Sleeve Artists: Barney Bubbles

By swagski
updated over 10 years ago

(Please scroll down to the Sleeve Image History if you wish to skip this intro & the artist profile).

Whilst this Discogs site is dedicated to the art of music, I believe the importance of the art of graphic imagery in music should not be overlooked. In many instances the sleeve art of a recording reflects the nature and attitude of society prevalent at the time of its release. It also needs to capture the essence of the artist upon the release, arranging its shapes and orchestrating its colours to reach the eyes in silent communication. Once upon a time, the possession and tactile joy of a vinyl album sleeve was like having a child's security blanket. It's content proof that other people out there understood the crazy stuff that you were listening to. Often, the art content would distill and become a recognisable icon for the future of the performer. A leitmotif that would go beyond the days when a band simply wrote their name on the drum kit.

My intention is to create a series of lists, prefixed "Sleeve Artists:". These lists will, initially, be confined to early/seminal graphic artists creating 'hand-worked' art, rather than later photographers or computer/CGI illustrators. I shall attempt to provide a broad Profile on each artist, adding to it as I uncover their album histories. Albums will be added to the Image List chronologically as I come across them, together with any relative info in the text area. I shall also maintain a set of links to other sleeve artist's work in Discogs (found as a footnote, below the Profile).

This is certainly not intended as a definitive guide to the artist or their works. It's simply an aid to their enjoyment & governed by the Database. Any info you have, or pointers to missing items, or complaints etc., is welcome.

The Sleeve Art of Colin Fulcher, aka 'Barney Bubbles'
Born: 30th July 1942, Whitton, Middlesex, England.
Died: 14 November 1983, London, England

After leaving Isleworth Grammar School, Fulcher began a National Diploma Design course in display at Twickenham College of Art in 1958. It was here that the seeds of his future versatility were sown as, unlike a graphic tuition course, he was able to explore all manner of media including aspects of film and musical display. After leaving college he spent two years in a typographical environment before joining the Conran Group as a graphic designer in 1965, aged 23.

It was a natural progression for Fulcher to be caught up in London's burgeoning underground scene as the counter-culture 60's grabbed the imagination of the young. He moonlighted on projects and became a figure at events in venues such as The Roundhouse, Middle Earth, The Electric Cinema & The Arts Lab. His work on light-shows, which were then crude affairs employing colored liquid bubbles trapped between glass plates that were rhythmically manipulated in a light beam, was probably the source of his most common nickname 'Barney Bubbles'. It was certainly a name he had adopted by 1967 and formally used when his work with fellow artist friends appeared in an early issue (No 12) of "OZ" magazine in 1968. This is a glorious supplement of unfettered 'communal' art by Barney & Co that obviously got the nod from Martin Sharp.

By the summer of 1968 Fulcher, having rubbed shoulders with the gregarious folk of OZ, took a sabbatical to America's West-Coast. There his light-show experience found him operating events at the renowned Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco, which was run by Chet Helms. Helms also happened to manage The Family Dog which had artist & 'Dog-founder' Alton Kelly and Grateful Dead's cover artist Stanley Mouse working on posters for the shows. It was here that Fulcher was doubtless inspired by the duo's work and the hybrid psychedelic art for the Filmore events.

In the spring of 1969 Fulcher was back in the UK, setting up Teenburger Designs at Portobello Road, London. He completed a number creative projects and album designs under this flag. Fulcher also worked on the local "Friends" publication at this time, a rebellious offshoot of the UK's "Rolling Stone", which was later retitled "Friendz". It was in this environment that Fulcher struck up a strong relationship with Hawkwind and where his future as a renowned sleeve artist really began, as is evidenced in the listing.

Other items of musical note, not in Discogs, include the Fulcher re-design of New Musical Express in 1978. His red slab text "NME" became a recognizable icon well into the late 80's. Indeed, it was so sacrosanct that it was merely 'tampered with' by successive designers in the publication's development. His directorial skills were also evident in his videos "Ghost Town" for The Specials and "Clubland" for Elvis Costello, to name but some of the many projects he was involved in.

