Posts Tagged ‘Elvis Costello’

The Attract!ons’ ‘solo’ album: Mad About The Rwong Boy

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

12in sleeve. Front cover, Mad About The Wrong Boy, The Attractions, F-Beat, 1980.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of one of the least remarked of Barney Bubbles designs: that for the “solo” album by Elvis Costello’s band The Attractions: Mad About The Wrong Boy

7in sleeve. Front cover, Outline Of A Hairdo EP, Steve Nieve, F-Beat, 1980.

The deliberately zany typography of the album sleeve – with it’s kitsch Brian Griffin photography and graphic tics – mirrored some aspects of the design for that year’s  big EC album Get Happy!!.

Back covers, The Attractions, 1980. Left: 12in sleeve, Mad About The Wrong Boy. Right: 7in sleeve, Outline Of A Hairdo EP.

In fact, for the accompanying free EP Outline Of A Hairdo – music for an imaginary film by Steve Nieve, well ahead of similar constructs by Barry Adamson and U2 & Eno – Barney appropriated a Bob “Bromide” Hall shot of Nieve from the back covers of both Get Happy!! and it’s hit lead single I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down.

Back covers, Elvis Costello And The Attractions, F-Beat, 1980. Left: 12in sleeve, Get Happy!!. Right: 7in sleeve, I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down/Girl's Talk.

Artwork, Outline Of A Hairdo. (C) Jake Riviera Collection/Reasons 2010.

In the manner of his approach to fellow F-Beat act Clive Langer & The Boxes, The Attractions were treated to a personalised label.

Left: Label. Right: 12in inner. Mad About The Wrong Boy.

On the inner Barney used a familiar trick of highlighting certain letters in the condensed font slogan “FBEAT WHERE THE ATTRACT!ONS IS” to spell out the record company’s west London location: FBeat Acton.

Double page spread advert, NME, August 30, 1980. Design: Tony Sales.

Barney repeated this on the design for the sleeve of single Single Girl. In his absence, his colleague Antoinette Sales created impressive press advertising from existing artwork. 

Back and front cover, 7" sleeve. Single Girl/Slow Patience, The Attractions, F-Beat, 1980.

The front was an illustration by Barney of the little china dogs from his parent’s mantelshelf.

Artwork, Single Girl/Slow Patience sleeve. (C) Jake Riviera Collection/Reasons 2010.

The addition of the gorgeous silhouette front cover sticker flagging up the inclusion of Nieve’s EP and a neat badge wrapped up the package, though even the musicians themselvesare likely to agree that this is one of those examples where the quality of Barney’s design exceeded that of the music it contained.

Badge and sleeve sticker, The Attractions, 1980.

 

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…

Found! Big Jobs Inc artwork for The Damned’s “printing error” sleeve

Friday, January 1st, 2010

Never previously published, this is something of an exclusive: Barney Bubbles’ original artwork for the back cover of the first 2,000 sleeves of The Damned’s debut album Damned Damned Damned.

Damned Damned Damned special edition artwork. (c) Jake Riviera Collection/Reasons 2010.

On the album’s release in February 1977 the story was put about that distributor Island Records had mistakenly positioned an Erica Echenberg photograph of new wave r&b band Eddie & The Hot Rods in place of a live shot of The Damned at London punk venue the Roxy .

Left: 12in card. "Printing error" back cover. Right: Erratum sticker.

Barney and Stiff boss Jake Riviera went so far as to add an erratum sticker, explaining: “Due to Record Company error, a picture of Island recording artists Eddie & The Hot Rods has been printed instead of The Damned. We apologise for any inconvenience caused and the correct picture will be substituted on future copies.”

12in card. Damned Damned Damned back cover, standard release, Stiff Records, 1977.

In fact the “error” was intentional; Jake had worked out that Stiff needed to sell 2,000 copies to recoup the cost of recording and producing the first UK punk album release.

12in card. Damned Damned Damned front cover. Photo: Peter Kodick.

With Barney recently installed as Stiff’s art director, Jake was able to create an instant collectible, all the while keeping the Island executives involved in the newly-inked distribution deal on their toes.

12 in. Limited edition shrink-wrapped sleeve with "food-fight" sticker.

