posters.

Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick /There Ain’t Half Been Some Clever Bastards, Ian Dury And The Blockheads, Stiff BUY38. Released: November 23 1978.

We start with the folded paper sleeve for the Christmas message of 1966 Barney recorded in a railway station auto recording booth for family and a few friends and move on to big sellers such as Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick, which reached number one and spent 15 weeks in the UK chart.

Visit the exhibition here; download tracks by clicking on individual sleeves. These days music arrives naked, so come celebrate a time when it paraded all gussied up and garbed in finery.

Barney Bubbles’ album artwork discography

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

Today Reasons brings you another first: a discography of Barney Bubbles’ album sleeve designs.

The above is just a selection of nearly 90 titles we’ve listed chronologically; check them out and gain a greater appreciation of the themes developed and messages delivered in Barney’s astounding body of work. You can also click on album titles to buy. Please bring our attention to any you believe should be included; we aim for this to be the definitive list.

Next stop – all of the single sleeves, to be followed by a videography and key posters.

Discovered: The rarest Barney Bubbles design ever!

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

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.

Extremely collectable design. Note typographic comnfidence.

Knees Up Party: "Intricately reflexive."

“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.

Brian James, Captain Sensible, Rat Scabies and Dave Vanian, 1974.

 

Exclusive Barney chat with Art Chantry

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

Like Barney Bubbles, the designer Art Chantry engages and communicates by combining illustrative invention and graphics excellence with a finely honed wit and a way with intervention. 

Art at a recent exhibition of his work.

Art Chantry at a recent exhibition of his work.

Art (who once played pool with Ted Bundy, fact fans) has long occupied an important place in my record collection as the designer for such too-cool-for-school labels as Estrus.

A couple of years back he published the indispensable Some People Can’t Surf, so it’s with great pleasure we post this exclusive tete-a-tete packed with insights into Barney’s working practices and enduring influence.

“I wish his voice were still active,” declares Art. “We need more monkey-wrenchers!”

We started our chat at the beginning:

PG: When did you first come across the work of Barney Bubbles?

AC: Living in the remote upper Northwest corner of the United States, I really didn’t take notice of him until the punk era.  I was unaware of Hawkwind or even Oz, but was in college when punk first started to emerge (in the Pacific Northwest, that was the mid-70s) and that’s when I encountered him through his work for Stiff and, of course, Elvis Costello.  

Back cover, Less Than Zero, Elvis Costello, 1977.

Back cover, Less Than Zero, Elvis Costello, 1977.

I didn’t know what to make of it.  I was a budding young graphic design student, reared on hippie/disco culture, comic books/TV and fine art history.

The first time I saw a real punk poster on a telephone pole, I was stopped dead in my tracks.  I peeled off that poster and hung it in my little apartment and stared at it for weeks. It took me a long time to process what I was looking at.

When I ran into Barney Bubbles’ work shortly thereafter in a record store, it was like looking at messages from Mars, utterly alien to everything I had learned about design and art. Even after the initial impact of punk, it was still an intensely foreign language to me.

What singled out his work from that of other sleeve and poster designers?

Several things struck me immediately.  Of course, he had an intense colour sense.  His personal palette comprised bright primaries and stark contrasts. This was unlike most of the work of the 1970s, when (at least in American popular culture) earth tones dominated in the beautiful designs produced by people like Gary Burden for the mainstream Southern California rock scene: Eagles, CSN&Y, Neil Young, Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne.

To be suddenly smacked between the eyes by Barney Bubbles’ colours was a sound jolt.

Rare collectors edition, Damned Damned Damned, The Damned, 1977.

Rare sealed collector's edition, Damned Damned Damned, The Damned, 1977.

But the really contrasting aspect was his thinking.  Whatever was going on, he did the opposite.  It may not have seemed that way in his mind (for instance his industrial and architecture work in your book points out a seamless path to the work on The Damned LP cover Music For Pleasure), but to the general pop culture trend at large around him, it was coming from an alternate position. It even seemed contrary to punk.  

Front Cover, Music For Pleasure, the Damned, 1977.

Front Cover, Music For Pleasure, The Damned, 1977.

Compare his careful, studied, playful work to the other major design tastemaker of the period: Jamie Reid. Again, he is totally opposite. It was even startling from the punk perspective.

The other major factor which grabbed my attention – more than all of the other designers working in the period – was his wondrous sense of humour. He must have been a wonderful guy to hang out with.  

Every one of his covers is a carefully rendered inside joke. To me he is at his most marvelous when he references the very process of design itself – through intentional MISTAKES!  

I found the off-registered version of Elvis Costello’s This Year’s Model in the import bin and it blew me away.  In America, they released the cover which eliminated the joke. Apparently, the captains of the music industry didn’t get it, and thought it was a real mistake or something. You could only find the original design in the import section – along with most American punk, which had to imported before it could be sold in an American record store.  Strange times.

Front cover, This Years Model, Elvis Costello And The Attractions, 1978.

