Category Archives: videos

2020 ➤ Yes, Midge Ure has Fleetwood Mac to thank for his landmark hit Vienna

40
YEARS
ON

❚ ON THIS DAY in 1980 Ultravox released one of the three most significant albums of the year that exemplified Britain’s new wave of synthesised electronic music – the others coming from Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark (in February) and Japan (in October). None of them acknowledged any association with the New Romantics movement. Ultravox’s 12-track album Vienna made an immediate impact, though its title track was only its third to be released, hitting No 2 in the charts in January 1981, later winning Single of the Year at the Brit Awards and an age later voted “the UK’s favourite No2 of all time” in a BBC poll.

It was produced by the German Conny Plank with an evocatively romantic landmark video directed by Russell Mulcahy who was creating a stunning visual vocabulary for the then novel music video. Midge Ure can take full credit as lead singer and guitarist for breathing a subtle blend of Roxy Music’s style and krautrock clarity into Ultravox and building them into a credible vanguard for electronica. Even as the word punk was given the heave-ho in favour of the term “new wave”, Ure was probably the first active player of a synth among any of his clubbing pals, having bought his first, the polyphonic Yamaha CS-50, in the summer of ’78.

As one of the most innovative musicians of the new decade, having had fingers in more pop pies than most, Ure is well qualified to stake his claim to have shaped the music of the Blitz Kids (among whom he was very much an honorary member), and here he describes the inspiration for Vienna, in an extract from his eloquent and candid 2004 autobiography If I Was (Virgin Books):

The first time I plugged in and made a noise with Ultravox was in April 1979 at a rehearsal room in the Elephant and Castle. Right from the first minute I knew I had come home. This noise was what I had been searching for, not only could these people make that noise, but they also could teach me how to make it. [These people being Chris Cross, Billy Currie, Warren Cann.]

What we were doing was radical and new: synthesisers, drum machines and electric guitar mixed together, synth bass with regular drums playing on top of it, the electronic and the organic. It had never been done before. Our sound was massive, this weird crossover between Kraftwerk and the guitars, bass and drums that belonged to every rock band in the world…

I might have been a one-time teeny-bop guitarist but once I was behind the technology, the music that made me famous was the darkest, most serious stuff I’d ever done. Those early days in Ultravox were the best time of my life. The result was a complete crossover, maybe that’s why it worked. The music came from all of us: everyone contributed and we split all the songwriting credits four ways. The classic example of all of us working together was Vienna.

Midge Ure, Ultravox, pop music, Swinging 80s,

The day job: in 1979 Midge Ure (moustachioed) resurrected the name of Ultravox along with Billy Currie, Chris Cross and Warren Cann. © Getty

One night I was sitting having a conversation with my old manager, Gerry Hempstead, who had co-managed the Rich Kids, when his wife Brenda said to me: ‘Midge, what you need to write is a song like that Vienna.’ I looked blank and she went, ‘You know, the Fleetwood Mac song.’ I looked blanker. ‘No, it wasn’t Vienna,’ said Gerry, ‘it was Rhiannon.’ That was the night I went home with Vienna lodged in my brain.

The next morning it was still there. I walked into the kitchen in my little flat and said to Billy, who was staying over, ‘I’ve got a line running around in my head I can’t get rid of, “this means nothing to me, this means nothing to me, Vienna”.’ We built the song from that one lyric. Every component element came from all four of us. It wouldn’t have been Vienna without Warren’s heartbeat drum sound, and it wouldn’t have been Vienna without the bass synth notes and Billy’s eerie viola… / Continued in Chapter 10 of If I Was

➢ Buy Midge Ure’s If I Was: The Autobiography

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s:
1978, Midge stakes his claim as the weathervane of synth-pop who helped shape the British New Wave

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s:
110+ acts who set the style for the new music of the 1980s

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2020 ➤ UK Madheads re-invent the Madness hit Our House

❚ NO OF COURSE MADNESS HAD NOTHING to do with the New Romantics but in the indolent UK pop scene of 1980, where most acts and record companies were as dull as ditchwater, only the bands on the cool Two-Tone label would really catch your eye and ear. Who could resist tapping a toe to this zany North London ska combo who scored nine Top Ten singles during the first two years of the 1980s, kicking off with One Step Beyond?!

