//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.
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.
The enhanced, revised and updated new edition of Reasons To Be Cheerful is published in the UK this week.
With a remixed cover, the fully illustrated 224-page second edition of the acclaimed biography features many new elements.
There are nearly 60 fresh images in the new book: letters, postcards and photographs as well as sketches, designs and finished artwork for record sleeves, posters, stickers, drumheads, etc.
Paul Gorman has written a new author’s note and afterword summing up the impact of the first edition, and the commentary now includes a chat with foremost US designer Art Chantry about the relevance of Barney Bubbles’ artistic legacy to contemporary design. The new edition is published in the US in spring 2011.
A host of new contributors have been interviewed, from Wreckless Eric to “Record John” Cowell – Bubbles’ one-time room-mate and the half brother of Simon Cowell.
All chapters have been updated with freshly researched information, including never-previously published facts and quotes about Bubbles’ time at art school and his first full-time job at leading British commercial art studio Michael Tucker + Associates.
As an EXCLUSIVE, we are offering signed copies of the new book only from this blog, priced £18.99 plus £5 p&p UK.
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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.
“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.”
A 12-year-old trade magazine clipping has revealed that Barney Bubbles even played an (admittedly indirect) role in the formalisation of Richard Branson’s business interests, with one of his invoices setting in train the perma-grinning bearded entrepreneur’s journey to worldwide domination.
An issue of US music industry weekly Billboard published in 1998 carried a special section celebrating Virgin Records’ 25th year.
From Billboard, September 5, 1998.
Among those interviewed was Ken Berry, seen by many as the architect of Virgin’s financial framework and by the time of the Billboard feature, president of EMI Music. But back in 1973, Berry was a 21-year-old drifter keen to break into the music industry.
Berry recounted asking Virgin co-founder Simon Draper on his first day about the new label’s royalty payment system. “Simon said, ‘I don’t know but I’ve got something here,’ and he pulled a piece of paper from his desk. It was this yellow invoice from a guy called Barney Bubbles – he used to do the album artwork – and Simon had written various numbers on the back. These were the various royalties we were supposed to pay people.”
12in sleeve. Front cover, Marjory Razorblade, Kevin Coyne, 1973.
This was doubtless Barney’s meticulously prepared invoice for the design provided for Kevin Coyne‘s incredible double album Marjory Razorblade, one of Virgin’s earliest releases following its debut in May that year with Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells.
Artwork, Marjory Razorblade, 1973.
Marjory Razorblade contains many of the late Coyne’s greatest songs, including his musing on his time as a psychiatric nurse House On The Hill, the single Marlene and the storming Eastbourne Ladies (championed a few years later alongside tracks by Peter Hamill, Can, Big Youth and Neil Young by Johnny Rotten on Capital Radio’s summer 1977 broadcast A Punk & His Music).
Another client of Barney’s, Wreckless Eric, recently played a set of Coyne songs with his partner Amy Rigby and Coyne’s son Eugene in Germany; Eric says they might do some KC songs when they’re in the UK this spring – a must-see we reckon.
And Coyne seems finally to be receiving the widespread recognition he deserves with the release of a I Want My Crown, an anthology of his work between 1973 and 1979 for Virgin.
So, the next time you’re waiting for a Virgin Train, working out at a Virgin Active or checking your Virgin Mobile bill, think of Barney’s small part in the transformation of a scruffy hippie label into a global business empire.