Signed copies of Reasons To Be Cheerful, my acclaimed monograph of the radical British graphic artist Barney Bubbles, are now available from my eBay page for just £20 including shipping worldwide, as long as you order through their Global Shipping programme if you are outside the UK.
As well as a celebration of a pop culture great, Reasons To Be Cheerful is recognised as a significant design history, praised by leading magazines and newspapers around the world and voted MOJO’s book of the year . It is also a recommended reference source for graphics communications courses at leading educational institutions.
Reasons To Be Cheerful includes contributions from some of the most important graphic practitioners operating today, such as Art Chantry, Malcolm Garrett and Peter Saville.
This Larry Wallis poster design – one of five of the stars of the 1977 Live Stiffs tour – is among 20 or so examples of Barney Bubbles’ work included in Rude & Reckless, the punk and post-punk graphics exhibition opening tomorrow (July 21) at NYC’s Steven Kasher Gallery.
The show samples the collection of New York resident Andrew Krivine, who started accumulating records, posters, flyers and ephemera during family visits to the UK in the late 70s.
Stickers, a top-ranking new book about the enduring art of the most immediate of rock & roll ephemera, provides an opportunity to show a selection of Barney Bubbles’ forays into this area of design.
Stickers is compiled by expat Brit DB Burkeman, who, pausing only to publish one of his rare shots of the Sex Pistols live in 1977, mentions in his introduction that a chance encounter with Reasons To Be Cheerful enabled him to trace Barney Bubbles as the link between the visual audacity of Hawkwind and the new wave/post-punk scene.
Burkeman’s tome covers the waterfront, from Bubbles, Jamie Reid, Malcolm Garrett and Peter Saville to Fresh Jive, Fuct, Shephard Fairey and beyond.
A great feature at the back of the book are the pages of contemporary stickers just waiting to adorn a clean surface.
Yesterday’s Design 4 Music symposium was a roaring success, with all tickets selling out and a stellar cast of contributors providing insights into many different aspects of this vast subject.
The closing panel on Barney Bubbles’ legacy proved entertaining and at times revelatory even from my perspective; I lined up with three leading designers: Barney’s one-time colleague Malcolm Garrett and Barney fans Kate Moross and Gerard Saint.
Label detail with band logo, Music for Pleasure, The Damned, Stiff Records, 1977.
Gerard showed off the copy of Music For Pleasure he has owned since he was a 12-year-old punk in Devon (and spotted that Barney extended the design detail to the label). This chimed with Kate since Music For Pleasure was the key which unlocked her appreciation of Barney’s ouevre.
24" x 36" card. Outer foldout sleeve, The Glastonbury Fayre, Revelation, 1972.
And Malcolm displayed some choice designs including Glastonbury Fayre, In Search Of Space and Your Generation, as well as an intriguing art questionnaire filled in by Barney in 1981; he – along with other artists including Peter Blake – had been mailed it by a student friend of Malcolm’s. It’s been promised for the next edition of Reasons To Be Cheerful, which is fab.
Meanwhile an encounter with Andrew Heeps – whose framing company Art Vinyl staged a mini-exhibition – provided yet another example of how Barney connections are every which way.
12in laminated card. Front cover, Walls Have Ears, Blanket Of Secrecy, FBeat, 1982.
Andrew only recently discovered that his grandfather founded construction company Heeps Willard. Wreckless Eric (exclusive interview here) mentioned just the other week that it was an HW sign in Barney’s Islington neighbourhood in the early 80s which provided him with his final – and possibly most charming – nom-de-design, appearing as a credit on releases by Billy Bragg and Blanket Of Secrecy.
Credits, Walls Have Ears, 1982.
“I was knocked out when my dad told me about his father’s company,” said Andrew. “He gave Barney the name and here I am immersed in vinyl and one of Heeps Willard’s biggest fans!”
7" card with foil imprint. Into The Galaxy, Midnight Juggernauts, Isomorph, 2009.
“The legacy of Barney Bubbles” is the title of the finale of Design 4 Music: Music + Design, the forthcoming conference considering this “complex, passionate, sometimes obsessive relationship”.
Organised by Eye editor/co-owner John L. Walters and Central Saint Martin’s Catherine Dixon, Design 4 Music takes place on January 29 at London’s design and printed reference hub St Bride’s, with contributions from such important practitioners and commentators as:
On our recommendation Kate Moross will talk about “The vinyl solution to making music look good”.
Moross, Saint and Reasons To Be Cheerful contributor Malcolm Garrett will also join me and Walters in considering the enduring legacy of Barney Bubbles in the final panel of the day, starting at 5.15pm.
Also on show will be a mini-exhibition of sleeve art courtesy of Art Vinyl.
If you are able, do come along. This is shaping up to be an essential day for anyone engaged or interested in music’s visual identity through graphic design.
Meanwhile John and Catherine have generously supplied us with a free ticket to the event. For a chance to win it, please send your answers to the question below to firstname.lastname@example.org by January 22 at the latest.
Q: WHAT IS THE NAME OF KATE MOROSS’ S RECORD LABEL?
We’re celebrating the New Year with an exclusive competition to win a copy of the spiffing new book 70s Style & Design.
The competition is in conjunction with sister blog THE LOOK; the fine folk at Thames & Hudson have supplied us with the prized copy which will go to the person whose name is first out of the hat filled with correct answers to the question at the bottom of this post.
It’s great that the considerable effort which went into the book is being recognised.
A number of high-profile people were there for us when it counted and helped draw attention to what was a pretty left-field idea at the time, among them Billy Bragg, Malcolm Garrett, Peter Saville and Paul Smith.
Behind the scenes, those closest to Barney professionally and personally were generous enough to open their hearts, minds and archives. They know who they are but thanks again to you, and also to the lovely people who have emerged since publication, providing support, information and material to ensure that this blog has become a vital online entity.
John Coulthart deserves special mention; if I hadn’t come across the essential blog he posted in January 2007 so soon after a browse through my record collection with Caz, who knows where we’d all be now? Thanks John.
It’s worth pointing out that the reappraisal of Barney in the scheme of things came from the ground up. It was satisfying that the self-appointed gatekeepers of the graphic arts establishment were evidently wrong-footed by the publication of the book by an avowed team of outsiders, and it’s doubly gratifying to see how all of our efforts have finally elevated Barney into the pantheon (as evinced by this recent Design Week story).
As we all know, it’s a crying shame Barney ain’t around to share in this enjoyment and appreciation of his art. At least we together have done our best to ensure that Barney’s body of work will live forever. So thanks to you as well, the fans, readers, casual online browsers and all-out Barney obsessives: you make it worthwhile.
Enough of that – we have work to do.
Coming soon, the second edition, revised and updated with fresh and never-seen-before info, images and interviews. Keep your eyes out; it’ll blow your socks off.
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.
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 workingat 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.”
“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.
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.