Posts Tagged ‘NME’

Bob Andrews’ Cracking Up grin

Friday, April 20th, 2012
mouthsvertical

Top: Detail, Music press ad for The Rumour, 1979. Below: Detail, front cover, Cracking Up, Nick Lowe, 1979.

The collaged waving hand/face on the sleeve of Nick Lowe’s 1979 single Cracking Up is one of Barney Bubbles’ most recognisable creations, assisted into prominence by its usage on the front of Reasons To Be Cheerful.

The toothy grin was clipped from a photo of keyboard-player Bob Andrews, one-time colleague of Lowe’s in Brinsley Schwarz (and before that in 60s pop band Kippington Lodge) and one of Graham Parker’s collaborators as a member of The Rumour.

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What connects Simon Callow to Johnny Moped?

Friday, May 14th, 2010

Sounds like a particularly fiendish pub quiz question doesn’t it?

7in sleeve. Front cover, Little Queenie/ Hard Lovin' Man (Live), Chiswick, 1978.

No, the actor (whose naked form cavorting on stage in a production of The Beastly Beatitudes Of Balthazar B is still emblazoned on my memory 29 years after the fact) was not a member of Croydon’s finest alongside Fred Berk and Slimy Toad.

Back cover, Little Queenie/Hard Lovin'Man (Live).

And no, Moped didn’t make a cameo in Four Weddings & Funeral as the punk-rock rival of Hugh Grant for Andi MacDowell’s affections.

However, courtesy of Barney Bubbles’ designs, Callow’s hands did appear on both sides of the sleeve of Moped’s 1978 Chiswick single Little Queenie.

Page 13, Copyright 1978, Brian Griffin.

The shot – as revealed last night by photographer Brian Griffin at a M&C Saatchi talk organised by his friend, creative director Graham Fink – was taken during BG’s Expressionist experiments which resulted in the intriguing self-published collaboration with Barney, Copyright 1978.

Exhibition postcard, 210mm x 140mm. 1979.

Callow, at that time an actor on the rise (and these days also a director, author and fine book reviewer), was one of BG’s models.

Having decorated them with barbed wire for Moped, Callow’s hands channeled the creative energy source in Barney’s design for the Derek Boshier-curated group exhibition Lives at The Hayward in 1979.

Pages 4 and 5, Power: British Management In Focus, Travelling Light, 1981.

During his illuminating presentation, BG also revealed that Barney’s frontispiece portrait for his 1981 book Power was intended as the cover, an idea rejected by the publisher (who relented for the paperback issue in 1984).

“Barney made part of my nose and face out of the numerals ’71’,” said BG. “He thought that was when I started as a professional photographer; in fact it was the following year. The figure next to me, pointing to the future, is supposed to be my boss telling me to get out there and start working.”

Illustration, readers' letters page, NME, January 31, 1981.

BG has often mentioned that he first came across Barney’s work via his enigmatic illustrations for the NME. Above is an example for the music paper’s letter’s page.

It’s a great comment on the increasingly tribal aspects to pop fandom in the early 80s, and is made extra special by the fact that it carries a credit, something the limelight-shy Barney was avoiding at all costs by this stage.

The increasingly rare originals of BG’s collaborations with Barney are available here though, as BG pointed out last night, Power now commands a staggering £400 price tag.

Has NME blundered by binning Barney?

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

More than three decades ain’t a bad innings; today IPC Ignite has retired Barney Bubbles’ masthead (which survived in modified form since introduction late in 1978) as part of its latest design overhaul of floundering music weekly NME.

The new block colour version is being hammered home with 10 different covers fronting a glossy look overseen by editor Krissi Murison and realised by the magazine’s art director Joe Frost.

Murison was appointed six months ago to wrestle the magazine’s reputation from the “indie Heat” phase instituted by media-hungry predecessor Conor McNicholas and, more importantly,  address the digital-era bugbears plaguing every print publishing sector: faltering advertising and sinking circulation.

Early issues with Barney's logo, including (right) the very first: December 2, 1978

Murison describes the new design as “much more mature and aspirational” with “content which focuses on being in-depth, opinionated and above all knowledgeable”.