Fulcher was reputedly a character with a depressive nature. He would often take himself off from his work or circle of friends and was once found stacking shelves in a supermarket. In retrospect, he probably suffered from bipolar disorder. In November 1983 it appears he reached a crisis point in his life and sadly, like some of the artists who had inspired him, he took his own life.

Other Sleeve Artists:
Sleeve Artists: Barney Bubbles (The work of Colin Fulcher).
Sleeve Artists: Gary Panter (Under construction)
Sleeve Artists: Martin Sharp ('Oz' & Whitaker) Including Robert Whitaker
& other sleeve artists relating to Sharp's 'Oz' magazine
Sleeve Artists: Cal Schenkel (Under construction, but operating)
Sleeve Artists: Ed Thrasher (Under construction, but operating)
Sleeve Artists: Of West Coast Bands 1967-1970 (Under construction)

  1. 1969
    A Fulcher design as 'Teenburger Design'.
    A gatefold containing a multi-page die-cut book with geometrical arrangements
    typical of the forms that would appear in later works.

  2. 1970
    Awaiting image

  3. 24 For Sale from $120.47

    A Fulcher work under the 'Teenburger Design' identity.
    A cubist-inspired illustration too, inside this gatefold sleeve.

  4. 1970
    Eponymous Red Dirt 1st release.
    (A blues album with an American Indian image by Fulcher on cover, as a 'Teenburger Design')
    There are perhaps echoes here of Family Dog poster imagery, which used the head of an American Indian as an underlying 'political' message.

  5. April 1970
    Eponymous 1st album, designed by Fulcher as a 'Teenburger design'.

  6. 1971
    One of Fulcher's early designs for a vinyl LP sleeve with heart-shaped cutaway on fold-outs.
    Rather like a stand-up triptych, it shows his background as a display artist.

  7. 1971
    An innovative vinyl sleeve with an interlocking die-cut frontispiece.
    This opens out into the shape of a hawk and reveals the inserted Hawkwind logbook, also
    a Fulcher design of the Hawkwind craft's transcendental journey through the fabric of space.

    This splendid packaging certainly helped to raise public perception of the group,
    from guys who gigged under a flyover, to a hardcore spaced-out rock group
    who may well have had cerebral connections to those in a multi-fold dimension.

  8. 1972
    Printed silver on black vinyl sleeve, including a free poster in 1st issues.

    The poster has a 6-pointed star motif with heads of the band.
    Known as the "Star Rats" poster.

  9. 28 For Sale from $49.99

    Bubbles really went to town on this triple vinyl release.

    The 3 vinyl records come in a sleeve that folds out to a 3'x2' poster with 4 inserts;
    A 32-page illustrated booklet, a fold-out & cut-out silver pyramid, a fold-out &
    cut-out geodesic dome and a fold-out track listing.

    (Apparently, there were also two sleeve variations and three label variations too)

    The package comes in a specially-produced clear plastic bag.

  10. 48 For Sale from $0.99

    Barney Bubbles & Wayne Bardell share the sleeve credits on this release.
    Fulcher's distinctive typography is superimposed over a Bernard Gribble painting.

    (Band members would later work with Elvis Costello & Pink Floyd)

  11. 19 For Sale from $59.00

    The German release of this has a different cover.
    It is highly likely that this UK issue is a Fulcher design, gold print on white.
    (However, the artwork text credit is unchanged. Fulcher was a generous & unselfish artist).

  12. 1973
    The band's resident dancer 'Stacia' is given the Alphonse Mucha treatment, surrounded
    by Hawkwind's 'space rock' symbolism rendered in art-nouveau style.

    The sleeve is actually a grand affair that opens as a 6-panel 'poster'. Images from this
    were echoed in the band's tour programme.

