Category Archives: London

2001 ➤ Blitz Kids nail the rites for a Tuesday night out

Blitz Kids, New Romantics, Spandau Ballet, pop music, fashion

Before the phrase New Romantics had been invented: Blitz Kids queue for Spandau Ballet’s second pivotal concert at the Scala Cinema in May 1980

20 & 40
YEARS
ON

❚ BBC4 REMINDED UK AUDIENCES this week how entertaining were many of the Blitz Kids who set the New Romantics ball rolling 40 years ago. When the documentary The New Romantics: A Fine Romance was made in 2001, these talking heads were of course 20 years younger than they are today and full of fizz.

However BBC Manchester fell for some faulty memories that had gelled into mythological “truths” to create several laugh-out-loud howlers in the voice-over script as the price of believing odd Blitz Kid fantasies. Another irritation, amid much classic vintage footage, was the repeated montaging of film footage irrelevant to the Blitz club-night run by gender-bending Steve Strange and electro-deejay Rusty Egan, mainly because no more than about 11 minutes of live footage inside the Tuesday-night Blitz exist, and only one of which was used in this doc. That’s history for you. Set in video.

At least we can enjoy the many gnomic quips tossed out by the stars of 1980’s clubworld during the 48-minutes of A Fine Romance…

St Martin’s designer Fiona Dealey on the New Romantic credo: “Dressing for the Blitz was REAL THEATRE. It wasn’t just another uniform.”

Blitz Kid Stephen Linard’s trade secret: “Make-up was the big thing: make-up and Elnett. We used to get our make-up DONE FOR NOTHING down at Selfridges at half-past five and the girls there would do a makeover on you.”

Steve Strange on the term New Romantics: “I’d rather call it THE CULT WITH NO NAME, because the papers can never put one finger on it.”

Rusty Egan on gender confusion at the Blitz: “By the end of the night you’d hope to go home with someone – same sex, opposite sex, NO SEX AT ALL, you were never quite sure.”

Spandau manager Steve Dagger on their music: “Over the period 78-79 in the rehearsal studio the band gradually changed from a rock-pop sound to a modern SYNTHESISED TYPE DANCE SOUND.”

Duran’s Nick Rhodes on first seeing Spandau Ballet live in Birmingham in 1980: “We saw them play at the Botanical Gardens and when we left we were smiling. We just said: WHAT’S THAT ABOUT?”

New Romantics, Duran Duran, pop music, frilly shirts, Top of the Pops

Happy even to work “New Romantic” into their lyrics: frilly Duran Duran’s debut on Top of the Pops in March 1981

“Boy” George O’Dowd: “Duran Duran brought the FRILLY SHIRT through to the masses.”

Gary Kemp on shooting Spandau Ballet’s video for Chant No 1 at the Beat Route club in 1981: “That was our LAST HOORAH – Spandau being part of this movement.”

Spandau manager Steve Dagger on the early 80s: “There was this COLOURFUL BANG which revitalised pop culture and fashion and London as a swinging city.”

Robert Elms on the clubbing revolution initiated by the Blitz Kids: “It introduced one-off nightclubs, warehouse parties, the deejay as the centre of attention, clubs where they tell you you can’t come in UNLESS YOU LOOK RIGHT. None of that had existed before.”

George O’Dowd speaking as an old Boy: “Strange and Egan were the gruesome twosome of the time – the HINGE AND BRACKET of New Romanticism.”

➢ View A Fine Romance (BBC Manchester 2001,
last shown 2015, on iPlayer now for another month)

➢ Says one observer: “If you stepped out and didn’t get
abuse, you hadn’t done it right” – Daily Mail review, 2001

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s:
How real did 1980 feel? Ex-Blitz Kids give verdicts on the TV play about Boy George, Worried About the Boy in 2010

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➤ Fond farewells to Joe Allen who revolutionised London’s restaurant scene

Joe Allen, obituaries,Covent Garden, New York City, Orso, restaurants, tributes, theatreland,

Joe Allen at his regular spot at Joe Allen NYC, opened in 1965, before his block was christened Restaurant Row. (Photo: Todd Heisler/The New York Times)

❚ JOE ALLEN, THE RESTAURATEUR who splashed bazzazz across theatreland, has died aged 87. His photograph confirms the memory of him being a double for Humphrey Bogart, who as Rick also sat alone at his own table in the film Casablanca – though Lauren Bacall always denied any similarity! He pioneered his empire in 1965 with two outlets in New York City on a strip of West 46th Street that would become known as Restaurant Row. Then in 1972 he took the Joe Allen brand to Paris and in 1977 to London, opening both Joe Allen’s in a former orchid warehouse, as well as Orso’s Italian brasserie, during the revival of Covent Garden which had idled since 1974 when the vegetable market moved out.

