Posts Tagged ‘Stiff’

Barney Bubbles’ work in French exhibition this summer

Monday, April 9th, 2012
P1050090

//4 x 12" colour variants, back cover, My Aim Is True, Elvis Costello, Stiff Records, 1977.//

Selected works by Barney Bubbles will appear in  this summer’s group exhibition about the visual language of music, White Noise: Quand le graphisme fait du bruit (When graphics make the noise) at the 23rd International Poster & Graphic Design Festival in Chaumont, France, from May 26 to June 10.

White Noise is being put together by Sophie Demay and Étienne Hervy, the Chaumont festival artistic director and former editor of French graphics magazine Etapes, and includes contributions from a number of contemporary graphic artists – read more here.

P1050093

//Back cover + outer bag, Oora, Edgar Broughton Band, Harvest, 1973.//

P1050097

//Front covers, clockwise from bottom left: Neat Neat Neat, The Damned, Stiff, 1977; Damned Damned Damned, The Damned, Stiff, 1977; Boogie On The Street, Lew Lewis, Stiff, 1976 (not Barney Bubbles design); Save The Wail, Lew Lewis Reformer, Stiff, 1979; One Chord Wonders, The Adverts, Stiff, 1977; Whole Wide World, Wreckless Eric, Stiff, 1977.//

Here are some more of Sophie’s shots taken during a recent run-through of potential exhibits:

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Barney Bubbles: The Smash Hits interview

Friday, January 27th, 2012

bb-prof

Thanks are due to the indefatigable Brian McCloskey for turning up this little-known interview given by Barney Bubbles to journalist Johnny Black for an early 80s Smash Hits feature on the fledgling promo video industry.

The quotes from Bubbles appeared exactly 30 years ago in the issue of the teen mag dated Jan 21- Feb 3, 1982.

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Wreckless Eric: No Piccadilly menial

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

Wreckless Eric is one of British pop’s great survivors, blessed with an ever-growing arsenal of superb, idiosyncratic songs which have seen him outlast most of the class of 77.

7in sleeve, laminated card. Front cover, Whole Wide World/Semaphore Signals, Wreckless Eric, Stiff, 1977.

Overshadowed during the early days of Stiff Records by the label’s priority acts Elvis Costello, Ian Dury and Nick Lowe, the 2001 publication of Eric‘s great memoir A Dysfunctional Success and the use of the deathless Whole Wide World in Will Ferrell-starrer Stranger Than Fiction have provided the, er, wider world with a taste of his talents in recent years.

Over the coming weeks, the considerable fruits of his partnership with US singer-songwriter Amy Rigby can be witnessed first-hand on a series of European live dates.

In comparison with his former stablemates, Eric Goulden benefited fleetingly from the design work of Barney Bubbles, though they maintained a friendship from introduction early in 1977 to Barney’s death late in 1983; they shared common ground in having attended art schools (Goulden studied sculpture at Hull).

On the line from his home in France, Goulden confirms that Barney wasn’t at Stiff for the first six months of the label’s existence, when the design direction was handled by Chris Moreton.

“Then Barney swam into the picture,” says Goulden. “I liked him a lot. Barney was easygoing and looked kind of normal; short-ish hair and always wearing some kind of anorak. To look at him, you wouldn’t have thought this bloke had any history.

“He was a strange man, an acid casualty on some levels. It was unusual for someone who’d been such a part of the Ladbroke Grove/Notting Hill hippie scene to cross over and working with people like The Damned.”

Barney created an ident (which, like those produced for other Stiff artists, appeared on the record label). “He used the guillotine to cut jagged strips of paper which he put together to make up my name,” says Goulden. This logo was paired on the front cover of Whole Wide World with a crop from the Chris Gabrin portrait from A Bunch Of Stiffs.

From the inner to A Bunch Of Stiffs, April 1977. Photo: Chris Gabrin.

For the back, Goulden was despatched to a photo-booth and ordered to improvise semaphore signals. Barney then cropped and bleached out one of the frames. “I’d never seen anything like it; he made it look incredible,” Goulden adds.

