Posts Tagged ‘This Year’s Model’

Found! Big Jobs Inc artwork for The Damned’s “printing error” sleeve

Friday, January 1st, 2010

Never previously published, this is something of an exclusive: Barney Bubbles’ original artwork for the back cover of the first 2,000 sleeves of The Damned’s debut album Damned Damned Damned.

Damned Damned Damned special edition artwork. (c) Jake Riviera Collection/Reasons 2010.

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.

Get Happy!! Forget The Massage!

Friday, November 20th, 2009

Among the items which didn’t make it into the first edition of the book (even though it has 600 images) is this lovely rarity photographed for us by careful owner Billy Bragg: a huge paperboard in-store display poster for Get Happy!!.

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Paperboard poster, 60in x 40in, 1980. Photo: Billy Bragg. (C) Billy Bragg Collection.

Barney tropes abound: the poster is to his favoured scale of 60″ x 40″, the throway 50s/60s image has been enlarged to the point of degradation (he once told Jake Riviera he preferred photographic dots “the size of golf balls!”) and important retail information is imparted decoratively –  the record’s catalogue number FBEATXXLP1 is placed underneath the toe of one of the “masseuse”’s high heels.

60" x 40" poster, Get Happy!!, 1980. "A great record to dance to but you wouldn't want to live there".

The graphic theme of the more common “light-bulb” poster design is developed, as is the restrained yet impactful palette of colours set out by the album sleeve.

12in sleeve. Back and front cover, Get Happy!!, Elvis Costello & The Attractions, FBeat Records, 1980.

As detailed in Reasons To Be Cheerful, the Get Happy!! sleeve saw Barney scale back on the kaleidoscopic approach to Elvis Costello & The Attractions’ previous album Armed Forces with a co-ordinated, muted and retro feel, chiming with the singer-songwriter’s often contemplative channelling of 60s soul music as he reached an early career peak.

Both sides, 12in inner sleeve, Get Happy!!, 1980.

At the time the designed “scuffing” of the outer sleeve (deemed unacceptable by Costello’s US record company Columbia which insisted on cleaning up the artwork) overshadowed the package’s deceptive geometric complexity and textural depth (which naturally matched the music contained within).

The atomic art ellipses on the inner sleeve offered the dualities Barney delighted in delivering for Costello (the inner of Armed Forces provided contrasting images headed “Our place…”/”…Or Yours” and that of it’s predecessor This Year’s Model lined up dummy torsos on one side and a rubber mechanical hand holding a state of the art mini-TV on the other.

Get Happy!! detail: Nick Lowe's production note and Barney's credit - his VAT number.

Unlike those albums, there was no free 7in with Get Happy!! since the vinyl was packed with 10 tracks per side, necessitating another 60s touch: an assurance from producer Nick Lowe that sound quality had not been compromised.

Left: Artwork, Get Happy!! poster. (C) Riviera Global. Right: 30in x 20in Get Happy !! poster, 1980. Note "Vote Labour" sticker added by the author.

Instead there was a poster of silhouetted 50s diner lampshades with imposed commands riffing on the album title and the names of the individual songs. On purchase in 1980 I decorated mine with a”Vote Labour” sticker; I and a lot of others were still smarting from Margaret Thatcher’s ascendence just eight months before in the first election in which I had voted .

Label, Get Happy!!, FBeat, 1980.

In Barney’s original artwork, there were elements which did not make the final poster:  the question “Get it?” and graphics which popped up elsewhere: groupings of single bars and lines and a rendition of the interleavened quadrants which are tinted and overlaid on the band member photographs on the cover and depicted in outline in the label design.

Get Happy details!!. Nine blue lines placed top right-hand corner, back cover, and 22 green lines grouped in the top left hand corner, front cover.

What is one to make of these? Graphic tics to enrich and engage or symbols denoting deeper meaning?

These vie for speculation with the front-cover  motif which is inverted on the back and intrigued fans such as Billy Bragg, who describes it in Reasons To Be Cheerful as one of Barney’s “discernible signatures”.

