Category Archives: books

➤ Sullivan’s manifesto for the Rebel Rebel life

Club-host and artist Chris Sullivan: as he renders himself sporting Dennis-the-Menace T-shirt in NYC 1981 and as he is today in Portobello Road

NOT MANY PEOPLE KNOW that Chris Sullivan – legendary Welsh frontman of Soho’s Wag Club which he founded in 1982 – switched from the fashion course at St Martin’s to pursue painting instead. Despite his instinctive sense of style, he says today: “I was great at the design and fashion drawings, but not very good at actually making things, stuff like sewing and pattern cutting. So I moved over to fine art. At the time I kept on being in the newspapers, and the college didn’t care what I did, just happy another St Martin’s student was getting press. It was good for their PR.”

It also positioned him as a pivotal influence on the whole British youthquake that transformed London nightlife, music and fashion in the Eighties, while his own mantra of “One look lasts a day” has propelled him through such guises as flaneur, deejay, journalist, nightclub host, pop star, northern soul dancer, style commentator, entrepreneur and fashion designer. A terrific route-map to the Sullivan cosmos occupies 12 pages of the April issue of GQ magazine, blessed with a photo-portrait by David Bailey.

Click any pic below to enlarge all in a slideshow

This month Sullivan publishes his third book, an anthology of “people and things that broke the mould” titled Rebel Rebel: How Mavericks Made the Modern World. What he dubs a “paperback manifesto” is an excuse to celebrate his own outsider approach to life: never having a proper job and always staying one step ahead of the pack. The book was launched in 2015 as a crowd-funded project through Unbound Books and for reasons unknown it seemed to take four years either to raise the cash or finish the writing, at which point Sullivan says there was still no money set aside for photographs of the 34 subjects he was profiling (some new essays, some vintage). “So I said I’ll paint or draw them, all these people like Rod Steiger, Fela Kuti, Louise Brooks, Orson Welles, Anita Pallenberg, David Bowie. . .”

In the mix are criminals (Brilliant Chang), musicians (Lemmy), actors (Robert Mitchum), artists (Egon Schiele, Jackson Pollock), directors (Martin Scorsese), photographers (Robert Capa), as well as iconic topics such as film noir, Berlin in the Twenties, Levis, the pork pie hat, the Zoot Suit and the white T-Shirt.

“Because I was so worried as the deadline loomed,” Sullivan says, “I did 35 illustrations for the book, really quickly b-b-boom! Then a friend Barnsley saw one of a zoot suit I wasn’t using for a chapter on outsider clothing, and he snapped it up. Before I knew it someone else was asking could they have one, then I did another one as a commission and stuck that up online and since then I’ve had more than 10 commissions to do these paintings.” Some of the results are here for all to see, inspired by time spent in New York back in the day. What the Rebel Rebel book contains will be revealed any minute now.

David Bowie, books, Unbound, Chris Sullivan, illustration

David Bowie: Sullivan’s illustration of the Thin White Duke for his Rebel book

➢ Read the odd taster from Sullivan’s book Rebel Rebel

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➤ Elms the storyteller on why some stories are ‘too good to check’

Dalston, books, London, talks, Robert Elms, London Made Us, 5x15, slums, Canongate,

Robert Elms with fire in his belly: Talking last night in a 5×15 event at EartH (Evolutionary Arts Hackney). (Photo: Shapersofthe80s)

SENTIMENTAL AS EVER, onetime Blitz Kid now broadcaster Robert Elms – the professional cockney not born within the sound of Bow Bells – marshalled his gorblimey vowels and glottal stops at a 5×15-minute live talk last night in Hackney, in trendy east London, to argue for a return to the down-at-heel west London he was born into 59 years ago. He invoked postwar bomb-sites as instructive playgrounds, the punk explosion as his most life-enhancing event, the squats in disused houses with freezing outside WCs that characterised his upbringing in Notting Hill and still more squats for fostering the creativity of his teenaged peers who dreamed up the New Romantics movement. . . He poured scorn on the developers who have transformed sectors of London into swish modernity and urged the need for new slums to teach flaky young millennials the facts of life.

