HOW THE RULES OF 80s NIGHTCLUBBING
WERE REWRITTEN BY STRANGE & EGAN
RUSTY EGAN REMEMBERS
HIS CLUBBING PARTNER
About this week’s Mi-soul radio show, Rusty said: “I’m very, very sad and down tonight because I’ve lost an old friend. We had our disagreements but we did have a decade of the best times that anybody could ever have wished for. We made some amazing music, some amazing parties, clubs and fun and friends. Underneath it all he was a good soul. Steve, I’m so sorry I didn’t get a chance to say I still love you.
Tonight we say Hello and Wave Goodbye to my friend and foe Steve Strange AKA Stephen Harrington who convinced me to let him crash at my place for one night. We were flatmates for five years and never had a night in… friends for 25 years and foes for less than five years. Music says everything I could ever want to say… Bryan Ferry, David Bowie, David Ball, Midge Ure, Lou Reed, John Foxx and The Maths, Joy Division say everything I could want to say + EMT, The Magickal, Jeff Appleton, Visage, The Distant Minds. The good times outweigh the bad.
CHRIS SULLIVAN, WHO RAN
SOHO’S WAG CLUB
I first met Steve Strange (né Harrington) when I was 14. We were both into Northern Soul and used to meet in Blackwood, South Wales, just a mile or two from his council house home. Then it was funk, Bowie and Roxy. Subsequently, punk, bondage and notoriety. We’d travel to London, Bristol wherever to satiate our need for nightlife. Thus, London was the only place for Steve so he moved up to work for Vivienne Westwood in 1977. He was 18. I was 17. He became a punk “face” while I finished my A-levels and then went off to San Francisco in search of the Beatnik life (but couldn’t find it) and lost touch with Steve.
Then in October 1978, I bumped into him in Oxford Circus and he invited me to his new Bowie night at Billy’s. Since then we have been inextricably linked. We ran the club Hell together, then he did Club For Heroes and me Le Kilt. He then opened the Camden Palace and me the Wag.
We were both flamboyant club-running Welsh dandies but were never rivals. Steve had too much dignity for that. We were friends and remained so for the rest of his life. And I can say that Steve, despite quite a few hard years, never lost that that spark, humour or joie de vivre, was forever stylish and was always a pleasure to see.
extends heartfelt thanks to these key Blitz Kids (as were) for taking the time to contribute these wonderful appreciations of Steve Strange who died yesterday aged 55. We are all in varying degrees of shock, yet it is remarkable how their tributes readily identify the distinct qualities that made Steve a beacon for others to rally round. We hope these words will stand as both epitaph and historic record
I will miss reminiscing about us getting caught shoplifting together, our ferry to Calais as that got stuck in a hurricane going back and forth unable to dock for 13 hours; then hanging out with Grace Jones, Iman and Gaultier and getting spat at by a Parisian old lady who thought we were Nazis (we both had coincidentally brought our leather German trench coats); doing LSD at the Notting Hill Carnival, ecstasy in Ibiza in 1983 and getting lost in New York’s gang infested Alphabet City York at 5am after a night out in 1985 and walking in complete circles till it was light. Adventure after misadventure after misdemeanour. Two working-class Welsh chaps who could not believe their luck sucking the lemon dry.
I spoke to him a lot over his last few years and realised that he, coming from nothing, just threw down the gauntlet and created this being, “Steve Strange”, who was his “art” and, rather like Quentin Crisp and Leigh Bowery, was famous for purely being himself – a rather unique individual, one of a kind and a true maverick who never once towed the party line and always kept you guessing from Telly Tubbies Toys to TV shows. Indeed, our lives ran in tandem for decades and, I can honestly say, that I am proud to have been a friend and associate for 40 years of this great British character. I doubt we will see the likes of him again. Today my melancholia was lifted by one thought. He would have also loved this massive media attention regarding his demise. He would have said “See, I told you I was making a comeback!”