3D motif artwork. (C) Reasons 2009/Riviera Global.

It could be that on the front this is yet another representation of Costello’s bespectacled visage, though Barney fan Paul Murphy has pointed out on feuilleton that it is a reference to 3D glasses, relating to the out-of-register images on the inner sleeve and the overall retro tone of the album’s design.

It can also be seen as an early version of  the symbol comprising three intertwined circles and a triangle which started to appear on the labels of certain FBeat releases.

Left: Artwork for music press ad, I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down. Left: Artwork for FBeat singles bag. Both (C) Reasons 2009/Riviera Global.

The Get Happy!! quadrants were present in Barney’s designs for the sleeve of the album’s first single, I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down, and adorned music press adverts and FBeat’s in-house singles sleeves.

The design for the cassette issue used Bob “Bromide” Hall’s single cover photograph, and the sleeves for the subsequent three singles were integrated  in terms of colour, graphics and typography.

Here’s Elvis having fun giving Get Happy!! the hard sell on US TV back in 1980. These days he’s a bigger name than ever, particularly in the US where the second series of his Sundance Channel music/chat show Spectacle starts on December 9, as he announced earlier this week:

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.

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.

    Let there be drums

    Sunday, January 25th, 2009

    Stretched over the open end of the bass drum and at just under 2ft in diameter, drumheads proved a perfect canvas for the artistry of Barney Bubbles.

    Throughout his career, Barney was in the habit of providing customised skins to musicians, either as part of an overall theme he had developed for an album or artist or as one-off gifts.

    Today we exclusively present four produced over a 10-year period.

    Only one has been widely seen before; the portrait of the freckle-faced Western gal set against a desert landscape was painted in 1973 for Pete Thomas, then of Chilli Willi And The Red Hot Peppers.

    Chilli Willi drumhead

    Chilli Willi And The Red Hot Peppers, 1973. (c) Pete Thomas/Pic: Tony Sayles

    The cowgirl and the vista had appeared in Barney’s colour-your-own inner for the band’s debut album Kings Of The Robot Rhythm. Around this period Barney was investigating the interpretation of this educational form in a musical context: the cover of Brinsley Schwarz’s eponymously-titled album consisted of a paint-by-numbers scenario.

    “Barney was such a lovely bloke,” says Pete, who gives the painting pride of place in his Los Angeles home. In 1999, it was the centrepiece for  the cover of the Willi’s compilation  I’ll Be Home.

    In 1977 Pete went on to form the rhythmic bedrock of Elvis Costello & The Attractions, and Barney created a suitably new wave, Jackson Pollock-ed drumhead for the band’s participation in 1977’s Stiff’s Greatest Stiffs UK tour. Within a couple of months Costello and the band had released the ferocious This Year’s Model – Barney’s stickers for that album’s promotional campaign still adorn it.

    Greatest drumhead

    Stiff's Greatest Stiffs 1977. (c) Pete Thomas/Pic: Tony Sayles

    As the drummer in the Kursaal Flyers, pub-rock scene chronicler Will Birch first encountered Barney when he designed the album sleeve of the Southend band’s album Chocs Away.

    The two maintained contact and Barney provided artwork for Will’s post-punk band The Records in the early 80s. During their meetings the pair riffed on the notion of an imaginary band called the Blue Genes, and Barney painted Will a drumhead featuring wriggling single-celled genetic organisms with blue tails.

    Blue Genes drum head

    Blue Genes 1982. (c) Will Birch

    Since the Blue Genes never performed or recorded, Will’s is in pristine condition, unlike Pete’s or that owned by another of Barney’s friends, record company promotional wizard and Viv Stanshall’s manager Glen Colson.

    “I was drumming a bit at the time, so Barney offered to paint me a drumhead,” says Glen. “I used to like this move called a ‘flam’, where you bring both drumsticks in quick succession down hard on the snare. I was delighted when I saw Barney’s design say: ‘Flam Flam’.”

    flam flam drum head

    Flam Flam 1983. (c)Glen Colson/ Reasons 2009