Category Archives: London

➤ 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 60 subjects he was profiling (some new, some vintage). “So I said I’ll paint or draw them, all these people like Rod Steiger, Fela Kuti, Louise Brooks, Orson Welles, David Bowie. . .”

In the mix are criminals (Brilliant Chang, Allan Heyl), musicians (Charlie Mingus, Joe Strummer), actors (Robert Mitchum, Anita Pallenberg), artists (Egon Schiele, Man Ray, Jackson Pollock), directors (Kenneth Anger, Wong Kar-wai), photographers (Horst, Weegee, Capa), as well as iconic items such as Levis, the pork pie hat 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

➢ Meanwhile here’s a taster of a chapter from Sullivan’s
forthcoming book Rebel Rebel on the curious life of the common or garden sun-glass

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1967 ➤ Secret of how Scott Walker achieved a new adult voice as he went solo

Obituaries, tributes, interview, Scott Walker, pop music,

Scott Walker in 1970: still transitioning from pop idol to icon

ONE OF THE MOST RESPECTED singers of our age died on Friday in London aged 76: the US-born Noel Scott Engel, who became a British citizen in 1970.

I interviewed him as Scott Walker in 1967 at the very moment he was transitioning from teen idol into a more serious solo icon with his first album Scott, released in September and featuring the brilliant rendering of Brel’s angsty songs My Death and Amsterdam. For him the last straw had been to appear that April in the Walker Brothers trio on the Sunday-night TV variety show hosted by Bob Monkhouse at the London Palladium, and on viewing it Scott decided to split. Among his solo moves that December he released as his first single the risqué Jackie, from the new album Scott 2 (another Brel co-composition with louche themes that caused the BBC to ban it from airplay). As it headed up the UK pop chart, we met during rehearsals for Scott’s appearance on a TV Christmas special at ABC’s Teddington studios.

He lived in Marylebone at the time, had split from the Brothers (who were not actually blood brothers), gone into a monastery to study Gregorian chants and then set about starting an idiosyncratic solo career. He hated both the idea of being a pinup and his all too evident “pop-star” good looks. His most startling admission to me was that he was drinking “a bottle of wine and a bottle of Scotch a day” – in order to coarsen his baritone voice, he said! Scott recorded four seminal albums, Scott 1 to 4 and then disappeared.

In 1984 came Climate Of Hunter, the first of an experimental and challenging series of albums over many years, with titles such as Tilt 1995, The Drift 2006 and Bish Bosch 2012. All of them broke the rules of regular music and back in the day I listened to each album twice and remain gobsmacked today. (There’s a great video clip, shown above in the 30th Century Man trailer, of a percussionist punching a side of raw pork to achieve the exact kind of thwack Scott sought for the song Clara on The Drift.)

In recent years Scott could often be seen in my local supermarket in west London doing the shopping with his partner Beverly. Older and gaunter, he pulled his baseball cap down over his face but it was quite obvious to perhaps six other shoppers marking him that we knew who he was and as respectful fans we kept our distance. Scott is survived by his daughter, Lee, his granddaughter, Emmi-Lee, and Beverly.

BOWIE 1997: “MY IDOL SINCE I WAS A KID”

➢ Rock enigma Scott Walker dies aged 76 – BBC obituary

➢ Scott Walker, experimental pop hero – Guardian obituary by Ben Beaumont-Thomas

Obituaries, tributes, interview, Scott Walker, pop music, Jarvis Cocker

Scott Walker with Jarvis Cocker in 2017: a rich conversation about Scott’s life and times ensued (BBC)

➢ The Songs of Scott Walker – watch for this programme to become available at BBC iPlayer: Jarvis Cocker welcomes Scott Walker back to the Sunday Service ahead of the late-night BBC Prom celebrating his music, which took place at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday 25 July 2017. Includes the moment Walker made David Bowie cry on air.

