//Drumhead painted by Barney Bubbles for Hawkwind drummer Simon King’s kit, 1972//
A rare design by Barney Bubbles has come to light after four decades; the psychedelic sci-fi drumhead was painted for Hawkwind when the space rocking Sonic Assassins undertook tours around the world following the success of their Silver Machine single in 1972.
//Hawkwind – including, from left, Nik Turner, Stacia Blake, Simon King and Lemmy – performing with the drumheads in situ at the Windsor Free Festival, August, 1973. Photographer: Unknown//
//12″ paper inner for Barney Bubbles’ packaging for Doremi Fasol Latido, Hawkwind, UA, 1972//
//Detail of grimacing Hawklord from the Doremi inner//
The design of a snarling apparition – a so-called ‘Hawklord’ as depicted on the group’s album Doremi Sofal Latido – was one of a pair which adorned the front of the twin bass-drums in Simon King’s kit during this period.
Bubbles – charged with “Optics” and effectively the group’s art director – applied an integrated approach to the collective far beyond the remit of just creating album sleeves, posters and other promotional material.
//Flam Flam: Barney Bubbles drumhead for Glen Colson, 1983//
As mentioned in my Barney Bubbles monograph Reasons To Be Cheerful, the visual impact of painted drumheads appealed to Bubbles; as well as these for Hawkwind, he designed others for Pete Thomas (of Chilli Willi And The Red Hot Peppers/The Attractions), Will Birch (Kursaal Flyers/The Records) and his publicist friend Glen Colson.
The current owner of the amazing Hawkwind drum-head has treasured it for a number of years.
A fuller version of this story appears on my blog here.
The owner also has the original drumkit, for which offers are being welcomed. These should be directed via the contact mail on my blog (in the About Me section).
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.
As highlighted in Will Birch’s tremendous Ian Dury biography, the creative relationship between the late singer and Barney Bubbles was one of the most fruitful in the history of pop.
Of similar ages with deep art school roots, Barney and Dury commenced their partnership in the spring of 1977 just as both were heading for the top of their game, with Barney installed at Stiff after a hiatus of more than a year and Dury preparing to unleash the career-defining records and performances which brought him enduring national treasure status.
Back cover photograph by Chris Gabrin.
Unlike his treatment of others, Dury was never-less-than respectful of Barney. “Barney was easily the most incredible designer I’d ever come across,” Dury told Birch.
Poster for Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Stiff Records, 1977. Tom Sheehan Collection.
Dury said Barney “scared the shit out of me. He was righteous. He didn’t have the faults or the ego and he made me feel second class. I wanted his approval in a strange kind of way”.
The decision was made to throw all resources behind the polio-stricken performer and his band The Blockheads. Barney art-directed a sustained marketing and promotional campaign made up of several elements: his Blockhead logo, numerous press ads, several posters, a songbook and a tour programme. Together these helped maintain the album’s presence in the charts for more than a year and set up hits What A Waste and number one smash Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick.
NME, February 4, 1978: Ian Dury and Davey Payne.
The cover of Birch’s book is a delightful rendition by Dury’s friend and mentor Sir Peter Blake, while on the back is a photo by Chris Gabrin from sessions for a series of music press ads.
Melody Maker, February 4, 1978: Fred Rowe and Ian Dury.
These are littered with Dury’s skewiff humour and guttersnipe poetry and feature some of the possible titles he had drawn up for his debut solo album.
NME January 28, 1978: Ian Dury and Charley Charles.
Gabrin’s monochromatic clarity and his strong working relationship with both parties was an important element in the Dury/Bubbles dialogue. “We were working full-pelt at the time,” said Gabrin the other night. “There was so much to do to keep up with press ads and tours.”
Right: Melody Maker, January 28, 1978: Norman Watt-Roy and Ian Dury. Left: Sounds, February 4, 1978: Ian Dury and John Turnbull.
Gabrin’s band portraits of Dury and The Blockheads (and minder Fred “Spider” Rowe) hit the UK’s music weeklies in February 1978.
Poster, Stiff Records, 1978.
A Gabrin photograph from an earlier session (which Barney had overlaid with a lurid orange screen for one of five giant posters for the Stiff tour) was used for a standard sized poster to hammer home the album’s availabiity. The year ended with more band shots in the incredible fold-out programme for the December 1978 Hanky Pantie tour.
8" x 6" tour programme cover, December 1978.
The matchstick portrait cover was even used for the manufacture of hankies (to be knotted and worn on the head). A couple of Stiff employees – maybe Paul Conroy or Andy Murray can identify them? – sport these in the Top Of The Pops audience for Dury and The Blockheads’ triumphant performance of Hit Me.
Ian Dury & The Blockheads perform Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick, Top Of The Pops, December 1978.
By 1983, when Dury was filmed by director Franco Rosso for a Channel 4 documentary, the wordsmith was in a very different place.
On one of his regular separations from The Blockheads and main writing partner Chaz Jankel, Dury’s career was about to hit the skids as he recorded the half-baked 4000 Weeks Holiday. During the making of the film, management company Blackhill collapsed, but there are some sequences where it’s office can be seen decorated with Barney’s designs.
As well as Blockhead logo stickers there are posters for Do It Yourself and also the spoken-word album Blackhill’s Peter Jenner released on Charisma by cricket commentating legend John Arlott.
This was cooked up with Charisma publicist and Barney’s friend Glen Colson, who recalls how he came up with such faux cricket positions as “Wayward Short Leg”.
Poster, Charisma Records, 1982.
By the time the documentary was screened in 1984, Barney had died at his own hand.