Immediately lunchtimes became social hubs for publishers from Bloomsbury and newspaper hacks from Fleet Street, both a short walk away. By night both places were packed with stars coming on from their West End shows and I only ever managed to sit on star table No 1 once which was in 1984 when I met Hollywood’s legendary Dorian Gray, the actor Hurd Hatfield, visiting from his home in Ireland, who told a very bawdy joke (sorry, unrepeatable)! On Saturday nights Andrew Neil, editor of The Sunday Times from 1983 to 1994, held court round a large table at Orso with his top team awaiting a courier bringing first-edition proofs for the next day’s paper.

Joe Allen’s personal style was laconic, his restaurants unpretentious and clublike, from red brick walls to an inexpensive hamburger-led menu, and waiting staff who were invariably resting actors. Most famously the walls were lined with theatre posters – of productions that had flopped. Notable patrons have included A-listers such as Al Pacino, Stephen Sondheim, Elaine Stritch, Elizabeth Taylor, Sean Connery and Sir Ian McKellen, while the restaurants maintained a strict no-photograph policy to protect the privacy of its high-profile guests.

Though Joe himself was very visible during the first year in London, often sitting at the table beside the kitchen, in fact the day-to-day operation was run by the baker Richard Polo as a partner, who died in 2019.

❏ Joseph Campbell Allen, born 20 Feb 1933, died 7 Feb 2021.

Joe Allen, Covent Garden, New York City, Orso, restaurants, tributes, theatreland,

Informality the keynote: Joe Allen’s restaurant on West 46th Street. (Photo: Robert Stolarik/The New York Times)


➢ Less about the food than about the atmosphere – Obituary by Joyce Purnick in the NY Times: “West 46th Street’s proximity to New York’s theater district made it viable, and Mr Allen, concluding that actors, directors, writers and theater patrons would always want to eat, created a relaxed pub aimed at attracting the theater crowd. There was nothing quite like the restaurant in the mid-1960s, and it took off.”

➢ Remembering Joe Allen, who fed Broadway in untheatrical style – by Peter Khoury in the NY Times: “Even before Joe opened Joe Allen, he was a partner in an Upper East Side restaurant called Allen’s. If you watch the 1965 Jack Lemmon comedy How to Murder Your Wife, you’ll see a few shots of a handsome, dark-haired bartender there. That’s Joe.”

➢ A magnet for actors, journalists and royalty – Obituary in The Times of London: “Allen kept a flat in Chelsea, visiting London several times a year. Business meetings occupied his mornings. At night he perched at the end of the bar quietly draining a case of his favourite American imported beers and observing more than conversing with a studied determination not to “inflict myself on the customers”. If he sat at a table it was always the worst one in the house.”

Joe Allen, Covent Garden, New York City, Orso, restaurants, theatreland,

Poster wall of flop shows at Joe Allen’s: at centre, “Got Tu Go Disco” a short-lived musical from 1979. (Photo: Sara Krulwich)

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➤ It’s A Sin reviewed: “Supporting the sadness there is an abundance of humour”

It’s A Sin, Lydia West, TV drama, gay issues, youth culture, Channel4, Olly Alexander

Good times in the Eighties: Olly Alexander fronts the It’s A Sin gang. (Channel 4)

As It’s a Sin is premiered on Channel 4 amid great expectations, Eighties singer Andy Polaris reviews the exuberant five-part TV series. Here’s an extract…

“ ❚ The much-feted writer Russell T Davies broke barriers with the pioneering British TV series Queer As Folk in 1999 and more recently with Cucumber, both lively depictions of gay life in contemporary Britain. Now comes It’s A Sin which focuses on a diverse group of gay friends mostly escaping from the familiar claustrophobia of suburban life (mostly closeted) and attracted to that well-trodden lure of big-city life. We are off to see the wizard, but this time we’re thrown back to 1981, the year of the first recorded British death from Aids at Brompton Hospital in London.

