WELCOME ➤ TO THE SWINGING EIGHTIES

In 1980 a youth movement began reshaping Britain.
Its stars didn’t call themselves New Romantics, or the Blitz Kids – but other people did. This writer was there and these words and pictures tell the tale.

David Bowie

◼︎ As a decade, the 1970s spelt doom. British youth culture had been discredited by punk. A monumental recession followed the Labour government’s “winter of discontent”, threatening the prospect of no jobs for years ahead.
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Swinging 80s, London, history, blitz club, blitz kids, theblitzkids, theblitzclub, cult with no name, billy’s, gossip’s, nightclubs, fashion, pop music, steve strange, rusty egan, boy george, stephen jones, kim bowen, stephen linard, chris sullivan, robert elms, perry haines, princess julia, judi frankland, darla-jane gilroy,fiona dealey, jayne chilkes, derek ridgers, perry haines, terry jones,peter ashworth, lee sheldrick, michele clapton, myra, willy brown, helen robinson, stephane raynor, melissa caplan,Dinny Hall, Kate Garner, rachel auburn, richard ostell, Paul Bernstock, Dencil Williams, Darla Jane Gilroy, Simon Withers, Graham Smith, Graham Ball, christos tolera, sade adu, peter marilyn robinson, gaz mayall, midge ure, gary kemp, steve dagger,Denis O’Regan, andy polaris, john maybury, cerith Wyn Evans, iain webb, jeremy healy, david holah, stevie stewart, worried about the boy,Yet from this black hole burst an optimistic movement the press dubbed the New Romantics, based on a London club called the Blitz. Its soundtrack was a pounding synthesised electro-pop created for the dancefloor by a studio seven-piece called Visage, fronted by the ultimate poser, Steve Strange. He and other fashionista Blitz Kids were picked by Bowie to represent their movement in his 1980 video for Ashes to Ashes (above). But the live band who broke all the rules were five dandies with a preposterous name: Spandau Ballet.
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As the last of the Baby Boomers, the Blitz Kids were concerned with much more than music. In 1980 they shook off teenage doubt to express all those talents the later Generation X would have to live up to — leadership, adaptability, negotiating skills, focus. Children of the age of mass TV, these can-doers excelled especially in visual awareness. They were the vanguard for a self-confident new class who were ready to enjoy the personal liberty and social mobility heralded by their parents in the 60s.
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For Britain, the Swinging 80s were a tumultuous period of social change when the young wrested many levers of power away from the over-40s. London became a creative powerhouse and its pop music and street fashion the toast of world capitals. All because a vast dance underground had been gagging for a very sociable revolution.

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“From now on, this will become the official history”
Verdict of a former Blitz Kid.

➢ THE MENU AT TOP leads you into this Aladdin’s Cave.
➢ THE BLOG POSTS on this front page report topical updates which also link to the background pages in the menu.

Below: View Blitz Club host Steve Strange in all his poser glory in the promo video for Fade to Grey (1982), also starring the club’s cloakroom girl, Julia Fodor, aka Princess

CLICK HERE to run the anthemic 80s video ♫ ♫ from Spandau Ballet and feel the chant:

nightlife, st moritz, club for heroes,le kilt, wag club, beat route,hacienda, cha-cha, holy city zoo, rum runner, camden palace, scala cinema, studio 21,crocs, le palace, white trash, fac51, Dirt Box, mud club, batcave, barbarella's, croc's, electro-pop, synth-pop, Chant No 1, kid creole, blue rondo, animal nightlife, visage, duran, depeche mode, ultravox, human league, gentry, ABC,soft cell, bolan,vince clarke, haysi, wham!, mclaren, heaven 17, yazoo, foxx, omd, bauhaus, phil oakey, jay strongman, Martyn Ware, martin fry ,altered images, 20th-century box, vivienne westwood, PX, axiom, body-map , foundry, sue clowes,demob, seditionaries, acme attractions, i-D, the face, new sounds new styles, Korniloff, andrew logan, kahn & bell, biddie & eve, toyah,

July 2, 1981: Shooting the video for Chant No 1 at Le Beat Route club in Soho, “down, down, pass the Talk of the Town”. Photograph © by Shapersofthe80s


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➤ A double act is born – Sulls & Elms, take a bow!