7in sleeve, card. Back cover, Whole Wide World/Semaphore Signals, Wreckless Eric, Stiff, 1977.

“To me Barney was like The Beatles. When I was a kid you wouldn’t be quite sure of how they sounded when you first heard one of their new records. Sometimes you’d think: ‘They’ve lost it,’ because it was so unexpected, and Barney was a bit like that. Every time he did something new, it was so over-the-top you were taken aback.” 

A clutch of 1977 Stiffs with personalised labels.

One of the five subjects of the 60in x 40in day-glo posters Barney and Gabrin created for the Stiffs Live Stiffs tour of late 77, Goulden was around when the pair collaborated on the sleeve for Music For Pleasure.

12in sleeves. Back cover and inner "lino" shots, Music For Pleasure, The Damned, Stiff, 1977.

“I went with him to a lino shop in Westbourne Grove where he bought the roll which is on the inner sleeve,” says Eric. “The Damned were made to lie on it at Chris’s studio and shot from above, so it looked like they were standing up. Very odd, but it worked brilliantly.”

One of Barney’s great lost designs was the sleeve for Goulden’s unreleased 1977 Stiff EP, Piccadilly Menial. With the catalogue number LAST3, this was to comprise the title track, Excuse Me, Personal Hygiene and Rags & Tatters .

“It was on graph paper and in the style of an architectural drawing,” says Goulden, who recalls  it was akin to the axinometric lettering Barney created for The Soft Boys. The EP was replaced in the schedule with Reconnez Cherie,  the B-side of which was the Benny Hill theme tune-quoting Rags & Tatters.

Music press half-page advert, The Soft Boys tour, 1978.

“Barney had angles to him,” says Eric. “People would say ‘Oh it’s just Barney, a bit of a wacky image with some splashes and other esoteric stuff’ but in fact he thought things through and was way better than his imitators, of course. Unfortunately, in that way, he inadvertently created the look of the 80s, which was horrible and gaudy.”

Dansette, detail, front cover Musical Shapes, Carlene Carter, F-beat, 1980

Poignantly, Goulden saw Barney not long before his death in November 1983. ”I visited him at his house off the Balls Pond Road,” says Eric. “He got Nuggets out and played it really loud on this Dansette on legs in the basement.”

Don’t fart before your arse is ready and win an Ian Dury biography!

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

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”.

And, as Birch details, when Jake Riviera departed Stiff with Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello at the end of 1977, remaining partner Dave Robinson was left with Dury’s recently released New Boots & Panties!! as his main chance for commercial survival.

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.

Send your answer  to the question below to thelook@rockpopfashion.com – we’ll be announcing the winner’s name on February 14 .

Q: What is the title of the B-side of Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick?

Good luck!

Kate Moross ♥ Barney Bubbles

Sunday, September 13th, 2009

12in sleeve. Choose Your Own Adventure, heartsrevolution, iheartcomix, 2008.

If proof were needed that Barney Bubbles continues to inspire contemporary designers more than a quarter of a century after his death, look no further than London’s own Kate Moross, the 23-year-old making waves around the world with a remarkable body of work which first started to attract attention while she was still at Camberwell College of Arts.

Poplluxxe, Cutting Pink With Knives, 2009.

10in card gatefold. Back and front, Populuxxe, Cutting Pink With Knives, Isomorph, 2008.

Inner gatefold, Populuxe, Cutting Pink With Knives.

Moross shares Barney’s deft use of colour, concerns for isometry, geometry and architectural form and his appetite for music (operating vinyl-only label Isomorph). She is similarly fascinated by symbols – not least the repeated representation of her trademark three triangles – and applies a serious work ethic across a range of media and disciplines.

Moross determinedly creates at the cross-hatches of fine art and graphic design but, in a similar fashion to Barney, refuses to be pinned down stylistically.

Right: Badges. Left: Logo, Vauxhall Skate roller-disco, 2008.