Ritchie (popstar Olly Alexander) is a gauche, attractive, closeted twink leaving home to study law in London, and his send-off from the Isle of Wight is a multi-pack of condoms from his bigoted dad (Shaun Dooley) as they both stress “It’s different on the mainland”. Roscoe (Omari Douglas) is a flamboyant young Nigerian whose strict religious parents are so fraught over his sexual orientation that he bolts defiantly before an intervention. Colin (Callum Scott Howells) leaves the Welsh valleys to lodge with a family and start his apprenticeship with a Savile Row tailor.

It’s A Sin, Lydia West, TV drama, gay issues, youth culture, Channel4,

It’s A Sin: Lydia West as Jill emerges as the anchor for her hedonistic friends. (Channel 4)

Soon the group become fast friends with Ash (Nathaniel Curtis) becoming Ritchie’s first lover. We follow the group with Ritchie as lynchpin while his horizons broaden along with the thriving bar scene. Casual sex becomes addictive and flashes past in a blaze of encounters against a soundtrack of the hideous but popular Hooked on Classics.

A scene where Ritchie’s pals party at Heaven, the biggest, brand new gay club, was a baptism by sexual freedom for gay men in a pre-internet landscape including myself and friends. (My group Animal Nightlife played early concerts there along with Culture Club, Spandau Ballet and Musical Youth). The scene was blossoming through a whole network of bars and clubs. Safe sex had not yet been advocated, neither had the government’s “Don’t Die of Ignorance” leaflet campaign. It seemed to be abstain or die. Aids awareness was bad for business. As the Eighties proceed in the TV drama each gay character has to deal with the possibility of an early and lonely death if the dreaded health-test proved positive… / Continued at Apolarisview

➢ Read Andy’s full review – It’s A Sin: Pitch-perfect drama about the worst of times

➢ Catch up on the whole series of It’s A Sin online at All 4

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s: More background discussion about the making of It’s A Sin

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2020 ➤ Saatchi hosts those Gen Z degree shows you missed

London Grads Now, SaatchiGallery, fine art, exhibition, UAL,

Hamish Pringle, Wimbledon: Lockdown 2020, digital print on canvas

❚ GENERATION Z ARE REPUTED to feel a bit down about the world bequeathed by their parents and the work of this summer’s art-school graduates has caught that mood – not to mention the lockdown blues. Their tutors seem to agree, at least in the synopses posted on the walls of a selling exhibition titled London Grads Now, hosted by the Saatchi Gallery in its new guise as a charity. [Update – Since extended from three to five weeks.]

This welcome but rum snapshot – many of its 150 artists were allowed to show only one work each – follows in the wake of this year’s cancelled graduation shows and expresses such zeitgeisty themes as political extremism, coronavirus and racial controversy. Many are largely sanguine about the new normals, except perhaps the feisty Black British History Quilt, which celebrates black artists, writers and figureheads including an 18th-century fop, by CSM’s Jahnavi Inniss and also Blackness (The Manifesto) by Michael Forbes at the RCA whose prosaic exhortations are listed on a vast board. Empassioned though this wall of words is, it does prompt the question, yes, but is it art?

Students and tutors have done the selecting and while there are impressively few copycat themes which often infect whole degree shows, there is a trend for titles to embark on narrative excursions, as for example these: Suddenly as if the moon trembled under my feet and every direction revealed itself … or Sleeping with the Enemy: Oscillations of a Fleshly Organ within a Jihady Cavity … or Every passing minute is another chance to turn it all around.

The tutors offer portentous “artist’s statements” to introduce each of seven London colleges spread across as many galleries. Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon’s declare: “In a world gone crazy, I’m a wild one”. In this year of cultural ruptures, conventions have been abandoned as students reflect issues of the moment: lockdown, the lure of nature, identity, gender fluidity and post-colonialism.

