Tag Archives: 20th Century Box

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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1980 ➤ Day Four of Terry Smith’s unseen photos inside the Blitz Club – exclusive

Nik & Trick Photo Services, Folkestone

A New Romantics keynote was your invented image: startling make-up and a towering hat complete Blitz superstar Peter Probert’s wicked witch of the west

➢ DAY FOUR:
CLICK HERE TO VISIT OUR
GALLERY OF TEN MORE FAB IMAGES
OF THE BLITZ CLUB IN 1980

+++
EVEN AMONG THE UK ROCK PRESS, few of its music historians have conceded that the New Romantics amounted to an ambitious subculture that changed the rules of the game – largely because the rockists completely missed the boat by idolising guitar idols, never went to nightclubs, and what’s more, couldn’t dance.

The most audible consequence of the clubbing underground was to fundamentally change the rhythm of the pop singles charts within a year – from the rock guitar to the bass-and-drum, namely, to dance music. After 1981 scarcely any significant new rock groups made the singles charts, only the old dinosaurs, if at all. Rock was relegated to the album chart and new dance-music stars such as Madonna and Prince transformed the pop music of the new decade.

The other New Romantics keynote was the central role of image with the dawn of MTV as a platform for music videos. A band became the leaders of fashion, while their style-conscious nightlife followers collaborated in promoting them through the clubbing grapevine. As synth-pop pioneers during 1980 Spandau Ballet pushed a button for the fashion-conscious young. They were signalling that the language of pop called for new styles as much as new sounds.

During the first five years of the decade, more than 100 “image bands” and acts entered the UK charts – most of them new, led in the South-East by Ultravox, Linx, Spandau Ballet, Visage, Landscape, Depeche Mode, Kid Creole, Blue Rondo a la Turk. Many more emerged from clubland across the UK: Duran Duran, Soft Cell, Heaven 17, Altered Images, Imagination, Eurythmics, Thomas Dolby, ABC.

During Spandau’s North American tour in November 1983, alongside their hit True among the Billboard Top 40 singles in the USA, there were 17 other British bands – more than the Swinging 60s ever knew. Insolence and narcissism lit a torch that led a generation of school-leavers through what threatened to be Britain’s dark age of unemployment. As clubs became workplaces and nightlife the essential engine of cultural evolution, they liberated music, design and, especially, ambition for the young.

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s:
Spandau Ballet create a new template for pop success

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➤ Princess Julia relives the day when 1980 went Boom!

 Daily Mirror, Blitz Kids, New Romantics

The Daily Mirror, 3 March 1980

◼ IT WAS MARCH 1980 WHEN the term Blitz Kids was first used to describe the “weird” and “whacky” young people making waves with their in-flight haircuts at the Tuesday club-night in London’s Blitz wine bar. The cutting here from the Daily Mirror says it all: in those days the left-wing tabloid sold 3.6million copies daily and was still taken seriously for its news coverage, while the Sun was just overtaking those sales figures with a distinctly down-market approach. Newspapers were a mass medium back then.

Using the lively wide-eyed language of the red-tops, Mirror feature writer Christena Appleyard put her finger on exactly those elements of individualism and waywardness that would later the same year see the Blitz Kids renamed the New Romantics. What she completely omits to mention is that four days later the house band of the Blitz, Spandau Ballet, were playing only their fourth live gig in London, at the trendy Scala cinema. In fact, she doesn’t even mention the band alongside Visage and Yellow Magic Orchestra as part of the club’s “electro diskow” synthesised soundtrack.

Appleyard was a savvy writer hearing only one part of a genesis story, yet her headline put the Blitz Kids on the media map and Boom! – this was lift-off for the careers and reputations of about 50 cool clubbers
in the short term, and a whole new look and sound for UK pop culture generally.

Julia Fodor is part of the founding mythology of the Blitz Kids, and tonight in London she was giving an illustrated “audience” to a select crowd in Hoxton. At The Glory pub she was reliving her teen years as mannequin de vie for PX, the New Romantic clothes shop, and as Blitz Club cloakroom girl, who later became a cultural commentator and international club deejay who at her height was being helicoptered into Paris to play at the posey Queen nightclub on the Champs Elysées.

New Romantics, fashion

PX moves into Endell Street in Feb 1980: New Romantic satin gowns, Fauntleroy collars – and Julia. Photographed © by Martin Brading

And Julia’s rise was the norm for those key Blitz Kids with ambition and attitude in 1980. Before that March you could count the media mentions of Steve Strange’s club night: three in the Evening Standard; a page in Tatler; a feature in New Society, the sociology weekly; and a feature about “chiconomy” in the March issue of 19, the teen magazine.

Then Boom! The Blitz Kids headline triggered a small rash of media outbreaks as two perceptive photographers visited the club to take pictures – Homer Sykes and Derek Ridgers – while student journalist Perry Haines featured his Blitz pals in the Evening Standard fashion pages. What put Spandau Ballet on the map, however, were reports in the Standard, the Daily Star and Record Mirror of their electrifying concert, complete with ornamental Blitz Kids dancing in the aisles to a whole new style of music-making – theatrical, romantic, fashion-conscious and danceable – that resulted in a second Scala concert being scheduled for May.

Reading about the Blitz phenomenon had intrigued a young researcher on Janet Street-Porter’s yoof documentary slot, 20th Century Box, at London Weekend Television which then commissioned the May replay for their cameras. In the meantime one alert talent scout at Chrysalis Records also wanted to hear the band’s music. The next few months saw the Blitz Kids start to gobble up column inches and enliven the odd TV strand, while the two coolest magazines of the decade, The Face and i-D, were launched specifically to report this burgeoning youth culture based on street style.

Spandau landed the first contract for a New Romantic band in October, while Visage released its first album in November after signing to Polydor, and the Romantic band-wagon was under way. By Christmas 1981 the sound of the UK pop charts had been transformed completely from rock guitars to bass and drum.

❏ Tonight and for two more Mondays, An Audience with Princess Julia celebrates London’s glorious counter-culture with extracts from her own memoirs supported by visuals by her friend, deejay and face about the club scene Jeffrey Hinton. Tonight Professor Iain Webb also participates, with bespoke accessoriser Judy Blame on Nov 16 and milliner Stephen Jones OBE on Nov 23 – all at The Glory, London E2 8AS.
➢ Tickets available only in advance via Ticketweb

JULIA RAMBLING DOWN MEMORY LANE TONIGHT

Blitz Kids, Ryan Lo, fashion, Princess Julia

Julia talks: adorned in a kind of Baby Jane pink ruffled nightie by Ryan Lo, from his SS16 collection, with cap of roses (inset, being snapped by Louie Banks)

Click any pic below to launch slideshow

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