➢ 30 Century Man (2007), directed by Stephen Kijack: Comprehensive survey of Scott’s life from his early days as a jobbing bass player on the Sunset Strip in which he describes his “lost years” in terms of creativity. Premiered at the 2006 London Film Festival followed by the 2007 Berlin International Film Festival. Available from Amazon on Blue-Ray and DVD.

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s: The on-off brotherly rivalry that drove John and Scott Walker apart

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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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2019 ➤ Spandau vocalist Ross rocks fans by announcing his own new band Mercutio

Ross William Wild, Mercutio, Camden Festival, Diverge Records, alt rock,

Heading to Camden Rockfest: Ross Wild in white shirt with members of Mercutio. (Photo by Giorgio Lattanzi)

HERE IS A PICTURE OF ROSS WILLIAM WILD amid musicians of Mercutio, a seven-year-old “alternative and experimental” rock and grunge band, only four months after he was showcased in concert as the stunning youthful replacement for Tony Hadley in Spandau Ballet, the 80s New Romantic pioneers. After Hadley had walked out a year earlier, Spandau hoped Ross would be their key to being signed for this year’s landmark rock events from Glastonbury down, but so far no plans have emerged. Suddenly out of the blue, yesterday Ross announced at Facebook: “My new band! Come rock out with us on April the 13th in Camden!” He features prominently in the band’s new photographs.

Ross William Wild, Mercutio, Camden Festival, Diverge Records, alt rock, Facebook

Ross Wild’s Facebook announcement yesterday

Coincidentally Spandau songwriter Gary Kemp is currently in North America channeling the guitar of David Gilmour with Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets tour, while Martin Kemp and Steve Norman are also boasting busy diaries. Otherwise, both Ross and Spandau have been zip-lipped silent, which raises the suggestion that what gossips tend call “creative differences” might perhaps be simmering away under the lock-down of signed contracts.

Mercutio were offering no further clues, except in their publicity. This all-Italian band who work in London are advertising future live dates starting in April at The Monarch in Camden followed in June by the CamdenRocksFestival. Ross’s Instagram photos show he has been in rehearsal on a #secretproject #itallianscottish with the band since January. He is also pictured rehearsing at home in what he tags as #singersongwriter #makeshiftstudio #homestudio.

Ross William Wild, Mercutio, Camden Festival, Diverge Records, , alt rock, instagram,

“Secret project”: Ross pictured on his Instagram page last January

Ross William Wild, Mercutio, Camden Festival, Diverge Records, alt rock,

Ross Wild photographed with Mercutio for their website by Giorgio Lattanzi

ROSS TALKS EXCLUSIVELY TO SHAPERSOFTHE80S

❏ A couple of days have now passed, and it’s been good to reach Ross by phone, at the suggestion of the founder of his new band, Gianluca Cucchiara. I told Ross that his sudden announcement was all the more surprising because only last month I’d bumped into Gary Kemp and when asked about Spandau’s plans, he would say only “There is no news”. Nothing more.

Ross replied: “I know. It’s all so shrouded in mystery at the moment. The main thing is Spandau don’t want to just go out and do a bunch of shows for the sake of it. The next step must be something great. It must break the mould. So we’re throwing ideas around for new music. Unfortunately Gary has commitments, so we’re waiting him to finish until we crack on. Same for Martin and Steve.”

Ross William Wild, Mercutio, Camden Festival, Diverge Records, alt rock,

Mercutio publicity: poster for the Camden festival includes Ross in the lineup

Surely, though, it’s a bit strange to join another band when his Instagram still describes Ross as “Lead Singer @SpandauBallet”? He said: “I can’t wait around for Spandau! I’ve been a songwriter all my life – it’s a natural thing for me to do. I met Gianluca at a workshop a year ago and we gelled so well. But I said I’d got another band and couldn’t really talk about it before Spandau announced my role. I’ve been into rock music and metal all my life, and always wanted to pursue it, then the right musicians came along.”

So how does his new sound square with Spandau’s very different music? Ross said: “I’m into absolutely everything. I’m not a one-genre guy by any means and this new band Mercutio reflects that. It’s not death metal and it’s not thrash but very much metal with melody at its heart, plus a heavy focus on lyrics and story-telling. It’s a different flavour but it’s the same heart really.”