Click any pic below to enlarge all in a slideshow

Topping this page you see an elegant but tough take on Lockdown by Wimbledon’s Hamish Pringle – a human eye photographed peering out from a head helmeted by what looks like a coil of rusty steel but, as Hamish comments below, is actually industrial sandpaper belting. At the foot of the page is a ghoulish family portrait painted on traditional canvas by Wimbledon’s Xinan Yang with the title I Still Care. . . while from Camberwell there is an in-yer-face clash between rustic rapture and urban sexuality in Fag Attacks the Country starring the artist himself Claudio Pestana.

A Goldsmiths tutor talks of reconciling crushed dreams and aspirations and in a wall-hanging textile Slay Within by Anosha Khan we see an axe-wielding dreamer dealing with her nightmares. Elsewhere four fluorescent tubes inscribed with a romantic verse by Daniel Keler titled Love Letter to a Stone actually support half a dozen varieties of rock evoking different eras in the Earth’s evolution.

The Royal College of Art curator dwells on “escapism, resilience, beauty in the mundane” and appropriately Alejandro Villa Duran selects a spartan wardrobe on a wire hanger, titled Running until the end of the world as only lovers are left alive. Quian Jiang’s One Minute of Photographic Time collages 60 separate snaps of a seascape which proves utterly mesmerising the longer you stare… Yang Xu’s Missing you is like Fire is painted in oil on synthetic carpet… while Emily Moore’s Chained is a huge lockdown collaboration in crocheted black yarn.

The Slade School curator reminds us to “breathe in and breathe out” when contemplating lessons learnt recently about cultural identities. This is evident in Khushna Sulaman-Butt’s Ascension, a powerful group portrait painted in oil which maintains tension between photographic realism and caricature. In one of the show’s rare videos Anna Baumgart transforms herself wittily into various female relations in Fitting in with Nanny, Mutti, Mum and Omi.

The Central Saint Martins curators conclude by suggesting that, in this post-truth era, nostalgia could gain new relevance, “not as a malaise in longing for a past moment, but as a proactive and sentimental yearning for continuity”, all exemplified in Legs by CSM’s Rowan Riley. Let’s call this one of the few pieces of sculpture in the show. The legs are made from filled cotton and bear personal messages and familiar quotations embroidered with colourful metallic and cotton thread: “Are you going to Scarborough Fair?” and “This is a portrait of a green-eyed lady”. Either a whopping wallow in nostalgia or a necessary a kick up the 2020s?

London Grads Now, SaatchiGallery, fine art, exhibition, UAL,

Xinan Yang, Wimbledon: I Still Care, 2018, acrylic and oil on canvas

➢ Book tickets for London Grads Now at Saatchi Gallery
London, extended until 11 October 2020 – exhibition supported
by Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery

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2020 ➤ Gaz still rockin’ those blues a lifetime later

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Gaz himself as his Thursday Rockin’ Blues rocketed to success in the 80s – today his is the longest running one-nighter in London. (Photo: Sheila Rock)

40
YEARS
ON

❚ TODAY IS THE DAY Gaz Mayall launched Gaz’s Rockin’ Blues in 1980 at the legendary Billy’s nightspot in Soho. Astonishingly, this remains London clubland’s longest running one-nighter.

Tonight Gaz celebrates 40 years with a live stream party from a secret location, from 8pm-midnight Friday 3 July. With deejays Gaz Mayall & The Cumbia Kid plus Rockabilly crew Red Hot Riot!

➢ Click here for Gaz’s party as a live stream till late

Gaz Mayall, Rockin' Blues, anniversary, party, live stream

Tonight’s live stream as at 9:30pm: Gaz Mayall’s 40th anniversary musical party in the back garden, with one of his acts unnamed at right. Sound a bit shonky, vision slightly cranky

Gaz's Rockin' Blues, Gaz Mayall, Soho, nightclubbing, Swinging 80s

Gaz’s Rockin’ Blues, 40 years later – Celebrating with a live stream party tonight

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s:
1980, Private worlds of the new young – Gaz’s first appearance in the Evening Standard

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s:
69 Dean Street and the making of UK club culture

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Gaz Mayall then and again: As Gaz Vincent in 1980 snapped by Shapersofthe80s for the Evening Standard, and painted by the British realist Lucian Freud in 1997

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