The world is a smaller place without Steve.
PRINCESS JULIA, WRITER AND DEEJAY
We piled into his clubs from the late 70s onwards and made things happen. Steve Strange’s notoriety filtered into the mainstream making him a household name, much to his delight. Getting dressed up, going out and getting noticed… Steve was head of a subculture the likes of which perhaps we will never see again. He rode the decades, suffered ups and downs but always retained a vision of creativity, his own and those around him. Encouraging people to follow their dreams, the Blitz was a melting pot of creativity, its ethos a cornerstone to generation after generation who aspired and are aspiring to cast their nets wider.
When I met Steve his style was fearless. He became an entrepreneur in clubland perhaps unwittingly and genuinely enjoyed the ritual of clubbing. On other fronts Visage, initially a studio project, rapidly gained cult status, and he never abandoned performing right up to the present. He had a wicked sense of humour and was ready to tackle challenges even though his decadent years had taken their toll on his health… The stories I could tell you, perhaps I’ll leave that to your imagination!
Steve Strange was a live wire. He made things happen, joined the dots between people. And he was my first customer. I went to his Bowie nights at Billy’s club and then the Blitz as a student at St Martin’s and he asked me to make him a hat out of gold braid. It took me about three weeks and he paid £75, a fortune in those days. Then, he was working at a fashion store called PX in Covent Garden. They had an empty basement, and he asked me if I wanted to set up store in there. So that was my first shop. I owe my start to Steve.
There was a vacuum after punk had gone. Suddenly there were all these kids dressing up in these eclectic, historical, top-to-toe looks we made ourselves from thrift stores. With Steve, it had to be a total look, whether he was wearing a dress, or a slick Antony Price suit. And every look needed a hat.
KIM BOWEN, STYLIST,
ONETIME QUEEN OF THE BLITZ
The hustle, the bustle, the make-up, the clothes, “Julia and I think you should put a pencil on that mole of yours, it looks like a spot otherwise” to “I like your hat, do you think Stephen Jones will make one for me?” Rushing enthusiasm, involving everyone, creating insane parties going round and round on the Circle Line. Some truly bad outfits (his not mine.) Shockingly, “Kim, will you be my official girlfriend?” My boyfriend Jeremy Healy was rather outraged at that, sensing a great and grievous social impropriety.
“I know some weird private club in Wandsworth, Lord Longleat will be there, he’s fun, let’s go” . . . “God, look at Mick Jagger, he looks like an axolotl, doesn’t he? – Still, let’s go talk to him” . . . Cramming into the flat on King’s Road that he and Rusty and Julia shared, the height of sophistication as we polished off bottles of Blue Nun.
“Will you run a nightclub with me?” became screaming up the stairs at Club For Heroes: “Why are you letting those horrible people in?!” Parties here, parties there, a club here, there and everywhere, places to sit bored and rude, blame him and his shit club, hate the music, be a little bitch, stick your nose up in the air Kim Bowen, and to always, always be asked, to be introduced to David Bailey who photographed me for Ritz magazine, to be implored to be in Bowie’s Ashes video and to refuse, to always be asked to anything fun, anything interesting, daring, mad, silly, stylish by this kind, generous, privately soft and rather vulnerable, funny Welsh guy, who always laughed, until he didn’t and things went dark.
And then they got better again. And then this abrupt goodbye. What a shock. You were the epicentre of a most particular time and place, and you did create the stage on which we all appeared, flourishing our lace cuffs and sharpening our profiles to the footlights. Thank you for that. Because we just came to your clubs, you created them Steve, you and Rusty.
I was shocked and deeply saddened to hear of the untimely death of my old friend Steve Strange. He was an iconic figure in both the fashion and music industries of the 1980s. He had a hugely generous spirit and used his fame to help many designers and performers achieve a wider audience. The nightclubs he opened, along with Rusty, changed the London club scene for ever and their influence spread our youth culture around the world. I would imagine he has a red rope on the Pearly Gates with a guest list and VIP room already.