Among even more hit singles, Our House made the UK Top Ten in November 1982 and became their biggest US hit. Today, during the Covid 19 Lockdown, the Madness boys have released a frantic #MadheadsOurHouse version after asking fans to have a go at re-creating the original Our House video [above]. They declared it “a thing of beauty!”.

Click any pic below to enlarge the Madheads in a slideshow


➢ The Madness website

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2020 ➤ Star drummers salute Ringo Starr in an ear-opening demonstration of his gifts

80
YEARS
ON

❚ HAPPY 80TH BIRTHDAY, SIR RICHARD STARKEY, aka Ringo from the Beatles… “Four drums that’s all Ringo needed”… “He’s a song drummer”… “He used his kit in a very different way”… “Ringo was the king of feel”… “Very innovative”… “It’s a Ringo swing: he washes the windshield on your high-hats”… “It’s that sloppy, swampy, falling down the stairs kind of sound that’s the coolest thing ever”.

Watch some of the world’s greatest drummers – including Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins of the Foo Fighters, Stewart Copeland of the Police, Questlove of the Roots, Tré Cool of Green Day, Max Weinberg of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, and Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers – all salute Ringo Starr from behind his famous Ludwig kit.

➢ Celebrate Ringo’s 80th birthday with The Big Birthday Show on YouTube 5pm PST

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Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney: the surviving Beatles go on celebrating together. (Photo: Fred Duval)


➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s:
1961, No wonder The Beatles changed the shape of music after 456 sessions practising in public

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1980 ➤ Why Bowie came recruiting Blitz Kids for his Ashes to Ashes video

40
YEARS
ON

❚ TODAY WAS THE DAY in 1980 when London’s now fabled Blitz Club was blessed by a visit from David Bowie. He came with a purpose – to whisk away four of the most outlandish Blitz Kids to strut with his pierrot through the video for his new number, Ashes to Ashes, from an imminent new album. It earned each of them £50, helped Bowie to No 1 in the singles chart the following month and boosted demand for black ankle-length robes among trendsetters.

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Ashes To Ashes video 1980: Blitz Kids as chorus to Major Tom

Every Tuesday for 16 months, king of the posers Steve Strange had been declaring a “private party” in the cheap-and-cheerful Blitz wine bar near Covent Garden, along with his co-host Rusty Egan who was pioneering Elektro-Diskow dance music as deejay. Your Look was everything and outrage ensured entry. Inside, precocious 19-year-olds presented an eye-stopping collage, preening away in wondrous ensembles, in-flight haircuts and emphatic make-up that made you feel normality was a sin. Hammer Horror met Rank starlet. These were Bowie’s offspring, individualists who had taken him at his word to be “heroes just for one day”, living amusing lives, creating disposable identities, and wearing looks not uniforms. Now, on this day, their god came among them with the very serious mission of paying homage to some of his bizarre principal characters and moving himself on into the next phase of his life… Unwittingly the Blitz Kids would become his little helpers.

Russ Williams, John Lockwood, Andy Bulled, Tommy Crowley, David Bowie, Blitz Kids, Swinging 80s,nightlife

Bowie at the Blitz Club 1980: Russ Williams, John Lockwood and Andy Bulled papped by Tommy Crowley

Memories of Tuesday 1 July vary. The 21-year-old Steve Strange found himself requesting extra security to stem what the soon-to-become pop singer Andy Polaris also records in his diary as a “minor riot”. In contrast, the coolest heroes in the club refused to pander to the great star and merely contemplated their drinks.

Strange writes in his autobiography, Blitzed: “We had no prior warning, and [Bowie] arrived with two other people and his PA Coco [Schwab], whom I didn’t think was very nice.” The guests whose names Strange forgot were, according to the Polaris diary, singer Karen O’Connor (daughter of comedian Des) and painter-photographer Edward Bell, who designed the cover artwork for the imminent Scary Monsters album and singles.

Strange’s book claims: “We managed to sneak them into the club the back way to avoid a fuss and usher him upstairs to a private area. David himself was charming and asked if I would join him upstairs for a drink when I had finished on the door. I wanted to go straight away, but, annoyingly, I had to do my job first and stay at the door.”