And the trick worked. Media coverage of the “error” helped rustle up interest and propel the Nick Lowe-produced album into the UK Top 40, establishing The Damned as an act to rival The Clash and the Sex Pistols commercially.

A very limited number of albums were also shrink-wrapped and featured a red “food-fight” sticker completing the title Damned Damned Damned. These now fetch up to £500 apiece.

“By the time Barney had finished, you could imagine our covers competing with whatever else is out there,” says Rat Scabies. “He understood that, much as Stiff was a lot of fun, the releases had to have commercial appeal.  At the same time he made it edgy and kind of sinister.”

Left: 12in card, front cover, "Bongos Over Balham", Chilli Willi And The Red Hot Peppers, Mooncrest, 1974. Right: Sleeve detail.

At once a savvy marketing maneouvre and a keen artistic intervention, the printing error stunt is a prime example of Barney’s wily approach, particularly when working with Jake: see also the Bohemian Revivalist Series Vol 2 “sticker” on the sleeve of Chilli Willi And The Red Hot Peppers’ 1974 album Bongos Over Balham and the deliberately off-register sleeve of Elvis Costello & The Attractions’ 1978 release This Year’s Model.

Left: 12in card. Front cover, This Year's Model, Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Radar, 1978. Right: Sleeve detail with sticker and exposed colour code.

Similarly the bogus Stiff “voucher” which appeared on the back of the August 1977 release of Ian Dury‘s single Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll; the voucher had just been introduced on the Barney-designed sleeve of the preceding single, Wreckless Eric’s (I’d Go The) Whole Wide World.

Left: 7in card, back cover, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Ian Dury, Stiff records, 1977. Right: Sleeve detail - cut-out "voucher".

Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll bore the catalogue number BUY 17, which Barney had allocated to the Damned Damned Damned artwork as a positional several months earlier. At that time Riviera and his Stiff partner Dave Robinson had not quite settled on a separate numbering for album releases (which were allocated the prefix SEEZ; The Damned’s debut was SEEZ1).

Pen and ink on paper. Details, Damned Damned Damned artwork, 1977.

Barney also decorated his artwork with a sketch of a “100% Guaranteed Refund” sticker and typically twisted marketing slogans: “To clean use a barely damp Brillo pad” advises a vertical instruction, and the sentence along the bottom reads: “Long range full frequency stereo ersatz recording. Play at 33 1/3 rpm.”

In the event, the final back cover of the album carried the nonsensical note: “Made to be played loud at low volume.”

Design credit, Damned Damned Damned, 1977.

And in final flourish, Barney adopted one of his finer pseudonymous credits: Big Jobs Inc.

When music advertising’s aim was true

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

One of the key factors which accelerated Stiff Records past all-comers in 1977 – whether established majors or the new wave of indies launching in its wake –  was the quality, wit and invention of its music press advertising.

Cut-out-and-keep Elvis Costello poster constructed from Stiff adverts in Melody Maker, NME and Sounds, July 1977.

As explained in Reasons To Be Cheerful, this was a result of the winning combination of Barney Bubbles’ graphic genius and commercial experience (principally with Conran) and Stiff founders Dave Robinson and, in particular, Jake Riviera‘s pithy and provocative promotional nous.

Stiff Records DPS adverts, New Musical Express (top), Sounds (bottom left) and Melody Maker, all published July 23, 1977.

Jake’s progress in London’s hidebound advertising scene on leaving school in the 60s had been stymied by lack of qualifications. Come the 70s his substantial creative capabilities locked in with Barney’s arsenal of references and willingness to play games to provide series after series of individual ads for each of Britain’s music publications: the five weeklies Disc & Music Echo, Melody Maker, NME, Record Mirror and Sounds and the monthlies Let it Rock and ZigZag.

Stiff Records ad detail. Assembly instructions, July 23, 1977.

A fabulous example is the batch of three cut-out-and-keep double-page spreads announcing the release of Elvis Costello’s debut album My Aim Is True in the summer of 1977. Pieced together and clipped, these created a poster of Keith Morris‘s image from the front of the album.

12in sleeve. Back and front cover, My Aim Is True, Elvis Costello, Stiff, 1977.

