Posts Tagged ‘Diana Fawcett’

Update: Signed copies of the Barney Bubbles book available now for just £20 worldwide!

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

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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.

Buy your copies here.

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.

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Poster for Vivian Stanshall + sketches for John Arlott/Peter O’Sullevan split LP

Monday, July 11th, 2011
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Poster, 900mm x 750mm, 1978.

Barney Bubbles produced this striking poster for a performance of Vivian Stanshall’s one-off show An Evening At Rawlinson End at the London’s Collegiate Theatre (these days the Bloomsbury Theatre) in October 1978.

The grid overlaid an image of Stanshall aboard his favourite vehicle – the bicycle – in character as the “still unusual” Hubert Rawlinson.

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Little Hitler artwork and the Jesus Of Cool tie

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

Thanks to top designer and all-round good egg Phil Smee for digging out this prime piece of Barney artwork for us: an ultra-neat shirt-and-tie ad for Nick Lowe‘s spring 1978 single Little Hitler.

Artwork for music press ad, May 1978. (c) Phil Smee Collection/Reasons 2010.

Captioned: “A new single. A new shirt. You can’t take it off”, the ad – with the record company Radar’s logo as the shirt label – appeared in music paper Sounds.

7in card envelope. Back and front, Little Hitler/Cruel To Be Kind, Nick Lowe, Radar, 1978.

Housed in a sleeve designed by Barney using a Brian Griffin photograph, Little Hitler set the scene for the release of Nick’s debut solo album Jesus Of Cool (renamed and remodelled as Pure Pop For Now People in the US).

12in paperboard. Front cover, Jesus Of Cool, Nick Lowe, Radar, 1978.

The ad’s theme of sharp apparel was carried over to the album with Barney-designed skinny new wave ties issued as promotional items.

Jesus Of Cool promotional tie. (c) Diana Fawcett Collection/Reasons 2010.

Here’s Nick – tie-less – performing Little Hitler. It failed to make an impact on the chart (unlike predecessor I Love The Sound Of Breaking Glass), but further brought him out of the production shadows of such high-profile clients as Elvis Costello, The Damned, Dr Feelgood and Graham Parker

And a reworked version of Little Hitler’s b-side Cruel To Be Kind was to provide Nick with the biggest hit of his career the following year. But that’s a whole other story…

Reasons: “A treasure trove for image-makers”

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

It is extremely flattering that Reasons To Be Cheerful is described not only as “excellent” but also as “a treasure trove for image-makers across all media” in the current issue of Varoom

And it’s praise indeed when the reviewer is of the calibre of Andy Martin, illustrator, designer, film-maker and self-confessed “Bubbloholic”.

Andy also defines what he sees as the secret to Barney’s work: his “ability to look backwards and forwards at the same time, whilst always managing to arrive at The Very Point Of Now-ness”.

And Andy knows; a former NME art editor, when he started at the music weekly in 1978 he helped out with layouts as Barney and Diana Fawcett created The NME Book Of Modern Music which accompanied Barney’s redesign.

“I was overawed to be working with him in the smallest way,” Andy told me recently. In his review Andy says: “The graphic bombs Barney Bubbles dropped are still reverberating. In the words of the late, great Ian Dury: there ain’t half been some clever bastards.”

Download Andy’s review here.

Aura revelations

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

Peter York’s Grey Hopes

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

Barney Bubbles credited one of the most creatively satisfying phases of his career to a prescient feature by marketing guru and cultural commentator Peter York published in the September 1978 issue of Harpers & Queen magazine.

York’s piece, headlined Grey Hopes, investigated the ageing demographic of the rock consumer and the concurrent wave of post-modernism pervading popular music. “The paradox of rock is that at precisely the time that a new rock sensibility is starting to invade the commercial heartland, the whole rock thing is uncomfortably coming of age,” wrote York, who also declared: “Rock & roll is the hamburger which ate the world.”

Extract from letter to Diane Fawcett, late 1978.

Extract from letter to Diana Fawcett, late 1979.

Presenting research which showed that 25- to 44-year-olds, not teens, had become the largest single group of record buyers, York pointed to the likes of Roxy Music as examples of art rockers who “consciously saw rock as a medium like any other”.

Reasons author Paul Gorman and Peter York, July 2008

Reasons author Paul Gorman and Peter York, July 2008.

York cites the highly referential example of Generation X, which was apposite; Barney designed two of the group’s single sleeves, the El Lissitzy-quoting Your Generation and the symbol-strewn King Rocker (available in four variations denoting vinyl colours).

