Posts Tagged ‘Inner City Unit’

Billy Bragg’s rug and the Masereel effect

Sunday, October 11th, 2009

In the early 80s an opportunity arose for Barney Bubbles to spread his creativity into designing rugs.

As detailed in REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL, at this time Barney was already investigating many areas of the visual arts outside of providing commercial art for the record industry: painting, videos, mixed media, collage, mobiles, furniture design and even glass sculptures during a trip to Australia. 

12" inner sleeve. Musical Shapes, Carlene Carter, F-Beat, 1980.

Barney’s friend and patron Jake Riviera explains in Chapter 5 of REASONS that in 1980 the pair encountered an invidual working in the carpet business “who could realise anything we came up with”.

Rug design artwork, 1982. (c) REASONS 2009. Courtesy: Riviera Global.

Barney designed a circular rug like a giant  single featuring Riviera’s F-Beat label for the company’s offices in Acton, west London. This appears on the inner sleeve of Carlene Carter‘s album Musical Shapes.

“Then Barney started to produce original designs,” adds Jake. “By that stage he was taking any opportunity he could to create in other media.”

But there was one rug which was based on a design of Barney’s which he didn’t commission. To explain: in the final year of his life – 1983 – Barney was working as the designer for new indie label Go! Discs, whose priority act was Billy Bragg.

Billy and Barney  shared an admiration for Flemish Expressionist artist Frans Masereel.

“I mentioned to Barney that I loved the guy’s work and of course he got it immediately,” says Billy.

Book illustrations, Charles de Coster's The Legend Of The Glorious Adventures Of Tyl Ulenspeigel. Frans Masereel, 1943.

For the cover design of Billy’s debut album Brewing Up With…Barney recreated Masereel’s signature woodcut technique.

Front covers, 12" albums. Left: Ersatz, Imperial Pompadours, Pompadour, 1982. Right: Punkadelic, Inner City Unit, Flicknife, 1982.

This was realised in the same way as the sleeve designs for his own album Ersatz (in the guise of The Imperial Pompadours) and Inner City Unit’s Punkadelic  Barney used black paper on white.

Front cover, 12" album. Brewing Up With Billy Bragg, Go! Discs, 1984.

In the event Brewing Up was released in October 1984, nearly a year after Barney’s death. The cover depicts two scenes: in one, a light radiates from a house over an industrial cityscape, in the other a contemplative figure sits at a window, lit from overhead. 

Poster, 30in x 20in. For Billy Bragg live dates, 1983.

Barney’s design was also used for Billy’s residency at London venue The Captain’s Cabin.

Rug, 8ft x 2.5ft. (c) REASONS 2009. Courtesy: Billy Bragg.

On Barney’s death, his one-time assistant Caramel Crunch took over designing for Billy, and in the mid-80s commissioned a rug rendition of one part of the Brewing Up artwork.

“My business partner Colin did some stationary for a rug-maker and she made us both rugs as payment,” explains Caramel, who these days goes by her real name, Pauline Kennedy.

“I supplied her with Barney’s album illustration and she made me the rug from that. Then I gave it to Billy as a ‘thank you’ for letting me design for him.”

And a quarter of a century later, it is still going strong, having made the leap to another domestic object, appearing appropriately on tea mugs available from Billy’s site.

Sphynx: Symmetry, symbolism and shape

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Ahead of The Roundhouse celebration on March 8, Nik Turner has posted a set of reminiscences about his exciting creative relationship with Barney Bubbles.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Sketches and word pictures. (c) D.Fawcett/Reasons 2009.

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

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 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.
“Do not lick this dot’, Summer 1978. (c) G. Colson/Reasons 2009.

Billed as Nik Turner’s Bohemian Love In, this featured an eclectic supporting cast, including ex-Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah band member Roger Ruskin Spear and his robots, former T. Rex member Steve Took’s Horns, punk poets Patrik Fitzgerald and John Cooper Clarke, sci-fi author Michael Moorcock and Tanz Der Youth, the band briefly led by The Damned‘s Brian James.

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.

Im Sorry Im Sorry by Tanz Der Youth, Radar 1978

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.

Hawklords postcard 1978.

Hawklords postcard 1978. Pauline Kennedy Collection.

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.”

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– – 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: thelook@rockpopfashion.com 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?

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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.