“I’m not a one-genre guy by any means”
– Ross William Wild

Mercutio are working on a full album. The first single will be recorded soon and it’s called Where the Pain Lives. Of his own role, Ross said: “I’ve written lyrics for it along with Gianluca and Fabio the guitarist. Then we picked up one of my own songs called Alex – more melodic and melancholy, a funky feel with a big emotive chorus. We’re chuffed that we’re going to debut these tunes in Camden for an album that is very Nirvana-esque mixed with Muse.”

As for the lack of news from the Spandau camp, Ross said: “We’re talking all the time about what to do at the end of the year. It all depends on 4-5 guys juggling their schedules. Nothing is yet set in stone. Put it this way: we’re not finished.” So the message is optimistic? “Absolutely, without a shadow of doubt. I’ve met a bunch of new best friends doing Spandau Ballet. . . I have my own ideas about marketing strategy but at the end of the day Steve Dagger’s the boss, so you’ve got to roll with it.”

Ross William Wild, Mercutio, Camden Festival, Diverge Records, alt rock,

Mercutio website: Ross pictured as vocalist

A BAND WITH A LONG PAST BUT FEW TRACES

MERCUTIO’S FOUNDER GIANLUCA CUCCHIARA also multi-tasks. He got in touch this week to say: “I’m currently producing with Giovanna Romagnoli a new musical called Vanara, with my own music and orchestrations. Giovanna has an Academy Award for Cinema Paradiso and is also producing Mercutio with Diverge Records. Ross was one of the leads in a workshop we did last May in London” [only days before Spandau announced Ross as their new singer] “and the cast included also the Tony nominee Eva Noblezada. I simply asked Ross if he was interested in collaborating with me on a rock project as he loves pop and musical theatre, but he also is a big fan of grunge and hard rock. We share an incredible passion for bands like Tool, Nirvana, Muse (to name a few).

“A few months after the tour with Spandau, Ross and I started writing some songs together with my friend and guitar player Fabio Staffieri. In the band we have also bass player and producer Emanuele Nazzaro and drummer Francesco Lucidi. Francesco will be Elton John’s drummer in the biographical movie Rocketman coming out at the end of May.”

It is still a curious fact that Mercutio seem to have no public profile at the major reference websites Discogs, AllMusic or Wikipedia. Evidence of their existence comes from their own website which lists their first tour details starting 21 Sep 2011 at Nambucca in London to their last tour ending on 18 June 2016 at the Tram and Social. This year new dates have been announced for six gigs in April and June.

Other slim details about Mercutio online include three gigs in Rome and London between 2014 and 2016 which are documented at ReverbNation, where we can hear the breathy vocalist covering a rocky Karma Police after it opens with a lush string orchestration. We can however view videos there for No Compromise, a pained romantic ballad, and a grungy tease-trailer for the band inviting us to “Smell bass, hear speed and taste rock”. Reverb comments: “Taking influence from Radiohead, Muse and Porcupine Tree, the guys wrote, recorded and toured together for several years in various bands before forming Mercutio.”

Though Mercutio haven’t been active for a couple of years, it doesn’t faze 30-year-old Ross. He said: “I don’t care. I’m making them work and they’re making me work. Right now, I’m looking forward to a summer tour with Mercutio in the UK and Italy, maybe some festivals. The team behind it is phenomenal. Gianluca is an amazing composer and orchestrates our music brilliantly. It feels brand new to me and will feel brand new to the audience.”

Ross William Wild, Mercutio, Camden Festival, Diverge Records, alt rock

New boy at centre: Ross Wild photographed for Mercutio’s website by Giorgio Lattanzi

❏ UPDATE FROM ROSS: He has now posted the Mercutio publicity poster at Instagram and adds the words every fan wants to hear: “Yes, I’m still happily with @spandauballet but until our next tour I’m staying creative with this bunch of amazing musicians.”