Ad campaign for 1978 redesign. Photograph: Brian Griffin.

This is familiar to music media watchers; why, less than 10 years ago, the NME announced it was moving towards Rolling Stone territory at a time when the post-Britpop slump resulted in weekly sales falling from above 100,000 to 70,000 copies.

Logo in use in the mid-80s.

In fact, that didn’t last. Less than two years later McNicholas reversed the design approach, driving the magazine into a celeb/gossip dead-end.

These days the NME’s official weekly sale is around 38,000, having fallen an alarming 20% last year.

It was all very different when Barney was brought on board in the late summer of 1978. The music press was booming on the back of post-punk, with the NME’s sales sometimes approaching 200,000 copies a week. Barney’s layout harmonisation, decluttering of the chart and cleaning up of the house style is detailed in Reasons To Be Cheerful and expanded upon here.

First issue to feature Barney's redesign, October 7, 1978. IPC management refused to replace the old masthead for six weeks.

But in 2010, when the NME is clearly flailing for credibility and Barney’s star is in the ascendant – on average we are contacted by, or told about, two or three young designers who are inspired by his work every week – is it entirely wise to ditch a property with such beneficial associations?

Only time will tell, though it is amusing to reflect that the NME logo font which lasted so long was, in fact, pinched from the signage on a warehouse close to Barney’s Old Street studio way back in the late 70s.

The Attract!ons’ ‘solo’ album: Mad About The Rwong Boy

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

12in sleeve. Front cover, Mad About The Wrong Boy, The Attractions, F-Beat, 1980.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of one of the least remarked of Barney Bubbles designs: that for the “solo” album by Elvis Costello’s band The Attractions: Mad About The Wrong Boy

7in sleeve. Front cover, Outline Of A Hairdo EP, Steve Nieve, F-Beat, 1980.

The deliberately zany typography of the album sleeve – with it’s kitsch Brian Griffin photography and graphic tics – mirrored some aspects of the design for that year’s  big EC album Get Happy!!.

Back covers, The Attractions, 1980. Left: 12in sleeve, Mad About The Wrong Boy. Right: 7in sleeve, Outline Of A Hairdo EP.

In fact, for the accompanying free EP Outline Of A Hairdo – music for an imaginary film by Steve Nieve, well ahead of similar constructs by Barry Adamson and U2 & Eno – Barney appropriated a Bob “Bromide” Hall shot of Nieve from the back covers of both Get Happy!! and it’s hit lead single I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down.

Back covers, Elvis Costello And The Attractions, F-Beat, 1980. Left: 12in sleeve, Get Happy!!. Right: 7in sleeve, I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down/Girl's Talk.

Artwork, Outline Of A Hairdo. (C) Jake Riviera Collection/Reasons 2010.

In the manner of his approach to fellow F-Beat act Clive Langer & The Boxes, The Attractions were treated to a personalised label.

Left: Label. Right: 12in inner. Mad About The Wrong Boy.

On the inner Barney used a familiar trick of highlighting certain letters in the condensed font slogan “FBEAT WHERE THE ATTRACT!ONS IS” to spell out the record company’s west London location: FBeat Acton.

Double page spread advert, NME, August 30, 1980. Design: Tony Sales.

Barney repeated this on the design for the sleeve of single Single Girl. In his absence, his colleague Antoinette Sales created impressive press advertising from existing artwork. 

Back and front cover, 7" sleeve. Single Girl/Slow Patience, The Attractions, F-Beat, 1980.

The front was an illustration by Barney of the little china dogs from his parent’s mantelshelf.

Artwork, Single Girl/Slow Patience sleeve. (C) Jake Riviera Collection/Reasons 2010.

The addition of the gorgeous silhouette front cover sticker flagging up the inclusion of Nieve’s EP and a neat badge wrapped up the package, though even the musicians themselvesare likely to agree that this is one of those examples where the quality of Barney’s design exceeded that of the music it contained.

Badge and sleeve sticker, The Attractions, 1980.

 

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”.

Reasons: “A treasure trove for image-makers”

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

It is extremely flattering that Reasons To Be Cheerful is described not only as “excellent” but also as “a treasure trove for image-makers across all media” in the current issue of Varoom

And it’s praise indeed when the reviewer is of the calibre of Andy Martin, illustrator, designer, film-maker and self-confessed “Bubbloholic”.