Her flyers, posters, stickers, record sleeves, t-shirts, art direction, lighting design, stage sets and videos for the likes of La Roux,  Simian Mobile Disco, heartsrevolution and Telepathe  exemplify a dedication to detail and a ready wit.


Music video, directed by Jo Apps and Kate Moross. Audacity Of Huge, Simian Mobile Disco, 2009.

Moross – who has designed for record labels including Allido and Merok Records, created campaigns for such companies as Cadbury’s and a clothing range for Top Shop – was introduced to Barney’s work via his 1977 sleeve for The Damned’s album Music For Pleasure.

12in sleeve, card. Music For Pleasure, The Damned, Stiff Records, 1977.

From left: Back sleeve, both sides of inner, Music For Pleasure.

“It was old and new and confusing,” Moross told us while on the road this summer: last month she took part in Semi Permanent, the international design event in New Zealand, lining up with fellow Brits Harry Pearce (of Pentagram), Sanky (AllofUs) and Tim Beard (Bibliotheque), as well as such design legends as David Carson.

Moross during her Semi Permanent presentation, Auckland, August 15 2009. Photo: Otis Hu.

“I love confusing,” declares Moross. “I love codes and symbols, so Music For Pleasure has everything; graphic and illustrative, pattern and block colours, everything mixed together perfectly.”

La Roux t-shirt, 2009.

Moross says that the coherence within Barney’s disparate methods and styles lies in his ability to “fit the brief, and that’s what every artist or designer’s goal should be. Not everything needs to be the same, but it should always be brilliant, and Barney was brilliant”.

Left: Concert flyer, 2006. Right: Pull-out poster, Super Super, issue 6, 2007.

Moross’s rise coincided with the reawakening of interest in illustration, packaging and graphics in music circles in the Noughties.

Left: Clubnight poster 2007. Right: Test Card clubnight ident, 2008.

Advertising campaign, Cadbury's Dairy Milk, 2009.

“I think that the Sixties and Seventies did wonders, but then the Eighties and Nineties kind of stopped caring; it was the artists that sold the music, not the art,” she believes.

7in card with foil imprint. Into The Galaxy, Midnight Juggernauts, Isomorph, 2009.

“But it came back round. Packaging and design were back, labels and bands started employing illustrators and designers to make something special again.”

Packaging 12in vinyl and jewel case CD. Temporary Pleasure, Simian Mobile Disco, Wichita, 2009.

Moross is particularly keen on the 7in sleeve for Ian Dury & The Blockheads‘ 1978 number one single Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick.

7in sleeve, paper. Back and front cover, Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick, Ian Dury & The Blockheads, Stiff Records, 1978.

“I love the way the fractured isometric shapes are broken apart in a bold three-colour composition and then beautifully reconstructed on the reverse,” she said.

10in debossed laser-foiled matt sleeve. Back and front, Switchblade EP, heartsrevolution, ISO 2008.

Sleeve detail, Switchblade EP.

Foil sticker, Switchblade EP.

“To be honest, I didn’t know Barney’s work until recently,” Moross added. “But when I found it, I wished I could have been around at a time of such awesome creativity within musical ephemera. I feel like, with my enthusiasm, I would have fitted in well.”

That may be true. But their loss in the Seventies and Eighties is definitely our gain today.

From Twickenham to Tuscany: the George Snow connection

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

There are a number of parallels between the early careers of Barney Bubbles and video-maker/computer animator George Snow.

Both studied art and design at Twickenham College Of Technology (now Richmond Upon Thames College), though George was there a couple of years after Barney. George also worked for the underground press, designed record sleeves, was stimulated rather than stymied by the punk upheaval of the mid-70s, and went on to direct pop videos (such as Jack ‘n’ Chill’s The House That Jack Built).

By the time Barney took his own life in 1983, George had investigated collage and social comment, as editor of Radical Illustration and as a photo-journalist in strife-torn Northern Ireland for such publications as the Morning Star, Socialist Worker and Black Dwarf.

He also embraced new technology in the form of computer animation and multimedia, and today his establishment 3D3 World leads the way in the training of 3D animation.

