Barney Bubbles
The original UK 45rpm single picture sleeve of Ian Dury and the Blockheads "Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick" designed by Barney Bubbles

Colin Fulcher aka Barney Bubbles (30 July 1942 - 14 November 1983) was a radical English graphic artist, whose work primarily encompassed the disciplines of graphic design, painting and music video direction. He is most renowned for his distinctive contribution to the graphic design associated with the British independent music scene during the 1970s and early 1980s. His symbol-laden and riddle-laden record sleeves were his most visible output.

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Early life

Colin Fulcher was born in Tranmere Road, Whitton, Middlesex in July 1942 and attended Isleworth Grammar.

In 1958 he embarked on a retail display course for a National Diploma in Design (NDD) in the art school of Twickenham College of Technology.[1] During his five years at the college Fulcher received a multi-disciplinary education which included training in cardboard design, display and packaging (exploited later in his record sleeve work).

Initial career

After leaving college in 1963, Colin Fulcher started his career as an assistant at design company Michael Tucker + Associates, London,[2] whose clients included Pirelli. In a rare interview,[3] Bubbles described Tucker's discipline as "very Swiss; very hard; unjustified; very grey. He taught me everything about typography". Tucker's studio produced the posters for Hugh Hudson's 1967 Pirelli-sponsored film The Tortoise & The Hare (for which Fulcher designed the poster lettering on a freelance basis).[2]

In May 1965 Fulcher was recruited by The Conran Group as senior graphic designer alongside such designers as Stafford Cliff, Virginia Clive-Smith and John Muggeridge. Here he produced a variety of commercial designs, including the Norman archer logo for Strongbow cider and items for Conran's new homewares chain Habitat. Fulcher also established an association with Conran director Justin de Blank which blossomed when de Blank exited to launch his upmarket provisions company and restaurant business in 1968.

Transitionary period

In 1965-66 Fulcher organised 'happenings' and parties/events under the name A1 Good Guyz with fellow Twickenham art college students David Wills and Roy Burge.

From 1967 he began changing his name to Barney Bubbles and, with friends, operated a light show for bands such as The Gun and Quintessence at underground venues such as The Roundhouse in Chalk Farm, Jim Haynes' Drury Lane Arts Lab, The Electric Cinema and Middle Earth.

With Wills, Bubbles undertook freelance design commissions, including a redesign of Motor Racing magazine and a recipe book for the English Egg Marketing Board. They also created Oz magazine issue 12 The Tax Dodge Special (published May 1968), involving a wider network of friends and associates.

In mid-1968 Bubbles visited the west coast of the United States.

Teenburger Designs

The original UK LP sleeve of Brinsley Schwarz's Brinsley Schwarz (1970) designed by Barney Bubbles

Early in 1969 Bubbles took the lease on the three-storey building 307 Portobello Road in Notting Hill Gate, west London. He converted the ground floor retail space into a design studio christened Teenburger Designs. With a business association established with entrepreneurs Edward Molton and Stephen Warwick, and with John Muggeridge from Conran as a short-lived assistant, he set about working primarily for the music industry. Bubbles' first record sleeve design was Quintessence's 1969 LP In Blissful Company. The gatefold sleeve design uses illustrations by 'Gopala' on the front and back, and contains a monochrome glued-in booklet inside.

Teenburger also provided record sleeve designs for the bands Brinsley Schwarz and Red Dirt, as well as Vertigo label artists Cressida, Gracious! and Dr Z (whose Three Parts To My Soul LP is particularly noted for its complex and colourful fold-out sleeve).

Between 1970 and 1972 Bubbles also worked as the designer of underground newspaper Friends (later re-named Frendz).[4]

During this period he gained a reputation for his drug consumption,[5] particularly LSD, which informed his work.[6]

Hawkwind (and other 1970s rock)

The original UK LP sleeve of Hawkwind's X in Search of Space designed by Barney Bubbles

On the collapse of Teenburger (as a result of Moulton and Warwick's disappearance) Bubbles formed one of the richest associations of his career with Hawkwind.

Responsible for their album sleeves (including X in Search of Space, Doremi Fasol Latido and Space Ritual), Bubbles engaged in every aspect of realising the group's visual identity: titling releases and designing posters, adverts, stage decoration and performance plans, all of which were adorned with mystical and mock-Teutonic insignia.