Bob, once an amiable young man, has matured into an Angry Old Man yet the fire in his belly aimed to persuade us that deep-down he actually loves this contradictory city. An interview he gave to last month’s GQ signals the flavour of his new book, London Made Us: A Memoir of a Shape-Shifting City (from Canongate Books):

“What I certainly wasn’t hoping to do was out-Peter-Ackroyd Peter Ackroyd,” laughed Elms [referring to our capital city’s most distinguished historian]. What he did do – “because I’m not a proper historian and this is not a textbook” – was focus on the stories that seem too slight, or too fanciful, for the grander almanacs. “Some of them might not bear taking apart. My theory with all the stories in the book is: they’re too good to check” . . . Other sections are filled with incidents that are unique to Elms after decades living around London, from Burnt Oak to Holborn to Camden. There’s the incident when money rains from the sky near the soon-to-be British Library, or the story of the monkey jazz band in Notting Dale, “a troupe of 13 simian swingers to entertain the happy flappers” who escaped their captivity, some of them ending up as far away as Rugby…/ Continued at GQ online

Last night’s event was all about plugging new books. In Bob’s case it provided an excellent incentive to attend his next performance, much longer than 15 minutes on April 2.

➢ An Evening with Robert Elms at Waterstone’s in
Tottenham Court Road

➢ Nostalgic protest against the sanitisation of London – review by Nicholas Lezard in the Evening Standard

➢ Elms isn’t afraid of nostalgia in this part memoir, part cultural history. Is he pining for his youth? asks Fiona Sturges in the Guardian review

➢ Elms has written about one of London’s most successful,
and most forgotten, mass murderers
: Interview with David Levesley from the March issue of GQ

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➤ My own Rondo moment immortalised by Sullivan, the grand Wag of Soho

portrait painting,

Immortalised on canvas: Chris Sullivan’s portrait of the face behind Shapersofthe80s

ONE OF THE BRAVEST things I’ve ever done – apart from disagree with a newspaper editor – was to pose for my portrait, as mine is the kind of family who can’t boast even one ancestor committed to oil on canvas. So when Eighties uber-Wag Chris Sullivan offered to paint me in the style of one of his Latin band Blue Rondo’s wittily cubistic 12-inch record sleeves, I jumped at the chance to look like any of those cool guys on Me And Mr Sanchez in 1981.

So here I am [up top] and the result is strangely hypnotic, if not actually cubistic – “More vorticist than anything else,” says Chris, though we agreed perhaps closer to the audacious David Bomberg’s later work and that suits me down to ground, a rebel 20th-century style that veers towards abstract and also hints at dynamism. Chris posted the portrait at Facebook and amazing numbers of people said he’d caught the eyes very well, and going by this photo that he took when he handed the canvas over to me last week, I am bound to agree!

Blue Rondo à la Turk, Chris Sullivan, artwork, sleeve,

The Sullivan style on a Blue Rondo sleeve from 1981, itself a convincing echo of Picasso’s Tres Musicos of 1921

How it came about was through his new book Rebel Rebel which comes out in May (after a gestation lasting about four years!). He invited friends to crowd-fund the project through Unbound Books and when I saw that the prize offered for the topmost pledge was a Rondo-esque portrait, I snapped it up (never forget Sullivan switched from fashion onto the fine-art course while at St Martin’s and turned out a lot of visual material right through the 1990s, quite apart from designing the dreamworld interior of his Wag Club in Soho).

We discussed all this and more when he asked me onto his Soho Radio show last month for nearly an hour and a half. Somewhere between Bowie’s TVC15 and Was Not Was’s Wheel Me Out, I dared to ask whether the approaching deadline for his book being published and finishing this portrait had provided a trigger for his recent return to painting and drawing. We’ve seen a sudden outpouring of witty caricatures of his friends in a mix of paint and pencil and ink flying around on the web. He almost agreed, saying: “It certainly got my chops together, put it that way. . . I’m not trying to be Rothko or Caravaggio, but I’ve always been a big fan of George Grosz and even Picasso did some caricatures.”

My A3-sized portrait is much more fully worked up in acrylic and crayon on canvas than Sullivan’s fun drawings on paper and even though he started chortling sarcastically when I said I’d wanted him to paint me not out of vanity but for love of Rondo, the fact is I’m chuffed to bits to own an image that makes a substantial statement about his talent. It certainly raises an eyebrow when friends come visiting.

JAWING on ART AT SOHO RADIO (@55 MINS)

Chris Sullivan, Sullivan’s Suits, Soho Radio, interview, DJ,

Chris Sullivan: spinning the discs on his show Sullivan’s Suits at Soho Radio while interviewing me on January 30. (Photo by Shapersofthe80s)


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➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s: Sullivan the wag changes hats at the touch of his paintbrush

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➤ 45 years of soothing egos and arresting our attention by portraitist Ridgers

Derek Ridgers Photographs, book, launch, party, pop-up exhibition,Sherrone,

“My favourite mid-80s muse”: Derek Ridgers signs his book for singer Sherrone from the 1988 band Savajazz

◼ DEREK RIDGERS BLAMES PUNK for turning him from a self-confessed pop fan who photographed performers into a considered photographer in 1976. “Almost overnight,” he writes, “the audience became more photogenic than the bands.” He didn’t stop shooting Jagger, Clapton, Richards, Ringo, Diana Ross, James Brown, the Pet Shops, Johnny Depp and their showbiz pals who are of necessity brazen exhibitionists. But this softly spoken London-born art-school graduate did then develop the knack of persuading life’s everyday misfits, clubland weirdos and sexual eccentrics to pose for uninhibited and seductive portraits that came to sum up the essence of their individuality.

Ridgers says his latest book, with its understated one-word title Photographs, is “my masterwork – my best photographs from the last 45 years”. In large-format hardback, exquisitely printed so that the ink provides the sheen on otherwise matte paper, its 240 pages capture an astonishing spectrum of moods and lifestyles.

Come to the party: click any pic below to enlarge all in a slideshow

As an outsider looking in, his photographer’s eye sets out to find people whose appearance is uniquely striking or simply different, yet his instinct is to bring about “a moment of stillness and quiet contemplation” before his camera. By contrast, his book’s printed pages set unfamous showoffs (starting with cover-girl Michelle Carr) in competition with international celebrity egotists. This can create witty juxtapositions of subject yet there’s not an ounce of banality or cynicism. The most powerful images nail the internalised apprehension of the homeless and of some Quite Important People too: study the faces of Peter Cook, Don McCullin and Dennis Hopper; and unknowns such as the Deadhead, the Skin women, Sofia Staks and assorted skinheads.

As Ridgers tactfully navigates all extremes of id and ego, you’re likely to be surprised by how so many individual portraits, such as those of NWA and Snoop Dogg and even Kylie, arrest your attention, as the tragic Tuinol Barry’s has done in earlier books, and likewise Babs, the skinhead girl spotted in Soho in 1987. Ridgers says now of Babs, who had been through a children’s home: “We hardly spoke. Somehow I think we had a connection – even if it was only for 1/125th of a second. We were probably both outsiders.”

Across these varied social camps, note how few people smile at the Ridgers camera: across all these camps, the next page can reveal a real tear-jerker.

More partying: click any pic below to enlarge all in a slideshow

A FOUR-DAY POP-UP EXHIBITION

The Old Truman Brewery, London E1 6QR, is displaying selected images from the Ridgers book, curated by Faye Dowling to include an archive of original magazines such as i-D and The Face. It is open from 5 to 7 October, and our slideshows record an amazingly retro book launch party when faces from Derek’s past caught up with him. Derek Ridgers Photographs is published at £34.95 by Carpet Bombing Culture

➢ In one of Ridgers’ best interviews yet, this week’s Huckmag asks: What’s changed? – “About the only thing that’s changed during my lifetime is that there are different platforms now, mainly the internet. Once upon a time, when you bought a new outfit, you couldn’t wait to get out and show yourself off in it. Nowadays you never have to leave the house; you have Instagram.”