George first encountered Barney personally at the offices of Friends in Portobello Road when he art-directed a single issue of the underground paper in 1970.

“I remember Barney as soft-spoken, friendly and somewhat shambolic in appearance,” says George. “I had never heard of him when we first met, but following the decline of the underground press we were all aware of his growing fame as we struggled with Bay City Rollers magazines and other junk.”

Band logo, George Snow, 1977.

George’s music business work included sleeves for UA-signed acts such as The Stranglers and 999, for whom he created the familiar raffle-ticket logo. When the punk act moved to Radar, where Barney was design head, their sleeves were created by another UA alum, Paul Henry.

Back and front cover, 7" single sleeve, Nasty Nasty/No Pity, 999, UA Records, 1977. Design: George Snow.

In the 80s George directed videos for such acts as London Beat and The Art Of Noise, designed book jackets and taught at a number of leading colleges, all the while developing his computer-generated artistry via projects such as his 1988 Channel 4 film based on Edgar Allan Poe’s The Assignation. His 1996 film Tall Story – about a building which comes life when struck by lightning – was nominated in the British Animation Awards.

George believes he, Barney and many others benefited from the traditional and multi-disciplinary approach to teaching at their alma mater Twickenham.

“The foundation course was probably the best in the country at the time,” he says. “Observation through drawing and painting were central to it. And it is important to bear in mind that the art school was a part of a larger organisation teaching crafts such as bricklaying and plumbing among other trades. That meant we had access to oxy-acetylene welding gear, a complete chemistry lab (we made tear gas for our closing party) and all the other equipment that had a common purpose for tradesmen and artists.”

George  recalls in particular a visit from Bob Gill, co-founder of Fletcher Forbes Gill (which became design behemoth Pentagram) and author with his partners of one of Barney’s favourite books.

Front cover of Barney's own copy of Graphic Design.

“Bob Gill was a major influence on me,” says George. “He gave us one lecture and a crit and knocked me out. His approach to idea creation was what really hit home. Basically by taking two elements of a situation and combining them he showed how we could get an original ‘idea’: a classic example being his illustration on divorce – a wedding photograph torn in two with the bride on one side and the groom on the other.”

Back cover, 7" single sleeve, Welcome To The Working Week/Alison, Elvis Costello, Stiff Records, 1977. Design: Barney Bubbles.

George believes that Barney’s work was similarly special “because it was subject to his personal whims. We were allowed a great deal of free expression in those distant days; there were no marketing men to tell us what was required. Often enough impoverished record labels let us do what our egos dictated simply because it allowed them to pay us so little”.

As to the creative course Barney would have pursued had he lived beyond 1983, George says: “I feel sure Barney would have continued to develop; that is to say he would have stopped following those roads that bored him or threatened him with repetition.

“Multimedia and computer animation would have attracted him, probably because they were new. He would have picked up on audio software such as Pro Tools and probably composed music himself.”

Among George’s current projects is the virtual world he is creating for an exhibit entitled APES at Den Haag’s Gemeentemuseum next year. This is made up of 10 projections displaying a 360deg panorama of architectural space which draws on Alberti, Piranesi, Escher as well as his own work (hence the acronym).

Such projects underline George’s acceptance that if there is an similarity between Barney and himself, “it would have been a certain restlessness and a desire to prove oneself in another field. Doubtless he would have been into video, web design and multi-media in general. How those areas would have benefited from his sense of humour.”

Front cover, 12" album sleeve, Imperial Bedroom, Elvis Costello & The Attractions, F-Beat Records, 1982. Credit: Sal Forlenza, 1942.

If his hand is forced, George selects the geometric Hawkwind covers,  The Glastonbury Fayre and Imperial Bedroom as his Barney favourites.

“But I don’t think Barney was a man of one work or one particular work of genius,” he emphasises. “Like a colony of ants his work was one single being – with many legs.”

The single sleeves: the embodiment of pop art

Monday, July 6th, 2009


Today we unveil the first public exhibition of the collected single sleeves created by Barney Bubbles; a stunning virtual presentation featuring a host of rarely seen images.