Steve Strange was at at the helm of the zeitgeist of what was to become the 80s. He helped define an era which has defined London’s avant garde clubland ever since. It’s hard to imagine a world without him. Maybe if it wasn’t him, someone else would’ve done what he did at the Blitz. But they didn’t. He did.
As a 20-year-old kid from Wales, Steve helped change London for ever by putting the power firmly back into the hands of the young. He was instinctive and had what only the young can have, the confidence of ignorance. With that he leaves a legacy of all the clubs that came after the Blitz, run by us for us. RIP Steve Strange.
Steve and Rusty created a movement in London. The Blitz and the subsequent Blitz Kids grew into a massive movement in the UK associated with fashion and image and photography. You could stand in the Blitz Club and look around you and there’d be future journalists and film-makers and writers and musicians, and a young Boy George taking coats at the coat check. There was something really vibrant about that, and they were responsible for that.
He was a really good friend. Without him lots of people wouldn’t have the careers they do today.
Thanks for so many good times back in the olden days, Steve.
The Pied Piper with the pierrot face lured us into his realm. Billy’s gave birth to club culture as we now know it, for those of us who in that early incarnation formed friendships and explored sexual identity and fashion. He helped forge a nightlife we could selfishly call our own. Along with Rusty’s electro-heavy soundtrack and Steve’s arty pretensions, the late 70s burst out of beige into a rainbow spectrum. RIP Steve Strange.
Heartbroken about the death of Steve Strange. Steve was my friend, nemesis and sworn enemy, for much of the late seventies and early eighties. He stole my credit card and I stole his Antony Price snakeskin coat. I also stole the takings at the Blitz Club where I briefly checked the coats and Steve fired me on the spot. He turned me away from clubs and parties but I just turned up looking more fabulous the next time!
➢ Fuller appreciation at the Boy George website
Spandau in tears tonight. We dedicated our performance to Steve Strange. Without him we would never have been here. A maverick to the end.
➢ Read Gary’s appreciation in The Guardian
I’m so very sad. Steve was a dear friend of mine. We hit it off the very first time I went to Billy’s back in 1979. I had very little money and he took myself and also Martin Kemp under his wing. We three partners in crime went to all the coolest parties in London and Steve paid for all our drinks and whatever else. So very generous he was.
The 80s would have turned out very different without him and I hope that he will be remembered for his undeniable contribution to youth culture when he kick-started the New Romantic movement, helping to shape what the 80s would look like. What is sad is that not enough people reminded him of his influence whilst he was alive. He was a troubled man in his later years yet I know he took comfort knowing that his friends loved him. I made a point in telling him exactly that recently. That is what now gives me comfort now that he’s gone. I already miss him terribly.
RIP Steve Strange goodbye my dear friend. I will miss you!
RIP Steve Strange – you were like a big bruv to me, oh what fun we had when you, Rusty and I lived together, you guys really looked after me and I want to thank you for all the great life experiences you gave me. I have great memories of us getting ready to go to the Blitz, what a laugh that was! And all the great parties we went to and the days we would watch movies and eat like pigs. Remember the day Judith Frankland came over and we watched The Sound of Music and West Side Story and we all danced up and down the hallway to the soundtracks like absolute nutters. We did behave like kids at times. You were an absolute nutter, I have sooo many stories! You were such a creative leader, in all aspects of life, I am so honoured to have known you so well. I will miss you Steve, love you very much, rest in peace my friend.
RIP Steve, you took me on a fabulous ride, we worked together since 1980, and I never knew where you would take me, but it was always fun and always worth it. RIP indeed my friend.
I gave Steve his first job as manager of my New Romantic PX store. I feel part of me has gone with him. Together we created something the world will never see again.
