Motorway cities

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The process of updating the main website meant I had to check (and double-check, etc) every single page, so I’ve been looking at more of my old artwork than usual. This 7-inch single sleeve from 1983 made me belatedly realise that the wheel-less levitating car I put on the back of Joe Banks’ Hawkwind book has an ancestor here and on the cover of the third Friends and Relations compilation that Flicknife released in 1985. The continuity was accidental but Motorway City (the song) dates from the end of the period discussed in Joe’s book so it’s good to think that a vague reference to the Levitation era can be found on the cover art.

This odd drawing dates from 1980, a year when my life was in such turmoil I’m amazed I had time to do any drawing at all. I was 18 and had already burned my way through three dead-end jobs after leaving school the year before, by which point I was agreeing with Dave Brock’s Brainstorm ad lib on the Live Seventy Nine album, “I don’t want to be employed!” This attitude led to increasing rows with my mother which in turn led me to spend more time than usual in Blackpool library. Part of the inking on the drawing was done during one of these stress-free afternoons in the library reading room. I’d guess this was shortly after I’d met the group for the first time at their Preston concert on 20th October since most of the drawings I took with me were generic space art rather than pieces derived from Hawkwind songs. They’d played Motorway City that evening (the second song according to Setlist.fm) so I’m sure I would have made a point of showing it off. I say this is an odd drawing because I’ve no idea why I made it look so obviously like a single sleeve, but it’s possible that a single release of the song from the new Levitation album had been rumoured. Whatever the explanation, this was one of the first drawings I made using my new Rotring Rapidograph pen which I used throughout the ensuing decade; one advantage of the dead-end jobs was they at least gave you enough money to afford expensive German technology. A year later, looking through a friend’s copy of Centigrade 232 by Robert Calvert, I was amused to discover a poetic complaint about the tendency of fine-nibbed Rapidograph pens to become blocked with ink. You have to treat them with care and respect, Bob.

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The car on the Friends & Relations cover wasn’t intended to be a reference to the earlier vehicle but removing the wheels was the easiest way of indicating a futuristic scene without any other overt signifiers. A shame, then, that the TV in the foreground is a cathode-ray tube in a wooden case. (And while I’m being critical, the careless use of perspective makes the car much too long.) Both these vehicles look rather graceless, as did cars in general in the late 1970s/early 1980s when there was a trend for boxy design. I’m usually indifferent to the automotive world but I could at least have borrowed some of the carapace sleekness you see in paintings by Syd Mead or Peter Jones.

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The Friends & Relations album was reissued on CD in 2014 in one of the Atomhenge CD box sets: The Flicknife Years, 1981–1988. The set includes two other albums with covers of mine: Zones and Out And Intake. Zones was a compilation of recent live recordings and a few studio outtakes that includes the version of Motorway City released as a single, together with a Michael Moorcock song that’s unique to this album (and sung by the man himself), Running Through The Back Brain.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Reality you can rely on
Hardy art
Silver machines
Notes from the Underground
Hawkwind: Days of the Underground
The artists of Future Life
Science Fiction Monthly
The Chronicle of the Cursed Sleeve
Rock shirts
The Cosmic Grill
Void City
Hawk things
The Sonic Assassins
New things for July
Barney Bubbles: artist and designer

Hardy art

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Hawkwind continue to be the overwhelming topic of the moment while I’m reading Joe Banks’ marvellously detailed account of the group’s first decade. One of the many attractions of Hawkwind for this listener was their intersection with other areas of interest: Moorcock and New Worlds, obviously (two of Robert Calvert’s poems appeared in New Worlds Quarterly), but also SF and fantasy in general. The alien planet on the back cover of the Hall of the Mountain Grill album was immediately recognisable as the work of British space artist David A. Hardy thanks to a feature in Visions of the Future (1976) a collection of artwork reprints from the art and fiction magazine Science Fiction Monthly. Hardy had a long association with astronomer Patrick Moore, illustrating the covers of Moore’s novels and later collaborating on a speculative science book, Challenge of the Stars (1972). A few of the latter paintings were reprinted in Visions of the Future, including one with the title Alien Life Forms that depicted amoeboid creatures on a remote planet. The painting would have become the back cover of the Hawkwind album if Hardy hadn’t insisted on creating a new work in a more suitable ratio.

Hardy’s association with Hawkwind extended to their stage shows, with a series of circular paintings used by “Liquid Len” (Jonathan Smeeton) on a rotating projector that covered the band in moving panoramas of ancient monuments, dinosaurs, alien landscapes and exploding worlds. Two of the paintings appear as the endpapers in Joe’s book; the dinosaurs and the monuments may be seen here. Joe’s account also resolved another nagging micro-mystery by confirming that the stage projections used while the group played the instrumental Wind Of Change were also Hardy paintings, not an animated film as I’d been led to believe by a friend who saw one of the shows where the number was performed. The slides apparently showed an isolated tree around which a city grows then self-destructs, although I’ve yet to see a reproduction of any of the paintings.

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Cover design by Bryan Cholfin.