England's Glory/Dream Tobacco, Max Wall, Stiff BUY 12. Released April 1, 1977.

The single sleeves are important since they – more than any other area of Barney’s work – embody the characteristics of pop art as defined by Richard Hamilton in 1957:

Pop Art is:
Popular (designed for a mass audience)
Transient (short-term solution)
Expendable (easily forgotten)
Low cost
Mass produced
Young (aimed at youth)
Witty
Sexy
Gimmicky
Glamorous
Big business

Barney’s single sleeves comply, though, of course, he added the particular characteristic of anonymity. Only one sleeve carries a credit – for the lettering above Humphrey Ocean’s portrait on England’s Glory/Dream Tobacco by Max Wall (apparently at the insistence of the late comic genius).

Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll/Razzle In My Pocket, Ian Dury, Stiff BUY17. Released August 26, 1977.

More will be added over the coming months; just last night at the Nick Lowe/Ry Cooder aftershow, Soft Boys’ leader Robyn Hitchcock confirmed what had long been posited: Barney was responsible for his band’s 1978 Radar single (I Want To Be An) Anglepoise Lamp/Fat Man’s Son.

(I Wanna Be An) Anglepoise Lamp/Fat Man's Son, The Soft Boys, Radar ADA8. Released: April 1978.

Collectively this represents an inspired body of commercial work, much of it concentrated in the post-punk period after Barney returned to the music business in March 1977.

From Head To Toe/The World Of Broken Hearts, Elvis Costello & The Attractions, FBeat XX30. Released September 1982.

In the days when hit singles sold in their hundreds of thousands, Barney (who majored in cardboard design for retail purposes at college) almost single-handedly ignited the explosion of 45rpm packaging as it came back into vogue.

Darling Let's Have Another Baby/It Really Digs/Something Else (Chiswick NS27). Released January 1978.

Eager to address the problem-solving possibilities offered by multiple releases and coloured vinyl, Barney produced at an impressive rate, with few, if any, falling below the high quality threshold.

Accidents Will Happen/Talking In The Dark, Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Radar ADA38. Released May 1979.

The mask of anonymity eased adoption of a dizzying array of styles and approaches. Yet themes, symbols, fonts and techniques recur and develop: hearts, arrows, stars, tears, physiognomy, dynamic use of colour, art history references, industry in-jokes, photographic treatments and so on.

Some contain elements contributed by others; obviously the images of the photographers with whom he worked, and also releases such as Accidents Will Happen, where Barney applied the concept of inverting the sleeve.  The stills which ended up on the inside came from the promo for the song made by Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel. Designs for earlier releases, such as The Pie and Silver Machine, were completed by record companies out of artwork he had already created for albums or posters.

Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick /There Ain’t Half Been Some Clever Bastards, Ian Dury And The Blockheads, Stiff BUY38. Released: November 23 1978.

We start with the folded paper sleeve for the Christmas message of 1966 Barney recorded in a railway station auto recording booth for family and a few friends and move on to big sellers such as Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick, which reached number one and spent 15 weeks in the UK chart.

Visit the exhibition here; download tracks by clicking on individual sleeves. These days music arrives naked, so come celebrate a time when it paraded all gussied up and garbed in finery.

Looking back with Langer

Monday, June 29th, 2009

The new Madness album The Liberty Of Norton Folgate is the latest career high for London’s finest band.

It also marks the return of the sympatico producer Clive Langer, who – with his partner Alan Winstanley – has been on hand at various points through Madness’ career (even organising the band’s first recording sessions when they were rambunctious teens).

Clive’s pedigree stretches through production credits on records by such artists as Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Morrissey and Elvis Costello (with whom he co-wrote Shipbuilding) to membership of the pre-punk cabaret troupe Deaf School.

Splash, Clive Langer & The Boxes, FBeat, 1980.

And his leadership of post-Deaf School band The Boxes coincided with Barney Bubbles’ boldest and most wide-ranging record label brief: patron Jake Riviera’s formation of FBeat in 1980.