  13. 1974
    This sleeve is almost like the cover of a sci-fi novel and a lot more 'clinical' in its rendering.
    It shows Bubbles' movement toward a minimalist style with shapes that have similarities
    to the forms found in Kandinsky's work, for example.

    (The 'Mountain Grill' was a popular cafe in London's Notting Hill, frequented by the band
    and other members of the music scene, being close to the Friends office, Portobello Road
    & Island Records' HQ)

  14. 23 For Sale from $22.05

    Moorcock has commented on this artwork, that Bubbles actually constructed the
    frontage of a fairground booth, painted it accordingly and then photographed it.

  15. 1975
    This cover folds out to reveal a shaped shield/mask image.
    The pink moon being one of two eye sockets.

  16. 8 For Sale from $12.05

    Awaiting a 1st issue image (also see year 1980)

  17. 1976
    Bubbles assembled his art on this using a cover painting by friend Tony Hyde.
    Hugo Gernsback pulp sci-fi magazines "Amazing Stories" (1926) and "Astounding Stories
    of Super-Science" (1930) could well have steered the design of this sleeve.

    The credit layout however is a modernist art-deco design, but steeped in mock communist propaganda
    imagery and with more than a hint of Facist overtones with its Germanic eagle. Perhaps influenced by
    the regime that was being experienced by the band members at that time?
    Mock old-fashioned classified ad snippets are included, using band member's names.

    Hipnosis designed Hawkwind's next album with the new line-up.
    This was the year Bubbles disappeared to Ireland, resurfacing later at the door of Stiff with a new vitality.

  18. 33 For Sale from $3.61

    Beautifully executed 'wired' circuitry lettering and cutaway graphics.

  19. 11 For Sale from $5.10

    Variation on original cover art

  20. 1977
    It's only brush lettering- but it's good brush lettering.

  21. 1977
    Barney Bubbles was the man behind the "Blockheads" logo, maintained throughout the band's existence.

    (This extract from "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll: The Life Of Ian Dury* illustrates the man well):
    "The whole artistic vibe of the place [Stiff] was from this mad designer in the basement" explained Ian.
    "I 'phoned him up and said 'I want a Blockheads logo and it's got to be black & white & square' and
    somebody in the office went, 'Wow' and he [Bubbles] said 'I've done it'. He did it while I was talking to him".

    "We had these watches...when it was 3 O'clock it said 'Blockhead'. It was all part & parcel of his incredible
    off-the-wall fun".

    *By Richard Balls, Omnibus Press, ISBN 0-7119-8644-4
    An excellent work with proceeds to Cancer BACUP

  22. 1977
    Fulcher makes full use of his display & marketing skills on this release.

    Letters in the black squares spell out "Elvis Is King"
    There was a 'Help Us Hype Elvis' insert in the first 1000 copies of this album's first pressing.
    The 1st issues also had a black & white photo with a yellow (or other colour) back panel.
    Later issues had a green tint photo & a green back.
    A collectible 6-part poster could also be acquired through three UK music papers.
    (Costello's single did not appear on this 1st release)

  23. 1977
    One of Fulcher's skills was the ability to deliver the unexpected. To deliver a visual that had you
    getting off your bike and cycling back to see what you missed

    This sleeve is rendered in a style similar to that of Juan Miro or Wassily Kandinsky. An interesting
    approach in elevating a 'punk' band with 'glam-punk' styling. His abstracted lettering style was
    quite an advance and began a trend on Stiff sleeves. The photo-montage effects on the back are
    a stark contrast. He even stuck incorrect band members on some sleeves. The vinyl wallet has a
    distinctive background in yet another style.

  24. 1977
    Fulcher's typographic skills are beautifully represented on this sleeve,
    as are his anarchic traits on the flipside.

  25. 1977
    Maybe unreadable, but certainly recognizable. Lettering made up by Bubbles to look like a
    sine-wave on a radar screen.

    (The label was founded by Jake Riviera, featuring artists such as Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe).