“I dunno if he’d taken any drugs or not, but when Barney first saw Hawkwind he said everything turned into flames,” Hawkwind’s Nik Turner once recalled. But then Barney Bubbles was no ordinary designer.
Born Colin Fulcher, he began his working life at the Conran Group, before heading to San Francisco in 1967’s Summer of Love, where he started on psychedelic light shows. On his return to London, Bubbles bunkered down in London’s hippie enclave Ladbroke Grove and began illustrating spreads for counter-cultural magazines Oz and Frendz. By 1971 he had become an extended part of the Hawkwind circus.
The sleeve design for Hawkwind’s Space Ritual album, released in May 1973, was as ambitious as the musical concept behind it. Apparently based on the Pythagorean concept of sound, in which the entire universe is one cosmic monochord, it was a live double album housed in an elaborate foldout sleeve.
The inner six panels, all in black and white, featured such starry delights as a suspended space-foetus, and planets in the form of female nipples; the outer six panels were rendered in full-colour pomp.
Bubbles’s idea for the front sleeve drew from such far-flung influences as Czech nouveau artist Alphonse Mucha, Britain’s own op-art mistress Bridget Riley, Balinese art, ancient Egyptology and the cinematic visions of Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey. The whole thing was later described by Nik Turner as “sort of psychedelic space-science”.
The central motif of the front sleeve itself was the statuesque Stacia Blake, Hawkwind’s naked on-stage dancer. Bubbles’s design had her flanked by the Hounds of King, laid over shots of the band’s intergalactic stage show. Indeed the album’s alternative title was Miss Stacia. An integral part of the live experience, Stacia’s moves were an extension of Hawkwind’s own free-form expressionism as much as titillating exotica.
Bubbles went on to further renown by becoming in-house designer at Stiff Records, then Radar and F-Beat, producing iconic covers for Ian Dury, The Damned, Elvis Costello and others. Sadly he committed suicide in 1983.
Space Ritual was the culmination of his creative partnership with Hawkwind. The album, admitted singer/guitarist Dave Brock, was "the one which everybody owned in those days. It was the gatefold sleeve, I think – it was a good rolling mat."