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.
The ring-bound calendar includes illustrations of work by such artists as Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Ferdinand Léger as well as designs by Shin Matsunaga, Seymour Chwast, Milton Glaser and Ralf Winkler.
MoMA has selected three Bubbles works from its collection: posters for the 1977 Live Stiffs tour and The Damned’s debut album and a litho print of one of the variants of his design for Ian Dury & The Blockheads’ 1979 Do It Yourself LP.
//Back cover of MoMA’s 2014 calendar, designed by Adam&Co//
There are 10 Bubbles designs in MoMA’s permanent collection, donated by the prominent New York art collector Lawrence Benenson. View them here.
Posters, each 60" x 40" designed by Barney Bubbles for the October 1977 Stiff Records UK tour Live Stiffs. Photography: Chris Gabrin.
Exhibits in Chris Gabrin's exhibition at Dimbola Lodge, Isle Of Wight.
Chris Gabrin’s exhibition From Hear To Photography includes a doozy for Barney Bubbles fans – for the first time since their creation more than three decades ago, Bubbles’ huge Live Stiffs poster designs are displayed together.
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.
Pedro Marques has posted the second installment of his interview with Michael Moorcock, in which the great man discusses his working relationship with designers not only of his books but also New Worlds, the sci-fi magazine he edited over a long period .
New Worlds, August 1967. Cover: Eduardo Paolozzi.
The interview reveals the mutual respect shared by Barney Bubbles and art director/editor/and later WIRED contributor Charles Platt.
New Worlds August 1969. Cover: Charles Platt.
“Barney and Charles lived a few blocks from one another in the Portobello Road and its environs, where the offices of New Worlds and Frendz were situated virtually side by side,” says Moorcock, whose 1975 album The New Worlds Fair is housed in a Barney Bubbles sleeve.
12in sleeve. The New Worlds Fair, Michael Moorcock & The Deep Fix, UA, 1975.
Later on in the decade the New Worlds art director was Richard Glyn Jones.”By the time [Barney] was at Stiff Records, he had more work than he could handle and I never wanted to overload him, he was such a sweet guy,” says Moorcock. “But I would have used him if I could.”
Stacia, second left, with fans at Harlow Town Park, August 1974. Photo via Bassmonster 2 at Hawkwind Free Forums.
The man born Humphrey Anthony Erdeswick Butler-Bowdon had opted out of playing bass for the Kilburns a few years earlier to concentrate on his art, occasionally contributing to record covers for the likes of Wings and 10cc.
7in sleeve. Front cover, Whoops A Daisy/Davey Crockett, Stiff, 1978.
The winsome Whoops A Daisy was backed by a cracking version of the 50s film theme The Ballad of Davy Crockett and wrapped in a wonderful Barney Bubbles sleeve using Chris Gabrin’s photographs of Ocean performing the elaborate dance moves he had recently enacted on the Stiffs Live Stiffs tour.
7in sleeve. Back cover, Whoops A Daisy/Davey Crockett, Stiff, 1978.
These were exaggerated by the huge white suit Ocean had bought in Brixton Market during his time in the Kilburns.
Sleeve lettering, front cover.
Barney decorated the sleeve with detailed lettering (the H on the back from interlinked horseshoes to match the rhyming-slang name of Ocean’s backing musicians, Iron Hoof) and on release there was also a version of the black and white sleeve featuring blue spot-colour.
Sleeve lettering, back cover.
The accompanying poster was a delight. With Ocean’s name picked out in dance-step style, 35 frames from the Chris Gabrin shoot were presented in sequence with the instruction: “Cut poster out and make Humphrey Ocean’s Daisy Disco Do It My Way flickbook.”
Poster 30in x 20in, Stiff, 1978.
We’ve put them together here to accompany the tune:
And here Ocean is called to the stage to join the Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll finale of the Stiff tour and shows us how it’s done:
On the album’s release in February 1977 the story was put about that distributor Island Records had mistakenly positioned an Erica Echenberg photograph of new wave r&b band Eddie & The Hot Rods in place of a live shot of The Damned at London punk venue the Roxy .
Left: 12in card. "Printing error" back cover. Right: Erratum sticker.
Barney and Stiff boss Jake Riviera went so far as to add an erratum sticker, explaining: “Due to Record Company error, a picture of Island recording artists Eddie & The Hot Rods has been printed instead of The Damned. We apologise for any inconvenience caused and the correct picture will be substituted on future copies.”
12in card. Damned Damned Damned back cover, standard release, Stiff Records, 1977.
In fact the “error” was intentional; Jake had worked out that Stiff needed to sell 2,000 copies to recoup the cost of recording and producing the first UK punk album release.
12in card. Damned Damned Damned front cover. Photo: Peter Kodick.
With Barney recently installed as Stiff’s art director, Jake was able to create an instant collectible, all the while keeping the Island executives involved in the newly-inked distribution deal on their toes.
12 in. Limited edition shrink-wrapped sleeve with "food-fight" sticker.
And the trick worked. Media coverage of the “error” helped rustle up interest and propel the Nick Lowe-produced album into the UK Top 40, establishing The Damned as an act to rival The Clash and the Sex Pistols commercially.
A very limited number of albums were also shrink-wrapped and featured a red “food-fight” sticker completing the title Damned Damned Damned. These now fetch up to £500 apiece.
“By the time Barney had finished, you could imagine our covers competing with whatever else is out there,” says Rat Scabies. “He understood that, much as Stiff was a lot of fun, the releases had to have commercial appeal. At the same time he made it edgy and kind of sinister.”
Left: 12in card, front cover, "Bongos Over Balham", Chilli Willi And The Red Hot Peppers, Mooncrest, 1974. Right: Sleeve detail.
At once a savvy marketing maneouvre and a keen artistic intervention, the printing error stunt is a prime example of Barney’s wily approach, particularly when working with Jake: see also the Bohemian Revivalist Series Vol 2 “sticker” on the sleeve of Chilli Willi And The Red Hot Peppers’ 1974 album Bongos Over Balham and the deliberately off-register sleeve of Elvis Costello & The Attractions’ 1978 release This Year’s Model.
Left: 12in card. Front cover, This Year's Model, Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Radar, 1978. Right: Sleeve detail with sticker and exposed colour code.
Similarly the bogus Stiff “voucher” which appeared on the back of the August 1977 release of Ian Dury‘s single Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll; the voucher had just been introduced on the Barney-designed sleeve of the preceding single, Wreckless Eric’s (I’d Go The) Whole Wide World.
Left: 7in card, back cover, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Ian Dury, Stiff records, 1977. Right: Sleeve detail - cut-out "voucher".
Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll bore the catalogue number BUY 17, which Barney had allocated to the Damned Damned Damned artwork as a positional several months earlier. At that time Riviera and his Stiff partner Dave Robinson had not quite settled on a separate numbering for album releases (which were allocated the prefix SEEZ; The Damned’s debut was SEEZ1).
Pen and ink on paper. Details, Damned Damned Damned artwork, 1977.
Barney also decorated his artwork with a sketch of a “100% Guaranteed Refund” sticker and typically twisted marketing slogans: “To clean use a barely damp Brillo pad” advises a vertical instruction, and the sentence along the bottom reads: “Long range full frequency stereo ersatz recording. Play at 33 1/3 rpm.”
In the event, the final back cover of the album carried the nonsensical note: “Made to be played loud at low volume.”
Design credit, Damned Damned Damned, 1977.
And in final flourish, Barney adopted one of his finer pseudonymous credits: Big Jobs Inc.
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”.