“Our credo was that people are more intelligent than politicians or big business gives them credit for,” says Jake. “We wanted to really engage with fans and, since there were so many music papers, why not come up with a collectable series? Better than the same old ad for the latest Genesis album; hold me back, you know?”

Jake Riviera with point-of-sale Elvis Costello cut-out figure, outside Stiff offices, 32 Alexander Street, London W2, 1977. Photo: LIFE.

This and the image on the back had been carefully selected after a photo-session in which Barney and Jake were both involved to ensure that Costello’s transformation from country-rocker DP McManus (at the time holding down a day-job as a computer operator in North Acton with cosmetics manufacturer Elizabeth Arden) was complete.

Meanwhile retailers were provided with in-store cut-outs of the back cover shot; I coveted without success the one which occupied pride of place in my local record shop, Manzi’s in Finchley Road, north London.

Full-page adverts for Bongos Over Balham, Chilli Willi And The Red Hot Peppers, Mooncrest, 1974. Left: artwork for Let It Rock. Right, artwork for ZigZag.

Barney and Jake had been finessing this approach for a couple of years; Chilli Willi And The Red Hot Peppers benefited from a wide range of stickers, cut-outs and other promotional ephemera, and, when second album Bongos Over Balham was released in 1974, it was “presented” in the music press ads by a variety of items, including a pig’s trotter and a vibrator.

Contact sheet, My Aim Is True photo-session 1977, Keith Morris. (C) Keith Morris Estate.

And the objective of introducing the then-totally unknown Costello as “Buddy Holly on acid” with a sackful of songs driven by guilt and revenge was achieved in the time-honoured fashion of maintaining tight rein over available imagery while word-of-mouth was built. 

My Aim Is True colour variations, 1977/78.

Morris’s two cover shots were used repeatedly in posters as well as ads, and Barney adopted a Warholian approach by chopping and changing the eye-popping overlaid colours of the album sleeve over the course of several print-runs.

Elvis Costello posters promoting live appearances (left) and his debut album, 1977.

With the initial pressing containing the “Help Us Hype Elvis” leaflet offering free copies for those who could turn their friends on to the album, it’s likely that there were at least 30 different coloured sleeves.

Full page adverts: (left) NME August 6, 1977, Melody Maker, August 13, 1977.

Of course it’s impossible to calculate what would have happened had Elvis Presley not died on August 16 1977 just as the My Aim Is True campaign got underway; the album’s prospects certainly weren’t hurt by the public attention directed to such elements as the near-sacriligeous phrase “Elvis Is King” Letraset-ed into the cover’s two-tone boxes by Barney.

By the autumn Costello was proving he was not only one of the greatest songwriters of his generation but also a fearsome live prospect, having hooked up with The Attractions and started to perform some of the stunning tracks to appear on follow-up This Year’s Model.

Once again, this was heralded by a campaign based on more spectacular advertising, including a music press series  of three ads (NB: we’re advised there were at least six – see note below) featuring various headings including “Drugs”, “Fads” and “Commodities”.

Barney chose not to lay the titles across the gutter (the central margin separating type and images) to increase legibility for the reader holding the paper open. Laid out flat this would be nearly 2ft wide and was often a source of discomfort for those trying to read the “inkies” on cramped public transport.

DPS advert for This Year's Model, NME, March 25, 1978.

These ads are packed with puns and inside jokes: Patti Smith is miscaptioned as Patty Hearst, Chilli Willi as “saccharine”, Troggs’ singer Reg Presley as Elvis Presley, The Attractions as much-maligned budget label K-Tel and the recently arrested Roman Polanski as Charles Manson (the man, of course, responsible for the death of his wife Sharon Tate).

DPS advert for This Year's Model, NME, March 18, 1978.

And Costello was not spared: a photograph of Buddy Holly was placed next to his name. And a banjo lying on the ground lays the ghost of DP MacManus to rest with the caption: “Elizabeth Arden Blue Grass”.

From Twickenham to Tuscany: the George Snow connection

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

There are a number of parallels between the early careers of Barney Bubbles and video-maker/computer animator George Snow.

Both studied art and design at Twickenham College Of Technology (now Richmond Upon Thames College), though George was there a couple of years after Barney. George also worked for the underground press, designed record sleeves, was stimulated rather than stymied by the punk upheaval of the mid-70s, and went on to direct pop videos (such as Jack ‘n’ Chill’s The House That Jack Built).

