Category Archives: London

➤ Sullivan & Elms relive their clubland double act

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

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

CATCH UP ON TWO CLUBLAND WAGS Chris Sullivan and Robert Elms, who sat on a pair of wonky stools in public last summer and entertained an invited crowd as each capped the other’s stories. Both are renowned for having shaped the style revolution of the Swinging Eighties and their subject was the ever-changing face of London.

Writer/artist Chris Sullivan is nominally a Welshman who revealed roots that led to a grandfather who’d been a bouncer at the capital’s Windmill Theatre, while BBC London broadcaster Robert Elms is a paid-up Cockney in all but the Bow Bells bit, with a mum who was a clippie on the buses at age 15.

➢ Tune into Portobello Radio for Sullivan & Elms
at 11am on Sunday 31 May, and again for a repeat
on Wednesday and Friday 3+5 June at 7pm

2020 ➤ Steve Dagger recalls Spandau Ballet’s fifth gig and why it detonated their lift-off

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A picture from the Shapersofhe80s archive: sharply styled Spandau Ballet in 1980 playing the dramatically lit Scala cinema concert that eventually brought the record companies scrambling to sign them. (Photograph © by Steve Brown)

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Spandau Ballet’s performance at the trendy Scala cinema on 13 May 1980, their manager Steve Dagger recalls how the event propelled his unsigned band towards the charts and to stardom. Prompted by the waves the band had been making, this – only their fifth live concert – was recorded by London Weekend Television and provided lift-off for the band’s ambitions.

Their first shows were always mounted in secrecy and in novel venues such as the Blitz Club in Covent Garden, which was rapidly becoming the focus for the hippest young people in London who had yet to become known as the New Romantics. The story of those sensational early days is extracted here with Steve’s permission from the full version on the band’s website.

Spandau Ballet, 20th Century Box, Scala cinema, pop music

Spandau at the Scala cinema, May 1980: bass-player Martin Kemp surveys the wild dancing by the audience of Blitz Kids captured for TV by 20th Century Box

Steve Dagger writes:

❏ 40 YEARS AGO, on a warm London May evening, at the Scala Cinema, which was then situated on the rather nondescript Tottenham Street, in the heart of what is now Fitzrovia, Spandau Ballet and its previously underground sub-sect of youth culture emerged blinking into the daylight.

Steve Dagger, Spandau Ballet, live concert, pop music

Spandau manager Steve Dagger on the road with the band in 1980

Before the show, the crowd, previously not seen en-masse outside of a nightclub, spilled over the pavement clutching drinks from the nearby pub and eying each other up as they arrived, each dressed in their own highly personalised version of the heightened street fashion/plundering of the history of style/Fritz Lang vision of the future that was going to be dubbed “New Romantic” or “Blitz Kids”. All the stylistic cards were being thrown up in the air in a post-modern reset to prepare for a new decade. The event had been advertised by our version of social media, word of mouth, as were all our early shows.

It had the atmosphere of a bizarre red carpet event before a film premiere. There was a TV crew filming and interviewing the arrivals. There were photographers recording the scene. Spandau Ballet were to play live and the performance and the audience were being filmed by LWT for a Janet Street-Porter documentary as part of a TV series called 20th Century Box. The audience was joined by various journalists, photographers and media people, including Radio 1 DJ and TV presenter Peter Powell, numerous record company execs including impresario Bryan Morrison. It was a potent mix which we could have only dreamed of six months earlier before our Spandau Ballet rebirth and was entirely consistent with our title of “The Next Big Thing” and the hottest unsigned band in the country and the new decade.

Since their first performance as Spandau Ballet at the Blitz five months earlier, the band’s career trajectory had been such that it seemed to have been fired out of some powerful pop culture cannon. A lot had happened! We had exploded from a standing start like Usain Bolt.

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Spandau at the Scala: Blitz Kids arrive in high style to watch the band perform in an auditorium for the first time, captured by 20th Century Box

At that first Blitz show in December 1979, Chris Blackwell, legendary founder and owner of Island Records – the world’s coolest record company – had approached me offering to sign the band “on the spot”. It was a hugely seductive and exciting opportunity but there was a deal to be done.

