With Valentine’s Day approaching, and matters of the heart coming to the fore, here displayed for your timely appreciation is Barney Bubbles’ sleeve for Phillip Goodhand-Tait’s 1983 single ‘Heartbeat’. A track originally recorded by Buddy Holly, an icon Barney was happy to often parody in his graphixeffex. My London correspondents (whom I thank for the image) tell me this was one of the last sleeves Barney designed.
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Welcome again readers to the magic theatre of Barney Bubbles. Here for the first time ever – and for your continued viewing delight – we have a previously hidden treasure, gather ’round as I explain… Shown above on the left is a rare proof of a poster Barney designed for Elvis Costello’s LP ‘Get Happy’ in 1980. See how it uses yellow, red and black; an early colour test (printed in small numbers and not even trimmed) later abandoned in favour of the main print run’s orange, mauve and black. No longer just an X on the map, but found, dug up and shared!
Images kindly donated by Barney historians R&M.
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Welcome thrill-seekers to an impromptu Barney Bubbles / Shepard Fairey mash-up. Made possible by reshuffling some of Shepard Fairey’s LPs that appear as part of his current exhibition in London. Cunningly created onsite by my London correspondents R&M.
Show is at The Stolen Space Gallery, The Old Truman Brewery, Off Brick Lane, London E1. Closes on November 4th.
A recent documentary about punk rock band ‘The Adverts’ features TV Smith, the band’s singer/songwriter talking about the sleeve that Barney Bubbles created for them in 1977 (using a photo shot by Phil Franks who sometimes comments on this blog).
TV Smith: “I had no problem with Stiff Records, even when I thought I was being done over. I could see the point of it, for example, the cover of One Chord Wonders. They put Barney Bubbles onto designing the cover, then when we got invited into Stiff to see what he’d done, well, I felt like I’d been stiffed. But, what can you say, it was a brilliant cover. They created an icon out of Gaye and they put The Adverts firmly in punk rock history. There was no question that that cover – which I would definitely not have agreed to – was a massive step forward for the band.”
Watch the whole documentary HERE, fast forward to 11.50 for the Barney Bubbles bit.
(Info provided by Barney Xpurtz R&M)
Well readers, I’ve been cajoling Barney Bubbles boffins Rebecca and Mike to dip into their folder of ‘stuff Barney did that not many people know about’ and they’ve come up with some goods for us all to admire.
Pictured here below is a sleeve Barney (born Colin Fulcher) designed for former Damned punk band member Brian James in 1978. Marvel at the dextrous flicking of Barney’s favourite ink-laden toothbrush across carefully cut masks. R&M tell me that as well as creating the entire front illustration, the design of the front, back and label design is all Barney’s handiwork. They also point out to me the design of the record company name on the label (BJ Records) uses the spindle hole to not only hold the record in place, but also provide the ‘O’ of ‘RECORDS’ and the dot of the letter ‘j’; a typical economy of means.
Want to know what the track sounds like? Listen here:
Classic Barney Bubbles Stiff Records “If it ain’t STIFF, it ain’t worth a fuck” t-shirt.
This t-shirt illustrates nicely the music hall/vaudeville aspect of Colin Fulcher/Barney Bubbles’ work and is probably influenced, if not actually composed or passed on by his dad, who was a working class man of the people sort of bloke. Dad had a fairly extensive mental joke book. He was a fan of Max Miller the radio joker who was banned from the BBC for 5 years for telling a bawdy tale of which Lord Reith (founder and director of the BBC) did not approve. Goes like this, ” I was walking along a narrow mountain pass, so narrow that nobody else could pass you, when I saw a blonde walking towards me. A beautiful blonde without a stitch on, yes lady, not a stitch. Cor blimey. I didn’t know whether to toss myself off or block her passage. “
There is some confusion as to whether it was a Max Wall or a Max Miller joke, but I’m fairly certain it was Miller. Don’t matter either way, Mr. Fulcher, a News Of The World sort of man, liked ‘em both. I can remember the day in 1962 when Barney showed me his Paolotzi lookalikes standing in the entry to their house on Tranmere road, and ol’d man Fulcher telling that very same joke along with the story as how Miller got banned by the Beeb.
(I got my copy of this t-shirt in ’83 when I swapped with Barney for my T-shirt celebration of the repeat integers date 7 7 77.)
Note to readers unfamiliar with colloquial English, “Cor blimey” is a cant phrase derived from the medieval curse “God blind me if I tell a lie.”
It is amusing that until recently there was no Googlable picture of this t-shirt except for an inferior Bowdlerized knock off.
Today I’m in a mixed time awareness of the ages, reading a slew of overlapping novels, from 1948′s 1984 Orwell to the 1996 or so Ladbroke Grove of M. Amis. I’m also reading Northanger Abbey, by the eighteen-year old Jane Austen of 1799 and sitting on a fold-out mattress in the company of my eighteen-year old daughter Alessandra and her Chinese friend Dghzou here in 2012. The young women discuss the boys in the Occupy Oakland demo they were at last night, “They should have left when we did. No sense those men. I expect they got arrested. Let’s send them pictures of our food.”
As they chat, I listen to the now six week old recording of The BBC Radio-4 programme about Colin Fulcher, alias Barney Bubbles, on Dghzou’s lap-top, a show about how my ol’ friend Barney went nuts.
It’s a clever and emotional piece of detective reportage from the front lines of Barney’s life.
Such a revelation, I had no idea he was so troubled. We were the best of friends but in the style of blokes of the time we shared no intimacy of the sort that might lead to telling it all in such a forthright way. Not like in California today when every body tells their woes.
During my visit to his place in Islington in May of 1983, six months before he died I didn’t hear his hidden voice telling me his troubles. Not so hidden in retrospect, he said it to me out loud, something like, ‘I have a date with death.’ But I took it as metaphor at the time.