By the time Barney took his own life in 1983, George had investigated collage and social comment, as editor of Radical Illustration and as a photo-journalist in strife-torn Northern Ireland for such publications as the Morning Star, Socialist Worker and Black Dwarf.

He also embraced new technology in the form of computer animation and multimedia, and today his establishment 3D3 World leads the way in the training of 3D animation.

George first encountered Barney personally at the offices of Friends in Portobello Road when he art-directed a single issue of the underground paper in 1970.

“I remember Barney as soft-spoken, friendly and somewhat shambolic in appearance,” says George. “I had never heard of him when we first met, but following the decline of the underground press we were all aware of his growing fame as we struggled with Bay City Rollers magazines and other junk.”

Band logo, George Snow, 1977.

George’s music business work included sleeves for UA-signed acts such as The Stranglers and 999, for whom he created the familiar raffle-ticket logo. When the punk act moved to Radar, where Barney was design head, their sleeves were created by another UA alum, Paul Henry.

Back and front cover, 7" single sleeve, Nasty Nasty/No Pity, 999, UA Records, 1977. Design: George Snow.

In the 80s George directed videos for such acts as London Beat and The Art Of Noise, designed book jackets and taught at a number of leading colleges, all the while developing his computer-generated artistry via projects such as his 1988 Channel 4 film based on Edgar Allan Poe’s The Assignation. His 1996 film Tall Story – about a building which comes life when struck by lightning – was nominated in the British Animation Awards.

George believes he, Barney and many others benefited from the traditional and multi-disciplinary approach to teaching at their alma mater Twickenham.

“The foundation course was probably the best in the country at the time,” he says. “Observation through drawing and painting were central to it. And it is important to bear in mind that the art school was a part of a larger organisation teaching crafts such as bricklaying and plumbing among other trades. That meant we had access to oxy-acetylene welding gear, a complete chemistry lab (we made tear gas for our closing party) and all the other equipment that had a common purpose for tradesmen and artists.”

George  recalls in particular a visit from Bob Gill, co-founder of Fletcher Forbes Gill (which became design behemoth Pentagram) and author with his partners of one of Barney’s favourite books.

Front cover of Barney's own copy of Graphic Design.

“Bob Gill was a major influence on me,” says George. “He gave us one lecture and a crit and knocked me out. His approach to idea creation was what really hit home. Basically by taking two elements of a situation and combining them he showed how we could get an original ‘idea’: a classic example being his illustration on divorce – a wedding photograph torn in two with the bride on one side and the groom on the other.”

Back cover, 7" single sleeve, Welcome To The Working Week/Alison, Elvis Costello, Stiff Records, 1977. Design: Barney Bubbles.

George believes that Barney’s work was similarly special “because it was subject to his personal whims. We were allowed a great deal of free expression in those distant days; there were no marketing men to tell us what was required. Often enough impoverished record labels let us do what our egos dictated simply because it allowed them to pay us so little”.

As to the creative course Barney would have pursued had he lived beyond 1983, George says: “I feel sure Barney would have continued to develop; that is to say he would have stopped following those roads that bored him or threatened him with repetition.

“Multimedia and computer animation would have attracted him, probably because they were new. He would have picked up on audio software such as Pro Tools and probably composed music himself.”

Among George’s current projects is the virtual world he is creating for an exhibit entitled APES at Den Haag’s Gemeentemuseum next year. This is made up of 10 projections displaying a 360deg panorama of architectural space which draws on Alberti, Piranesi, Escher as well as his own work (hence the acronym).

Such projects underline George’s acceptance that if there is an similarity between Barney and himself, “it would have been a certain restlessness and a desire to prove oneself in another field. Doubtless he would have been into video, web design and multi-media in general. How those areas would have benefited from his sense of humour.”

Front cover, 12" album sleeve, Imperial Bedroom, Elvis Costello & The Attractions, F-Beat Records, 1982. Credit: Sal Forlenza, 1942.

If his hand is forced, George selects the geometric Hawkwind covers,  The Glastonbury Fayre and Imperial Bedroom as his Barney favourites.

“But I don’t think Barney was a man of one work or one particular work of genius,” he emphasises. “Like a colony of ants his work was one single being – with many legs.”

