Category Archives: Swinging 80s

➤ 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 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, processed by Shapersofhe80s)

40
YEARS
ON

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 ➤ Beyond: Learning how to be black and gay and blaze a trail to the future

Shapersofthe80s, black issues, gay issues, film, Beyond, Claire Lawrie,

Beyond director Claire Lawrie, centre: with some of her garrulous cast answering questions after a screening at Central Saint Martins college last year. Andy Polaris in red. (Photo by Shapersofthe80s)

AFTER A STREAM OF EXCLUSIVE SCREENINGS for a poignant and edgy short documentary about growing up black and queer in Seventies Britain, everyone can now view it online. Titled Beyond “There is always a black issue Dear”, the 34-minute film explores black LGBT identities and the ways in which they have influenced the collective history of London’s alternative club, fashion, fine art, dance and music scenes. The cast of ten are long-standing friends of director/photographer Claire Lawrie who helps tell their personal stories when these fans of soul and disco, punks and Blitz Kids found each other’s company in underground clubs.

Over the past year Claire has won a fistful of film-festival awards and, prompted by the coronavirus lockdown, she has posted the full version online, and repeat viewings reward with deeper appreciation.

Black issues, gay issues, film, Beyond, Claire Lawrie,

Photo that inspired the movie Beyond – Click pic to view the film in another window

“To me it’s important now that people
realise that black people were there,
because a lot of the time they
tried to paint us out”
– Andy Polaris

Onetime Blitz Kid Andy Polaris is part of the project and he recalls its origins in this extract from his own website Apolarisview. . .

“ A 2013 exhibition at the V&A museum in London titled Club to Catwalk was instrumental in bringing the collective creative talent of Eighties fashion stalwarts and club luminaries together for a preview party that summer. It was a splendid event, one of the last memorable social events with such a vibrant successful crowd. Among the assembled were Judy Blame, Princess Julia, Andrew Logan, Zandra Rhodes, Body Map, Antony Price, Chris Sullivan and it was the last time I saw Steve Strange (who along with Rusty Egan) had brought us all together at the Blitz Club in 1979.

The visual artist Claire Lawrie was at the V&A and pondered on the omission from the exhibition of gay black talent whose influence had permeated Eighties club culture. Although Jeffrey Hinton’s brilliant cave of projected nightlife photography did feature some of us, Lawrie echoed some of her friends’ frustration that their experience was not reflected in the exhibition. She set about organising an open-call photograph to celebrate a contingent of black talent and arranged for the gathering to be filmed by her friends, Emile Kelly and Kim Mnguni. This was the genesis of something deeper and her award-winning documentary, Beyond “There is always a black issue Dear”, emerged from that event with her as director.

Click any pic of the Beyond interviewees to enlarge all in a slideshow:

Continued: “ Over the next year Claire arranged interviews with ten of the candidates who were filmed on a shoestring. Contributions of archive footage were given by a long list of talented artists, people who, over the years had collaborated with and who wanted to show their respect and love for the cast. These included Pam Hogg, Dick Jewell, Dave Swindells and Nicola Tyson as well as John Maybury, Derek Ridgers, BodyMap, Devon Buchanon and Rankin.

The film adjusts the colour settings of the standard view of black creative lives when telling the story about club culture and its impact in the UK. Featuring ten black queer voices from the diaspora, born in the late Fifties and Sixties in the UK, Guyana and New York, the documentary delves into personal stories of discovery and eventual self-acceptance, looking back at struggles with identity and family and the wider world. The cast features stylist Frank Akinsete, transgender model Winn Austin, international model Roy Brown, make-up artist Kenny Campbell, choreographer Les Child, clubland pioneer Kenrick Davis and his mother Velma “Vee” Davis, nightclub host Nicky Green, gender-fluid performer Lanah Pellay, composer Robb Scott and myself as an original Blitz Kid turned pop singer.

Roy Brown, Black issues, gay issues, film, Beyond, Claire Lawrie

Roy Brown in 1985: poster boy for the Barbican’s recent exhibition on Masculinities. (Photo: Rotimi Fani-Kayode)

In the mid-Seventies and Eighties the UK’s attitudes to both race and gay issues were particularly brutal, endorsed by the anti-gay policies of Thatcher’s government and tabloid sensationalism regarding anything queer, especially later with the arrival of the Aids epidemic. The Seventies were marred by stereotypes of both marginalised groups, joining the sexist and misogynistic tropes in light entertainment and films which set the tone for how the world viewed us and how we viewed ourselves.

This lack of representation and role models forced us to create our own image during our teens, which in some cases was defiantly camp. Instead of allowing bullies to mock us, we accentuated certain behaviour, not just as a direct challenge to the heteronormative majority but against the conservative oppression in society.

Music and fashion were an escape from small-mindedness and even as early teens we were exploring alternatives and the fashionable disco and punk clubs were our laboratories of choice. . . / Continued at Apolarisview

➢ All about the making of Beyond “There is always
a black issue Dear”

➢ Interview with director Claire Lawrie: “These were
people that I looked up to and admired”

➢ On video – Beyond Q&A by RankinFilm after
the July 2019 screening at his studio

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1980 ➤ 40 years of musical freedom thanks to what we Brits enjoyed calling the Sony Stowaway

➢ Sony launches the cool, sexy Stowaway
in the UK, April 1980

Sony, Stowaway, Walkman, cassette player, UK launch

First posted here on 5 September 2009

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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

40
YEARS
ON

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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