Posts Tagged ‘Let It Rock’

Rare 1975 design comes to light

Monday, February 4th, 2013

P1150106

I am indebted to Melanie de Blank, widow of the late gastronomic pioneer Justin de Blank, for this treasure; a rare copy of a little known Barney Bubbles design, the recipe booklet Feasts by Victor Gordon.

P1150107

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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”.

Let It Rock

Saturday, February 14th, 2009

Today we present a hitherto unexplored adventure of Barney’s into magazine design; his contribution to 70s music title Let It Rock.

Let It Rock’s launch in 1972 coincided with “the first era of post-modernism in pop,” as the late great Ian MacDonald told me in my music press history In Their Own Write. “Music started to be conscious of itself and look back and begin to make syntheses and style references and be ironic.”

Barneys redesign is introduced Jan 1975 (c) John Pidgeon

Barney's redesign is introduced Jan 1975 (c) John Pidgeon

Of course, the collective which founded the publication – Simon FrithCharlie GillettPhil Hardy, Gary Herman, Ian Hoare and Dave Laing  – were riding the zeitgeist;  in fashion a stylistic revolution was being sparked by Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s  investigations into 50s musical subcultures at their King’s Road shop of the very same name, while visual artists such as Barney were enthusiastically plundering the recent history of art and commercial design to reinvigorate the world of graphics.

In the mid 70s John Pidgeon took over as Let It Rock editor. “I got to know Barney after he designed the Sutherland Brothers first album and loved the fact that he had shot holes in it with an airgun,” says John.  “I immediately discovered we had mutual friends in Ian McLagan and (another of Barney’s Twickenham college pals) Mick Finch.”

Let It Rock, October 1975

Let It Rock, October 1975

A couple of years later John  set about revamping Let It Rock and invited Barney over to his flat in Clapham, south London to discuss a redesign. “When he arrived, he unfolded reams of penciled artwork, all of which he had drawn on the tube between Isleworth (or whichever West London stop it was) and Clapham Common,” says John. The options were sketched on headed paper from Barney’s dad’s company.

Roughs for Let It Rock redesign on F.Fulcher paper (c) John Pidgeon

Roughs for Let It Rock redesign on F.Fulcher paper (c) John Pidgeon

As these two sheets demonstrate, Barney focused on the font for the magazine logo, and also produced single page and double page spread layout samples (including one using a Bob Dylan feature for direction on photography and text placement).

Presenting a subheading “The world’s greatest rock read”, Barney notes the magazine sections Oldies, Singles, Album reviews, News and Letters, and provides the last with its own ident: a bobbysoxer writing fan-mail.

The masthead come sinto focus (c) John Pidgeon

The masthead comes into focus (c) John Pidgeon

One masthead uses kitsch “cactii” lettering – as in Barney’s Chilli Willi And The Red Hot Peppers drumhead logo and another substitutes the “o” in “Rock” with a spinning reel of tape. 

John – whose CV includes much journalism, many masterful music documentaries and a spell nurturing the comic talents of The Mighty Boosh and Ross Noble at the BBC  – was knocked out with the selection and chose a font which Barney completed with the addition of a lightning bolt decoration.

This was introduced onto the magazine’s front cover in the January 1975 issue. “For the catchline I amended ‘greatest’ to ‘best’,” says John.  “Otherwise it was a typically brilliant Barney Bubbles slogan.”