➢ This week’s London Live TV interview

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s: Ridgers casts an honest spotlight on the birth of punk

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2018 ➤ Revealed: The secret role of Shapersofthe80s in the rise and rise of Spandau Ballet

Spandau Ballet, 1980,Scala Cinema, performance,

A photograph never before published: sharply styled Spandau Ballet in 1980 playing the dramatically lit Scala Cinema gig that eventually brought the record companies scrambling to sign them. Photograph by Steve Brown

FIRST COMES THIS UNAUTHORISED BOOK that tells the world there were two bands called Spandau Ballet back in 1979 and turns over the whole myth about where their name came from. There are a least two huge marmalade-dropper revelations, plus several dozen eye-openers about the birth of Blitz culture, however well you think you knew the early 80s. The author David Barrat even knows John Keeble’s middle name. In fact he gives us everybody’s middle name, just to prove his overdue diligence. Barrat is also very revealing about the band’s legal falling-out that ended in the high court before an apparently congenial judge who quite liked their music.

Then out of the blue I find there are about 100 shockingly well-informed pages not exactly about me, long before this website existed, but following my every footstep through every month of 1980 as the second SB with the stolen name takes its first tentative steps toward a record deal and the UK charts all within a single year – which was indeed good going for a new band by any standards. Very flatteringly Barrat suggests that I am waving some Invisible Hand behind the scenes to make the Spandau magic happen and actually writes that “their success can be pinned on one Evening Standard journalist”. Talk about blush!

New Romantics Who Never Were: The Untold Story of Spandau Ballet, David Barrat, Orsam Books, pop music, historySo what we’re doing here today is offering a modest extract from Barrat’s book for you to read how he theorises about my ducking and diving as a regular young journalist about town who suddenly fell into five years of rollicking night-clubbing. Then on an inside page you can read my own parallel account of falling under the spell of the real Svengali, Steve Dagger, Spandau’s manager. I blow the gaff on his game called Squeeze the Lemon.

David Barrat says he became “just an ordinary fan of the band” at the age of 16, who two decades later created a cult SB-related MSN group online called Deformation. It focussed on three subjects: 1, origins of the band’s name; 2, whether SB were real “New Romantics” or not, as a friend’s mum claimed; 3, the legal battle that tore the band apart in the late 1990s. He tackles other questions such as “When was Gary Kemp visited at home by a bishop? What was the real story behind Bob Geldof’s idea for the Band Aid Christmas single?” All the while he unnervingly debunks myths put about by celebrities with faulty memories.

He has also dug up a mass of colourful detail about London clubland in the past when the police were as dodgy as the club-owners, the notorious Roxy in particular, which adds quite a bit to the sum of human knowledge.

So tuck into Barrat’s own book in the extract embedded here as a PDF which will open in a new window. Then contrast it with my own account at the link below.

David Barrat

Click on this image to read the David Barrat book extract

WHEN YOU’RE READY FOR MY OWN STORY…

➢ 1980 was one frantic year – Follow my version of Spandau Ballet’s unprecedented rise, penned by the Invisible Hand of Shapersofthe80s

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s:
Spooky or what? When two bands went by the name of Spandau Ballet – the most amazing revelation made in Barrat’s book

Spandau Ballet , Papagayo Club,pop music, St Tropez

Spandau Ballet on the beach in St Tropez 1980: a fortnight in the sun courtesy of the Papagayo Club before they’d even signed a deal! (Photographer unknown)

➢ Click to buy New Romantics Who Never Were: The Untold Story of Spandau Ballet, by David Barrat, from Orsam Books, 330pp, £16.99

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