The book continues: “Word soon spread like wildfire that David Bowie was there. He was probably the reason most people at the club had got into pop music in the first place. He had changed his look and his sound so many times, there were more than enough images to go round. The alien from Low and The Man Who Fell To Earth, Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs, Ziggy Stardust. He was the one person that everyone there would cite as an influence, even more important than punk.

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Bowie’s chorus at Hastings, July 1980: Polaroid snapped by a crew member on the beach during filming of Ashes to Ashes with Blitz Kids Steve Strange, Darla-Jane Gilroy, Judi Frankland and Elise Brazier keeping warm in a mackintosh between takes. When they got back to London, they all went clubbing at Hell

“He said it was a great scene and asked me if I would like to appear in the video for his next single, Ashes To Ashes. He also asked me if I could suggest a make-up artist for him, and I recommended Richard Sharah, the man who did my make-up. He said: ‘I’d like it left to you to pick the clothes you are going to wear, and to choose three other extras for the video.’ This was the most important moment of my life. I rushed around and found Judith Frankland, Darla-Jane Gilroy and another girl [Elise Brazier] for the video.” Here, as with so much of his flaky book, Strange’s memory leave the rails. Other witnesses suggest subtle variations to his account…

Enter the next witness, Ravensbourne graduate Judith Frankland, designer of Steve Strange’s Fade to Grey outfit and of two gowns worn in the Ashes video which were inspired, she says, by the nuns in The Sound of Music and coincidentally had been unveiled in her sensational degree collection “Romantic Monasticism” at the Café Royal during June. She says: “In a wonderful twist of fate, Steve was resplendent in my black wedding outfit that night and was chosen straight away. He was asked to select people he felt could be right. Bowie did see George O’Dowd but as I remember he was wearing his big leather jacket look that night, so he was out. I was invited as was Darla up to the table where David and Coco were sitting and offered a glass of champagne. Darla and I were both dressed in a similar ecclesiastic style, Darla in her own black outfit with white collar, and we were also asked to take part for what at that time was a decent sum of money for penniless, decadent students.

“We were told Coco would call us the following day with the details. I woke the next day thinking I’d dreamt it and you know I guarded that communal pay phone on the landing like a rottweiler until she did: be outside the Hilton the next morning, Thursday, she said, at some ungodly hour, fully dressed and made up the same way I had been at the Blitz, and to get the coach to a secret location.

Ashes To Ashes, David Bowie, video, pop music, Blitz Kids,

Ashes To Ashes video 1980: Blitz Kids as Greek chorus (© Jones Music / EMI Records Ltd)

“When we arrived at the beach near Hastings [not Southend, as Strange reports], the crew was set up and David Bowie greeted us dressed in the pierrot outfit he would be wearing. He coached us for a few minutes on the words we were to mime and then the day was spent in what we Lancastrians call sinking sand, sloppy sand, and the further out we got on the beach the messier and sloppier and muddier it was. I wore flats which was a wise choice. Then we were up and down that field with the bulldozer and every time we had to do a take it had to back up and the field got muddier. The bulldozer wasn’t that close but if he’d stepped on the gas we would all have been gonners.

“We were finally told we had all ‘done well’ and set off in the coach straight from the shoot to Hell [Strange’s Thursday club-night with a sacrilegious flavour] – well, home first to get freshened up. Steve dropped off his very muddy wedding dress and Hell was a rowdier night than usual. Steve brought one of the labourers from the bulldozer site with him and dressed him up in a Modern Classics suit. The poor guy was disturbed by it all, to say the least.

“We’d also been asked to go to the Ewart Studios in Wandsworth that weekend to shoot another scene – the kitchen with Major Tom in the chair and us providing the chorus. This involved an explosion behind us four as we faced the camera. We were told to duck out and run after we had mimed our lines or we could be hurt. This was difficult in a hobble dress, so I hoisted it up as high as I could and got ready to run. Quite a sight for the superstar sat behind me! Health and Safety would be all over that now.

“May I add that at the studios David Bowie joined us mere mortals in the canteen. Yummy. What a nice man he was, well he was to me, very kind and patient with us all.”