Chris Sullivan, Robert Elms, talk, Standard Hotel, London, history, nightlife, memories

Ribald and passionate: Sullivan and Elms capping each other’s stories with gusto

TWO LIFE-LONG PALS, both born raconteurs and clubland wags, sat on a pair of wonky stools this week in public and for an hour had an invited crowd roaring as helplessly as themselves as each capped the other’s stories. The subject was the ever-changing face of London and their faces were those of writer/artist Chris Sullivan (nominally a Welshman who revealed roots that led to a grandfather who’d been a bouncer at the capital’s Windmill Theatre), and BBC London broadcaster Robert Elms (a paid-up Cockney in all but the Bow Bells bit, whose mum was a clippie on the buses at age 15). Both are renowned for having shaped the style revolution of the Swinging Eighties. Now they had taken over a snug corner of the library lounge at the Standard Hotel in King’s Cross, a venue which prompted some ribald tales of their mis-spent teens.

Topics ranged from the East End to West End. There was much mention of food from the era before London became cuisine capital of the world: Elms remembered the early pizza parlours that served your American Hot with a whole baked potato and coleslaw all on one plate. “Which Italian ever had that?” he howled. From the audience, David Rosen recalled Blooms in Whitechapel as an essential kosher eaterie when its walls were blessed with photography by Bauhaus star Moholy-Nagy.

Chris Sullivan, Robert Elms, talk, Standard Hotel, London, history, nightlife, memories

A wrapt audience for Sullivan and Elms: familiar faces from their colourful circle of London friends

For half a century Soho had been the red-light district and as a result, Elms said, by the mid-70s civilised people had given up on the centre of town. Only a public outcry in 1973 protected the 19th-century neo-classical buildings of Covent Garden as the market prepared to relocate to Nine Elms. He added: “London was going to be knocked down after the market moved out and this generation of Londoners [the audience] saved it by our creativity.” It was for instance the place where the seminal New Romantics Blitz club-night opened in 1979, a year before the desolate central market reopened as a shopping centre.

The lack of affordable nightclubs for teenagers in 1979 also drove Bob and Chris to initiate their own pioneering ad hoc parties at the Mayhem print warehouse featuring snake-charmers and blue movies projected onto the ceiling as their “crash course for ravers”. These parties were free, Bob confessed, because they never dreamed they could charge people admission. Chris became so animated at this point he was falling off his stool with laughter.

Of Soho’s Wag club, the pivotal black music nightspot he ran for almost two decades, Sullivan reminded us: “London was a dodgy place. Coming into Soho was taking your life in your hands. The only reason we were able to take over the Wag was because it was a no-go area. About three months after it started, a prostitute got her throat cut outside the Pizza Express by her pimp. People forget it was dangerous. Back then you could be attacked in Soho for wearing the wrong clothes.” Consequently, Elms added: “That Blitz/Wag generation were pretty tough.”

Today the sentimental pair remain firm fans of “the greatest city on earth” but then, they both revel in making things happen wherever they go.

London, history, Durex, shop, Wardour Street,

Condoms by the gross: legendary Soho shop-front

❏ Throwaway revelation: The landmark 18-foot wide DUREX sign that graced a Wardour Street shopfront almost opposite the Wag, and had serviced the needs of timid schoolboys for generations, today belongs to Valentine Morby!

Chris Sullivan, Robert Elms, talk, Standard Hotel, London, history, nightlife, memories, books, publishing, rebels, Canongate, Unbound,

Their latest books 2019: Sullivan’s from Unbound, Elms’s from Canongate

➢ Chris Sullivan hopes this jaw-jaw event will continue with other old friends occupying the guest stool. Keep an eye on his social media

➢ Previously at Shapersofthe80s: Robert Elms the storyteller on why some stories are “too good to check”

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➤ After his Spandau ordeal, singer Ross shakes off the blues

◼ EX-SPANDAU BALLET VOCALIST Ross William Wild seems to be finally feeling the warmth of the summer sun after weeks of black despair. Without being told his position, it became evident that he had been dumped by the band who recruited him to replace Tony Hadley a year ago. Provoked first by Spandau’s silence and then by an insulting media interview from songwriter Gary Kemp, Ross found a new band and in May announced he was quitting Spandau. Bass player Martin Kemp was next to insult him in a rambling TV interview that made no mention of Ross’s position.

On 28 May Ross told Shapers of the 80s: “I’d put my whole life on hold and was sick of waiting around for them to make up their minds. I told the boys I was quitting and then never heard back from them.”

Suddenly this month Ross has revealed how this tough emotional saga was taking its toll on him. He wrote on Facebook:

“This year has not been an easy one. Last year I was on top of the world and then this year the medical powers that be stuck me on everybody’s favourite mental tourniquet, antidepressants. After quitting Spandau I never even had the time to tell anybody before others were told to get on TV and do some damage control, which made me look like a dick and in turn f***ed me up mentally.