In 1972 Bubbles also produced the triple LP package Glastonbury Fayre comprising a six-panel fold-out sleeve, two poster inserts, booklet and a cut-out and build miniature pyramid, housed in a clear vinyl bag (with two sleeve variations and three label variations).

During this period (1972–1975), Bubbles designed album sleeves and additional material for such acts as The Sutherland Brothers, Kevin Coyne, Edgar Broughton Band, Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers, Quiver, the Kursaal Flyers and Michael Moorcock and the Deep Fix.

In 1976, Bubbles' design relationship with Hawkwind came to an end, rekindled briefly in 1978 for Hawklords, and continued via his friendship with Hawkwind's saxophonist player Nik Turner.

From 1976, Bubbles avoided crediting himself on artwork, working either anonymously or using additional pseudonyms.

Stiff, Radar and F Beat (and other punk and New Wave)

The original UK LP sleeve of Carlene Carter's C'est C Bon designed by Barney Bubbles

Barney Bubbles joined Stiff Records as designer and art director early in 1977.

With the label's co-founder Jake Riviera, Bubbles generated a body of creative work which helped secure Stiff's reputation as an exciting new independent label. Bubbles created sleeves for bands including The Damned, Elvis Costello, Ian Dury and Wreckless Eric. Often these were accompanied by quirky logos (such as the Blockhead 'face' which may have been based on the 1940s Left Book Club ideogram), adverts and promotional items.

For example, the marketing of Elvis Costello's My Aim Is True included adverts in three UK music papers from which a poster of Costello could be constructed, and the first 1000 pressings contained a Help Us Hype Elvis insert which if completed and returned to Stiff ensured a friend would received a free copy (something which generated attention not only from the public, but also from the music press itself).

When Riviera left Stiff in late 1977, Bubbles joined him at new label Radar Records and later at Riviera's F-Beat Records. Bubbles created designs for artists such as Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Carlene Carter and Clive Langer & The Boxes.

Meantime, Bubbles also maintained his freelance output, not only continuing to produce designs for Stiff, but also for Peter Jenner (Ian Dury and Billy Bragg's manager), and others, creating a prodigious output by working for such bands, musicians and performers as Vivian Stanshall, Generation X, Big Star, Johnny Moped, Whirlwind, Billy Bragg, Clover, The Sinceros, Roger Chapman, Phillip Goodhand-Tait, Dr. Feelgood, Inner City Unit and The Psychedelic Furs. As a result, Bubbles' work appeared on releases by labels such as Aura, Chiswick, Utility, Go! Discs, Epic, Charisma, CBS, Line Records, United Artists and Riddle Records.

Bubbles' signature style emerged as one that was colourful, playful, loaded with geometry, shape, art-history and music-history reference, jokes, cryptograms and symbolism. The over-riding appetite was for going against the grain of accepted design standards. His work is simultaneously complex (loaded with meaning) and simple and direct (in its delivery).

Examples include:

  • Elvis Costello - This Year's Model; which was designed to have a deliberate mis-cropping so the entire design was off-register.
  • The Damned - Damned Damned Damned; a limited number of which were deliberately printed with a photo of Eddie and the Hot Rods on the back of the album cover, rather than The Damned playing at The Roxy Club. An 'erratum' sticker was put on the back cover apologizing for this 'mistake', and on the front of the LP - on top of the original shrinkwrap - was a red 'food-fight' sticker that says 'Damned Damned', thus completing the LP title when read underneath the band's name.
  • Elvis Costello - Armed Forces; with an extended back panel consisting of folding flaps, this included postcards which carried the instruction DON'T JOIN (advice against joining the armed forces, and simultaneously a message that these postcards had been die-cut away from the rest of the sleeve).
  • Ian Dury and the Blockheads - Do It Yourself; which was released in 28 sleeve variations, all of which were wallpaper designs supplied by manufacturer Crown.

Music promo videos

As a video director, Barney Bubbles directed several videos. These included The Specials' "Ghost Town", Squeeze's "Is That Love" and "Tempted", Elvis Costello's "Clubland" and "New Lace Sleeves" and Fun Boy Three's "The Lunatics (Have Taken Over the Asylum)". Two promos for punk act Johnny Moped - "Incendiary Device" and "Darling Let's Have Another Baby" - were never commercially released to broadcasters.