IAIN R WEBB
Such sad news about Steve Strange. He was the Pied Piper for us poseurs and Bowie freaks. He played a fine tune that changed the nightlife landscape for ever and encouraged a generation of young men to cake on the make-up. Oh how we laughed! Especially when Fiona and I permed his hair. . .
Steve gave us somewhere to go and beyond the crazy costumes (maybe because of the…) made us each believe we had someone to be. He burned bright and we followed that light like moths to a flame – Billy’s to Blitz to Hell to Club For Heroes to Camden Palace. . . Oh, how we danced! His maverick spirit will never fade.
➢ Read Iain’s longer appreciation in The Guardian
FRANCESCA VON HABSBURG THYSSEN
What a breath of fresh air he was! I look back with great admiration of all that he inspired and created. Such a huge talent. Often misunderstood. I will never forget the amazing times we spent with so many friends and talents. May you find peace Steve, peace that you could not find in this life… Go entertain the angels now!
Steve I will miss you, my darling. . . We all laughed about him and his little ways, but I’ve always said he gave people a chance to make something of themselves. I would never have got into the Ashes video if it wasn’t for Steve. He asked me to make the outfits for Visage’s Mind of a Toy video which Godley & Creme were directing. It needed the same outfit for a tiny child, for the hateful boy, for Steve himself, for the 80-year-old man, and also for the puppet. We were such close friends and he was so inspirational for me. I really loved that guy.
It’s very sad, the people who were really there in the clubs in the 70s will all know how kind Steve was even before the fame. We all charged around town like a “friend family” of which most are on my Facebook now. The Blitz was already buzzing when Steve arrived with Rusty Egan and they took it to another huge public level … on to Hell (one of my favourite clubs) and Club for Heroes. . . His excitement to say “I’m making a record” was still there 33 years later to start another night in the King’s Road with Rosemary Turner… Anyone who ever met him even briefly would say what a lovely man he was… Steve had more than 15 minutes of fame – he had a lifetime and I’m glad he did. Hope you find the big party in the sky, Steve.
NINOTCHKA BEE BEE
My dear Steve, you were the reason why I wanted to move to London, you were my teenage idol and inspiration. You were the one who made a weird kid in Croatia feel that it was OK to be different and creative. You became my friend and supported me since, I will never forget our laughs and hair experiments. You were a genuine and lovely human. I will miss you incredibly! Love you and RIP darling.
Without Steve’s huge pioneering spirit, ego and guts to be himself, 80s London clubbing would have been a darn site more boring! My favourite photograph that I took of Steve is in a pub in the Cardiff docks after Spandau Ballet had played at the Casablanca club in 1980. A coach load of us had turned up and as we opened the door to this incredibly hard pub the whole place turned round, it went completely silent as they just glared at us. I thought we were going to get murdered but Steve just minced in and flirted with the hardest of them. Within minutes he had them in stitches and they bought us beer and showed us their fish!
Stuck in the suburbs was a lonely place for a “dresser-upper” and it is honestly no exaggeration to say that when I found the Blitz Club it felt like I’d found my home… Nights out en-masse with Steve involved Circle Line parties – there were platform pubs at tube stations AND you could smoke, gatecrashing swanky events, clubs and posh parties (no one EVER stopped us). We owned the bloody world, high on youth (mostly…) and the future. Living in squats and working in places like Kensington Market, we survived on very little money, baths at Oasis, dubious fry-ups at ramshackle Sam’s caff, other people’s cocktails, Camel fags and the odd pint of doorstep-pinched milk … a high old hedonistic time. I honestly think that those of us lucky enough to have lived through that starburst developed an “I can do anything” way of life … a belief in yourself to have a go at something.
So very sad to hear about the passing of Steve Strange. The first nightclub I ever went to was run by Steve – Billy’s at Gossip’s in Soho. I remember one time turning up to the Blitz and there were tons of amazing looking people being turned away. Steve let me in that night and although I didn’t know him then, he was always really kind to me which is something I will never forget. The man was an icon, paved the way for modern clubbing and futuristic music and will always have a place in my heart. Farewell Steve, you are missed.
Steve, The Quintessential Peacock. Shocked and very sad, I listened to the Kinks song, Dedicated Follower of Fashion, and thought of you. But I didn’t hear “follower”, I heard “leader” – and there you are, the quintessential peacock – Steve !
Thank you, for all the good times (think Chic) and especially for being you. Lots of Love Pal, R.I.P. Perry.
They seek him here, they seek him there,
His clothes are loud, but never square.
It will make or break him so he’s got to buy the best,
’Cause he’s a dedicated Leader of fashion.
FRANCESKA LUTHER KING
I went to the Blitz every week without fail. I recall a crazy night with him and Angie Bowie whom I had been working for at her poetry recital, and a whole crowd of us went to a posh Japanese restaurant in Brewer Street… The last time I saw Steve was at the Green Carnation at one of his reinvented Blitz club-nights in his element. Sweet dreams.
Very sad to hear of my friend Steve Strange passing, RIP mate.
Sad to hear of old chum Steve Strange’s untimely passing. He was an instigator, he provided a scene and it’s very hard to do that. Steve had a role like Alan Freed who championed the early rock-and-roll records in the States. Steve helped to popularise Kraftwerk and the New Romantics came out of that.
GRAHAM K SMITH
Steve, alongside the equally original Rusty Egan, created 80s club culture singlehandedly. Through the original Bowie Night at Billy’s, through the Blitz, Club For Heroes, Camden Palace and beyond, Steve and Rusty created the template for a thousand clubland one-nighters, plus an entire new generation of post-electro, post-Bowie, post-Roxy pop groups who would dominate the 80s. He should have been the Elder Statesman of the New: the New Romantics, the New Pop, whatever.
SIMON LE BON
I’m very sad that our friend Steve Strange has died. He was the leading edge of New Romantic. God bless him.
The late Steve Strange (with others) gave life to London clubland in the late 70s and early 80s and helped to change everything for a shining moment. Thank you. For the movers and shakers in the early days of Billy’s and then the Blitz it was a lifestyle, a choice made to create a world into which they could fit. It wasn’t kids dressing up for a night out and then returning to normality the next day. For them it was a full-time job and a very creative one too. Because I was a member of the band Shock we were suddenly part of a social and cultural scene that I thought had gone for ever, having been much too young to have been a part of the Swinging Sixties. It was vibrant and colourful on every level and its short lifespan dispelled the rather ugly and sometimes violent tail-end of punk. Steve was the gatekeeper who ushered us in.
Away from the public eye he was a humble, humorous and gentle young man, unafraid to experiment and to explore new avenues. I remember at some time in the 80s he came to a Shock gig somewhere in the Midlands with all of us in our rented van. That was a blast for those in the audience I can tell you! And what do we have today that in any way stimulates, excites and causes a change? Sadly, through my eyes anyway, nothing at all.
MIKE LEIGH, his agent
It’s devastating news about Steve Strange. I had the “pleasure” of being his agent for the last 13 years and there was never a dull moment. Sometimes childlike, sometimes completely delusional, his lust for fame and notoriety never waned. Behind the public facade was a really, really sweet man but his lust for life never diminished. I will never forget the times we had together and the situations he put me through. I love you and will miss your calls Steve, and one day will see you at your stupidly trendy club in the sky (if you let me in).
ON VIDEO: STRANGE’S FASHION ATTACK ON PARIS
TAGS Steve Strange, Stephen Harrington, Blitz Kids, New Romantics, nightclubbing, Swinging 80s, London, fashion, pop music, Visage, tributes, youth culture
➤ Steve Strange: deciphering the pen portraits of the man of masks
◼ ONE OF STEVE STRANGE’S TALENTS was persuading the press to believe in his latest wheeze, however fantastic. He had a way of convincing himself that a story was already written and a mission achieved before he had pressed the accelerator and set off. This irritated as many journalists as it amused and many were consequently very sceptical of his next big announcement – like saying he’d booked a big American star to do her first live promotional performance in Britain at his crowning glory, the Camden Palace, capacity 1,410. But in fact he had and she did, and in June 1983 the unknown Madonna was launched singing to backing tapes for half an hour.
