Posts Tagged ‘The Soft Boys’

Barney Bubbles events at Glastonbury

Saturday, June 4th, 2011
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Front, fold-out sleeve, Revelations: A Musical Anthology, Revelation Enterprises, 1972. 24" x 36".

This year’s Glastonbury Festival will celebrate the work of Barney Bubbles, who created the extraordinary sleeve for the Glastonbury Fayre triple album set Revelations – A Musical Anthology.

Since 2011 marks the 40th anniversary of the Fayre, Bubbles’ biographer Paul Gorman is staging two events at the Festival’s Spirit Of 71 Cafe  to mark the late graphic designer’s involvement with the album, the festival and many of the performers who have played there.

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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.”

Andy Arthurs’ single sleeve: Detected after 31 years!

Monday, August 17th, 2009

A spot of detective work has resulted in confirmation from musician, producer, engineer and now academic and orchestra leader Andy Arthurs that Barney Bubbles did indeed design the sleeve for his 1978 electropop single I Can Detect You (For 100,000 Miles).

Until now this curio has not been recognised as a Barney artwork. We were put on the trail by blog fan Mark Lungo, who put 2 + 2 together correctly, having spotted the familiar tropes and stylistic tics in Detect’s design and added in the fact that Barney was at that time in-house designer at Radar Records.

Andy, these days professor and head of music at Queensland University, confirmed that the cover was Barney’s, organised by Radar mainman Andrew Lauder. We will be featuring an interview with him shortly.

Backed with the song I Am A Machine, the sleeve was also used for the single’s release on affiliate label TDS Records, for whom Barney created “blackboard” music press adverts developing the use of faux mathematical equations. The TDS logo itself bears a resemblance to that which he produced for magazine Let It Rock a couple of years earlier.

On the TDS sleeves the label’s address is 120 Parker Street W1 – in posh Mayfair. It seems there was some playfulness afoot; Radar was based at 60 Parker Street, another thoroughfare in what was then down-at-heel Camden’s borders with Bloomsbury.

Andy had been around the British music scene for a number of years by the time of the single’s release, having started at George Martin’s AIR studios in 1971 and received engineering credits on albums such as Bryan Ferry’s These Foolish Things.

During the immediate post-punk era he produced singles and albums by such new wave acts as Tot Taylor’s Advertising, Stranglers’ spin-off project Celia & the Mutations, power-pop band Tonight (also on TDS), mod revivalists The Chords and 999

Barney had many connections to the latter band led by Nick Cash, who had been a one-time member of his friend Ian Dury’s pub-rock outfit Kilburn & The High Road

999’s designer was George Snow, who had known Barney since his days at underground paper Friends. Snow is the man credited with pioneering acceptance of computers and digital technology in British graphics and illustration circles by another Barney fan, Andy Martin.

999 were also signed to Radar, having been at Lauder’s previous label UA, and the photographer responsible for many of their sleeve shots was Barney’s friend and collaborator Chris Gabrin.

Meanwhile Andy Arthurs produced 999’s eponymously-titled debut album for Radar as well as such releases as The Soft Boys’ (I Want To Be An) Anglepoise Lamp, which also benefited from a Barney sleeve, and wrote tracks including Skin Tight for Noosha Fox.

Nowadays Andy is ultra-busy, complimenting his professorial duties at Queensland with his involvement in 18-piece orchestra Deep Blue.

And his release has now been added to our virtual exhibition of Barney’s single sleeves. 71 and counting! More to be added soon!

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.