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.
Mail for info on postage to continental Europe and rest of world.
To buy your copy click on the button below or visit HERE for details.
This comprises the punk and new wave picture sleeve singles collected by W+K’s Neil Christie way back in 1977 when he was a disaffected 15-year-old.
Naturally Barney Bubbles is represented, by one of his signature pieces – the cover of Generation X’s debut Your Generation.
7in card. Back and front of Your Generation/Day By Day, Generation X, Chrysalis, 1977.
And Neil makes a passionate case for the impact of the music and these designs at the time: “These singles were totems, talismans and badges of allegiance. Not widely available, hunted, hoarded, swapped, carried to school, played again and again and again. The graphics on the covers were themselves codes to live by, which we wore on our sleeves and pinned to our blazers.”
“We saw the sleeve and received a very clear signal,” says Peter in his essay in Reasons To Be Cheerful. “Mr Barney Bubbles – whose work we already knew from Hawkwind and Stiff – was saying: “‘Constructivism has my blessing.’ Our response was: ‘Yes, this is the way’.”
Front cover, 7" sleeve. Your Generation/Day By Day, Generation X, Chrysalis, 1977.
Here we discussed how the band’s co-manager Jonh Ingham’s chance encounter with Barney sparked the commission. Barney was able to accomodate Jonh’s freshly acquired interest in constructivism and, at the same time, nod to the band’s self-designed t-shirts.
It is a work entitled Composition In Red, Black And White, one of 12 by the Polish artist Henryk Berlewi to accompany his 1924 manifesto Mechano-Faktura, which proposed that painting be “designed” according to the principles of modern technology and mechanical reproduction.
Back cover, 7" sleeve. Your Generation/Day By Day, Generation X, Chrysalis, 1977.
Berlewi was associated with many of the important figures of the post World War 1 Continental art movements and was later recognised as having pioneered op-art, the abstract geometric work adopted by the fashion industry as decoration in the 60s. In photographs by Edward Hartwig he is surrounded by models in op-art dresses.
Jan showed Doris the Generation X sleeve as part of his preparation for tomorrow’s presentation on Barney’s integration of the work of van Doesburg and his peers such as Berlewi.
Composition In Red, Black And White. Henryk Berlewi, 1924.
“Doris was surprised and intrigued,” says Jan. “Right away she took me to see Berlewi’s painting and explained his manifesto of mechanical constructivism and the way in which he captured movement and form in abstract, square-cornered compositions.”
Generation X guitarist Tony James surrounded by self-designed t-shirts, 1977. To the left is his own version of Barney's "45". Photo: Ray Stevenson.
The Your Generation sleeve is one of the clearest examples of Barney’s distillation of art history references. Using Berlewi’s painting as a springboard, Barney reassembled the elements into a multi-layered piece which accurately expressed the visual minimalism and energy of the punk period, led by the “45” pun on the rpm of the 7in single contained within, and the geometric representation of a record being played from above.
Henryk Berlewi surround by his paintings and models in "op-art" dresses, 1966. Photo: E. Hartwig.
Berlewi is important as an exemplar of Eastern European Jewish graphic art, which would also have chimed with Barney’s Jewish roots. Yiddish scholar Seth L. Wolitz has discussed how, under the influence of El Lissitzky in the early 20s, Berlewi moved from expressionism to constructivism, meeting along the way Van Doesburg, Moholy Nagy and the German Dadaists.
His work was recognized by the avant-garde art dealer Herwarth Walden, who published the manifesto Mechano-Faktura in his publication Der Sturm in 1924.
Forty three years later, Barney recast Berlewi in the frenetic context of punk-rock. In the process he inspired not just Saville and Garrett but also Neville Brody, Al McDowell and successive waves of rock music-mad art students to delve into the art movements of the early 20th century and forge a new design aesthetic.
A Henryk Berlewi archive has recently been launched; Wolitz is among the board members. You can find out more here.
Meanwhile full details of Jan Vollaard’s presentation are here.
As detailed in REASONS, Barney Bubbles’ 1977 sleeve for punk band Generation X’s debut single Your Generation was a key inspiration for a new wave of young designers applying the principles of the early 20th century art movement Constructivism to their work.
In March 1977 John and fellow manager Stewart Joseph were actively searching for distinctive art direction for the upcoming record deal with Chrysalis (the group’s founder/guitarist Tony James and singer Billy Idol were all the while designing their own t-shirts in a pop and op-art style).