At Stiff, Barney had joined the team seven months in, and the year or so at Radar witnessed contributions from others, including Malcolm Garrett.

Radar singles by Bette Bright and Clive Langer, 1979. Designs: Malcolm Garrett.

Malcolm had been taken on at Radar straight from college to ease the pressure on Barney, and was responsible for sleeves for releases by another Deaf School alum Bette Bright as well as The Boxes’ debut, the 12″ EP I Want The World.  

FBeat was different; here Barney grew the identity of the company from the ground up, producing sleeves and posters as well as a slew of logos for label copy, headed paper, advertising and promotional purposes.

Inspired by the design detail of Jake’s early 60s jukebox, kitsch-y crowns and other regal imagery, as well as precisely arranged chevrons, stars, ellipses and other insignia dominated this period. Barney even designed Jake’s furniture for his office at the company’s Acton offices, as well as an FBeat rug (which appeared on the inner of Carlene Carter’s Musical Shapes).

Of course the priority act was Elvis Costello, responsible with his band The Attractions for FBeat’s first single I Can’t Stand Up (For Falling Down) and album Get Happy!!.

But Clive and the Boxes were hot on their heels; FBeat’s second 7″ was Splash (A Tear Goes Rolling Down), which arrived in Barney’s bespoke single bags, and the second album was the band’s Splash.

Left: Photo album. Right: NME ad for Splash (A Tear Goes Rolling Down), 1980. Carol Fawcett Collection/Reasons 2009.

For the album sleeve the Boxes were dispatched to Putney swimming baths in south-west London, where Barney’s friend, the photographer Keith Morris, shot them diving, floating and generally splashing around.

But Clive wasn’t happy with Barney’s first draft for the cover. “I knew of and admired Barney; he had a notoriety in punk circles,” says Clive. “But the first idea for the cover just didn’t work for me.

“I got the distinct impression that he wasn’t too pleased, because people rarely rejected what he came up with. But on the second go the sleeve looked fantastic – there’s a great turquoise variation which came out in Germany.”

Barney’s advertising campaigns for the single and album played with a variety of visual puns. Ads for the music press used a close up of his friend Carol Fawcett’s right eye – not only does he create a face out of the typographic arrangement but the graphic “tears” splash into the shape of a crown.

Double A-side promo copies were sent to retailers wrapped in an 12″ x 8″ poster in which the droplets are stylised as lozenges set against swimming pool blue.

The standard single label features the ident for Liverpool label Korova, from whom the track was licensed. Interestingly, the promo label also bears an arcane symbol with which Barney peppered his work at the time: three triangulated circles.

Left: Music press ad artwork (c) Riviera Global/Reasons 2009. Right: It's All Over Now, Clive Langer & The Boxes, FBeat, 1980.

The five-pointed crowns of the album cover are set atop boxes in the music press ads which trailed the tour dates while a single large one dominates the cover of follow-up single It’s All Over Now.

Coincidental aside: these days the Madness “M” logo – created by member Chrissy Boy Foreman – is sporting a five-pointed crown rather than a bluebeat hat.

As 1980 wore on, the Boxes waned, and Langer became fully engaged in production chores for Madness’ smash debut One Step Beyond, making the first steps in his career with Winstanley as part of one of Britain’s most highly rated record production teams.

Exclusive Barney chat with Art Chantry

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

Like Barney Bubbles, the designer Art Chantry engages and communicates by combining illustrative invention and graphics excellence with a finely honed wit and a way with intervention. 

Art at a recent exhibition of his work.

Art Chantry at a recent exhibition of his work.

Art (who once played pool with Ted Bundy, fact fans) has long occupied an important place in my record collection as the designer for such too-cool-for-school labels as Estrus.

A couple of years back he published the indispensable Some People Can’t Surf, so it’s with great pleasure we post this exclusive tete-a-tete packed with insights into Barney’s working practices and enduring influence.

“I wish his voice were still active,” declares Art. “We need more monkey-wrenchers!”

