Hawkwind: Days of the Underground

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As mentioned at the weekend, Joe Banks’ account of the first ten years of Hawkwind will be published by Strange Attractor Press later this year with a wraparound cover of my design. I never expected to be doing anything else for Hawkwind after moving on to other things in 1985, but it was the group’s first decade of music that fuelled the drawings which brought me to their attention, so this cover design brings everything full circle. The earliest of my Hawkwind drawings dates to 1979 which means this cover is also an anniversary piece.

The design combines Barney Bubbles’ Space Ritual template with elements of the art he created before and afterwards, notably the inner and outer sleeve of Doremi Fasol Latido, and the futuristic Art Deco of his tour poster for The “1999” Party. All the Bubbles Hawk-art up to and including Space Ritual is a blend of the ancient (Egypt, tribal motifs, characters that resemble pirates or barbarians), the previous century (Art Nouveau in particular), and the far future as depicted in comics and pulp magazines. I wanted to reflect this blend without being too imitative of the details, so the cover works a variation on Space Ritual, with a similar hieratic woman as the focus, and a margin of stylised flames separating the foreground from Laurie Lewis’s photos of the band (the latter are unused shots from the same session used for Space Ritual).

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Art by Bob Haberfield, 1970.

All the background elements run across the wrap but this hasn’t been revealed yet so you’ll have to wait a while to see the full design. The flames are based on Tibetan designs in a nod to the ancient side of the equation, as well as Bob Haberfield’s covers for the Moorcock novels published by Mayflower in the early 70s, many of which featured art derived from Tibetan Buddhism. (And one of the Mayflower Moorcocks, The Black Corridor, is the origin of the monologue of the same name on Space Ritual.) The full wrap shows a futuristic city whose Frank R. Paul-derived architecture is either on fire or menaced by a wall of encroaching flames. Many of Hawkwind’s songs of the period concern flight from cities or from the Earth itself—Born To Go, Time We Left (This World Today)—so the back cover also has a number of vehicles fleeing the scene: the radical escapism of the book’s subtitle in literal form. “Sign my release from this planet’s erosion,” as Nik Turner sings in Brainstorm.

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The Chronicle of the Cursed Sleeve

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A copy of the cover art that I attempted to colour-correct some years ago to compensate for the poor print reproduction.

This month I’m in Record Collector magazine talking in a sidebar feature about my work on the Hawkwind album The Chronicle of the Black Sword. The issue is Hawkwind-heavy, with a Nik Turner interview, a history of Flicknife Records (the label that released COTBS), and a retrospective feature on the Black Sword album which was released in December 1985. My words were slightly cut to fit the allotted space but I can run the full text here in which I describe my ambivalent feelings towards this particular cover.

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The Black Sword album for me has always been a combination of pleasure and disappointment. I was very pleased initially to hear that Hawkwind were writing a concept based on the Elric books, a series I’d enjoyed for many years. Cover discussions were a little more detailed than usual since this design was sketched out beforehand then approved by the Dave Brock and co. Prior to this I’d been creating something vague after equally vague requests; communication back then was all done via post and call box as I didn’t own a phone.

This was the first album where I was able to create an integrated front and back cover design. A friend had recently found me a copy of George Bain’s Celtic Art: Its Methods of Construction (1951), a study of the creation of Celtic knotwork, and I was keen to use this somehow. Rather than do a cover that looked like a fantasy paperback the idea was to use the knotwork style to create something that was suitably Hawkish whilst also fitting the Elric theme. The front cover has some nods back to earlier Hawkart in the winged sphere—which goes back to Barney Bubbles and his obsession with Ancient Egypt—and the eye-in-a-triangle, a symbol which first appeared on the cover of the Hawklog booklet in the In Search of Space album, and which I scattered throughout many of my Hawkwind designs.

All the lettering on the album was hand-drawn (not very well in places) using letterforms based on Bain’s examples from the books of Kells and Lindisfarne. I drew the track listing onto the artwork for the back cover, a decision that later proved to be a bad one when the band decided to change the running order of the songs, hence the large purple square that spoils the design. My lack of any direct contact with the record company made problems like this inevitable; I was trying to do graphic design at a distance without having any communication at all with the printers responsible for the sleeve. Before digital design, the creation of an album cover could be a complicated business involving photo-mechanical transfers, knockout areas, overlays, typesetters and more; if you weren’t in direct contact with the printer (or somebody who was) then you simply had to hope for the best.

This process of design-at-a-distance led to the disaster with the cover printing, the front of which has an unwarranted blue cast that dulled the impact of the sleeve and, for me, ruined the whole thing. You can see how the cover should have looked by comparing the background colours of front and back; the front was also printed in its true colours on the back page of the 1985 tour programme. It was this, and the messy appearance of the lettering on the back, that pushed me further towards ending my involvement with Hawkwind and doing something of my own over which I’d have complete control.

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The retrospective feature in the magazine includes a picture of the back cover of the tour programme (above) so those familiar with the album can see the difference in reproduction. The difference isn’t so noticeable on the copies posted here after I tried altering the tones of the cover. Over the years I’ve grown used to the blueness but the back cover remains blighted by its purple boxes.

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On the pyramid

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Lots of attention given this week to a series of photos taken from the summit of the Great Pyramid of Cheops by a Russian group of urban explorers. The Egyptian authorities who maintain the World Heritage site bar visitors from the place at night so the photographers hid in a tomb for a few hours before beginning their ascent. The original LiveJournal post with the full complement of photos is here, and is worth running through Google Translate if you’re interested in the details. One of the other photographers has a page devoted to his spectacular views here.

