Posts Tagged ‘Speak & Spell’

…Depeche doc delights and delivers

Sunday, October 25th, 2009

As previously detailed here, in 1981 Barney Bubbles was drafted in to design the sleeve of Depeche Mode’s debut album Speak & Spell at the suggestion of his friend, the photographer Brian Griffin.

12in sleeve. Front cover, Speak & Spell, Depeche Mode, Mute, 1981.

Barney’s work was frequently interlaced with symbols of power, and one of his most subtle was the arrangement of the credits on the album’s back cover in the form of a royal chess piece to accompany the crown logo he created for the band’s name.

Left: Label copy. Right: Back cover, Speak & Spell, 1981.

The power of Depeche’s music is one of the themes investigated in the brilliant The Posters Came From The Walls, in which Jeremy Deller and Nick Abrahams identify where the potency of popular music truly resides: with the fans.

Scenes from The Posters Came From The Walls.

Appearances by Depeche members are limited to on-stage footage, and the narrative is driven by the hopes, dreams, experiences and fantasies of the millions of Depeche followers all over the world, from California to Iran via Canada, Mexico, Germany, Romania and Russia.

If there is a common thread running through this and Oil City Confidential (two very different films about groups from opposite ends of the musical spectrum), it is the transformative power of music, whether sweaty four-to-the-floor R&B or anthemic stadium synth.

We urge you to catch both documentaries when you can; keep up with the latest news and info on their general release here and here.

Depeche Mode, crowns, kings and the Kosmische connection

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

Brian Griffin was Barney Bubbles’ chief collaborator from 1978 onwards, working with him across a dizzying array of projects, from record sleeves, advertising campaigns and promo videos to artzines, books and posters.

Brian Griffin studio ident, 1980.

Barney also designed business cards, letterheads and studio idents for Brian; these two have never been published before. And now, via this site, you can purchase original copies of a number of original items they produced together: an exhibition poster, the newspaper Y and the book Copyright 1978.

Brian Griffin business card, 1982.

More on that at the end of this post. Today we’re focusing on an unexpected project which came about in 1981 when Brian’s agent David Burnham leased premises near Baker Street in central London to young indie record label owner Daniel Miller

Front cover, Speak & Spell, Mute Records, 1981.

Daniel’s Mute Records was making the post-punk runnings having pioneered electro-pop with such great records as the label’s first two singles  - his own T.V.O.D/Warm Leatherette (as The Normal) and Fad Gadget’s Back To Nature (both rarely far from our iPod playlists, record deck or CD player).

Back cover, Speak & Spell, Mute Records, 1981

Back cover, Speak & Spell, Mute Records, 1981

In 1981 Mute was propelled into the pop charts by fresh signing Depeche Mode‘s clutch of singles Dreaming Of Me, New Life and Just Can’t Get Enough (currently a hit again courtesy of squeaky girl band The Saturdays).

When Burnham introduce Brian to Daniel the pair established a lifelong friendship based on the shared love of the extraordinary music made by such peerless German bands as Neu!Kraftwerk and, of course, Can (whose back catalogue Mute has reissued).

Chosen as the photographer for the cover of Depeche Mode’s debut album Speak & Spell, Brian asked Barney to design the sleeve. Barney’s own association with Kosmische music dated back to his days as in-house visual director for Hawkwind. Andrew Lauder at the band’s label United Artists – for whom Barney also worked – was an early champion in Britain and the ‘Wind’s founder Dave Brock wrote the sleevenotes for Neu!’s first UK release.

Front cover, Neu! 2, Neu!, Brain Records, 1973.

Barney’s flouro spray-paint logo for the recently-reissued Hawklords album 25 Years On is, in Brian’s view, a tribute to the one which appeared across Neu!  sleeves and in particular the giant numeral which adorns their second album.

Front cover, 25 years On, Hawklords, Charisma, 1978.

The musical ties were strong;  Opa-Loka, from 1975′s Warrior On the Edge Of Time, is an oft-cited example of Hawkwind’s use of Motorik rhythms, while Brock’s first solo album Earthed To The Ground is rooted in the genre. The original sleeve of this 1984 release was a painting by John Coulthart, who has powered the revival of interest in Barney’s work in recent years.

Barney designed adverts and other promotional material to support Radar ‘s 1978 release of the eponymously-titled album by La Dusseldorf, the group formed by the late multi-instrumentalist  (and one-time Kraftwerk member) Klaus Dinger after Neu! broke up in the mid-70s.

There has been speculation recently that Barney was also responsible for the sleeves for the UK releases of Kraftwerk albums Ralf & Florian and Autobahn (as posited by Colin Buttimer at Hardformat and investigated in a posting on John’s blog). Brian does not believe this to be the case.

“He would have told me, for I was a very big fan of everything German at the time,” says Brian.

Although Barney wasn’t keen on Depeche Mode, Brian persuaded him to handle the design of Speak & Spell, which centres on the doomy image of a swan swathed in a clear plastic and silhouetted on its nest against a radioactive glow.

“I was working on a  personal project about a nuclear attack on London and photographed the swan in my studio to represent the only creature alive after the bomb had dropped,” explains Brian. “Goodness knows what I was thinking. Everybody hated it, including myself actually!”

