1980s Culture / Barney Bubbles / The Blockheads

Barney Bubbles remembered 30 years on

By Miranda Diboll

As I write I’m listening to Ian Dury and The Blockheads ‘Do It Yourself’ album. I glance over to the wall and there, framed, hangs the inner sleeve. Framed, yes. The design on the inner sleeve intrigues me. A flying yellow creature impaled by a head on a post. Is that an open window and another head? If you’re like me, you just have to find out who designed that. Was it Ian Dury himself, a bit of visual artist? No, its  Barney Bubbles.

Do it yourself

Anyone with a large vinyl collection might well have a Bubbles sitting in their collection. Do you own a copy of Hawkwind’s X In Search of Space? Or maybe Elvis Costello’s This Year’s Model?

Born Colin Fulcher in 1942 in Whitton, he headed off to art school in age 16 before starting a career in retail design in 1963. He ended up working for the Conran Group in the mid 60s. It was his popular parties and light shows that earned him the name Barney Bubbles, mixing oil and water on slides to create a bubble effect. By the late 60s Bubbles was designing album sleeves for Hawkwind. Their 1972 Glastonbury Fayre album was more than an album, it was a make your own pyramid.

Around this time his modesty started to kick in, he remained anonymous on many album credits or took on a pseudonym. That’s why many won’t have a clue who designed all those Stiff covers he was commissioned to design in the late 70s and early 80s. His psychedelic fractals giving way to geometrical patterns, free love culture giving way to 80s futurism.

And then there were the videos. Ghost Town by The Specials: that was Bubbles in the directors chair.

Never one for self promotion, he wasn’t particularly interested in amassing an fortune either, it was as if money was secondary to his passion for design. He didn’t employ an accountant and in 1983 he was being chased by the Inland Revenue. He was getting his work rejected and on top of it all he was battling with bipolar disorder.

30 years ago today Barney Bubbles committed suicide. Life had become unbearable so he gassed himself by trapping the fumes in a plastic bag placed over his head. His name is often mentioned in design circles or by fans of New Wave music  like myself. Outside of these groups he is hardly known.

There is, however a book celebrating his work. I was pleased to find it on the shelves of our local Waterstones. Maybe posthumously he is a little less unknown than he hoped he would be.

Colin Fulcher AKA Barney Bubbles; 30 July 1942 – 14 November 1983

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