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.
//Proof copy of unused front cover for single sleeve, Your Generation/Day By Day, Generation X, Chrysalis, 1977.//
Presented here for the first time in nearly 35 years, this is Barney Bubbles’ original artwork for the front cover of Your Generation, the 1977 debut single by Generation X.
The design was rejected because the photograph was considered too routine. What a shame. This is a typically high-impact Bubbles work combining concise photographic presentation with audacious typography.
The quartet’s manager Jonh Ingham, the journalist who had been at the forefront of punk reportage, has dug it out from his archive exclusively for this blog.
“I cut, folded and glued it, so we could see what the sleeve would look like held in the hand,” says Ingham.
Front covers, 12in card. Top: Armed Forces, Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Radar, 1979. Above: Music For Pleasure, The Damned, Stiff Records, 1977.
Coming soon to the V&A is the first full-scale exhibition to tackle Postmodernism, and it not only positions Barney Bubbles as “the key innovator” in music graphics in the 1970s but also aligns his practices with those of Robert Rauschenberg in fine art and Frank Gehry in architecture.
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.
“The work of Barney Bubbles expresses post-modern principles: that there is the past, the present and the possible; that culture and the history of culture are a fluid palette of semiotic expression and everything is available to articulate a point of view.”
Peter Saville, Reasons To Be Cheerful: The Life & Work Of Barney Bubbles.
During the making of Tahiti 80‘s fifth album, Xavier Boyer, mainman of the French electro-orchestralloungepopindie sextet, put together a mix-tape consisting of 80s indie from The The, dark dance 90s remixes by producer Andy Weatherall, the psychedelic cut-ups of Cornelius and 70s post-punk and power pop in the form of Wire and Squeeze.
Barney Bubbles’ promo for Is That Love, Squeeze, 1981.
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.
At last week’s private view, Stolper revealed that the piece on which the show turns is Simon Periton‘s The Damned, since it acknowledges the first collage, Picasso’s 1912 composition Still-Life With Chair Caning.
Still-Life With Chair Caning, Pablo Picasso, 1912.
The Damned is from Periton’s period of producing intricate paper cut-outs (which he christened “doilies”) and is of course based around the front cover of Neat Neat Neat, the second single by – who else? – The Damned.
Front cover, Neat Neat Neat/Stab Yor Back/Singalonga Scabies, The Damned, Stiff, 1977.
Periton – whose recent work includes The Beezlebag for “art-eco-fashion” brand Issi and a few years back the cover of Pulp’s Hits collection – was intrigued to find out that the Neat Neat Neat sleeve is a key work for Barney, since it marked his re-entry to the fray in February 1977.
Front cover, Hits, Pulp, Island, 2002. Simon Periton/Sadie Coles HQ after photographs by Willie Seldon.
As Stiff Records and punk rock went nationwide, Barney introduced a purposeful clarity which not only elevated the label out of the pub-rock cheekiness of it’s early months but set the tone for the new wave picture sleeve boom of the next few years. In doing so, Barney also laid the foundations for the richest and most triumphant phase of his own career.
Simon Periton at last week's private view.
Periton has now moved away from cut-outs to painting on glass; The Damned dates from 2002. Read all about him and his work in Michael Bracewell’s monograph, and, if you’re in town, catch The Term Reality; it’s on until August 3.
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.