Reasons To Be Cheerful: the Barney Bubbles revival

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My long and rambling post about the work of Barney Bubbles in January 2007 generated a considerable flurry of renewed interest in the great designer and ended by saying “We’re overdue a decent book-length examination of his work and his influence.” Just over a year later, here we are…. Paul Gorman was one of the contributors to the lengthy comments thread and I’m really pleased to see him take up the challenge to bring Barney’s work to a wider and, one hopes, new audience. Reasons To Be Cheerful (title borrowed from an Ian Dury song) is scheduled to be published by Adelita in November 2008.

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left: Doremi Fasol Latido by Hawkwind (1972).
right: Ian Dury & the Blockheads logo design (late 70s).

“He was so good I couldn’t have really competed with him.”
Sir Peter Blake

Reasons To Be Cheerful is a celebration of the life and work of one of the greatest designers of recent times: Barney Bubbles.

Bubbles—real name Colin Fulcher—was a giant of graphic design whose prodigious output is revered by musicians, artists, fellow designers and music and pop culture fans.

Reasons To Be Cheerful is published November 2008 to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the artist’s death. Author Paul Gorman is also curating a companion exhibition with Sir Paul Smith.

Barney Bubbles’ body of work included early posters for the Rolling Stones, brand and product design for Sir Terence Conran, psychedelic art with poster maestro Stanley Mouse, layouts for underground magazines OZ and Friends and collaborations with many bands and performers, from counter-culture collective Hawkwind to new wave stars Elvis Costello, Ian Dury, Nick Lowe, Graham Parker, The Damned and Billy Bragg.

Bubbles links the colourful underground optimism of the 60s to the sardonic and manipulative art which accompanied punk’s explosion from 1976 onwards, and influenced a generation of design talent including Neville Brody, Malcolm Garrett and Peter Saville.

The lavishly illustrated Reasons To Be Cheerful will contain hundreds of images and many full-colour plates.

About the Author
Paul Gorman is a popular culture historian and author of The Look: Adventures in Rock & Pop Fashion, and the top ten bestselling Straight with Boy George.

Paul Gorman’s The Look: Adventures in Rock and Pop Fashion

Previously on { feuilleton }
Barney Bubbles: artist and designer

New things for July

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Motorway City by Hawkwind, Flicknife Records single (1983).

This month’s issue of Record Collector magazine has a feature about Hawkwind which featured my Motorway City sleeve among its illustrations. It was odd seeing this again, being a single it doesn’t turn up so often and it has the distinction of being one of the oldest of my works in print. Although the single was released in 1983, the drawing was done in 1980 (I was 18 at the time) and it ended up with Dave Brock somehow.

The A-side is taken from the Zones album, which sports one of my more successful cover illustrations for the band, and the song is a Ballardian eulogy to driving on motorways at night. Despite their reputation for being a bunch of spaced-out hippies, Hawkwind were frequently drawn to the harder side of things (Lemmy used to shout “Die! Die!” at their tripping audience and was proud of freaking people out), and this song isn’t even science fiction, despite my flat futuristic cityscape in the background. Before he finished with the band for good, singer Robert Calvert wrote two songs based on JG Ballard books, High Rise and the punk- and Crash-derived thrash piece Death Trap, both on the PXR5 album from 1979. Motorway City was written around the same time and it’s a shame it didn’t have Death Trap on the B-side instead of yet another version of Master of the Universe. My drawing was done as black on white but the record company smartly (for once) reversed out the design which I always felt made it look a lot better, as well as fitting more with the night-driving theme.

Also this month, I’m in the process of reworking the website a bit which means making more prints of artwork available. I’ve started with some of the Lovecraft pictures, which is always the most popular stuff but I’ll gradually be working through everything and setting up PayPal facilities for other items. Many pictures and designs can already be had as prints at CafePress but that system is best for t-shirts and other goods, it lacks the personal touch which people often want from a signed print.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Hawkwind: They’re still feeling mean
Barney Bubbles: artist and designer

Barney Bubbles: artist and designer

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Image-heavy post! Please be patient.

Four designs for three bands, all by the same designer, the versatile and brilliant Barney Bubbles. A recent reference over at Ace Jet 170 to the sleeve for In Search of Space by Hawkwind made me realise that Barney Bubbles receives little posthumous attention outside the histories of his former employers. Since he was a major influence on my career I thought it time to give him at least part of the appraisal he deserves. His work has grown in relevance to my own even though I stopped working for Hawkwind myself in 1985, not least because I’ve made a similar transition away from derivative space art towards pure design. Barney Bubbles was equally adept at design as he was at illustration, unlike contemporaries in the album cover field such as Roger Dean (mainly an illustrator although he did create lettering designs) and Hipgnosis (who were more designers and photographers who drafted in illustrators when required).

Colin Fulcher became Barney Bubbles sometime in the late sixties, probably when he was working either part-time or full-time with the underground magazines such as Oz and later Friends/Frendz. He enjoyed pseudonyms and was still using them in the 1980s; Barney Bubbles must have been one that stuck. The Friends documentary website mentions that he may have worked in San Francisco for a while with Stanley Mouse, something I can easily believe since his early artwork has the same direct, high-impact quality as the best of the American psychedelic posters. Barney brought that sensibility to album cover design. His first work for Hawkwind, In Search of Space, is a classic of inventive packaging.

Update: BB didn’t work with Mouse in SF, I’ve now been told.

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Hawkwind: In Search of Space (1971).

It’s fair to say that Hawkwind were very lucky to find Barney Bubbles, he immediately gave their music—which was often rambling and semi-improvised at the time—a compelling visual dimension that exaggerated their science fiction image while still presenting different aspects of the band’s persona. In Search of Space is an emblematic design that opens out to reveal a poster layout inside. One of the things that distinguishes Barney Bubbles’ designs from other illustrators of this period is a frequent use of hard graphical elements, something that’s here right at the outset of his work for Hawkwind.

This album also included a Bubbles-designed “Hawklog”, a booklet purporting to be the logbook of the crew of the Hawkwind spacecraft. I scanned my copy some time ago and converted it to a PDF; you can download it here.

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