Francesco Lucidi, Emanuele Nazzaro, Fabio Staffieri , Ross William Wild, Dingwalls, Camden Rocks Fest, reviews, grunge, Rock music,

Mercutio at Dingwalls: Ross centre-stage in his second live gig with the metal band

“But things are looking up. Great concert in the West End coming up, couple of international gigs, a green energy company that’s really taking off (more news to come on that soon). And best of all, I’m going on tour with my band Mercutio. We’re really just starting out and I can’t wait to see what our future holds, but mainly, I’m going to enjoy the ride and be present, and get off these goddamn pills.”

His “metal with melody” band Mercutio has played a couple of riff-driven London gigs and released a video for their first single pointedly titled Where the Pain Lives, directed by contemporary dance choreographer Eleesha Drennan. Ross says: “The song is an epiphany. A realisation that some of our best ideas and most creative thinking come from our darkest and most painful places. Where the Pain Lives is an acceptance of this fact.”

Mercutio comprises Fabio Staffieri on guitar, Emanuele Nazzaro on bass and Francesco Lucidi on drums. Their stated aim is to bring mainstream rock music back to the forefront of people’s musical consciousness with a bang. From 28 October they will be supporting Inglorious (“a young Deep Purple”) on four UK dates, and another in Milan.

Ross’s West End event next week stars Jodie Steele (Heathers, Wicked, Rock of Ages) as Daisy Buchanan and Ross as Jay Gatsby, among a cast of eight in three concert performances of a musical take on Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age novel The Great Gatsby.

➢ Gatsby the Musical plays in concert at Crazy Coqs in London W1, 27-29 August. Box office 020 7734 4888 and online

➢ Mercutio support Inglorious at Oxford, Cardiff, Exeter, Brighton, 28 Oct-1 Nov, then 5 Nov in Milan

➢ On 18 Oct Mercutio play at 93 Feet East, Brick Lane E1 6QL

Gatsby the Musical, Crazy Coqs, London, brasserie zedel, Jodie Steele, Ross William Wild,

❏ 30 AUGUST UPDATE VERDICT: As Jay Gatsby, Ross William Wild’s own big numbers were superb, especially The Moon That Never Rose, also Escape the Heat and Broken Wings Broken Dreams with Jodie Steele as Daisy Buchanan confronting her fabled carelessness. Musically Gatsby the Musical proved very promising with Edward Court providing a sensitive accompaniment on piano. The show boasted spirited Jazz Age tunes by Joe Evans, though often touchingly melancholy in keeping with the elusive storyline by Linnie Reedman, plus engaging lyrics, as with I Bet He Killed a Man. Sadly staging concert performances always puts an unnatural strain on the actors so let’s hope the serious shortcomings of the tiny and cramped Crazy Coqs (with a super-loud wall clock ticking throughout quieter scenes!) won’t inhibit this show’s development.

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s: New vocalist Ross rocks Spandau by announcing his new band Mercutio

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s: Another Spandau bombshell – Kemp Brothers drive out Ross their ‘perfect’ new singer

Steve Norman, Ross William Wild, Pop-Helden-Festival, Berlin, pop music

1 Sept update: Ross and Spandau’s saxophonist Steve Norman rehearsing in London today for their appearance together at next Saturday’s Pop-Helden-Festival of 80s Pioneers in Berlin, along with Marc Almond, Paul Young, Wet Wet Wet and Howard Jones

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➤ How Nile Rodgers “rearranged” Bowie’s Let’s Dance into a stonking hit single

David Bowie, Nile Rodgers, Let’s Dance, Meltdown, South Bank Centre, soul music,

Twin geniuses: Bowie and Rodgers photographed by Ebet Roberts

AMONG MANY SENSATIONS during three foot-tapping hours in the company of Nile Rodgers on Saturday night was a rare audio track possibly being played out in public for the first time. Rodgers is not only curating this year’s prestigious South Bank Meltdown festival in London but his own band Chic headlined the opening night with a mighty seamless stream of dance-floor hits. Rodgers preceded the concert with a lengthy talk about his unrivalled career as one of the most influential record producers ever, an icon of black excellence along with Quincy Jones and Stevie Wonder.

He described how he had met David Bowie in the early 80s and as they bonded over their love of jazz, Rodgers says he “realised that David Bowie was the Picasso of rock’n’roll”, meaning his gift for thinking in the abstract. They were soon collaborating over Bowie’s album Let’s Dance, released in April 1983, almost three years after his previous album, Scary Monsters.