El Lissitzky: The Constructor 1924; Beat The Whites With The Red Wedge 1919
The managers paid a visit to Joseph’s friend, the art historian, exhibition curator and author Michael Collins. “Michael gave us a crash-course in Constructivism,” says John. “He talked about Rodchenko, Malevich and, of course, El Lissitzky, who really nailed us because his work is so geometric. We were particular struck by Beat The Whites With The Red Wedge.”
Cover, The First Kestner Portfolio, 1923; Design for Mayakovsky's For The Voice, 1923.
The artist born Lazor Markovich Lissitzky in 1890 revolutionised graphic design during its formative stages. Critic Max Bill’s famous summation of Lissitzky’s book About 2 Squares – “Typography is a game that leads to communication, and it all began with Lissitzky’s tale of two squares” – had long struck a chord with Barney.
Globetrotter In Time 1923; Flying From Far Away, About 2 Squares 1922.
A couple of days after their encounter with Collins, John called his girlfriend Suzanne Spiro, then workingat Stiff Records, where Barney had taken up residence as art director just two weeks previously.
Stiff in Melody Maker 1976 (note Barney-designed Naughty Rhythms tour poster): Jake Riviera, Suzanne Spiro, Dave Robinson.
“I was telling her about our conversation with Michael and these books I’d bought on the subject,” says John. “Suzanne repeated the name El Lissiztsky out loud. The next thing I heard was Barney’s voice shouting from the back room: ‘What’s going on? Why are you talking about El Lissitzky?'”
As detailed in a letter to his friend Lorry Sartorio, March 1977 marked Barney’s return to the fray of the music business. He struck a deal with his pal, Stiff co-founder Jake Riviera, whereby he lived at 32 Alexander Street in Paddington (which housed the label’s offices) in return for designs.
(c) Lorry Sartorio/Reasons 2009
The letter refers to Riviera looking “like a public school-boy”. Riviera laughs: “That was down to a ‘Man From British Steel’ haircut I had at the time.”
“Barney grabbed the phone out of Suzanne’s hand and demanded to know about my interest in the Constructivists,” recalls John Ingham. “I explained what was going on with Generation X and off we went; we had our art director.”
Within a few days Stewart, John and Barney were sat on the stoop outside Stiff discussing options for Your Generation. “We talked about the music we liked, “says John. ” Barney was a big Who fanatic and he told a story I’ve never heard from anybody else. He was a regular at their ’64 residency at The Marquee and talked about this bit when they went into a noise sequence with feedback sounding like bombs dropping.
“Somewhere in the middle of it Townshend would inevitably hit a member of the audience over the head with his guitar, and we laughed about how people used to fight for that particular spot. I’d heard that story but Barney was the first and only person to reveal that the ‘song’ was called World War II.”
Once they had established common ground, Barney produced an idea for the sleeve: the numerals 45 in direct reference to the rpm of a 7in single. ” We had another session sitting on the stoop on a sunny mid-day and out came the spiral-bound notebook with these precise 2in sq ideas,” says John. “One of them was exactly the front and back cover of Your Generation, down to the last detail.”
Quarter-page advert in NME, September 10, 1977.
For the advert for trade paper Music Week, Barney urged the band and their managers to keep it simple: “He said that it was a waste of time trying to be clever, that we should just say: ‘Buy this record’.”
In the event they settled on “Our record in your record shops on Saturday” placed in the white space left by a trompe l’oeil rip Billy Idol appears to have torn in the photograph by Ray Stevenson. Signifying the amount of time the band had taken to reach their first release – rivals the Pistols, the Clash and The Damned had knocked out at least a couple of singles each by this stage – the ad featured a typical Barney pun: “Worth it’s wait”.
Barney adopted the more blunt approach for the August 1977 music press campaign for Elvis Costello’s My Aim Is True, with its exhortation “Buy It.”
Chrysalis half-page advert, Sounds, September 10, 1977.
Barney’s ad also appeared in the NME but Chrysalis replaced it in other music press titles with a spot-colour one generated by their own art department, bowdlerising Barney’s graphic and utilising corny lettering for the band name.
Two of four matching posters for Marquee residency, September 1977.
On the single’s release in September 1977, Generation X played a series of four gigs at The Marquee promoted by monochrome Barney-designed posters. These were based on stills from a performance clip made for a pilot music TV show directed by the veteran Mike Mansfield (who also helmed the clip for the Pistols’ God Save The Queen that summer).