➢ Ross confirms his news at Instagram
➢ Mercutio pictures Ross as vocalist on their website
➢ Mercutio make their debut with Ross at The Monarch in Camden at 8pm on April 13
➢ At Spandau Ballet’s website no news since 21 Jan 2019

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s: Whither Spandau? Expect a bombshell today! – The first hint on 28 May 2018
➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s:
2018, Dad band Spandau preen with pride for Ross their newly adopted son

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➤ A personal tale about the genius staring out from a painting expected to sell for £30m tonight

David Hockney, Henry Geldzahler, Christopher Scott, Photography, painting, auction, Christie's London,

Being auctioned tonight at Christie’s: Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott by David Hockney (1969, acrylic on canvas). Private collection. © David Hockney

THIS MESMERISING HUGE CANVAS TITLED Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott was painted by David Hockney in 1969 and is expected to sell at Christie’s tonight for at least £30million and today is the public’s last chance to view it until 4pm. It creates an intense dialogue between Hockney and his soulmate Henry, whose hairline is the picture’s vanishing point. By chance I got to know Henry in 1977, later stayed at his house in Greenwich Village and of course had to try-out the by then fabled pale mauve sofa pictured here.

We’d met during the best holiday of my life that summer at a house party hosted by the painter Teddy Millington-Drake at his vast 17th-century villa on Patmos, the Greek Island where St John had his apocalyptic Revelation. Two dozen guests, several with their kids, had arrived either like me on the weekly boat from Athens or on their own yachts (there were no direct flights to Patmos) for what proved to be a conclave of amusing, clever and influential movers and shakers from across the international art scene who utterly changed my understanding of life, the universe etcetera.

Henry himself, a three-in-one wit, wag and Svengali, undoubtedly changed the course of modern art by shifting its centre from Paris to New York, and affirmed the credibility of the term Pop Art. While only in his 30s he became the Metropolitan Museum’s first curator for 20th-century art and in 1969 mounted the landmark exhibition of 408 contemporary American works executed between 1940 and 1970 by artists he called “deflectors” of prevailing trends, such as Warhol, Gorky, Pollock, Rothko, Rauschenberg, Stella, Johns, Hopper. It was an immediate sensation. A new canon.

David Hockney, Henry Geldzahler, Christopher Scott, Irving Penn, Photography, painting, Andy Warhol

My photo of Henry Geldzahler in 1981: taking receipt of Irving Penn’s new portrait of him, in his NYC cultural commissioner’s office

I met Henry again in 1981 the very day he took receipt of a new portrait of him by photographer Irving Penn. I was in NYC that May during the First Blitz Invasion of the USA when I accompanied the 21 Blitz Kids who included the synth-led Spandau Ballet and Jon (Mole) Baker’s Axiom design collective who played a gig and staged a runway fashion show to introduce Manhattan to the new stars of Swinging London.

By then Henry had become New York’s first Commissioner of Cultural Affairs, appointed by the mayor Ed Koch. I visited his office at Columbus Circle and he played along when I suggested taking a souvenir snap so that my portrait of him cunningly captures him four times over: Henry in life reclining on his chaise, holding the Penn portrait, in the glass of which we see reflected the Warhol lithograph of him from 1979. Behind on an easel stands a further 1973 head-and-shoulders by Hockney (savagely cropped to maximise impact in this post).

Henry, who died in 1994, was described as the world’s “most powerful and controversial art curator”. He must also have been one of the most painted and photographed curators ever. “There are lots of pictures of Henry,” said Hockney. “He didn’t have many mirrors in his home. He knew what he looked like just by asking people to make portraits of him.”

David Hockney, Henry Geldzahler, Christopher Scott, art, painting,

Masterpiece of pictorial drama (detail): the central subject in Hockney’s painting of Geldzahler and Scott stares back, evaluating the painter’s every move. (My photo)

➢ Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott is Lot 8 in the sale An American Place: The Barney A. Ebsworth Collection at Christie’s London, 6 March 2019, from 7pm. Update: the painting went in three minutes flat for £33million.

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