Looking back with Langer

Monday, June 29th, 2009

The new Madness album The Liberty Of Norton Folgate is the latest career high for London’s finest band.

It also marks the return of the sympatico producer Clive Langer, who – with his partner Alan Winstanley – has been on hand at various points through Madness’ career (even organising the band’s first recording sessions when they were rambunctious teens).

Clive’s pedigree stretches through production credits on records by such artists as Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Morrissey and Elvis Costello (with whom he co-wrote Shipbuilding) to membership of the pre-punk cabaret troupe Deaf School.

Splash, Clive Langer & The Boxes, FBeat, 1980.

And his leadership of post-Deaf School band The Boxes coincided with Barney Bubbles’ boldest and most wide-ranging record label brief: patron Jake Riviera’s formation of FBeat in 1980.

At Stiff, Barney had joined the team seven months in, and the year or so at Radar witnessed contributions from others, including Malcolm Garrett.

Radar singles by Bette Bright and Clive Langer, 1979. Designs: Malcolm Garrett.

Malcolm had been taken on at Radar straight from college to ease the pressure on Barney, and was responsible for sleeves for releases by another Deaf School alum Bette Bright as well as The Boxes’ debut, the 12″ EP I Want The World.  

FBeat was different; here Barney grew the identity of the company from the ground up, producing sleeves and posters as well as a slew of logos for label copy, headed paper, advertising and promotional purposes.

Inspired by the design detail of Jake’s early 60s jukebox, kitsch-y crowns and other regal imagery, as well as precisely arranged chevrons, stars, ellipses and other insignia dominated this period. Barney even designed Jake’s furniture for his office at the company’s Acton offices, as well as an FBeat rug (which appeared on the inner of Carlene Carter’s Musical Shapes).

Of course the priority act was Elvis Costello, responsible with his band The Attractions for FBeat’s first single I Can’t Stand Up (For Falling Down) and album Get Happy!!.

But Clive and the Boxes were hot on their heels; FBeat’s second 7″ was Splash (A Tear Goes Rolling Down), which arrived in Barney’s bespoke single bags, and the second album was the band’s Splash.

Left: Photo album. Right: NME ad for Splash (A Tear Goes Rolling Down), 1980. Carol Fawcett Collection/Reasons 2009.

For the album sleeve the Boxes were dispatched to Putney swimming baths in south-west London, where Barney’s friend, the photographer Keith Morris, shot them diving, floating and generally splashing around.

But Clive wasn’t happy with Barney’s first draft for the cover. “I knew of and admired Barney; he had a notoriety in punk circles,” says Clive. “But the first idea for the cover just didn’t work for me.

“I got the distinct impression that he wasn’t too pleased, because people rarely rejected what he came up with. But on the second go the sleeve looked fantastic – there’s a great turquoise variation which came out in Germany.”

Barney’s advertising campaigns for the single and album played with a variety of visual puns. Ads for the music press used a close up of his friend Carol Fawcett’s right eye – not only does he create a face out of the typographic arrangement but the graphic “tears” splash into the shape of a crown.

Double A-side promo copies were sent to retailers wrapped in an 12″ x 8″ poster in which the droplets are stylised as lozenges set against swimming pool blue.

The standard single label features the ident for Liverpool label Korova, from whom the track was licensed. Interestingly, the promo label also bears an arcane symbol with which Barney peppered his work at the time: three triangulated circles.

Left: Music press ad artwork (c) Riviera Global/Reasons 2009. Right: It's All Over Now, Clive Langer & The Boxes, FBeat, 1980.

The five-pointed crowns of the album cover are set atop boxes in the music press ads which trailed the tour dates while a single large one dominates the cover of follow-up single It’s All Over Now.

Coincidental aside: these days the Madness “M” logo – created by member Chrissy Boy Foreman – is sporting a five-pointed crown rather than a bluebeat hat.

As 1980 wore on, the Boxes waned, and Langer became fully engaged in production chores for Madness’ smash debut One Step Beyond, making the first steps in his career with Winstanley as part of one of Britain’s most highly rated record production teams.

When El Lissitzky met the punk rockers downtown

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

As detailed in REASONS, Barney Bubbles’ 1977 sleeve for punk band Generation X’s debut single Your Generation was a key inspiration for a new wave of young designers applying the principles of the early 20th century art movement Constructivism to their work.

