Category Archives: books

➤ 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 the 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 AT SOHO RADIO ON THE CLUBLAND REVOLUTION (@30mins) AND ART (@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

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Waldorf Hotel 1980: seated at centre, Spandau Ballet, house band of Covent Garden’s Blitz Club, home of the New Romantics movement, plus support team of Blitz Kids who helped put their first single To Cut a Long Story Short into the UK singles chart at No 5, on 6 December. Average age 20, everyone had a specific role to play in staging and promoting the band: seven musicians, six designers, three media and management, three club-hosts, two DJs, one crimper and 22 egos.
Commissioned by Yours Truly and photographed on 16 December for the Evening Standard © by Herbie Knott

➢ 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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2018 ➤ Spooky or what? When two bands went by the name of Spandau Ballet

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Above: Two bands who played in London as Spandau Ballet…
SBv1 originated the name and here play their final gig at the
Hope & Anchor in 1979 with singer Mark Robinson, drummer
Gordon Bowman, bass guitarist David Wardill, (guitarist Mick Austin
off-camera) . . . SBv2, here in their previous incarnation as Gentry,
playing Camden School for Girls in December 1978, with Tony Hadley
on vocals and the chart-topping single True five years in the future

DID YOU KNOW LONDON HAD TWO POP GROUPS called Spandau Ballet in 1979? The one who became famous adopted their name from the one who didn’t. That’s the claim in a jaw-dropping new history of the New Romantics scene, unauthorised and meticulously researched by David Barrat, a long-time music fan. His book is published this week titled New Romantics Who Never Were: The Untold Story of Spandau Ballet.

Barrat has gathered a mind-boggling compilation of spooky coincidences and things we never knew before in his 117,000-word paperback, self-published today on his own imprint Orsam Books. Here is no mere fan, but an obsessive one who has made himself the Mastermind champion in the two themes identified in his tongue-twisting title: Who exactly were the New Romantics of the early 1980s, who many of us believe powered one of the most transformational youth cultures of Britain’s postwar years? Barrat discusses how “New Romantics” as a two-word description came to characterise the style-leaders of British clubland when those leaders unanimously rejected it themselves.

His second theme is the true story of Spandau Ballet, the five-piece from Islington who set out with a cunning plan to weave a tapestry of fictions around their launch as electro-synth popsters in 1979. At the outset the band were coolly vague about their origins, as if they’d sprung from nowhere – or rather, from the dancefloor of the trendiest London nightspot in years, Covent Garden’s Blitz Club. You’d also have to be a fan with Barrat’s persistence to piece together spasmodic revelations about the band’s genesis as these slipped out during the succeeding decades. Spandau subsequently became global superstars in that momentous decade when image-conscious new British bands invaded the American pop charts. Then they quarrelled, as pop groups do, and arrived in the High Court in 1996 rowing over royalty payments. Individual members remained belligerent for years.

➢ Buy David Barrat’s New Romantics book
here: “gripping, original and epic”

Whether or not you care for Spandau and the 80s music scene, Barrat’s forensic approach to reassessing this creative landscape is utterly hypnotic and unlike anything you’ve read by the hacks of the creaking rock press. He has spent years in deep Holmesian research delving into official records, newspaper cuttings, TV interviews and conducting first-hand interviews. The result is gripping, original and epic. For instance: he reveals all about another band sharing exactly the same distinctive name a matter of months before Tony Hadley stepped onto the stage at the Blitz Club! Here is a well-informed juggernaut delivering into our laps mighty fact upon tiny fact, laid out for inspection and challenge. Barrat’s intent is resolute: to convince us he knows his stuff, and he has purged the popular version of events of their mutability.

David Barrat contacted me a few years back in order to check dates and events against my own detailed diaries and his aggregation of facts and assumptions is mostly hard to fault. His book now pays extraordinary and generous tribute to this website, Shapers of the 80s, and to myself as a former features editor of the Evening Standard who set out to celebrate the potency of the youthquake erupting in 1980.

SO WHO WERE THE OTHER BAND?

❑ The musicians originally called Spandau Ballet (hereafter called SBv1) were four lads who met in 1978 during their teens in Bedfordshire: guitarist Mick Austin, singer Mark Robinson, drummer Michael Harvey and punky bass guitarist David Wardill. They agonised for ages over a band name and Austin remembers a “eureka” moment while they were using the Dadaist method of juggling words on random scraps of paper. They arrived at the darkly Germanic first word (originally with an incorrect umlaut over the U, as in Spandaü) and then paired it with “the softer, romantic” word Ballet. The package was deemed “nicely decadent”, a debut gig was planned for 30 August 1978 and accordingly Robinson designed a poster for it, which we see below. Wardill declared his ambition: “We were going to go to London and become rock stars.”

So how on earth did their oddball band name transfer itself to a struggling five-piece from Islington? The reader’s mind boggles at the number of spooky coincidences that Barrat’s book uncovers. Wardill had fallen in love with journalism graduate Deanne Pearson who rented a flat at 32 Sibley Grove in East Ham, so in October 1978 he moved in and subsequently members of SBv1 often came to crash on the floor. Coincidentally . . . this flat was shared with the yet-to-become seminal Blitz Kids, Kim Bowen and Lee Sheldrick while freshers at St Martin’s School of Art, who soon joined up with a stylish posse mainly lodged in Battersea’s Ralph West halls of residence which served the population of all London’s art schools. These included graphics student Graham Smith and the social dynamo Chris Sullivan who would soon find himself running the seminal Wag club for nearly 20 years.