Tony James: Barney took our ideas an inspired step further.

Tony James: "Barney took our ideas an inspired step further."

Guitarist Tony James says that, during the planning stages of the sleeves, he and Gen X singer Billy Idol talked to Barney about t-shirts they had designed in a Constructivist style.  “Barney looked at our original ideas and took them a very inspired step further,” he adds.

In a letter to his assistant and friend Diana Fawcett late in 1979, Barney says that York’s article “gave me my orders for the year” regarding “technology, urban environment, rock, etc”. He also says that he had carried out “everything I wanted to. It was a great, successful year”.

 

Inner sleeve, labour Of Lust, 1979

Inner sleeve, Labour Of Lust, 1979. (c) Riviera Global

This is true; the previous 12 months had been an extraordinarily fruitful period. Notwithstanding the advertising and promotional material which formed the bedrock of his business, Barney had also executed such triumphs as the redesign of the NME and creation of the paper’s Book Of Modern Music as well as sleeves for albums such as Armed Forces by Elvis Costello & The Attractions, 25 Years On by Hawklords (including the integrated stage show set), Do It Yourself by Ian Dury & The Blockheads, Labour Of Lust by Nick Lowe and Frogs, Sprouts, Clogs And Krauts by The Rumour.

In addition Barney completed the catalogue for the Lives exhibition at The Hayward (in which he also participated) as well as Brian Griffin’s Copyright, The Ian Dury Songbook and The John Cooper Clarke Directory. We shall be exploring all of these and more over the coming months.

Artwork for advert for Splash by Clive Langer & The Boxes 1980. (c) Riviera Global

Barney also tells Diana he has “had his orders” for 1980, the coming year. Since this was to witness advances into video-direction, painting, the realisation of the ambitious visual identity for the new F-Beat label AND a slew of releases by Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Carlene Carter, Clive Langer & The Boxes, Rockpile, Inner City Unit,  Dirty Looks and many more, it can safely be assumed the instructions came from as rich a source as York’s Grey Hopes.

The radical redesign of the NME

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

One of the greatest examples of Barney Bubbles’ ability to fast-track cutting-edge ideas into the mainstream occurred in 1978 with his redesign of best-selling weekly paper the New Musical Express.

As detailed in Chapter 4 of REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL, at this time the NME’s sales regularly surpassed 200,000 copies.

NME Alphabet

Artwork for The NME Book Of Modern Music alphabet. (c) Neil Spencer/Reasons 2009

And the recently-appointed editor Neil Spencer was an ardent Barney fan. “I loved the way Barney quoted Lissitzky for Generation X and Kandinsky for The Damned,” he says. “At the same time he sculpted the images of  unique characters like Ian Dury and Elvis Costello.

“Barney was head-and-shoulders above everyone else, and perfect for the job because he’d worked at Oz, Friends, Town and Nova.”

Barney’s first move was to de-clutter the layout. “There was so much going on in terms of images and info,” says Neil. “He also sorted out the presentation of the charts. I don’t think they’ve changed materially since then.”

Spread from The NME Book of Modern Music

Spread from The NME Book of Modern Music

Part of the brief was production of a free supplement to mark the relaunch: The NME Book Of Modern Music, which was compiled by readers from a series of collect-and-keep inserts.

With his assistant Diana Fawcett and contributions from freelancers such as Andy Martin, Barney whipped art and design references into a mélange evoking the inventive chaos of the immediate post-punk period.

The NME Book of Modern Music

Front cover of The NME Book of Modern Music

Barney’s alphabet for the Book Of Modern Music “borrowed from 20s Russia, 60s Britain and beyond”, says Neil. “He was so wily technically, and yet he always conjured unexpected colours and effects.”

The redesign was unveiled with the issue of October 14, 1978, though the NME’s owners IPC refused to allow the new masthead for another six weeks, when sales confirmed that readers were content with the new visual direction.

NME launch issue

Redesign launch issue. The new masthead was introduced six weeks later.

And so it was the December 2 issue which introduced Barney’s stencil block NME logo (promoted via a campaign shot by Barney’s collaborator Brian Griffin).

NME logo

NME logo campaign shot by Brian Griffin

The inspiration for the font was a company name on industrial premises in City Road, just around the corner from the site of Barney’s warehouse studio in Paul Street (he was two decades ahead of his time by occupying the western edge of what is now London’s achingly trendy Shoreditch area).

And Barney’s legacy at the paper lingers; despite the management’s worries, his NME logo is still used in adapted form more than 30 years later.