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Ascent of the Cheops pyramid may be discouraged now but used to be a common pursuit for those visitors capable of making the climb. The Russian post mentions that among the graffiti carved into the stones on the summit they found the name of Tsar Nicholas II. The Library of Congress has many photos of Egyptian monuments in its archives, including a number showing pyramid ascents. Ex-Hawkwind man Nik Turner made the ascent himself after leaving the band in 1978. Whilst there he recorded three hours of solo flute in the sarcophagus of the King’s Chamber which later formed the basis for his Xitintoday album.

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Barney ascendant

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Poster by Barney Bubbles for Elvis Costello’s Get Happy!! (1980).

Adelita, the publishers of Reasons To Be Cheerful: the life and work of Barney Bubbles, announced this week that Paul Gorman’s essential collection of BB graphics has been named Book of the Year in Mojo magazine:

Reasons To Be Cheerful – the acclaimed study of the life and work of the late graphic genius Barney Bubbles – has been declared Book Of The Year by the UK’s leading rock monthly Mojo magazine.

Described as “fascinating and definitive” by the Sunday Times and “moving and lovingly researched,” by GQ editor Dylan Jones in The Independent, Reasons To Be Cheerful was written by Paul Gorman (author of style bible The Look and Straight with Boy George) and published by British independent popular culture imprint Adelita (sales and distribution through Turnaround Publisher Services).

Mojo will name Reasons To Be Cheerful Book Of The Year in its January 2010 issue (published November 27) with an exclusive interview with Factory Records designer Peter Saville praising its publication.

A quarter of a century after he took his own life at the age of 41, Reasons To Be Cheerful has transformed Barney Bubbles’ cult status by elevating him into the pantheon of graphic design greats. Among fans of the book are such prominent musicians as Paul Weller, Jah Wobble, Mick Jones, Nick Lowe and Billy Bragg.

Reasons To Be Cheerful is the first and definitive exploration of this important visual artist’s body of work, with more than 600 images including student sketchbooks, private paintings, product, brand, underground and music press and examples of the hundreds of record sleeves, posters, adverts, promotional items and music videos he created for the likes of the Rolling Stones, Hawkwind, Ian Dury, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Squeeze, Depeche Mode, The Specials and Billy Bragg.

Reasons To Be Cheerful has also spawned a spectacular online presence featuring fresh interviews, information and rare and previously unseen images (see http://barneybubbles.com/blog) and has been well received in the UK and US (where it is distributed by D.A.P). Author Paul Gorman will also curate a Barney Bubbles exhibition to be inaugurated at London’s Chelsea Space gallery during Design Week in September 2010.

By coincidence, two days after Mojo appears the All-Day Barney Bubbles Benefit Memorial Concert will be staged at the 229 Club, Great Portland Street, London. Bands featured include various members of the Hawkwind/Hawklords family led by Nik Turner. There’ll also be the return of Turner’s post-Hawks outfit Inner City Unit, for whom Barney created some of his last designs, and the resurrection of the Imperial Pompadours, a one-off rock’n’roll collaboration between Nik and Barney. That’s happening on 29th November and Turner’s website has all the necessary details.

The Elvis Costello poster above comes from a feature about the Get Happy!! album at Paul Gorman’s BB site. I was never a great fan of Costello’s records but the designs Barney created for those early releases were outstanding and represent the peak of his career. (See the Armed Forces sleeve design for a real eye blast.) Paul’s post shows how much work went into creating a range of integrated graphics for the album, singles and promotional material, and he also has some exclusive material which didn’t make it into Reasons To Be Cheerful. The BB book has been a continual treat to look through this year, and the book design I happen to be finishing has not only been inspired by Barney’s example but also manages to make passing reference to him inside. More about that later.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Hawk things
Who is Heeps Willard?
The Sonic Assassins
Reasons To Be Cheerful, part 3: A Barney Bubbles exclusive
More Barney Bubbles
Reasons To Be Cheerful, part 2
Reasons To Be Cheerful: the Barney Bubbles revival
Barney Bubbles: artist and designer

Hawk things

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The Barney Bubbles revival continues with news of Space Ritual 09, a concert dedicated to BB by ex-Hawkwind members at the Roundhouse, London on March 8th. The headline band is a new version of Hawklords, notably sans Dave Brock who controls the Hawkwind name and hasn’t been too happy recently with Nik Turner’s revisionist activities. Quarrels aside it’s good to see them honouring Barney’s memory and the Roundhouse is the place to do it, being the venue where Hawkwind played a very stoned set in 1972 as part of the Greasy Truckers concert.

All of which had me searching in vain for a double-page ad from the NME for Hawkwind’s Urban Guerilla single; you can see the ad in a smaller vertical version on the original Barney Bubbles post. I was hoping to find the full thing and scan it for display here but it seems to have gone astray for the time being. As it was the search turned up these photocopies of some later Bubbles Hawkwind ads created for the band’s UK tour of winter 1973/74. A pair of typically meticulous ink and Letratone renderings and also another example of what you might call Barney’s interactive design since these instruct the reader to glue the masks to card, colour them in then cut them out and wear them to the gig. David Wills has featured some other examples along these lines, including this cut-out doll birthday card. Did anyone ever try wearing these masks? And if so, is there photo evidence?

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Previously on { feuilleton }
The Sonic Assassins
Reasons To Be Cheerful, part 2
Barney Bubbles: artist and designer