Barney’s lack of connection with Depeche Mode is reflected in the coolness of his design, though in retrospect this is harmonious with the wilfully alienated stance adopted by the Mode (who describe their music as “synthetics” in the credits).

Speak & Spell label copy, 1981.

Using a serif font with spare application of yellow/gold bars, boxes and constellated dots, Barney grants the band a favourite symbol, the crown (which appears in many of his designs). With the group’s name and the album title providing the headband, the credits are arranged on the back cover in the shape of the King chess piece.

The crown is also repeated on both sides of the record label.

One of the many crown logos Barney created for F-Beat.

Brian says that the project as a whole  provoked little interest in Barney. “That was most unusual for him but I fully understood the reasons, for I also disliked Depeche’s music at that time,” says Brian.

The image of the swan from behind, as used on the back page of Y.

Barney  used another shot from Brian’s swan shoot – a shadowy frame from the rear  - in Y, the duo’s newspaper which was also preoccupied with the prevailing atmosphere of nuclear foreboding in the West at that time.  ”He cleverly saw that the backside of the swan was actually an infinity symbol, which is why it’s on the back page,” says Brian.

End: The title on the back page of Y.

The infinity symbol is most commonly described as the figure 8 on it’s side: this is page 8 of Y. The title spells out END, with the N created by a constellation symbolising an endless road, or infinity. This, it should be noted,  is similar to the motorway design on the front cover of Autobahn.

Barney was to rifle Brian’s collection of “nuclear” images – that of a ship being engulfed in a tsunami as a result of an explosion – for another electro-pop project with which he felt little affinity: Wang Chung’s album Points On The Curve. This was released two months after his death,  in January 1984.

Front cover, Points On The Curve, Wang Chung, 1984.

Front cover, Points On The Curve, Wang Chung, Geffen,. 1984.

This record contained the band’s biggest hit, Dance Hall Days. Depeche Mode, on the other hand, went on to become one of the biggest groups in the world, and the  curious passions they arouse in fans are explored in Jeremy Deller and Nick Abrahams‘ brilliant The Posters Came From The Walls. After a smash reception at the London Film Festival this documentary is currently  touring the film festivals and will be on general release later this year. We recommend it highly.

Access a podcast featuring Brian at the Format 09 festival here.

SITE EXCLUSIVE To buy original copies of Brian Griffin and Barney Bubbles artwork – the highly collectable Y, the amazing “Scarf/Face” poster for Brian’s first one-man show and their excellent book Copyright 1978 – go here.

Fun for all the family at Howies

Saturday, February 7th, 2009

Tommy The Talking Toolbox would have been proud.

Fun for all the family was had at Howies store in Bristol on Thursday night as our pals at the Barney-mad company hosted an evening to celebrate the publication of Reasons To Be Cheerful.

With the invaluable support and assistance of Howies mainmen Nick Hand (who also took these photos) and Tim March, we mounted a mini-display in a hitherto unused upstairs room as the first in a series of monthly events the guys are organising.

The core of our little taster was a collection of 24 of the 27 variations to the cover of Do It Yourself by Ian Dury & The Blockheads.

Pic: Nick Hand.

This seemed particularly appropriate since the site was once occupied by a Laura Ashley branch; some of the walls in the until-now disused upstairs space are still covered in her divinely daft and dated flowery wallpaper.

Part of the original artwork for 4000 Weeks Holiday (c) P. Kennedy/Reasons 2009

To keep the ID/BB theme going, we also displayed original artefacts and artwork, including the paste-up for what later became the cover of Ian’s 1984 album 4000 Weeks Holiday.

Thought to be among the very last projects Barney worked on, this has been contributed to the Reasons archive by our friend Pauline Kennedy. In her previous incarnation as Caramel Crunch, Pauline was Barney’s assistant and continued his work at such labels as Go! Discs.

  • Presentation in Howies’ denim room.
  • With a book signing and talk about Barney, complete with power-point presentation of images from the book, the evening was capped by Paul and Caz mixing up the aural medicine with DJ sets of Barney-related sounds. These, we’re happy to tell you, went down a storm.

    BARNEY BUBBLES SOUND SELECTION:

    Here’s a selection of 10 of the Barney best to warm the cockles (click on the links to download/buy):

    Eastbourne Ladies – Kevin Coyne (Marjory Razorblade 1973)

    Inbetweenies – Ian Dury & The Blockheads (Do It Yourself 1979)

    Lipstick Vogue -  Elvis Costello & The Attractions (This Year’s Model 1978)

    Fung Kee Laundry – Quiver (Gone In the Morning 1972)

    Love My Way - The Psychedelic Furs (Forever Now 1982)

    Opa-Loka – Hawkwind (Warrior On The Edge Of Time 1975)

    Post-War Glamour Girl – John Cooper Clarke (Disguise In Love (1978)

    Darling Let’s Have Another Baby – Johnny Moped (Cycledelic 1978)

    Just Can’t Get Enough - Depeche Mode (Speak & Spell 1981)

    Ghost Town - The Specials (single 1981)

    These are just a few examples of how the BBSS can get the joint jumping. For a playlist from Caz’s set see Howies’ blog  Brainfood.