Signed copies of Reasons To Be Cheerful, my acclaimed monograph of the radical British graphic artist Barney Bubbles, are now available from my eBay page for just £20 including shipping worldwide, as long as you order through their Global Shipping programme if you are outside the UK.
As well as a celebration of a pop culture great, Reasons To Be Cheerful is recognised as a significant design history, praised by leading magazines and newspapers around the world and voted MOJO’s book of the year . It is also a recommended reference source for graphics communications courses at leading educational institutions.
Reasons To Be Cheerful includes contributions from some of the most important graphic practitioners operating today, such as Art Chantry, Malcolm Garrett and Peter Saville.
//Front, 7″ and 12″ sleeve, Keep Us Together, Sad Café, Charisma, 1983//
From the Barney Bubbles grab-bag comes this little-known sleeve for Charisma Records, commissioned by label chief Peter Jenner for Manchester soft-rock group Sad Café.
Produced a matter of months before his demise in November 1983, the spare design is marked by the increasingly reductive approach Bubbles adopted in this period and bears similiarities with another Jenner single commission for Charisma: Mercy Ray’s You Really Got To Me (down to the use of fingers and fingernails as graphic motifs).
//Proof, front and back of single sleeve for Mercy Ray’s You Really Got To Me, Charisma, 1983//
//12" x 12" proof, front cover, Programme 1, 1983.//
Programme 1 was to be the second release on Utility, the label launched by music business manager Peter Jenner (Ian Dury, Pink Floyd etc) through Charisma in 1983.
As detailed here, the album purporting to be a broadcast by London pirate radio station BPR was conceived and performed by Keith Allen with appearances by others including the late actor David Rappaport.
Front, fold-out sleeve, Revelations: A Musical Anthology, Revelation Enterprises, 1972. 24" x 36".
This year’s Glastonbury Festival will celebrate the work of Barney Bubbles, who created the extraordinary sleeve for the Glastonbury Fayre triple album set Revelations – A Musical Anthology.
Since 2011 marks the 40th anniversary of the Fayre, Bubbles’ biographer Paul Gorman is staging two events at the Festival’s Spirit Of 71 Cafe to mark the late graphic designer’s involvement with the album, the festival and many of the performers who have played there.
Yesterday’s Design 4 Music symposium was a roaring success, with all tickets selling out and a stellar cast of contributors providing insights into many different aspects of this vast subject.
The closing panel on Barney Bubbles’ legacy proved entertaining and at times revelatory even from my perspective; I lined up with three leading designers: Barney’s one-time colleague Malcolm Garrett and Barney fans Kate Moross and Gerard Saint.
Label detail with band logo, Music for Pleasure, The Damned, Stiff Records, 1977.
Gerard showed off the copy of Music For Pleasure he has owned since he was a 12-year-old punk in Devon (and spotted that Barney extended the design detail to the label). This chimed with Kate since Music For Pleasure was the key which unlocked her appreciation of Barney’s ouevre.
24" x 36" card. Outer foldout sleeve, The Glastonbury Fayre, Revelation, 1972.
And Malcolm displayed some choice designs including Glastonbury Fayre, In Search Of Space and Your Generation, as well as an intriguing art questionnaire filled in by Barney in 1981; he – along with other artists including Peter Blake – had been mailed it by a student friend of Malcolm’s. It’s been promised for the next edition of Reasons To Be Cheerful, which is fab.
Meanwhile an encounter with Andrew Heeps – whose framing company Art Vinyl staged a mini-exhibition – provided yet another example of how Barney connections are every which way.
12in laminated card. Front cover, Walls Have Ears, Blanket Of Secrecy, FBeat, 1982.
Andrew only recently discovered that his grandfather founded construction company Heeps Willard. Wreckless Eric (exclusive interview here) mentioned just the other week that it was an HW sign in Barney’s Islington neighbourhood in the early 80s which provided him with his final – and possibly most charming – nom-de-design, appearing as a credit on releases by Billy Bragg and Blanket Of Secrecy.
Credits, Walls Have Ears, 1982.
“I was knocked out when my dad told me about his father’s company,” said Andrew. “He gave Barney the name and here I am immersed in vinyl and one of Heeps Willard’s biggest fans!”
7" card with foil imprint. Into The Galaxy, Midnight Juggernauts, Isomorph, 2009.
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.
Among the items which didn’t make it into the first edition of the book (even though it has 600 images) is this lovely rarity photographed for us by careful owner Billy Bragg: a huge paperboard in-store display poster for Get Happy!!.
Paperboard poster, 60in x 40in, 1980. Photo: Billy Bragg. (C) Billy Bragg Collection.
Barney tropes abound: the poster is to his favoured scale of 60″ x 40″, the throway 50s/60s image has been enlarged to the point of degradation (he once told Jake Riviera he preferred photographic dots “the size of golf balls!”) and important retail information is imparted decoratively – the record’s catalogue number FBEATXXLP1 is placed underneath the toe of one of the “masseuse”’s high heels.
60" x 40" poster, Get Happy!!, 1980. "A great record to dance to but you wouldn't want to live there".
The graphic theme of the more common “light-bulb” poster design is developed, as is the restrained yet impactful palette of colours set out by the album sleeve.
12in sleeve. Back and front cover, Get Happy!!, Elvis Costello & The Attractions, FBeat Records, 1980.