The graphic fulfilled “a basic function of art by instructing delightfully” – as critic Michael Billington wrote recently in an entirely different context – influencing the future direction of Neville Brody, Malcolm Garrett, Peter Saville and many, many more.

John Ingham (standing) with Siouxsie Sue, Steve Severin and Johnny Rotten, Paris, 1976. Photo: Ray Stevenson.

Now new details have emerged about the story behind the cover. The sleeve was commissioned by Generation X‘s co-manager John Ingham, the Sounds journalist who  – using the deliberate misprint “Jonh” for his first name – had trail-blazed punk coverage, publishing the first-ever interview with the Sex Pistols.

In March 1977 John and fellow manager Stewart Joseph were actively searching for distinctive art direction for the upcoming record deal with Chrysalis (the group’s founder/guitarist Tony James and singer Billy Idol were all the while designing their own t-shirts in a pop and op-art style).

El Lissitzky: The Constructor 1924; Beat The Whites With The Red Wedge 1919

The managers paid a visit to Joseph’s friend, the art historian, exhibition curator and author Michael Collins. “Michael gave us a crash-course in Constructivism,” says John. “He talked about Rodchenko, Malevich and, of course, El Lissitzky, who really nailed us because his work is so geometric. We were particular struck by Beat The Whites With The Red Wedge.” 

Cover, The First Kestner Portfolio, 1923; Design for Mayakovsky's For The Voice, 1923.

The artist born Lazor Markovich Lissitzky in 1890 revolutionised graphic design during its formative stages. Critic Max Bill’s famous summation of Lissitzky’s book About 2 Squares – “Typography is a game that leads to communication, and it all began with Lissitzky’s tale of two squares” – had long struck a chord with Barney.

Globetrotter In Time 1923; Flying From Far Away, About 2 Squares 1922.

A couple of days after their encounter with Collins, John called his girlfriend Suzanne Spiro, then working at Stiff Records, where Barney had taken up residence as art director just two weeks previously.

Stiff in Melody Maker 1976 (note Barney-designed Naughty Rhythms tour poster): Jake Riviera, Suzanne Spiro, Dave Robinson.

“I was telling her about our conversation with Michael and these books I’d bought on the subject,” says John. “Suzanne repeated the name El Lissiztsky out loud.  The next thing I heard was Barney’s voice shouting from the back room: ‘What’s going on? Why are you talking about El Lissitzky?'”

As detailed in a letter to his friend Lorry Sartorio, March 1977 marked Barney’s return to the fray of the music business. He struck a deal with his pal, Stiff co-founder Jake Riviera, whereby he lived at 32 Alexander Street in Paddington (which housed the label’s offices) in return for designs.

(c) Lorry Sartorio/Reasons 2009

The letter refers to Riviera looking “like a public school-boy”. Riviera laughs: “That was down to a ‘Man From British Steel’ haircut I had at the time.”

In his first weeks at Stiff, Barney produced sleeves, posters, press ads and other artwork for compilation A Bunch Of Stiff Records, The Damned single  Neat Neat Neat and album Damned Damned Damned and Elvis Costello’s debut Less Than Zero.

“Barney grabbed the phone out of Suzanne’s hand and demanded to know about my interest in the Constructivists,” recalls John Ingham. “I explained what was going on with Generation X and off we went; we had our art director.”

Within a few days Stewart, John and Barney were sat on the stoop outside Stiff discussing options for Your Generation. “We talked about the music we liked, “says John. ” Barney was a big Who fanatic and he told a story I’ve never heard from anybody else. He was a regular at their ’64 residency at The Marquee and talked about this bit when they went into a noise sequence with feedback sounding like bombs dropping.  

“Somewhere in the middle of it Townshend would inevitably hit a member of the audience over the head with his guitar, and we laughed about how people used to fight for that particular spot. I’d heard that story but Barney was the first and only person to reveal that the ‘song’ was called World War II.”

Once they had established common ground, Barney produced an idea for the sleeve: the numerals 45 in direct reference to the rpm of a 7in single. ” We had another session sitting on the stoop on a sunny mid-day and out came the spiral-bound notebook with these precise 2in sq ideas,” says John. “One of them was exactly the front and back cover of Your Generation, down to the last detail.”      