We started our chat at the beginning:

PG: When did you first come across the work of Barney Bubbles?

AC: Living in the remote upper Northwest corner of the United States, I really didn’t take notice of him until the punk era.  I was unaware of Hawkwind or even Oz, but was in college when punk first started to emerge (in the Pacific Northwest, that was the mid-70s) and that’s when I encountered him through his work for Stiff and, of course, Elvis Costello.  

Back cover, Less Than Zero, Elvis Costello, 1977.

Back cover, Less Than Zero, Elvis Costello, 1977.

I didn’t know what to make of it.  I was a budding young graphic design student, reared on hippie/disco culture, comic books/TV and fine art history.

The first time I saw a real punk poster on a telephone pole, I was stopped dead in my tracks.  I peeled off that poster and hung it in my little apartment and stared at it for weeks. It took me a long time to process what I was looking at.

When I ran into Barney Bubbles’ work shortly thereafter in a record store, it was like looking at messages from Mars, utterly alien to everything I had learned about design and art. Even after the initial impact of punk, it was still an intensely foreign language to me.

What singled out his work from that of other sleeve and poster designers?

Several things struck me immediately.  Of course, he had an intense colour sense.  His personal palette comprised bright primaries and stark contrasts. This was unlike most of the work of the 1970s, when (at least in American popular culture) earth tones dominated in the beautiful designs produced by people like Gary Burden for the mainstream Southern California rock scene: Eagles, CSN&Y, Neil Young, Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne.

To be suddenly smacked between the eyes by Barney Bubbles’ colours was a sound jolt.

Rare collectors edition, Damned Damned Damned, The Damned, 1977.

Rare sealed collector's edition, Damned Damned Damned, The Damned, 1977.

But the really contrasting aspect was his thinking.  Whatever was going on, he did the opposite.  It may not have seemed that way in his mind (for instance his industrial and architecture work in your book points out a seamless path to the work on The Damned LP cover Music For Pleasure), but to the general pop culture trend at large around him, it was coming from an alternate position. It even seemed contrary to punk.  

Front Cover, Music For Pleasure, the Damned, 1977.

Front Cover, Music For Pleasure, The Damned, 1977.

Compare his careful, studied, playful work to the other major design tastemaker of the period: Jamie Reid. Again, he is totally opposite. It was even startling from the punk perspective.

The other major factor which grabbed my attention – more than all of the other designers working in the period – was his wondrous sense of humour. He must have been a wonderful guy to hang out with.  

Every one of his covers is a carefully rendered inside joke. To me he is at his most marvelous when he references the very process of design itself – through intentional MISTAKES!  

I found the off-registered version of Elvis Costello’s This Year’s Model in the import bin and it blew me away.  In America, they released the cover which eliminated the joke. Apparently, the captains of the music industry didn’t get it, and thought it was a real mistake or something. You could only find the original design in the import section – along with most American punk, which had to imported before it could be sold in an American record store.  Strange times.

Front cover, This Years Model, Elvis Costello And The Attractions, 1978.

Front cover, This Year's Model, Elvis Costello And The Attractions, 1978.

This Year’s Model completely flabbergasted me. It actually took me a long time to figure out it wasn’t a misprint. And, when I realised it was a joke, I never looked at graphic design in the same way again.  

I firmly believe that “contrary thinking” was his biggest contribution to graphic design. His ability to step outside of the accepted conventions and poke them with a stick endeared him to an entire generation of designers desperately trying to re-invent the language of design. And that’s why punks loved him.

Do you detect a coherence given his variety of forms, methods, materials and styles?

Yes, definitely. I hate to use Picasso as a comparison in any context, but Barney Bubbles’ use of medium precluded his method and style.  It really didn’t matter what his material or form, his work remained idiosyncratically his own and simultaneously reflective of the mood of the times.

Like Picasso, who would work in graphite, oils, assemblage, or metal or stone or ceramic, etc, etc, yet the end result always looked like a Picasso.  Barney Bubbles’ masterful approach made his chosen method or style just a simple tool to get his thoughts across.