As detailed in Reasons To Be Cheerful, the Get Happy!! sleeve saw Barney scale back on the kaleidoscopic approach to Elvis Costello & The Attractions’ previous album Armed Forces with a co-ordinated, muted and retro feel, chiming with the singer-songwriter’s often contemplative channelling of 60s soul music as he reached an early career peak.
Both sides, 12in inner sleeve, Get Happy!!, 1980.
At the time the designed “scuffing” of the outer sleeve (deemed unacceptable by Costello’s US record company Columbia which insisted on cleaning up the artwork) overshadowed the package’s deceptive geometric complexity and textural depth (which naturally matched the music contained within).
The atomic art ellipses on the inner sleeve offered the dualities Barney delighted in delivering for Costello (the inner of Armed Forces provided contrasting images headed “Our place…”/”…Or Yours” and that of it’s predecessor This Year’s Model lined up dummy torsos on one side and a rubber mechanical hand holding a state of the art mini-TV on the other.
Get Happy!! detail: Nick Lowe's production note and Barney's credit - his VAT number.
Unlike those albums, there was no free 7in with Get Happy!! since the vinyl was packed with 10 tracks per side, necessitating another 60s touch: an assurance from producer Nick Lowe that sound quality had not been compromised.
Left: Artwork, Get Happy!! poster. (C) Riviera Global. Right: 30in x 20in Get Happy !! poster, 1980. Note "Vote Labour" sticker added by the author.
Instead there was a poster of silhouetted 50s diner lampshades with imposed commands riffing on the album title and the names of the individual songs. On purchase in 1980 I decorated mine with a”Vote Labour” sticker; I and a lot of others were still smarting from Margaret Thatcher’s ascendence just eight months before in the first election in which I had voted .
Label, Get Happy!!, FBeat, 1980.
In Barney’s original artwork, there were elements which did not make the final poster: the question “Get it?” and graphics which popped up elsewhere: groupings of single bars and lines and a rendition of the interleavened quadrants which are tinted and overlaid on the band member photographs on the cover and depicted in outline in the label design.
Get Happy details!!. Nine blue lines placed top right-hand corner, back cover, and 22 green lines grouped in the top left hand corner, front cover.
What is one to make of these? Graphic tics to enrich and engage or symbols denoting deeper meaning?
These vie for speculation with the front-cover motif which is inverted on the back and intrigued fans such as Billy Bragg, who describes it in Reasons To Be Cheerful as one of Barney’s “discernible signatures”.
3D motif artwork. (C) Reasons 2009/Riviera Global.
It could be that on the front this is yet another representation of Costello’s bespectacled visage, though Barney fan Paul Murphy has pointed out onfeuilleton that it is a reference to 3D glasses, relating to the out-of-register images on the inner sleeve and the overall retro tone of the album’s design.
Left: Artwork for music press ad, I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down. Left: Artwork for FBeat singles bag. Both (C) Reasons 2009/Riviera Global.
The Get Happy!! quadrants were present in Barney’s designs for the sleeve of the album’s first single, I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down, and adorned music press adverts and FBeat’s in-house singles sleeves.
The design for the cassette issue used Bob “Bromide” Hall’s single cover photograph, and the sleeves for the subsequent three singles were integrated in terms of colour, graphics and typography.
Here’s Elvis having fun giving Get Happy!! the hard sell on US TV back in 1980. These days he’s a bigger name than ever, particularly in the US where the second series of his Sundance Channel music/chat show Spectacle starts on December 9, as he announced earlier this week:
In the early 80s an opportunity arose for Barney Bubbles to spread his creativity into designing rugs.
As detailed in REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL, at this time Barney was already investigating many areas of the visual arts outside of providing commercial art for the record industry: painting, videos, mixed media, collage, mobiles, furniture design and even glass sculptures during a trip to Australia.
Barney designed a circular rug like a giant single featuring Riviera’s F-Beat label for the company’s offices in Acton, west London. This appears on the inner sleeve of Carlene Carter‘s album Musical Shapes.
“Then Barney started to produce original designs,” adds Jake. “By that stage he was taking any opportunity he could to create in other media.”
But there was one rug which was based on a design of Barney’s which he didn’t commission. To explain: in the final year of his life – 1983 – Barney was working as the designer for new indie label Go! Discs, whose priority act was Billy Bragg.
Billy and Barney shared an admiration for Flemish Expressionist artist Frans Masereel.
“I mentioned to Barney that I loved the guy’s work and of course he got it immediately,” says Billy.
Book illustrations, Charles de Coster's The Legend Of The Glorious Adventures Of Tyl Ulenspeigel. Frans Masereel, 1943.
For the cover design of Billy’s debut album Brewing Up With…Barney recreated Masereel’s signature woodcut technique.
Front covers, 12" albums. Left: Ersatz, Imperial Pompadours, Pompadour, 1982. Right: Punkadelic, Inner City Unit, Flicknife, 1982.
This was realised in the same way as the sleeve designs for his own album Ersatz (in the guise of The Imperial Pompadours) and Inner City Unit’s Punkadelic –Barney used black paper on white.
Front cover, 12" album. Brewing Up With Billy Bragg, Go! Discs, 1984.
In the event Brewing Up was released in October 1984, nearly a year after Barney’s death. The cover depicts two scenes: in one, a light radiates from a house over an industrial cityscape, in the other a contemplative figure sits at a window, lit from overhead.
Poster, 30in x 20in. For Billy Bragg live dates, 1983.