Other work

In 1978 Barney Bubbles was responsible for the redesign of weekly music paper the NME, including a new logo design (which is no longer in use).[7]

In 1979, Derek Boshier curated an exhibition entitled Lives at the Hayward Gallery, London. He commissioned Bubbles to design the catalogue and poster. Together with photographer Chris Gabrin, Bubbles also exhibited a video and mixed-media installation in the exhibition.

In the early 1980s Bubbles created furniture designs, some of which were featured in The Face, November 1981.

In 1982 Bubbles conceived the album Ersatz. Working primarily with Nik Turner and other musicians from Inner City Unit, the LP was released under the name of The Imperial Pompadours.

Bubbles had always painted privately, increasingly so in the early 1980s.

Death

Barney Bubbles committed suicide in London on 14 November 1983. At this period in time he had considerable personal and financial worries. His sleeves were being rejected by musicians such as Elvis Costello, and record companies, and he was being chased by Inland Revenue for unpaid taxes dating back many years.[8] He suffered from bipolar disorder,[9][10] and experienced increasingly frequent bouts of depression and erratic behaviour, for example, close friends have recounted him lacerating his face with razorblades and making threats to kill.[6] He committed suicide on his late parents' wedding anniversary.[8]

Influence and legacy

The first exhibition dedicated to examining Barney Bubbles' work was held at Artomatic, London in 2001,[8] curated by the art-design team Rebecca And Mike.[11]

A biography Reasons to be Cheerful: The Life & Work Of Barney Bubbles by Paul Gorman was published in 2008. A revised second edition was published in 2010. Gorman also curated the exhibition Process: The working practices of Barney Bubbles staged at London gallery Chelsea Space in 2010.[12]

Bubbles' work features in general and group exhibitions. In 1998 examples were included in the exhibition Destroy: Punk Graphic Design in Britain at London's Southbank Centre. In 2004 his work was included in Communicate: British Independent Graphic Design since the Sixties at London's Barbican Centre.[13] In late 2011 his work is included in Postmodernism: Style & Subversion 1970-1990 at London's Victoria and Albert Museum.[14]

In 2012, BBC Radio 4 is to broadcast a documentary about Bubbles made by British writer Mark Hodkinson.[15][16].

References

  1. ^ Reasons To Be Cheerful: The Life & Work Of Barney Bubbles, Paul Gorman (Adelita 2008) ISBN 978-0955201738
  2. ^ a b Reasons To Be Cheerful: The Life & Work Of Barney Bubbles, 2nd edition, Paul Gorman (Adelita 2010) ISBN 978-0955201745
  3. ^ The Face: November 1981
  4. ^ Days in the Life: Voices from the English Underground, 1961-1971, Jonathon Green (Pimlico 1998) ISBN 978-0712666657
  5. ^ Eye, June 1992
  6. ^ a b Mojo: Greatest Album Covers, 2006
  7. ^ "NME The Inside Story". Archived from the original on 13 May 2008. http://web.archive.org/web/20080513215310/http://www.vinmag.com/online/gbu0-display/nme.html. Retrieved 16 November 2007. 
  8. ^ a b c No Sleep Till Canvey Island: The Great Pub Rock Revolution, Will Birch (Virgin Books 2000, 2003) ISBN 0-7535-0740-4
  9. ^ Carol Clerk. Saga of Hawkwind, p.94. Omnibus Press, 2004, ISBN 1844491013.
  10. ^ Ian Abrahams. Hawkwind: Sonic Assassins, p. 150. SAF Publishing Ltd, 2004, ISBN 0946719691
  11. ^ http://showstudio.com/contributors/333
  12. ^ Rawsthorn, Alice (12 September 2010). "A Global Celebration of Design". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/13/arts/13iht-design13.html. 
  13. ^ http://www.barbican.org.uk/artgallery/event-detail.asp?ID=3729
  14. ^ http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/exhibitions/postmodernism/postmodernism-about-the-exhibition//
  15. ^ http://davidwills.wordpress.com/tag/mark-hodkinson/
  16. ^ http://www.markhodkinson.com/index.htm

External links


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