“Barney Bubbles told me a few straighteners towards the end of his life,” said Dury, towards the end of his own. “Barney told me: ‘You were a horrible piece of work in those days Ian.’ I said: ‘Barney, I didn’t want to be’.”
Left: 12" cover, Jukebox Dury, Stiff, 1981. Right: 7' cover, What A Waste, Stiff, 1981.
A couple of years earlier, Barney had delivered his views on Dury’s behaviour via the designs for 1981 greatest hits Jukebox Dury and it’s single, the reissued What A Waste.
Gone is the affection of the New Boots & Panties!! era. In it’s place, with stark contrasts, the bleached-out image renders Dury as Frankenstein’s monster, while the jaunty razor-blade earring is now used for chopping out coke, lobotomising the artist.
Will Birch’s book is a fully rounded portrait of this extraordinary man, and is heartily recommended.
Here’s a chance for you to get your hands on a FREE copy SIGNED by the author.
These provide us with an opportunity to reveal exclusive images surrounding one of Nik and Barney’s most intriguing collaborations (which also centred on a multi-media happening at the same venue).
As covered by his stellar contribution to Reasons To Be Cheerful, Nik’s friendship with Barney began at the dawn of the 70s when they were introduced by the late writer and performer Robert Calvert.
Hawkwind Love & Peace poster (c) N. Turner.
“We struck a chord in each other,” says Nik. “Barney came along to a Hawkwind gig and saw that my vision of the band’s spirit embodied a lot of the concepts and ideals to which he related. After that he was happy to apply his creative energy, designing the Peace & Love poster for us, and then the X In Search of Space album sleeve, log-book and concept.”
Full-page advert for X In Search Of Space, Oz 38, 1971.
Barney realised the visual identity of Hawkwind on every level as the space-rockers progressed through the first half of the 70s. When Nik left the band in 1976 he embarked on a trip to Egypt. “That was in part inspired by the common interest Barney and I had in Egyptology and ancient civilisations,” Nik explains.
“While there I recorded flute music inside the King’s Chamber of The Great Pyramid, and this became the album Xitintoday by my new group Sphynx.”
Xitintoday promotional poster. (c) N. Turner/Reasons 2009.
Barney agreed to design the album sleeve and booklet on condition that he applied the principals of concrete poetry (where typographical arrangement is as important as the words in conveying meaning).
Barney’s mastery of typography had long enabled him to communicate depth of meaning in this way, so concrete poetry became a natural area of investigation for a visual artist fascinated by symmetry, symbolism and shape.
These, of course, were central to his other abiding interests such as cosmology and Egyptology, as evinced by the poster he designed to promote the release of Xitintoday, which is constructed around a favourite symbol of Barney’s, The Eye of Horus.
When he was approached by Nik, Barney had already embarked on developing a series of concrete poetry artworks in 12″ x 10″ frames for a group exhibition which he was helping to organise at his London squat. He also planned the printing of a limited edition of a poem which consisted of one word: “nowhere”. This appears in the booklet he designed for Xitintoday as do many other examples, such as the word “day” made up of repeated use of the word “night” in white on black.
Examples of Barney's concrete poetry. (c) C.Fawcett/Reasons 2009.
As this page of drafts and notes shows, Barney was fascinated by the form. Among the options are the Xitintoday cover’s constellated tiny pentagrams created from the word “twinkle”.
Big star: detail from Xitintoday's front cover.
Barney’s interest in concrete poetry was stimulated by his relationship with the photographer Frances Newman, who was later to marry his friend Brian Griffin. Newman’s partner had been Tom Edmonds, the concrete poet who died in 1971 and contributed to the important collection Gloup And Woup along with such exponents as Bob Cobbing, John Furnival and it’s most celebrated figure, the Benedictine monk Dom Sylvester Houedard.
Xitintoday front cover, Charisma Records, 1978.
Xitintoday’s release was heralded by an all-day happening at The Roundhouse, for which Barney choreographed the dancers in Sphynx’s stage show.
“Do not lick this dot’, Summer 1978. (c) G. Colson/Reasons 2009.
Both John Cooper Clarke and Tanz Der Youth also benefited from Barney designs; the former with his songbook Directory 1979 and the latter in the shape of the sleeve for his Radar single I’m Sorry, I’m Sorry.
I'm Sorry I'm Sorry by Tanz Der Youth, Radar, 1978.
Among the attendees at The Bohemian Love In were Calvert and Hawkwind founder Dave Brock, both then putting together new group Hawklords and recording dystopian concept album 25 Years On.
They brought Barney on board and, working with photographer Chris Gabrin, he moved away from concrete poetry into bleak futurism and monochromatic expressionist territory to which he applied the new punk day-glo spray-can aesthetic. This is covered extensively in Reasons, as are the rest of Nik’s collaborations with Barney, through the releases by his band Inner City Unit to the extraordinary Ersatz under the guise of The Imperial Pompadours.
“Throughout this period I lived with Barney off and on, in various studios and houses,” says Nik, who is organising the event with another of Barney’s friends, promoter John Curd. “We always had wonderful times together, full of inspiration and creativity, weird, wild and wacky. I’ll always remember him as being a great fan of object trouve, and feel a debt for all his help and inspiration over the years.”
– – COMPETITION – –
Two free tickets for The Roundhouse event
This week we are giving away two free tickets for The Hawklords/Space Ritual 09/Barney Bubbles Memorial event at The Roundhouse on Sunday, March 8.
Grab a chance of winning them by sending your answer to the question below to: firstname.lastname@example.org by midnight GMT on Sunday March 1.
We’ll announce the lucky winners the following day.
Q: Who recites Sonic Attack on Hawkwind’s The Space Ritual Alive in Liverpool and London?
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 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.
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 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’.”