My own Hawkwind covers make very poor comparisons to Hardy’s meticulous renderings but we do have a further connection via The Very Best of Fantasy and Science Fiction, a collection of stories from the long-running magazine edited by Gordon Van Gelder. I designed the book’s interiors and Hardy contributed the cover art. Hardy painted many covers for F&SF throughout the 1970s and 80s, this shining rocket being a reworking of a cover he produced for the magazine’s 60th anniversary issue. The archetypal spacecraft of classic science fiction, and almost a definitive example. You might even call it a silver machine…

Previously on { feuilleton }
Silver machines
Notes from the Underground
Hawkwind: Days of the Underground
The artists of Future Life
Science Fiction Monthly
The Chronicle of the Cursed Sleeve
Rock shirts
The Cosmic Grill
Void City
Hawk things
The Sonic Assassins
New things for July
Barney Bubbles: artist and designer

Silver Machines

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1: How to Construct a Time Machine, 1899

III: Description of the Machine

The Machine consists of an ebony frame, similar to the steel frame of a bicycle. The ebony members are assembled with soldered copper mountings.

The gyrostats’ three tori (or flywheels), in the three perpendicular planes of Euclidean space, are made of ebony cased in copper, mounted on rods of tightly rolled quartz ribbons (quartz ribbons are made in the same way as quartz wire), and set in quartz sockets.

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Alfred Jarry testing a time machine, 1898

The circular frames or the semicircular forks of the gyro stats are made of nickel. Under the seat and a little forward are located the batteries for the electric motor. There is no iron in the Machine other than the soft iron of the electromagnets.

Motion is transmitted to the three flywheels by ratchet-boxes and chain-drives of quartz wire, engaged in three cogwheels, each of which lies on the same plane as its corresponding fly wheel. The chain-drives are connected to the motor and to each other through bevel gears and driveshafts. A triple brake controls all three shafts simultaneously…

Alfred Jarry

2: Dead Singers (aka All the Dead Singers), 1971

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“That’s all in the past now.” Beesley waddled to the other the side of the tiled room and wheeled the black Royal Albert gent’s roadster across the clean floor. He paused to flip a switch on the wall. Belly Button Window flooded through the sound system. They were turning his own rituals against him. Now the devil had all the songs.

“All aboard, Mr C.” Reluctantly, Jerry mounted the bike. He was getting a bit too old for this sort of thing.

[…]

In London he slowed down, but by that time he’d blown it completely. Still, he’d got what Beesley wanted. Nothing stayed the same. Tiny snatches of music came from all sides, trying to take hold. Marie Lloyd. Harry Champion, George Formby, Noël Coward, Cole Porter, Billie Holliday, MJQ, Buddy Holly, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Hawkwind. He hung on to Hawkwind, turning the car back and forth to try to home in, but then it was Gertrude Lawrence and then it was Tom Jones and then it was Cliff Richard and he knew he was absolutely lost. Buildings rose and fell like waves. Horses, trams and buses faded through each other. People grew and decayed. There were too many ghosts in the future. In Piccadilly Circus he brought the Mercedes to a bumping stop at the base of the Eros statue and, grabbing the Royal Albert, threw himself clear. He was screaming for help. They’d been fools to fuck about with Time again. Yet they’d known what they were getting him into.

Michael Moorcock, Ink Magazine

3: Silver Machine, 1972

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Cover design by Tony Vesely with Pennie Smith (not the work of Barney Bubbles as stated elsewhere).

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A dead singer.

Continue reading “Silver Machines”

The Cosmic Grill

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Design and illustration by Barney Bubbles.

The past week’s music listening has alternated between the back catalogue of Seattle band, Earth (who I recommend highly), and the early recordings of my erstwhile employers, Hawkwind. The latter were reissued recently in a 10-CD box, This Is Your Captain Speaking…Your Captain Is Dead (The Albums And Singles 1970–1974) which I also recommend, it’s very good value, and packages the albums in those facsimile card sleeves that now seem de rigueur for album reissues. A swathe of my rare Hawkwind vinyl got sold off circa 1990, and I’ve never replaced any of the albums or singles so this was a good opportunity to catch up. If you like this period of the band there’s the added bonus of the complete Greasy Truckers concert from the Roundhouse in 1972, a ramshackle performance that nonetheless sounds pristine (my Greasy Truckers vinyl—which I do still own—was ruined by a previous owner with a spillage of tea on the Hawkwind side); there’s also the entirety of the 1999 Party concert from Chicago which I’d not heard before.

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Listening again to Hall Of The Mountain Grill (1974) had me thinking about the origin of the album’s title. Hawkwind never took themselves as seriously as many of their contemporaries, but naming an album of ostensible space rock after a very mundane café in the Portobello Road was one of their more eccentric moments. The humour is compounded by Barney Bubbles’ cover design which for the title uses the kind of italic script (Bickham?) that you see on menus; on the inner sleeve there’s a photo of the fabled restaurant flanked by a pair of Barney’s futuristic towers. The verse beneath the photo (“from the Legend of Beenzon Toste”) refers to nearby Ladbroke Grove, and, of course, to Notting Hill Gate which in 1974 was still a haven for counterculture freaks, the antithesis of that film. The verse was probably the work of Robert Calvert who explained the attraction of the restaurant in Pete Frame’s Hawkwind family tree:

The Mountain Grill was a working man’s café in Portobello Road—frequented by all the dross and dregs of humanity. Dave Brock always used to go and eat there—which is how I first met him…because I used to eat there too, when I worked on Frendz magazine. It was a kind of Left Bank café/meeting place for Notting Hill longhairs—a true artists’ hangout…but it never became chic, even though Marc Bolan, David Bowie and people like that often went there to eat lunch.

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Photos on Flickr show how the place looked in 1977 when the sign from the album sleeve was still intact, and also in 2003 shortly before the restaurant closed down. The premises are a very different kind of eaterie today, remodelled and upmarket as befits a gentrified area.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Void City
Hawk things
The Sonic Assassins
New things for July
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