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London’s Cafe Royal, 1980: Judith Frankland’s graduation show climaxed with a wedding dress in black and white taffeta, brocade, velvet and satin. All crowned by Stephen Jones’s veiled head-dress. As worn by Blitz Club host Steve Strange in the Ashes to Ashes video. (Niall McInerney’s slides scanned by Shapersofthe80s)

CRUCIAL MOTIFS DECODED

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St Martin’s Alternative Fashion Show in May 1980: Stephen Linard’s “Neon Gothic” collection modelled by his most stylish friends, Myra, George and Michele, with Lee Sheldrick in white as a space-age pope

❏ Co-directed by Bowie and David Mallet, location scenes for Ashes to Ashes were filmed on 3 July 1980 at Pett Level, a stony beach on marshlands about six miles east of Hastings in East Sussex, known to Mallet since he was a boy. The drama of waves splashing against a towering cliff excited him. The video was the most expensive music video made to that date, costing £250,000. The whole dreamscape was enhanced with the solarising effects from the then novel Quantel Paintbox to create a visual enigma, echoing a distant past, yet suggesting “nostalgia for the future” in Bowie’s own words.

When Bowie dropped in on the Blitz, the fashion mood had darkened for post-punk no-wavers. Black was back in gothic style without that word being applied, mostly. One exception was Stephen Linard who stole the annual Alternative Fashion Show in his second year at St Martin’s with his “Neon Gothic” collection in May 1980, when the event was coordinated by Perry Haines. Fellow Blitz Kids modelled a stylish collision of Space 1999 meets liturgical gothic, strutting to the Human League’s newest release, Empire State Human. Among them, Lee Sheldrick, the gifted eminence gris behind so many other students’ creations, had also shaved his head bald to become the embodiment of Nosferatu the Vampyre. The following week Steve Strange teamed up with fellow Welsh soul-boy and Camberwell student Chris Sullivan to open a no-holds-barred club-night at Hell with the invitation “to burn in Hell – demoniacal dress is desired”. Bowie knew what he was looking for.

One of Bowie’s long-standing collaborators, Natasha Korniloff, designed his pierrot costume for the video, and he gave Richard Sharah a free hand to design the make-up. On the night of Bowie’s visit to the Blitz, Steve Strange and Judi Frankland were sporting her graduation garments, Strange in the black wedding dress crowned with a Stephen Jones head-dress and veil made of stiffened lace on a metal frame. Judi recalls: “The wedding dress was the reason Steve and I got close. He called me up wanting to buy pieces of the collection. He also bought a jacket he wore on the cover of Fade to Grey and gave me a credit on the sleeve. That dress, all sand, sea and mud, ended up in the bottom of Steve’s wardrobe. It had a stand-up collar that was caked in his makeup. Never wore it again though he got some money off the video people to get it cleaned. The veil also got squashed in his wardrobe.”

Darla-Jane Gilroy wore an ecclesiastical black velvet dress designed and made by herself, silk grograin coat and white collar with crucifix, plus a Stephen Jones hat. Elise Brazier personified a ballerina in a party frock plus tantaliser in her hair. This and another hat came from Fiona Dealey and Richard Ostell who would soon be finding fame too.

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Stephen Linard: sporting a wooden cross by Dinny Hall and the rabbinical outfit that caught Bowie’s eye in July 1980

Stephen Linard supplies his own footnote to that great Tuesday at the Blitz. “Bowie actually sat at the bar next to my sister Bev, with me on the other side of her and I told her “Don’t look. Be cool.” So of course she looked, she was only 17. So did I. I was only 21. I was in all my Jewish rabbinical gear and Bowie’s PA Coco asked if I would be in the Ashes to Ashes video, but they wanted us up at the crack of dawn and were only offering £50! Anyway, I was on a warning at St Martin’s over attendance, so I had to say No.”