Quarter-page advert in NME, September 10, 1977.

For the advert for trade paper Music Week, Barney urged the band and their managers to keep it simple: “He said that it was a waste of time trying to be clever, that we should just say: ‘Buy this record’.” 

In the event they settled on “Our record in your record shops on Saturday” placed in the white space left by a trompe l’oeil rip Billy Idol appears to have torn in the photograph by Ray Stevenson. Signifying the amount of time the band had taken to reach their first release – rivals the Pistols, the Clash and The Damned had knocked out at least a couple of singles each by this stage – the ad featured a typical Barney pun: “Worth it’s wait”.

Barney adopted the more blunt approach for the August 1977 music press campaign for Elvis Costello’s My Aim Is True, with its exhortation “Buy It.”

Chrysalis half-page advert, Sounds, September 10, 1977.

Barney’s ad also appeared in the NME but Chrysalis replaced it in other music press titles with a spot-colour one generated by their own art department, bowdlerising Barney’s graphic and utilising corny lettering for the band name.

Two of four matching posters for Marquee residency, September 1977.

On the single’s release in September 1977, Generation X played a series of four gigs at The Marquee promoted by monochrome Barney-designed posters. These were based on stills from a performance clip made for a pilot music TV show directed by the veteran Mike Mansfield  (who also helmed the clip for the Pistols’ God Save The Queen that summer).

“Barney and I spent a morning in an edit suite running the video,” says John. “Every so often he would freeze the frame and take a photograph. What delighted me about the final design was that he incorporated the lines of static as graphics. When all four were posted together, the lines matched.”

In December 1977 John exited the UK punk scene for the balmier climes of Los Angeles. Stewart remained as manager of Generation X. In a future post we shall explore how Barney and the band hooked up once again.

Neville Brody's Red Wedge logo, 1985.

Interest in Lissitzky and early 20th century Russian design burgeoned, via the likes of Neville Brody. He was at the forefront of  80s designers channeling the movement, notably in The Face and also for his logo for music/political movement Red Wedge ( the name of which resulted from a conversation between Barney and founder Billy Bragg).

Curiously online images of the logo are currently extremely rare; we’ve scanned the one above from our archive. 

A Proun, El Lissitzky, 1925; Front cover, Michael, Franz Ferdinand, Domino 2004.

Bands continue to draw on Constructivism – particularly Franz Ferdinand – as do contemporary artists such as Shephard Fairey, while the artists themselves are constantly re-evaluated.

Saks Fifth Avenue campaign, Shephard Fairey, spring 2009.

As Patrick Burgoyne has pointed out, Constructivism is “the ism that just keeps on giving”. However, it’s interesting to speculate on the look of music through graphic design had Barney Bubbles not overheard a phone conversation between a young manager and his girlfriend in a mouldy Paddington basement 32 years ago.

Fun for all the family at Howies

Saturday, February 7th, 2009

Tommy The Talking Toolbox would have been proud.

Fun for all the family was had at Howies store in Bristol on Thursday night as our pals at the Barney-mad company hosted an evening to celebrate the publication of Reasons To Be Cheerful.

With the invaluable support and assistance of Howies mainmen Nick Hand (who also took these photos) and Tim March, we mounted a mini-display in a hitherto unused upstairs room as the first in a series of monthly events the guys are organising.

The core of our little taster was a collection of 24 of the 27 variations to the cover of Do It Yourself by Ian Dury & The Blockheads.

Pic: Nick Hand.

This seemed particularly appropriate since the site was once occupied by a Laura Ashley branch; some of the walls in the until-now disused upstairs space are still covered in her divinely daft and dated flowery wallpaper.

Part of the original artwork for 4000 Weeks Holiday (c) P. Kennedy/Reasons 2009

To keep the ID/BB theme going, we also displayed original artefacts and artwork, including the paste-up for what later became the cover of Ian’s 1984 album 4000 Weeks Holiday.

Thought to be among the very last projects Barney worked on, this has been contributed to the Reasons archive by our friend Pauline Kennedy. In her previous incarnation as Caramel Crunch, Pauline was Barney’s assistant and continued his work at such labels as Go! Discs.

