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.
Her career had been put on hold when she was bound by a contract to David Bowie’s management Mainman (which also looked after Iggy & The Stooges, Dana Gillespie, Jobriath, Mick Ronson and, yes, even Lulu). Freed from this set-up, Peacock signed with Aura and promptly unleashed such critically acclaimed albums as X-Dreams and The Perfect Release.
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).
Front cover, Kizza Me by Big Star, 1978.
Big Star’s previous album Radio City had featured The Red Ceiling by the group’s Memphis friend, the celebrated photographer William Eggleston, who also played piano on the version of Nature Boy which appears as a bonus cut on later editions.
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.
KK Black was a pseudonym of Kelvin Blacklock, a schoolfriend of Mick Jones who had been vocalist in the guitarist’s pre-Clash bands The Delinquents, Little Queenie and London SS, and went on to join The Damned drummer Rat Scabies’ short-lived White Cats before recording this single and one other, a version of The Herd’s I Don’t Want Our Loving To Die, before disappearing from the limelight.