Andy also defines what he sees as the secret to Barney’s work: his “ability to look backwards and forwards at the same time, whilst always managing to arrive at The Very Point Of Now-ness”.

And Andy knows; a former NME art editor, when he started at the music weekly in 1978 he helped out with layouts as Barney and Diana Fawcett created The NME Book Of Modern Music which accompanied Barney’s redesign.

“I was overawed to be working with him in the smallest way,” Andy told me recently. In his review Andy says: “The graphic bombs Barney Bubbles dropped are still reverberating. In the words of the late, great Ian Dury: there ain’t half been some clever bastards.”

Download Andy’s review here.

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.

The radical redesign of the NME

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

One of the greatest examples of Barney Bubbles’ ability to fast-track cutting-edge ideas into the mainstream occurred in 1978 with his redesign of best-selling weekly paper the New Musical Express.

As detailed in Chapter 4 of REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL, at this time the NME’s sales regularly surpassed 200,000 copies.

NME Alphabet

Artwork for The NME Book Of Modern Music alphabet. (c) Neil Spencer/Reasons 2009

And the recently-appointed editor Neil Spencer was an ardent Barney fan. “I loved the way Barney quoted Lissitzky for Generation X and Kandinsky for The Damned,” he says. “At the same time he sculpted the images of  unique characters like Ian Dury and Elvis Costello.

“Barney was head-and-shoulders above everyone else, and perfect for the job because he’d worked at Oz, Friends, Town and Nova.”

Barney’s first move was to de-clutter the layout. “There was so much going on in terms of images and info,” says Neil. “He also sorted out the presentation of the charts. I don’t think they’ve changed materially since then.”

Spread from The NME Book of Modern Music

Spread from The NME Book of Modern Music

Part of the brief was production of a free supplement to mark the relaunch: The NME Book Of Modern Music, which was compiled by readers from a series of collect-and-keep inserts.

With his assistant Diana Fawcett and contributions from freelancers such as Andy Martin, Barney whipped art and design references into a mélange evoking the inventive chaos of the immediate post-punk period.

The NME Book of Modern Music

Front cover of The NME Book of Modern Music

Barney’s alphabet for the Book Of Modern Music “borrowed from 20s Russia, 60s Britain and beyond”, says Neil. “He was so wily technically, and yet he always conjured unexpected colours and effects.”

The redesign was unveiled with the issue of October 14, 1978, though the NME’s owners IPC refused to allow the new masthead for another six weeks, when sales confirmed that readers were content with the new visual direction.

NME launch issue

Redesign launch issue. The new masthead was introduced six weeks later.

And so it was the December 2 issue which introduced Barney’s stencil block NME logo (promoted via a campaign shot by Barney’s collaborator Brian Griffin).

NME logo

NME logo campaign shot by Brian Griffin

The inspiration for the font was a company name on industrial premises in City Road, just around the corner from the site of Barney’s warehouse studio in Paul Street (he was two decades ahead of his time by occupying the western edge of what is now London’s achingly trendy Shoreditch area).

And Barney’s legacy at the paper lingers; despite the management’s worries, his NME logo is still used in adapted form more than 30 years later.

“What he did was incredible”

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

An important Barney Bubbles project of the post-punk period sprang from an unlikely source: the album with the unprepossessing title Frogs, Sprouts, Clogs & Krauts, released by The Rumour in March 1979.

Frogs Clogs Krauts etc

Front cover Frogs, Sprouts, Clogs & Krauts

The pre-PC name took its cue from the album track Euro, and Barney created a thematically-linked design package based around the ceremony and colour schemes of EEC officialdom (then very much in the news ahead of the first European Community elections that summer).

The result of a collaboration with Brian Griffin, this became an exercise in graphic integration and photographic abstraction, completed by a set of coded references from heraldic and numeric to political and astrological.

Barney usually art-directed photographers, but made an exception for Brian; for this cover he gave over the entire floor of his warehouse studio in London’s East End and left Brian to his own devices.