  • Presentation in Howies’ denim room.
  • With a book signing and talk about Barney, complete with power-point presentation of images from the book, the evening was capped by Paul and Caz mixing up the aural medicine with DJ sets of Barney-related sounds. These, we’re happy to tell you, went down a storm.

    BARNEY BUBBLES SOUND SELECTION:

    Here’s a selection of 10 of the Barney best to warm the cockles (click on the links to download/buy):

    Eastbourne Ladies – Kevin Coyne (Marjory Razorblade 1973)

    Inbetweenies – Ian Dury & The Blockheads (Do It Yourself 1979)

    Lipstick Vogue –  Elvis Costello & The Attractions (This Year’s Model 1978)

    Fung Kee Laundry – Quiver (Gone In the Morning 1972)

    Love My Way – The Psychedelic Furs (Forever Now 1982)

    Opa-Loka – Hawkwind (Warrior On The Edge Of Time 1975)

    Post-War Glamour Girl – John Cooper Clarke (Disguise In Love (1978)

    Darling Let’s Have Another Baby – Johnny Moped (Cycledelic 1978)

    Just Can’t Get Enough – Depeche Mode (Speak & Spell 1981)

    Ghost Town – The Specials (single 1981)

    These are just a few examples of how the BBSS can get the joint jumping. For a playlist from Caz’s set see Howies’ blog  Brainfood.

    Let there be drums

    Sunday, January 25th, 2009

    Stretched over the open end of the bass drum and at just under 2ft in diameter, drumheads proved a perfect canvas for the artistry of Barney Bubbles.

    Throughout his career, Barney was in the habit of providing customised skins to musicians, either as part of an overall theme he had developed for an album or artist or as one-off gifts.

    Today we exclusively present four produced over a 10-year period.

    Only one has been widely seen before; the portrait of the freckle-faced Western gal set against a desert landscape was painted in 1973 for Pete Thomas, then of Chilli Willi And The Red Hot Peppers.

    Chilli Willi drumhead

    Chilli Willi And The Red Hot Peppers, 1973. (c) Pete Thomas/Pic: Tony Sayles

    The cowgirl and the vista had appeared in Barney’s colour-your-own inner for the band’s debut album Kings Of The Robot Rhythm. Around this period Barney was investigating the interpretation of this educational form in a musical context: the cover of Brinsley Schwarz’s eponymously-titled album consisted of a paint-by-numbers scenario.

    “Barney was such a lovely bloke,” says Pete, who gives the painting pride of place in his Los Angeles home. In 1999, it was the centrepiece for  the cover of the Willi’s compilation  I’ll Be Home.

    In 1977 Pete went on to form the rhythmic bedrock of Elvis Costello & The Attractions, and Barney created a suitably new wave, Jackson Pollock-ed drumhead for the band’s participation in 1977’s Stiff’s Greatest Stiffs UK tour. Within a couple of months Costello and the band had released the ferocious This Year’s Model – Barney’s stickers for that album’s promotional campaign still adorn it.

    Greatest drumhead

    Stiff's Greatest Stiffs 1977. (c) Pete Thomas/Pic: Tony Sayles

    As the drummer in the Kursaal Flyers, pub-rock scene chronicler Will Birch first encountered Barney when he designed the album sleeve of the Southend band’s album Chocs Away.

    The two maintained contact and Barney provided artwork for Will’s post-punk band The Records in the early 80s. During their meetings the pair riffed on the notion of an imaginary band called the Blue Genes, and Barney painted Will a drumhead featuring wriggling single-celled genetic organisms with blue tails.

    Blue Genes drum head

    Blue Genes 1982. (c) Will Birch

    Since the Blue Genes never performed or recorded, Will’s is in pristine condition, unlike Pete’s or that owned by another of Barney’s friends, record company promotional wizard and Viv Stanshall’s manager Glen Colson.

    “I was drumming a bit at the time, so Barney offered to paint me a drumhead,” says Glen. “I used to like this move called a ‘flam’, where you bring both drumsticks in quick succession down hard on the snare. I was delighted when I saw Barney’s design say: ‘Flam Flam’.”

    flam flam drum head

    Flam Flam 1983. (c)Glen Colson/ Reasons 2009

    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.