19 March 2021 will see the release of the 50th Anniversary Expanded Edition of the eponymous first album by Design on Vacancy Records. This reissue of Design, their iconic first album, comes replete with twelve previously unreleased bonus tracks, including seven alternate takes and demos from the original sessions, plus five new tracks recorded by members of the group since leaving Design.
The Design project has been curated by band member Barry Johnston. Prior to joining Design, he was one of the first songwriters signed to The Beatles’ Apple Publishing Company and recorded numerous demos in their famous office at 94 Baker Street. He performed under the name Barry Alexander so that he could join the Equity union.
In 1969, Barry joined the six-piece vocal group Design, founded by the songwriter Tony Smith. Within weeks, they had signed a recording contract with Adrian Kerridge, the boss of Lansdowne Studios, and they recorded their self-written first album Design during the rest of that year.
In 1970, Design signed a two-album deal with Epic Records in the USA, one of the first British groups to be signed direct to a US label. Their first single ‘Willow Stream’ was released in the summer of 1970, but Tony Smith became seriously ill and had to leave the group, being replaced by guitarist Jeff Matthews.
Design was originally released in 1971, and has been hailed as “the Holy Grail of soft rock”, featuring “intricate harmonies with a psychedelic twist”. The group were invited to appear on The Morecambe and Wise Show and when Eric Morecambe noticed that Barry was nervous before their first performance, he put his arms around him and said, “It will be all right, sunshine.” It was.
Over the next five years, Design released four more albums and 13 singles and appeared on over 50 TV shows, with Tommy Cooper, Benny Hill, The Two Ronnies, and many more. They undertook nationwide tours with Gilbert O’Sullivan and The Hollies and performed in cabaret and at the London Palladium. The group finally disbanded at the end of 1976.
Barry Johnston is the eldest son of the late BBC cricket commentator Brian Johnston. He was born in 1949 and educated at Eton, where he started to write songs. On leaving school in 1966 aged 17, he got a job as a production assistant at Decca Recording Studios, where he worked on the first albums by David Bowie and Cat Stevens, as well as sessions with Marianne Faithfull, Tom Jones, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, and many others. In 1967, he became the assistant to Mike Hurst, a former member of The Springfields and the manager of Cat Stevens, who offered him personal advice on writing songs. That advice came in very useful when Barry joined Design a couple of years later.
After Design disbanded, Barry became the manager of the New Seekers, before moving to Los Angeles, where he went to broadcasting school in Hollywood and then presented the breakfast show on KLOA-AM radio. On returning home in 1985, he presented a daily show on BBC Radio Sussex for several years and then the Sunday Breakfast Show on BBC Radio 5.
Since then, Barry has produced more than 100 audiobooks and written scripts for Book of the Week on Radio 4, as well as writing and editing dozens of non-fiction books, including biographies of his father and Kenneth Horne, and the bestseller The Wit of Cricket.
In 2010, Barry acquired the rights to the entire Design catalogue and has overseen the reissue of almost all their recordings on digital and CD. This special 50th Anniversary expanded reissue of Design holds a very special place in his heart and is truly a gem well worthy of rediscovery.