No matter that death stared us down, that both of our parents had gone in a moment, his the year after mine, we’d never admit such a sentiment as loss to each other, no, not cool. No, he wryly looked away as I asked, “So. How did your parents die?”
He dismissed me with, “They just died, di’n't they.” Not a flicker of emotion.
But he went on to say that the Australian Aborigines had given him a death, had put a stone on him and that he would die to protest the ways of the world, did I believe such things?
“Yeah, they work, I’m sure.” We both agreed that how killing stones worked was that they were believed in, and that objects were alive, like shapes, a conversation we’d had over the years.
On the radio show Fulcher’s sister, Jill, was astonishingly and appealingly forthright, so dramatically different than my remembered youthful fear of her, of what I imagined was her dangerous wrath and disapproval of me, her brother’s odd friend. No, Jill showed, through her clear telling, some of her brother’s hidden emotion. She sounded so real and poignant, with that radio sound effect of a ticking clock in the background, giving off a powerful whiff of the suburban, glassy-tiled fireplaces of Whitton, as I sat eight-thousand miles away on a fold-out here in San Francisco.
What a great piece of BBC magic, of emotional and you-were-there detective work this is. I grew up listening to the radio and this show is as good as it gets. Now all this telescoping of time muddles the world of radio and novels into a confused memory, with Cassandra Austen, Jane’s sister, editing a movie of Barney Fulcher slicing his face mask, all the while adding adding bits of Burrough’s Naked Lunch to the mix.
A minor point of fact about the radio programme, I don’t think ‘Colin Fulcher’ become ‘Barney Bubbles’ in 1963, He adopted ‘Barney’ in maybe ’66(?) and it wasn’t until 1967 when he started his light show that he adopted ‘Bubbles’. Hmm, I seem to recall I am wrong by a couple of years.
Another thing of which I’m less certain, but do feel, is that I don’t think Barney was ever really in ‘fashion’, so I don’t think he ever really went ‘out of style.’ He was always too far out in front to be really accepted for the seer he was by his paymasters. I think the reason he got used so much was because his employers were connived at by Barney’s force of personality. His “Cheap and Cheerfiul,” won the day despite their misgivings about his ideas. But when things went wrong for him in ’83, probably I now realize because of a bad cocaine and speed habit, he was less able to cope, and so off he flew with the Australians.
Colin Fulcher went in a ritual which was Barney Bubbles’ ‘Look what you made me do’ to the music industrial-complex. Plus I think warmonger Margaret Thatcher had just been or was going to be re-elected. His arch-enemy, Town mag publisher Michael Heseltine, then Minister of Defence, was weaseling for PM. Elvis Costello. HM Govt. There were many reasons to protest but his seedy metaphor turned deadly. It wasn’t just the disease, as Wiki calls it, that killed him, he was saying something. The bag and the cuts were masks in a performance.
Stupid idea. Don’t do it Barney.
Mark Hodkinson’s BBC Radio 4 documentary about Barney Bubbles now has a broadcast date: 2 January 2012 at 16:00 GMT. Or for us folks in California, 8:00 PST. Also available at other times in other locations around the world. Turn on, tune in, drop out. The visual accompaniment to this newsflash shows two antennaed daschunds, and are of course, a product of Barney’s tripped-out imagination.
(Thanks to R&M for the image.)
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Here we see Barney Bubbles in cheap and cheerful mode, rapidographing up an image with references.
There’s Walt Disney’s Pluto’s bent ears – but with four fingers and thumb style hands, deliberately non-Ub Ewarks-like (Ub was the originator of the Disney three fingered hands).
The Harris Tweed jackets are amusing, each with their own weave. Improbably for a time of experiment in all things garment, we were still wearing such things back then, a tweedy jacket with elbow patches being useful for its pockets. In ’73 I was featured in the Times on the fashion page doing a layered clothing strip tease in Covent Garden by Ed Bell, in which I believe I was wearing two such jackets as well as an overcoat or two, and many underlayers.
Talking of layered clothing, it was Barney, back in his ‘Colin Fulcher’ days who preached the no-underpants style of dressing, with a view to avoid the presumably unseemly seam lines viewable through skin-tight denim trousers (OK, ‘Levi’s') that he shrank wearing them in the bath so he said (I don’t believe he did). This was a person at Conran Design inspired piece of fashion sense.
The border lines are drawn sharp (real sharp!), in contrast to his oft-used wiggly jagged line that was deliberate and not the product of a shaky hand. His ‘shaky hand’ drawn line was evident in the drawings he did for the Book of Egg Cookery in 1967, but which I in my innocence redrew, much to his annoyance.
Hand lettered, the type seems to vary in weight with ‘Chilli Willi’ perversely appearing lighter, I wonder if that was intentional? It was quite likely a product of not particularly caring if it was or wasn’t, just the way it came out of his fingers.
The line up of jolly chaps is a tip of the hat to Music Hall’s ounce of flash and wit, which influenced him in his BBC radio Light Programme Arthur Askey “Are y’ courtin’?” mode. He did enjoy that pounding the boards scene.
Seems like not all folks thought much of Barney Bubbles’ work at the time, particularly NME journalist Mark Ellen who in a review of the ‘John Cooper Clarke Directory 1979′ book which Barney designed, slammed it with criticisms such as “dreadful punk-chic composition”, “cheap geometric artworks”, “hung at irritating angles”, “simplistic overtures”. Surprised readers of this blog will be happy to hear that four years later, the NME did write Barney a glowing obituary.***Further. This review reminds me of all the other space blind writers and publishers I’ve worked with, who payed cash for paper or space and proceeded to waste it.Thanks to the ever-helpful R&M for a copy of the original article that can be read below.