More specifically, once Bowie had joked “Is there such a thing as too funky?” Rodgers set about doing what any jazzman does – he was “rearranging” Bowie’s music in their studio sessions. And on Saturday Rodgers told this electrifying yarn by playing us Take One of the slightly protracted Let’s Dance session that started with Bowie in dirge-like mode. Eighties singer Andy Polaris tells it like this in his review of the Meltdown show:

In one extraordinary sequence Rodgers revealed the genesis of his collaboration with David Bowie on Let’s Dance. It was thrilling to listen to a rare recording few people have ever heard as the track was transformed from an almost twee throwaway song into the rhythmic funky stomper that it became. During the first take in the studio, we heard Nile introducing David to his arrangement and Bowie experimenting with melodies and phrasing while Nile carefully coaxed him by explaining the number’s metamorphosis. We listened as David gradually grew more excited, climaxing in obvious satisfaction when he finally “got it” – this, the single that would become his biggest hit! The whole episode provided a revealing insight into how Nile works as both a guitarist and a producer and was a rare treat for Bowie fans in the audience…

David Bowie, Nile Rodgers, Let’s Dance, albums, 1983, soul music,

Let’s Dance: Bowie’s biggest selling album

MORE ON THE BOWIE-RODGERS PARTNERSHIP

➢ “I thought I was going to get fired over my riff to China Girl because it’s so corny. But he heard it and went, That’s amazing!” – Pitchfork 2016:
As a black man in America, there’s not a day that goes by that I’m not reminded of being black. It has nothing to do with me. Some people are just uncomfortable with my presence. It’s never gone away. With Bowie, though, I never felt that at all. He made Let’s Dance with me and guys that he never even met, but he had enough faith to allow me to completely take over. He was like, ‘Nile, take my vision and make it real. You be the impresario.’

The whole album was completed and mixed in 17 days. There’s no four different versions of Let’s Dance, no five versions of Modern Love. That’s just it. Done. End of story. A huge amount of the time he spent sitting in the lounge watching TV and then he would just come in and check and go ‘Wow!’ and then he would leave. And I’m thinking to myself, ‘This is the highest form of respect that anyone has ever given to me’. . .

David Bowie, Nile Rodgers, Let’s Dance, Meltdown, South Bank Centre, soul music,

Evergreen: Bowie and Rodgers photographed by Peter Gabriel

➢ The producer of Let’s Dance, Bowie’s biggest-selling album, asked the singer if he’d made it too funky. ‘Is there such a thing?’ he replied – from the Guardian 2016:
Before we wrote a single piece of music for [Let’s Dance], we did a research project where we played lots of records and talked about what the album wanted to say, how it should sound as a whole. Then one day David said: ‘Nile, this is what I want my album to sound like’ and he showed me a picture of Little Richard in a red suit getting into a red Cadillac convertible. How do you translate that?! But in actual fact I knew exactly what he meant, and that was the point I realised that David Bowie was the Picasso of rock’n’roll. He got uncomfortable with me calling him that but I did it anyway. Because I realised he saw the world in an abstract way, as well as in the way we all see it. And what that picture meant was not that he wanted a retro record, or something based on Little Richard’s music, but that he wanted something that would always look modern. He showed me the future and the past and it was evergreen. The highly designed Cadillac and the red monochromatic suit – that picture was taken in the 1960s but it would still look modern to someone in the year 3000! . . .”

➢ Meltdown 2019, curated by Nile Rodgers, runs at London’s South Bank Centre 3–11 August

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➤ The makings of Scarlett, a perfect muse for the Eighties

DuoVision , Scarlett Woman, Photography, painting, sculpture, exhibition, Swinging Eighties, The Gallery Liverpool,

Scarlett Cannon at her preview: flanked by DuoVision curators James Lawler and Martin Green. (Photo © Melanie Smith)

WHICH ICON OF THE EIGHTIES catapulted herself to fame using a single name, sculpted hair and red lips? The clue is in the exhibition title just opened in Liverpool: Scarlett Woman. The Gallery in Stanhope Street is crammed with dozens of instantly recognisable images of her in all media – posters, prints, drawings, photos, videos, holograms, mosaics, sculpture and even painting. Fortunately the savviest interpreter of 80s style is at hand to make sense of the life and times of Scarlett Cannon, since she began fronting a club-night called Cha-Cha in 1981. In a guide to the exhibition, the lynchpin fashion editor Iain R Webb outlines how he promoted her career as model and muse.

