Posts Tagged ‘Chris Moreton’

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.”