Category Archives: History

➤ 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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➤ 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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➤ Duran rock NASA’s Rocket Garden, feet firmly on Planet Earth

Kennedy Space Centre, NASA, Apollo 50th gala, Nick Rhodes, Duran Duran,

Cape Canaveral concert: Duran Duran celebrating the launch of Apollo 11 in 1969, accompanied by a 300 drone art performance by Studio Drift. (Getty)

WHO ELSE BUT DURAN DURAN – whose debut hit in 1981 was titled Planet Earth – could the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida have chosen to celebrate the 50th anniversary of man’s journey to the Moon in Apollo 11 when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on its surface? On Tuesday the Rocket Garden at NASA’s primary launch centre at Cape Canaveral saw Duran Duran climaxing the Apollo 50th gala day of special events with a headline concert backed by a 16-piece orchestra and 12-voice choir, plus 300 Intel Shooting Star drones flying in formation overhead.

Performing before the Saturn 1B launch vehicle and a platoon of iconic space rockets, Duran were watched by all the surviving astronauts who have walked on the Moon since 1969, plus an audience who had paid $300 a ticket to support the Aldrin Family Foundation. Obviously the British band kicked off with The Universe Alone, followed by a selection of their space-themed hits including Planet Earth, New Moon On Monday, Anyone Out There, Astronaut, and Ordinary World. The Brummie boys capped their 90-minute show with their biggest hit Rio.

Keyboardist Nick Rhodes, who had watched the Moon-landing on TV as a seven-year-old, said: “It was surreal and awe-inspiring. Science-fiction unfolding before us, opening our minds to what mankind was capable of achieving.”

Kennedy Space Centre, NASA, Apollo 50th gala, Nick Rhodes, Duran Duran,

Duran Duran at Cape Canaveral: playing their space-themed hits to honour the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon launch. (Getty)


❏ KSC setlist – The Universe Alone, Planet Earth/Space Oddity, Anyone Out There, Astronaut, Ordinary World, (Reach Up for the) Sunrise, Walking on the Moon (Police cover), Wild Boys, Hungry Like the Wolf, Come Undone, Notorious, Pressure Off, White Lines (Don’t Do It) (Grandmaster Melle Mel cover), Girls on Film, Save a Prayer, View to a Kill, Rio.


➢ More pictures at Duran’s own website

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2019 ➤ Lawrie’s Eleven talk candidly of being young black and gay in ways many of us never knew

Black issues, film, Vogue Fabrics Dalston, Beyond There’s always a black issue Dear,Claire Lawrie,

Discussion following Beyond at Vogue Fabrics Dalston: around Claire Lawrie wearing white), Andy Polaris, Roy Brown, David Holah, Iain R Webb, Greg Davis. (Photo Shapersofthe80s)


WELL THAT WAS A HILARIOUS BOUT OF GAY BANTER following the first community screening of director Claire Lawrie’s Iris prize-winning short documentary featuring eleven highly individual creatives telling their stories about growing up black and queer in 1970s and 80s Britain. Thursday’s screening at Vogue Fabrics Dalston of Beyond “There’s always a black issue, Dear” was as moving and thoughtful as it was entertaining. Joining Claire in Thursday’s follow-on discussion were some of its stars, Frank Akinsete, Andy Polaris, Roy Brown and Winn Austin, plus David Holah, Iain R Webb, Greg Davis, Shaun Cole and other individualists who made their mark before and during Margaret Thatcher’s regime.

Navigating their gender-fluid youth in this period of cultural and political turbulence saw the protagonists tackling things their own way. London’s alternative nightclub scene provided sanctuary for disco to meet soul and punks  to become Blitz Kids. As fierce LGBTQ trailblazers, the cast recount vivid memories which tell of singular determination and of resisting definition, through dance, art, fashion and music and seeing their ideas appropriated by the mainstream. The film acknowledges the importance of family, whether as parents or a group of like-minded friends. “You needed somewhere to go where you felt good about yourself,” and in the post-punk moment that meant Soho nightclubs such as Crackers and Billy’s.

Black issues, film, Vogue Fabrics Dalston, Beyond There’s always a black issue Dear,Claire Lawrie,

Claire Lawrie with guests outside Vogue Fabrics Dalston: Frank Akinsete, Pippa Brooks, Winn Austin. (Photo Andy Polaris)

In Thursday’s discussion Frank said that race itself wasn’t the issue, simply feeling “weird”. Within black circles the choice was also between reggae or soul, Andy said on today’s Robert Elms show on BBC Radio London: “The power of the film is not just about gay or straight, black or white – we were all rejects from some type of conservatism and we came together in a safe space where we could explore ourselves.”

Also on the Elms show, Claire said the film started with Les Childs being in Lindsay Kemp’s company in the mid-70s (he later worked with Michael Clark and choreographed for the Pet Shop Boys) and goes through to 1991 and the Michael and Gerlinde Costiff club Kinky Gerlinky. Claire added: “London is another star of this film – we all moved to London to be individual.”

There’s another screening tonight (6 July) at the Conduit club in Mayfair as part of BlackOut’s starry Pride programme (tickets via Eventbrite) and again on 23 July at Manchester Pride, with another hopefully in Liverpool.

➢ Tickets may still be available for tonight’s 6pm screening of Beyond plus a discussion to launch BlackOut UK’s fund-raising appeal at the Conduit Club, W1S 2YQ

➢ Andy Polaris and Claire Lawrie talk about Beyond on today’s Robert Elms show at BBC Radio London (from 2h07m)

➢ A new documentary finally gives credit to the black queer people who built British nightlife – Andy Polaris writes about Beyond: There’s always a black issue Dear at GQ online

TRAILER for BEYOND

➢ More about the film Beyond

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