Inner of Frogs, Sprouts, Clogs & Krauts

Inner of Frogs, Sprouts, Clogs & Krauts

Brian says he “constructed a sculpture” using regular model Charles Woods. Rigidly posed behind velvet ropes and set against the national flags of the countries indicated by the title (France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany with the addition of the UK), Woods presents a soil sampler to the viewer.

“The idea was that Charles had plunged it into the earth and – like the grades of coloured sand I got in glass phials as a kid on holiday on the Isle Of Wight – produced a cross-section of the national colours,” says Brian.

Copyright

Spread from Copyright 1978 (c) Brian Griffin/Reasons 2009

Obliterating the band’s pub rock scene roots (some of the members had been close to Barney for several years as part of Brinsley Schwarz), the angular band logo is suitably post-punk, constructed from straight lines and curves in a similar fashion to the mysterious symbols Barney provided for Brian’s book Copyright 1978.

Barney also created a bespoke record label for the group, featuring the logo with the label copy enlivened by ellipses. These, which recur throughout his record sleeve designs, made their appearance on his very first, In Blissful Company by Quintessence (1969).

In Blissful Company by Quintessence

In Blissful Company booklet

A graphic of five spear-points is repeated in variation across the campaign, and bursts forth from the album title, invoking an aerial display at an official occasion and also the tips of the flag banners.

The arrowheads also zip away from the song titles on the reverse, where Barney enlarged a section of Griffin’s photograph, showing the soil-sampler in detail. A section is again enlarged on one side of the inner sleeve, and the reverse of that carries yet another enlargement (as well as an enigmatic short story), so that the image is driven to abstraction.

“Barney took my photograph and went into it to reveal the basic dot structure, just like the sampler going into the ground,” says Brian.

Frozen Years front cover

Frozen Years front cover

The cover of Frozen Years, the first single to be released from the album, shows Woods running on the spot on a snow-covered terrain, in front of five tiny flags stuck in the ground.

Frozen Years back cover

Frozen Years back cover

The reverse replaces photography with the spear-pointed fly-past and an illustration of the five flags created from the repeated silhouette of a face. These not only represent the five nations central to the functioning of the EEC, but also the number of members in The Rumour.

Some of the accompanying music press ads present unforgiving monochrome close-cropped portraits of individual band members, complete with oblique lines and arrows and information appropriate to the musician’s astrological sign.

The close-up of bassist Andrew Bodnar in the full-page ad in NME March 17 1979 is captioned: “Aquarius deals with democratic communication with human beings who look on each other as brothers; it’s ruler Uranus governs electricity.”

Such was Barney’s fascination with the cosmos and star systems; for example, a few years earlier as part of his set designs, he arranged on-stage performance positions for Hawkwind according to their star-signs.

Ad in the NME

The Rumour advert, NME, March 3 1979. (c) Carol Fawcett/Reasons 2009

Another press ad (from NME March 3 1979) has The Rumour logo spiked by the tower of an industrial plant (similar in execution to the “vinyl factory” on the back cover of The NME Book Of Modern Music published a couple of months earlier). Five rows etched into the front of the building are reflected in another fly-past, while the tour dates are set in an elongated version of the silhouette from the back of Frozen Years.

Emotional Traffic front cover

Emotional Traffic front cover

The sleeve for the second single from the album, Emotional Traffic, is set in black on the front and white on the back with the addition of a love heart. Traffic light roundels in red, green and amber indicate the three colours of vinyl in which it was made available. In each, there is a die-cut circle revealing the colour of the record inside.

Emotional Traffic back cover

Emotional Traffic back cover

The campaign for Frogs included five collect-the-set album posters spelling out the album title. On these a telecommunications tower is seen from different perspectives and set against the colours of the French and German flags as the five arrows swoop and swirl. Cropped sections of the central image also appear in the press ads featuring band member faces, completing the cross-fertilisation of the design package’s main elements.

Poster

One of the five posters for the album. (c) Carol Fawcett/Reasons 2009

Barney’s progression of the original concept for the album cover remains a source of wonder to Brian.  “Barney wanted me to give him something which he hadn’t been involved in, and then take it over,” he says. “My image was OK, but what he did with it was incredible. Everything he did with my stuff improved upon it.”