Front cover, This Year's Model, Elvis Costello And The Attractions, 1978.

This Year’s Model completely flabbergasted me. It actually took me a long time to figure out it wasn’t a misprint. And, when I realised it was a joke, I never looked at graphic design in the same way again.  

I firmly believe that “contrary thinking” was his biggest contribution to graphic design. His ability to step outside of the accepted conventions and poke them with a stick endeared him to an entire generation of designers desperately trying to re-invent the language of design. And that’s why punks loved him.

Do you detect a coherence given his variety of forms, methods, materials and styles?

Yes, definitely. I hate to use Picasso as a comparison in any context, but Barney Bubbles’ use of medium precluded his method and style.  It really didn’t matter what his material or form, his work remained idiosyncratically his own and simultaneously reflective of the mood of the times.

Like Picasso, who would work in graphite, oils, assemblage, or metal or stone or ceramic, etc, etc, yet the end result always looked like a Picasso.  Barney Bubbles’ masterful approach made his chosen method or style just a simple tool to get his thoughts across.

The work was never anonymous. You could always spot him, no matter how dramatically his style shifted from project to project.

Tell us about your favourite Barney Bubbles design.

Aside from This Year’s Model that would be the (again) imported-from-Europe, un-American version of Get Happy!! by Elvis Costello And The Attractions. That carefully scraped “wear ring” around the area where the vinyl record label would actually have rubbed through the printing as it was handled? That knocked me for a loop.  

Front cover, Get Happy!!, Elvis Costello And The Attractions, 1980.

Front cover, Get Happy!!, Elvis Costello And The Attractions, 1980.

As I examined the cover further, I saw how he crudely overlapped colours to create new levels of imagery, just like the old-time album sleeve designers in the era he was referencing. It just nailed it for me. Get Happy!! was a brilliant tour-de-force of inside-graphic-design fetish-collector humour.  I love that.

Inner, Get Happy!!, Elvis Costello And The Attractions, 1980.

Inner, Get Happy!!, Elvis Costello And The Attractions, 1980.

In what way has Barney Bubbles influenced you?

You see Barney Bubbles’ thinking popping up everywhere in my work. He was a huge influence on my design development. I’ve used his “wallpaper” idea from the cover for Do It Yourself  by Ian Dury & The Blockheads over and over again. Only once have I used the actual wallpaper sample idea – on a poster – but I have taken the basic approach with velveteen paper, metal, garbage, etc, etc.

Front Cover, Do It Yourself, Ian Dury & The Blockheads, 1979.

Front Cover, Do It Yourself, Ian Dury & The Blockheads, 1979.

That stepping outside the printing process and then throwing in a spanner will forever be part of my thinking as a designer.  I’ve also used the “wear-ring” idea, the “off register’ ideas, the primary color overlapping humor, the retro-revival of lost styles idea…

All of these quirks and jokes have been morphed into a base-level part of my particular graphic dialogue.  I NEVER grow tired of that sort of thinking.

Do you detect his influence on other contemporary designers?

Barney Bubbles’ influence works directly through people like  me.  I’m of the directly influenced generation.  Then there are the successive generations who not only see his work, but have seen mine and the work of so many others (including Paula Scher and Tibor Kalman) and simply followed the trail.  

By now Barney Bubbles’ influence has become so diverse and foregone in the language of graphic design that his thinking is used and referenced without awareness.  His ideas worked their way into the shared language of graphic design so that, at this point, he is one of the most often imitated master thinkers, and it’s all unnoticed.  He has become a prime influence through his imitators. 

Had he lived, where do you think Barney Bubbles’ work would be at today?

I think it would stem from his manipulation of processes. He would be one of those guys taking computer systems apart and exquisitely breaking them and re-wiring them to do things that were never meant to do, so obvious and yet ignored. I wish his voice were still active. We need more monkey-wrenchers.

Why is the revival of interest happening now, more than 25 years after his death?

The very idea of “graphic design” as a worthy discipline is still in its infancy and the history of this discipline is still in the hands of the academics and the amateurs.  

They tend to gather around the pillars of the imagined “great men” of graphic design, ignoring the vast majority of design language out there that is created by direct interaction with popular culture.  

Barney Bubbles’s work is NOT academic.  It’s learned and intellectual, but decidedly outside of academia.  As a result, he has been hidden from the mainstream of design culture thought.  

Most of the truly great design dismissed as “vernacular” by academia is unfairly judged to lack introspection, history and authorship.  

Nothing could be further from the truth and Barney Bubbles personifies my point. The historical and visceral power of his ideas is as plain as the nose on your face.  Yet, like so many before and after him, he has been overlooked.  At least until now.  Thank you for writing this book. We all thank you. And thanks for this opportunity to ramble on about one of my heroes.

Art appears in the forthcoming rock poster art documentary American Artifact, which also features Stanley Mouse, Victor Moscoso, Frank Kozik, EMEK, Tara McPherson, COOP and Jay Ryan.

Check out the trailer here.