Accompanied by our newly appointed lawyer, Brian Carr, the band and I went to meet Chris at the Island HQ in London, a large relaxed converted villa on St Peter’s Square in Hammersmith. Posters and gold and platinum discs of Bob Marley, Roxy Music, Stevie Winwood and Grace Jones greeted us. Chris showed us around. He was charming and smart. It all seemed so right. For a while. He introduced us to Nick Stewart, an A&R man who was to be our point person. He had the demeanour of an army officer. I think he was a friend of Chris’s from public school. He listened to our ideas about the band – it seemed very hard to explain the band’s ethos to him. Chris was not a UK resident at the time and had a limited time in the country each year. We would be dealing with Nick day-to-day. Not good. Then they showed us the terms of the deal they were proposing.

We retired for lunch at a local Chinese restaurant with Brian to consider it. I suppose it was an OK deal for a new band, but both Brian and I thought we could do better. We went back to Island HQ after lunch and after a short discussion about the terms, on a pre-arranged cue from Brian, we turned down the deal and ended the meeting abruptly and walked out. It was spectacular! Their jaws dropped. It showed huge confidence on our part. It was a bold effective tactic. It did mean however that we were very shortly in Hammersmith Broadway, on foot, without a record contract.

Although there was a vigorous discussion about the wisdom of this move with the band and myself later that evening, so powerful was our newly acquired self-confidence everyone soon settled down. Shortly afterward Chis left town for Paris or Jamaica and although we kept in contact and he maintained interest, we didn’t sign to them. We were soon to be distracted by other suitors and opportunities.

Spandau Ballet, 20th Century Box, Scala cinema, pop music

Spandau at the Scala: the moment the band began playing, the audience filled the aisles with their dancing, captured by 20th Century Box

Meanwhile, our progress continued apace. Days after the visit to Island the band played their second show as Spandau Ballet at Mayhem Studios Battersea at a multi-media event party organised by a number of our friends and now collaborators from the Blitz. It was in effect the first Warehouse Party Brand that would morph eventually into the ubiquitous rave format. There were art-house and porn films projected onto the ceiling, DJs, alcohol, drugs, Spandau Ballet and hundreds and hundreds of people crammed into a relatively small space. The combined word of mouth powers of Chris Sullivan, Graham Ball, Robert Elms and Graham Smith reached every hip club person in London. Blitz Kids, Soul Boys and Rockabillies. All soon to merge together into “Club Culture”. It was rammed.

Hundreds couldn’t get in. It was bloody chaos. The band performed and were well received, but most people that were there couldn’t see them, it was so crowded. But that wasn’t the point. The value to us was that we were for the second time in as many weeks performing at the epicentre of hipness in the new London. Even if you hadn’t seen the band or even couldn’t get in, everyone knew that Spandau Ballet had played there. It was most certainly an event.

On New Year’s Eve as the 80s started, I remember feeling utterly satisfied with the band’s progress in the last month. We were right in the sweet spot of being the coolest band in the hippest scene in London. The decade seemed to be opening up before us. Great, but what next? . . . / Continued at Spandauballet.com

Spandau Ballet, 20th Century Box, Scala cinema, pop music

Spandau at the Scala: their audience of dancing Blitz Kids confirmed their status as the hottest unsigned band in the land, captured by 20th Century Box

ELSEWHERE AT SHAPERS OF THE 80S:

➢ A selective timeline for the unprecedented rise and rise
of Spandau Ballet

➢ Spooky or what? The amazing revelation that two bands went by the name of Spandau Ballet

➢ Private worlds of the new young setting the town ablaze

➢ Just don’t call us New Romantics, say the stars of the Blitz

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2020 ➤ Hockney’s drawings lay bare the artist’s soul in the shifting sands of time

David Hockney, Drawing from Life, National Portrait Gallery, Reviews,

Fashion designer Celia Birtwell: drawn in crayon by Hockney in Hollywood, 1984 (detail)

◼ TWO OF OUR LEADING newspaper art critics have blown hot and cold over the new exhibition of David Hockney’s portraits titled Drawing From Life at the National Portrait Gallery in London. The Guardian’s Jonathan Jones awarded it five stars, raving in the most civilised way about the artist’s skill as a “graphic master” in this “the most dazzling display of his art I have ever seen”. Some praise!

