Posts Tagged ‘Kokomo’

Wud Wud! When Barney got the (Chilli) Willis…

Friday, February 12th, 2010

Thanks to photographic ace and all-round good chap  Tom Sheehan for this splendid Chilli Willi And The Red Hot Peppers poster.

Poster. Chilli Willi And The Red Hot Peppers, 1972. (c) Tom Sheehan Collection.

This portrays the band’s founders Martin Stone and the sadly long-departed Phil Lithman in footloose minstrel mode, in line with their appearance on the inner sleeve of Barney-designed debut album Kings Of the Robot Rhythm.

Detail, 12in inner sleeve, Kings Of the Robot Rhythm. Phil Lithman and Martin Stone. Photo: Daisy Grinchin.

12in paperboard sleeve, front and back, Kings Of The Robot Rhythm, Chilli Willi And The Red Hot Peppers, Revelation Enterprises, 1972.

Label, Kings Of the Robot Rhythm.

Detail from permissions/rights label copy.

In Tom’s poster, they’re not such a skip and a jump from the space-hopping character (a self-portrait?) Barney included in his artwork for the same year’s triple album The Glastonbury Fayre.

Detail, artwork, The Glastonbury Fayre, Revelation Enterprises, 1972.

Kings Of the Robot Rhythm was the second release on Revelation Enterprises, the label launched by Barney’s former Friends colleague, music editor John Coleman, to raise funds to pay off the debts from the previous year’s festival (at which Stone’s former band Mighty Baby performed).

Poster detail, 1972.

South Londoner Tom recounts how he became a fan of  the Willis during a spell working first for the parks department and then The Star & Telegraph in Sheffield – and loved to replicate the “Very Amazing Cut Out N Colour Me In” bowtie Barney provided on Kings Of The Robot Rhythm’s charming insert.

12in brown paper insert, Kings Of the Robot Rhythm, Chilli Willi And The Red Hot Peppers, Revelation, 1972.

This gloried in the recommended hues: “Colour me ruby redneck” is the instruction for the rail on which the cowgirl rests, and “acupulco gold”, “blue bird blue” and “juke box emerald” are just a few of those suggested for the sun rays.

“I traced around it and made ‘bowties’ for me and my friends to wear to Willis gigs,” says Tom, one of Britain’s highest rated music photographers.

Insert detail, Kings Of The Robot Rhythm, 1972.

Note how the insert’s desert horizon is recalled in the landscape on the drumhead he painted for the Willis’ drummer Pete Thomas a couple of years later.

Drumhead, 1974. (C) Pete Thomas Collection.

Tom is also the proud possessor of a number of original Willis stickers; in Reasons To Be Cheerful, the band’s manager Jake Riviera points out how successful these were at spreading the word about the band at grass roots level in the early to mid-70s.

Stickers 1973-75. (c) Tom Sheehan collection.

Barney produced a number of variations, along with badges, cards and posters. 

Three stickers and a badge, 1972-74.

There was also Up Periscope, the proto-fanzine  and newsletter to which Willis fans could subscribe.

"The Atom Age Good Read": Masthead artwork, 1973.

Barney also created  posters  (in the style of Continental transport designs of the 20s and 30s.) for the hard-touring musicians (one year alone, Chilli Willi performed 370 gigs). These contained spaces for promoters to insert venues and dates.

"By night and day here these weirdos come to play." Gig poster, 1973.

In 1974 Chilli Willi released their stirling second album Bongos Over Balham via a deal with Charisma associated label Mooncrest/B&C.

A4 artwork, Chilli Willi And The Red Hot Peppers card, 1972.

In January 1975 the band was added to the bill of the Naughty Rhythms package tour with soul/funk ensemble Kokomo and the dynamic Dr Feelgood.

Naughty Rhythms roundel, 1975. (C) Tom Sheehan Collection.

Barney produced the delightful artwork for the tour, including the cheery banana lady whose tailfeather-shaking  is accompanied by the phrase “Wud Wud”.

“That was such a Barney touch,” says Naughty Rhythms booking agent Paul Conroy.

We’re grateful to Tom – who came to know Barney once he started working for the music press  in the mid-70s – for giving us an opportunity to celebrate this wonderfully eccentric and sorely overlooked British band.

Wud Wud!

Stylorouge: The joys of misappropriation

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

“Barney was a grand master of design irreverence and visual mischief” Rob O’Connor

Stylorouge is one of the lesser celebrated though most successful design houses to have taken its cue from Barney Bubbles’ artistic approach to the music business.

Launched in 1981 by mainman Rob O’Connor, Stylorouge flourishes as a major force in commercial art and design; the current packed workload includes Island Records’ high-profile 50th anniversary celebrations.

Left: Poster. Island Life concerts, Shepherds Bush Empire. Right: Book design. Keep On Running: 50 Years Of Island Records, edited by Chris Salewicz.

 Back in 1995, the company’s philosophy was neatly summarised on its first website:

“We try to balance the analytical approach to visual ‘problem solving’ (some folk refer to this as having ideas) with a forward-looking intuitive flair (except on Monday mornings). We hold all kinds of creativity in high esteem. Nothing puts a bigger smile on our faces than driving a job from bottom to top: Concept, Art Direction, Design, Typography, Artwork, Repro, Pub; and in that order.”

