//Front, 7″ and 12″ sleeve, Keep Us Together, Sad Café, Charisma, 1983//
From the Barney Bubbles grab-bag comes this little-known sleeve for Charisma Records, commissioned by label chief Peter Jenner for Manchester soft-rock group Sad Café.
Produced a matter of months before his demise in November 1983, the spare design is marked by the increasingly reductive approach Bubbles adopted in this period and bears similiarities with another Jenner single commission for Charisma: Mercy Ray’s You Really Got To Me (down to the use of fingers and fingernails as graphic motifs).
//Proof, front and back of single sleeve for Mercy Ray’s You Really Got To Me, Charisma, 1983//
//12" x 12" proof, front cover, Programme 1, 1983.//
Programme 1 was to be the second release on Utility, the label launched by music business manager Peter Jenner (Ian Dury, Pink Floyd etc) through Charisma in 1983.
As detailed here, the album purporting to be a broadcast by London pirate radio station BPR was conceived and performed by Keith Allen with appearances by others including the late actor David Rappaport.
The Past The Present & The Possible was the title of the section in graphics music exhibition White Noise devoted to Barney Bubbles and curated by Reasons To Be Cheerful author Paul Gorman with artist/curator Sophie Demay and Etienne Hervy, director of the International Graphics & Poster Festival held every year in Chaumont, France.
As highlighted in Will Birch’s tremendous Ian Dury biography, the creative relationship between the late singer and Barney Bubbles was one of the most fruitful in the history of pop.
Of similar ages with deep art school roots, Barney and Dury commenced their partnership in the spring of 1977 just as both were heading for the top of their game, with Barney installed at Stiff after a hiatus of more than a year and Dury preparing to unleash the career-defining records and performances which brought him enduring national treasure status.
Back cover photograph by Chris Gabrin.
Unlike his treatment of others, Dury was never-less-than respectful of Barney. “Barney was easily the most incredible designer I’d ever come across,” Dury told Birch.
Poster for Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Stiff Records, 1977. Tom Sheehan Collection.
Dury said Barney “scared the shit out of me. He was righteous. He didn’t have the faults or the ego and he made me feel second class. I wanted his approval in a strange kind of way”.
The decision was made to throw all resources behind the polio-stricken performer and his band The Blockheads. Barney art-directed a sustained marketing and promotional campaign made up of several elements: his Blockhead logo, numerous press ads, several posters, a songbook and a tour programme. Together these helped maintain the album’s presence in the charts for more than a year and set up hits What A Waste and number one smash Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick.
NME, February 4, 1978: Ian Dury and Davey Payne.
The cover of Birch’s book is a delightful rendition by Dury’s friend and mentor Sir Peter Blake, while on the back is a photo by Chris Gabrin from sessions for a series of music press ads.
Melody Maker, February 4, 1978: Fred Rowe and Ian Dury.
These are littered with Dury’s skewiff humour and guttersnipe poetry and feature some of the possible titles he had drawn up for his debut solo album.
NME January 28, 1978: Ian Dury and Charley Charles.
Gabrin’s monochromatic clarity and his strong working relationship with both parties was an important element in the Dury/Bubbles dialogue. “We were working full-pelt at the time,” said Gabrin the other night. “There was so much to do to keep up with press ads and tours.”
Right: Melody Maker, January 28, 1978: Norman Watt-Roy and Ian Dury. Left: Sounds, February 4, 1978: Ian Dury and John Turnbull.
Gabrin’s band portraits of Dury and The Blockheads (and minder Fred “Spider” Rowe) hit the UK’s music weeklies in February 1978.
Poster, Stiff Records, 1978.
A Gabrin photograph from an earlier session (which Barney had overlaid with a lurid orange screen for one of five giant posters for the Stiff tour) was used for a standard sized poster to hammer home the album’s availabiity. The year ended with more band shots in the incredible fold-out programme for the December 1978 Hanky Pantie tour.
8" x 6" tour programme cover, December 1978.
The matchstick portrait cover was even used for the manufacture of hankies (to be knotted and worn on the head). A couple of Stiff employees – maybe Paul Conroy or Andy Murray can identify them? – sport these in the Top Of The Pops audience for Dury and The Blockheads’ triumphant performance of Hit Me.
Ian Dury & The Blockheads perform Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick, Top Of The Pops, December 1978.
By 1983, when Dury was filmed by director Franco Rosso for a Channel 4 documentary, the wordsmith was in a very different place.
On one of his regular separations from The Blockheads and main writing partner Chaz Jankel, Dury’s career was about to hit the skids as he recorded the half-baked 4000 Weeks Holiday. During the making of the film, management company Blackhill collapsed, but there are some sequences where it’s office can be seen decorated with Barney’s designs.
As well as Blockhead logo stickers there are posters for Do It Yourself and also the spoken-word album Blackhill’s Peter Jenner released on Charisma by cricket commentating legend John Arlott.
This was cooked up with Charisma publicist and Barney’s friend Glen Colson, who recalls how he came up with such faux cricket positions as “Wayward Short Leg”.
Poster, Charisma Records, 1982.
By the time the documentary was screened in 1984, Barney had died at his own hand.
“Barney Bubbles told me a few straighteners towards the end of his life,” said Dury, towards the end of his own. “Barney told me: ‘You were a horrible piece of work in those days Ian.’ I said: ‘Barney, I didn’t want to be’.”
Left: 12" cover, Jukebox Dury, Stiff, 1981. Right: 7' cover, What A Waste, Stiff, 1981.
A couple of years earlier, Barney had delivered his views on Dury’s behaviour via the designs for 1981 greatest hits Jukebox Dury and it’s single, the reissued What A Waste.
Gone is the affection of the New Boots & Panties!! era. In it’s place, with stark contrasts, the bleached-out image renders Dury as Frankenstein’s monster, while the jaunty razor-blade earring is now used for chopping out coke, lobotomising the artist.
Will Birch’s book is a fully rounded portrait of this extraordinary man, and is heartily recommended.
Here’s a chance for you to get your hands on a FREE copy SIGNED by the author.