However, the Times headlined its two-star review “Hockney gets hackneyed” while critic Rachel Campbell-Johnston complained that the show is repetitive: “less a fresh look at an innovative talent than a restricted rehash of what was just a small part of other previous shows”.

After two hours examining the 150 portraits large and small, many of them familiar images spanning six decades, I confess to having a foot in both camps. From the outset as a schoolboy Hockney’s eye for a spare line portraying fine detail was breathtakingly meticulous and, if you accept that capturing the eyes is the secret to any portrait, you will be thrilled to your imaginative roots by studying these 150 pairs of eyes up close! It’s a time-worn truism to say that you must visit an art gallery in the flesh because viewing reproductions in print or online can never do justice to an original painting or drawing. Here up close to Hockney’s strokes, in pencil, pastel, charcoal or etching, they are so evidently masterly, whether hair-fine or gesturally bold. The length of some lines is prodigious and intriguing to follow.

But yes, by the time I reached the final two rooms I’d already had enough, a mood that was visibly expressed there on the faces of the three friends who’d modelled for the great man for ever and again: onetime boyfriend Gregory Evans, designer Celia Birtwell and printer Maurice Payne. Hockney’s most recent frank portrayals of this visibly timeworn trio were not remotely flattering and they leave you wondering to what extent those forbearing friendships have been tested! Celia even told the Guardian her new chubby portrayal was “horrible” though conceding, “That’s life: One gets old”.

Click any pic below to enlarge all in a slideshow

David Hockney, Drawing from Life, National Portrait Gallery, Reviews,

The final gallery in Drawing From Life: the most recent and frank portraits of Celia, Maurice & Co.

In her Times review, Rachel C-J was essentially dumping on the predictable curation of this NPG show and especially the “lacklustre finale” that had required Hockney to redraw each of his subjects during 2019. She readily acknowledges his master draughtsmanship and his preoccupation with eroding distance “so that we can all come closer together”. Intimacy and mood are the keynotes to portraying his friends and RCJ happily recognises the portraits of his mother too as “magically intimate, subtle and tender”.

Much of this goes for his expressive self-portraits, some of which we view on vertical video screens which animate their progress as iPad drawings and always prove mesmerising. Many of the self-portraits are intense, starting with a precocious clutch executed in his late teens. Jonathan Jones makes much of Hockney’s learning curve: “What makes this exhibition so staggering is the picture it builds of a man who has never stopped learning”, ever since Picasso’s work imparted to him the essence of simplicity. And of staying alive to the world around us. Do go. There’s always pleasure to be had from the detail in a Hockney.

David Hockney, Drawing from Life, National Portrait Gallery, Reviews,

Old friends reunited at the National Portrait Gallery last week: Maurice Payne, Celia Birtwell, David Hockney and Gregory Evans. (Photo: David Parry)

➢ Hockney: Drawing From Life runs 27 February to 28 June 2020 at the National Portrait Gallery, before it closes for refurbishment

➢ The David Hockney Foundation archive

➢ Elsewhere at Shapers of the 80s:
1983, Britain’s favourite painter discovers a truer
way of seeing, with help from Proust

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2020 ➤ “Every hat is opening night” – Stephen Jones 40 years on

Culture, Vogue, millinery, Stephen Jones,Fashion, London, Social trends ,

Stephen Jones: 40 years as fashion’s head master

The decorated British milliner Stephen Jones has created headgear for everyone from Princess Diana to Rihanna, collaborated with some of fashion’s greatest houses and contributed to exhibitions around the world. This week he talks to Liam Freeman for Vogue about his glittering career. . .

Vogue, millinery, Stephen Jones,Fashion, Rihanna, Social trends ,

Rihanna sports Jones at the 2018 Met Ball (Getty)

It’s 40 years since Stephen Jones – one of the fashion industry’s most prolific and inventive milliners – entered the hat game. Does it feel like yesterday? “No it doesn’t,” the 62-year-old replies. “It definitely feels like I’ve had a career doing this. But the thrill and the terror of making a hat is just the same as when I started.” Why the terror? “You’re dealing with a piece of white paper, you’re working with a [insert: often world-famous] client, a high-profile designer, and you do learn how [to do it], but in a way you don’t because every hat is opening night… / Continued at Vogue online

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s: Britain’s top hatter, Stephen Jones OBE, celebrates 30 years of Jonesmanship