He writes with intense concision: “It was a time of transformation and transgression, self-expression and collective empowerment. I was immediately taken by Scarlett’s uniqueness, an individual look being our club-kid rallying cry. With her startling peroxide blond haircut and a profile almost as flat as her reflection in the mirror she was magnificent!”

Scarlett says: “I wanted to look like a black and white photograph.” And Webb was happy to oblige, styling her in fashion spreads for BLITZ magazine. “She was an ideal made real, the perfect muse. We shared a common aim: to present our version of the world that celebrated difference and redefined beauty.” Scarlett, he reports, emerged from London’s demi-monde “artfully constructed from captured moments from yesteryear movies and imagined narratives. We made it up as we went along. . . Scarlett has always lived on the outskirts.” She adds: “It was extreme, we were really not afraid and we lived in a different world then.”

DuoVision , Scarlett Woman, The Gallery Liverpool,

Scarlett with Maude, alongside David Hiscock’s 1985 photograph, scarfed by Hermès. (Liverpool photo by Marc Albert)

Never before has there been such a perfect summary of the ingredients that made the Swinging Eighties unique, though Webb’s consummate book As Seen in Blitz: Fashioning ’80s Style came close in 2013. Coincidentally that was the year that Scarlett was visible across London as the poster girl for the V&A’s brave exhibition Club to Catwalk, a sharp retrospective nailing London fashion in the Eighties.

What’s impressive about the Liverpool retrospective mounted by the DuoVision team James Lawler and Martin Green is the number of artists whose work it embraces. . . Andrew Logan, Derek Jarman, Nick Knight, Robyn Beeche, Monica Curtin, Mark Lebon, Thomas Degen, Donald Urquhart, David Hiscock, Julian Kalinoswki, Sadie Lee, Judy Blame and others – most intriguingly the Polish expressionist painter Feliks Topolski, whose huge Punk Triptych makes a rare outing.

VIDEO TOUR BY MARK JORDAN

➢ Scarlett Woman runs until 15 September at The Gallery Liverpool, 41 Stanhope St, Liverpool, L8 5RE

➢ Gender-bending 1980s muse paints the town Scarlett – review in the Art Newspaper

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s: Scarlett from i-D cover girl to glamorous gardening mode

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s:
2013, Webb’s flipside of the 80s fashion revolution

DuoVision , Scarlett Woman, Photography, painting, sculpture, exhibition, Swinging Eighties, The Gallery Liverpool,

Scarlett Cannon with a slice of history: Feliks Topolski’s enormous Punk Triptych en route to Liverpool

REMEMBERING TOPOLSKI

➢ Feliks Topolski’s reputation reaches back to King George V’s silver jubilee while his monumental postwar mural of people and events called Topolski Century was unveiled by the Duke of Edinburgh and housed in the artist’s studio in the Hungerford Bridge arches beside the Festival Hall, where his legacy at Bar Topolski today is well worth a visit. His caricatures adorned the opening credits of John Freeman’s landmark series of TV interviews, Face to Face.

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➤ Ross Wild retunes to Gatsby’s Roaring Twenties

Jodie Steele ,Ross William Wild ,Gatsby The Musical , Brasserie Zedel, music,live,

Gatsby in concert: Jodie Steele sings Daisy and Ross William Wild sings Jay

THE MANIPULATIVE DAISY BUCHANAN – she who was notorious for being “careless” with people – moves to the centre of the story in a musical adaptation of The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald’s bitter-sweet novel from the Roaring Twenties. As events unfold through her eyes, we are given a fresh perspective on Jay Gatsby himself, a man who seeks to prove himself worthy of her love.

Fans of new musical theatre can catch two concert performances of this show on 28-29 August at Crazy Coqs, the intimate entertainment space alongside Brasserie Zédel in London W1. The cast of seven features, as Daisy, Jodie Steele (Heathers, Wicked, Rock of Ages) and, as Gatsby, Ross William Wild, whose theatre spells in The Million Dollar Quartet and We Will Rock You were most recently followed by an impressive stint as Spandau Ballet’s vocalist.

Time Out said of a stage version of Gatsby The Musical that it “evokes the decadent rush of the jazz era and its seedy underbelly”.

➢ Book tickets via Brasserie Zédel online or phone 020 7734 4888

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s:
2018, Ross debuts with Spandau Ballet

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s:
2019, Ross announces his own new band Mercutio

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