Barney Bubbles is a cult figure among other designers but is barely known outside the field. Unlike contemporaries and followers like Peter Saville, Neville Brody, and Vaughan Oliver there has never been a book published or a museum exhibition of his work.
War baby Colin Fulcher was born on 30 July, 1942 in Whitton, Middlesex. A natural aptitude for art led to his enrolling to study for a National Diploma in Design at blues-scene breeding ground Twickenham College of Technology.
There he produced his first piece of commercial art: a poster advertising the Rolling Stones‘ performance at 1963’s college dance. Two years his junior, future Small Faces keyboard player and fellow student Ian McLagan considered guitar-toting Colin Fulcher “one of the coolest people at Twickenham”.
As mod dawned, Fulcher rechristened himself Barney and was talent-spotted by Terence Conran. After a few party-hampered years of office-based slog, Barney witnessed The Pink Floyd at UFO and decided to start his own psychedelic light-show.
It was his enthusiasm for pressing oil between heated glass slides and projecting the oozing globules onto band backdrops that earned him his professional surname of Bubbles.
He was closely associated with hippy rockers Hawkwind before making the transition to a more punk/New Wave aesthetic working for Stiff Records in the late 70s where he produced an amazing body of work marked by a wit and conceptual brilliance that have kept them fresh today.
He designed all Elvis Costello‘s sleeves up to the Imperial Bedroom album and other notable work included The Damned‘s Music For Pleasure and Ian Dury‘s Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick, but his most famous design is probably the brilliant ‘Blockhead’ logo for Dury’s backing band.
Elvis Costello‘s Armed Forces is probably Bubbles’ Sistine Chapel, though, an inspired example of what a great designer can do when given the opportunity to stretch his wings. Costello’s previous album This Years Model was a big hit so Barney was no doubt told to make a splash with the sleeve of the next one.
But above all, it looks like he’s having fun, piling on the visual puns and references in a way that matches the intricate, dense wordplay of Costello’s lyrics.
Barney was publicity shy, never gave interviews and was rather nonchalant about credits (his name doesn’t appear anywhere on the Armed Forces sleeve) reasoning that it was just packaging and there’s no designer credit on a box of soap powder.
A sufferer of bipolar disorder, Barney Bubbles committed suicide in November 1983. He was 41.