Steve Strange has the last word: “It seemed like a very long day for a three-minute film. I was delighted when I was handed my wages of £50 by a member of the production team. I didn’t tell them, but I would have paid them to have appeared in a video with David Bowie.”

storyboard, Ashes To Ashes, David Bowie, video, pop music,

Storyboard for Ashes to Ashes, 1980: The opening scene of pierrot on the beach sketched by Bowie to guide his co-director David Mallet

BOWIE’S OWN VISION WITHIN THE ASHES

❏ Bowie’s brief to David Mallet for the video was simply: “A clown on a beach with a bonfire.” Yet you can be sure Freud would have a field-day turning over every mortal motif in Ashes to Ashes… Bowie storyboarded the visuals himself (“actually drew it frame for frame,” he said) from the pierrot of his Lindsay Kemp era, the number of “Madmen” in his own family symbolically in a padded cell, his first hit Major Tom the spaceman now in an exploding kitchen with his own Greek chorus, the images of mourners round a funeral pyre, the menacing JCB bulldozer (that Bowie had spotted parked up near the beach and hired on impulse) seemingly pushing along the Blitz Kids in the pierrot’s wake like a funeral procession pulsating with a mother’s invocation “to get things done…” Not to mention the song’s title itself, derived from the burial service in the English Book of Common Prayer which commends: “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust”.

In September of 1980, Bowie revealed his thinking to NME: “The sub-text of Ashes To Ashes is quite obviously the nursery rhyme appeal of it and for me it’s a story of corruption. When I originally wrote about Major Tom I thought I knew all about the great American dream and where it started and where it should stop. [Now] the whole process that got him up there had decayed and he wishes to return to the nice, round womb, the earth, from whence he started. It really is an ode to childhood, if you like, a popular nursery rhyme.”

Years later, Bowie told author Nicholas Pegg that with Ashes to Ashes he was “wrapping up the Seventies really” for himself, which “seemed a good enough epitaph”. On Bowie’s death his lifelong friend George Underwood called him an emotional, passionate person: “He had created this fierce storm, but he was the only one in it.” Take your pick.

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s: The year the Blitz Kids took their first steps into the headlines

Ashes To Ashes, David Bowie, video, pop music,Ashes To Ashes

Ashes To Ashes video 1980: Bowie’s pierrot getting out of his depth

FURTHER READING

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s: The Blitz Kids WATN? No 37, Judith Frankland

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s: The Blitz Kids WATN? No 28, Stephen Linard

➢ Blitzed! The Autobiography of Steve Strange (2002)

➢ Edward Bell’s Connection

➢ The future isn’t what it used to be, by Angus MacKinnon
in NME, 13 September 1980

➢ Chris O’Leary’s impassioned survey of the Bowie catalogue

Ashes To Ashes, David Bowie, video, pop music

Ashes To Ashes video 1980: Bowie’s pierrot at Pett Level in Sussex with “mum” (© Jones Music / EMI Records Ltd)

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1979 ➤ Ethereal Bowie sets the bar for one of his inadvertent hits

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Click picture to view an immaculate video of Bowie singing The Man Who

HERE’S A RARE CHANCE TO VIEW one of the most inspired renderings of The Man Who Sold the World: David Bowie with the bizarre German punk Klaus Nomi as backing singer during a performance on Saturday Night Live on 15 December 1979. Wearing red on the left we see American performance artist, Joey Arias, who became a regular act at Club 57 in New York’s East Village. Anyone who visited the 2013–2015 touring exhibition, Bowie Is, from the V&A in London will have seen Bowie’s huge tubular costume at first hand…

Luckily, this 8-minute clip also includes brilliant versions of TVC 15 with Bowie in a skirt and heels, plus Boys Keep Swinging where he sports a nude puppet costume with bizarre extremities. Nomi introduces us to his poodle who appears to have swallowed a TV set. A gifted trio of performances.

The Man Who Sold the World – title track of Bowie’s third studio album – was written in 1970 but released on the B-side of a single hence missed the charts in its own right. It did reach No 3 after Lulu covered the track in 1974 and other covers followed, including one by Midge Ure. Critically the song is widely regarded as one of Bowie’s essential best and only in his last couple of decades did he start rendering it in live performances in utterly different and often haunting ways. Nevertheless, the SNL video from 1979 is powered by a cascade of supremely confident operatic flourishes, “Ohhhh-oh-ohhhh, ohhhhhhh-oh!”

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