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➤ Stoppard’s superlative new play is a tearjerker echoing his own roots

Theatre, reviews, history, 20th century, London, Leopoldstadt, Tom Stoppard, Patrick Marber,

Iconic poster for Leopoldstadt the play: a 19th-century grandchild learns the new mathematics by playing with a cat’s cradle, emblem of cross-generational connections. (Photography Seamus Ryan; design Bob King Creative)

TOM STOPPARD’S MOST PERSONAL PLAY YET opened this week in London and detonated a mighty thunderclap of profound drama. I was not alone with tears streaming down my face when the curtain fell at Wyndham’s Theatre and many of us sat in our seats stunned. Heavens, even our greatest living playwright himself admits he has sat sobbing in the stalls during previews, as he did while writing the final scenes. “Nothing I have written has had that effect on me,” Stoppard told Radio 4’s Front Row on Tuesday about the play that proves more heart-wrenching than any of his previous 30.

Theatre, reviews, history, London, Leopoldstadt, Tom Stoppard, Patrick Marber,

Another gifted collaboration: Marber and Stoppard in rehearsal

Though named after Leopoldstadt, the poor Jewish district of Vienna, the play is set on the posh side of town. It is monumental in scale and epic in emotion. Its ensemble of 40 accomplished actors headed by Adrian Scarborough, Faye Castelow, Caroline Gruber and Ed Stoppard (yes, son) explore the traditions and fortunes of an extended cosmopolitan family through the first five decades of 20th-century history, made flesh with more harrowing detail and revealing dialogue than most of us could imagine or would want to when the jackboot of the Third Reich arrives. While a clock ticks loudly.

Untypically for Stoppard we hear less of his usual glittering wit and fewer laughs, while those that spasmodically do surface reflect Vienna’s intellectual achievements in art, maths, music and Dr Freud’s new-fangled psychoanalysis.

A glimpse of wit from the play: “Today’s modern is tomorrow’s nostalgia: we missed Mahler when we heard Schoenberg”

The bedrock is memory. Questions are raised about identity and heritage in a city and an era when Jews and Catholics happily inter-marry. Director Patrick Marber illuminates the interwoven branches of family trees as deftly as he did with the preposterous though mostly real life stories of Lenin, Joyce and Tzara that made his 2016 revival of Stoppard’s Travesties its wittiest production yet.

Theatre, reviews, history, 20th century, London, Leopoldstadt, Tom Stoppard, Patrick Marber,

Leopoldstadt the play: Jewish and Catholic families celebrate Christmas in the Vienna of 1899

Leopoldstadt is the nearest thing to tragedy written by the 82-year-old playwright. It also features himself in the character Leo who is aged 24 in the final scene set in 1955, a caricature of English privilege who has grown up in Britain, having arrived at age eight, as Stoppard did, after being whisked away from the Nazis in Czechoslovakia where he had been born Tomas Straussler. His four grandparents all died in concentration camps, though Stoppard only discovered his Jewish heritage relatively late in life owing to his mother’s reluctance to revisit the past.

The play has been years in gestation and might possibly be Stoppard’s last. For its eloquence, prescience, intimacy and empathy, it will stand as a gloriously moving testament to his humanity.

➢ Leopoldstadt runs at the Wyndham’s theatre, London, until 13 June

➢ John Wilson interviews Stoppard for Radio 4’s Front Row, 11 Feb

Theatre, reviews, history, 20th century, London, Leopoldstadt, Tom Stoppard,

At the premiere of Leopoldstadt: Sir Tom Stoppard and wife, Sabrina Guinness

REVIEWS THE MORNING AFTER

➢ Director Patrick Marber has knitted Tom Stoppard’s putative swan song into a compelling whole – reviewed at Theartsdesk

➢ Stoppard’s family portrait is an elegiac epic – reviewed in The Guardian

➢ Stoppard’s new masterwork is an early contender for play of the year – reviewed in the Evening Standard

➢ Raising the emotional voltage, the dramatist puts a version of himself on stage – reviewed in The Observer

➢ Stoppard delivers an unforgettable play from the heart – reviewed in the Telegraph

➢ Stoppard’s supremely moving new play – reviewed in The Stage

➢ A master playwright finds urgent lessons for the present in the past of a Viennese family – reviewed in the New York Times

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