Thanks to photographic ace and all-round good chap Tom Sheehan for this splendid Chilli Willi And The Red Hot Peppers poster.
This portrays the band’s founders Martin Stone and the sadly long-departed Phil Lithman in footloose minstrel mode, in line with their appearance on the inner sleeve of Barney-designed debut album Kings Of the Robot Rhythm.
In Tom’s poster, they’re not such a skip and a jump from the space-hopping character (a self-portrait?) Barney included in his artwork for the same year’s triple album The Glastonbury Fayre.
Kings Of the Robot Rhythm was the second release on Revelation Enterprises, the label launched by Barney’s former Friends colleague, music editor John Coleman, to raise funds to pay off the debts from the previous year’s festival (at which Stone’s former band Mighty Baby performed).
South Londoner Tom recounts how he became a fan of the Willis as a student in Sheffield – and loved to replicate the “Very Amazing Cut Out N Colour Me In” bowtie Barney provided on Kings Of The Robot Rhythm’s charming insert.
This gloried in the recommended hues: “Colour me ruby redneck” is the instruction for the rail on which the cowgirl rests, and “acupulco gold”, “blue bird blue” and “juke box emerald” are just a few of those suggested for the sun rays.
“I traced around it and made ‘bowties’ for me and my friends to wear to Willis gigs,” says Tom, one of Britain’s highest rated music photographers.
Note how the insert’s desert horizon is recalled in the landscape on the drumhead he painted for the Willis’ drummer Pete Thomas a couple of years later.
Tom is also the proud possessor of a number of original Willis stickers; in Reasons To Be Cheerful, the band’s manager Jake Riviera points out how successful these were at spreading the word about the band at grass roots level in the early to mid-70s.
Barney produced a number of variations, along with badges, cards and posters.
There was also Up Periscope, the proto-fanzine and newsletter to which Willis fans could subscribe.
Barney also created posters (in the style of Continental transport designs of the 20s and 30s.) for the hard-touring musicians (one year alone, Chilli Willi performed 370 gigs). These contained spaces for promoters to insert venues and dates.
In 1974 Chilli Willi released their stirling second album Bongos Over Balham via a deal with Charisma associated label Mooncrest/B&C.
Barney produced the delightful artwork for the tour, including the cheery banana lady whose tailfeather-shaking is accompanied by the phrase “Wud Wud”.
“That was such a Barney touch,” says Naughty Rhythms booking agent Paul Conroy.
We’re grateful to Tom – who came to know Barney once he started working for the music press in the mid-70s – for giving us an opportunity to celebrate this wonderfully eccentric and sorely overlooked British band.
Taken from this post:
Wud Wud! When Barney got the (Chilli) Willis…