The myths surrounding Steve were always the stuff of self-promotion. Dressing up was part of the same story-telling ritual. Today, he would say, I am Robin Hood, tomorrow Ruritanian Space Cadet, the next day Marionette with the mind of a toy. A compulsive man of masks presents a tricky subject for the scribblers obliged to capture that life once it is spent, so we must tiptoe through the obituaries like a minefield, and beware of tripping over Steve’s much-spun versions of history that were pure fantasy. Even national newspapers seemed to fall for many of the dreams he spouted, as well as the exceedingly vague memories committed to his 2002 book, Blitzed. As the mainstream obituary writers lead you through those New Romantic years, see if you can spot the porkies. . .
➢ The Times obituary:
“ As the head boy of the “new romantics”, Steve Strange was the flamboyant scene-maker of a colourful subculture that dominated early 1980s British pop music as a showily garish counter-reaction to the stylistic austerity of punk. If punks were the roundheads in pop’s civil war, the “new romantics” were the cavaliers, ushering in a restoration of glitz and glamour, with a delectably decadent flourish…” / Continued online
➢ Adam Sweeting, Guardian:
“ In 1978, Strange and Rusty Egan (then drummer with the Rich Kids) began holding David Bowie nights on Tuesdays at Billy’s club in Soho, a squalid bunker situated beneath a brothel. “We played Bowie, Roxy Music and electro,” said Strange. “It was where our friends could be themselves.” Billy’s could hold only 250 people but swiftly developed an outsize reputation, numbering among its garishly clad clientele such stars-to-be as George O’Dowd (the future Boy George), Siobhan Fahey, later of Bananarama, and Marilyn. . . ” / Continued online
➢ Daily Telegraph obituary:
“ Strange fronted sleek operations, such as Club For Heroes in Baker Street and the Camden Palace in north London, where Madonna performed her first British live concert. But Visage split amid acrimony over the division of royalty payments, and his nightspots fell out of vogue in the mid-1980s with the rise of rap, hip-hop and dance music. By this time Strange had a reputation for high-handedness. Years later, Boy George lampooned Strange as the preposterous club host character “Nobby Normal” in his biographical musical Taboo. Strange was not amused. “I don’t think I have that strong a Welsh accent,” he complained. . . ” / Continued online
➢ The Scotsman obituary:
“ Although his career as a pop star afforded him only one real hit as frontman of the band Visage, 1980’s austere synthesiser anthem Fade to Grey, Steve Strange’s distinctive image and party-loving persona saw him help invent London’s New Romantic scene. . . Visage’s time in the sun flared all too briefly; with Strange being courted to repeat the clubbing success of places like the Blitz in various US cities, he dived wholeheartedly into the life of the international rock star, with all the pitfalls that entailed. Put off by Strange’s drug use, spending sprees and debauched behaviour, Midge Ure left to concentrate on Ultravox and Visage’s 1984 third album Beat Boy was a critical and commercial failure. The band split the following year, the same year that Strange first took heroin. . . ” / Continued online
➢ Pierre Perrone in The Independent:
“ A flamboyant figure with a self-destructive streak . . . By the late 90s he was back in Wales and, by his own admission, acting “very bizarrely”. He spent six weeks in a psychiatric hospital, was arrested for shoplifting and given a suspended sentence. “I don’t know whether it was cry for help,” he told The Independent in 2000, blaming an over-reliance on Prozac, though he seemed comfortable with his avowed bisexuality. . . ” / Continued online
BOY GEORGE’S OWN TRIBUTE TO HIS RIVAL