The work was never anonymous. You could always spot him, no matter how dramatically his style shifted from project to project.

Tell us about your favourite Barney Bubbles design.

Aside from This Year’s Model that would be the (again) imported-from-Europe, un-American version of Get Happy!! by Elvis Costello And The Attractions. That carefully scraped “wear ring” around the area where the vinyl record label would actually have rubbed through the printing as it was handled? That knocked me for a loop.  

Front cover, Get Happy!!, Elvis Costello And The Attractions, 1980.

Front cover, Get Happy!!, Elvis Costello And The Attractions, 1980.

As I examined the cover further, I saw how he crudely overlapped colours to create new levels of imagery, just like the old-time album sleeve designers in the era he was referencing. It just nailed it for me. Get Happy!! was a brilliant tour-de-force of inside-graphic-design fetish-collector humour.  I love that.

Inner, Get Happy!!, Elvis Costello And The Attractions, 1980.

Inner, Get Happy!!, Elvis Costello And The Attractions, 1980.

In what way has Barney Bubbles influenced you?

You see Barney Bubbles’ thinking popping up everywhere in my work. He was a huge influence on my design development. I’ve used his “wallpaper” idea from the cover for Do It Yourself  by Ian Dury & The Blockheads over and over again. Only once have I used the actual wallpaper sample idea – on a poster – but I have taken the basic approach with velveteen paper, metal, garbage, etc, etc.

Front Cover, Do It Yourself, Ian Dury & The Blockheads, 1979.

Front Cover, Do It Yourself, Ian Dury & The Blockheads, 1979.

That stepping outside the printing process and then throwing in a spanner will forever be part of my thinking as a designer.  I’ve also used the “wear-ring” idea, the “off register’ ideas, the primary color overlapping humor, the retro-revival of lost styles idea…

All of these quirks and jokes have been morphed into a base-level part of my particular graphic dialogue.  I NEVER grow tired of that sort of thinking.

Do you detect his influence on other contemporary designers?

Barney Bubbles’ influence works directly through people like  me.  I’m of the directly influenced generation.  Then there are the successive generations who not only see his work, but have seen mine and the work of so many others (including Paula Scher and Tibor Kalman) and simply followed the trail.  

By now Barney Bubbles’ influence has become so diverse and foregone in the language of graphic design that his thinking is used and referenced without awareness.  His ideas worked their way into the shared language of graphic design so that, at this point, he is one of the most often imitated master thinkers, and it’s all unnoticed.  He has become a prime influence through his imitators. 

Had he lived, where do you think Barney Bubbles’ work would be at today?

I think it would stem from his manipulation of processes. He would be one of those guys taking computer systems apart and exquisitely breaking them and re-wiring them to do things that were never meant to do, so obvious and yet ignored. I wish his voice were still active. We need more monkey-wrenchers.

Why is the revival of interest happening now, more than 25 years after his death?

The very idea of “graphic design” as a worthy discipline is still in its infancy and the history of this discipline is still in the hands of the academics and the amateurs.  

They tend to gather around the pillars of the imagined “great men” of graphic design, ignoring the vast majority of design language out there that is created by direct interaction with popular culture.  

Barney Bubbles’s work is NOT academic.  It’s learned and intellectual, but decidedly outside of academia.  As a result, he has been hidden from the mainstream of design culture thought.  

Most of the truly great design dismissed as “vernacular” by academia is unfairly judged to lack introspection, history and authorship.  

Nothing could be further from the truth and Barney Bubbles personifies my point. The historical and visceral power of his ideas is as plain as the nose on your face.  Yet, like so many before and after him, he has been overlooked.  At least until now.  Thank you for writing this book. We all thank you. And thanks for this opportunity to ramble on about one of my heroes.

Art appears in the forthcoming rock poster art documentary American Artifact, which also features Stanley Mouse, Victor Moscoso, Frank Kozik, EMEK, Tara McPherson, COOP and Jay Ryan.

Check out the trailer here.