Click any pic below to view complete images

In her forthcoming autobiography Kim relates how, in mid-1979, she fled far-flung East Ham and, accompanied by “a trio of self-described Nelly Queens”, penetrated an empty Georgian house in Fitzrovia to establish a squat in Warren Street, a leisurely walk away from St Martin’s. It was to become notorious. “Within weeks the creme de la creme of young London was living there,” Kim writes, and her bold manuscript spares no detail about their very un-private lives. This stylish property became the hub of social life for the Blitz Kids who were meeting every Tuesday at the Covent Garden Blitz Club since Steve Strange’s Neon Nights had begun that February. As milliner Stephen Jones’s mannequin de vie, the wild and startlingly elegant Kim elevated herself to Queen of the Blitz. Many of the Kids’ high-style antics were documented by Graham Smith while he – coincidentally – became the official photographer of the second Spandau Ballet (SBv2) who announced their name for their first public concert on 5 December that year, with invitations designed by Smith. (His lavish photo-book We Can Be Heroes, with authoritative text by Chris Sullivan, was published in 2011 and remains an unbeatable record of both style and excess).

In October 1978, the Beds boys SBv1 had started working as busboys as well as rehearsing at The Venue, Virgin’s new nightclub in Victoria, where they immortalised their band’s name by spraying it in green paint on the toilet walls and on other public walls elsewhere in central London. Amid all the ancient myths about where SBv2 found their name, this band’s early propagandist and future broadcaster Bob Elms has said he first spotted the phrase “Spandau Ballet” as graffiti variously on prison walls or toilet walls in the Spandau district of Berlin during a soulboy group trip in summer 1979.

Coincidentally – however, during an interview way back in 1984 one prominent Blitz Kid told me the graffiti had been very visible on the toilet wall of The Hope, a favourite pub in Tottenham Street in London, not far from the Warren Street squat. “Some boys from north-east London were using that name in a school-type band.” Also coincidentally – along the same block as The Hope stood the trendy new Scala cinema, whose programmer then was 22-year-old Stephen Woolley (today a major player in the British film industry), who was a contemporary of SBv2 manager Steve Dagger and their stage designer Simon Withers, all of whom coincidentally attended Dame Alice Owen’s school in Islington and grew up there with the other members of SBv2 – Gary and Martin Kemp, Tony Hadley, John Keeble and Steve Norman.

Barrat’s fabulous cascade of coincidences throws up at least SIX PRIME SUSPECTS in The Ballet Great Mystery: Who really did feed the name Spandau Ballet through to the Islington band SBv2, who during 1978–79 were known as Gentry, a power-pop combo? Barrat’s new book draws its own conclusion.

PS: EVEN MORE SPOOKILY
ON MY DOORSTEP. . .

pop music,

David Wardill: bass guitarist with SBv1, who joined The Passions in 1980

❑ Scroll forward a few years from the birth of SBv2. . . After my day-jobs in journalism, I taught an adult evening class in Creative Writing for 16 years in west London, after which it was traditional for the more entertaining students to continue the evening at a nearby pub. Among several who became long-standing friends was – coincidentally – the same David Wardill of SBv1 (also visible in the video below). His musical background meant we had lots to discuss when we met in 1989, including his earlier life in East Ham with Kim Bowen and Lee Sheldrick.

David and I drifted apart but had a sudden email reunion while I was building this website in 2009. He told me that soon after completing the writing class he sent a story to the BBC which turned up two years later as a film from BBC Birmingham. These days he was a father and teaching art in a secondary school.

As for SBv2, he admitted: “I never really cared much that they had borrowed our band’s name, as I didn’t see much chance of us wanting it back.” SBv1 ground to a standstill in May 1979 and David soon joined another band called The Passions who enjoyed airplay by Radio 1’s influential deejay John Peel and eventually made it to Top of The Pops in 1981 with their song on Polydor, I’m in Love with a German Film Star, which reached No 25. (CoincidentallySBv2 arrived at No 17 with Musclebound in the same edition of TOTP and we hear them being announced at the end of the clip below. Oo, er.)

David added: “The Passions reunited recently for a day at a studio in Shepherd’s Bush. That laid a lot of ghosts to rest. Our main song has been covered by the Foo Fighters and Pet Shop Boys. Strange how the past hangs around, although I find the continued interest gratifying, as well as financially useful.” Spoken like a star.

❑ And here today we still have not given away the truly spookiest coincidence among those that Barrat reveals about SBv1 & v2 when their paths almost crossed in May 1979 – it’s a goose-pimples moment that stops you in your tracks, so we’re not going to spoil it. However, other reflections on this vital addition to our bookshelves will follow here at Shapers of the 80s as we read on…

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s: Just don’t call us New Romantics

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s: Who’s Who in the Pits – Harry Cool’s Guide to the New Glitterati

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