Sloan’s Jay Ferguson Believes In: Barney Bubbles

The 10th record (not including two EPs, a live album and a “greatest hits” collection) from stalwart Toronto band Sloan, The Double Cross (just released on Yep Roc) also serves to commemorate the quartet’s 20th anniversary as a versatile guitar-pop collective. Guitarists Patrick Pentland and Jay Ferguson, bassist Chris Murphy and drummer Andrew Scott—all four write and sing their own tunes and often switch instruments onstage—have successfully forged a productive two-decade career full of preternaturally catchy songs and beyond-entertaining live shows. Thankfully, they don’t appear to be slowing down; The Double Cross continues the group’s winning streak, particularly the seamless opening 1-2-3 of Murphy’s “Follow The Leader,” Ferguson’s “The Answer Was You” and Pentland’s “Unkind.” (Check out the band’s YouTube channel for a track-by-track discussion of the LP.) In their typically all-for-one, one-for-all fashion, the members of Sloan are guest-editing this week. Read our brand new Q&A with Pentland.

Ferguson: Over the past couple of years, it’s been heartening to see the resurgence in interest of work by late graphic designer Colin Fulcher, better known as Barney Bubbles. A couple of years back, the release of the book Reasons To Be Cheerful: The Life And Work Of Barney Bubbles by Paul Gorman shed light on his work to a generation of fans who didn’t grow up with his (mostly) uncredited designs on record jackets/ads/posters/branding for artists such as Hawkwind, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, the Damned, the Psychedelic Furs and others on Stiff Records and Radar Records in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

I was a big fan of many of these artists while growing up in Halifax and, unbeknownst to me, wound up with a Barney Bubbles gallery on my record shelf. As a kid, I liked and recognized a similarity between a number of these LP and seven-inch covers but didn’t put it together that they were almost all by the same guy. Interestingly, the unity of his work came across even without his name attached, which would seem like the mark of a focused style and vision. The combination of influences of fine art, pop art, 20th-century design and commercial fun really made for unique creations. One of the first Costello records I ever bought was the U.K. edition of 1979’s Armed Forces, with the quadruple die-cut fold-out sleeve, cryptic references, postcards and extra 45 that looked like someone directed Barney to combine every thought he’s ever had, put it to paper and spare no expense. I’ve never seen anything like it since. The ingenious, printed-inside-out record jacket he designed for Elvis’ “Accidents Will Happen” seven-inch was an appropriate-yet-financially bold gimmick/work of art. It still went top 30. One of the more resilient logos he created was for the British group Ian Dury And The Blockheads. Dury recounted its creation: “I phoned him and said, ‘I want a logo. It’s got to be black and white and square.’ Then I heard somebody in his office say, ‘Wow,’ and he said, ‘I’ve done it.’” Long live Barney Bubbles.