“Barney and I spent a morning in an edit suite running the video,” says John. “Every so often he would freeze the frame and take a photograph. What delighted me about the final design was that he incorporated the lines of static as graphics. When all four were posted together, the lines matched.”
In December 1977 John exited the UK punk scene for the balmier climes of Los Angeles. Stewart remained as manager of Generation X. In a future post we shall explore how Barney and the band hooked up once again.
Neville Brody's Red Wedge logo, 1985.
Interest in Lissitzky and early 20th century Russian design burgeoned, via the likes of Neville Brody. He was at the forefront of 80s designers channeling the movement, notably in The Face and also for his logo for music/political movement Red Wedge ( the name of which resulted from a conversation between Barney and founder Billy Bragg).
Curiously online images of the logo are currently extremely rare; we’ve scanned the one above from our archive.
A Proun, El Lissitzky, 1925; Front cover, Michael, Franz Ferdinand, Domino 2004.
Saks Fifth Avenue campaign, Shephard Fairey, spring 2009.
As Patrick Burgoyne has pointed out, Constructivism is “the ism that just keeps on giving”. However, it’s interesting to speculate on the look of music through graphic design had Barney Bubbles not overheard a phone conversation between a young manager and his girlfriend in a mouldy Paddington basement 32 years ago.
Barney Bubbles credited one of the most creatively satisfying phases of his career to a prescient feature by marketing guru and cultural commentator Peter York published in the September 1978 issue of Harpers & Queen magazine.
York’s piece, headlined Grey Hopes, investigated the ageing demographic of the rock consumer and the concurrent wave of post-modernism pervading popular music. “The paradox of rock is that at precisely the time that a new rock sensibility is starting to invade the commercial heartland, the whole rock thing is uncomfortably coming of age,” wrote York, who also declared: “Rock & roll is the hamburger which ate the world.”
Extract from letter to Diana Fawcett, late 1979.
Presenting research which showed that 25- to 44-year-olds, not teens, had become the largest single group of record buyers, York pointed to the likes of Roxy Music as examples of art rockers who “consciously saw rock as a medium like any other”.
Reasons author Paul Gorman and Peter York, July 2008.
York cites the highly referential example of Generation X, which was apposite; Barney designed two of the group’s single sleeves, the El Lissitzy-quoting Your Generation and the symbol-strewn King Rocker (available in four variations denoting vinyl colours).
Tony James: "Barney took our ideas an inspired step further."
Guitarist Tony James says that, during the planning stages of the sleeves, he and Gen X singer Billy Idol talked to Barney about t-shirts they had designed in a Constructivist style. “Barney looked at our original ideas and took them a very inspired step further,” he adds.
In a letter to his assistant and friend Diana Fawcett late in 1979, Barney says that York’s article “gave me my orders for the year” regarding “technology, urban environment, rock, etc”. He also says that he had carried out “everything I wanted to. It was a great, successful year”.
Inner sleeve, Labour Of Lust, 1979. (c) Riviera Global
This is true; the previous 12 months had been an extraordinarily fruitful period. Notwithstanding the advertising and promotional material which formed the bedrock of his business, Barney had also executed such triumphs as the redesign of the NME and creation of the paper’s Book Of Modern Music as well as sleeves for albums such as Armed Forces by Elvis Costello & The Attractions, 25 Years On by Hawklords (including the integrated stage show set), Do It Yourself by Ian Dury & The Blockheads, Labour Of Lust by Nick Lowe and Frogs, Sprouts, Clogs And Krauts by The Rumour.
In addition Barney completed the catalogue for the Lives exhibition at The Hayward (in which he also participated) as well as Brian Griffin’s Copyright, The Ian Dury Songbook and The John Cooper Clarke Directory. We shall be exploring all of these and more over the coming months.
Artwork for advert for Splash by Clive Langer & The Boxes 1980. (c) Riviera Global
Barney also tells Diana he has “had his orders” for 1980, the coming year. Since this was to witness advances into video-direction, painting, the realisation of the ambitious visual identity for the new F-Beat label AND a slew of releases by Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Carlene Carter, Clive Langer & The Boxes, Rockpile, Inner City Unit, Dirty Looks and many more, it can safely be assumed the instructions came from as rich a source as York’s Grey Hopes.