Stylorouge covers (clockwise from top right): Wild Things-Creatures (1981); Music For A New Society-John Cale (1982); Parklife-Blur (1994); Ringleader Of The Tormentors-Morrissey (2006).
Stylorouge sleeves (clockwise from top left): Wild Things, The Creatures, Polydor, 1981; Music For A New Society, John Cale, Ze, 1982; Ringleader Of The Tormentors, Morrissey, Attack, 2006); Parklife, Blur, Food, 1994.

This approach is evident through Stylorouge’s work, from Blur and new 4AD band Broken Records to Morrissey and Wham! (the exclamation mark came from a stray sheet of Letraset).

In this exclusive interview, Rob discusses Barney’s influence, and also reveals that he once came tantalisingly close to meeting his hero.

 

Credit in Oz 38, November 1971.
Credits, Oz 38, November 1971.

“I first encountered Barney’s name via his layouts for the underground press (Barney was art director of Friends and a contributor to Oz) and then with Hawkwind when he was billed alongside people like Liquid Len,” he says.

Rob – whose influences also include Barney’s one-time employer Terence Conran and 70s art collective Grapus – also checked for Barney as a fan of  Chilli Willi And The Red Hot Peppers and an attendee of the London date of the Naughty Rhythms tour.

“Barney was so totally original in his approach I couldn’t help but be influenced – he was the complete package: illustrator, designer, typographer and creative director,” says Rob, who joined Polydor Records’ art department on leaving Brighton Art College in 1977.

“He was one of the people who made the music industry seem like a huge amount of fun. In Barney’s work there was always an area of experimentation as well as heaps of humour and self-deprecation. That spread to the musicians he worked with.”

Rob cites the campaign behind Stiff’s 1977 release of Elvis Costello’s debut My Aim Is True. “Of course people like Dave Robinson and Jake Riviera were driving it, but Barney delivered the attitude,” says Rob. 

“Hopefully we do the same at Stylorouge. Our work rests on ideas, attitude and stance rather than preciousness about design.

From The Ian Dury Songbook, Music Sales, 1979.

“I’ll throw a piece of Meccano into the mix and then realise that it is in line with Barney’s fascination for using ordinary objects as the building bricks of his art.”

A particular favourite is the cover for Billy Bragg’s 1983 debut Life’s A Riot With Spy Vs Spy

“The notion of taking utilitarian design which was not created for aesthetic purposes and combining it with such a fundamentally working-class object as a clamp-on lamp was extraordinary,” says Rob. “He was basically saying that these objects were important and worthy of elevation.

Left: Life's A Riot With Spy Vs Spy, Billy Bragg, Utility, 1983. Right: Modern Life Is Rubbish, Blur, Food Records, 1993.

“The work we did with Blur came from the same place. We appropriated mundane items like the greetings card illustration of an old steam train which shouldn’t really be used to sell groovy pop music, or the greyhound track for Parklife.”

Rob also admires Barney’s willingness to revisit successful designs: “Rather like Peter Saville he was quite shameless about re-using ideas because he knew they were good enough and stood the test of time. Similarly, he wasn’t ashamed of plundering classic design motifs from the recent past like Blue Note or other 50s sleeves.”

Left: Rock Around The Clock, Bill Haley And The Comets, Decca US, 1955. Right: Seconds Of Pleasure, Rockpile, F Beat, 1980.

As a result of his parlous financial circumstances, towards the end of his life Barney took his portfolio to a number of major record labels in search of freelance commissions.  

“I can’t remember what happened but he was supposed to come in to Polydor,” says Rob.”I found it extraordinary that he would have to do such a thing because he was so brilliant. It was a real disappointment I never met him.”

Left: Full-page ad, Music Week, July 1977. Right: Poster. Lives exhibition, Hayward Gallery, 1979.

Rob continues to reel from the scale of Barney’s output. “One of my favourite pieces is the poster he did for the Lives exhibition, which I bought in a second-hand shop many years ago and have had on my wall ever since,” he says. “I only found out it was a Barney when I read your book!”

Rob also enthuses about the sleeve for Ian Dury’s 1981 single Spasticus Autisticus, released as a statement about the ghetto-isation of  the less abled by the official declaration in the UK that 1981 was “The Year Of The Disabled”.

Left: Almost Blue, Elvis Costello & The Attractions, F Beat, 1981. Right: Spasticus Autisticus, Ian Dury, Polydor, 1981.

“There is something subtle and poetic about his very simple idea of changing the colours of the stuff on the plate,” says Rob. “That spoke quietly and effectively about discrimination.”

So does Rob detect Barney’s influence among the current generation of commercial artists?

“It is difficult to make the shift back in time and understand how the work was created in the context of no computers,” accepts Rob. “But I work with young people a lot and know that there is a clear understanding and appetite for good ideas, and there is no doubt Barney’s have stood the test of time.

“Because he was never fashionable, his work hasn’t dated. It can only work in favour of his memory that there is a huge amount of retrospective design around at the moment.

“Hopefully contemporary designers understand why they are doing this, rather than opting for a cheap rip-off. Barney did what later became commonly known as ‘irony’: taking design meant for one purpose and showing how it can work in a different context.

“I’ve used the word ‘misappropriation’ in the context of what we do at Stylorouge ,and it’s really one of the things I most enjoy in Barney’s work.”