//Drumhead painted by Barney Bubbles for Hawkwind drummer Simon King’s kit, 1972//
A rare design by Barney Bubbles has come to light after four decades; the psychedelic sci-fi drumhead was painted for Hawkwind when the space rocking Sonic Assassins undertook tours around the world following the success of their Silver Machine single in 1972.
//Hawkwind – including, from left, Nik Turner, Stacia Blake, Simon King and Lemmy – performing with the drumheads in situ at the Windsor Free Festival, August, 1973. Photographer: Unknown//
//12″ paper inner for Barney Bubbles’ packaging for Doremi Fasol Latido, Hawkwind, UA, 1972//
//Detail of grimacing Hawklord from the Doremi inner//
The design of a snarling apparition – a so-called ‘Hawklord’ as depicted on the group’s album Doremi Sofal Latido – was one of a pair which adorned the front of the twin bass-drums in Simon King’s kit during this period.
Bubbles – charged with “Optics” and effectively the group’s art director – applied an integrated approach to the collective far beyond the remit of just creating album sleeves, posters and other promotional material.
//Flam Flam: Barney Bubbles drumhead for Glen Colson, 1983//
As mentioned in my Barney Bubbles monograph Reasons To Be Cheerful, the visual impact of painted drumheads appealed to Bubbles; as well as these for Hawkwind, he designed others for Pete Thomas (of Chilli Willi And The Red Hot Peppers/The Attractions), Will Birch (Kursaal Flyers/The Records) and his publicist friend Glen Colson.
The current owner of the amazing Hawkwind drum-head has treasured it for a number of years.
A fuller version of this story appears on my blog here.
The owner also has the original drumkit, for which offers are being welcomed. These should be directed via the contact mail on my blog (in the About Me section).
7" single sleeve. Back + front of Cairo, Amazulu, Towerbell Records, 1983.
The single sleeves section of this site has been updated today with the addition of yet more images, bringing the total number of Barney Bubbles’ designs for the 7″ format there to 85 (and there are more on their way…)
I was delighted to receive this boxed Blockhead watch recently.
Of course the typogram on the watch face – which emerges at twelve-fifteen and three o’clock – was designed by Barney Bubbles at the behest of the late Ian Dury, who said in Will Birch’s No Sleep Till Canvey Island:
“I phoned him and said, ‘I want a logo. It’s got to be black and white and square’. Then I heard somebody in his office say, ‘Wow’ and he said, ‘I’ve done it’.”
On a page in the Chelsea Space visitors’ book, New York designer Aleksandar Maćašev sums up the reaction to the show we’ve received this week from a flood of visitors, including waves of graphics students, a major British artist, Ian Dury’s biographer, the owner of the country’s biggest spoof news site, one of rock music’s leading record sleeve designers (who has incorporated a section on Barney Bubbles in a new book), and, of course, Billy Bragg.
Maćašev wrote that a visit to the exhibition was the top of his to-do list while in London, and, judging by his response, we did not disappoint. Artist Daniel Sturgis, who has openly acknowledged his debt to Bubbles, was similarly complimentary, as were Will Birch and Paul Stokes, one of the men behind The Daily Mash.
Studying the ramp wall exhibits with Will Birch.
Will Birch asks about the book and magazine display.
With Paul Stokes (far right) and Chelsea students.
And designer Richard Evans, who has been art director for The Who for more than 35 years, came along for a viewing, bringing with him his exciting new book Art Of The Album Cover, which has a section dedicated to Barney Bubbles’ achievements in this sphere.
Richard Evans discusses process with Chelsea Space assistant curator Barbara Elting and assistant Martina Gonano.
Richard Evans with his new book open at the section on Barney Bubbles’ album sleeve designs.
“I found it fascinating and informative (more than most of the LDF and ADF!),” writes Jonathan from Sussex Coast College Hastings. “Because of the layout, you get the sense of ‘this is his work’ and then you walk round the corner and…’this is how it was done’. It’s not just a show of his finished pieces – it goes deeper than that.”
One of the most satisfying aspects of staging Process has been engaging with visitors who knew Barney Bubbles personally.
Film producer Linda Gamble dropped by last week; she worked at Virgin Records in the 70s and 80s and knew Bubbles via her then-boyfriend Will Birch.
Touchingly, Linda brought a thank-you note Bubbles sent her and Birch in 1982 for a record player they had given him. The note – in an envelope proclaiming “Bring Back The Birch” – accompanied a painted drumhead which Bubbles suggested could either be used in performance or placed on the wall as an artwork.
“I kept this note all these years because Barney was such a great guy,” says Linda.
As detailed in Reasons To Be Cheerful, around this time Birch commissioned sleeve designs for his band The Records as well as a cover for a compilation of tracks by his previous outfit Kursaal Flyers. While working together he and Bubbles had entertained themselves by creating an imaginary beat group, The Blue Genes.
12″ sleeve. Front cover, Chocs Away, Kursaal Flyers, UK Records, 1975.
Back cover, Chocs Away, Kursaal Flyers, UK Records, 1975.
Credit details, back cover, Chocs Away.
Left: Fry’s packaging, 1968. Right: Fry’s 5 Boys 1902.
Birch first met Bubbles in 1975, when the designer produced the sleeve for Kursaal Flyers’ debut album Chocs Away.
Developing the chocolate aeroplane theme of the cover, Bubbles cast the five Kursaals on the back as variations of Fry’s 5 Boys (who appeared on the confectionery company’s packaging from 1902 until a marketing overhaul the year after Chocs Away’s release).
For his credit, Bubbles chose “Grove Lane”, after the street/neighbourhood where Kursaals’ manager Paul Conroy shared a flat with photographer Adrian Boot.
By the early 80s, the designs for Music On Both Sides, In For A Spin and their attendant singles captured Bubbles during his final reductive phase, relying on repetition of primary shapes and restricted palettes.
Thus The Records designs centred on jukebox lozenges and stars, while that for In For A Spin arose from a visit of Birch’s to Bubbles’ studio in January 1983. “The title came out of a discussion I had with Barney,” says Birch. “I remember him alternating between sketches of a ‘spin dryer’ and aeroplane propellers, as in ‘taking a plane up for a spin.”
12″ sleeve. Front cover, Music On Both Sides, The Records, Virgin, 1982.
Back cover, Music On Both Sides, The Records, Virgin, 1982.
7″ sleeve. Front cover, Imitation Jewellery, The Records, Virgin, 1982.
12in sleeve. Front cover, In For A Spin, Kursaal Flyers, Line, 1983.
7″ sleeve. Front cover, Radio Romance, Kursaal Flyers, Line, 1983.
Thanks to Linda Gamble for bringing in the note and providing us with an opportunity to present yet more fantastic designs which we were unable to include in Process.
The show is on for another three weeks (until October 23), open Tues-Sat, 11am-5pm.
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”.
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.
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 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.
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 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’.”